My first Civil War book, A
Scratch with the Rebels, was published traditionally by a small press in
2007. As is frequently the case with traditional presses, the editor approached
my book with some pre-conceived ideas. She was looking for Civil War books that
would appeal to people who were touring battle sites and visiting their museum
stores in her state. With that purpose in mind, she decided to make the book
slightly oversized (10" x 8") so that it would be noticeable on the
shelves. That, in turn produced a rather thin book, so to increase the page
count, she asked for lots and lots of illustrations. (If I mentioned a person or
a place, I was to have a picture or a map to accompany it.) And to increase the
amount of white space per page, she decided to use a two-column format, which
added that extra 3/4 of an inch down the middle of each page.
Now none of those decisions were
bad in themselves, but together they created an impression that weakened the
book. The over-size shape made the book floppy rather than substantial. The
two-column format gave the impression of a middle-school social-studies
textbook rather than the serious and academically rigorous study that it was.
The preponderance of pictures added to the schoolbook look. The scholarly
apparatus of notes and bibliography ended up in the back of the book, where
endnotes were hard to locate and failed to provide the additional source
information they were meant to convey.
Add to that a problem with the binding
equipment used by the company, and the result was an ugly book with a peeling
cover and off-putting visual appeal. Worse, it carried a high price tag that
put it out of reach of many customers. I managed to sell a couple hundred by
strong-arming my friends, but the publishing company couldn't even get the book
into those museum shops.
When the publisher decided to give
up on their attempts to publish the book as an e-book, they returned the electronic publishing rights to me. My decision to re-work the book and publish
the e-book as a second edition was the smartest move I made. I re-arranged and
combined several chapters to improve the flow, changed important endnotes so
that they now appear in the body of the text, and removed other purely academic
notations. I also took out most of the illustrations, which had caused multiple
problems in the publisher's first attempt to publish the book electronically.
As a substitute for those who want to see what a particular person or
location looked like, the e-book includes links to my Pinterest boards, where I
have posted the pictures from the book. The only scholarly apparatus that
remains is the bibliography. To strengthen the impression that this is a new
and improved book, I asked my designer to come up with a more appealing cover.
This refurbished second edition has proved to be very popular. It has sold several copies so far this month, which isn't bad for an eight-year-old book. Why? Because I re-designed it to meet the needs of
its intended audience. Instead of trying to reach the casual tourist
visitor, the new edition appeals to re-enactors and Civil War buffs, especially
to groups whose ancestors were a part of this particular story. In the last six
months this second edition has sold more copies than the total number of sales
for the first edition over a period of seven years.
#1. Know who
your readers are and meet their needs.
#2. If you can
make a book better, do it.
#3. Don't be
afraid to admit your mistakes.
One of the topics I'll want to
address in the second edition of "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese"
has to do with getting to understand your audience. Not everyone will be
interested in your book, no matter how good it is, and you can waste a lot of
time pitching to people who simply aren't interested.
Social Media sites have a wide
variety of devotees, and it's wise to be selective about which followers to
accept. Here's an example that happened to me recently. I received
an announcement about a new follower on Twitter. The username was "The
Love of Sex," and the description announced that the site has 4 followers.
Yes, that's right -- four! Does anything about that sound suspicious to you?
All right. Maybe it's a brand new
user. But if you were opening a Twitter account to appeal to those who love
sex, would you choose as one of your very first followers a old retired and
widowed professor who lives with four cats?
If "the Love of Sex"
wants to read about my books, I can't easily forbid it, but I'm certainly not
going to reciprocate and follow her back. I certainly will not add her to the mailing list for my newsletter. I doubt we have anything in common.
I'm willing to bet this was a variation on an old phishing technique, and that
a day or so from now, "The Love of Sex" will no longer appear on my
followers list, because she was not really looking for a good historical novel
to fill her lonely hours.
Lesson to be
learned: Not everyone who follows you is looking for what you have to offer.
Who Believes This Stuff?
For the past week I’ve been keeping track of unbelievable
offers arriving in my mailbox. They’re
not rated as spam (YET!) by my reputable mail server, although it manages to
find fifty to sixty others a day that it automatically removes for me. No, these appear to be genuine offers from
talented and wise sources – until you read the small print.
I received ten offers from printing companies , all of whom
seem to think I need business cards, brochures, posters, billboards,
newsletters, and postcards to advertise my latest book. OK, I’ve used some of
those products in the past, but when a company insists you buy at least 500 business
cards at a time, how many times do they expect you to have to re-order?
I also received three offers to let me access new
collections of genealogical records – free all during the current holiday
weekend. Obviously they think their target audience includes lots of people
with no place to go and nothing to do while others are partying. Still, the offer sounds generous, doesn’t it?
This was one offer I actually checked out.
It promised to provide wills from millions of people in all 50 states.
Did it? Well, I found a couple of listings from my family tree, but that’s all
there was – just a listing. A will
exists for John Smith of Anytown. Can I see
it? Well, here’s a picture of the listing.
Now you have to travel to Anytown and have the County Clerk try to find
Another promises to help readers de-clutter and organize
their lives with worksheets. They’ll
even send you the first 17 worksheets for free.
They arrive, fresh and colorful, as downloads you can print off as
needed. For the most part, these
worksheets have an interesting title at the top --: “Things To Do,” “Chores,” “Box
Contents,” and “Closets” – followed by a page of blank lines. If you want more
information, you’ll have to pay to take the whole course.
Others are “free” video courses. Turn up your sound and watch while we
tell you how to:
Market Your Book for Free
Create Content Everyone Needs
Create Your Own Webinar
Write a Blog by Filling in the Blanks
Automate Your Book to Audio
Every one of then spends over an hour talking about other
people’s success stories. And at the end, you’re told to accomplish your goal
by ordering an expensive book, a course, or a private coaching session.
Here’s the worst one I found this week. The seller is a
college drop-out who claims to have written several best-selling books before
he was old enough to drink. And he offers to teach you:
How to develop an idea for your book in thirty
How to write that book in two hours.
Write, publish, and market your book in three
Go from “no idea” to published author in ninety
How to write a best-seller, even if you are bad
at writing and can’t type.
Earn a six-figure income instantly
I’m slowly working my way through
the 2012 edition of The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese
, in the forlorn
hope that I have learned enough since I wrote it to come up with a “new and
improved” version. Not the final word, mind you. The world of publishing
is changing too fast for that. But perhaps some important updates will help
next year’s writers.
Recently I was looking at the
chapter on using social media, and I noted that my emphasis was all on numbers
— how many followers I had on various sites. Did I really believe back then
that all a writer had to do was sign up followers and instant fame and fortune
would follow? Egads! True, my numbers have almost doubled and sites have
multiplied, — and yes, my sales figures have followed suit. But a session
at last year’s Military Writers Conference reminded me that the most important
factor is not numbers but name recognition.
“Does everybody know your name?” As
soon as the speaker in that session uttered those words, I winced. Do people
who wander through Facebook or Twitter really know my name? Do they see it and
think, “Oh, yes, she’s the one who writes all those great Civil War
biographical novels.” Maybe a few on Facebook do. But what about my followers
on Twitter? Probably not!
Why? Because I’ve committed a huge
error on Twitter. I’m registered there as “Roundheadlady.” A the time, I
thought I was being clever. The Roundhead Regiment was the one my Uncle James
joined in Pennsylvania, and the subject of my first Civil War book, A
Scratch with the Rebels. So I was the “lady who wrote about the Roundheads.”
But out there in Twitterland, I suspect that most folks are still saying,
What’s worse, it’s probably too
late to correct the error. Oh, I could go into Twitter and change my user name,
but the chances are great that followers of “Roundheadlady “ would simply
figure that I had died or faded away. After all, I don’t know most of them, and
they don’t know me. Would they make the connection and switch to following
"Carolyn Schriber"? Certainly I have one Facebook friend in Missouri
who affectionately calls me “Roundhead Lady.” She'd find me no matter what name
I used. But for most Twitter followers, the name recognition is simply not
I even compounded the error by
using that name on my first Pinterest account as well. A slow learner, I
am. On Pinterest, I took the chance and cancelled Roundheadlady’s account and
removed all the boards I had put together. Then I opened a new Pinterest
Business account and named it “Carolyn Schriber’s Katzenhaus Books.” Not taking
any chances this time! The new title forced me to be careful about what kind of
boards I posted. Some are specific to my books, offering recipes from the foods
mentioned in a particular book or showing locations where my stories take place.
Others call attention to my writing friends’ books or offer tidbits of writing
advice. Follwers on Pinterest can be
pretty anonymous, so I can’t be sure how many I lost in that process. I feel
fairly certain, however, that those who visit my new boards now know my name
and what I do.
Take-away lesson: If you want
people to buy your books and talk about them and recommend them to their
friends, you need to make sure they know your name.
Hello, again. I've had a frustrating few days, thanks largely to this website. While the pages on my books have been functioning well, thank goodness, the link to this particular page -- my "Roundheads and Ramblings" blog -- has been unavailable for five of the past eight days. It's irritating to me, when I have something important to pass along, and discouraging for my readers, who think I have suddenly fallen off the edge of the world. What to do?
The obvious solution was to call the company for help. Last Thursday, you may remember, I thought I had solved the problem by changing my browser to Google Chrome. Hah! That lasted exactly one day. By Friday, I was off-line again.
Over the weekend I decided the only solution was to move the blog to a different site. So for the last three days I've been nudging and tweaking and experimenting with a new blog over on Google's Blogger site. Its focus will be on the process of creating a new book. I just happen to be at one of those crossroads -- current manuscript drafted and into the editing phase, which means "nothing new to write." So I'm starting to think about book 3 of the Grenville Saga by gathering stories from the beginning of the 20th century. I've long wanted to write about my mother's family who grew up in that era, so this is a perfect opportunity to start collecting and examining their experiences.
If you are interested in following that new blog, it is titled "Katzenhaus Blogs" and can be found at:
Come on over and see what's developing. If you want to be notified when a new post appears there, simply fill in your e-mail address at the top of its title page and hit "submit."
Now, what to do with this site? It contains FIVE years of blog posts, viewed a total of over 1,000,000 times. I can't just pull the plug, annoying though it may be in its crotchety old age. So this blog will continue to function whenever possible. And once again, I'm pointing it in a semi-new direction.
Every so often I think about a new development that should be included in a second edition of The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese. I've even considered calling it Cheese Souffle for the Second Mouse" since a new edition would be a much more sophisticated and authoritative collection than my first innocent ventures into the world of Indie publishing. I'll start posting some of those ideas here, and we'll eventually see if there's enough for a new book.
Welcome back. I hope the lights stay on!