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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

September 2015

Everybody Deserves a Second Chance



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. 


Lessons learned
 
 
#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.

 

Who's Been Following You and What Do They Want?

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?

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 #584938720-138.


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 minutes.
·             How to write that book in two hours.
·             Write, publish, and market your book in three easy steps.
·             Go from “no idea” to published author in ninety days.
·             How to write a best-seller, even if you are bad at writing and can’t type.
·             Earn a six-figure income instantly
 

Name Recognition

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, “Who?”
 
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 there.
 
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.

 

Off and On Like a Light Switch

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: 

http://www.katzenhausblogs.com/

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!