Friday, November 27, 2020

The namesake club expands by one

I'm closing in on a milestone that has been a long time coming. I'm a chapter and a half away from completing the first draft of my sixth novel. Wrapping up a first draft leaves me a long, long way from the finish line, but it's a major step. There will be second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts before this thing sees the light of day, but none of them would be possible without a first.

I'm a re-writer. Over the years, I've come to realize I enjoy the subsequent iterations more than the first, so getting the initial round out of the way is a big deal to me. I started working on this book in early July.

Of 2019.

That was six months before the world even heard of COVID-19, to put that in some perspective. It's been a slog. But I'm finally to the point when I can at least envision my next book hitting Amazon.

Or maybe it already has.

I was crawling through my Twitter timeline tonight when I came across a review by Larry Hoffer, who was kind enough to review Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed way back in 2015, of a new novel called The Flip Side. By James Bailey.

Wait, that's me. Isn't it?

Okay, I don't have the most unusual name on the planet. I'm no John Smith (that would be my neighbor), but I'm a heck of a lot closer than, say, Gary Shteyngart. According to the U.S. Census, Bailey is the 66th most common last name in the United States. Per the U.S. Social Security Administration, James is currently the sixth most popular name for a male baby in this country. That has ranged from No. 1 to No. 19 over the past 100 years, including a stretch of more than 60 years in the top 5.

James Baileys may not be quite a dime a dozen, but we're somewhere on that discount rack near the front of the Name Stop store.

This newcomer--and his bio says this is his first novel, and it was published just 10 days ago--is only one of many in the club to publish in a variety of genres. We've written fiction and non-fiction, memoirs, sci-fi, even chemistry textbooks. And if you want to expand the club to welcome Bailey James, well, we've also got some steamy-looking romance on tap.

So, welcome to the gang, Mr. Bailey. And seeing as your book is currently higher in the sales rankings, how about sharing a few readers with the rest of us?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Capturing souls on paper, Cuphead style

Like most boys on this planet, my son spends a goodly chunk of his time with some sort of game controller in his hands. When he's not playing something on the PlayStation or Nintendo Switch or iPad, he's generally watching a YouTube video or a TV show about other people playing video games. He's had his love affairs with Fortnite, Roblox, Disney Crossy Road, and Mario Kart. He tends to go all in, get it out of his system, and then move on to the next.

His passion this summer turned to Cuphead, which for those who have never seen it, was created with the look and feel of a 1930s-era cartoon. There's quite a back story to it all, which I will confess I didn't really understand until a quick visit to Wikipedia. Cuphead and his brother Mugman have to fight a series of bosses to reclaim the contracts for their souls that they had previously entered with the devil. Beat all the bosses, then beat the devil, and Cuphead wins his own soul back.

I've oversimplified it quite a bit, but it's deep stuff for a 10-year-old. Not that you need to understand all that soul-selling to play the game. You just have to shoot and move and avoid getting hit. Which he's much more adept at than I am. I don't play many video games with him, because I suck, and the controllers hurt my fingers. (I'm old.)

The game features quite a jazz soundtrack, which he is similarly obsessed with. His current playlist on his iPad is composed exclusively of Cuphead tracks. If you didn't know any better, you would think they were all original to the 1930s, but they were recorded for the game. The music and artwork have received quite a bit of praise, and the game itself has won a bunch of awards (h/t again, Wikipedia). 

He picked up another hobby this summer, which I'm not ashamed to say he's also much better at than I am. He's started drawing. It began with some of his favorite Disney characters. He would draw the outlines in black pen, then color them in. He's got rows of them taped up on his bedroom wall, and they're all pretty darned good.

He recently began combining his two pastimes, drawing characters from the Cuphead game. But he had a rule, he would only draw a boss after he defeated it in the game. So as his Cuphead won soul contracts from the devil's runaway debtors, my son would draw them. One by one, he committed them to paper, until the entire cast had been captured, including the devil.

Based on the games that have come and gone before it, I know his fascination with Cuphead will wane. I only hope he sticks with the drawing, because I think he's got a talent for it. And I'm not just saying that as someone who never advanced beyond stick figures. I'm also saying it as a proud dad.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Sometimes no review IS the review

Reviews are the ultimate chicken/egg for authors. We need sales to get reviews, but we need reviews to get sales. Lack of reviews, or more precisely, lack of positive reviews, can kill a book launch.

Take The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo for example. Maybe I suck at marketing (a non-zero possibility), but I just couldn't get that one off the ground. The reception when I submitted it to places like Net Galley was crickets. Whereas Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed resonated there. In fact, the thoughtful reviews Sorry got there (not all four- and five-star, but detailed and informative) really helped it find its audience. No coincidence it's my best-selling book. And I can't move First World Problems--or Dispatches from a Tourist Trap, its sequel--to save my life. There will someday be a third book to finish off the trilogy, but it's hard to prioritize that project when it seems destined to die in its crib.

I am a very regular (read daily) consumer of Carolyn Hax's advice column in the Washington Post, and have been for years. Friday, during her weekly live Q&A chat, someone wrote and asked for advice on how to deal with an author acquaintance who had asked for a review of a book they didn't care for.

Q: Honesty in Reviews?

Here's one I don't think you've tackled before. I know at least 4 people who have published books on Amazon. All have asked me to please leave a review. Three of the books were fairly good (one was really great), but one was really hard to slog through. Three would have benefited from being trimmed to half their length. I have navigated through real-life situations by finding something honest and positive to say about most situations ("What do you think of this dress?" etc.) and I can do that with written reviews. But what do I do about star ratings and remain honest? They're pretty black and white. If I can't lie (and I won't, because then reviews are worthless), should I decline to leave a review at all? So far I've just put it off, but I'll be asked again. Is there any way I can decline that's not hurtful?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Instant Classic: Limped Mail Order Bride and Her Dejected Cowboy

I subscribe to a couple of ebook bargain emails, chiefly because I have from time to time runs specials on my own books, though I also snag the odd $1.99 read when one strikes me. The list I read most regularly is Book Gorilla. Like most such services, it allows you to specify which genres you're interested in. I selected Baseball and Literary Fiction when I signed up.

Many days there will be a handful of classics sprinkled throughout the list I receive. Today, for example, it included Dune, Gone with the Wind, and Limped Mail Order Bride And Her Dejected Cowboy (A Western Historical Romance Book), by Florence Linnington. A stone cold bargain at only $0.99.

Not familiar with Limped Mail Order Bride And Her Dejected Cowboy? Oh, you will be soon. This one has instant classic stamped all over it. Here's the tempting pitch on Amazon:

There is nothing wrong for a mail order bride to desire children. But what happens when her husband is unable…
At 26 years old, a limped Cora Duke wants to stop being a burden on her family. She decides to marry herself off to a stranger, by means of becoming a mail order bride.
Cowboy Derek Masters is a man of solitude. A man running from a troubled past and seeking to build a family at his ranch.
When a beautiful and confused Cora sweeps into his life, however, old wounds resurface, especially on the touchy topic of childbearing.
Despite their growing affection for each other, a combination of insecurities, haunted pasts and natural dangers of the west threaten to push Derek and Cora apart.
Derek and Cora struggle to cling to what they have as they realize that they are as different as two people can be.
In the end, they must ask the question: does true love really conquers all?
And, can they finally have children?

So much good, useful words, for so little of the money. And so many questions.

Let's start with the most obvious one. "Limped"? As an adjective? I must need an updated Merriam-Webster's, because it's missing from mine. It does have "gimpy," though perhaps that wasn't the vibe they were going for.

Is Florence Linnington a human, or was this an AI generated novel? I mean, hats off if you can program a computer to write a book that's even half plausible written in something close to standard English, which is about what was accomplished here.

If Florence Linnington is human, is she a composite human? Because she has (they have?) been very, very busy. She has released five of these books in 2020. Each title as enticing as the one before:

  • Mail Order Bride's Baby And Her One-Arm Indian
  • Pregnant Mail Order Bride And Her Brave Sheriff
  • Half-Deaf Mail Order Bride And Her Heartfelt Pastor
  • Big Beautiful Mail Order Bride And Her Lost Man

[Note: No, I did not make those titles up. Those are real Kindle books currently for sale on Amazon.]

And that's just this year. Amazon offers 25 such titles, all cranked out since 2017. Prolific doesn't feel quite strong enough.

I know for me coming up with a title is almost as hard as writing the book. It's got to be doubly so for Florence, considering the formulaic nature of these novels. They seem to just write themselves. Change a few names, an ailment here, a job title there, and, voila, a new book is born.

In the spirit of goodwill, I've come up with some titles for future releases, which should fit right in with the rest of the catalog:

  • Left-Handed Mail Order Bride and the Color-Blind Rustler
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome Mail Order Bride and the Cross-Eyed Camp Chef
  • Necrophiliac Mail Order Bride and the Bowlegged Undertaker

That last one sounds like a perfect romantic pairing, and might be an ideal way to end the series. Or segue into a new one involving mail order brides and the afterlife.

Thank me later, Florence. I'll take 10 percent.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Undercutting the eBots

I was looking for a paperback copy of Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends on eBay last night, and was struck by how many sellers were offering copies for list price or higher. If Amazon is cutting that price down, what hope do you have of shifting a copy on eBay? Then again, many of these "sellers" seem almost bot-like. Maybe they really are listing in earnest, but are you a bookseller if you never sell a book?

Searching for Rooney's book gave me the idea of searching for my own books on eBay, just to see if any were out there. Now, the vast majority of my sales (80-90%, depending upon the title), have been ebooks, mostly Kindle. So there aren't a metric ton of my paperbacks floating around out there. They exist, certainly, but it's not like a John Grisham thriller, where you can't expect more than a buck and a half for one because everyone else is also trying to unload their copy.

The first one I typed in was The Greatest Show on Dirt. Two copies popped up. One was priced at $14.73, the other at $16.51. Nice round numbers, gotta love it. The best part is the book goes for $11.95 new on Amazon, and pretty much any other book seller you want to search. My theory on these eBay listings is they don't actually hold a live copy of the book. If by some lightning strike someone buys through them, they then go order it through Amazon and pocket the difference. I still can't imagine this ever happens, but nothing really makes sense with these, and that's my best guess. They're like Twitter bots, hoping to sell to other bots.

I searched for Nine Bucks a Pound and Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed and found similar results. There were five listings for Nine Bucks a Pound, all priced well above the actual $13.95 list price. Four bots have posted Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, all looking to make a hefty commission over the $11.95 standard freight.

And then I did the most basic eBay search on my name, querying "James Bailey" under Books. There are a number of other James Baileys out there writing books. Most of what came up wasn't mine. But one in particular caught my eye.

To quote Peter Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, "We don't talk about that." No, we don't talk about A Misconception of Fate. This was the first novel I ever wrote. I self-pubbed it six years before The Greatest Show on Dirt. And then quickly un-pubbed it. Because it's just not very good. The best thing I can say for it is I finished it. I wrote 2/3 of it back in my 20s, set it aside, then came back to it half a decade and two major moves later.

It's bad. The plot, the characters, the entire concept. I don't think I ever sold five copies of it, and that was five more than should have been sold. And I don't for a moment believe whoever/whatever listed it on eBay actually owns a copy. I'm almost tempted to put in an order to see what happens. Because unless they have some pirate source overseas, there's zero chance they can fulfill it.

I do have a couple copies floating around here somewhere. I won't post them on eBay myself. Some things are better left unread.

I did, however, post copies of my other books. The first three, anyway. I still have inventory on hand. I figured why not undercut the bots and see if anyone places an order. If you happen to be in the market, The Greatest Show on Dirt, Nine Bucks a Pound, and Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed are each listed for $5.95. You pay media rate for the USPS delivery. Still a great deal compared to what you'd pay on Amazon. Order now and it should arrive in plenty of time for Father's Day.

But, please, spare your dad the Misconception. Leave that one for the father of the bots.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Even more fun with Adobe Spark

So I signed up for Adobe Spark this week. They offer a seven-day trial, then a $9.99/month subscription. I wanted to play around with making short videos, which I did over the weekend. Can't say it was a smashing success, but I didn't get hurt, so I've had worse experiences.

Today I took a stab at making an ad graphic for my Nook promo. I'm not going to start applying for graphic design jobs anywhere, but I've seen worse output. Like most everything I've output before. Trying to decide which of these I like better. I think the one with the quieter background is easier to read, but the one with the mowing pattern definitely has more of an at-the-ballpark feel to it.