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.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Special baseball doubleheader: Buy One Get One

A year and change ago, I shared my thoughts on Barnes & Noble's then new advertising portal. (Which, oddly, is my most viewed ever post on this blog, and it's not even close. I must have had just the right cocktail of keywords to intrigue the Russian bots.) When I crunched the numbers, I couldn't come close to justifying even experimenting with their base package of $300 for 25,000 impressions. For the sake of science, I would love to have seen what would have happened. But I couldn't. Even if I hadn't just been laid off (I was still running out the clock on my old job at the time), I couldn't do it.

Maybe I wasn't alone. Out of curiosity, I poked around the B&N site this week, looking for their ad package to see if they had added any lower price points. I couldn't find anything. At least not on an impression or click basis. Maybe I didn't look hard enough, but the old link didn't work, and nothing else like that came up.

But they did have something else to offer, which might be even better. Two something elses, in fact. And the up-front cost for both is right up my alley--free. They have a promotional tool for authors and publishers to set a discount on an ebook and create their own coupon code. So you could generate a coupon that readers could use to buy your book for 25 or 50 (or whatever) percent off. Readers buy the book for their Nook at the discounted rate, the author takes a prorated cut of the royalty, B&N keeps the rest, everyone is happy.

The second option is a Buy One Get One deal. In this case the author can choose two or more books and allow readers to pay full price for one and get a second for free. Again, no up-front outlay of money from the author. The only cost is whatever would have been earned in royalty had both books been bought at regular price. But if it generates new sales and expands your reach to new readers, that--to me, anyway--is totally worth it. Considering how much money I've lost on various promotions over the years, I'm definitely willing to give it a shot.

So ... here's my first Nook promotion: Buy either The Greatest Show on Dirt or Nine Bucks a Pound and get the other for free. They're both $3.99, so it works the same either way around. We're all starving for some baseball these days. Here's a great chance to fill a little of that void. Two baseball novels, one low price. And if you don't own a Nook, they have an app you can install.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Kill your babies, kill your parents

Parents are hard to write. There are multiple reasons for this. First off, assuming your IRL parents are alive, there's a higher than average chance they will read your book. In the early days, they may even be among the few who do. And you can never discount the odds that they'll be reading between the lines to see if you borrowed anything from them. Whether you did or not.

Beyond that, parents are often secondary characters. You're writing a story about Joe, or Sally, or Joe and Sally. Joe and/or Sally are the stars of the show. You develop the hell out of them. Joe likes peanut butter sandwiches and listens to Bach at work on his headphones to cancel out his moronic, lazy co-worker in the cube next door. Sally fosters homeless ferrets and bakes lemon bars for her elderly neighbor. She had her heart broken by a college sweetheart who never quite seemed to look her straight in the eye. Joe doesn't look her straight in the eye, either, but it turns out he's got a glass one, which endears her even more to him because she has a soft heart for anyone with any claim for an underdog story.

And Sally's mom calls her too often and wants her to visit, but Sally doesn't want to because her mom always pesters her about grandbabies and smokes Marlboro Lights at the table and its bad for both Sally's asthma and appetite. And Joe never got along with his dad all that well because his dad was the coach on his Little League team and got all moany because he struck out too much and dropped a crucial pop fly in the playoffs. Sally's mom and Joe's dad are easy to dislike because they never put much effort into truly understanding their kids.

And they're easy for readers to dislike because they're essentially cartoon characters.

But do readers dislike them because they're unlikable or because they're cliched?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The last game on earth

Four weeks ago tonight I was at an Arizona State University basketball game. Well, the second half, anyway. I traveled to Arizona for my niece's wedding. She's a graduate student in Tucson. Stopped off for a few days first up in Tempe, where my nephew, by a different sister, attends ASU. I flew in Wednesday, more than mildly concerned by the news of the virus stretching across the globe. This was early March, a lifetime ago, and while it was enough to keep me staring at the ceiling at night as the trip approached, I went anyway.

Thursday morning I wandered around the ASU campus, hooked up with my nephew, and picked up my sister at the airport. We did lunch, met up with some of his schoolmates, who humored us olds, went to dinner, tossed back a few beverages as if the world weren't about to spin off its axis, and wandered over to the arena in time to watch ASU blow a lead to the Washington Huskies.

Friday morning we slept late, went for coffee, settled on a target for a Cactus League spring training game, and drove up to Scottsdale, where we found a Red Robin in an open-air shopping center that could have, by the names on the fronts of the stores, been anywhere in America. Ate lunch, drove a short distance to the line to get into the parking lot at Salt River Fields. Half an hour later we had the pleasure of paying $10 to park on a parched lawn. Fifteen minutes after that I had the pleasure of paying $240 for three tickets behind home plate. We wanted shade. They wanted half my liquid assets. We arrived in our seats in the bottom of the second and stayed until the end of the ninth, when the game ended, tied 6-6. There are no winners in spring training, just 12,000+ who lose a shit ton of cash watching two teams practice. At least I had the pleasure of seeing Ryan McMahon bomb one out to deep center.

Then again, if we'd known it was to be one of the very last games played all spring (all season?), maybe the price wouldn't have seen so exorbitant. We couldn't have known that then. Well, there were hints. We ignored them, went to the aquarium up the road, which was pretty incredible considering we were in the middle of the desert, then drove back to Tempe and went to dinner at a place that struck me as a hot spot for academics and out-of-town parents with just enough money to spend they won't miss the price of a fancy meal. El vino did flow, as David Brent might put it. It was a top night.

Saturday we made the nearly two-hour drive to Tuscon, which was nothing like I remembered it from when I drove the same stretch in 1990. There wasn't any traffic back then. Nothing like the pickup-truck brigade we endured the entire stretch this time around. Met my mom and oldest sister at their motel, drove to the bridal shower, hung out, then finally arrived at our Airbnb rental house in the hills. Beautiful house. Beautiful neighborhood. Which made it unlike most of the rest of Tucson we saw, which was ... not so nice.

Saturday night came the rehearsal dinner and a chance to catch up with family and meet new folks. And finally, Sunday morning, a chance to relax. The first of the entire trip. We had all morning and part of the afternoon to chill until it was time to get dressed up. The wedding was lovely, in a park in the desert (where else is there?). The reception could only have been more pleasant if the first thing on everyone's mind wasn't the impending pandemic.

But it was, and by Monday morning I wanted home so badly I was up before the sun. Watched it rise between the cacti beyond our backyard. Got to the airport plenty early, eager to go home, afraid to return and spread whatever it was I might have contracted. And that fear was driven deeper when I arrived at O'Hare for my connecting flight. Even more people in masks than there were on the way out. Fear on every face. The closest I'd ever been to Dystopia.

Until the day after, and the day after that. And the week after that, when there was no toilet paper in the grocery store and I tossed anything reasonable into my shopping cart. And the following Monday when my director ordered us all to work from home and not come back to the office. And the next two weeks, as I counted off the days of my incubation period, freaking out every time I coughed, or sniffled, or ached, or felt a temp even slightly over 98.6 that I had brought it home to risk my wife and son.

Arizona was less than four weeks ago. Restaurants, games, shops, bars. A world away from where we are now. We venture out now only to stock up at the grocery store, as infrequently as possible. With gloves. I'd wear a mask if I had some handy.

Arizona lingers in my mind as the stark end of the "before." Everything since is the after. Or the during. I guess that's to be determined.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Cactus League catching helium like a tooled-up rookie

Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding hit the literary scene like a solar eclipse in the spring of 2011, the rare baseball novel released with both a high six-figure bonus and the commensurate fanfare. Reviewers mostly gushed, and Henry Skrimshander took his place among the sport's fictional underdogs.

I was knee deep in baseball books at the time, polishing off my first novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt, while also reviewing books for both Baseball America and my own blog, Bailey's Baseball Book Reviews. I've always loved a good baseball novel, and I kept a vigilant lookout for them. The Art of Fielding was a hit in my scorebook, not that it needed my backing to push its way onto the bestseller lists. Several other fine baseball novels came out over the subsequent years, though none seemed to make more than a small ripple. I banged my drum for Joseph Schuster's The Might Have Been, Jeff Gillenkirk's Home, Away, and Philip Beard's Swing, among others. But you'll forgive casual baseball readers for missing them.

The Might Have Been and Swing made Spitball Magazine's short list for its annual Casey Award, the highest honor for a baseball book. That in itself is something of an achievement, as only two other novels have survived to the finalists stage (Spitball's top 10) since The Art of Fielding did in 2011. That's an average of about one every other year.

It will be interesting to see if Emily Nemens' The Cactus League finds its way onto the list this year. I'm not quite as plugged in to the baseball book world as I was several years ago, and I only became aware of it last month when I stumbled across a link on Twitter. All of a sudden, however, I can't miss it. I'm seeing references to it everywhere. Maybe this is just it catching helium as it neared its release date (Feb. 4, which was yesterday). The downside of not reviewing books these days is I actually have to pay cash money for them (though as an author, I can totally respect and appreciate that). So last night I ponied up my pesos and ordered The Cactus League.

I know little more than what you can read about the book on its Amazon page, and I'm kind of happy to stay at that level until it arrives. Sometimes the best way to avoid letting other opinions influence your own is to simply avoid them altogether. That said, I'll certainly be willing to share mine once I get through it.

I can already tell you this much: Readers are searching for it on Amazon. And I know this because I've added it and Nemens to the list of books and authors I'm targeting with ads for The Greatest Show on Dirt. For those unfamiliar with how these Amazon ads work, as an author you "bid" what you're willing to pay for your ad to appear as a sponsored product on other pages. It's a constant effort to gauge which books help drive traffic (and more importantly, sales) to yours. Amazon's statistical dashboard is almost fascinating enough to justify the investment. Over the past seven days, I've had 47 "clicks" based on various search terms. Half of those (24) have been searches on The Cactus League, Nemens' name, or some combination thereof.

Though it hasn't actually arrived yet, The Cactus League has stepped into the on-deck circle in my book pile. By the time the real-life Cactus League gets underway, I should have a better feeling of whether it has justified its hype as--to my sense at least--the biggest baseball fiction release in nine years.