I’m beginning to think I might write a book aimed at my generation: “History Changes: Why What You Learned in School Isn’t True Anymore.”

Couple of things make me think this is a good idea. First, I did go back to college in my 40s to pursue (and nab) a Masters in History. So I have the personal experience of having learned my history in both the 1960s and the 21st century.

In the 1960s, we didn’t have new textbooks – especially not in Catholic schools. So I learned about the California Indians and how they made adobe bricks in a book that may have been written and illustrated before World War 2. I am not joking.

The second reason I think my book idea is good is that I’ve met many people who absolutely believe that what they were taught 40 or 50 years ago is fact, and nothing can change that. For example, they were taught that the Founding Fathers were good Christians; how dare anyone imply otherwise?

The Founding Fathers were really smart guys. Some owned slaves. None of them ever considered that women or non-whites should be admitted to the club. Some were Deists, not Christians. They set down lofty ideals that I wish we all lived up to, but they were wrong about very serious matters.

Not long ago I had a lively argument with a woman (a dear, smart woman who was a friend) about the Civil War. She insisted it was fought over States’ Rights. Of course she did! She was taught that in school. Mid-century history books taught everyone that the Civil War erupted over States’ Rights. It wasn’t true. There was only one state right that sparked the Civil War, and that was the right to own slaves. Here’s an NPR essay on that.

Lots of things have changed since Baby Boomers were educated. Pluto is no longer a planet, and we now know about plate tectonics … but I’m not an astronomer or scientist, so I’ll stick to history. Columbus isn’t much of a hero, unless you’re comfortable lionizing a guy who took slaves as souvenirs. Civilizations that were completely unknown in 1970 are being discovered now (Google Gobeckli-Tepe). And almost all descendants of any European are also descendants of Neanderthals, and possible a couple of other extinct species.

Some concepts that we’ve clung to are simply not true. Did you know there’s really no such thing as race? It’s a chimera. The genes that control skin pigmentation are not that different from the ones that control eye color or ear lobe size. Europeans/Americans used the concept of race to justify their particular brand of slavery, but it was bogus from the get-go. “Races” as we usually define them just don’t exist.

So anyway, that’s my idea. I may get to it eventually but I’ve got two other non-fiction books in the pipeline, so I’d better get busy.

Books, so many books & so little time. How do you know what to read?

Here’s a blanket statement: There are some INCREDIBLE self-published books out there (mine, for example). There are also some awful ones. There are books that read like a first draft, others that just need editing, and some that plain old stink.

But guess what? I’ve picked up books at the library from major publishers that stink. That read like first drafts, with characters that still need to be fleshed out or nonsensical plot threads that should have been cut. There are whole sections of Random House-published books convincing me that the line editor just fell asleep while reading.

So picking a book from a major publisher over a self-published book is no guarantee of quality.

OTOH, picking a book that has sat on the NYT bestseller list for weeks, that won a major prize (or was nominated), and that has  hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon IS a guarantee that even if you don’t like the book, you’ll have something interesting to say about what everyone else is reading.

I loathed the Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Olive Kitteridge, for instance, and can tell you what buttons it pushed for me, while you describe what you loved about the changes the series made in the character, and we’ll have a decent conversation.

So, on to the book I just finished:  Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

It won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. It also won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction, which might have clued me in that this wasn’t a historical novel. At least, not a conventional historical novel.

Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation whose owners live in various stages of internal corruption. The book’s portrayal of white people reminded me of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in a way: each character was representative of a certain stereotype, bad and good along a spectrum, in their relation to slavery. The bad are shockingly, disgustingly bad; the good … well, be careful. You never know.

The fact that Underground Railroad is NOT historical fiction comes as a delightful surprise when you get to the part where reality takes flight. Our characters, before that magical moment, are so brutalized that they’ve dissociated from their own pain. Mothers cannot love their children; a retreat to madness helps them cope. But after Cora’s escape from the plantation, she is schooled and taught to read; she literally flowers, her mind reaching out to learn. She begins to take control of her life, wondering if she can but knowing more strongly each day that she cannot go back.

What Cora experiences does not fit into the past  as we know it. There are Progressives who want to help her as well as sterilize her, and town festivals that culminate in the hanging of any hapless black person caught during the week. Clearly, these elements ring of other eras, but not exactly.

I’m still trying to figure out how to define what the book was really about. An unchronological microcosm of the black experience over the last 200 years? Something like that. It’s always fascinating and in terms of character arc, Cora’s reaches stratospheric heights.

Highly recommended, unless you’re one of those who resent any fantasy elements in their historical-ish novels.

Just got comment cards back from my last talk on Baby Boomer Holiday Trivia (with pictures):

“Outstanding presentation in every way.”
“Wonderfully nostalgic!”
“Excellent & fun talk”

So nice to hear!

I gave a slide show (Power Point) presentation with pictures of aluminum Christmas trees, Shiny Brite ornaments, the Hollywood Santa Claus Lane Parade, Gene Autry’s album covers and Rudolph’s creator, Robert May, the original Chipmunks (not that cute), Slinky creator and family, Ginny, Barbie and the Bild Lili doll, and more. And I have stories–funny, sad, and true stories–about all of those things.

So if you’re in the Southern California area and need a speaker, drop me an email via the contact page and we can talk!

 

Went to a breakfast meeting with other writers this morning, and here’s some of the Useful and Fascinating Things I Learned:

  1. 99Designs is actually, as good as it sounds. A friend tried it: she needed a cover for a book she’s writing and was willing to pay their asking price ($395, I think). Within two weeks, she had 26 covers submitted by participating artists. She had no trouble narrowing the field down to the few best, because a couple of artists had been so quick to respond and there had been discussions with them about what she wanted. The nice thing about 99Designs is that,since you have already agreed to pay the winning designer the money, you are free to talk back and forth with any or all of them. She not only got a cover that she loves, but a professional relationship for more work in future, because the cover designer was able to recommend a cartoonist to illustrate another book!
  2. Another site that two of our group had tried and enjoyed is DeviantArt.com, where up and coming (i.e., amateur) artists can post work.It may be significant that both these folks were male, and when one warned that some of the work was edgy and x-rated, the other chuckled. In any case, they suggested it as a place to find artists with a style you like, you might be willing, even eager, to do a cover at low rates.
  3. I should never, ever go anywhere without at least bookmarks and business cards. Blew it again!

I will try to be better at posting. My life is like whack-a-mole: just when I manage to fit effective tweeting into it, I find I’ve been neglecting Facebook. I bring that up to snuff and suddenly I haven’t blogged in a long time.

Same with housework. I’m cooking regularly, but suddenly realized I have no clean clothes to wear because I forgot to do laundry. I start reducing the clutter but then the dishes get out of control. IfI cared I’d be upset. But I’d rather be writing.

Firsts. Everybody loves writing and reading about firsts.

The first moon landing: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

First kiss, first love. First heartache. heartbooksGreat topics for novels, always have been.

First car.

A baby’s first steps, first words, get all the attention. There are photos and instant messages to every relative.

Seconds? Does anyone care?

What was said on the second moon landing? Seriously, I believe it was “Well, it may have been a small step for Neil …”

Stories of firsts are neat! they trumpet innovations and make heroes of men and women who’ve pushed our boundaries out. Explorers, inventors, the fearless. Steve Jobs, Sally Ride, Benjamin Franklin.

Lots of books focus on firsts: innovations in certain industries, books on the first woman to do this or that.

What about lasts? They get short shrift. No one ever remembers the last person to do something.

Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of a themed Christmas tree with special ornaments in the White House.* If that tradition is ever dropped, no one will remember the last First Lady to decorate a tree, will they? Traditions are dropped due to lack of interest, so who cares?

VAQUITAThe last passenger pigeon lived out her life in a zoo. What about the last dodo? Will we know of the last vaquita or so many other endangered species?

Who wound up with the last Saturn to be assembled in Spring Hill, Tennessee? Who turned off the lights and locked the doors when Enron emptied out its Houston skyscraper on that last day? Who ordered the last taco sold by the last Pup ‘N’ Taco?

Lasts can be fun. Who was the last president to wear a top hat to his inauguration? John F. Kennedy, Jackie’s husband.

I’d love to see a book about the outdated, the unfashionable, the retrogressive. Folks we can laugh at, not stand in awe of. The last guy with a mullet. The last chick to wear day-of-the-week undies.

Of course, it will change with time. Lasts are open-ended and malleable. Top hats may come back into fashion, and one day Kennedy may lose his standing.

site-2That doesn’t happen often with firsts. Rivals might argue over who was actually first–did Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole; was it Cole’s or Phillippe’s that created the first French dip sandwich?–but once decided, a first position is pretty safe, no matter what might occur after. George Freeth was the first surfer on Southern California beaches. It was 100 years ago; no one’s going to pop up and challenge that.

Lasts can be ephemeral. The last person to go into space will only hold that honor for a few months; the last person to type their thesis on a manual typewriter will no doubt inspire a copycat next year. I had to read about several composers before I could actually identify a definitive last bit of music composed by Cole Porter (it was the score for a 1958 TV show, Aladdin) because creative people leave tons of unpublished work, or change the names of their songs and shows, so what you think is the last thing they wrote actually turns out to be a revamped version of a dud from thirty years earlier.

And the first can be last. For decades, Harper Lee’s first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was also her last – until some greedy agent saw that releasing a second book would make somebody a shitwagon full of cash . . . I’m sorry, did I say that out loud? But it just shows how fragile a “last” designation can be.

So I don’t think I’ll be investing any time writing the Definitive Book of Lasts. It would be a contradiction in terms. But I do hope that some day there will be a last restaurant to feature liver and onions on their menu.

 

*Jackie Kennedy’s White House Christmas tree–along with Lady Bird Johnson’s and other boomer First Ladies–is listed in my Boomer Book of Christmas Memories, of course, and you can click the title-link in the right sidebar to get yourself a copy.

Marketing is not for wimps or the lazy.

I’m a bit of both. I’m so screwed.

The Almighty Mailing List

I’ve read (and, admittedly, skimmed and half-read—lazy, remember?) a few books and several articles on marketing. They all agree that a mailing list is vital. That’s how you reach your customers. An author’s best marketing tool (other than a dynamite book) is her/his mailing list. Period.

mailing-list-iconBut how do you build that list? One book recommends pop-up ads on your website that can’t be ignored. Actually, more than one recommends that although they describe the process differently: generate giveaways, great incentives, videos, etc., so that people will want more and will join your mailing list–which pretty much implies the pop-up.

But there are a few steps before having and sending to a mailing list.

The first step is, of course, to create your mailing list on a service like MailChimp. MailChimp is free, up to 2,000 subscribers. So start that account and put your mother and best friend and your gmail address on it. You’ve got 1,997 spaces left before you have to pay, yippee!

What’s the second step?

Where do all those other names come from?

Remember, anyone who gets an email from you through MailChimp (or another service) can opt out. They can unsubscribe and will do so if you waste their time, so entering a bunch of names at random is probably not worth the effort.

How do you pack that list with people who actually want what you’re offering—i.e., your audience?miracle

That’s the fuzzy part. Like this cartoon.

Why don’t these marketing gurus tell you that part?

Well, there are a few reasons.

Everyone’s audience is different and will be found in different places.

The person who wrote a marketing book for authors has found his/her audience–you–but unless you’re also writing a marketing book for authors, your audience is hiding somewhere else.

And if you are writing a marketing book for authors, why are you reading this?

What did you write? A memoir or a zombie romance? Readers of those books are all over the place. Your job to figure out how to lure them to your website and make them want to sign up for more of what you’ve got to give, and only you can do that.

You must figure out where to reach your potential readers. It’s not obvious or easy. For example, when I managed to get the Historical Novel Society to review my book, I thought I had it made! Where else would readers of historical novels go, but to there?  The review was wonderful, exceeding my fondest hopes. But when it appeared, sales did not jump–not even a little.

trapWhat to do? Well, one idea is to take to social media. And that’s a suggestion, not a guarantee of anything. However, many of your readers will be on Twitter and Facebook, so it makes sense to connect with them there.

Think of social media–Facebook, your blog, Tweets, Pinterest, the works—as play. Fill your accounts with posts and pictures of fun things that your target audience would love. 1970s trivia for the memoir, for example. Photographs. Mini-reviews of books in the same genre. Share and Link to clever articles or merchandise on the topic. Follow everyone who follows you, and follow everyone posting on anything peripheral to your topic.

downloadYour website is your keystone. Use the other media accounts to entice readers there on occasion, so they can enjoy your blog post about mood rings or mid-century zombie films and be willing to sign up for more via the pop-up.

Why else don’t those marketing books tell you how to find your audience?

I’m gonna throw out two guesses here.

First, because the panorama of social media sites is constantly changing–just like the self-publishing industry—advice is going to be old by the time it’s tested. The tech-savvy (Hugh Howey comes to mind) have an enormous advantage, but luck plays a part too. Rather than rely on what worked a couple of years ago, you may be better off to poke around on your own. Try Googling “book marketing tips for Indies” to start with, just to get ideas.

The second guess is this: You will learn a lot—about yourself, your audience and about marketing–when you figure it out yourself.

character-buildingYou can’t have everything handed to you. You have to do some of the work, because it builds character.

Did I really write that? Even my Irish grandmother could not say such a phrase without sputtering with laughter.

Look, the marketing books tell you what the end product should be: a mailing list that you can use to reach your fans. They tell you how to use it. They tell you how important it is.

But where those addresses on the list come from is up to you. That’s the part you have to figure out, for the big reason above: each book is different and finding the audience is going to be different.

But in finding that audience, painstaking though it may be, you will connect with what works for you, and there is a lot of value in that.

100_9157On Thursday, November 13, I’ll team up with two other writers to sign and sell books at Golden Cove Center in Palos Verdes–right where Hawthorne meets PV Drive South. The event will include a reading and drawing lesson from Beth Whittenbury, author, and Janelle Carbajal, illustrator, of the story Just Love Him, I Guess. That’s at 3-4:30 PM.

Then on Saturday, November 15, we’ll be back at the same location, sans Janelle, to sign books from 2-4 PM. Here is the flyer with the address: Kids flyer. It’s at the Postal Center, a bit hidden.

Beth will also have her legal books. I’ll be armed with The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories and Death Speaker, a novel of Ancient Gaul.

Jean Shrive will sign her YA novel, The Einstein Solution, a story based on her memories of her Princeton, NJ childhood during World War II, when she lived down the street from Albert Einstein.

But wait, there’s more!  I’m also speaking at the Torrance Library, 3301 Torrance Blvd. in Torrance, CA (my home town), on November 22 at 2 PM. The talk will include a Power Point slide show of Baby Boomer holiday trivia: aluminum trees, songs from the 1950s, and toys like Barbie, GI Joe, and Slinky. Plus a door prize! Flyer: Boomer Family Christmas

Beth and I also have smaller, private events scheduled, like a big December 3rd Gift Fair and Peninsula High School, and an Artsy Party in Palos Verdes on December 14th. If you want details on any of these, let me know through the contact page.

I know that those of you with the PR Gene will roll your eyes, but I am excited!

THUMBNAIL_IMAGEWelcome to the Great Marketing Push of 2014. A few friends and I are going to try out the marketing strategies outlined in several books, and report on the results. Writer Beth Whittenbury (author of Just Love Him, I Guess, which I love) is also blogging about her progress, and you can follow her here.

This week, we are focusing on Amazon, but I want to say a few words about Goodreads first, because I just finished a giveaway there.

goodreadsI’ve heard that people need to see a product 3-5 times before it sinks in. Goodreads provides a couple of great ways to get your book in front of readers until it sticks:

A Book Giveaway

This is my favorite, because it’s almost free. You set up a giveaway through your author dashboard: look under the Explore tab for Giveaways. You set the dates and the number of books to offer. At the end of the contest, your only expense is the actual books you sign, and the $2 or $3 in postage.

A Paid Promotion

For as little as $90 (which is billed to a credit card at the beginning) you set up ads, and pay each time someone clicks on the ad to see more information about your book. You decide how big the ad is (a bigger ad costs a bit more per click), and you can create several ads. One might appear whenever someone searches for a certain genre; another might appear whenever someone searches for certain authors. For example, if you’ve written an epic fantasy you might select Fantasy as a genre, then do another ad that will appear whenever someone searches for Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. The promotion lasts as long as there’s money left.

attachmentMy Results

A giveaway for Death Speaker: A Novel of Ancient Gaul ran a year ago, and I think I’ll do another giveaway now. I cannot know how many people bought the book, but I do know that at least 300 saw it. Currently, 120 people have Death Speaker on their to-read list.

I also ran a promotion for Death Speaker, but I can’t say that I saw any spike in sales over the many months that it ran. I’m assured that it’s fairly normal for a promotion to go on for months. A lot of people click through during the first couple of weeks, then interest dies down.

I just wrapped up a giveaway for The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories; 500 people entered it. 215 have it on their to-read list.

amazon
On to Amazon!

I’m using two books: Lets Get Visible, by David Gaughran and Why Does My Book Not Sell, by Rayne Hall. So far, I’m pretty much in the theory section of Gaughran’s section on Amazon, rather than the practicum. I have learned that sales ranks are based solely on sales, and Top Rated lists are based on reviews/stars–but you have to meet a minimum number of reviews to qualify.

I also learned that corporate publishers get to put their books in more categories than indies (5 v. 2), which clears up a mystery I’ve wondered about. Gaughram advises studying categories and switching them judiciously to take advantage of openings. I would definitely need some practice there.

Hall’s book does not have a section on Amazon, per se, so I can’t compare. I did flip to the chapter on book reviews and read that I should ask my Beta readers for reviews, and using social media to offer a free book to anyone who will post a review. And don’t buy or trade reviews, which is good advice. Don’t get fake reviews, and don’t respond to reviews. Both books advise putting a page at the end of your ebook/book asking readers to leave reviews, pretty please, but I was hoping for a little more advice.

Maybe I should go read over Beth’s shoulder.

First, a piece of advice to ALL writers that I have been learning the hard way:

If you like to write in the morning, then write in the morning.

DO NOT check your email first. DO NOT hop onto Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn first. You know what will happen if you do: All your writing energy will go toward answering or responding to whimsical, ephemeral, time-wasting blurbs, and not to what you really want to be doing.

With that in mind, I have NOT checked my email today. I am writing this instead. I may have won the Publishers Clearing House millions, or AARP may have responded to my query . . . but do I care? NO–because I decided I want to write first. And in a few weeks or months when I am ready to start the new book, I will write that first, and save the email and the rest till after.

attachmentSo, that over, now I will crow:

The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories is up on Amazon!

The eBook ($5.99) has been up for 3 weeks, actually, but the print book took longer that antici . . . anti . . . ci . . . pated.

(Any Rocky Horror fans reading? You know how it goes!)

And–the eBook will be FREE from November 29 (the day AFTER Thanksgiving) through the following Monday, December 2nd.

Plus, I’ve joined some new program on Amazon where, if you buy the print book ($38), you can get the eBook for .99.

What is this book about?

Everything, almost, that Baby Boomers remember from Christmas past:

  • Aluminum trees, real tinsel, Bubble Lites, and all the other decorations
  • The foods! Butterball Turkeys, Green Bean Casserole, Chex Mix and more
  • The songs! The holiday hits of Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Elvis, Alvin and the Chipmunks–and Nat King Cole singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire “
  • More entertainment: The origins of NORAD’s Santa Tracking, the Nutcracker Ballet, and all those wonderful TV specials
  • The TOYS!

Barbie and Ken and Chatty Cathy

Stingrays and bikes and skateboards

Hula Hoops and Frisbees and SuperBalls

Candyland, Clue, Life and more

Costumes and Guns and Dummies and Models and Paint-by-Numbers and Rat Fink! and so many other delights . . .

So grab your copy now!

Here are all the links you need:

To buy the eBook at Amazon

To buy the printed book at Amazon

To visit the Boomer Book’s Facebook Page

To read the blog or check out the book’s website (where you can read more Boomer trivia, most of which is not in the book)

And thank you, everyone who has read through to here, for your indulgence and support.  Carry on!

01. November 2013 · Comments Off on The New Book Is Here! (Well, the eBook) · Categories: Marketing, Projects, Reading
Now available as a Kindle book:
by Vickey Kall,
Blogmeister of HistoryLosAngeles
Both ebook and print book in glorious living color!
Watch for the print book in just a few days.