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Remember May 30

Google this date in history (or go to Wikipedia and have a look) and you’ll find a lot of things happened in the past to make it significant. Actually do that for any date in history and you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

For today’s date I hope that along with the beginnings and endings of wars, the various burnings at the stake of some famous people like Joan of Arc, the establishment of Decoration Day which eventually evolved into Memorial Day , and the first running of the Indianapolis 500, that people will recall it as the official date Fried Windows In A Light White Sauce by Elgon Williams was launched. Certainly, I’ll remember it.

FINAL Final Fried Windows Front Cover Only

It has always been difficult to publish a book, get it noticed and sell it. As the process of publication has trended more toward producing a variety of material for the reader it has also become increasingly more difficult for a particular book release to be noticed. So, this launch day is a bit different. It is without a great deal of hoopla.

Yeah, there will be some events and contests and such. I figure those will draw some attention and maybe a few dozen will participate. That’s reality. I hope those who do will buy my book and read it. If they do the majority will like it and hopefully tell their friends and family to buy it. They will read it and like it and tell their friends and family and so on. That’s how a book becomes popular.

Despite all the modern technology that has led to the plethora of reading material available on Amazon, where my book officially launches today, the method of an author becoming known for a particular book has never changed. It all rests, as it should, in the hands of the reader, doesn’t it?

Without any fear or delusions of grandeur, I humbly submit for your analysis and review what I think is a significant achievement in fiction. Like it’s title and cover, Fried Windows. (In A Light White Sauce) is something different and special. It is a book about a middle-aged man being afforded the opportunity of a lifetime – reconnecting with his inner child.

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Evolution Of An Idea

 

FINAL Final Fried Windows Front Cover Only

This morning I have been thinking about everything that has happened in the past year with regard to Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce) – really the past two or so years since I wrote the original draft. It has been a crazy journey in every sense of the word ‘crazy’. A lot of people have helped me along the way, including family and friends.

On Washington’s Birthday in 2012, I left my position in retail management. Although I started looking for other work immediately, what I focused more on was my writing and getting my personal life and health back on track after a detour through a personal level of hell to which I never want to return. A couple of days before St. Patrick’s Day I wrote a poem with a whimsical childhood theme and posted it online. It received a lot of favorable feedback, even though I’m not much of a poet. It inspired me to write a quirky story that became the nucleus of Fried Windows.

The odd title came from a misread headline on an online news feed. I wasn’t wearing glasses at the time and mused about how one would serve Fried Windows – in a light white sauce, of course!  Anyway, the title seemed to fit the story which was about a middle aged man receiving a gift – the opportunity to reconnect with his childhood. SO I worked the title into the story, explaining it fairly early in the telling. That initial story from which everything else evolved is contained in the first two chapters of my book.

Many people who read the story after I posted it online at a writing community suggested that I continue with more stories about the same characters. Over the next month or so I wrote a total of sixteen separate stories. A little later on I added a seventeenth story that now appears as Chapter 13 in the finished book. Yeah, the stories were discreet, stand alone short stories at one point and the order in which the basic elements of those stories are arrayed throughout the book does not reflect the order in which they were originally posted in my writing community. You see, about a year after writing the stories I pulled them down from the site with the intention of submitting them to a magazine, beginning with the original story. I allowed a good friend of mine to go over that story and edit it a bit.

After submitting the story, I felt very good about its prospects for publication – so much so that I revised the other stories I had written so that I was ready to send them to the magazine when requested. Never did I believe for a moment that the initial story would be rejected. It was so vastly different from other things I had submitted only to be rejected over the years that surely it was magical and would be the breakthrough piece for me. I was sure I’d found the formula for success as a writer. When the rejection came I went numb with disbelief. How could anyone reject that wonderful story?

I know what you’re thinking – especially if you’re a writer with some experience in being refused publication Rejection is part of life as an author. Believe me, I could wallpaper a house with the rejection letters I’ve received over the course of my life. I’ve heard every excuse in the book as well. Most of the letters seemed to be standardized form responses to a submission politely telling me not to quit my day job.

Well, too late for that. I was unemployed and counting on selling some stories. Having worn out my welcome with my relatives, I was facing the prospect of couch surfing for a while – something many artists can relate to, I’m sure.

As I had revised the several other short stories I had written along with the original Fried Windows piece I noticed some continuity. When assembled in a certain order with a few connective pieces there was the makings of a novel. I spent a few days writing some additional chapters and coming up with a tentative ending. Once reassembled, I was determined to prove the naysayers wrong. I was going to upload the book and start selling it.

Around the time I was formatting everything to standards for eBook publication, I received a tweet from Pandamoon Publishing. The company’s name intrigued me because I have always loved pandas. I checked out the website and submission guidelines. After spending a couple of hours creating the proper documentation and presenting the novel in an acceptable format, I deferred self-publishing for the moment to submit Fried Windows. Honestly, I expected to wait a few weeks before receiving a polite pass – another rejection. A few days later, though, I received confirmation that the manuscript had been received and would be reviewed. But to my amazement the next email I received began with the word “Congratulations’ and it referred to Fried Windows as a great novel.

Yea, I re-read the email several times looking for the punchline. You do that when you’ve been rejected as often as I have. I forwarded the email to my kids (who are full grown) and some other relatives to see if anyone read the email differently. Everyone confirmed what I understood to be acceptance, offering their congratulations. A few days later I had a phone conversation with the publisher and a few days after that I negotiated a contract for publishing a book.

After the long process of receiving and responding to substantive edits, content edits, cover design concepts and publicity campaigns the book is ready for release in a few days. (May 30, 2014). The cover was revealed last night (May 26) and is posted above. From a crazy idea to a book in two years – maybe it can be done quicker, I don’t know. But in that span my life has evolved along with bringing the concept to fruition as a tangible book for public consumption.

Although their are general similarities, the publishing process is unique for every author and each book. Some win contests, other must struggle as I have to get attention for a book. More would be authors are rejected than accepted. Like most authors I have always had faith in my projects and have usually taken rejection in stride, reviewed the project and made some adjustments before submitting it anew. It’s not an easy thing to do getting others to believe in something you wrote, but that is the essential difference between a writer and an author, isn’t it. Both write but the author is the one who doesn’t give up on an idea.

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What Are You Doing Here?

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It was a line from a Billy Joel song about a piano player in a bar. The line resonated with me each time someone asked me why I was where I was doing the sort of work I did. Whenever they asked me I felt embarrassed. Certainly, when I was a kid I’d never dreamed of growing up to be a retail store manager. It won’t that the job didn’t have its constant challenges. I dare anyone to say differently. It was just I never intended to be working sixteen-hour days for the sort of pay I was receiving.

People saw me working, breaking a sweat while wearing a dress shirt and dress slacks as was required. At least the company relented on having us wear neckties a couple of years earlier. Maybe I worked a little too hard, doing the manual stuff, lifting, toting and putting out freight. But I was never the sort to stand around and give orders, which was actually what the company expected me to do. Usually I could do something quicker myself than delegate and follow up to ensure it was done up to my expectations. Yeah, I get it that I was not really improving anyone else, training and developing my people to do the work for me but I had deadlines on my work lists that I could never achieve if I relied on others. So, as a manager, I was a hard worker but not really a goo deluder, I guess. That was the way my superiors reviewed me, anyway.

They told me I was the smartest guy in the district. What did that mean? There I was working with people who made more money than I did who were not working as hard as I was and they were telling me how smart I was by comparison. If you ask me I was pretty dumb. During one of my performance reviews when they told me how smart my response was that it was like telling me I was the tallest of the pygmies. I’m not sure they got my point.

Filtered through the perception and expectations based on what others learned about my background, the usual refrain was, “Wow, what are you doing working for…”

“I’m surviving,” was my answer.

A couple of years ago, I actually hit the bottom in terms of my self esteem and confidence. I never want to return to a situation like that. My job was killing me, literally and figuratively. My health was in rapid decline, overweight working a stressful job. The only thing I liked doing was writing for a few hours after I got home from work and on my days off. But my job was demanding more and more of my time. Whatever I did was never good enough. After working my ass off for twelve to sixteen hours a day my supervisors expected me to stay a couple of more hours doing this or that and called me in on my days off as well. I had no life. The only thing I took any pride in was that I’d won a couple of awards with my writing. To me that was progress.

Clearly I was in a hole, not a rut. In a rut there is still a chance for progress even within the same rut. Rapidly I was digging in deeper and the hole was collapsing around me. That’s how it felt they day I resigned. Suddenly I realized that no one had a gusto my head making me endure their abuse. It was the threat of losing my job, my income that they held over me. That was what kept me working. The day was Washington’s Birthday 2012. I quit because they pushed me too far. They infringed on my private imd for writing, the only thing I did that kept me sane.

I guess my problem all along was selling myself short. I’ve always done that to some extent. I was never quite good enough for this or that, always discounting the possibilities of being better than I was or others anticipated. Often I did what others wanted me to do. Like the watch on the Timex commercials of my youth, I took a licking but kept on ticking. No one who knew me would ever have called me a tough kid but I put up with a lot of stuff that maybe I shouldn’t have. Hey, it made me what I am, so in a strange, warped way, I might even be grateful.

Less than a month after quitting my last retail management job, a couple of days before St. Patrick’s Day, I was truly a writer – writing everyday, which was what I always wanted. And what I wrote in daily installments I posted to Fanstory. Otherwise I was unemployed.

Following the positive response to a poem with a childhood theme that I wrote and posted online, I sat down at my old Macbook Pro and wrote about a man dealing with some indecipherable directions to a house. I didn’t have a title for the piece as I wrote it. That came a few hours later when I misread a headline – I really should wear my glass when surfing the news feeds. Over the course of the ensuing month I wrote a number of related stories that became the kernel of Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce), the book which will be launched on May 30, a couple of years later.

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Fanning The Flames – Gaining Fans As An Author

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It’s very hard to find someone who believes in you like a fan. I guess the first step is to believe in yourself. After all, how are you going to attract fans if you don’t think you are good enough to have fans.

As an author I have found it particularly true that self confidence is required to promote and sell one’s work. But there is a continuing battle within between the writer and the author. Against that everyone who writes struggles. Let me explain.

The writer is a person that wakes up early each morning and composes something, whether or not the author ever decides to do something with it. The author is more focused on the dissemination of work to readers, whether of not something is actually sold. Yeah, I know that usually people make the distinction between a writer and an author in terms of being published. But with the advent and popularity of digital self-publishing, there are many more authors. I think a true author is an artist and therefore he or she focuses more on the art of writing and sharing it for the appreciation of the craft rather than the more crass, business aspects of publishing.

Having said all that, for a writer to continue writing there must be income whether from a side job or the fruits of one’s literary labors. So the business aspects of being an author are necessary to consider if one intends to make writing a career.

I am fortunate in many ways. Though many in my family would tell you of my personal and financial struggles over the past few years as I pursued writing as a career, I gained a lot of business insight about publishing through my associations and failures. Also, my business background in sales and marketing have lent insights without which I would not hold a position that straddles both the creative and promotional aspects of the publishing business.

My publisher believes in my crazy stories, my art. That has helped bolster my confidence in my work. But my associations with other authors have benefitted me at least as much in understanding there are no magical secrets to succeeding in this craft. What works is as basic and simple as it gets. At some point, a writer has to want to do whatever is necessary to find readers. You cannot wait for someone else to do that for you or expect that the quality of your writing will automatically gain attention. Somehow, in some way, you must present your work in an attractive manner that gains the public’s attention. And in order to sustain your writing career, those people need to buy your work, recommend it to others and grow your fan base into loyal supporters. That’s the hard part.

Many new authors don’t realize how to gain fans. No amount of advertising or self-promotion on social media will substitute for the personal touch. An author must connect one-on-one with each reader. However that is accomplished it is essential to building a fan base. Responding to comments on blog posts, making personal appearances like book signings, exchanging emails, chatting whether through messaging or in chat rooms, all are ways for an author to connect personally with a reader. Without that one-to-one intimacy it is very difficult to persuade readers to attempt reading a book from an unknown author.IMG_0233

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Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Great advice in this article about the pitfalls of modern publishing for new authors.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost thirteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you. Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish.

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words. I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books, and who only go to pitch agents…

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Unknown Caller – Flash Fiction

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Why do they call them smartphones? He wondered as he glanced at the display of his ringing cell. Not very intelligent if it doesn’t know the caller’s number. ‘Unknown Caller’ could be anyone with a blocked number. It must be a bill collector. Lately, he’d had a lot of those calls. The most obnoxious of them come through as ‘Unknown Caller’. He allowed it to go to voice mail, intending to delete it.

Since before the divorce, he’d been ignoring anything from ‘Unknown Caller’, just assuming it was the same caller, but it might have been one of a number of creditors he or his ex-wife owed. As his father used to say, “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”

His ex took everything he had and still wanted more. As far as he was concerned, they could call her to pay the debts. She had all his money, his house, and the better of the two cars. She could pay the creditors. Most of the accumulated debt was hers, anyway. Only fair. Right?

He checked the display for the correct time, and then deleted the missed call from the queue just as a text message came. He paused to read it. His best friend since college told him ‘Happy Mutha’s Day’. It was a joke between them. He text messaged back, ‘U da mutha!’ Then he chuckled.

Before he could hit send, the phone rang again. Another ‘Unknown Caller’, he shook his head. Angry, he answered, “Hello?”

“Is this Jonathan Sparks?”

“Is this a collector?”

“No, I’m a friend of your Uncle Sam.”

“Sam? How’s he doin’?”

“I’m sorry to be the one to break the news, He passed away last week. I’ve been trying to reach you. Is there a time and a place we can meet?”

“What about?”

“Settling his Estate. I’m the executor.”

“You mean like a reading the Will?”

“Yes, exactly. You’re the sole heir. As you must know, Samuel J. Sparks was a very wealthy man.”

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Frankly, I Don’t Understand FREE

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Okay, I get it that FREE is one of the most powerful words in advertising and promotions. It is also one of the most overused. And many times FREE is not really FREE. Fior example, all those FREE membership cards at retailers that give you money back on your purchases. Ain’t nutting’ FREE about that. You get email blasts and text messages with ads, don’t you?

Anyway, I’ve been scratching my head for a while over why anyone would want to give away a book that took him or her years to write? It just doesn’t make sense because, it is both unnecessary and stupid – especially if you’re getting nothing in return. You see, a real promotion always has a purpose. Like the aforementioned FREE frequent shopper rebates. If you give your book away in exchange for reviews or to promote your latest book or as a means of capturing email addresses for future directed promotions, then giving something away makes sense. But what I see happening in the publishing world is a lot of indie authors giving away books hoping that in the process they will gain a fan base. That’s ludicrous.

Here’s why. People who are drawn to the word FREE are bargain hunters. They are not trend setters. They don’t go after the new and shiny. So the chances of ever getting them to buy your next book when it first comes out is pretty low. They are the bottom feeders of the market. They buy everything on clearance. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but you need to know that is the customer you’re attracting with the word FREE.

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Also, remember that any damned fool can give crap away. It takes no effort at all, really. We recently ran a FREE promotion to test its viability for a good, well written book with an attractive cover. In two days it received over 2600 worldwide downloads.Afterwards a few more books sold and a couple of new reviews appears in the days afterwards. So for the sake of giving away 2600 FREE copies of a great book, the end result was a few real sales and a couple of decent reviews. You be the judge whether it was worth it.

Now, the conventional wisdom of the FREE promotion is that it creates new fans for an unknown authors. Again, remember the sort of customer that is attracted to the word FREE. Granted, you may pick up some long term fans who are attracted to the word FREE because they have never heard of the author and it is a no cost way to test drive a book from that author. But I’m here to tell you, if that accounts for 10% of the action an author gets from a FREE promotion, that’s a lot. You decide if that is a worthwhile objective of the promotion.

For most authors, anything below $2.99 on eBook pricing is a loss leader.Indie authors who have lower production costs associated with their books may be able to eek out some profit at lower prices because they have not invested in professional editing or cover design. But once you factor in the cots of a real cover and a real editor you are realistically looking at a price point between $2.99 and $3.99 just to be able to make a few pennies per copy sold. The higher the production costs, the higher the necessary retail price for a break even point. It’s simple business.

Let’s forget about paperbacks because they have higher fixed costs. No sane person would give them away.

I posted a few days ago about about pricing art. In that article I stated that there are divergence trends in eBooks. Publishers are raising their prices while indies are continuing to drive the average retail price lower. The reason for the disparity is largely FREE and 99 cent promotions. Some of the price pressure comes from programs like Kindle Select. For those who do not understand the program, Amazon offers members of its Select program the ability to choose any Kindle title listed on the program for FREE. Actually it is not truly FREE to the member because he or she has paid an annual membership fee for the privilege. For the author, listing on the Select program requires an exclusive commitment to Amazon for 90 days – meaning you cannot have an eBook version of your novel on sale anywhere else. So, if your book is not on the Select program it has to be priced at FREE to compete. This is inane, though. You see, authors who are on the Select program are compensated for any book downloaded as part of the program. If you price at FREE to compete or even attract fans you lose money while those on the program do not.

I’m not saying you should place your eBook on the Select program. That’s your choice. I’m just explaining why it makes no sense to compete with the special deal through FREE pricing. If you are attempting to attract people away from the Select program for which they have already paid a fee, my first question is why? Those readers joined the Select program because one of the benefits was being able to download new books for FREE. What makes you think they will even look at your book?

Maybe I’m missing something. I could be wrong. there could actually be a valid reason or a FREE promotion for a book other than the few I have stated. I suppose anything is possible. There could be an honest politician somewhere and I do believe int he tooth fairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny. But I’m not inclined to promote my books for anything less that a break even price unless it is for a limited time and for a very good promotional reason. And you shouldn’t either.

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