Friday, June 29, 2012

E-Readers Reading Readers

There is a terrific article in the WSJ called Your E-Reader is Reading You by Alexandra Alter (here). It starts out with a compelling passage that states what will be discussed in the article. The fact that e-readers are now capturing data on whether or not "the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins?"

 As a BA in the industrial cleaning and remediation industry I love dissecting data and trying to see trends using that information to make changes. I knew that e-readers and distributors were collecting data, I had no idea they were collecting so much. For example I didn't know this:

 Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

 I am also a huge fan of the public highlighting feature on my Kindle. I love knowing what other's have highlighted and adding my notes and highlights to the public's database, so this passage wasn't too surprising.

 Amazon can identify which passages of digital books are popular with readers, and shares some of this data publicly on its website through features such as its "most highlighted passages" list. Readers digitally "highlight" selections using a button on the Kindle; they can also opt to see the lines commonly highlighted by other readers as they read a book. Amazon aggregates these selections to see what gets underlined the most. Topping the list is the line from the "Hunger Games" trilogy. It is followed by the opening sentence of "Pride and Prejudice."

But what was surprising was this blast from the past. Who doesn't remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of books. Now they can not only have readers choose the adventure but model and change the adventure based on the input they receive from the reader.

Coliloquy's digital books, which are available on Kindle, Nook and Android e-readers, have a "choose-your-own-adventure"-style format, allowing readers to customize characters and plot lines. The company's engineers aggregate and pool the data gleaned from readers' selections and send it to the authors, who can adjust story lines in their next books to reflect popular choices.

Finally, back to "color me not surprised" was this snippet.

Kobo, which makes digital reading devices and operates an e-reading service that stocks 2.5 million books and has more than eight million users, has recently started looking at how readers as a whole engage with particular books and genres. The company tracks how many hours readers spend on particular titles and how far they get. Kobo recently found, for example, that most readers who started George R.R. Martin's fantasy novel "A Dance With Dragons" finished the book, and spent an average of 20 hours reading it, a relatively fast read for a 1,040-page novel.

I think this data is suspect. What kind of true George R.R. Martin fan takes such a long time to finish his books. I was easily done in less than 20 hours.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Less on the Website, but More on the Web

That title alludes to what I need to concentrate on next time. I spent alot of time and effort on building a website, and not enough time on web marketing. What do I mean? Read on to see.

I started building a DickHannahWriting website about three years ago. There's a reason I haven't provided a link. It's not done. I started on it ostensibly because I thought I needed one for marketing. Secondarily it went hand-in-hand with a project I was involved with at the company I worked at at that time (here . . . but don't hold me completely accountable, they've let it go to seed a bit it since my departure). It was a decent little website but sadly had even less content than decency. Since that time, I've started several stunningly good revisions, none of which panned out completely. I've since abandoned the project for  as no matter how I organize it, there is always too little content for a complete website. Needless to say the wasted hours on website development over the last couple of years grew and grew and grew.  

I should have spent more time on web marketing. What do I mean by web marketing? I mean those aspects of websites and e-publishing that are tangential but still inherent in so many of the portals where one can find my book. There is the Amazon book description (here), the Amazon author page (here) there is the (still absent) Facebook page on Toe the Line, the Smashwords author page (here) and the Smashwords book description (here) my BookBlogs author page (here) my Linkedin page and my banner ad (see the top banner in this blog).

 I'm not saying that each of these has to necessarily be unique or different, in fact many of them are direct cuts and pastes of one another, but I didn't know about most of them until I started down this path. I should have had them all prepped and ready by the launch of the book.

 The banner ad too has been used far more than I expected. I used it in forums in BookBlogs, I used it for the top of my blog, I used it in LinkedIn, Facebook, etc etc. Guess what? I threw it together at the last minute. I took a couple of features from discarded book covers and plopped them on the ole art board one evening.

 Had I known then what I know now I would have devoted more time to the banner ad and other seemingly less significant web marketing feature and spent less time on the silly website.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Out of Order Last Line

This post is out of order. For some reason I always forget to log passages into my "Last Lines" series, even though there are some who would argue that last lines are more important than first lines. Last lines set up the following book in a series and/or provide the final word to the reader from the author.

Therefore, the last line of the last book I read:

O’Malley had already flown to the beach, taking the reporter with him. Morris hoped the Reuters correspondent would be able to file his last story on the war before he moved on to something else— an after-the-war story, no doubt. Reuben James had escorted the damaged America to Norfolk for repairs. He looked down from the bridge wing at the harbor he knew so well, mindful of the tide and the wind as he docked his frigate. One part of his mind pondered by itself What It All Meant. 
A ship lost, friends gone, the deaths he had caused, and those he had seen himself . . . 
“Rudder amidships,” Morris ordered. A puff of southerly wind helped Reuben James up to the pier. 
Aft, a seaman tossed a messenger line to the men on the pier. The officer in charge of the special sea-detail waved to a petty officer, who keyed the announcing system. 
What It All Means, Morris decided, is that it’s over. 
A crackle of static emerged, and then the petty officer’s voice. 

Clancy, Tom - Red Storm Rising

It sends a particular despondent and somber note to a long, long book that is full of action. It's almost like that moment sitting on the bench after a game that you helped your team lose, and realizing that it's not the end of the world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beginning the After Action Review

Whenever we completed a mission in the military we would perform an AAR or After Action Review. This would be a lessons learned session where everyone would get to talk about what went right with the mission and what went wrong. Although I'm still in the midst of self-publishing my novel, I think I can provide some AAR points on my efforts. Ergo, I am going to start having a series of posts on self-publishing lessons learned that way others who might be considering this option can learn from my mistakes and foibles.

It's Never Truly Complete/Edited

Toe the Line (here) was edited several times, and proofed twice. Despite that I am still finding problems in the text. Just last weekend I took my cousins marked up copy and inserted her edits. Far more than there should have been. The lesson learned here is DO NOT use multiple platforms for editing. I went from Kindle to MS Word and back to printed copy to make my edits. It was ridiculous, confusing, and I would swear it made for more problems than there were in the first place. Pick one (preferably paper) for that final edit and stick with it. Get a hard copy of your novel prior to announcing a release and have a trusted reader mark it up.
One of the editors recommended that I print it out and read the book out loud. This is just plain silly. Who reads a book out loud? My readers won't. I should have taken another few days, printed out an advance copy from Createspace (here) and read it as I expected my readers to read it. Next time I'll know better.

AAR Point #1 - I was way too fast in thinking that my novel was complete and completely edited. Won't make that mistake again. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

First Line Right Now

When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants. On the outside, she’d look like the perfect lady. Tasteful plastic heels, tailored suit. But underneath, she was naked. I’m a bail enforcement agent now— also known as a fugitive apprehension agent, also known as a bounty hunter. I bring ’em back dead or alive. At least I try. And being a bail enforcement agent is sort of like being bare-bottom Barbie. It’s about having a secret. And it’s about wearing a lot of bravado on the outside when you’re really operating without underpants. Okay, maybe it’s not like that for all enforcement agents, but I frequently feel like my privates are alfresco. Figuratively speaking, of course. At the moment I wasn’t feeling nearly so vulnerable.

Evanovich, Janet - High Five

Okay, okay . . . as anyone who reads this knows, Janet Evanovich novels are my secret pleasure. They are what I recharge with between "commitment books" (see here and here for examples of commitment book).

Still, one would think I'd pick a guilty pleasure that had a bit more engaging first line and passage. This one is a dog. Then again, her primary audience is the gals, maybe the gals find it more engrossing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Old Friends

Since I've gone back to 1986 with my last book (here) it was funny to see an old friend in the form of a book staring at me when I went over to my parent's house last week. A Voyage for Madmen (here) is a nonfiction book about a race to circumnavigate the globe, one man, in a sailboat, no stops. I think nine men tried it. I won't ruin the book and tell you how many made it back or what happened to them. My brother was in town, and as it was he who was reading it . . . he was the one who enticed and cajoled me to read it.

I loved this book. I'm not at all nautically minded. I can't even remember the last time I sailed on a boat, but this book grabs the readers attention and hooks them with their own imagination of what these men went through in their race around the world. I referenced it after I read it (here). I need to add it to my "To Be Read" list. It will be good to read again.

Friday, June 22, 2012

About 25 Years Too Late, But Still Good

Well, I read Red Storm Rising (here) about 25 years after it came out and was a best seller, but it still had a lot going for it after all these years. One of the things I really liked about this book is that he wrote it without a primary main character. Sure this is Toland and Sergetov (two major characters) but unlike Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games et al, all the action in this book happens without the presence of Jack Ryan. I liked that. I found it refreshing. It makes me think that Tom Clancy hadn't yet been harangued by his editor/agent that he had to have a central character for readers to glom onto and relate with.

This feature of the book reminds me of the first time I saw Die Hard. I thought, what a great premise for a series of movies in which the main character in each story refuses to give up. I didn't think it should feature Bruce Willis in each movie. I mean how unrealistic that one guy would be put into all those different situations. This is why I dig Dick Francis novels. I think he made two novels with repeat main characters and yet he continued to be a prolific and popular author.

Nevertheless, I really liked Red Storm Rising and it has re-inspired me to go back and read some of the other Tom Clancy's I've missed. In terms of the "techno-thriller" he is unmatched. Some may find it too detailed or boring but I love reading about how the loader works in a battleships guns, or how a submarine uses passive "pinging" verses active sonar and why.

I enjoyed several of his passages. I love this one below that related several of the Russian generals to lions.

Alekseyev leaned forward and swatted himself with his bundle of branches. The action was strangely like a lion’s swishing its tail. At fifty, he was the second-youngest officer there, a respected intellectual soldier and a fit, handsome man with the shoulders of a lumberjack. His intense, dark eyes squinted down through the rising cloud of steam. “Mid-June?”

At one point he writes from a Naval Captain's point of view about the merchant marine fleet that is being used for convoy duty. As much as I liked the analogy above I thought this one was especially cringe inducing.

Of those, a mere 103 were routinely engaged in overseas trade. The supplemental National Defense Reserve Fleet consisted of only 172 cargo ships. To call the situation a disgrace was to describe gang rape as a mild social deviation. They couldn’t allow even one to be lost. Morris wandered over to the bridge radarscope

Then this one caught my eye. In context its not too heavy-handed but it provides a nice glimpse both into the general condition of the battle in Europe but also the weariness of the commander.

A field hospital was in the trees five hundred meters away, and the wind carried the shrieks of the wounded to the command post. Not like that in the movies he’d watched as a child— and still watched. The wounded were supposed to suffer in quiet, determined dignity, puffing on cigarettes proffered by the kindly, hardworking medics, waiting their turn for the courageous, hardworking surgeons and the pretty, dedicated nurses. A fucking lie, all of it a monstrous fucking lie, he told himself. The profession for which he had prepared his life was organized murder. He sent boys with pimples on their faces into a landscape rained on with steel and watered with blood. The burns were the worst. The tank crews who escaped from their brewed-up vehicles with their clothes alight— they never stopped screaming. Those killed by shock or the pistol of a merciful officer were only replaced by more. The lucky ones who reached the casualty-clearing stations found medics too busy to offer cigarettes, and doctors who were dropping from fatigue. 

Finally, this next one grabbed me for its particularly startling last line. I took a second look and thought you should too.

Alekseyev waved for Major Sergetov to follow him. Only he felt the cold lead weight in his belly. Only he knew how weak his knees were as they trod down the marble steps. Alekseyev didn’t believe in God, but he knew that he had just seen the door to hell cracked open. “Major,” he said casually

All in all, a great and terrific book and I can't wait to get a few smaller novels under my belt so I can go back and read another Clancy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wow, . . . Who Knew?

I was pleasantly reading along in my most recent book, Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy when BOOM! out of nowhere came this word.

It would have been fairly easy except for their heavy packs. Each man carried a fifty-pound load. The added weight and their fatigue affected their balance, with the result that someone watching from a distance might have taken the Marines for old women crossing an icy street. It was a fifty-degree slope down, in some places almost vertical, with some paths worn into the slopes, perhaps by the wild deer that throve here. For the first time fatigue worked in their favor. Fresher, they might have tried to move more quickly; as it was, each man was near the end of his string, and feared his own weakness more than the rocks. It took over an hour, but they made it down with nothing worse than cuts on their hands and bruises somewhere else.

Clancy, Tom - Red Storm Rising

Did you see it? Throve. Seriously? I felt sure it was a type. I actually took a second to look it up, and "Yep" there is it. Who knew that was the past of thrive (here). I bet if I polled a hundred people no one would know that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First Line Right Now

That title is a bit misleading. I'm actually trying valiantly to get to that next first line. I'm racing through Red Storm Rising in an effort to get to this next book, both because I am looking forward to reading it, but also because Red Storm Rising is intense and engaging enough that reading it fast is fun.

The first line for this next novel is:

No way around it, there was going to be a body count.
What Goes Around - Cheryl Rogers

You can't tell me that doesn't make you want to read on. I actually started a novel a few years ago called Body Count. It didn't start with that compelling a line, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

Friday, June 15, 2012

This Post is About This Book is About Travel

My indispensable brother sent me a terrific link about a fellow writer who has also recently self-published his book on travelling, Andrew Hyde is the author, his book is This Book is About Travel and the post is on his blog (here).

Yesterday I said I would get around to writing a post or two about the foibles, challenges (expected and unexpected) and difficulties that went with self-publishing. I still do intend to do that, mostly as an AAR (Military speak for After Action Review) to help me avoid the same problems next time.

One thing that my AAR will not address is the centerpiece for Mr. Hyde's post, the amount of royalties he received from each delivery method; Kindle, iBook, Nook, PDF. He provides a terrific primer on what to expect and what he found after he published and started to gain sales.

The most stunning piece of information that I found in the post was the change in the customer's buying habits prior to his having written his post and after (here).

This is required reading for anyone thinking of self-publishing and wants to know what to expect in terms of royalties.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I'll Take a Thumb's Up

The reason that I published my novel Toe the Line is so that I could find out what challenges and hurdles I should expect later down the road. I have another novel that I'm far more excited about just around the corner, and I want all my ducks in place for that one. I'll have a post on all the things I did wrong and all that I did right in the near future, but one thing I've found I underestimated was the work it takes to get reviews.

I assumed that reviews just came with purchasers. Not so. I was confused by this for about two seconds, right up till I thought about all the reviews I've written on Amazon for books that I've read . . . none. So the challenge is to find bloggers to read and review the work then post it to their blogs and to Amazon. I found a terrific site called Book Blogs (here) which is chock full of folks willing to do reviews. In some cases it's a review for a review which is how I ended up review Scrapbook last month (here).

Well, now a review has come in for Toe the Line and it's a thumbs up review. Mom's Thumb Review is a blog that review everything that could possibly intersect with a mom's life; hair products, cleaning products, fiction, non-fiction. Sort of an Angie's List without the focus on contractors. The site has around 20,000 views a month from 160+ countries and just yesterday had 1500 views. Miss Carr has read and reviewed my book and she liked it (see here).

I understand that it reads like a first timer's novel (it is), but at the very least, since it's on sale now for only $0.99 every review should at least say it was worth the price.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

If Challenges Make the Character More Interesting . . . Why Do People Say I'm So Boring?

One of my favorite movies with Will Ferrel is Stranger than Fiction. At least that's one of my favorite movies of his where he is trying to be serious. My favorite part of that movie is when Will Ferrell's character, Harold Crick, finally discovers who the author talking to him in his thoughts is, he confronts her, gets a copy of the novel she is writing about him (and he is subsequently living out) and he gives it to Dustin Hoffman, a literature professor to read. Dustin Hoffman reads it and says something along the lines of "I'm sorry, you have to die. The book won't be any good if you don't die." (see here)

I was thinking about this movie on my drive in today. Today I feel like Harold. When I first started editing and rewriting my novel, my editor kept saying you have to add more conflict, more challenges. If the protagonist isn't having to overcome obstacles the reader will get bored. Now, when I read I see all the challenges that the author lays out in their own works  . . . boom . . . boom . . . boom. Now that I know what to look for I see it. In the book I'm reading, Red Storm Rising, I see World War III, five different characters stuck in their own little battles within the war, submarines stalking boats, ships stalking subs, firefights, an attempted rape, even Toland the intelligence officer trying to figure out how to gain the initiative, and even in the midst of all that he's dealing with troubles with his wife back at home. Tons of external and internal challenges.

My life is like that protagonist right now. The company I work for just recently laid off a large group of folks. I have had to take on a lot of new duties as well as continue my own. I have this to do, that to do, I have to fly to California, there is impending doom on the horizon when we look at our Fall workload. . . . boom . . . boom . . . boom. I feel like an author is throwing challenges at me to see how many more I can take. Interestingly, I find it difficult to believe that a reader would still be reading my novel. Who cares about the upcoming workload for an industrial cleaning company. Makes me think I need to find my own life's author and tell them to get more creative. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Good and Bad of Book Promotion

I read an article today in the WSJ by Nell Alk entitled, Author Runs the City (here). I thought for a moment, "What a great idea for research into a novel, getting to run a city for a day." I wondered if the character he was researching was a big city mayor. I was wrong. Actually it was an article about Scott Jurek, author of "Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness".

When I first started reading Diane Mott Davidson I thought she had a good idea in including her recipes at the end of her mysteries. I still think the recipes are a good idea, I just don't read her books anymore. I got to a point where I didn't find her characters engaging.

I thought a good way to expand on this idea of hers would be to include some of the runs, bike rides, and swims that take place in my novel in the back of my new novel. I decided against it. Don't get me wrong, I think that My Jurek has a great promotional idea for his new book. He's got a famous name, he's got a following, he even gets it in the WSJ. Davidson's idea is a bit more passive. Not much promotion. Fun, but no promotional aspect.

Then I realized that they weren't even useful. I never made one of those recipes. I liked reading about them originally, but that wore off. I even asked my wife, who turned me on to Davidson, if she had even used one of the recipes. She might have admitted to making one. It was all gimmick. That's the way the run, bike and swim routes would have come off. Gimmicky. No thanks. So, when you buy my new novel, you'll not see any mapped out race routes. However, you might see a bookmark for my novel in your race packet for your next race. Not gimmickry, that would be all promotion.

Monday, June 4, 2012

RV Novel

A few years ago I had an idea to write a story about a group of friends who travel around the US competing in triathlons, half marathons and other adventure races. The idea was to have a murder or two to occur on the way and for one of the RV riders to be the killer. As they raced more and more, and traveled on and on, the tension would ramp up both because the racers would get tired, but also because of the natural cabin fever that the RV trip would create.

It always seemed like a good idea, I just never got around to developing it further. One problem was that I remember the times I traveled with my lacrosse team in college. We would usually play lacrosse, sleep, eat, and drink. That's about it. Lots and lots of sleeping. Not much tension in that.

I've decided that if I really want to ramp up the tension and frustration one of the racers needs to bring along his wife, his two year old and his four year old. This would rapidly develop some frustration and aggravation. I have first-hand knowledge of just how much tension and aggravation it creates. This is our third day in the motor-coach and the two children alone have produced so much anxiety I'm about to yank my eyeballs out. The wife's complaints are just icing on the cake.

I think its time to pull that ole idea out of the cupboard and revisit the RV story.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Write Drunk . . .

There is a fun article and even more fun comments regarding the article in Fuel Your Writing by Eric Kuentz entitled What Happens When You Try and Drink Like Hemingway (here). It's short and a worthwhile read and it has inspired me to try the same experiment to see what happens. Basically, the author took a bottle of wine and another aperitif and tried to write for the evening drunk. His results?

One thing I learned, besides being out of practice drinking (no worries, not a habit I’m looking to pick up), alcohol definitely lowered my inhibitions. While this can be a dangerous occurrence at the bar, facing the blank page wasn’t nearly as scary as usual. While the ideas didn’t flow as smoothly as I may have liked, and clearly I lose the ability to punctuate and spell, there was definitely a stream-of-consciousness kind of feeling as I was writing. As things popped into my head, as characters spoke out of the fog of intoxication, it all spewed out onto the page.

Going back and looking what I have written in my intoxicated state, I think this may have been what Hemingway meant by “write drunk; edit sober.” My first draft is fluid and uninhibited. It’s haggard and sloppy, but it’s free. I had no fears and no restraints. Nothing was held back, and I wasn’t able to second-guess myself.

Again, it might be interesting to try. the question is . . . would it be worth the hangover?