As many of you know I recently published my book, The Sun Zebra. One day after publication I checked my book's Amazon Ranking and was stunned to find out that my book was ranked 36,519 in the Kindle store. This amazed me because the Kindle store has more than 1 million books. This meant that my book had climbed to the top 4% in less than a day! So I logged in to my Amazon account to check how many hundreds of books I had sold. I found out that I had sold a womping three books (and one was a copy I bought to make sure the book was OK)! How could this be? How could selling 3 books propel me to the top 4%?Amazon uses a secret algorithm to rank books based on sales (and presumably other parameters), and compares them to other books. We don't know how this algorithm works but there is enough evidence out there that points to one simple truth. The vast majority of books do not sell much. As a result of that, if you plot books sold against number of authors, what you get is what is called a "power curve" (see figure).The sharp spike to the left represent the few authors that sell many books. In this small area you will find people like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. There is then a small transition zone that has authors that have decent but not spectacular sales. And then comes the very long tail that extends to the right. This is where you find the thousands of other writers that have almost no sales on their books. When you are in this tail it is common to find that even the sale of one copy can improve your book's Amazon ranking by hundreds of thousands of points. Despite realizing this I was tempted to tweet something like "My book reached the top 4% of the Amazon Kindle store!" However, this, although not a false claim, would have been dishonest because it would not tell the whole story. I, and many others, are in that long tail to the right struggling to sell our books and make our way to the left. How will we make it? I don't know yet, but that is the challenge!
Most adults can share stories of things children did or said that made them smile. There is freshness in the simplicity and wonder through which children view the world. A world which perhaps we adults have made too complicated for our own good; but there is also a weakness. As parents we know that our world is full of wonderful things, but we are also conscious of the darkness that is present, and we are reminded of it while reading the newspaper or watching the news. This world is not a good place to be innocent, which is what children are. That is why children have to be protected by their parents. But in order to do this something has to happen. We, the parents, have to cease being children ourselves.Living in the adult world is difficult. We face the wear and tear of the daily rat race, we do housework, we pay bills, and we worry about what the future will bring. Will I keep my job? Will my health and that of my loved ones be OK? Am I making the best decisions for the future of my family? As we age we progressively toughen up dealing with the world, its opportunities, and its dangers. But many of us lose something in the process, the capacity to view the world as a child. This loss has been recognized as something negative by many cultures throughout the ages. In the Bible, for example, there is a passage about the need to be like a child to inherit the kingdom of God. This is why I wrote a series of stories which I have grouped under the title The Sun Zebra, Adventures in Living of Nell and Her Family. I wrote them to reclaim that freshness, that vision of the world through the eyes of a child that many of us adults lost a long time ago. These stories were fun to write, they made me laugh and cry remembering the child I used to be, and I hope that through them I can make you experience that magic again, or help you latch on to it if you feel you are loosing it.My e-book The Sun Zebra will be free on Amazon from November 17 to November 18. Please download it (it's a quick read), and let me know what you think. If you don't have a Kindle you can download an app that will allow you to read Kindle books on your computer here. Thank you and I hope that you too can go look for the zebra!
Author James Crawford had an e-book on Amazon called "Blood Soaked and Contagious", but he decided that, as a promotion, he would publish the first 3 chapters of his book on Barnes and Noble for free. So when his promotional book was published the similarity between the free B&N version and the Amazon version confused Amazon's pricing mechanism, which proceeded to list his book on Amazon as "free". By the time the problem was corrected 5,000 plus copies of his book had been given away for free and, due to Amazon's pricing policies, he is not entitled to any compensation for this error. You can read the author's account here.Pricing a book for free on other outlets is a very common trick writers use to give their books away for free on Amazon because of Amazon's price matching policy. What writers need to remember is that the process is automated; it is a robot, a program, which makes the decisions. So if you have a book on Amazon make sure any promotional excerpts you publish elsewhere at a lower price are very obviously different from your Amazon book. Lest you confuse Amazon's pricing bot!Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
I recently learned about a writer called John Kennedy Toole. He wrote a book called "A confederacy of Dunces" and tried to get it published but kept being rejected. Partly as a result of this he committed suicide. Several years later his mother had a novelist read the book who liked it so much he shepherded it into print. The book made the big time and won a Pulitzer Prize. This is a sad story, especially when you think of all those authors out there on "the grind" experiencing one rejection after another while hoping that some publisher somewhere will find their book "acceptable" for publishing. One can only guess whether within this group of writers there are some susceptible individuals that will consider taking their own lives during a bout of depression. Is there anything that can be done for them? Yes there is! Now there is a great way to get your book out to millions of readers! It's called self-publishing. Yes that's right, no need to kill yourself over being rejected by a publisher. You probably won't win any Pulitzer prizes (and what is the point of winning one if you are dead anyway) but you will certainly earn enough money to buy a realistic replica of one to hang over your fireplace, which as far as I am concerned is just as good!Please check out my first collection of short stories, The Sun Zebra.
Why are writers attracted to cats? Barbara Holland once wrote: "A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It’s a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys." So is it because writers like someone to make life difficult for them? Are writers masochists? Or maybe like Andre Norton wrote: "Perhaps it is because cats do not live by human patterns, do not fit themselves into prescribed behavior, that they are so united to creative people." There certainly seems to be something otherworldly about cats.In his Bartimaeus Trilogy Jonathan Stroud states that there are several planes of reality through which all sorts of entities from the spirit world move. He writes that most living things (including humans) can only see the first plane, with the exception of cats. Cats can also see the second plane. Have you seen how sometimes, for no apparent reason, a cat will jerk its head and stare wide eyed towards an area where there is obviously nothing worth staring at? It sort of makes you wonder what they can see that you can't.These and other characteristics have created some problems for these felines. For example, in the Middle Ages Pope Gregory IX in the papal bull Vox in Rama linked cats to evil rituals. In the ensuing years countless cats (and sometimes their owners, too) were slaughtered, setting the stage for Europe to be overrun with rats carrying the black plague. However, in other times and places like, for example, Egypt, people were fond of cats and the ancient Egyptian Goddess Bastet was depicted as having the head of a cat. Depending on where you live today, a black cat may be associated with good or bad luck. Here in the U.S. we have the saying that a cat has nine lives.No wonder cats have a supernatural aura about them. Perhaps it is because of this that creative people like writers are avid cat owners. Some writers go as far as to include cats in their fiction. The writer Lilian Jackson Braun published 29 books in which cats help a reporter solve murder mysteries. Perhaps staring at those haunting eyes framed by those pointy ears, helps writers establish a connection with their muse. On the other hand, there may be a more obvious explanation. Dan Greenburg wrote: "Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance." Be it as it may, if you are a writer and you own a cat you are part of a long and distinguished tradition. Today let's celebrate writers and their cats!
H. P. Lovecraft
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
Jean Paul Sartre
Jorge Luis Borges
Somerset Maugham and Max Ernest
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Who doesn't like stories where the protagonists overcome difficult challenges to succeed and make their dreams come true? In this world of broken dreams that is one of the purposes of fiction, to allow us to visualize a better life for ourselves, even if it may be unrealistic and beyond our grasp. But who needs fiction when you can read Ingrid Rick's true story "Hippie Boy"? This the tale of a young girl and her siblings immersed in the maelstrom of a family that unstitches at the seams. It is about dealing with poverty, about dealing with the imperfections of those entrusted to care for you, and about proving yourself by fighting, not only against the things without, but also against those that lurk within. The book is engaging and well written. This is a memoir, and the author tells it like it is, both the good and the bad. She does not sugarcoat the shortcomings of the members of her family. I was particularly impressed by the contrast that Ingrid draws between the passages depicting the asphyxiating environment of the family home, where a an excessively devout mother permits the stepfather to employ religion as a means of control, and those describing the freedom that the author experiences when she is on the road selling tools with her dad. Reading the latter passages you actually feel the crisp cool morning air on your face as you drive down the highway with Willie Nelson on the radio singing "On the Road Again."I agree with her father when he asks rhetorically, "This is the life, isn't it?" while relaxing in a motel room drinking sugar-free Doctor Pepper after a hard day's work. Indeed, nothing beats being your own boss, doing things your way, and making your own rules. But alas, while when you live on the edge and get the thrills, you also get the spills. In that sense Hippie Boy is also a tale of growing up and realizing you can't depend on others. You need to find your own way and your own voice, something Ingrid Ricks has achieved. This is her story. Be it for curiosity, inspiration, entertainment, or to learn the life-lessons of "the road" I recommend you read Hippie Boy.
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