Three and a Half Years

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Nov 222014
 

December will be my 42nd month self-publishing.

The world’s changed a lot since summer, 2011. Gone are the euphoric days where bright new names were selling millions of .99 books, seemingly with ease. Gone too are the heady times where you could run a free Select promo and sell 10K novels at $4 a pop in the afterglow. It was an incredible period, and I feel fortunate I got to participate on the second half of it.

***

My buddy D.D. VanDyke has released his new mystery novel, Loose Ends, and is running a giveaway everyone should sign up for. Just do it unless you want that Ebola that’s going around. And if you act now, you can get it for only .99!

***

That golden era lasted about two years. Kindles were the new shiny plaything and everyone wanted one. And they needed content. Enter indie authors, who could sell a novel for less than a fast food meal.

Fast forward to today. 2014 marked a big change in many authors’ fortunes. The marketing gimmick of running Select free days on Amazon and seeing a big spike in sales afterward are over. Likewise, the effectiveness of putting your first book perma-free has diminished – either because of Amazon monkeying with their algos (free books don’t show up in also boughts any more, as one example of how visibility has been reduced) or due to a glut of free content.

Since summer, selling indie books has gotten even tougher. Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, which enables customers to pay $10 a month and borrow as many books as they like – with the caveat that only some titles are in the program, which pays $1.33 for a borrow instead of the royalty an author would normally see (except for Amazon imprints and trad pubs, which see their full royalty on a borrow); a windfall for those writing 10K short stories or serials, but not so great for those with novels, hence limited participation. I have some of my stuff in the program, and those are doing okay, for the ones selected for Amazon promos. The others can’t get arrested. So for me, net neutral, as over 20 of my novels aren’t participating.

But the effect it’s had on a lot of indie authors’s sales has been devastating, because apparently many of those who might have bought a book are now no longer buyers, they’re borrowers. I’m hearing stories of 60, 70, 80% drops in sales from authors who are recognized names and who shift tonnage of books. Some genres have been hit harder than others, which makes sense – for instance, NA and romance, which are well known for having voracious readerships, have seen the biggest drops in sales. My action thriller genre, not nearly as bad, however it’s still down.

So what’s an author to do? My strategy is to continue writing books I’d want to read, and hope that my readership grows over time, and feels that my stories and prose are a fair value at their $5 or so price point. I’ve had an amazing three and a half year trajectory, culminating with the release of my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, in September. I can’t bitch. I mean, I can and do, but I really have no grounds for it.

My thinking is that this is a business of peaks and valleys, as is all retail, and while the valleys suck, they’re necessary if you’re going to have peaks at all. My philosophy is that if you can have higher lows and higher highs, that’s awesome. If not, change it up, look hard at what you’re doing, and ask yourself what you can do better – then do it. Aside from that, I know of no magic bullet, but after three and a half years of writing for a living, I can think of worse ways to spend my time, and I’m always extremely grateful to my readership, because there are any number of great books out there, and I’m fortunate they’re reading mine.

Now go buy my crap so I can continue punishing my liver. Because it’s evil and deserves it. Trust me. I would know. Bad dirty organs. Bad bad bad.

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Nov 222014
 

Marilyn Thiele

One night earlier this week, I pulled up to my garage door. It was late (for me) and dark. I was tired and just wanted to eat and go to bed. My husband spends two or three nights a week away, so all was quiet. And there in my headlights – a large carton with the “smiley arrow” of my least favorite retailer emblazoned on it. Aggravating enough to have to get out of the car in the cold and drag the carton inside; more aggravating because I don’t have the same happy reaction to receiving a package from this source as I do from Talbot’s or Land’s End.

The package was addressed to my husband, so I left it unopened in a prominent location. Even after all these years, we still respect the privacy of mail, packages, etc. But after all these years, I did feel free to get a little snarky when speaking to him on the phone: “Since when are we shopping on the dark side?” He disclaimed any contact with the despised source of the shipment, and technically, he had not crossed over. When the package was opened, it contained envelopes of an uncommon size which he had ordered from a small company. But guess who did the fulfillment and shipping?

This incident got me thinking about how this one large company has permeated every aspect of our lives, and how hard they are to avoid. In my shop I have daily reminders. Yesterday a customer asked if we had free Wi-Fi so that she could check her wish-list on A#%&* against my used-book prices. She was not consciously “showrooming” (identifying books she wanted or that I recommended to order elsewhere later), but doing what she considered to be normal comparison shopping. It never occurred to her that I might bristle (which action I carefully concealed) at the mention of the name. For her, and many others, the main retailer is A#%&*. She was astute enough, however, to realize that her chosen source is not always the cheapest despite what they would have you believe.

I have observed for a long while the use of the word “Kindle” as a synonym for “electronic reader.” In fact, I rarely hear “electronic reader” except from my own mouth. I can be reading on my iPad and have someone ask how I like reading on my “Kindle.” I was surprised to see in recent analyses of A#%&*’s business that they have about 60% of the e-book market; I would have thought it was higher. If the ordinary shopper, desiring an e-reader, searches on-line for “kindle,” they will have several models to choose from, but will also become a captive customer, since they will have only once source for books.

One company’s domination of a market to the point that they can set prices not only for customers who have no choice but for their suppliers who are equally without options is illegal; it’s called a monopoly. Whether A#%&*’s market power has reached that point is a subject of debate, and will sooner or later be resolved in the courts. While closing the doors of some competitors, they have opened doors to entrepreneurs and to authors that were not available before. And they have not succeeded in enmeshing themselves in every market they have entered. Witness the Fire Phone. Or their foray into publishing, where the refusal of independent booksellers to carry their books has actually kept authors away and contributed to the recent resignation of a high-profile editor of their “literary” imprint. But for the most part, it’s hard to avoid contact. Audible.com, Good Reads, now television; if you want the most common sources of entertainment or the easiest to access, they’ve bought it or created an alternative. I may be the last person in the country without a Prime account.

My resentment of the dominance of A#%&* in every aspect of our lives has recently been supplemented by another concern. The company does not seem to be profitable. Lynne Patrick wrote here a few weeks ago about the simple concept that any business needs to make enough money to pay its bills to continue operating, and needs to show a return on investment if it hopes to keep investors. (“It’s a mystery”) Although Lynne did not mention A#%&* by name, her post was closely timed to the quarterly earnings reports, which were coupled with the company’s own forecast of even greater losses in the fourth quarter. The response is that they are investing for the future. I, too, would like to take all my sales revenue and invest it in more inventory, technology upgrades, redecorating, and many other projects that would enhance future business. Unfortunately, the electric company, the book publishers, and many others would like to be paid for the products and services they have already supplied. I’m not sure how to work around that without bankruptcy.

What if my fantasy were to come true, and there was no more A#%&*? For me, it would probably have little impact. There would be an increase in sales which would be pleasant. But what about overall book sales? The publishers and authors would suffer. More chain and independent stores would surely appear, along with additional on-line retailers. But it would take some time. The manufacturer of oddly sized envelopes would have to find an alternative for fulfilling and shipping orders. Authors who have found a place to sell their work (even at 99 cents) and get some exposure would be back to trying to drive traffic to their own websites What about all the manufacturers and retailers, large and small, who rely on this one company as their prime outlet? Every area of commerce that has been overtly or covertly infiltrated by the overpowering retailer would suffer. Alternatives would spring up, but not overnight. There would be a big hit to this slowly recovering economy. So is Amazon (there, I said it!) too big to fail? Would they get a government bailout? I wonder.

 

Nov 222014
 
Joe R. Lansdale's The Thicket (2013) is a bit like Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel from a treatment by Robert E. Howard: it's a weird, brutal and merciless story that moves on with the speed of a bullet, set in the desolate wasteland of the early 20th century Texas.

The Thicket is a western that pulls no punches. Everything is dirty and violent, but Lansdale makes the people he writes about come alive. The reader cares for them and really wishes no harm would come to them - and then Lansdale makes the worst happen. The bad guys are really scary. The Thicket is truly a gripping read.

The book loses some of its momentum after the first half, and some of the characters lose their spark a bit (especially prostitute Jimmie Sue, who seems very vibrant at first), but the first half and the climax just before the end is some of the best stuff I've read all year. Can't wait for the movie to come out.

Nov 222014
 

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012

DVD Spotlight: David Janssen as "Harry O"

One of the most distinctive private eyes of the 1970s has finally made his DVD debut with Warner Archive's release of season 1 of Harry O. The series, which originally aired on ABC in 1974-76, starred David Janssen as Harry Orwell, a medically-retired police detective who moonlights as a private investigator. Filmed in San Diego and later Santa Monica, Harry O set itself apart from rivals with its world-weary protagonist, voice-over narration, and on-location photography. For Janssen, it marked a TV comeback after appearing in Jack Webb's glum flop O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971-72).

Harry spends each morning on the beach.
The DVD set includes the first of two pilot films, Such Dust as Dreams Are Made Of, which was broadcast in 1973. Martin Sheen co-stars as a former criminal who wants to hire Harry to find his ex-girlfriend and a former accomplice (Sal Mineo). Orwell has a personal interest in the case because, four years earlier, Sheen and Mineo were the culprits in a drugstore robbery that left Harry's partner dead and a bullet in Harry's spine. Forced to retire from the police department, Harry lives on his disability pension aboard his boat The Answer. Will Geer appears in a supporting role as a medical examiner who provides an in-depth explanation on how to make heroin. It's unlikely Geer would have been a regular had a TV series resulted--he was still playing Grandpa on The Waltons.

A second pilot movie (not included in the DVD set), Smile Jenny, You're Dead (with Jodie Foster) appeared the following year. Its ratings success convinced ABC to pick up the series. Harry O premiered in September 1974 on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. The show's only other regular was Henry Darrow (The High Chapparal), who played Detective Lieutenant Manny Quinlan. Harry now lived in a beachfront cottage, working occasionally on his boat (still called The Answer). As he explained in one of his trademark voiceovers: "A lot of cases I won't take. I don't have to."

Harry with San Diego in the background.
With his car frequently being repaired, Harry takes a lot of buses--which has its advantages when being followed ("It's hard to tail someone on a bus"). The first half of season 1 makes excellent use of its San Diego locale, highlighting both the flavor of the inner city and the stunning beaches. Even Harry emphasizes the importance of his surroundings: "You see, baseball teams win more games in their own ballpark. Now, San Diego is my ballpark. And if you name a street, I can close my eyes and tell you where the traffic lights are...that also applies to bus stops."

Linda Evans pre-Dynasty.
The guest stars included a bevy of newcomers and familiar faces to classic TV fans: Kurt Russell; Linda Evans (between The Big Valley and Dynasty); Leif Erickson (also from The High Chapparal); Stefanie Powers; Broderick Crawford; Anne Archer; Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn); Carol Rossen (a frequent guest star with Janssen on The Fugitive); and even Cab Calloway.

Farrah a year before
Charlie's Angels.
Despite modest success in its time slot, Harry O underwent signficant midseason changes. The location sadly switched from San Diego to Santa Monica and Farrah Fawcett had a recurring role as Harry's neighbor and sometime girlfriend Sue (whose Great Dane Grover wasn't a fan of Harry's). Anthony Zerbe replaced Henry Darrow as another police detective, although Darrow returned to give his character closure in "Elegy for a Cop," the next-to-last episode of the first season. The opening credits were tweaked, too, and even the theme music transitioned from a bluesy arrangement to a more uptempo one.

Anthony Zerbe.
Although Zerbe won a supporting actor Emmy for his performance in 1976, the changes had little impact on the series' popularity. Viewers watched Harry O to see Janssen, who remained a fan favorite from his days as man-on-the-run Richard Kimble in the TV classicThe Fugitive (1963-67). As HarryJanssen replaces Kimble's subtle intensity with a laid-back, cynical persona (though he still occasionally flashes his trademark quick smile, with one side of the mouth turned up). One senses that Harry's casual style and humorous quips hide a darker past.

Still, some of the best episodes were the more lighthearted ones, such as "Gertrude" with guest-star Julie Sommars as a young woman whose only clue to her brother's disappearance is a single shoe. The first season also introduced the character of Lester Hodges (Les Lannom), a young man who aspires to be a criminologist after meeting Harry. Lester appears in four episodes over the two seasons, with the last one--"Lester Hodges and Dr. Fong"--serving as a pilot for a spin-off series co-starring Keye Luke that never materialized.

Harry O faced an uphill challenge finding a regular audience amid a landscape cluttered with popular TV detectives  (e.g., The Rockford FilesCannonStarsky and HutchHawaii Five-OKojak, and Baretta). ABC cancelled Harry O after just two seasons. Though its demise came far too early, at least it didn't suffer the fate of overstaying its welcome. We're left with a quirky, entertaining detective series with a character perfectly matched to its star. We can only hope that Warner Archive releases season 2 of Harry O. It'd also be nice if someone would release the only season of television's other seldom-seen, quirky private eye series: The Outsider (1968-69) starring Darrin McGavin.

A review copy of this DVD was provided to the Cafe.
Nov 222014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


STRANGER ON HORSEBACK. United Artists, 1955. Joel McCrea, Miroslava, Kevin McCarthy, John McIntire, John Carradine, Nancy Gates, Emile Meyer. Based on a story written for the film by Louis L’Amour. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   Stranger on Horseback is perhaps one of director Jacques Tourneur’s least known films, one that was commercially unavailable for decades. Filmed on location in Arizona with a budget under $400,000, the film stars Western icon Joel McCrea as a federal circuit judge tasked with bringing an accused murderer to trial.

   Although the movie benefits from punchy dialogue and has some very fun, downright quirky moments (look for the cat in the sheriff’s office!), it is altogether a somewhat disappointing entry in the large corpus of slightly gritty postwar Westerns.

   The film’s plot, based on Louis L’Amour story, follows Judge Richard Thorne (McCrea) as he enters a small Western town, which he soon learns is basically run from top-to-bottom by land baron Josiah Bannerman (John McIntire). It also comes to his attention that Bannerman’s son, Tom (Kevin McCarthy), may have murdered a man.

   Despite entreaties from a charmingly serpentine federal lawyer (John Carradine), Thorne decides he is going to see that justice is done. He even convinces the local feline loving sheriff (Emile Meyer in a standout role) to join forces with him. Along the way, the upright judge gets into a little push and pull with the Bannerman’s ferociously exotic niece, Amy (portrayed by Czechoslovakian-born Mexican actress Miroslava). It’s one of the stranger romances I’ve yet seen depicted in a McCrea Western.

   Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t gel. In some ways, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is the case. There seem to be a lot of minor flaws that add up to weaken what could have otherwise been a quite strong picture. These include the fact that Stranger on Horseback was filmed in Ansco Color and that it ends way too abruptly, to put it mildly.

   Also, the final action scene is filmed in such a manner that it’s difficult to tell who is shooting at whom. It’s a much weaker film than Tourneur’s superbly crafted Wichita, also starring McCrea, which I reviewed here. Still, if you’re a McCrea fan, you might appreciate viewing this relatively short Western where, despite the film’s numerous flaws, he has a comparatively strong presence.

 Posted by at 6:29 pm

GIDEON SMITH & THE BRASS DRAGON

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Nov 222014
 


 
GIDEON SMITH & THE BRASS DRAGON
By David Barnett
Tor Books
352 pgs.

Last year we discovered a truly marvelous steampunk title, “Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl,” by David Barnett.  It was so audacious in its alternate-steam world presentation mixing original characters with figures from various literary classics.  It was such a joy to read, we nominated it for Best Pulp Novel of that year and, as with all fun reads, we fervently hoped that Barnett would grace us with a sequel.  That he has is a cause of much celebration and proving himself a genuine fantasy adventure master, he delivers a follow-up tale twice as grand as its predecessor.

It is months since the events chronicled in the first book a young Gideon Smith, the native of a small fishing village, has been named the Hero of the Empire by the Queen and has become an agent of the Foreign Service.  Accompanying him on his adventures is the corpulent journalist, Aloysius Bent, and the lovely airship captain, Ms Rowena Fanshawe.  After returning from an assignment in the South Pacific, they are ordered to British America to retrieve Apep; the mechanical dragon stolen by the Texas outlaw Louis Cockayne along with Maria, the clockwork girl.  This is a personal mission to Smith as he has fallen in love with Maria and is determined to rescue her from Cockayne.

But this America is primarily an untamed land with only its coastlines having been settled; the British in the east, the Japanese in the west and the Spanish to the south.  Upon their arrival in New York, they learn that Cockayne is hiding in the free Texas town of San Antonio now called Steamtown and run by Thaddeus Pinch; a cyborg gunfirghter named more machine than man.  Pinch is a sadistic fiend who operates the coal mines of Steamtown through the pain and suffering of hundreds of kidnapped slaves.

To save Maria and retrieve the Brass Dragon, Gideon and his friends have to battle a private army of cutthroat mercenaries and battle a prehistoric monster.  But as in their first adventure, they manage to recruit new allies among which are a genius Japanese inventor, an immortal freedom fighter known as Nameless and a beautiful Zorro-like senorita whose prowess with a rapier is deadly.  The action is non-stop, the locales both familiar and strange and all of it populated by some of the most colorful characters ever put down on paper.  “Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon” is a rollicking adventure and for David Barnett’s second winner in a row.  We can only wonder what he has up his imaginary sleeve for book number three.



Nov 222014
 
A big thanks to Donald “Dr. Rock” Schnell, who wrote me out of the blue last week, telling me that he knew Joseph Rosenberger back in the early ‘80s. Dr. Rock, who can be found at the Young For Life site and has published the book Fitonics For Life, has kindly offered to share his memories of Rosenberger with the rest of us. The interesting details provided below go a long way toward
Nov 222014
 
A Modern Master



Robert E. McGinnis began his career in 1947 as a cartoonist, and produced his first cover illustrations for 1956 issues of the magazines True Detective and Master Detective. Then in 1958, he painted his first paperback book cover, and from that day forward his work was in demand.

The emergence of the “McGinnis Woman”, long-legged, intelligent, alluring, and enigmatic, established him as the go-to artist for detective novels. His work appeared on Mike Shayne titles and the Perry Mason series, and he produced 100 paintings for the Carter Brown Mystery Series. Yet McGinnis became famous for his work in other genres as well: espionage, romance, historicals, gothics, and Westerns.

McGinnis’s first major magazine assignments were for The Saturday Evening Post, and his work has graced the pages of Cosmopolitan, National Geographic, Good Housekeeping, Guideposts, and others. McGinnis women frequently cropped up in the men’s magazines of the ’60s and ’70s.

His first movie poster was for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with an iconic rendering of Audrey Hepburn. Almost instantly, his poster artwork could be seen everywhere, in theaters, on billboards, in newspapers, and even on soundtrack albums. His work for Hollywood became a who’s-who, with posters for James Bond, The Odd Couple, Woody Allen, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and many more.

Some of his most ambitious works have been his gallery paintings, often depicting stunning American landscapes, vast Western vistas, and of course, beautiful women. The Art of Robert E. McGinnis collection reveals the full scope and beauty of the work of a true American master—one whose legacy continues today.

Printing History
 Robert McGinnis (1926- )
Art Scott

Titan Books
 1st Edition
November , 2014
 Posted by at 4:25 am