Monday, February 28, 2011

New Media and New Marketing IX

I mentioned the KindleBoards here last week, but here's more detail about them. They seem like a great resource for people looking for independent authors for their Kindle, but it is a real mess there. I've been promoting "The Job" there for several months. But if you're looking for a particular kind of book, it's like being lost in a tangle of roots underwater.

I've tried to help myself (and others) in this regard by starting a couple of discussion threads, Writing for the Spirit and Kindle-ing the Flames of Wit. Their themes are, hopefully obviously, spiritual writing (avoiding the red flag word "Christian") and humor writing. My hope is that visitors who like these genres will find the threads and see books there that interest them. The advantage to authors of threads like these is collusion -- get all the authors in a genre to work together posting regularly, and the thread will stay near the top of the list where visitors to KindleBoards can easily see them. Every author who posts there gets exposure for his or her book without flat-out promotion. That hasn't been the case the "The Job"'s  thread, because nobody posts there but me, and I can do that only once a week.

So this is another angle on Internet marketing. If you are interested in either genre, I invite you to visit the threads and participate in the conversation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Comics are Serious Business

All through my childhood and well into my adult years, my dream job was to draw a newspaper comic strip. "Mac Quack: Corporate Duck" was my last attempt at this, and like all others, was universally hated by syndicates. But, like everything else, the electronic media has made newspaper comics an anachronism, and anyone can reach the world with their comics electronically now, if the world can find it. Also, if you are willing to take up the daily grind for no reward whatsoever.

So who cares? Nobody. I only bring it up because I recently bought another original of "Pogo" by Walt Kelly. The remarkable thing about this particular strip is the larger character inside the bag is Simple J. Malarkey, Kelly's caricature of Sen. Joe McCarthy during the height of McCarthyism. Kelly stood among only a handful in the media to publicly challenge McCarthy's innuendo and bullying. Communism was a real threat hanging over the country domestically and internationally during the '50s, but McCarthy's tactics were self-serving, unconstitutional and in the end served only to de-legitimize more measured efforts to protect the nation.

So this drawing is a part of certainly the most significant sequence Kelly did in more than 20 years of drawing the celebrated strip. I can't be sure, but it seems like this character appeared in only about 30 strips. Of course, here you can't see the character per se, but there's even a funny story behind that. There was another character, a chicken, who already had been established as a Rhode Island Red from Providence. When the caricature of McCarthy reappeared in mid-1954 (he had first appeared in 1953), the newspaper in Providence had declared that if his face showed up again they would drop "Pogo." So Kelly, who must have been working on a very short deadline, had Malarkey say "No one from Providence can see me" as the chicken approached, and put a bag over his head. The newspaper got the joke, but indeed Malarkey's face never appeared again.

This strip was relatively cheap, particularly for an example from the '50s. I think maybe the seller didn't know what she had. This feels like a piece of history to me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

New Media and New Marketing VIII

I'm all about marketing strategy right now, hence the existence of this blog, but so far I can't see how anybody breaks through to the public consciousness. One of the strategies that a number of "experts" suggest is getting on bulletin boards. So I joined the Christian boards that I could find, and I wanna tell you, they are dead as a doornail. Many won't allow links to be posted, many won't allow promotion of any kind. The ones that do, I have found, get no traffic anyway. Many seem to exist to minister to lonely or troubled people somewhere out there in the cyber world, as if that were really possible on the Internet.

One board I've found that does seem to have some muscle is KindleBoards, which I believe is Amazon-sponsored and seeks to serve Kindle users overall. This bulletin board gets a lot of traffic, and gives writers and readers with similar tastes an opportunity to interact.

Unfortunately, Christian writing is trod underfoot there. There are only about eight authors listed under the "religious" genre, out of who knows how many untold thousands of authors with e-books at the Kindle Store. The link for "The Job" has received a grand total of one comment in its four-month existence. Since the author of a thread can post and therefore bump the thread only once a week, this means that "The Job" thread spends most of its time buried in the listings where nobody can find it.

So I've conspired with some of the other writers of spiritual works there to maintain the thread Writing for the Spirit, dedicated to discussing Christian writing. As long as a few of us post once a day or so, the thread should stay near the top of the list and be seen by visitors to the bulletin board. We may even have an intelligent conversation. I started it up this weekend, and so far it's been pretty busy, but we'll see how dedicated the writers are there to keep in vital.

BTW, somebody bought "Wars of the Aoten" off of Smashwords. Though this blog is dedicated to "The Job," obviously, I do have two other books for sale. Here are links to Smashwords, if you're interested. They're also available on Amazon and B&N, but my royalties are higher from Smashwords, and they have all the different e-book formats.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I'm re-reading some of the works of the great Southern Gothic author Flannery O'Connor. This will be only the second time I've gone through most of them, but still I'm finding the Christian themes easier to pick up. I've tried to track down some literary criticism of her works, and I've found that people basically obsess with "A Good Man is Hard to Find." More on that later.

First, I personally find fiction with Christian themes much more thought-provoking and meaningful than simple apologetics. This is why I love O'Connor and Dostoevsky so much. In fact, my favorite C.S. Lewis work is "Screwtape Letters," which is undeniably apologetics but brilliantly written in the voice of a fictional character. Perhaps straight apologetic writing just seems too much like a lecture to me, while fiction allows the reader to bring his own levels of understanding into the writer's thoughts. This is what I try to do.

Although my stories to date have been more straight-forward Christian in nature than O'Connor's, I still give that freedom of interpretation, particularly in "The Job." For instance, you can tell in Grace Krispy's review that she nearly gets it, but Mary Ann Langan's "review" reveals she doesn't get it at all. As I turn more toward Southern Gothic in my writing, I'll try to keep this connection to Christianity without letting it become a sledge hammer.

So, anyway "A Good Man is Hard to Find" apparently is accepted as O'Connor's seminal story in the eyes of most, although I'm not so sure ("Revelation" and "The Displaced Person" deserve some consideration). It certainly is the most direct story in putting forward O'Connor's idea that violence is "the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially." It's shock value is probably why the secular world has latched onto it. But O'Connor's overall Christian outlook within her work -- that of portraying "the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil" -- is a little harder to find, the grace part anyway. The grandmother tries to talk the Misfit into being a good man, even in a way comparing his blood to Jesus', but he makes her a good woman by sticking a gun in her face.

That's the extent of my literary criticism. You're free to write your own without my interference. I highly recommend O'Connor's work. I will add this last thing -- the Misfit's complaint that "I wasn't there so I can't say (Jesus) didn't (raise the dead). I wisht I had of been there. It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known," is very close to Ivan Karamazov's complaint in "The Grand Inquisitor" -- if only Jesus would prove Himself to me, then I could believe.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Was that Will Be

First, kudos to Walt Kelly and the fact that I could steal and pretty much destroy his title for this very important blog post.

Once upon a time, the publishing business didn't really exist. After Gutenberg's invention of the press, authors would pay printers to print and bind their works, and then they would deliver them to local bookstores for sale. There wasn't that much reading material available, so stores were happy to take whatever books they could get, and readers as well. So what came to be known as publishers were just a hired service, and authors made only what they could get stores to pay them for books. If the author couldn't afford printing costs, well, that was just too bad.

Somewhere along the way printers found that they could take on the costs of publishing, thereby attracting popular authors and make a tidy profit. I don't know how this came about, but I do know that Charles Dickens became widely popular by having his stories serialized in magazines, then afterwards published as full books when the audience was well established. This was the mid-1800s.

So who cares? Nobody. But it appears we're back at square one, as traditional publishers struggle to squeeze out a profit while thousands of would-be authors pay self-publishers to print and bind their books for a fee. The catch again is whether these authors can get bookstores to carry their books, now in a culture where not only is there no lack of reading material, but also the broad audience would rather watch Hulu than read anyway. The growth of e-readers will only increase this cacophony of information. This is where I am with "The Job", although I add the twist of being my own printer. How to get notice remains the greatest challenge.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life is a "Cabaret", again

Watched "Cabaret" again for the first time in decades the other night, and I was struck by how modern it is. The movie came out in 1972, based on the Broadway musical of 1966, based on the 1951 play "I Am a Camera," based on the 1939 novel "Goodbye to Berlin," based on 1931 Wiemar Germany. The main thrust of the story is the decadent escapism of Berlin night life, offering  the people some release from the anxieties of daily life, punctuated by the militant rise of the Nazi party (National Socialists). Thrown in for good measure are homosexuality, abortion, alternative sex partnering, racism and political indifference within private life. The only issue of Wiemar Germany that is glossed over is the economic disaster of hyper-inflation and a worthless mark.

So I was watching it, and I'd see a character and say (quietly to myself) "Wow, she looks just like (insert current celebrity)", or I'd hear a line and say "That sounds just like (insert current political agenda)" or a scene would develop and I'd say "Wow, that's just like (insert current international ideology)". It was truly creepy. One musical number has the androgynous master of ceremonies singing about wanting to marry someone in a gorilla suit, and at the end tells the audience, "She doesn't look Jewish at all." There is even now a prominent group worldwide that describes Jews as pigs and apes.

The warning is that – although I doubt the movie makers intended this – the culture of the cabaret life was inviting the rise of fascism. It is a well-documented cycle that liberal (and I mean that in the classic sense) cultures devolve into hedonism which then gives rise within the population a desire for stricter authority. This is what "Cabaret" presents, and it is unmistakeably the condition of the western world today, in Europe even more so than the U.S. On top of that, the undermining of currency through government borrowing and printing of money (the head of the Federal Reserve a few months ago printed up hundreds of billions of dollars in hopes of creating inflation) will eventually further undermine the stability of our society. What large movement looms on the horizon today, ready to fill a vacuum and force discipline that current authorities are unwilling to enforce? You figure it out. In my mind, we need to get ahold of ourselves before it's too late, or our children might be living in a much-more unforgiving world.

I recommend "Cabaret" as a study of the western condition, and besides, the musical numbers are great. And I'm not generally a fan of musicals.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Get it? "Era-gone"? Oh well.

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways -- Actually, I don't hate this travesty, but it's certainly a great example of what's wrong with modern publishing. First let me say I know virtually nothing about the book except what I saw in the movie version's trailer -- that it is a rip off of both "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" mushed into one. In other words, as the old-time pundit, printer's-ink-in-the-veins journalists would say, it's "strictly boilerplate."

Probably violating some Amazon copyright here.

According to Wikipedia, the incredibly talented and home-schooled Christopher Paolini began writing "Eragon" when he was 15, and it was first published in 2002 by his parents' company, Paolini International LLC, which had been formed only five years before. He then toured some 135 schools promoting the book, so the folks definitely had plenty of financial resources to invest in marketing. Eventually "the stepson of author Carl Hiassen found Eragon in a bookstore and loved it, and Hiaasen brought it to the attention of his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf", and the rest is history.

This is an odd twist on "it's who you know," which is an absolutely true platitude in publishing, and also in succeeding (financially) in any of the entertainment arts. No respected agent or publisher would ever have given a second look to a book written by a 15-year-old, but his own parents sure would. Also no school would ever have given time to an adult wanting to promote his fantasy book to a captive audience of kids, but another kid -- wow, that would be inspirational. Christopher cashed in on the money and grunt work his parents invested, and on his own youth to find a core market, one of whom had a connection with a real publisher. All this for a story that will be completely forgotten by the next generation.

So I guess I'm just jealous, because in truth it's exactly what I'm doing. I've got my own "publishing" company simply to give "The Job" an existence before my core audience, which is Christian reviewers and media in general. My real hope is that one member of that market will see the real worth of "The Job" and become its advocate. It's a total shot in the dark, but let's face it, God loves weakness, and there really couldn't be much of a weaker attempt than this. We'll see what He does with it.

It ain't the way it used to be -- more about that later.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Media and New Marketing VII

I love Roman numerals.

Well, the Facebook ad campaign is over, after four months. Did you see it? More than 2,100,000 pairs of eyes supposedly saw it in the English-speaking world, targeting Christians and readers. More than 270 clicked on the ad, which directed them to the Facebook fan page. Of those, it's hard to say but I think fewer than five "liked" the page. So who knows if it really had any effect.

So why then? Well, back in the day during the advertising class I had to take in college, I learned that direct mail is the most effective advertising there is. Electronic social networking ads are basically the same thing, but a lot cheaper. Judging from clicks, I had a .013% response rate. That doesn't seem like a very good return, but who's to say about advertising? In broadcast all an advertiser really knows is an estimate of how many people see an ad based on how many are watching a show. My real goal was just to get "The Job" and its cover in the subconscious of my target audience so if it does show up in book stores, they'll remember they've seen it before.

It's just another shot in the dark.