Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Social Marketing 101

I had to modify my plan for the social marketing of e-books.

A few weeks ago, I received notice that my free Kijiji online ads, posted in major cities across Canada, were not in compliance with Kijiji terms, and so they were deleted. Sooner or later, that was bound to happen, and there are no hard feelings here.

However, those ads clearly drove a number of page-views and some sales of e-books. A quick look at the Toronto Kijiji site, under the ‘Books’ category will show how popular these ads are. There can be twelve or fourteen thousand ads in there on a given day. Kijiji is Canada’s most successful free classified ad site by far. It gets the traffic.

How then, was I to continue to sell e-books, and now, my print on demand paperbacks? Certainly Facebook and Twitter do help with exposure and sales. Having a product for free on Amazon and other sites does bring free exposure, and assuming it’s a good book, this drives subsequent sales down the road.

But to take out those ads, when I have products to market, and more coming soon, had me worried. In the first week or ten days of March, sales were very slow, and it’s pretty easy to get discouraged. On the bright side, I’m not banned, and I can still use my local ad site.

And, I kind of figured out a plan.

The Plan.

To continue to provide a kind of journalistic tweet style, one which covers a distinct beat, and which evolves over time. It also gets better the longer I go on. Figuring out who the audience is helps to figure out what to tweet. I plan on building up the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites. I already belong to a number of those.

On Facebook, the goal is to make more use of groups that I belong to. In the past, I neglected this. But I have already had a couple of people from groups say that they bought one of my titles. The conclusion is obvious: more group interactions. Commenting on high-traffic websites and discussion sites is a good strategy, assuming it is kept relevant and relatively polite. More on this another day. However, I only do this sporadically, where I am following my own interests, rather than just trying to comment in the New York Times or something like that. The fact is, I only read the NYT occasionally, and I can’t comment on each and every story. I try to think about whether it’s really valid or is it really just comment spam, designed to drive views of my blog or something. I’m not dependent on revenue from my blog, so this really isn’t a big part of my day, or my plan. There is no quick fix for low blog traffic, it takes time and relevant, useful content that finds an audience.

In terms of blogging, I try to keep on message, and not to get too political, or engage in too many rants. I see it as a kind of teaching tool. Remembering how badly I wanted someone to teach me how to write, I figure there must be others out there like me. It’s best to keep the blog a valid resource for people looking for ideas, tips and techniques in writing, editing, publishing, and selling books and stories. I’m not really an expert in any of those things, so it is learn as we go around here.

Another thing is to submit a few short stories, and to write a few more, and of course to figure out the next book-length project. Some new poems are a good idea. You give them away for free, true enough. You also get a link back to your blog or your website, or even one that leads back to good old Amazon…

I’ve never done a mass e-mailing, and so far I have no plans to do one. I’ve only attended three small conventions, right in my home town. I have never held a book in my hand and introduced myself as an author at any event. I have never spoken to a big-time editor, agent, or publisher at such an event. All these are traditional methods of selling books, and I’ve never done any of them!

If I find a free search-engine submitter, I would of course use that to get a few hits on the blog. As for some other changes made, so far I’m writing the blog now to be a little more search-engine friendly, and paying more attention to titles and tags, first sentence key words and things like that. The plan here is to keep on learning. I’m also paying more attention to the content.

Why would I do all this?

On the Smashwords Blog, there is an interview, ‘Ruth Ann Nordin Shares the Secrets of her Success,’ and she said something very interesting. She said that she had interacted with groups on Facebook and in discussions on Amazon. This eventually led to some interesting numbers which she has provided in the story.

I’ve only had a few reviews and maybe two interviews. That’s not much to build on.

Bear in mind that this writer has never exchanged blog posts, nor had a guest blogger, which is another popular technique for getting readers. I’ve never had a signing at a bookstore, or toured for promotional purposes. I’ve never ordered a box of books and tried to get them in a local bookstore. At this stage of the game, (keeping costs low,) we are limited to the potential of the internet—which theoretically, should be ‘unlimited.’ That’s because it keeps on growing and developing.

In my opinion all social marketing and all promotion and advertising, works on the simple repetition of effective techniques. And, it also has a cumulative effect over time. I published my first two books in October 2010. If you published one yesterday, and I published one a year and a half ago, and assuming I’ve sold a few books, listen carefully: ‘Of course my book is higher up the rankings than yours,’ it’s had longer to get there. The only way your book could be higher is if you sold a lot of books since yesterday.

I kid you not.

Once you have sold a book, the algorithms can’t take it away from you. Sell another, and you have doubled your sales—a mathematical construct to be sure. We don’t have that product presentation algorithm, which substitutes for a shelf in a brick and mortar store, all nice and clearly laid out for us. We can figure out a few of its variables. And, if we can figure them out, we can manipulate them.

Okay, on the left side we have a bunch of variables, and then an equal sign, (=) and on the right side we have a result. The left side has to add up to the right side when all operations are solved, right? It’s an equation, and the result is sales, measured by sales rankings. Comprene vous?

What is a product presentation algorithm and how does it work?

When someone looks at a book on Amazon or other site, they will be presented with a display that says, 'People who bought this book also bought...(insert title here.)' Amazon also uses algorithms to make personalized recommendations to people who arrive at the main page or are just browsing, based on past purchase history, and whatever they were just looking at, and 'likes,' etc. We want to be presented by Amazon to customers as often as possible to maximize our chances of selling a book.

Sales are measured over time, (‘T.’) It’s an equation. Different price categories means different customers, and maybe different weight in the product presentation. There is a reassuring human element to all of this, as a good cover and a good product description, a good preview, will win out over inferior products, given an informed buyer and sufficient time. Time is also an important variable in our theoretical equation. That’s an obvious inference. Another aspect of the human element is the number of titles you have. I have nine titles to sell, while another author might have just published their first book. I have nine times the chance of selling one book, if we eliminate all other considerations. Someone said the algorithm measures ‘velocity.’ I think it measures an acceleration, which is different, but if you sell ten books, the ranking will go up so far and stop. In that sense, it has to be measured against a base-line. While total sales is a variable, Amazon measures sales hourly, and each month is a new 'sheet,' with total sales carried over in one baseline variable. That way it can rise and fall over time, and in fact you can see a graphic representation of something analagous to this on your Smashwords dashboard under ‘page-views.’ You can see that total page views can only go up, while daily page views rise and fall.

The ranking and product presentation algorithm measures something which looks very much like a lateral acceleration, i.e. g-force, but the curve is also exponential. That means it gets steeper on the way up, and a lot steeper the further you go. At the top, the incline is near the vertical. (It measures a lot of things in order for it all to work.)

The most weight is given to the most important variable. If you sell a book, that’s the most important variable. It drives the book up in the sales rankings. It really is just that simple. Now, extrapolating from Facebook to Amazon, a logical deduction would be (drum roll please,) to interact more on Amazon.

Amazon has plenty of discussions, threads, etc. And this is also another area that I admit I was neglecting. You can’t participate, write reviews, or comment on threads until you have bought a book from Amazon. Seriously, it’s worth buying one $0.99 e-book from almost anyone to do these things.

It’s like my dear old daddy used to say, ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

I don’t mean to be a soul-less monster, but we should be doing everything that we can to drive up book sales, one book at a time, but also just trying to drive up page-hits, trying to raise the number of reviews, and the number of people clicking ‘like’ and sharing the link with their friends, trying to increase the number of mentions and RT’s on Twitter, picking up new blog followers, and getting ourselves interviewed. I mean everything.

Anyhow, there is plenty of room for exploration, experimentation, and much fun will be had by all.


So far, in March I made more money, not less, than when I had ads up in ten cities across Canada. Part of this is the fact that I raised prices on book-length titles which means you can actually sell fewer books and make more money. That's because $0.99 books have a 35% royalty, but a $2.99 book has a 70% royalty. This is assuming that you can move them at all. One of the reasons why I give away so many books is because I like to see those numbers going up, up, up...


Ads are useful, and I still maintain the ones I have. They are not essential. As for successful social marketing, there is so much to learn, it will keep me busy for quite some time. That’s good, because I like being busy, and I like selling books too.

Incidentally, my new e-book, ‘On the Nature of the Gods,’ will be out soon, and in the meantime, you’re certainly welcome to take a copy of ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ from Amazon. Please click 'like; if you go there, and we are always looking for reviews. If you found this article interesting and relevant, please feel free to share it with your friends. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Process of Manuscript Editing

The process of manuscript editing is a fairly simple one. It just takes time and patience. There are a few simple techniques and a few things to keep in mind.

Spell Checking and Grammar

I always run spell check and grammar check when editing, and I write in a Word document. Things spelled wrong are underlined in red, and bad grammar in green. That is only turned off when the book is ready to publish. Certain sentences in the final product may still be in 'bad grammar.' But if that happens, it happens for a reason. A conscious decision was made, due to artistic considerations, perhaps using contractions, or slang in dialogue for example. When I come across a word that the computer doesn't seem to know how to spell properly, and I'm almost but not quite sure I'm right, I Google it and look for it to pop up. In editing my recently-completed book, 'On the Nature of the Gods,' I found that in Canada, it's correct to spell 'sulphur' as you see it here. In the U.S., you could spell it sulfur or even sulfer and get away with it. Which one I choose depends on a decision-making process, not simple ignorance or carelessness.

I wrote that book to the end, that is to say I finished the plot. It came out at 60,500 words more or less. That book, after three major edits/rewrites, made it up to about 67,000 words. It grew because of added details, clarification, and all of this in spite of the fact that I probably eliminated 300-400 words that really didn't need to be there.

The trouble with making up names, using foreign words and colloquiallisms, is that the computer sometimes says it's spelled wrong when in fact it is right. Each and every one of those, has to be visually checked, one by one, and this is a separate scanning process where I don't actually read line-by-line. It involves scrolling down, endlessly down, and stopping at each and every thing still underlined in red.

The editing also includes the front and end matter. I want the proper disclaimer, the proper ISBN, and stuff like that to be right, 'on the first upload,' for someone could buy a book within minutes of publication. I don't have a whole lot of trouble with its versus it's, or there/they're/their, but if you do, the computer might not catch those, so have an eye. Sometimes the computer doesn't know a word is missing from a sentence. It's a lot of reading, over and over again, to pick off as many errors as possible.

Formatting and design.

When formatting, I turn on the pilcrows, and make sure the spaces are the same. I use single spaces, 12-point, although chapter titles are in 14-point. I don't want a 14-point space to creep in and throw off the depth of my chapter headings, right? This involves a couple or more run-throughs, again not necessarily reading the book, but if I saw something wrong I might fix it on the way by. The pilcrows are only turned off and on when checking formatting, to edit with them on is a pain.

In terms of design, the e-book can be dead simple. One thing, always include a link to your website. My books have one at the front and at the back after a short bio. Other than that, the right edge is ragged, not justified, and the chapter titles are centred...etc.


Proofreading is important, and if you can get someone else to read it, that would be wonderful. Make sure they are good spellers, and hopefully they are the kind of person who is not a procrastinator. Explain that this is not a review or book-report.

Tell them, 'Just look for typos,' and, 'mention anything you didn't really understand clearly.' Never rely on another person to do your work for you. I don't care who they are, you would still have to read the thing yourself before publishing it.

No one else can take responsibility, nor should they. This is your baby. Never forget that.

The first time I published, I must have rewrote twelve or fifteen times for my first two books. At this point, a year and a half later, my copy is a lot cleaner first time out, and so much less has to be cut from the story. It doesn't take so long anymore. There is a temptation to publish the thing as quickly as possible and to start making some money. Every independent author feels this way. There are no shortcuts to a job well done, and that's exactly what my old man used to say--so you know it's real.

'On the Nature of the Gods' took about two and a half months to write, maybe three weeks to edit, and it will be published on or about March 31.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tips for Writing Novels.

The big first step.

The big first step is to finish a basic manuscript. The most important thing in writing a first draft is to get to the end of the plot. What this entails is simply chasing the idea until it gets to its most logical conclusion, and then some kind of resolution. In a previous post I sort of referred to this as 'the wedding,' which is a basic problem in time, speed, distance, and a large number of characters, all of whom have different requirements of their own and are capable of acting independently on their own initiative.

Sight, smell, taste, touch, sound.

The second most important thing is to layer in details of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Heat and warmth are important, in fact my novel 'The Shape-Shifters' was written in winter time, and it has all kinds of winter scenes, both indoors and out. How important is it for a character to stop and put on a coat before leaving the house? That depends on the weather in your book.

Who, what, when, why, where, how?

Everything in the book has to be accounted for in some fashion, or the logic will not hold together, and the reader will just shake their head and walk away, even taking into account, 'the willing suspension of disbelief,' which is integral to the fiction experience, in a book, on film, or any other show.

Any environment has extraneous details that don't necessarily help to develop the plot, the conflict or the characterization. What they might help with is world-building. Our environment has a lot of detail which is almost beneath our consciousness, unless we choose to notice the blue of the sky and the green of the grass, and the brilliant yellow of forsythia or daffodils in spring. Take another look at the world your story happens in. The reader hasn't seen into your brain, into your vision, and so you have to pencil in enough detail so they get the idea.

This works differently in different genres. A historical, multi-generational sweeping saga can go to 300,000 words, and so there is more room.

What kind of room is a given scene happening in? What is the light like in there? What kind of furnishings does it have?

Do some of your characters stand around in a scene while two characters have a long and involved discussion? Give them something to do, even if it's just raise their eyebrows, fart, or interrupt the conversation.

Every so often, I am re-reading something and I wonder if I have reversed or inverted the character names, in other words, used the exact opposite name attached to a sentence of dialogue. There are times to take confusing things out of the book, or anything you have said twice, or repeated in any way.

Fact Checking.

Fact checking is important. I've checked the spelling on words I thought I knew, and while sometimes the computer spell-checker doesn't actually know how to spell a word, never assume this to be the case--I thought the machine couldn't spell 'embarassment,' but it turned out to have two 'r's,' and by persistently chasing the spelling of that word, I saved myself some 'embarrassment.'

And that's a good thing. If I say an 1896 Mauser takes 7.63 ball ammunition, (a technical term familiar to gunnies,) then I have checked that fact. While many will assume a typo or that I am mistaken; and that in fact it takes 7.65 mm ammunition, the facts are still on my side, and afficionados will appreciate accuracy of fact and statement.

Another case in point. In my new story, 'On the Nature of the Gods,' I use the word 'verklempt.' The first thing I did after putting it in the book was to Google it and checking the spelling and definition.

Let it sit.

The best thing you can do sometimes is to let it sit. Think of any objections that a reader or critic might have, and try to answer them or even just explain things in your head. There's no doubt the writer must know more about the world he or she has built than the reader. Not all of that gets in the story. But you should be able to account for the things in the story in some way, or why did you put it in? Again, there is a time to take things out, if they don't advance the story in some way.

I often have the urge to add things in to a novel. While a couple of good lines might not hurt, at some point you should save them for another time...and put them in your next book or story.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How many times can you read the same book?

I'm working on the editing of 'On the Nature of the Gods,' and some days it's like all I can do is to painstakingly go through two or three pages at a time. How many times could you read the same book? If you really loved it, maybe a few times.

How many times can you read the same page, same paragraph, same line...same word? As many times as it takes, I guess! Skimming past a few pages isn't worth it. Deep in your heart you know you have to go back and look at them again, and so why do it? I push it as best I can.

But then I have to close the file and look at something else.

I've probably read certain books fifteen or twenty times. In terms of music, we can probably listen to the same song or album hundreds of times. Later in life, a song comes up on the radio and we sit up and say, 'Oh, yeah!' We haven't heard it in a while, and so it is fresh and new. But try going through the same book over and over again, day after thing it sure isn't is glamourous.

That's what they made social networks for, it's for goofing off when we don't feel like working. However, if we see this whole being a professional writer thing as a long-term process, one which will keep us going until the end of our days, then taking a break once in a while makes sense.

That's because we aren't going to get it all done in a day.

It's not like we aren't always scheming and plotting and fulminating as to what to do next. Assuming my e-book, 'On the Nature of the Gods,' gets properly published as of March 31, and assuming my proof copy of 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,' is good to go, then obviously without a whole lot of mental anguish I can start on the next POD paperback in the catalogue. (Or 'catalog' in the U.S.) That really only takes a few days. Basically this would result in two new products as of Mar 31, and a second POD a short time later, certainly by the end of April.

In the meantime, there's a folder with some stories that need to be submitted. There's a SF novel to rewrite, the next Maintenon mystery to write, there's a slew of titles on a list somewhere in my files. I wouldn't have done that without some idea that could be expressed in a few key words.

I have two or three fresh novel-type ideas, and a few older ideas laying around...

There's certainly nothing wrong with actually writing a new short story once in a while. I have neglected this lately--no kidding.

If anyone wants to exchange links and build traffic, let me know on fb or Twitter.

What else is going on around here?

Today I set up an author page on Amazon UK. I had one in the U.S., but none in the UK. So now I'm thinking, 'how do I get in Amazon IT, ES, FR, etc?' Right?

Then there's a list of a few reviewers in a document file. I could do something about that. There is never 'nothing to do' around here. That's for danged sure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coming Soon. 'On the Nature of the Gods.'

Photo: Morguefile, design by Louis.

Here is the blurb for 'On the Nature of the Gods,' scheduled for release March 31.

Rife with the bizarre juxtaposition of psycho-sexual elements, ‘On the Nature of the Gods’ is a superb parody of the steam-punk weird western with elements of bedroom comedy sub-sub-genre. Undefeated in a hundred and thirty-eight bouts, bare-knuckle fighter Jeb Snead may be the toughest man in a totally plastic world. Unfortunately, he has no sense of humour and might even be a little insecure. Rufe Golan is the son of a rich man, a smooth-talking bastard and an inveterate foot-fetishist. Yet he knows what he likes. Hope Ng, starved for either attention or entertainment, is on her way to San Francisco to live with her scruffy old grandfather when her wagon train is massacred. Things get better after that. The buxom but leggy Miss Muriel Kitty, a professional working woman-cat-thing, and wise in the ways of the world, provides a valuable service in the frontier society of which she is a part. The Evil Doctor Schmitt-Rottluff surrounds himself with willing tools and useful fools, some of whom are the product of a little too much inbreeding in test-tubes. Chapley, his alleged black nephew and Waylon, his acknowledged ‘taurian son, Nazi gryphons, erudite Injuns who read Latin and mischievous spirits who just want to see what happens next, fill out a never-before-seen all-star cast in comic genius and Julius Caesar of Canadian novelists Louis B. Shalako’s killer debut in this admittedly obscure literary category. In the words of a beta-reviewer who prefers anonymity (my Uncle Bob,) and who has asked not to be quoted, ‘This is way better than Atlanta Nights.’ And anybody who doesn’t like telempathic horses and equine romance, or casually-stated themes of rape, bestiality and incest, most likely has something wrong with them. Diabolically fun, don’t let your mother catch you reading this one! Seriously, it will probably kill her. Please don’t say you haven’t been warned, because you have.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Simple E-Book Formatting in Word.

Having completed the first draft of 'On the Nature of the Gods,' I'm taking the time to format the thing before beginning the actual rewriting process. Since I'm not submitting it anywhere, there is no reason to have it in standard manuscript format, and this also gives me two or three days where I really don't have to think.

I don't have to write, or wrestle with plot points and resolutions. It is a kind of nit-picking, yet mindless occupation, almost a repetitive assembly-line process in some ways.

I have the pilcrows turned on, as well as spelling and grammar check, and I have added a couple more lines to the thing today. But it is kind of relaxing.

This is the second novel I have written without using an initial chapter title when producing more material. Essentially, I ended up with a hundred and eleven pages with chapter breaks and no chapter numbers, or titles. This seems to work okay for me. This book looks like about twenty-two chapters. This is kind of an esoteric, esthetic consideration, but if we are artists, then we should have one of two things: a respect for academic convention, or some kind of theory which justifies non-compliance with same...but basically, this just looks about right to me.

The book is 61,000 words at this stage, and that works out to maybe 2,800 words on average for a chapter.

A quick glance at the photos shows a very simple e-book layout and format. I am using 0.25" indents, and single spaces at 1.0, trailing space is set to zero. (Top photo.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

'Gosport.' Excerpt, 'Heaven Is Too Far Away.'

Fleet Finch, used in the Second World War in Canada for training student pilots. Photo and model by Louis.


“O.K., Robert. What are we flying today?” I asked the slender, red-haired lad beside me.

He was about five-eight, and very shy. Surrey farmer’s boy. A bookworm, and quiet.

“An Avro 504, sir?” he stammered.

“It seems like such an obvious question, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Well, it’s a one-hundred-ten-horsepower Le Rhone,” he said. “The mechanics filled up the tank.”

“Are you sure it’s not the 130-horsepower Clerget? Or the Monosoupape?”

He hesitated, shuddering slightly.

“Which one?” I asked the boy.

This kid was, God, maybe seventeen and a half years old and he seemed intimidated by me. Robert was a bright kid, very intelligent. Keen. Raring to go, and that was the trouble sometimes. They thought aircraft flew on mere dash and courage.

“What’s next?” I asked. “Did you check the oil?”

“I’ll check the oil, sir,” he stammered again, hanging his head a little.

“Yeah, you check everything. Don’t ever trust a fucking mechanic.”

I noted a couple of sidelong glances from the vicinity of the hangar door.

“They did a good job, sir,” protested Robert.

He’s got spunk. That’s fine, but I just don’t care.

“It’s your ass up there, boy, not theirs. They’ll be sleeping in a bed tonight.”

The unspoken question, of course is where will YOU sleep? Six feet under?

Or Will Tucker, your grumpy old instructor. Grumpy old Tucker, a cripple at nineteen years of age. I went through that thought but immediately trashed it; as instructed by a certain doctor in London.

“Just wad it up old boy, and toss it in the rubbish, don’t you know. Haw! Haw!”

God, I hate psychiatrists. They have their uses. Who else would rent them big, ugly old houses? You must be nuts.

“Are you absolutely satisfied that this aircraft is whole, and complete, and properly prepared, Robert?” I asked.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“Good. Let’s climb aboard.”

After flying a couple of real pigs, for example the RE-2; the Avro was quite a delight to fly. I could never understand why some guys just couldn’t get the hang of it.

I told Robert everything I was about to do, bellowing at him through the tube as I rolled the plane inverted and we hung in our straps.

“I’m holding a little down-stick on it, Robert, and I’m watching our altitude as best I can,” I yelled, and watched his head bobbing in the front cockpit.

“Watch the compass!”

My ears, swathed in the helmet as it were, caught the high-pitched notes of some garbled reply. My right foot shoved forward, the tail crabbed.

Push with my left foot, the tail crabbed the other way.

I rolled the plane back into a straight and level path.

“You have the plane,” I called, and felt the controls wiggle in acknowledgement as he took over.

“Bring her around, about fifteen degrees to the right,” I instructed.

Turbulence wobbled the wings, and he overcorrected, but they always do the first few times up. He settled on a course of 270 degrees, which was more or less what I intended.

“Oh, Robert, me boy, now it’s your turn,” I bellowed at the student ahead.

With a sickening lurch, he started into his roll.

“Use the rudder to turn it and the ailerons to hold it level,” I yelled.

Out over the sea, towards France…soon enough, soon enough.

“Good, good,” I lied. “Now watch your compass and hold this altitude.”

Robert practiced inverted flying for a while, turning on occasion.

He was doing better, and thank God for that. Half the problem with some students was that they were afraid of the instructors. So eager to please, hanging on every word, and worried about looking like a coward or a fool. And I really didn’t know much about instructing, either. If you’re tense with some kind of social fear, you can’t relax, feel the plane. They treat it like it’s made of glass, or some such nonsense.

“You’re doing fine, Robert,” and then he carried out the next part of the drill, which after an inverted figure eight, meant rolling back straight and level.

“Course looks good, Robert. Do a loop now please,” I called.

Fly, Robert, fly. Fly your fucking brains out. You’re going to need all the hours in the air you can get. I know where you’re going. As we went over the top everything looked good. He was learning. Painful and slow sometimes, a sudden revelation at others. Some students picked up the theory in an instant. Watch them stagger all over the sky. Theory is good. So is a fine touch and an awareness of the limitations of the machine. Numbers on a page mean nothing. You have to feel it. If you have to think it through, you are not properly trained.

A plane is like a horse. You have to get to know it a little bit.

The more knowledge and experience they had, the better chance they had of survival, and I honestly didn’t give a damn if the kid ever shot down an enemy aircraft. Teaching them to shoot was some other silly bugger’s job.

“I have the airplane, Robert,” I yelled.

Gripping the stick, I gave it a little shake.

“Watch this and analyze what I’m doing,” as I pulled her up into a rudder turn, then rotated left over the top and went plummeting downward.

Kick in right rudder and pull back on the stick.

“Entering a spin is easy and getting out is just as easy.”

The world came spinning crazily up towards us.

“How is that, young fellow?” I laughed, reversing the spin and going the other way.

“I love it!” he yelled back.

“Oh, really?” I shouted. “Watch this one!”

I bunted her over and we went inverted, spinning back to the left again.

“Check our altitude, Robert.”

You have a job to do too, boy. I pulled out and waited.

“Two thousand, sir,” and I carefully listened to his voice.

He wasn’t afraid, that’s fine. The trouble is the young ones tended to be too trusting.

They have too much respect for their elders. Checking the clock and the compass, with control turned over to the student, we set a course for home.

“Take it upside down. I want to check the map,” I instructed.

I was always throwing curves at my boys. So did the enemy; and that was the point.

As we hung there, I took a quick glance at the map. We were climbing a bit, but then he eased off and we were at about 2,200 feet.

“Stay inverted. Ease off the throttle,” I told him.

The plane shook ever so slightly, and then the altimeter began to creep down.

“Hold her..hold her…that’s good. Throttle up,” I ordered.

He rolled out suddenly without instruction.

“That’s fine, Robert. Not a problem, I’ll take her now.”

He was tired, and the concentration tends to lag. I only push them so hard and then give them a rest. His hands were probably shaking from all the excitement.

“Just relax and watch me fly,” I yelled.

He’ll be fine. Another month and he’ll be ready for the Front. My new job had its moments of deep satisfaction, and moments of dread. These were not usually for myself, but for somebody else.

I wondered how he might do. Faintly, I could feel his hands and feet following the controls around. He seemed a little more relaxed, and that’s good. Now it’s time for my fun. As I gently and ever so slowly put the plane into an axial roll, I watched the bubble and it stayed pretty well in the center.

That’s the way she’s done, boys.

“As I roll to the right, I ease in left rudder. Then you have to pull it out at just the right time. When I’m upside down, it needs a little down-stick,” and showing him as the plane smoothly transitioned. “As we come up, we put in right rudder.”

“The trick is to do it smoothly and just enough,” I added superfluously.

Anybody can just yank the stick over and snap it around. How smooth, how slow can it be done? Can you make it look easy? Make it look pretty?

“Imagine your feet are on bicycle pedals, and you want to make one rotation,” I bellowed, exaggerating my foot movements for effect. “Now you try it again.”

Was it all a waste of breath? He wasn’t any better, he wasn’t any worse. And now he had some new way to think about it.

“All it takes is practice. Lots and lots of practice, although it is basically a useless maneuver,” I explained.

Trying to explain things at a bellow is both frustrating and very tiring.

I knew what I was looking for.

“Where’s that confounded bridge?” I grunted.

I read somewhere that the exploits of the Gosport school were ‘legendary.’ Flying through hangars, landing on roofs or on roads in front of pubs. Flying under bridges. And I’m talking Westminster Bridge, not just the little streams in the neighbourhood. We were just having fun, a whole bunch of irrepressible personalities. My reserve, my shyness, probably benefited from being around the other instructors and ground personnel. Given responsibility, and a little authority, gave me new confidence in an unexpected way. Maybe, ‘Higher Command,’ knew what they were doing when they selected instructors. Doubt that though; more likely the luck of the draw.

I was simply available. Someone must have put in a good word for me.

But some young buck destined for the fighter squadrons…they give you their trust and you’d better not abuse it. You’re playing with some kid’s life. We have to temper it with skill. In order to trust the planes, they had to know what made them tick. In order to trust themselves and each other, they had to be made aware of just what they were capable of as pilots.

“Watch this, me lad,” and I did a thousand-foot side-slip and brought her down to the river.

Skimming along, the weeping willows on the left barked back our engine noise, which sounded raspier and closer to us. The river curved to the left. We followed it, then I eased her level, entering a low right turn above a weir. A fisherman puffed furiously on his pipe, ducking and glaring as we flew over, barely twenty-five feet above.

Robert’s head was moving around in front as he laughed; peering about at the view. A heron, frozen in time as he attempted to scurry his way into flight, at an open place where the fields came right down to the water. A mill, more trees. One more turn.

There she is, the prettiest little bridge you’ve ever seen. Robert appeared to be a little tense. His head sank down until it was barely visible. I was grinning from ear to ear.

Life is a joke. Bob was just lowering his head for maximum visibility.

Life is a huge joke. Then you die. I’m determined to enjoy it if I can.

Otherwise, what’s the fucking point?

There was a crescendo of noise building up to a ‘brapp!’ of the air as we went under.

“That wasn’t so bad now, was it?”

Robert didn’t reply. Hope we haven’t lost him. I’ve never had a student just get out and walk away after a flight, but I know someone who has. It happens. Off the record, I blame the instructor, who tried some hare-brained stunt and bit off a little more than he could chew.

Eyes-bigger-than-his-stomach syndrome.

“That was great,” he called back a little weakly.

“You’re riding with the best,” I assured Robert.

Inspire confidence. That’s part of the job.

And I have to be confident in myself to do that. At least that’s one part of the theory.

“Take us home, Robert.”

He could handle the plane at a thousand feet. I wouldn’t let him do it otherwise. How does the student feel about it? He seems to be doing fairly well. Let him fly the thing.

“How many other planes did we see today?” I barked suddenly.

“Nine, sir,” he yelled back with no hesitation.


I must have missed one. That’s pretty good.

“Are you sure, boy?” as he steadied up and began to make an approach.

(We always say, ‘an’ approach, and never, ‘the’ approach!)

“Yes, sir,” he called.

He was a lying little bugger, but I decided to let him get away with one, this time.

You have to convince them they’re smarter than someone else.

“You have the plane. Land it,” I ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

When you switch off, the ringing in your ears stays with you. The wind beating on the back of your neck is exhausting. The buffeting of the slipstream on your head just made the neck ache sometimes. I was suffering from a bit of a headache.

“That’s all for today, Bob,” I gave him a slap on the back. “Good job. Thanks for the flight.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He looked tired and strained, but a very happy young man.

My job was not entirely without its perks.

“Off you go then.”

Was there someone else, or is this my last flight of the day? There was one figure walking toward the hangars, but there was no one else lined up and ready to go. Time for a nice cup of tea. My knee was a little wobbly, but it was early days yet. That much was clear, I thought as I walked away. Every so often lurching, when my foot came down a little too hard.

My flying was fine. Walking hurt. It just plain hurt.

Notes. This was my first novel, and I went overboard at 183,000 words. There are one or two things I would do differently if I was to write this book at this point in my development as a writer. I can take or leave the first person narrative. But it was worth doing it as a memoir, because to write another dry and dusty history book was and remains beyond my ability or interest. This one took about two and a half years to write, and was extensively researched. Presently I am much more sophisticated in terms of dialogue tags and semi--colons, that sort of thing, the basic nuts-and-bolts writing skills that a lot of people probably do take for granted. But some of us learn by doing, and I have no real regrets with this book. The greatest lesson it taught me was perseverance--and the fact that I could actually complete a book, write a good story, and have a lot of fun doing it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Quality Control in Self-Publishing E-Books

Quality control in publishing is extremely important, and there are some nightmarish aspects to it. It really doesn't matter whether it's a print on demand paperback, an e-book or a small print run at a custom printer. Anything involving quality control at this end of the spectrum can be scaled up for a bigger operation. Otherwise the information would hardly be valid.

Yesterday, I decided to publish 'Selected Poems' on Amazon, which is a Kindle version. Their preferred file upload is an html file.

What I did was to get the original file, which is a .doc file for uploading onto the Smashwords platform. Then I changed the front matter, which is only polite to both Amazon and Smashwords, and uploaded the file as a saved html version. There is a process where you fill out all the information for the book, and of course quality control is important--typos are kind of 'verboten,' and that's fine.

After uploading the file, I first checked the book in the preview feature, and things didn't look good. Then I clicked on the 'download file' button and brought a Kindle version (so far unpublished) onto my desktop. Clicking on that, which opens up in a Kindle 'Whispersync' sort of interface, I found that every poem seemed to be set in about three to five spaces from the left-hand margin, and there were no spaces between the end of one poem and the next title, and then no space between the title and the text of the poem.

There are plenty of irritants available to the average writer in the course of a busy day, and this was one of them days! So the thing was parked in 'draft' mode for a while.

Then of course I thought of the versions, all frickin' eight or nine of them available on Smashwords...

We all know the obvious thing to do, right?

Right. I went to Smashwords, and unpublished the thing as a precaution. It's Read An E-Book Week, March 4-12 on Smashwords. The thing is marked for free, and a couple of people have been kind enough to download a book. A few people have sampled the book.

Much to my surprise, the thing looks fine in all formats, bearing in mind once 'unpublished' I can't check out the online viewing options. However, the Kindle version looks very good in my Mobipocket Reader, which I also keep on the desktop. It is a free download, and it has its limitations.

So, either the html upload simply failed on Amazon, in which case I should try again, or it is barely possible that I accidentally uploaded the .doc file, which doesn't seem very likely as I made the html file right on the spot for that sole purpose. That would tend to explain the wonky formatting though.

On the bright side, I guess I have learned quite a bit--for example, the Palm and LRF versions can be read on Mobipocket as well, although they have a strange 'AE' thingy with some curves that look distincly foreign. This is probably an idiosyncracy of Mobipocket Reader, which is only meant to simulate certain devices. It doesn't replace them. I check every page, and for good reason. Mistakes kind of hurt the ego.

The irritation has gone away, and so has the sort of self-flagellation that goes with really pooching it badly...which apparently I didn't do. This is why I always download the Epub and Kindle versions as soon as I publish anything on Smashwords.

As to what exactly the problem is on Amazon, that one falls under the 'trouble-shooting' category.

Having unpublished the book on Smashwords, the product requires re-submission even though it's the same file, and it sets it back in the Premium Distribution Catalog process, but I would rather be sure about it and not have to worry.

Other than the fact it is not published on Amazon, no serious harm has been done and it was probably a valuable exercise.

Just for the record, Smashwords' Meatgrinder and Auto-Vetter do not catch all errors in formatting, and neither do the human reviewers on virtually any platform, although I'm sure most of them are very good, 'statistically speaking.'

In other notes, I have ordered a proof copy of 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery' from Createspace and expect it to arrive about March 22. Only after proofing it does Createspace allow the book to be marketed. I will be using the two free distribution channels. You can get three more for about $25.00 but it's not vital at this point in time. The reader's circumstances may be different.

That book is a 6 x 9 paperback, 216 pages, and retailing for $8.99 plus S & H. This same product is marked at $10.99 on Lulu, due to the terms of service and various other factors including their pricing policies.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Plot: the last ten percent is the hardest.

I've just reached the point in writing my eighth novel, 'On the Nature of the Gods,' where it starts to get really hard.

The last ten percent is the hardest in terms of logic and persuasion. It is vital to weave together the threads of the narrative, and take all the characters that were developed separately in early chapters and bring them together in a climactic solution to the problems set them by the narrative. All of these people have been brought to this point, at this particular place and time, under this particular set of circumstances. No matter how ribald and absurd, it must have sufficent logic to satisfy the reader. They have to be able to follow along.

This is where control comes in, and how we end up with a wedding or something.

Oh, yeah, baby. This is defintely the climax of the book!

I slow right down. I daydream a lot. And yet at the same time, my mental gatekeeping is a lot better than it was two or three years ago. I don't write anything I don't have to. While the attitude may be different if an author was shooting for a 100,000 word manuscript, what I am doing now, is finishing the plot.

I want to get to the end of the plot.

I'm shooting for 60,000 words, which is all it takes to call it a 'novel.'

If someone asked you for an estimate for 32,000 square feet of drywall board, would you offer them an estimate for 45,000 square feet and a microwave oven? If someone wanted a 2,500 square-foot roof done, would you ask your crew to put a few shingles on the house next door while they were at it?

("Not I," said the cat.)

What I need to do is to hit the end of my plot at about 60,000 words. At this point, 59,990 would be okay too, as the next step is re-writing, and that's when a lot of detail will be added in. This novel has no need to go over 70,000 words.

This is a comedy. It's not 'War and Peace.'

This is where we earn the big bucks, because from this point on, is where most manuscripts fail. This is where most beginning authors fail--they get 90 % of a book done. Then they start to worry about what other people think if they don't get it exactly right. This is why the wedding is so important--the book wouldn't get done otherwise.

Somehow we have to get the people to the wedding, and the only way we can do it is to write them there...getting people to where they must be on time is like planning a wedding, or anything else involving time, motion, and space, from multiple points of view.

That's why I don't want to write too much. It makes my job a lot simpler. My head only has so much capacity.

It's not nececesary to write about a wedding with three hundred guests. Too much happened, there are too many stories and too many perspectives. This particular story, 'On the Nature of the Gods,' has maybe twenty characters, and I only introduce a crowd, 'people walking down a street,' or 'people at a wedding,' if I really need it.