Category Archives: publishing

Being Kind to Myself

Paying for reviews is not going well for me. I go to a lot of effort to read and review the works of others. Pubby gives you four days. Four days to read a book that may be as much as 75,000 words. You also find some books to be a mind-numbing slog because many writers are simply not as good as they think they are. But there are ways to cut to the chase and evaluate a book quickly and accurately. It definitely helps if the author follows a recognizable genre pattern, but most of the reviewers on Pubby have never heard of a picaresque novel, and have poor conceptions of what a hero’s journey is, or misunderstand the basic structures in a coming-of-age story. So, you make the review pointed, simple, and give the highest rating you can justify.

But the work I put into the process is not reflected in the reviews I get in return. The last review I got on my book, Snow Babies, was supposed to be a verified purchase review. That means the reviewer is supposed to buy a copy of the e-book. $0.99 is not too much to ask. I spent $3.95 on the last book I reviewed. But the reviewer turned in a review about three hours after taking the assignment and did not buy a copy of the book. It’s a five-star review because the reviewer read the other reviews and all but one of those is five stars. So, I am cheated out of the sale, and I did not get an honest review because it does not take a Sherlock-Holmes brain to figure out, “HE DID NOT READ THE BOOK!”

I need to keep going with Pubby at least for the rest of the year-long subscription I purchased because it does give me a chance to get read. And I am not the only honest reviewer on there who will read all night to get a 75,000-word novel or book read in only four days. And a Kirkus Review costs more than a thousand dollars, and if you get an unlucky choice of semi-insane reviewer, the Kirkus Reputation can be the kiss of death even for a good book.

So, in order to be kind to myself, I may need complain to the powers behind Pubby even though it is a five-star review. We shall see if Pubby and Amazon really accept this review that was not done the way we are directed to do them.

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Truth in Advertising… the Mickey Version

Here’s the thing… Mickey is to the art of advertising as Cassandra in the Iliad is to prophecy.

Cassandra, you may remember from the last time you read the Iliad in the original Greek, was gifted with true prophecy. What she foresaw was destined to come true. Unfortunately, she was cursed to never be believed by any she told the prophecy to.

Similarly, Mickey can tell a good story, full of imaginative storylines and compelling plots and themes. But anytime he launches an ad, here, on Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere, it will not be seen, or, if seen, not responded to.

Case in point; I worked at reformatting, illustrating, and improving the following e-book. I set it up for a free-book promotion this weekend. It is still free from now until midnight on the 23rd of February.

As of this posting, I have only given away four copies of the novel. And I am more than halfway through the third day of a five-day promotion. So, I am on pace to have the worst promotion in the past year.

Of course, I know that this has been a terrible weather week for Texas, and most of the nation. Reading a book about aliens is probably not the foremost thing on people’s minds. I can usually count on Twitter nudists to give my free books a boost even when there are no nudist characters or nudist ideas in the novel. But Friday is the day when Twitter nudists usually say, “Howdy!” to each other on Twitter, and I gave away none on Friday and only one on Saturday. This book has some nudism going on at one point on the apocalyptic hell-scape planet in the story, but that is mostly a matter of naked aliens and plants. So, I can’t give copies of this book away to anybody, not even to fellow nudists.

Catch a Falling Star is the book that Stardusters and Space Lizards is a sequel to.

It is the story of the Telleron invasion of the Earth, landing in a small town in Iowa, invading in invisibility cloaking devices, and failing to even be noticed by most people in town.

The e-book is $3.99 on Amazon, so it is not as good a value as the free one.

This book is about fleeing aliens arriving by accident at a dying planet. It is a planet experiencing biosphere collapse just as Earth will probably do in the near future. And the alien characters, most of them tadpoles (Telleron children) take active steps to try to save the new planet so they, too, might have a place to live.

Anyway, buy the book. It’s free today. All you have to do is click.

But since Mickey the advertiser is like Cassandra, I have to say the opposite. Don’t buy this book. It is awful. You will not love it. You will not think all your friends need to read it too.

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My Bookish Journey (Finale)

by Maxfield Parrish

Like every real, honest-to-God writer, I am on a journey. Like all the good ones and the great ones, I am compelled to find it…

“What is it?” you ask.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “But I’ll know it when I see it.”

“The answer?” you ask. “The secret to everything? Life, the universe, and everything? The equation that unifies all the theories that physicists instinctively know are all one thing? The treasure that pays for everything?”

Yes. That. The subject of the next book. The next idea. Life after death. The most important answer.

And I honestly believe that once found, then you die. Life is over. You have your meaning and purpose. You are fulfilled. Basically, I am writing and thinking and philosophizing to find the justification I need to accept the end of everything.

Leah Cim Reyeb is me, Michael Beyer written backwards.

And you know what? The scariest thing about this post is that I never intended to write these particular words when I started typing. I was going to complain about the book-review process. It makes me think that, perhaps, I will type one more sentence and then drop dead. But maybe not. I don’t think I’ve found it yet.

The thing I am looking for, however, is not an evil thing. It is merely the end of the story. The need no longer to tell another tale.

When a book closes, it doesn’t cease to exist. My life is like that. It will end. Heck, the entire universe may come to an end, though not in our time. And it will still exist beyond that time. The story will just be over. And other stories that were being told will continue. And new ones by new authors will begin. That is how infinity happens.

I think, though, that the ultimate end of the Bookish Journey lies with the one that receives the tale, the listener, the reader, or the mind that is also pursuing the goal and thinks that what I have to say about it might prove useful to his or her own quest.

I was going to complain about the book reviewer I hired for Catch a Falling Star who wrote a book review for a book by that name that was written by a lady author who was not even remotely me. And I didn’t get my money back on that one. Instead I got a hastily re-done review composed from details on the book jacket so the reviewer didn’t have to actually read my book to make up for his mistake. I was also going to complain about Pubby who only give reviewers four days to read a book, no matter how long or short it is, and how some reviewers don’t actually read the book. They only look at the other reviews on Amazon and compose something from there. Or the review I just got today, where the reviewer didn’t bother to read or buy the book as he was contracted to do, and then gave me a tepid review on a book with no other reviews to go by, and the Amazon sales report proves no one bought a book. So, it is definitely a middling review on a book that the reviewer didn’t read. Those are things I had intended to talk about today.

But, in the course of this essay, I have discovered that I don’t need to talk about those tedious and unimportant things. What matters really depends on what you, Dear Reader, got from this post. The ultimate McGuffin is in your hands. Be careful what you do with it. I believe neither of us is really ready to drop dead.

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My Bookish Journey (Part V)

Creating myself as an author meant making some conscious choices at the beginning. I made some very clear ones. First of all, I intended to write as much about my real life as I possibly could. Accepting, of course, the fact that my real life was infested with imaginary people and events. There was the faun that slept in my bed with me every night in the form of a large, black pillow my sister made for me as a 4-H project. There were the three-inch-tall fairies that had a complete underground empire that surfaced at the roots of the old willow tree by the Rowan school building and community center. There was the gryphon that circled the skies looking constantly to swoop down and eat me at any opportunity. So, it wasn’t as much about realism as it was surrealism. It was necessary to protect my traumatized psyche from the damage I sustained as a ten-year-old.

Of course, I had literary heroes and inspirations to go by. I read some key books as a college student that deeply influenced how I wanted to write.

Winesburg, Ohio is the first major influence that affected the stories I began writing in my college years. Sherwood Anderson was writing about his own hometown in this short-story cycle, basing Winesburg on his home town of Clyde, Ohio in the very early 1900s.

Arguably he wrote stories about real people from his renamed home town. Thus, I renamed Rowan, my home town, Norwall, mixing up the letters from Rowan and adding two letter “L’s.” His stories were all themed about the loneliness and longings of a small Midwestern town. I would make mine about breaking out of the cages loneliness builds with the people who surround you.

I also determined that like Mark Twain, I would give my characters a sense of realism by basing them on real people from Rowan, Belmond (where I went to high school), and Cotulla, Texas (where I would teach for 23 years.) And I would change some basically minor physical details to hide their true identities behind names I found in the Ames, Iowa phone book from 1978. But I always tried to give them their authentic voices, though that often meant translating Texican and Hispanish into Iowegian.

And like Twain vowed to write stories only about the 19th Century, I decided to only set my stories in the last half of the 20th Century.

Of course, imagination is not easily limited, so I had to also accept that some of my stories of the science-fiction persuasion would be set in the 56th Century in the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

And even before I discovered the genius of David Mitchell through his spectacular novel, Cloud Atlas, I had begun to explore how stories could be expanded and connected and revisited through shared characters, shared histories, and shared places, all of which develop, grow, or deteriorate over time. All things are connected, after all. Anita Jones from that first picture, and Brent Clarke in the last picture were both in the first novel, Superchicken, set in 1974, and Anita appears as an adult in Sing Sad Songs set in 1985, while Brent appears in the last novel in my timeline, The Wizard in his Keep, set in 1999.

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My Bookish Journey (Part III)

As I indicated in Part II, I killed PDMI Publishing with my first contest novel, Snow Babies. Not because it was that bad of a novel. Rather, it was the endless compounding of my bad luck over time, caused by the Publishing Gods’ keen desires to keep my stories from being generally read and enjoyed. Fickle and cruel are the Publishing Gods.

I took some of the most memorable events in my time as a teacher, put them in a cook-pot and added a batter made of characters based on real teachers I have taught with, learned from, and copied their methods, mixed it with a wooden whisk made of fairy tales, and then baked it with the high heat of the love of teaching to make the next manuscript I would submit to the same YA Novel contest, the Rossetti Awards.

I thought it was an excellent novel. And, like Snow Babies before it, it made the final round of the judging. And there was a range of prizes for the best in about five categories of YA novel for which Magical Miss Morgan qualified for two of them. If it had taken any of those prizes, it would’ve gained me the attention of major publishers looking for new talent.

Alas, there were more novels in competition in that second contest, and I only won the placement in the final round of judging. The Publishing Gods are powerful and implacable.

I submitted it to another publisher that I meant to kill, and they promptly rejected it. They could not handle many novels, got an avalanche of mostly terrible novels, and rejected mine after the first page didn’t dazzle them enough. My consolation had to be that, even though they didn’t give me a contract, they did die shortly after, being closed the next time I checked on them.

Mike Murphy and Blueberry Bates, two of Miss Morgan’s students

So, I gritted my teeth and tried the pay-to-publish publishers one more time. I chose Page Publishing because they only cost a third of what I-Universe did. I could, at that time, barely still afford it with my partially-restored credit rating.

Unfortunately, as a Publisher, Page was worth only one one-hundredth of the value of I-Universe. They didn’t actually have editors. I basically edited the whole thing myself. Their “editor” only communicated to me once with a proof-read copy that I basically had to re-edit and change everything back to being correct English usage. The major editorial contribution? They tried to change every instance of my use of Miss Morgan to Ms. Morgan. Even in the title. The young bozo-editor didn’t understand that even married female teachers are addressed as “Miss.”

As hard as they tried to mess up the novel for me, almost as badly as Publish America did to AeroQuest, I was pleased with the final outcome and the ten copies they sent me. However, I had already vowed to myself that I would never again trust my work to fly-by-night small publishers. And, of course, no major publisher was accepting unsolicited manuscripts. So, I began my relationship with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

That, then, will be the topic of Part IV.

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My Bookish Journey (Part II)

It is possible, I suppose, that after my unlooked-for hiatus from teaching, and the subsequent employment as an ESL teacher for the Garland, Texas School District in 2007. I might never have tried picking up the magic pencil again.

I loved teaching. And I was seriously considering doing it until the day I dropped dead.

But, God, of course, usually has other ideas for everybody. My last three years as a Texas public school teacher were my hardest health-wise. I had the H1N1 flu twice in one year. Both strains, one time each. I spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia. I reached a point where I was sick more days every semester than I had sick days to cover. My paychecks began to shrink. And it got harder to make it through the day standing in front of classrooms holding the big pencil of lesson delivery.

As I contemplated the inevitable dropping into deadness that happens even to English teachers, I began to realize that I couldn’t just let my stories disappear when I did. I needed to actually get serious about publishing them. I wrote another. I took an old manuscript called Nobody’s Babies and rewrote it as Snow Babies. I submitted it in manuscript form to a writing contest. I entered it into Chanticleer Book Reviews’ YA novel-writing contest called the Dante Rossetti Awards. https://www.chantireviews.com/contests/ I made it through to the final round of judging, one of twelve books. I didn’t win, and I couldn’t legally put on the eventual cover of the book that it was a finalist, but it was. So, it was time to find a new publisher. Preferably one that didn’t require my indentured servitude to Mastercard and Discover for the rest of my life.

I found a publisher that loved my book. PDMI Publishing was a business operated as an Indie publisher by a poet and his wife and supported by all the writers and editors and artists whose work he put into print. They were expanding when I signed a contract with them. I was given a brand new book editor who joined them shortly after I did. Jessie Cornwell was her name.

My book was humming along towards publication for two years. Then, rather suddenly, the business collapsed and they released me from my contract. Being the next book in line to be published, I believe it was my incredible luck as an author trying to get published and actually make money from writing that killed the publisher. I didn’t get the final draft of my novel back, so, now I give credit as Editor to Jessie, but the only changes she made to it are the ones I remembered and agreed with.

I would make one more stab at working with an actual publisher for the next book I wanted to publish, Magical Miss Morgan. But that debacle is the subject of Part Three.

But I would go on to self-publish Snow Babies on Amazon, and, to date, it is the book I consider to be the best thing I have ever written.

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My Bookish Journey

My journey as a writer actually began in grade school. I was writing Star Trek-like comics from the time I was in the fourth and fifth grade, ten and eleven years old. I called my comics Zebra Fleet, about the last fleet in the Star League on the distant, far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy.

I started writing book-length stories in college, at Iowa State University. They weren’t all science fiction. They began to be more and more about the time and place where I grew up, Rowan, Iowa in the 1960s and 1970s They involved the people I knew there and then. My family, my friends, the people of Rowan, and random Iowegians. I based important characters on people I actually knew, mostly those I knew quite well. But I changed and swapped character details to hide their identities a little bit, and I gave them names that were mixed and matched and borrowed from the 1977 Ames, Iowa phone book. Dettbarn, Efram, Sumpter, Bircher, Clarke, MacMillan, White, and Murphy all came from there. Niland came from a famous alumni of the University of Iowa who played for the Dallas Cowboys.

In order to have food to eat and money to spend as an adult, I had to take my BA in English and add to it an MA in Education to get a job as a teacher. I took my closet full of nascent novels and moved to Texas where my dad’s job took my parents before I graduated college. There I added hundreds of characters who were perfect for Young Adult novels as I got to know real kids and learned about their real lives. I changed their names, details, and often cultures as I added them to my stories.

Other than a couple of shots in the dark as submissions of cartoons and manuscripts to publishers, I mostly kept my stories in the closet and focused more on teaching (which, to be fair, is also a form of story-telling.) I put my handful of rejection letters in the closet too.

But then, I got laid off for two years due to health and a wicked witch as a principal, and I spent my non-job-hunting time writing a novel about my science-fiction role-playing games with former students. It was called AeroQuest.

I managed to find a publisher for that book. But it was a bogus sort of experience. They paid me an advance of one dollar. Then they had me sign a seven-year contract in 2007. No editor or proofreader even worked for them. I basically had to edit and format the book myself. All they did is intentionally flub-up some titles and sections of text in the printed form. This was part of the master plan to get me to pay for an extensive fix to the mistakes they made. The only marketing they did was to send a notice for my over-priced paperback to the list of friends and relatives that they required me to make for them. Publish America is no longer in business. They were closed down by a class-action lawsuit from the authors they had tricked into paying them thousands of dollars for totally defective publishing services. Since I didn’t pay them any scam pennies, I didn’t get any of the money from the lawsuit. I only got my publishing rights back.

So, I went back to whole-heartedly teaching. Then, in 2012 I completed another manuscript that I thought was the best work that I had ever done. I submitted it to I-Universe publishers. They read it and loved it. As it turned out, they were in the process of being acquired by Penguin Books. They were the closest thing to a mainstream publisher that would entertain submissions by new and unproven authors like me.

They, of course, were offering a publishing package that included working with real editors and marketing personnel. But I had to go a bit into debt to swing the price. So, I was still paying someone to publish my book correctly. But, as a step in my author’s journey, it was invaluable. I got to work closely with an experienced editor who had previously worked for both MacMillan and Harcourt, two mainstream traditional publishers.

My book was given the stock cover you see here despite the cover requests I made and got approved. My original ask was apparently too expensive to print. There is no girl flying a kite in the story at all, let alone at night. It is a story about incompetent aliens trying to invade a small town in Iowa. I had requested a flying saucer with a kite flying behind it.

That first real publisher, though, made me into a real writer. The I-Universe marketeers got me listed as a winner of the Editor’s Choice Award. And they put that award and the Rising Star award on every paperback copy they printed. Everyone who read the book seemed to really like it. They set me up with this blog, space on their website for my book and bio, and they put me in touch with Barnes and Noble to talk about “meet the author” sessions to promote getting the book on their shelves. But a trip to the hospital with pneumonia and the end of the room on my Discover Card caused me to bring an end to my marketing campaign. I ended up with two five-star reviews and sixteen dollars-worth of royalties.

At this point in the story, temporarily stalled, I must start touting the part two of my essay for today. I should warn you, I have a lot more negative things to say about publishing next time.

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To Have the Power…

I have been struggling with my goals for this week. I wanted to publish my novel, The Wizard in His Keep. I also wanted to go get my vote in at an early-voting polling place. But I had to get my phone repaired because the battery was failing. I needed a reliable phone if I had to wait in a long voting line, which it seems we are actually having. My health has been poor. I didn’t want to pass out in line and cause an emergency without a working phone. I had to get battery power to pull this off.

Last weekend my computer crashed and it turns out my Google account may have been hacked… again. I had to recover the account and change a ton of passwords. I have had to check accounts repeatedly without using my computer. But, even though it delayed my final edit and publication by a couple of days, I got the manuscript and cover submitted last night. The e-book is already live on Amazon. The paperback will also be available soon.

I managed to order and receive a new phone battery online before the computer crash. But I discovered that my arthritic fingers couldn’t handle the battery installation.

So…

I was able to get the phone working by taking it to the nearest AT&T Store. The guy behind the counter put the battery in my phone for free.

And then today, as I was planning to go vote, I passed out about five times after breakfast. I took what medication I have that is relevant. Early voting is every weekday until the 30th of October. I will have to wait for a better day when I have more physical power to do it.

So, I have overcome all of my goals except for voting. I did it by marshaling power. Battery power by buying a battery. Finger power by relying on the empathy in an AT&T employee for an arthritic old man whose fingers fumble. And I will overcome the voting issue with healing power and will power.

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According to Mickey…

I have been using the book-reviewing service called Pubby to get readers to actually read and review my books. I have barely gotten any readers to pick up and read one of my books since I first started publishing my work in 2007. And I get it. Beginning authors, no matter how good they are going to be later, are not so very good on the first, second, or even third try. My family is reluctant to read anything I have written because I pester them too much about it. My children are all creative in their own way, and consumed more by their own projects than by anything I have done. And when my wife reads anything I have written, she becomes laser-focused on what is unusual about how I use grammar and how things are spelled.

“You can’t spell that word like that!” she insists.

“But honey, it’s a made-up word that I made up myself.”

“That makes it worse, because the word it makes me think of is a bad word in the Philippines, even though it is spelled nothing like your word for butterflies thinking of ear wax.”

“Okay, I guess I have to change it then.”

Not my wife and me… but close.

But Amazon doesn’t like your relatives writing book reviews anyway. And their rules knocked out a couple of reviews I got from other writers with whom I had a deal for exchanging reviews. So, this review service was supposed to help with the problem. You read books from Pubby’s list and write a review to get points that you can put toward getting your own books reviewed. That seems both reasonable and equitable to me.

So, I started with some of the best books I have written and began getting them reviewed. So far, Snow Babies has gained four five-star reviews. Sing Sad Songs and Recipes for Gingerbread Children have each added three five-star reviews.

And it began to concern me.

It seems that some of the truly terrible writing that I was reviewing were getting overly-generous amounts of five-star reviews, along with their twos and threes. And the closer I looked at some of the comments in the reviews of my books, which were somehow read in only one or two days, were merely restatements of what other reviewers had already written. It was entirely possible that I was getting reviews like I was because writers were slapping an empty five-star on there to justify earning their points to get their own books reviewed. They weren’t actually reading the stories themselves.

I am not going to complain about mere suspicions over a five-star review. But I was looking for proof that people read and like my books. And I expect to see some lower grades on my work. That’s part of how you know things are real. Not everyone likes every good book. The best books ever written have their detractors.

That is an ordinary tractor in the background, not a detractor.

So, I went with my most recently published book, Laughing Blue. I chose the free-review-copy option and gave the reader every opportunity to dislike my book of boring old essays. And I got back a five-star review with some actual proof that the reader did read it and enjoyed it.

Now I feel better. But I would still like to see some three or four-star reviews, and I would definitely survive a one or a two. It would make me think the whole thing is a bit more honest than it has seemed at times.

And that’s how it’s supposed to be… according to Mickey.

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Saturdays are Coming Faster and Faster

I suppose with the threat of Coronavirus hanging over the house, the days are getting shorter because the end of time for me is drawing nearer. I have just started a subscription with Pubby, an online company that lets you review the books of others. And in return, they will review yours. That’s a plan that will only bear fruit if it has enough time to grow.

I, of course, started with Snow Babies. It may not be the best that I have written, but it’s at least close, and it is my favorite.

Sing Sad Songs will be the second one I will add.

The first review I got was a five-star review. But the reader read it apparently only in one day, rather than the four days I gave him. (That is the most that Pubby allows.) I would really rather get a lower score if I knew that the reader was actually reading and not just skimming.

The novel covers and illustrations I have included here for Saturday Art Day are all other books I think are worthwhile getting reviewed. It takes a while though to earn enough points by reading and reviewing to get another review on one of my books. They say that once you buy a subscription, the reviews are free. But they are not. You have to earn points to get them. In other words, you have to work for it.

These first few all have four or five star reviews on them already, before Pubby. But some of them have nudist characters in them doing nudist activities, and that may cause them to do poorly with people who think you shouldn’t even read about people having no clothes on. The one directly above got a five star review, but it is set in a nudist park and it was a nudist who reviewed it.

This book has not yet been read by anyone but me, as far as I know.

I can finally get a review on Magical Miss Morgan too, now that I got back my publishing rights from Page Publishing and republished it on Amazon.

And this weekend I have a free promotion going on this book, the second in the AeroQuest series. You can click on the BUY ON AMAZON button and buy it in Kindle format for zero dollars.

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