Taming the wild horses

Can you see the allure of the traditionally published author? Do they sit around all day and do nothing but write or attend book premier parties complete with champagne and good looking people clamoring for a look at you? Now I can. After all the hard work it is easy to just want to write and not market.

Going it alone means going it alone. One can die in obscurity with dignity intact much easier than flaming out for all the world to see a la (insert latest celeb flameout). No one wants obscurity but no one wants to flounder around in discouragement either.

Putting together a long range plan has been tough. I think long term but not in minute detail sometimes. I want to do everything at once because it feels like I’m doing something when in fact I’m not doing much at all. If you can get something by an agent and happen to sell it to a house, they do all of this for you and take their cut. Taking charge of your own destiny has been scary. No one to blame but myself but no time frame to live up to either. The wild horses are constrained by the need to be the business leader of the enterprise. The creative hat comes off and the planning and calculating hat comes on. I don’t know if it is easier for some to do, it has not been easy for me to do.

The process as a whole has been straightforward enough. Editor supplies final document, upload it to Create Space and KDP, walk through the menus, set the price, choose the distribution channels and behold, it’s up for sale! After that? Where to begin!

No one knows about it and will not until you figure out how to reach them. Amazon has done for self publishing what Apple has done for digital media. POD and other printers have been around for years. Self publishing has been around since the printing press. But, the power of distribution has not always been available. Now, it is making the possibility of making money without the traditional process that much more attainable. Honestly, I was on this route before Amazon and its Kindle and its ebook distribution revolution was in full swing. I am gratified that I actually have a chance at reaching more people and of actually making some money on the effort, but the choice to go self publishing was made long before.

Without the benefit of a marketing department or a publicist, you have to spend more of your time fronting your work than otherwise. You get to keep what you make in a large part, but one can only decide for themselves if the trade off is worth it or not. I cannot say either way at the moment as the process is only just beginning.

The 150th of Shiloh is in April of 2012 and I plan on attending the reenactment and looking to meet some bookstore owners and park historians in person with copies of the book and media materials. This will be the first big push at some of the trappings of the traditional market. Until I reach out I do not have any idea if the effort will pan out. There are roadblocks to this. Getting a bookstore to sell your work is almost a universal pan if it is self published, so getting into the book distribution channels is a must if you want to approach libraries and bookstores. But, I hope to capitalize on the event and some of the smaller bookstores who can make their own local choices on books they carry (each NPS bookstore can choose what it sells) and on doing educational monologues with signings. I won’t know until I try.

My self publishing journey

We (my wife and I) started looking at self publishing in 2007 as They Met at Shiloh neared its completion. At the time we had several reasons for looking into it as a friend of ours who runs a successful publishing company for homeschool science curriculum sold us on the importance of retaining control over ones own work. We had our own ideas as to why, some based on facts and others based on assumptions, but we never really considered the traditional route. I’d looked into the process of finding an agent, finding a pitch, and crafting a query letter but the further I dug the further I was convinced that I’d have to sacrifice something (don’t we all when we want something) in order to get something.

This was when being self published was still like admitting in a crowded room that one had cooties. Might was well paint a sign on your forehead “second class citizen”. POD companies were springing up and there were printers who would print your book in bulk if you had the money and the storage space to house them. Other companies like Ingram Direct, would take you on and offer some relief from the various chores a publishing company had to do like warehousing, point of sale, distribution, etc. but they were marketing to the smaller specialty publishing companies who still had a foot in the traditional door. At the time, we didn’t know how much we’d be able to afford and the book had not been edited yet, but we did know that it might take us a good while to save.

Of my own research into historical fiction (christian and non) 98% (not a scientific approach, just perusing titles and descriptions on bookshelves and Amazon) fall into the romance category. I’m not writing romance works or intended to have any. This may have been a fallacy on my part, but from what I already knew of the system, if I wanted to sell my work (another reason for not going the traditional route, the loss of rights) I might have to make major changes to the work to market it to the traditional audience for historical fiction. Now, do not get me wrong. It is not a good guy vs. bad guy thing. I understand that the publishers are in business. Each new novel purchased is an investment waiting to happen. If I were to give my own money to something on the chance that it may or may not pay out, I’d be darn sure that it was going to meet the highest potential for my own profit. As it stood, I did not believe that the work met the mass market for historical fiction.

What I was writing was character, and in particular, soldier centric. It was also to look at how a battle could exert its own influence upon the characters, treating it as a character itself. There is a niche market for military and historical fiction but Civil War fiction has remained primarily romantic in material. I told myself if I was to self publish for the sake of control, then I’d be able to write what I wanted to write, sans market in mind. I also began to accept that this would remain a hobby and not a full time endeavor. I had a job that I liked and it was fine to treat this as such. I decided that the gatekeepers can keep their gates, I wasn’t in it for the fame and fortune. I also knew that the process from a business standpoint wasn’t interested in making kings either.

Flash forward to today. We invested heavily in a professional editor. Though I might be going it alone I also knew that quality mattered. An editor can’t change the overall tone of what is written or its message (at least at this point) but would sharpen what was already there. The editing was done by Preciseedit.com, a good friend of mine I’ve known since college and doing well for himself as a freelance editor. The cover was also professionally done. We knew what our limits where and when to seek help. Thanks to those like Joe Konrath and others who have begun to pioneer the indie self publishing industry via Kindle Direct Publishing and the Amazon Imprints, I can even follow some who have hit the water ahead of me and glean some insight and knowledge about the process. We have even begun to contemplate what would not have been thinkable before; the possibility of marketing other short stories and other novels in ebook formats to see where things lead.

I’m sanguine about this last part. There is a lot of luck that has to be struck before being able to pull some of the numbers Joe and others are. The bigger the market the greater the chance. Still, there is a market to be exploited and we are beginning to see what the real possibilities are beyond what we would have just a few years earlier.

Beginning the marketing path

I am in the early stages of figuring out what the hell it is I’m doing! So, the dream was to publish a novel. Done. Now what? It doesn’t matter if you build it, they don’t know where to come. Not just spamming friends and family, but planning out the path and finding resources for the kind of exposure I’d need to build a fan base has been both daunting and scary. Daunting in finding the right resources; scary in taking the next logical step in making contact.

I’m beginning to compile a list of known Civil War book reviewers and forum sites and then will have to go ahead and do it. It is the doing it. Sending out the books for review and waiting for the outcomes. I know what I wrote and how the story developed, but I cannot be the judge of my own quality or desirability market wise. I can only hope that with some luck and the planning we can begin to meet some of our goals.

Surprisingly, this isn’t much different than landing a traditional deal save that marketing is totally up to me instead of mostly up to me. The explosion of eBooks and the Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords eBook delivery/publishing models it is possible to make equal money to the traditionally published authors if you study the system and exploit it. It brings some hope, but nothing is for free and nothing comes easy. It is a different world now for self publishing. We have professionally edited the novel and professionally created the cover. Now we just need to leverage the social networks to accomplish what any Guerrilla Marketer would do, use what is free wherever possible.

We shall see how this all goes.

Conferring Legitimacy

In our process of learning what is going to work and what isn’t in marketing my novel I’ve had to search around to find places and forums for rubbing elbows with those who are in the process of self publishing their work. There are ways that it works and ways that it does not depending no the target audience. One commonly read blog called by Joe Konrath, A Newbie’s Guide to Self Publishing had a guest post his own journey from traditional to indie publishing found here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/10/guest-post-by-adam-pepper.html?showComment=1319229160969#comment-c8716749874601174964.

This blog post attracted quite a few comments from those who have made it, so to speak, in the traditional publishing world and those who have gone from traditional to self and finally those who tried the one route and are finding success in the other. What has struck me about the back and forth is this has been a discussion, or argument (depending on how you read some of these posts), about what is legitimate and what is not. Those who are coming from the traditional process have all pointed to what I will call the process by which they have paid their dues. It is no small feat to pay those dues and the process is brutal to the psyche at times. There was work put into the craft and landing an agent and in turn finding a publisher to accept the risk of a new author. It is a risk, there is no denying it. It is someone walking up to you, someone you do not know, and asking for some money to help them get a money maker off the ground. Would you buy into it? Probably not. After all, you are in the business to make money, not make kings. So, to cut through the garbage you listen to trusted sources to bring you those whom they think will make you some money. It’s a gamble if it’s coming from an unknown. You may make some money but probably you’ll break even. No guarantees in life.

So, is this the process of legitimacy? For the traditional title of published author, yes.

As a reader of fiction, perhaps you will pay attention to the label as conferring some sense of branding. Is this going to be a good read or not? Without a Putnam or Bantam label, you are taking a chance that what you are about to read is going to be a good story or not. Although, this is not a 100% guarantee of value given the numbers of books that are burned and destroyed after a brief print run because sellers could not get rid of their stock. But, it is less of a crap shoot. But, as a reader do you care about legitimacy? To the consumer, is it a book worth buying or not? It is an investment in currency for some pleasure reading. For the dollars spent, does the consumer know or care how much went to the author and how much went to the publisher? No. Did you get a good read for the money you spent? That is subjective to the consumer.

Now, we get to the other source. The market. The strangle hold on the process that delivers books to the consumer has been blown open by Amazon.com and its subsidiary Create Space in the delivering of content at discount and direct input of POD titles into their already well established market. This has challenged the notion of what the process is even about. There are strong feelings on both sides, but since this blog was primarily from the self published side the strong feelings come from those who have gone the traditional route towards those who have not. Adding a sense of balance are those who have done both and choose to do both but for different reasons.

Yet, is it not the market that makes the decision in the long run? It’s more a choice of control now. Do you want to control x% of the profit (and liability) or not? Do you want to retain control over the creative work or not? What is presented to the consumer is a choice. Buy the $.99 cent novel and get $.99 cents or more (based on the subjective tolerance for what is entertaining and what isn’t) or buy something at $9.99 and have a little more invested in the chance. Either way, the consumer makes the choice when presented with the option. If the money you make as an indie author is made $.99 cents (minus the delivery fee set by KDP) and a million people buy it, and then buy your next, is that legitimate? Money is money and the author kept a larger percentage of the sales and the rights to do what they wish with the work all questions of legitimacy aside.

They Met at Shiloh is self published for a variety of reasons, control being the primary one. I will admit that I bypassed the traditional route entirely as I did not want to fuss with it. There is more work to be done with marketing, but as the rise of social media has proven, one need not the advance nor the marketing prowess of a big house to use social media. I do not have any doubts that the road ahead will be easy nor that the work put in will lead to spectacular green and numbers, but I didn’t write it to make millions or the New York Times best seller list. I wrote it because I want to portray Civil War history to those who may have found the traditional ways of teaching it boring.

I used to be bugged by these same questions, I still might be as I move into having something that can be purchased and wonder about who confers this idea of legitimacy. This is a discussion/argument that writers are having with one another primarily. The consumer only cares if the story they purchased meets their expectations. Unless they are buying something written by a nobody and taking a chance, they already know what they are buying is from a trusted source, regardless of the publishing label.

Is there a redefining of the traditional terms and titles that we confirm on ourselves and peers in a growing market for easy to purchase media? I think we are seeing a redefinition of what was once the domain of the publishing houses and those who were published by the “vanity press”. Ebook publishing has blurred those lines. The vanity press has been an option for a long time, but the differences have come with the methods and way to sell something that takes very little capital and very little in the way of up front risk for a publisher (individual). A good editor and cover designer and a book can be be ready for immediate download for as little as 3K or nothing depending on your tolerance for quality. A process that did not require an agent and a publisher to make a product ready for purchase by a consumer. Quality aside, the product was made ready to consume and if offered free or practically so (just look at iTunes and the success of apps for devices at practically free prices) to get a sense that a new paradigm has been introduced for what can be consumed and what it takes to offer it. The end user still decides what is worth it and what isn’t based on opinion, not by whom the app or book was published.

What the Civil War brought

Aside from the obvious settling of a question of what the United States meant to a country torn apart by competing sectionalism, the war and its aftermath brought us a sense of unification but also brought us many more questions left unanswered.

Chief of these has been the questions of race. The south, by force of arms, was subjugated and in many ways the fruits of what many lived through in the civil rights years of the 1960s was the unfettered zeal of Abolitionist forces in the north and in congress who enforced egalitarianism upon its own citizenry. The southern populace found itself leveled and at times even lorded over by those whom they had themselves subjugated for generations before.

Reconstruction in the south to the form of political and societal revenge, a natural feeling felt by many northerners who rightly blamed the south for the years of bloodletting. Instead of gradual emancipation or gradual and controlled integration of thousands of hitherto uneducated freed slaves into the body politic, the freedmen were franchised immediately into state and local politics, not to mention federal. To punish the south, blacks were not only given the vote and an equal voice but also found themselves in charge, elected by the body of freedmen over their former masters while their former masters found themselves bereft of wealth and unable to work their own land or able to afford to hire anyone.

As one former slave put it, “the bottom rail on top now.” This is an apt description for how we should understand reconstruction from both the freedmen’s point of view and those of the former confederacy. Enfranchised with the point of the bayonet, it was not a real freedom for the freedmen. While it helped to bring some sense of justice to northerners to see the haughty brought low, it built a sense of latent rage and militant extremism that found expression in the formation of the KKK, a secret society of former confederates who sought to drive the northern influences out and re-right the balance of their destroyed society. Using intimidation, the white southerners fought back.

This is not to condone the extra-legal actions of the minority but to grasp the real problem with reconstruction as a whole. It was not organic and as long as federal soldiers were around to enforce the gradual re-admittance of each southern state back into the union, the system as conceived from Andrew Johnson’s administration worked. It worked until the federal constabulary was pulled out as each state was admitted back. This is the real tragedy of the war and its aftermath. That real freedom was not condoned by the citizenry on their newly freed slaves but one of force. When force was removed, all that had been changed was reversed by an equally vengeful south.

The south should have freed its slaves before the war ended, allowing for an organic emancipation if they chose to fight. This is not as odd as it sounds even given the counter intuitive nature of serving ones oppressors for the chance at freedom. In the early days of the war, an all black regiment was raised in New Orleans and was formed for the express purpose of fighting for rights that were promised to them locally. These were formed under the confederate banner. Its members were all free blacks and volunteered in order to gain more influence in local politics be able to participate on par with free whites. This unit, though never firing a shot at any federal was eventually disbanded, but its core found its way into the federal army and did participate in battles for the union. This is but one case of what would seem to be an aberration. Why would any black willingly serve for the confederacy? Why indeed.

We have to understand that neither the north nor the south fought to end slavery or to retain it as a war goal. That this was to become an overt goal after the Emancipation Proclamation is now history. That both sides fought for reunification or for a separate country lends some credence to wrapping our heads around why any black would serve the confederacy. If the promise of freedom was offered, the slave had strong incentive to act. A cabal of confederate officers petitioned Jefferson Davis for offering emancipation and land to any slave who volunteered to serve the confederacy of their own free will. Thousands of slaves were laboring on entrenchments for the south already, pressed into service by the army and whose owners were compensated for their labor, but it was not willing labor.

Had slaves been allowed to serve for their freedom it is a tantalizing question to ponder how different the south would have looked even as the union forces the surrender of the southern armies and the south endures a subjugation. Would the now former soldiers, blacks and whites, had a different view of each other as well as their conquerors. For the blacks, freedom and equality of life was paramount, regardless of who gave it to them. That the union forces came to represent that freedom sometimes was a bitter pill as reluctant federal commanders often turned the runaways back or grudgingly allowed the vast caravans to follow them for protection. Many northern commanders were of similar opinion as their southern counterparts, that blacks were inferior in intellect and society. Until it became common practice to view slaves and freedmen as tools to be deprived of, the army had little use for the contrabands that streamed into their camps.

It is improbable that southerners would have seen their former slaves as anything approaching equality, a problem for those who sought to rehabilitate the south. The rush to extend freedoms to those who had never had it before and the expectation that they participate in the electorate who had never been allowed to be socialized into the american fabric of republican government, the vote became both a weapon and a danger to those who now could wield it. Much of our current understanding of race relations and the problems of southern acceptance of the now freedmen has much bearing on how these freedmen were enfranchised. It is also improbable that a more gradual process would have been allowed to take place, for the conquerors needed to show something for the blood and treasure expended in reuniting the union. A slow process would not have played out politically as it would have given too much back to the former rebels and delayed too long the freedoms paid for. Yet, this is exactly what needed to happen where southerners needed to extend freedom of their own accord and not by the bayonet. Had thousands of blacks actually fought and sacrificed for southern freedom, a freedom they would have been promised in payment for that service, we might not have the history that we have today when it comes to race.

But, this is only a thought.

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First Battle of Bull Run

First Battle of Bull Run – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The 150th of First Bull Run (First Manassas for the southern leaning) was this past weekend in Virginia. There were several notable things about this battle, primary of which was the haphazard nature of the fighting. There was the give and take of normal combat, small victories and defeats as brigades on both sides took their objectives or were driven back.

The sudden reversal and precipitous route of Union general McDowell’s forces meant that the rebellion was not to be defeated so easily and the union was to remain divided for some time. These were armies lead by professional soldiers but manned by ninety day volunteers who by the time McDowell marched on Centerville, VA many were ready to go home.

I have been to this battlefield. There were two battles fought here, a year apart and the contrast can’t be more striking when you take in the ground covered by the first battle and then view landmarks from the second. The armies who fought the second battle were almost twice the size and more ably lead, having had a year’s worth of campaigning under their belts and the amateurs weeded out (though some would argue with that statement given some of the union leadership still at this time).

Bull Run proved that the confederacy was an organized force that would not be defeated in one grand battle and that the north would not give up in its desire to reunite the states and defeat the confederacy.

Why we write

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
Cyril Connolly
(1903 – 1974)

I wrote They Met at Shiloh (how often do I say soon to be published?) soon to be published by Create Space (I tell myself that it is worth it for these very reasons) because I wanted the challenge and I had a story in my head. I wrote it because the battle was a fascination and that the characters needed to be known, first by me, and then by anyone willing to read it. Then it was done and now has been the journey to get it into print with editors and cover designers and the minutia of other decisions such as price, Library of Congress Catalogue numbers, ISBN numbers, price, copyrights, etc.

Then it was done. I started to write the sequel, River of Blood (not so soon to be published given all this has to be done all over again) and I’ve been frustrated at how hard it has been to keep the story going. This quote has helped me find my ground once again as to why I wrote Shiloh and to why I am bothering to write River. It is for me, not for fame or fortune (if so, I should have written a how to book) but for a passionate pursuit of the Civil War and letting some knowledge flow out of me that others might (might) want to know, too.

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Location:Conrad Ave NW,Albuquerque,United States