Ink & Bourbon
Tilting at windmills. Because those windmills think they're better than us.

Just Talk to People

I recently did an author talk at my local library. It went very well, sold a handful of books, made some new contacts. It just flowed nicely, people had enough questions to keep the momentum up any time I ran down, so it was a nice, informal chat.

This brings me to my main observation with personal marketing. Most people who deal with books are really receptive to new authors.

Let’s face it, nobody goes into running a bookstore or a library for the riches and free perqs and legions of hot groupies. They do it out of a love for books and reading. They want to meet authors and sell books.

The counterpoint to this is that most small bookstores are run by one person, and a very few emp0loyees, so they tend to be busy and easily distracted. This means that while they are happy to talk to you, they are also likely to take ages to return phone calls, to forget who you are when you call them again. Don’t be discouraged. Be polite and understanding and very gently persistent.

Some writer friends of mine asked me for more specifics on how I talk to bookstores, libraries and so on, so I’ll elaborate.

First of all, have some books on hand before you talk to anybody. If the owner of a bookstore is intrigued by what you have to say and wants to stock three copies of your book, be ready to drive them over that afternoon. This kind of spur of the moment deals happens often enough, and you simply don’t want to have to tell a paying customer that you can have copies in a week, or that he needs to order them from the publisher/distributor/wait for you to run off some copies at Kinko’s. I cannot stress enough, have three to five copies in your hands when you talk to a potential seller.

Then, it’s just a matter of introducing yourself.  Be as light and friendly as you can, tell them you are a newly published author, and give them a reason to care. You’re a local author, or your books deals with their specialty, or you went to school or work nearby.

And be accommodating. If they want some books, offer to get them over there today. Deliver on promises.

Neil Gaiman once said that to be successful, you need to be two of three things: talented, pleasant and reliable. All three is great, but you can get by if you have two. Just talent won’t save you if you are an unreliable ass, and so on.  So no matter how good your book is, if you don’t deliver it when you say you will and sound like an arrogant prick, nobody will be interested.

So, my basic pitch is something like:

Hi, I’m a newly published author, (note connection. Local author, alum, slept with some of the same people, was in jail with your brother) and I was wondering if you’d be willing to take a few copies of my new book on consignment. (They love this. Means it costs them nothing if it doesn’t sell, so you get in the store, get the eyeballs, and if you do make sales they’ll want more.) It’s a new sci-fi romance historical thriller about time traveling vampire lesbians at a school for mutant wizards (feel free to strike through what doesn’t apply) and it’s fucking brilliant. It’s like “Dresden Files” meets “Mother, Juggs and Speed.” (Or suitable comparison. “Twilight” meets “A Shadow Over Innsmouth” hasn’t been done yet.)

Standard bookstores want to make 40% of cover price, so make sure you can price accordingly. Once you get there and meet the owner, have a contract of sorts stating what the terms of the consignment are, and what you can be expected to do if they don’t sell. Most bookstores will have one of these ready to go, and would rather you stick to their rules,  but have one in your pocket in case they don’t have a standard policy. Always make sure you know what you’re agreeing to.

After you have books in a shop, link that info. Blog it, facebook it, put a link to the store on your website and tell your publisher or agent or whomever to pass the word. If customers show up and mention that you steered the to the store, the owner will be thrilled he took your stuff. Especially if they drop money on other stuff while they’re there.

If you do sell copies and they ask for more, get them out there as quick as you can, and at that point, suggest maybe doing a signing, reading or whatever. If you’ve moved some books and made the store a few bucks, they’ll be more likely to agree to this, and if you’ve proven reliable, they’ll feel better about scheduling an event with some assurance you’ll turn up.

Once you have a contact, you have a place for any new stuff you do publish. But do not call every week to see if your stuff has sold. I keep a log of where I have copies and go through it monthly, and check up. That’s not excessive and it shows you’re engaged, but not stalking them.

So, in a nutshell, just talk to people. Small places are more likely to be receptive, since the guy who makes the decisions is the guy in the store, not a district manager a time zone away which may be the case for a big chain store. They also want to appeal to local tastes and that angle is an easier sell.

And the worst they can do is say no.

It’s not like we’ve never been said “no” to.

Author talk and book signing

Author talk resounding success. Easily made as much as I would have sleeping on the ambulance for that same hour and a half.

Choose the Right Tool for the Job- Guns and Ammo Edition

Much of the current gun debate here in the US has centered around assault rifles and high capacity magazines. Predictably, this has prompted outrage and strawman arguments form the pro gun groups.

I’m neither dogmatically pro gun or anti gun. I’m a guy with a history degree and some Marine Corps time under my belt. Here is a little perspective on the history, development and uses of assault rifles and high capacity magazines.

They were developed by and for the military, to fit military needs.  A soldier and a civilian have different requirements from a gun.

A soldier wants a gun that holds lots of rounds and is quick to reload because he’s shooting at people who are trying to kill him. If he misses, he wants to get that second shot off fast, because the guy he missed is trying to kill him. Even if he hits, the guy’s buddies are still trying to kill him. Firing that next shot quickly becomes really, really nice. As the Zulu War and Little Bighorn showed, even an enemy with Stone Age weapons can rush you and kill you with a spear or tomahawk or bow and arrow while you grope in your ammo pouch between shots.  This is why armies developed fast firing weapons with bigger magazines, going from muzzle loaders to breech loaders to magazine rifles to semi automatic magazine rifles.   

The assault rifle was invented by the Germans in WWII as just that. A weapon with the rapid fire of a submachine gun but the longer range and accuracy of a rifle, to use in an assault. They even called it the Sturmgewehr, which is just German for “assault rifle.” The purpose of the rapid firing rifle is so that some members of a rifle squad can use the fire to keep the enemy’s head down while the rest of the squad moves in. It’s the best thing since sliced bread for fire and maneuver tactics. If you want to keep an enemy suppressed so your buddy can get close enough to toss a grenade in his trench, you want an assault rifle. It tends to be short, light and easier to quickly point and shoot than a traditional rifle, and uses a smaller cartridge than a rifle, but still bigger than a submachine gun, which usually uses a pistol cartridge.           

The best weapon for a guy who wants to shoot a deer is not a high capacity assault rifle. A hunter wants to hide and wait until he has a good shot, then he gets one shot, and the deer is hit or it bounds off through the trees, presenting a very difficult target for a second shot. The goal is a one shot kill. The best rifle for that is a bolt action .30-06. It’s more accurate than an assault rifle, and it’s a bigger bullet, with more knockdown, so a hit is more likely to drop the animal so you don’t have to chase it through the woods.

Deer don’t wear Kevlar, so you don’t need a full metal jacketed .223 round.. Deer don’t attack in waves and gore you while you reload. Deer don’t take cover and shoot back, so you don’t need to suppress them so your squad can outflank the deer’s position.

In fact, the best all purpose hunting weapon is the 12 gauge shotgun. With just a change of ammo you can hunt ducks, geese, deer, rabbits, squirrels, turkey, and pretty much anything with a legal season in the US. Plus, it’s perfectly adequate to defend your home.

If you want to protect yourself from being mugged and raped walking to the bus stop, an assault rifle is a lousy choice as well, since it doesn’t fit in your purse. A handgun with a standard magazine should be fine. Threats will be at close range, and as a friend of mine once said when questioned about the capacity of his choice of handgun, “anything that can survive six rounds of 44 ammo deserves to live.”

This isn’t opinion. This is history. The high capacity magazine was designed to meet a military need. The assault rifle was designed to meet a military need. They’re good for shooting a lot of people with very little time between shots. So, yeah, they are pretty much ideal for all kinds of illegal stuff, like shooting up a mall or school or mowing down firefighters, but sub par for most legitimate civilian reasons, like hunting or self defense. You aren’t allowed to mount an M-60 to the rollbar of your Jeep and play Rat Patrol either and we’ve managed not to turn into Russia.

So, yes, we can question the civilian desire for high capacity magazines in the same way we can question the guy who wants to use an F-350 as his city commuter vehicle and haul firewood with a Smartcar.

Playing with the Third Rail.

The biggest single problem with guns in this country is that we are unable to have a conversation about them that doesn’t degenerate into bumper stickers.

Now, I’ll say up front, I like guns. I like the feel as the weapon settles in the hand, I like the noise and the push of recoil and the smell of burnt power which authors call cordite but which isn’t. I like the catharsis of watching targets fall and the zen like concentration of lying prone with a support sling wrapped around your arm, plotting shots in a range book as you methodically make adjustments to bring your rounds onto a target five hundred yards away.

I understand that people have lawful, legitimate reasons to own guns, and I think that guns run deep in our culture. I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest banning them all, and it’s not like making meth illegal made it all go away.

But I think, on the other hand, we have to admit that guns are dangerous. They’re designed to be dangerous, at least to stuff downrange. And they’re dangerous to friends, family and neighbors of any careless, sloppy or just plain dumb operator.

Now, people argue that more people are killed with cars or baseball bats or bad sushi every year than with guns. This is true.

It’s also true that we regulate the shit out of motor vehicles, sports equipment and food. And unless you are being completely disingenuous, you have to admit that nobody has ever walked into a shopping mall with a hammer and racked up a double digit body count.

Any and all regulation is by definition an infringement on freedom. But we routinely accept large amounts of it because it makes sense. You expect your electrician to be licensed so your house doesn’t burn down. You expect your daycare to do background checks on the people who watch your kids.

I don’t think any of us feels that letting a legally blind man with a DUI and a seizure disorder drive an overweight tractor trailer with defective brakes over the speed limit without any sleep is just letting him exercise his freedom.

So why is it so unthinkable to suggest that maybe a criminal background check is warranted before we let a person buy an AK-47? Why is it un-American to question your lawful purpose in buying a 100 round drum magazine for your assault rifle. Do you even need an assault rifle? Do you plan to suppress the deer so your hunting buddy can get to hand grenade range?

So I think it time–actually far beyond time– that we start treating firearms like really dangerous stuff like motor vehicles or dairy products and put some sensible regulations in place.

A Rebel in the Making

Today, I was reviewing my first post Fiscal Cliff paycheck, complaining to the lovely wife that my net pay was lower due to the payroll tax holiday expiring.

The kiddo was getting bored with my explanation, because it didn’t involve Zombies or Superheroes, and asked for a quick summary.

Offspring: Daddy, what are you taking about?

Paracynic:  Daddy got less money in his pay this week.

O: Did you do less work?

P: Nope.

O: then why did you get less money?

P: The government took more of it this week.

O (shaking tiny fist): Curse you, Government!