Category Archives: Mom’s Letter

Will This One Be The One?

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, was a good day. It was just the three of us this year, as our large, family gathering will be a Christmas, a change from our normal routine. I fixed a turkey dinner, but without all the side dishes. We ate our full and have plenty of leftovers. Yes it was a good day.

"Mom's Letter" was the first in the series. This is the cover my son did for it.
“Mom’s Letter” was the first in the series. This is the cover my son did for it.

But, we couldn’t find much on television that was of interest to us. So Lynda wanted to see the latest episode of The Curse of Oak Island. She couldn’t get it in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. So I fired up the Roku, had to re-set a password (since it had been a while since we’d used it), and found the show. I had seen it, but it was good to watch it again.

We decided “why not watch some back episodes?” I intended to go to last season, which was season 4, and watch some of the later ones. Somehow, though, I went back to Season 1, so I decided to just start with the very first episode. It was almost as if I hadn’t seen it before, it was so long ago.

One thing that struck me was the similarity of the rhetoric. The searchers for treasure were saying the same thing in Season 1 as they are in Season 5. The narrator’s shtick hasn’t changed at all. It’s always one more search will get us there; we’re inches from the treasure; today may be the day; this new find gives us the motivation to keep on going. That much hasn’t changed, so far into the fifth season.

Published in May, 2011, I've sold a whopping 54 copies of this.
Published in May, 2011, I’ve sold a whopping 54 copies of this.

It suddenly occurred to me that that’s exactly how I am with my books: hoping this next one will be the breakthrough book, the book that gets widespread attention and lots of sales. My first publication was the short story “Mom’s Letter”. I had no expectations for it to sell. It was a story I wrote for a contest (that I didn’t win), and I self-published it because I didn’t have anything else quite ready, so I published it to see what the mechanics of self-publishing were like.

 

This was my first book to write, fourth publication. It remains my highest selling book.
This was my first book to write, fourth publication. It remains my highest selling book.

I was intending to publishing my first novel, Doctor Luke’s Assistant, but I didn’t feel like it was ready. So I pulled together my newspaper columns, expanded them, added fifteen new ones, and had Documenting America: Lessons From The United States’ Historical Documents. I didn’t have high hopes for this one either. It sold 30 or so copies in it’s first year.

It wasn’t until the next year, 2012, that I finally published Doctor Luke’s Assistant. It became, and still is, my highest selling book at 128 copies, adding seven to the total so far this year. Now, you’re going to note that 128 is NOT a lot of copies, and if that’s my highest selling book, how low are the others? Good observation. I had high hopes for my next book, The Candy Store Generation, being a political book in a political season. But it sold poorly: 15 copies its first year and a few each year since.

I was very surprised when this one didn't sell.
I was very surprised when this one didn’t sell.

Then came my baseball book, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I thought it was good enough to sell, and would be popular. Alas, not. I sold a few more in 2016, when the Cubs won the pennant, but it still hasn’t sell.

My point is, with each publication (now 26), I’ve thought “this will be the one, the one to breakout.” But each one disappoints. I don’t do a lot of marketing, just Facebook posts. I did one Facebook ad that resulted in no sales. I’ve interviewed authors on this blog, who have sometimes reciprocated. Each of those has resulted in no sales. I did an hour long radio interview, which resulted in no sales. I haven’t done any paid ads yet. Maybe that’s what I need to do. But I’ve thought my publishing should pay for itself, and so far haven’t seen my way clear to buy an ad. Perhaps I’ll change that in 2018.

Even dropping the e-book price to $0.99 has resulted in no sales.
Even dropping the e-book price to $0.99 has resulted in no sales.

So I’m much like the people searching for treasure on Oak Island. Just keep going, sinking costs—in my case the cost of time—into the endeavor a little at a time, hoping for change, for lightning to strike. My recent publication, When Death Changes Life: The Danny Tompkins Stories, is a boxed set of six related short stories, reaching all the way back to “Mom’s Letter”. I set the price of the e-book at $2.99, and the print book at $6.00. I sold zero. I do have three pre-orders of the print book, which will happen next week once my copies arrive.

I have two works-in-progress. One is a prequel to Doctor Luke’s Assistant, which is more laborious than expected. The other is the sequel to The Gutter Chronicles. I actually have people at work asking for this, so maybe I should turn my attention to it. I could sell 30 copies without difficulty, and might sell 10 to 20 of the first one to people who are new at work.

But will either of these be a breakthrough book? I can hope, I suppose, because without hope there’s no reason to go on. Hope is starting to grow thin, however.

Four Years of Self-Publishing

Dastodd coverFebruary 13, 2011, my first self-published item went up for sale. It’s a short story, “Mom’s Letter”, a fictional piece which has autobiographical elements to it. It was a practice piece. When I made the decision to self-publish, I figured my first novel, Doctor Luke’s Assistant, would be first. But it wasn’t quite ready, I wanted to get something published, I had the short story ready from work-shopping and a contest submittal, so I self-published it to practice the mechanics of the self-publishing platforms at Amazon and Smashwords. It went live on Amazon four years ago today.

Kindle Cover - DLA 3Then I thought it would be good to do a book-length item, but I still wasn’t quite ready to put up my novel. What else to do? I decided I could put together fairly quickly my historical-political book, Documenting America: Lessons from the United States’ Historical Documents. So I did that, and it went live for sale in May 2011. Later in the year I managed to get out a paperback version of it.

Eventually I published that novel. Then another. Then another. Then a novella. Then another novel. Along the way I added more short stories, and an essay, and three more non-fiction books. By the middle of 2014 I had 17 items published, six of which were print and e-books, the rest e-books only.

Cover - Corrected 2011-06I won’t say it’s been a wild ride, but it has resembled a roller coaster at times. Get a day with a sale and my spirits rise. A week with two sales and I’m really high. The come the months with one or two sales, or none, and I’m in the dumps. Just when sales seem to be increasing, Amazon changes something, and what few sales I have dry up like a tumbleweed.

Several things I’ve learned through this. I discovered I really don’t feel comfortable tooting my own horn and promoting myself. This is a disaster for a self-published author. Then, I really hate the process of making covers, doing the graphic arts work. I have no talent in the graphic arts. I’ve done some of my covers. They probably aren’t very good and should be replaced with ones professionally done.  But then, I really enjoy the formatting process, both of e-books and print books. Except for the cover, I think I do okay with formatting. And, I enjoy editing my own work, something that most writers say they don’t enjoy.

Last, I have no idea what the future holds, but I know the busyness of life can sure sap what little writing time a person has. I have one completed project—a poetry book from years ago. An artist is working on a cover for it now. If she finishes it, I’ll publish the book within a month. It was done in 2006 and has been sitting, waiting for the right time. I have four other works started, all temporarily abandoned, waiting to see if life will turn in my favor any time soon. I’m purposely suppressing ideas as they come to be. No point in aggregating ideas for works that most likely will never be written.

Hopefully, this will all turn around in a year. Life will grant me time to write again, and I’ll get those four works done and many more. Meanwhile, I seem to be stuck on 345 sales of 17 items over 48 months.

What to write next?

Readers of this blog will perhaps remember a time last year when I mused about what I was going to write next. You can see the first of those posts here. I had several follow-up posts over the next weeks.

Well, I’m about there now. Operation Lotus Sunday (previously titled China Tour) is very close to completion. Last night I began what I hope is and expect to be a final read-through. In 30 some-odd pages I found only two minor things to change, which is a good sign that this truly will be the last read. Of course, once the text is complete I’ll be at the work of formatting it for two different e-book sites, and also for a print book. I’m still working with the cover designer, who gave me the first draft but who also had a couple of physical setbacks in the last few days. And, once the book actually launches, I’ll have some promotional activities to do.

But, believing that the best marketing for your published books is to write and publish more books, it’s time for me to plan what will be next. I’m actually pretty sure what the next novel will be: Headshots, the sequel to In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. Last October, when I wrote the first chapters of four different books to gauge my interest and energy level, this was definitely in second place. I will be writing some outlines for this soon.

But I’m thinking I may write a couple of short stories first. I have always planned to write a third story in my teenage grief series that began with “Mom’s Letter” and continued with “Too Old To Play“. Once again it will be based on my own experience with that, and will include teenage memories relived in adult years and a poem. I’m thinking this will be next, and it will be titled “Kicking Stones”. The story line has been running through my head for a while. I’m also thinking of another short story in the Sharon Williams series, taking “Whiskey, Zebra, Tango” and turning it into an unconventional CIA agent series. This one will be harder, as a story line is only now coming to me, and I don’t know for sure that I can pull it off. It seems like I have a good character and a good basis for writing a series of stories, but great inspiration hasn’t come yet.

I should probably work on a book to follow-up on Documenting America, on the Civil War, while we are in the Civil War sesquicentennial years. But when I wrote first chapters last October I found this one the most difficult. So maybe that’s to happen in the future, but I think not now.

So, will I soon dive in to Headshots, or are a couple of short stories coming? Stay tuned.

Sales of “Mom’s Letter”

Part of what Amazon gives authors, at least those who publish through Kindle Direct Publishing (the self-publishing arm) is a site called Author Central. It’s a place for you to manage your listed books, add or change various descriptions, both for books and author profile. One of the nice features is…

…sales statistics! For a guy who earned his worst college grade in Statistics class, I kind of like them. Of course, I don’t worry about standard deviations and deltas and sigmas—wait, the sigma might have been the standard deviation. I like to see the number, however.

On March 5 I had a sale of my short story “Mom’s Letter”. That brings me up to 13 sales of it in the almost 13 months it’s been available, earning me a whopping $4.96 in royalties. One of those sales was at Smashwords, the others at Kindle. If sales continue at the pace of about one a month, in three years I’ll have earned about $14-15 dollars on the story. Does that justify my efforts? I think so.

One other feature at Author Central is a graph of sales rank. It probably isn’t meaningful when your book isn’t selling (and a short story is the same as a book in terms of statistics). When “Mom’s Letter” was first released, I had two sales on the first day and it soared to rank about 42,000 in the overall Kindle Store rankings. Since then it has slid. At Author Central you can access this graph, and expand it to “all available data”. The problem is this data goes back only about eight months, so I don’t have the data from the earliest days. I didn’t discover Author Central until that earliest data passed into cyber-oblivion.

Here’s the graph as of 8:30 AM this morning, Central Time.

"Mom's Letter" Sales Rank as of March 6, 2012

The interesting item to notice on the graph is that, when your rank is way, way down there, a single sale makes a difference. That one sale on March 5 resulted in a jump in the rankings of over 480,000. That tells me that approximately 115,000 titles in the Kindle Store have a sale on any given day. Then each sale of another title will lower your rank. If I ran the same graph right now, the sales rank would be 134,036. That tells me that 20,000 different titles have had a sale since 8:30 this morning.

Actually, since the ranking number is updated hourly, and since I don’t know when on March 5 I had that sale, my rank might have been higher than this. A single sale on Jan 1, 2012 pushed the ranking up to 86,835. Although, I don’t know if that’s really correct, since I don’t know how hourly rankings are turned into daily rankings once the data passes into ancient times.

Sales rank is interesting, but not terribly important. I usually check my sales once a day, but don’t check sales rank unless I’ve had a sale since my previous check. Sure, it would be nice to make a top 100 list (I just checked: it’s not on the top 100 short story list), but I’m not going to obsess over it. Much better to be writing and publishing than obsessing over sales and sales rank.

The Gatherings for a Death: How is a Teenager to Understand?

In “Too Old To Play“, young Danny Tompkins dealt with the after-funeral party at his house. Then years later, as an adult, he remembered and re-thought what was going on. No doubt this was a difficult memory for me, and the short story echoes much of what I felt at the time.

In the church we attended, victory over death wasn’t something that was preached. Death was final, and a person didn’t actually go to heaven or hell upon death, but to that in-between place, waiting on the “bus” to one place or the other, based upon the ticket vouchers being sent along by those left behind. Death was final. There was no assurance of heaven, no good news.

So a funeral was not a celebration of a person’s life, but rather a mourning of the death. First came the wake. It was different back in the 1960s. We spent two nights at the funeral home, with people viewing the casket, then passing by to express condolences. My grandparents, mom’s mom and step-dad, were at one end of the row, then us children, then Dad. Or maybe he was between some of us teens. Two night of a solid stream of “I’m so sorry for you.” Back then people didn’t bring pictures and mementos of the person’s life. We didn’t celebrate a passing; we mourned a death. We had no hope.

Today it’s different. If I was a teenager in 2012 with a mom who died a slow and painful death, when the end came we would celebrate her passing with pictures and doilies she’d crocheted and other things to remind us of her. We would say things about her being free of her suffering, and looking down from us in heaven.

But back in 1965 we had no hope. The wake reinforced that, and the gathering after the funeral gave the adults a couple of hours release, delaying the eventual grieving. Did it help? Was Dad able to recover more quickly because those friends, neighbors, and relatives came to talk, drink, smoke, and laugh with him? I suppose he did.

So “Too Old To Play” tells an honest memory of that day, as much as I remember of it. The adult memories are mostly fictional, but not completely. Again, I wrote it to tell a story, but if some teen, or even an adult, is helped through their grieving by it, then it will be a good thing.

A Teenager Watches His Father Grieve

I’ve read “Mom’s Letter” to three different critique groups. Well, I actually read it to two; I sent it by e-mail to the third one and let them critique it in the next meeting. Actually, in the two groups where I read it, I broke down crying mid way through, and someone else had to finish it for me. Oh, I also shared it with an on-line critique group when I first wrote it, back around 2004.

One reaction I received from each of these four groups is the lack of feeling from the father—my father. While not all parts of the short story are true, the ride home from scout camp is, as close to word for word as I can make it. One item of fiction at that point: I didn’t do the mile swim at camp that year. I matured late as a swimmer, and think I was 18 before I could swim a mile.

Back to Dad. People don’t like how he broke the news to me that Mom was on her death-bed in the hospital. They things like, “I want to smack him in the head.” “Oh, what a cruel, unfeeling man!” Funny, though, I didn’t intend to portray him that way, nor did he seem that way to me at the time. I asked when Mom was getting out of the hospital, and he said, “You don’t understand. She’ not getting out this time.”

The on-line crit group said I simply had to make a change, to give the dad some greater degree of feeling. I wasn’t sure why I had to do this. As a thirteen year old, I didn’t find dad unfeeling. He spoke to me directly, expressing surprise that I hadn’t noticed all summer that Mom was dying. I felt that the fault was mine. Possibly I was self-absorbed. Possibly I was subconsciously ignoring the obvious. Whatever the reason, I hadn’t seen it, and Dad was surprised at that.

I suppose readers fault him for not having told his son before that what was happening. Why he didn’t I don’t know, but no such conversation took place before that ride in the car.

Looking back on that, close to 47 years later, I think I must have understood that Dad was grieving too, but that he had to stay strong for the sake of his three children. One scene from the short story that’s true is Dad laying on the couch in the living room that Mom used to lie on, and pound the wall in anguish, the wall Mom used to pound in pain, and say, “Why did you have to die, Dotty? Why?” That went on for a couple of weeks.

Yet, he never broke down, never showed any weakness. Grief, yes; but weakness, no. Of course, he had known what was happening. For years he knew her days were numbered, then for months he knew the end was near. I think he did a lot of grieving before she died.

As I said in my last post, maybe this short story will help someone else out in their grieving process. Maybe they will understand what their surviving parent is going through. If so, “Mom’s Letter” will have accomplished something.

A Teenager Experiences the Death of a Parent

Not too many teenagers these days experience the death of a parent. Medical advances mean life expectancy is greater. Workplace safety rules mean fewer industrial accidents. There is war, and military deaths, but even these are fewer than during the Vietnam years.

So I wonder if much of a market exists for my two short stories. These tell the story, fictionalized, of my own experience with my mother’s death when I was 13. In “Mom’s Letter” I tell about the sharpest memory at all, when Dad told me while we were driving home from scout camp that Mom’s death was imminent. I had no idea. Just like in the short story, he asked me how I could possibly not have known, that it was obvious from looking at her and how much more difficult it was for her to move around. Somehow I had missed it.

The second short story, “Too Old To Play“, recounts the after the funeral gathering at our house. At the time it seemed inappropriate. All I wanted to do was grieve. Yet here were all these people: neighbors, cousins, neighbors of my grandparents, and who knows who, at our house, yucking it up. I didn’t understand the power of diversion to assist with the early part of grieving. So I fumed a bit, hid in my room as best I could, and weathered the storm.

My adult perspective is different, of course. I understand the grieving process much better. Death has come ever closer, and I now know the people who die around me. Years ago they were vaguely familiar names. Now they are friends and relatives. If I don’t understand grieving now, I’m in trouble.

Why did I write these two short stories? I suppose just to tell a story. But in my subconscious, maybe it was with the intent of helping some teenager somewhere through the grieving process, to help them see that someone else went through it at a vulnerable age, and “graduated” to adulthood without too much trouble. If I could do it, they can too.

I have a couple of more memories I could share in short stories, and possibly I will. Having completed and published two, I only want to write more if I can do it in a way to help someone with their grief. A teenager perhaps, or an adult who experienced what I did, and still needs help with it. I’m thinking about it.

One Book at a Time

Today I attended a meeting at the City of Centerton, Arkansas—a simple preconstruction conference for a small project at First Baptist Church in Centerton, to add a baseball/softball field on vacant land next to the church. The contractor is a man who used to work for us; the engineer is one I’ve worked with for a long time.

As I drove to the meeting, I saw that I had two copies of Documenting America in the pick-up. When I got to City Hall I took a copy of the book. Upon seeing my contractor friend, I asked him, “You got a spare $10.90? I think you’ll like this,” and I handed him a copy of the book. He said he would take a copy, but that he didn’t have any money on him at the moment. His coworker also looked interested.

It was during the meeting that he said he didn’t have the money right then. So I took the book from him and gave it to the engineer, saying, “Maybe you’d like this.” She seemed impressed that I’d published a book, and said she wanted to buy one for her husband. When I told her it was available as an e-book for 1/5th the price, she said that’s how she’d buy it. I hope she follows through.

So I gave the book back to my contractor friend, and said he could pay me later. I kiddingly reminded him that I have to sign off on the project, and that he needed to pay me before I did the final inspection.

That’s the way book sales seem to go these days: one sale at a time, mostly at my efforts. Writing is a hard business, the sale of one’s writings harder yet. Yesterday “Too Old To Play” went live at the Kindle store. So far I have two e-sales of it, and it stands about 58,500 in the Kindle store, but will sink fast unless there are more sales. I’m okay with the start. The two sales probably came from people I know, somewhere, who bought it in response to my notices on my blogs, on Facebook, at Ozark Writers League, or at Christian Authors Book Marketing Strategies. I’d be shocked if they were bought by strangers who stumbled upon the title at Amazon.

So my sales and revenue for January 2012 stand at 7 and $6.36 respectively, with 3.5 days left in the month. I’m okay with that. I might get a boost on Monday Jan 30, when “Mom’s Letter” will be the featured short story at the Short Story Symposium. That may generate some sales, and if any of those buyers go to my Amazon page and see I have another short story in the series…who knows? I reached out to TSSS in late December, and am pleased it worked out.

One book at a time. That appears to be the rule in these early days in the brave new world of eSP—e-self-publishing. Will it ever move beyond that? I hope so.

Summary of e-book sales and royalties

Don’t be fooled by the title of this post. Nothing much has changed. Other than it’s July 25, and I’m already standing at my best month yet for both sales and royalties.

That doesn’t mean much of course, since I haven’t sold much at all. But so far this month I’ve sold 2 copies of “Mom’s Letter” and 3 copies of Documenting America. These sales have accrued $2.01 to my accounts at Kindle and Smashwords.

See, I told you these were not earth-shattering numbers. But the fact it’s still my best month so far. Previously my best month was 4 units sold and $1.68 in royalties accrued. So it is indeed a better month.

This is what the e-self-publishing experts say: More books on more e-reading platforms will result in more sales. That’s turning out to be true. In July I added “Mom’s Letter” to Smashwords. I’ve wanted to add Documenting America to it as well, but that’s a little more involved as I have to create an electronic Table of Contents. That’s not difficult; it just takes time. Maybe I’ll get a little time to work on it tonight.

That brings my total sales to 8 of “Mom’s Letter” and 7 of Documenting America. My accrued revenue stands at $6.28. That’s over five months for the former and less than three for the latter. I would love to have more, and I’d hoped the increase would come quicker than this, but I’ll take these for now, considering how little time I’ve put into promotion.

But, today I had a big surprise. I have three sales reports I can check: sales in the USA Kindle store, sales in the UK Kindle store, and sales in the German Kindle store. Normally I only check the USA one, but today I checked the UK, and discovered I have one sale of “Mom’s Letter” there in July! Surprise surprise. I earned 0.22 Pounds Sterling for that sale, which will work out to $0.35. I’m not quite sure how that gets accumulated and paid out, but it’s there in the record as a sale. I’ll take it.

So, I’m on a roll, albeit a very small and slow roll. I really need to get Documenting America up on Smashwords, and find something else to publish. Doctor Luke’s Assistant is more or less ready to go. I could probably have that on Kindle in a week and on Smashwords in two. I also still have to do the work needed to get Documenting America on CreateSpace, so that I have a physical book for sale. I don’t want to do a lot of promotion before having the physical book for those who don’t want an e-book. Then I’d better get busy finishing In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People so that I can slide over to another volume of Documenting America. Or maybe get serious with The Candy Store Generation.

That’s a plate full. Oh, well, better to have ambitious goals than to sit and watch TV all night.

What One E-book Sale Can Do

Actually, it was an e-short story sale. Yes, yesterday I sold another copy of “Mom’s Letter” on Amazon Kindle. That puts it up to 4 sales since I published it in mid-February. I did a little promotion on it today, both on Absolute Write and at the Suite101 forums. I don’t know where the sale came from, and no new review has yet shown up. I’m happy for it, and for the 34.65 cent royalty I’ll earn–if I ever make payout, that is. I’ll make payout, I have no doubt about that. It’s mainly a question of whether it will be on this side or the other side of the next New Year’s Day.

What are the impacts of this sale? The book ranking of “Mom’s Letter” skyrocketed from something below 300,000 (hadn’t checked for a while) to 45,632. At least a 260,000 place jump from one sale! That tells me that 260,000 other e-books haven’t had a sale recently. I don’t know how the Kindle rankings work. Are they cumulative since publication? Are they based on the last 30 days? Last 7 days? I haven’t figured that out yet, though I haven’t tried very hard to figure it out. I suspect it’s based on sales in a recent time period. That means 45,632 e-books have had at least 1 sale during that time period. Since the Kindle Store has some million or millions of books available, that means many, many, many had no sales in that period. Welcome to the world of self-publishing.

Another impact is promotion. This demonstrates how important promotion is. A simple link posted to a forum can generate a sale. It might be a sympathy sale, given that I mentioned how sales were lagging, but a sale is a sale. Actually, I don’t know if the sale came from my post. One gal responded to my post saying she would tweet it for me. But since that tweet (if she did it; I don’t tweet to check on it) came as a result of my forum post, that forum post should at least earn an assist. So I guess I should bet busy and promote some more.

What about the impact on my psyche? It’s not as great as the third sale was, nor the first two way back in February. Self-sustaining sales, not directly attributed to promotional efforts, might give me a bigger morale boost. But if I have to make two Internet posts to generate one sale…well, seems like a lot of effort for 35 cents.

But I am a little more encouraged to go ahead and complete the editing round currently in progress on Documenting America. I have four more chapters to read, and then fifteen chapters of edits to type. I’m not really finding much. I had a few embarrassing typos, a few not so embarrassing, and a couple of places where my wording could have been clearer. Nothing much, really. I hope to have the improved, artistically-designed cover available in a day or two, and it would be nice to have the text edits available at the same time, do the re-up-load in one shot instead of two.

Any encouragement is good. May the sales continue.