I’m happy to announce that Death in the Tallgrass, my newest novel, is now available in three formats: paperback (trade size), ebook (Kindle), and audiobook (read by John D. Swain). You’ll find it at https://a.co/d/aiHphO8 .
It has received many enthusiastic 5-stars and I believe other readers will enjoy it just as much. The audiobook is currently free as a special offer, and you can listen to a free five minutes of an Audible Sample on the book page.
Here’re a few comments from the reviews:
“This was a wonderful read and one I can highly recommend.” - Grant L.
“[This novel] went in a lot of directions that I didn't see coming…The ending is bittersweet but still satisfying…a hit for those who enjoy speculative fiction and Westerns with an edge.” - Jaime M.
“It was hard to stop reading this tale with its many twists and turns, dangers, and happy times…A real winner and if you are a Western genre fan, it should be put at the top of your reading list.” - Trudi L.
“[The author] packages historical, metaphysical, and literary fiction into a single book, and…takes a no-holds-barred approach to pain, justice, and redemption…The writing is as raw as the story itself.” - Asher S.
“[With] the author’s ability to so keenly and vividly capture the essence of the time and place, it’s a richly textured historical novel that combines adventure, romance, and introspection…thoroughly engaging read for those who enjoy immersive historical fiction.” - K. C. F.
“…A historical novel with a complex story about a young man’s introspection, a clash of cultures, a romance, and several adventures. I did not want to put it down.” - Cindy
“[The author] is an extraordinary and engaging writer who has crafted an entertaining, adventurous, and intriguing story. Highly recommended and very well done!” - Don S.
Read more comments in the Reader Reviews on the book page. Consider this book for last minute Christmas giving or send it to someone for their New Year reading list. And, please, everyone contribute a review! That gets the novel more recognition on Amazon.
It’s been more than two months since my book, Death in the Tallgrass, was published through Amazon/KDP. I decided not to blog about my experiences until I had stored up some steps of significant learning regarding how Amazon bookselling works, anticipating that the longer I waited, the more steps I could report and the more glorious my accomplishments in book marketing would appear.
I guess I haven’t waited long enough. My learning curve has been pretty much flat, with a few bumps of simple ignorance.
Here’s the data: my Amazon report shows 26 units have been sold since the book was published on July 26th, all but one being sold in August. Eight of them have been electronic copies, while eighteen have been paperback. This doesn’t count the twenty-five copies I bought myself – the first ten being flawed and unusable, while nine have been sent to reviewers, entered in contests, or given away to family. I have six on-hand.
There have been eight “customer reviews” and three ratings without reviews posted by readers on my Amazon book page, while I have posted three “editorial reviews”. I’m averaging 4.9 out of 5 stars for the eleven customer reactions. Amazon needs fifteen “customer reviews” before it considers an item to be worth promoting, so if anyone is planning on leaving an honest review, now is not the time to be shy.
The reviews have been the highlight of my progress. For most of the last two months, the “editorial reviews” section of my book page, which posts reviews that I paid for in one way or the other, have not appeared because of technical difficulties. However, this last Monday, magic happened and they now do, which means all of my reviews can be read by the buying public. They are, without question, great reviews and I’m humbled with the praise they contain; you should read them for the fun of it. Of Amazon’s automated marketing efforts, the reviews are a success and I am especially appreciative of friends leaving reviews. I will be well-positioned once I pass the magic number.
One point about “editorial reviews”: there are many websites that provide book reviews for authors or publishers. Some offer “free” reviews, but the majority provide a graduated scale of reviews for sale. That means they have a ready source of people who will read a book and write a review. The website will advertise the books across the reviewers and the reviewers choose what books they want to review. Since none of these people know the authors, I suspect that most everyone who works for a reputable website (there are ways of finding out) read the books and write honest reviews. When one is finished, the author gets the review, but it may or may not be automatically posted on Amazon or other sites (i.e., it may say “editorial review only”); it’s in the fine print. How the reviewer is compensated for their review, I’m not sure.
Except for one case. I was able to see the resume of one reviewer working for an on-line company who posted a “customer review”. She wrote a wonderful review and is obviously accomplished at it. She should be – she’s done 742 reviews. A book blogger, she lists her reviews on a website and talks about it in her blog. At the bottom of each review, she is allowed to put a “BUY THIS BOOK” button, per agreement with Amazon, and if any of the readers click that button and buys a book, Amazon compensates her with a tiny share of the price. Given enough reviews and enough time, she’s probably building a pretty good business.
Some review websites routinely reveal they cannot guarantee someone will be interested in writing a review, and some of them mention that they cannot guarantee the reviewer will actually read the book, if they do write a review. The website will then offer packages of 1, 3, 5, 10 or more guaranteed reviews for prices ranging from $79 and up. I saw one website advertise 1000 reviews for $999. Whether a thousand people actually read the book and write an honest review is suspect to me.
Amazon will not publish reviews that involve payment to a reviewer, or have any possibility of undue influence between the author and the reviewer, which includes family. Anyone with my last name cannot post a “customer review”, even though I can post it as an “editorial review”. Amazon will not recognize it for any ratings in their algorithm, but it will show up on my book page, nonetheless. I’m okay with that.
Another sign of progress is my entering book contests. This is not a usual choice for recent publications because contests require money up-front and are usually long-term in results. I’ve entered a half-dozen contests (Eric Hoffer Awards, NM/AZ Book Awards, SPUR Awards of the Western Writers of America, Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, and others). The contest winners will typically be some months down the road. I chose to enter contests because I’m vain, and because actually winning something is highly quotable. Some of them will even send me gold stickers for the front cover of my book!
What I have not done is create on-line ads for my book. Amazon has an extensive advertising program, as well as Facebook. I hadn’t really paid attention, but I now notice highlighted ads in almost every corner of Amazon and Facebook that feature the front cover of a book, a small blurb about how great the book is, and a button to take me someplace that will happily place an order for me. Some of the ads are really impressive. However, ads cost money on a continuing basis; you typically pay per ad, or per week for a certain number of ads, or pay per click when someone wants to “learn more”. I am wary of anything that requires me to create a “marketing campaign” with a budget.
It doesn’t mean I won’t do it, but not now.
I also have not approached book reviewers at newspapers, book bloggers, or freelance reviewers.
How’s my audiobook coming? Hmm…I don’t know. My voice person was to begin the first of October and be done by early November, but I haven’t heard from him. I know he had projects to finish before he got to my book, but I was, by October, supposed to be listening to chapters as he recorded them. I haven’t paid him anything, and there’s a higher organization I can complain to, so I’m not worried. Its time will come.
It seems that I’ve been busy, but it may just be a level of attention that I’m not used to giving a book once it goes public. I may not be marching but only marking time. I spent a few hours on my next book, but lost enthusiasm for it. I think I’ll read for a while.
When I decided to self-publish my new book last year, I viewed it partially as an adventure: having done everything myself a decade ago, what had changed? Was it easier or harder? More costly or cheaper? Would I do it again? I included not only doing the marketing (which I’ll talk about in a later blog; it’s not going well), but also publishing my book as an audiobook, if it didn’t cost too much. The only data point I had was a previous estimate from a company in Santa Fe who quoted $10,000 for Teddy’s War, which had about the same number of words.
Giving you the current status first, I just signed a contract with an experienced voice actor in Alaska to produce an audio file of Death In The Tallgrass by November 1st, for about $1200. When I have that file, Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) will freely make it available for purchase from Amazon, Audible, and Itunes. I have no control over the price and won’t know until after it comes up. Audible makes their money off the deal by keeping a healthy chunk of the sale amount.
I only began working on this a week ago and it’s been a pretty exciting process.
Producing an audiobook is provided by a company called ACX, which stands for Audible Creation Experiment, also a subsidiary of Amazon. My book had to have been published in Kindle format, so that I could use the same file to submit my book to ACX.
Using a page created for me by ACX, I typed in the title of the book, the author of the book, my budget range, and a short description of the book. In that description, I named some of the characters and described what I thought they sounded like. I didn’t think I had good enough descriptive words, so I said Harry was like a young Tom Selleck, Alice was like a Melissa McCarthy, and Charlie Goodnight sounded like a fat Tommy Lee Jones. It seemed to have worked pretty well.
I narrowed the potential audience of Narrators-for-hire by requesting a male voice (my book uses a first-person male to tell the story), chose “storyteller” from a long list of “voice styles”, and indicated a budget range of $50-$100 per finished hour, which is an hour of reading the final edition of the audiobook.
ACX used my word count (105,635) to estimate that it would take 11.4 hours to listen to the final audiobook. It takes 3 to 6 hours of work time to create one finished hour of properly recorded, edited, and formatted story. Different Narrators use different levels of time and effort in producing their final product and earn it back by adjusting their cost per finished hour.
I provided an “audition file” of 2 to 3 pages excerpted from my book. Those excerpts featured scenes of dialogue between different characters to help the Narrator know what would be needed in terms of the voice, style, pace, intuition, and interpretation throughout the story. I chose five scenes, each of a paragraph or two of dialogue or monologue by four different characters.
After broadcasting my request for a Narrator (taken care of by ACX), any Narrator interested in voicing my book sent ACX an audio file of them reading the audition file. ACX takes care of the communications and all I had to do was sign into my account, go the auditions page, and listen to the different auditions received. It was very easy.
In addition to hearing my own words read by the Narrator, I could click on their name and go to their “profile” page. From a listing of finished books they had narrated, I could listen to excerpts. Between those excerpts and my audition file, I developed a good sense of how my book might sound with their voice.
I sent out my request on a Friday, and within two days, I had eighteen different Narrators respond with an individual audition. It was pretty exciting to hear my words come to life.
I listened to each audition three or four times, eliminated the easy ones (i.e., the Narrator sounded too old or was too tenor), and then did a side-by-side comparison until I got it down to four candidates. It was not easy.
I wanted, in particular, to judge how much a Narrator changed his voice to present different characters, and how much “acting” was done as opposed to “narrating”. Only two out of the eighteen had great variations in their voices; one Narrator actually provided a female partner to read the female parts. My final selections all made small changes in their voices for the different characters. Their changes in pitch, pace, enunciation, and pauses were enough to hear and imagine each distinct character.
After picking my final Narrator and confirming they were available in the right time frame, I filled out an electronic form with only 5 questions (including price and due date). ACX sent the form to the Narrator. When that form is approved, my next step is to choose a 15-minute segment from the book, submit it to the Narrator, and have him read it in the voice and style that he has chosen for the whole book. He will record the 15-minute segment, send it to me, and I will iterate with him until I am satisfied. I will approve it when finished.
After that, it’s off to the races! When the whole book is finished, I will have two chances to read, comment, and ask for changes to any part of the audio, hopefully honing it to be perfect, and then his job is finished. He will give me a final version of the audio file and I will submit it to Audible; it should be for sale within 24 hours.
I hope this all works and from what I’ve seen so far, it will. Everyone concerned seems to have the process down and are working to produce a professionally-done, significantly-good product. It takes a long time to produce an audiobook, so I’m content to wait a couple of months to have it done well.
In a previous blog, I told of finding seventeen errors in my Word document of Death In The Tallgrass as it was being converted to an Amazon file that was ready for a book printer.
I hired a company to do the conversion. We iterated by them sending me a pdf file of the converted Word file that I would then read for any needed changes. If I found errors or changes, I sent them a message giving the corrections needed. By iterative improvement, the final pdf had no errors or changes, and I promptly approved that file. They then converted that file into Kindle format.
I proceeded to send the final pdf to Amazon to be used in printing the book.
Except that I didn’t. I used their first pdf file by mistake, which means that all paperbacks printed in the last week contain those seventeen errors.
Don’t ask me how this happened. I’m at the point in my life where major screw-ups are surprising but hardly require explaining. I believe I can trace the chain of events but it stills ends with me being completely responsible. And ashamed; I only had one thing to do and I messed it up.
I was reading a copy I had ordered for myself when I noticed errors that I remembered correcting. Looking at the files on my computer, I realized what had happened and quickly sent the correct file to Amazon. With remarkable foresight on Amazon’s part, it was easy to replace the faulty file with the good one. From now on, all paperbacks printed will be sourced from the correct file.
The Kindle version was not affected. It was automatically generated from the final converted file.
I now need to replace all the copies of Death In The Tallgrass sold in the last week. I know a few of the people who bought copies, but having announced the book by using this blog, I don’t know everyone.
I strongly believe that every buyer deserves the correct copy, and I have a strong desire for all copies in circulation to be what I intended. Some errors concerned format changes that you won’t notice, but a few errors will be irritatingly noticeable and could ruin the reading experience. To make amends, I am offering a deal and am hoping that buyers will allow me to do this:
This is a lesson concerning self-publishing: there is only the author to blame when things go wrong, and only the author to fix the problems.
In 2012, I self-published The Lady In White, which was the sixth novel in the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. It would later be republished by Terra Nova Books in 2018.
A major plot element involved a large, ornate family home built in 1870 near the confluence of the Mora and Canadian Rivers in northeast New Mexico. After living in it for a couple of years, a 10-year-old son of the family was kidnapped by Comanches and was never heard from again. By the time Mogi becomes involved, the house is haunted by the ghost of the mother, while the ghost of the son returns to help solve the mystery.
In 2014, I self-published Smoke Dreams, my first adult novel; it remains one of my most popular books. The story used the same family home, in the same setting, with the same backstory concerning the kidnapping of the son, but takes place in modern day. The house, in this case, is not haunted, but is possessed by a spirit, while the modern-day owner suffers mystical dreams of the kidnapped son.
It was my first adult novel, and I paid a professional to edit the manuscript before it was published. The editing made a tremendous difference in the quality of the story.
In 2020, being restricted by COVID, I wrote a sequel to Smoke Dreams, again featuring the house, the setting, and the son, but continuing the life of the son as he grew into a huge Comanche warrior, survived the Indian Wars, and returned to work at a cattle ranch. At the time I started writing, I had not imagined what other things might happen to him, but was looking forward to finding out. I also decided to self-publish the book to see how much the independent publishing environment had changed and to report my experiences through this blog.
In June, 2021, I submitted a final draft of the manuscript to an independent editor. The title was The Biggest Cowboy In The World, and if that sounds familiar, it’s because I used this blog to tell of my writing experiences. Unfortunately, my efforts seemed to be all bad and eventually led to a sad demise; the manuscript was scrapped. To remind you, I had a manuscript of 147,000 words that was hated by the editor; a second edition of 107,000 words that was just as bad and was withdrawn before a second round of editing; and an eventual slamming of a virtual desk drawer where I threw the manuscript, embarrassed and depressed that I had written such crap.
I resurrected the manuscript in 2022 and used a new writing process to reframe and retell the story. I will be publishing the result in a few weeks. It is now a genuine adult western historical fiction novel that tells the saga of a family crushed by betrayal, tragedy, and romance. An artist in Connecticut produced the wrap-around cover, while I worked with one editor on the East Coast, and another in Jerusalem. If nothing else, I’ve learned that the self-publishing environment is far different than it was in 2012.
I’ll relate my experiences in rewriting the story in future blogs, but want to repeat this quote from one of my editors:
“This is a beautiful, smart, engaging, enraging book. It is gentle and thoughtful and fierce. The characters and their relationships with each other are extraordinarily well-drawn. The various settings are vivid. These were real people in real places living real lives. Your work was a true pleasure to read.”
Maybe after all my attempts, I finally got it right. I am self-publishing the novel on Amazon/KDP and it will be available in both print and ebook around the middle of July.
Researching the salt mines in Europe, I found several articles dealing with salt in India. Along the west and east coasts of India, extensive low-lying marshes are flooded by the sea during the monsoon season. When the seawater evaporates during the summer, large salt pans are created that hold thick layers of salt. Many years ago, if you lived near these salt pans, you could gather all you needed, and then sell or trade the remainder.
Then someone figured out that if everyone had free access to salt, someone else was losing an opportunity to make money. Therefore, for the past 5,000 years, India has suffered in one way or another from the objective of making money from its naturally abundant salt.
In particular, the governing of India by the British in the 1700s created a seriously onerous situation where overlords made it a law that indigenous residents would be taxed for salt, resulting in, first, the British East India Company having a monopoly on the manufacture, sales, and possession of salt, and then the British Government, itself, to use the continuing monopoly to make up to 10% of its Indian revenue. Eventually, the law made it a crime not only to make salt, but to even possess it without having bought it from the government. The annual cost to a family for salt was two-thirds the average family’s income.
The history of British salt in India is involved in the particulars, but it brought about one of the most famous non-violent acts of civil disobedience by a nation: the Salt March of 1930, led by Mahatma Gandhi. That action and subsequent actions around the production of salt would eventually add momentum to India becoming independent of Great Britain.
From 12 March to 6 April, 1930, for 24 days, Gandhi led a march from the town of Sabarmati Ashram to the town of Dandi, around 240 miles away. Beginning with 78 trusted followers and ending with many thousands, the march brought world-wide recognition of India’s oppression by the British government, and would lead to large scale acts of civil disobedience against the salt laws by millions of Indians. The Salt March culminated with Gandhi walking into a salt pan at 8:30 in the morning, gathering a lump of salty mud and boiling it in seawater, and then raising the handful of salt that he had made high above him, declaring that he had broken the law. He then implored all his followers to likewise begin making salt along the seashore.
Gandhi kept the British government fully informed of what he was going to do – before, during, and after he had done it. There were no covert actions; he wrote articles, had letters published, sent telegrams, held interviews, and met daily with reporters, all telling the same story: salt laws were unjust, it punished the Indian society at the individual level as well as the national level, it hurt the poor worst, it kept the Indian economy at the mercy of the British government, and it was a crime against the very society who should be benefiting from their natural resources.
The British reacted in royal fashion by arresting Gandhi and 60,000 others. They passed more laws, including censorship of correspondence, as well as the clamping down on newspapers reporting the incidents. They also reacted with force, the most famous incident using machine guns to slaughter 200-250 non-violent and unarmed protestors in Peshawar’s Qissa Kahani Bazaar on 23 April, 1930. One British Indian Army soldier, Chandra Singh Garhwali and some other troops from the renowned Royal Garhwal Rifles regiment refused to fire at the crowds. The entire platoon was arrested and many received heavy sentences, including life imprisonment.
Less than a month later, another non-violent action was planned as a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat, south of Dandi, where Gandhi’s walk had ended. It ended with British soldiers senselessly clubbing non-resisting protesters until “…in two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies…The police became enraged by the non-resistance…They commenced savagely kicking the seat men in the abdomen and testicles. The injure men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police…The police then began dragging the sitting men by the arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards, and throwing them into ditches.”
The story of the brutalities appeared in 1,350 newspapers throughout the world and was read into the official record of the United States Senate.
Nothing changed. The salt laws remained and no major policy concessions were made by the British until the 1950s. However, world opinion increasingly began to recognize the legitimacy of claims by Gandhi and the Indian Political Party. It was a significant step in Britain ultimately surrendering its control of India.
Thirty years later, the significance of the Salt March was still being felt in America:
“Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of his [truth force or love force] was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m taking a vacation with my family in a week, so will not be posting blogs on the next two Sundays.
USA TODAY ran an article on Friday that told of Russian President Vladmir Putin’s program of placing war-displaced Ukranian children either with Russian families or into camps for the purpose of converting them into Russian citizens.
A State Department-funded report estimates that as many as 6,000 Ukrainian children have been sent to at least 43 re-education facilities that stretch from the Black Sea coast all the way to Siberia.
Michael Scharf, a human rights lawyer who tries cases at the International Criminal Court, said the real number of Ukranian children being relocated is likely closer to 400,000 children, based on “numerous reports of Russian forces seizing children from orphanages, schools, and hospitals in areas of Ukraine under Russian occupation and transferring them to Russia where they are sent to foster families to be transformed into Russians.”
Getting a firm grip on the actual numbers is complicated because Russia has refused to permit the kind of independent centralized registration system that’s required by the international laws of armed conflict to track and protect children in war zones.
The article draws parallels between Putin’s actions and Hitler’s efforts to convert non-German children into German citizens (who could then be drafted as soldiers or workers). In October of 1939, with the invasion of Poland, Hitler created the office of the Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of German Folkdom, with Heinrich Himmler as its head. Its aim was to help resettle the newly occupied territories with a German population. They found in Poland, however, an abundance of children who resembled the ideal Aryan German—blond hair, blue eyes, a similar length of the nose, the thickness of the lips, and an erect posture.
To reconcile this problem, the Nazis propagated the idea that these children were actually descended from German blood. Therefore, these children should be taken away from their Polish parents and repatriated to German families, that the children could be “returned to the Fatherland.” This was not only true of Polish children, but of any Aryan-looking children from Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, or other recently German-occupied countries.
Between 1939 and 1944, approximately 200,000 Polish children were stolen by the Nazis and sent away to be “Germanized”. Using a list of 62 physical characteristics, children were identified, photographed, and analyzed, and if the children were found to be suitably Aryan, then those between two and six were sent to maternity, or Lebensborn, homes in Germany. After their adoption by a proper SS family, the children were provided false birth certificates with new German names and birthplaces. Children not found suitable were sent on to concentration camps and gas chambers.
The goal of the German parents was to erase any trace of their native heritage and reshape them as loyal Nazis. They were taught to speak German (if they spoke their mother tongue they were deprived of food or whipped with a strap), forced to wear uniforms with swastikas, sing military songs, and were taught Nazi beliefs. They were also forced to endure countless hours of drills and marches to destroy any sense of individuality.
Older Polish girls with Aryan characteristics were sent to SS maternity homes where they became “breeding material” for SS officers.
Putin’s program is less selective and he is no longer limiting the program to displaced or abandoned children. He’s even using one of the same ploys that Hitler did: Ukranian parents are being tricked into signing consent forms for their children to be sent to summer camp facilities to be “out of harm’s way”, while Himmler sent notices to parents to bring their children to the local train station at a certain time to go on a holiday to “improve their health”. The children never returned from their holiday and there are still thousands of them or their descendants who live in Germany today unaware of their true identity and heritage.
Putin’s purpose for Ukraine, however, seems to be the same as Hitler’s for Poland. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made this statement: “It…speaks to the fact that President Putin has been trying from day one to erase Ukraine’s identity, to erase its future.”
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.