Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interview with the Founder

The PODBRAM website has evolved through several iterations since its inception a number of years ago. I have remained mostly mute on both my websites for nearly a year, so I think it is time for an update. Many new readers may stumble upon PODBRAM without realizing the true depth of its history, so here is a recap.

The first draft of my first book was composed in 1966-70. After receiving the unsurprising rejection letters from a few prospective publishers, I left the manuscript filed away for the next fifteen years. As real-life maturity arrives, most of us come to recognize in hindsight the immaturity we possessed back when we wrote our college scribblings. This was certainly true of my experience as I realized just how blatantly obtuse, nonsensical, and silly my earliest navel gazing had been. I began writing in 1984 what would be published decades later as my seventh book. I would totally rewrite my first manuscript as my third published work in 2002. My first published book consisted of a collection of stories I had published serially and locally from 1985 through 1994. The point of this convoluted path is that if we are to become serious authors, first of all we must act like it. If you go into the writing game thinking that your first manuscript will be the next bestseller, your delusions of grandeur are most likely preceding your reputation as a future author.

Now on with the show. In this PODBRAM interview I shall be referred to as 77TA66. That is my Discus name. My real name of course is Floyd M. Orr. You can find me all over the Internet if you care to look. The only reason I have a different Discus name is because I thought I had to have one when I first began with Discus years ago. Otherwise I never post or comment anywhere online except under my own real name. If you think you have ever read a comment on a blog that was written by me under any name other than Floyd M. Orr or 77TA66, you are mistaken.

PODBRAM: When did you first try to reach a national audience?

77TA66: When I began composing a serialized set of stories about Corvettes and other sports cars in 1985, I knew that I had a captive audience for them, the local Corvette club, which at that time at least, was the largest such club in the world at more than 100 members. These stories were typed on a 1959 IBM typewriter, but I planned to eventually publish them in a book format.

PODBRAM: What was the next step in your goal of reaching a larger audience?

77TA66: I knew that computers and the Internet would eventually reach a technological development point at which I could move my plan forward. I had fully realized by this time that my subject matter had limited audience appeal and a couple of publishers already completely controlled the genre. They had rejected my submissions by this point and I was not surprised by that. After all I was attempting to launch my own new genre, what I now call Nonfiction in a Fictional Style.

PODBRAM: Then iUniverse was launched in 1997, right?

77TA66: Yes. After thorough research I decided that iU was head and shoulders above the rest. The release of Plastic Ozone Daydream was a project of massive proportion! First of all, I tried to scan the typewritten pages into my Windows 98 computer. That's when I discovered that OCR software was far from perfect! After wasting an enormous amount of time and effort, I wound up retyping the entire book into Word. There were countless hours expended upon the inclusion of about forty photos and numerous other technical issues, but the book was finally released. Then the real fun began!

PODBRAM: I understand that you had few delusions concerning potential book sales. You never expected to set any element of the book market on fire.

77TA66: I thought if I did much of nothing in promotional effort, that I would sell about 200 copies. Many people had already read some of the material in the serialized stories. They had a basic understanding of the content. Some of them were even personally named in the book! I had hoped to spend some time and money on advertising and maybe sell 1000 copies.

PODBRAM: Things did not exactly turn out that way, did they?

77TA66: My wife and I were retired and we spent all our energy on the promotion of Daydream for a couple of years. We purchased and developed numerous mailing lists. We created flyers, posters, bookmarks, and T-shirts. We licked thousands of stamps and envelopes. We bought print advertising. I even went on a local radio show. Before it was over, we had released four books with iUniverse and spent something over $20,000.

PODBRAM: And you have now sold thousands of copies of your books, right?

77TA66: I quit keeping track years ago, but I can swear in court that to this day my first four books have not collectively sold more than 300 copies. The one of the four that my wife and I have always been certain should have the broadest audience appeal, Timeline of America, has yet to sell twenty copies!

PODBRAM: Wow! Let me catch my breath! I cannot believe you are still writing books. What happened next?

77TA66: Somewhere along the line back in 2000-2002, I began to really dig deeply into Internet research about this astounding phenomenon of Print On Demand books. What I discovered began to really open my eyes. It began with an iU author named Solomon Tulbure who called himself Lord Satan on the iU message board. He was a controversial figure who deliberately riled up a lot of people by spamming their in-boxes and message boards back before the government cracked down on such tacky behavior. In my opinion, he may have been tacky in his approach, but he knew what he was talking about! The fact was that iUniverse never gave a rat's ass if any iU author ever sold a single book and he was the first to fully understand this surprising new concept.

PODBRAM: Was he successful in selling his books?

77TA66: Many times more successful than 98% of the rest of us! His Amazon numbers may appear pathetic now, but we are now several years after his untimely death. It was ruled a suicide by the police, but he always claimed while alive that he would soon be murdered. That's another story.

PODBRAM: What was so significant about the Lord Satan story, as it applies to PODBRAM?

77TA66: Tulbure was not only the first to discover that iU cared only about publishing more and more authors who would sell a minimal quantity of books, but that Amazon was the only retailer that mattered for POD books, online or off. To this day, Amazon sells a minimum of 90% of all POD books sold! It matters little whether we are talking about POD, print, Kindle, or CreateSpace, it's practically all Amazon.

PODBRAM: Let's move forward about fifteen years to the present day. What has changed?

77TA66: In two words, CreateSpace and Kindle, both Amazon products, of course. CS has all but knocked competing POD print operations into the dustbin. The technology has advanced to the point that only a prospective author with more money than brains even considers paying iUniverse or one of their direct competitors, and this includes Amazon's own similar, full-service, overpriced imprint. Anyone with a modicum of computer experience can publish with CreateSpace. You may spend a lot of time with the learning curve, but in the end there is no comparable substitute for CS. My first book with iU had forty small B&W photos; my seventh (with CS, under my NIAFS imprint) had over 200 larger, sharper photographs. The only thing that has not changed is that they are still in B&W. Even CS still charges a ridiculous retail price requirement to publish a print book with color photos.

PODBRAM: I'm sure most of your fiction writers and readers want to hear about Kindle. That format has certainly conquered the world of e-books in an unprecedented manner.

77TA66: No doubt about that! If you want to reach a specific genre audience with a low-priced product, Kindle is king. For nonfiction, larger books, heavily researched works requiring higher financial returns for their creators, works with large numbers of photos, the Kindle phenomenon offers a conundrum beyond the scope of that faced by new fiction authors. The Kindle option does allow photos to be published in full color at a consumer price that will not choke an elephant, but even that concept fights an uphill battle against the common Kindle low-price strategy. I tested this premise with the design and release of my seventh and most recently published book. Only 7% of my total sales have been for the Kindle version, even though the price is a few dollars lower than the print version and nearly all of the included photos are in color!

PODBRAM: That is a shocker! Most POD authors struggle to sell even a small percentage of their output in print these days. The Kindle seems to have taken over. What about other e-book formats?

77TA66: My four iUniverse books and my one text-only CreateSpace publication have also been released with Smashwords, a company that makes them available in the Nook format for Barnes & Noble and in the miscellaneous other formats. My sales, and certainly my royalties, have been a steady trickle. Even I have been surprised at how pathetic the B&N sales have been, although B&N is clearly the ringleader of all my non-Kindle e-book sales. My CS books with photos are way too large in file size to be published with Smashwords.

PODBRAM: What do you see in the future of publishing?

77TA66: Not a pretty picture, that's for sure! With the caveat that I hope I am not offending the many Kindle fans out there, I have to say that there is a certain unmistakable something for nothing attitude that has become all too prevalent. The low price points of Kindle books on the retail consumer market drives that market, period. If you think the truth is otherwise, I am afraid you are sadly mistaken. If you are a new author trying to break into a genre fiction market, by all means publish in the Kindle format, but if you want to sell any serious numbers, your retail price point must be low, preferably below $5. You nonfiction guys can join me at CreateSpace. No other format or publisher is likely to ever surpass these two for the unknown and little-known author marketplace.

PODBRAM: Some experts think Barnes & Noble and other bookstore chains are already in their death throes? Do you agree with this?

77TA66: A couple of years ago, I was certain of it, but I recently read about a situation of which I was previously unaware. Did you know that once upon a time when Apple was struggling to survive that Microsoft invested a wad of cash in Apple to keep their competitor alive? They did this to avoid an attack of monopoly regulations from the federal government. Smart, huh? If it comes down to the wire, I would not be at all surprised if Amazon does the same thing with B&N. Otherwise, yes, I do expect we shall see the demise of the store chain and website, the latter of which has been quite pathetic since the store corporation took it over a number of years ago. The Kindle has undoubtedly stomped the Nook into the dirt.

PODBRAM: Will we soon see the extinction of print books?

77TA66: Only if the publishers change their outrageous pricing policies of books containing color photos, and only if nonfiction and research and reference books disappear from the culture. In other words, no. I think the dichotomy of Kindle for fiction and print for nonfiction will only grow larger. Unfortunately, the publishing of bullshit by celebrities will also continue to grow while the words of inspiring, intelligent authors will languish. As with everything else in our rotten culture, money screams and everything else falters.

PODBRAM: The current reality sucks, but could we leave this discussion on a somewhat higher note?

77TA66: My most recent book is my largest and most expensive, and it is also my best selling. The irony is that this is that same book that I started out to write and publish in 1984. Back then I changed my mind because I thought the subject matter held the least appeal for a wide audience. As I stated above, my book with potentially the largest and broadest market has been my weakest seller. After well over a decade in the publishing and marketing game, I have to admit that I have learned the lesson from Lord Satan. To become a success as a nobody author, you have to have a target market. You must be able to shoot an arrow into the bull's eye of that target, no matter how small it might be. You can tell potential readers how great your book is in the most perfectly scripted language you can muster and no one will care a whit. You cannot buy their attention with advertising, either. Unless your book's title is so generic and boring as to be nauseating in its lack of creativity, no one will search for it on Amazon. You have to spoon feed the potential audience. You have to hit the target. Think like Robin Hood or Annie Oakley and maybe you will get lucky and sell a few books. Welcome to a very exclusive club!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Scarlet Kingfisher

The Scarlet Kingfisher: 
Discovery of a New Species 
by Robert Henry Benson
(CreateSpace / 1-500-71684-7 / 978-1-500-71684-4 / August 2014 / 328 pages / Paperback $9.95 / Amazon $8.96 / Kindle $4.99)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

When I was a youngster I went through a period when I read some of my father's whodunnits. One series he particularly loved was by Dick Francis, a one-time British jockey turned mystery writer. Frances must have written forty books set within the world of horse racing and I probably read ten before I went on to something else. Each one featured a different angle on horse racing, from the points of view of a jockey, trainer, bookie, owner, or the like. With each one I felt I had been given an inside glance by an expert into an interesting field I'd never have known about otherwise. To this day I've never seen a horse race live, nor bet on one, but I'm still happy to know a little about an area of our society that, until then, I knew nothing about. A mystery is a mystery, but if you can learn something while being entertained, how could that not be good?

In The Scarlet Kingfisher, a young professor looking to achieve promotion and tenure learns of a possible new species of bird in South Texas, something that is not impossible but extremely rare and noteworthy. Such a discovery would practically guarantee instant fame and a successful academic career. Complications ensue, of course: a dead body, bizarre behavior by the department head, a mysterious Asian billionnaire, being arrested and jailed by a small town sheriff, and more. There will be no spoilers here. It's a mystery.

All this is by way of saying that The Scarlet Kingfisher is an entertaining thriller per se, but perhaps even more interesting as a look at the life of a wildlife scientist, professor, and bird lover. We not only see the severe South Texas ranchland and wildlife through the mind of an expert far more observant than we are, we also get to watch him practice his craft using skills and techniques that are unknown and undreamed of by the general public. The story may change the way you think about "bird watchers."

The book reads cleanly. There are no major editing issues. 

See Also: Robert Henry Benson's Goodreads page
The Big Year, an excellent movie about birdwatching

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Two Worlds Daughter

Two Worlds Daughter
by Dr. Al Past
(CreateSpace / 1-496-13199-1 / 978-1-496-13199-7 / March 2014 / 316 pages / $13.66 paperback / $12.29 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

 As a reader and reviewer of all six of Al Past's Distant Cousin books, I rate this one as the second best of the sequels. Of course you can never duplicate that first introduction to the exquisite Ana Darcy in the first book! Like my other two favorites, DC1 and DC3, Two Worlds Daughter is one of the longer books in the series, and I like them that way.

This DC6 stars Ana's seventeen-year-old daughter Clio and her ex-Navy SEAL bodyguard, Fergus. Clio discovered earlier in life, and in an earlier book, that she had special healing powers she could impart to patients through a special lightness of touch, an exquisite massage. She had proven prior to finishing high school that she distinctly had possession of a delicate healing power. In a search for more knowledge of this unusual talent, she joins a small entourage of doctors and nurses who are devoting two weeks of their time in a small town in New Mexico. Forever the protective mom, Ana insists that Clio travel only with a protector of both her person and her secret identity.

The story unfolds pleasantly, slowly and smoothly through the first half of the book. There may not be much excitement happening, but the reader is easily sucked down the rabbit hole of the storyline. The deep experience and professionalism imparted by the author guides the reader to a second half with considerably more action and surprises. The special relationships among the characters, Ana and her friends and extended family, Clio and her patients, and Clio and her recalcitrant traveling companion, will warm your heart much like that first meeting with Ana Darcy did. The book is never long enough as far as all the Distant Cousin Series go. The ending arrives all too quickly.

Two Worlds Daughter is the sixth book in a very entertaining fiction series suitable for all ages. Dr. Al Past has created a wonderful storyline with broad appeal. I highly recommend that any intellectually curious reader begin with the first book in the series. You will not be able to put it down. I also recommend a perusal of the Ana Darcy Blog (link below) to see the complete three-dimensional story that Al has created. Note that the story has been contracted to a movie agent, a fate it most certainly deserves. As All-American entertaining fiction, the Distant Cousin Series is hot stuff! 

See Also: Al's Ana Darcy Blog
The Original Distant Cousin