Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Dark Side of Retirement

March 31, 2010, will be my official last day of work from my “day job” (the job that feeds me and keeps me out of the rain). After working full-time for 45 years, making my mark in sales, construction, marketing, and in various areas of administration, I finally get the privilege to reap the fruits of my labors. There is, however, a certain irony that my first day of retirement falls on April Fool’s Day. Perhaps this is merely a random coincidence, or maybe there is a deeper meaning. 

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that Amazon Encore released my novel, They Never Die Quietly, for sale on February 16, 2010. And you also know that I’m working on a sequel and am betting the farm that my writing career will yield enough income to keep me in vittles. 

As my retirement day quickly approaches, I can tell you first hand that I am as anxious as I am excited. I am walking away from a well-paying job with excellent benefits, job security, and the freedom to virtually come and go as I please. No one micro manages me, the work environment is pleasant, and for the most part, the majority of my colleagues are quality people. Best of all, my performance is not based on how many hours I work, but instead it’s based on productivity. I have the luxury to work from home, and as long as the numbers are there at the end of every month, I can show up for work, or not. Nobody cares. 

When I walk away from this job, I’m walking away from a predictable income. I haven’t a clue how much I will earn as a writer. My novel could sell 10 copies or 10 million. Only time will tell. 

Above and beyond the obvious, there is another element to this life-changing event that blindsided me the other day.  So preoccupied with whether or not I made the right decision, I never really thought about another aspect of retirement until recently. As is the case with most work environments, there are fellow workers that you would love to adopt, and others you’d like to throw off a cliff. I have enjoyed some great friendships in the workplace. There are a handful of colleagues that I consider dear friends. In fact, some are like family. 

Although I promised myself that I will make every effort to keep in touch with my close friends, it occurred to me the other day that there are dozens of casual work associates I will never see again. The word “never” strikes me in a profound way. All the people I kid with in the break room; the folks I huddle with on Monday mornings to rehash the Sunday football games; the American Idol fans who gather around my office to compare critiques; the people I pass in the hall and exchange good mornings with—after March 31, these casual friendships will cease to exist. 

It’s quite a sobering experience to close a major chapter in your life when doing so closes a chapter on certain people. No one can predict how the next chapter will be written. No matter what happens, though, the people I’ve met along the way have shaped my life and contributed to who I am. And for this, I am forever grateful.

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An Eye for an Eye

Every morning when I drag my weary bones to the gym for a vigorous cardio workout, I usually listen to music on my iPod, but once in a while I’ll watch CNN, Headline News, or MSNBC to catch up on world and local news. I don’t read the newspaper, nor do I watch any news-related TV shows, so the only way I get my “fix” is at the gym, and to and from work when I listen to NPR. 

This morning was one of those mornings that I preferred the news instead of music. Big mistake. Two stories caught my eye, neither of which had consequential effects on world peace, the economy, or healthcare. Nonetheless, these little stories walloped me with a profound sense of sadness and intense anger. 

The first story was about a young father—a Marine—who was playing a video game when his 4-month old baby started crying. Enraged that the crying infant was interrupting his game, the father shook the child so violently that the baby died from massive injuries. 

The second story was about a puppy—a beautiful chocolate Labrador. For no apparent reason, its owner almost choked the dog to death. The news channel showed a video of the puppy on a respirator struggling to breathe. 

I have always claimed to be a pacifist; I abhor any kind of violence. In spite of this, I have to admit that I find the thought of physically hurting this young father and the owner of the puppy quite appealing. I could actually envision myself beating them bloody with a Louisville Slugger. And you know what? I don’t think I would lose a moment’s sleep over it. 

We are taught to turn the other cheek, and to forgive even the unforgivable. But aren’t there some instances that make this nearly impossible? I may have a few strikes against me on judgment day. But I can’t find it in my heart to forgive anyone who would senselessly harm a child or a defenseless animal. If that is a flaw in my character, then so be it.

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That Smarts

It was inevitable. I’d been warned. Those in the know told me it would happen. Still, I clung to the desperate hope that I might be spared. Well, the axe has fallen. I just received my first 1-Star reader review, and it’s a doozy. The only thing this guy left out was to say that I’m a complete moron. Talk about criticism. Makes me wonder if there really is such a thing as constructive criticism. 

I don’t know what this guy ate for breakfast, but he was definitely in a bad mood when he wrote my review. “One of the worst books I ever read.” “Unoriginal and predictable.” “Overall the writing is terrible.” “This book was a complete waste of my time.” Gee, Mr. Kauffman, instead of walking on eggshells, tell me what you really think. 

After a brief period of mourning and a few misty-eyed moments, I decided to search some popular novelists and see if any of them received bad reviews. Here’s what I found: 

The Shining by Stephen King:   “The damn book made me want to sleep.”

Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris:   “This book is stupid . . . I hate it!”

Mr. Murder by Dean Koontz:   “The characters are dull and one-dimentional.”

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly:   “Predictable with huge plot holes and poorly drawn characters.”

True Blue by David Baldacci:   “Everything about this book is terrible.”

Double Cross by James Patterson:   “The plot is trite, the characters cartoonish and the prose is amateurish.” 

I feel so much better knowing I’m in such good company.

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What Goes Up . . .

Well, although my ranking on Amazon.com is respectable (relatively speaking) it’s been steadily declining. My publicist assures me that her comprehensive marketing and promotion plan hasn’t yet kicked into high gear, and when it does, my numbers should skyrocket. I’m not losing faith, but I am chewing on my fingernails. Considering that I will be retiring on March 31 so I can devote myself to writing full-time, and for the most part, my only income will come from royalties and advances (or a sweet movie deal), I might be working part time at the local 7-Eleven making strawberry slurpees. 

In spite of the great reviews my novel has received, and the support of my family, friends and readers, I still face what seems an insurmountable obstacle. Here’s the problem. One of the key components in trying to maximize my novel’s sales potential is to have it available on-line through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc., which it is, but even more important is having it available at the “brick & mortar” stores. Unfortunately, for a first-time novelist, most freestanding bookstores won’t give them the time of day. With limited space, they fill their shelves with books written by well-known authors who have a proven track record. 

Even though millions of readers purchase books via the Internet, there are still untold numbers of people who buy their books from traditional bookstores. There’s something intoxicating about going into a retail store and browsing through shelves and shelves of books; smelling them; touching them; thumbing through the pages. Not my agent, the Amazon Encore PR person, or my publicist have had much luck convincing retail stores to carry a few copies of my novel. And the hard, cold reality is that if I can’t get my book in front of potential readers in the retail bookstores, any hope for it to do big numbers is highly unlikely. 

To make the situation even more difficult, Amazon Encore, my publisher, is a division of Amazon.com. And they are Barnes & Noble and Borders’ biggest competitor. Understandably, even if the retail stores were interested in carrying my novel, they would be reluctant to do so because they wouldn’t want to do anything to advance their number one competitor: Amazon.com. Now if I could coordinate an effort with about 10,000 people coast-to-coast, and have them call every retail bookstore in the country, hour after hour, and ask if they carry my book, maybe, just maybe the incessant nagging might compel them to stock a few copies. 

Anyone out there know 10,000 people looking to help a poor, starving novelist?

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The Numbers Game

Since my novel launched on February 16, I’ve checked the Amazon web site no less than 50 times a day (seriously), hoping and praying that my sales ranking continues to improve. Nothing creates more of a book buzz than sales figures. The better the sales rank, the greater the reader interest. As one of the most successful on-line retailers in the world, understandably, an author’s ranking on Amazon.com is significant and consequential. 

My Kindle numbers have been excellent. But this in large part is due to a big push by Amazon Encore, my publisher. (And by the way, if you’d like to read the whole story of how I finally got published after writing 4 novels and 16+ years of rejection, click on “ALL ABOUT THE BOOK” at the top of my home page.) But my paperback sales have been so-so. Until this morning. 

I fired up my computer just before noon and the first thing I checked of course was Amazon. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting to see any major improvement in the paperback sales. My publicist, who specializes in author marketing, told me not to get impatient, that her efforts in the marketplace might not impact sales for a few weeks. So, naturally, I had no lofty expectation. 

I first checked my Kindle numbers. Overall ranking: #123. Not bad considering that Amazon offers over 400,000 book titles on Kindle. And then there are specific genres within fiction, or what you might call sub-categories such as Suspense, Thriller, Mainstream, Police Procedural, etc. Well, here’s what I found: 

#9 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Literary Fiction
#16 in  Books > Literature & Fiction > Literary
#54 in  Books > Literature & Fiction > Contemporary

If you don’t think that these numbers painted a smile on my face, think again. I was stoked to the 10th power. 

Now I faced the tough part: checking my paperback ranking. The last time I looked, my ranking was #12,083. Not terrible considering that Amazon offers over 4 million paperback book titles. But certainly not where I wanted to be. What I discovered today, however, blew my mind. My overall sales ranking as of noon today was #587, and take a look at this sub-category: 

#9 in  Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

My novel currently ranks in the Top 10 of Police Procedurals? Wow! Not to dilute the importance of these awesome numbers, bear in mind that it doesn’t require significant sales to move your ranking from #1,000,000 to #1,000. The high numbers are dramatically affected by just a handful of sales. However, once your ranking is in the hundreds, moving upward is a new ballgame. It might require 100 sales to move from #500 to #499. And if a book’s ranking is in double digits, it could take 1,000 sales to move up just one digit. 

So, needless to say, I have no “Good News-Bad News” story today. 

It’s all good!

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Good News; Bad News

The bad news first: I got another negative reader review and it really chaps my butt. I’ve been warned not to take it personally, but how can you avoid it and not take the criticism to heart? As I’ve said before, fiction, just like any creative art, is very subjective. What one person thinks is a Pulitzer Prize novel, another thinks is garbage. Some of the greatest, most successful novels in history have gotten slammed by reviewers. But still, it hurts. 

A successful writer associate of mine who has helped me deal with this issue by sharing some of his negative reader reviews (misery loves company), put my mind at ease (at least a little), when he said, “Those who can’t write, teach. And those who can’t teach, critique.” 

Amen 

The good news: My novel is ranked #5 for “Literary Fiction” on Amazon’s Kindle. For those who are unfamiliar with Kindle, it’s an electronic gizmo that allows you to pay a fee and electronically download a book. For those who don’t want to clutter their closet shelves with a book collection, Kindle is a great alternative—not to mention that it takes about 60 seconds to complete the download. 

I’ll keep you posted on the good and the not-so-good. 

Here’s what Kindle looks like.

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The Eagle Has Landed

After a long agonizing wait, Amazon Encore, a publishing division of Amazon.com, released my novel, They Never Die Quietly, yesterday, February 16th. I am overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. On one hand I’m totally stoked; on the other, I’m scared silly. Yesterday I must have checked my sales rank on the Amazon web site 100 times. Each time hoping I’d see an eye-popping number. Well, I didn’t. Everyone tells me to B-R-E-A-T-H-E. But frankly, my brain is twisted in a knot. 

Okay, I know I’m whining, but I have to get it off my chest. In spite of the fact that those in the know warned me it might take some time for my novel to gain a little traction and generate sales, waiting is utter agony. My Kindle numbers are pretty good—surprisingly good—but that in large part is due to a huge push by Amazon. But the numbers for paperback sales are nowhere near what I’d hoped for. Actually, to be honest, I indulged myself with an image of me going into the Amazon web site and seeing my ranking in the Top 10; a ridiculous, unrealistic notion. To have such a fantasy is exactly that: a fantasy. But if you don’t aim high, you can never hit your target, right? 

Enough of my sniveling. Let me switch gears. I must apologize to all those who are loyal visitors to my blog. I haven’t updated my post in over a week and that is inexcusable. I could bellyache about how busy I’ve been, tell you tales of woe about my demanding schedule, but it just doesn’t hold water. So, right here in front of the whole world I’m going to make a commitment: I promise to update my blog at least three times a week. Hopefully more. Even if I only write two sentences—highly unlikely for a windsock like me—come hell or high water, I will freshen up the blog regularly. 

Now please stop wasting your valuable time reading my silliness, and go to Amazon.com  and buy my novel.

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