Wagging the Long Tail

A few authors sell vast numbers of books, while most authors sell very few. If you could amass accurate data on that, it would probably look like a decaying exponential curve. It would have the Pareto property, where 20% of the authors sell 80% of the books—those on the left. However, today we’ll focus on the right side of the curve. Statisticians, with their penchant for arcane, hard-to-understand terminology, call that part “the long tail.”

The curve I present here is approximate and intended for illustrative purposes only. Note the vertical red line. Believe it or not, the number of books sold to the left of that line equals the number of books to the right.

Out on the tail of that curve are many, many authors who sell very few books. Looks a little lonely out there, doesn’t it? Most of those authors would love to move left on the curve, ideally all the way left. Readers only have so much money to spend on books, though, and they’re more likely to read books by authors they know.

Very few of those “long tail authors” will move much further left from where they are now, and only a tiny fraction will make it near the vertical axis into the stratospheric heights of the best-seller lists.

That may sound depressing, but let’s squint and take a closer look at that long tail. Each author represents a single point on that curve, but book distributors look at the curve differently. These days, they see the near-infinite length of the long tail as a new profit opportunity.

Distributors have realized we now live in the age of instant and easy searches for obscure information. With the ability to print books on demand, it doesn’t matter how few readers seek, for example, alternate history books about trips to the moon. What matters is that the book “A Tale More True” pops up in response to that search and a sale ensues.

In Wikipedia’s article on the long tail, they quote an Amazon employee as saying, “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”

You might have to read that again and let it sink in. I’ll wait.

In fact, now is the best time to be a long tail author. Let’s consider the set of those readers searching for steampunk books about planet-threatening comets. They easily find my book, “The Cometeers.” Among that admittedly small set of readers, I’m a best-selling author!

Here are a few more examples included for instructive purposes, and certainly not for crass self-promotion:

Readers search for books about: They find and buy:
Alternate histories involving the Ottoman Empire To Be First  
Romance stories taking place in Ancient Greece Against All Gods  
Stories involving Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions Leonardo’s Lion  
Sequel to War of the Worlds After the Martians  
Shakespearean clockpunk Time’s Deformèd Hand  

If you’re a long tail author, don’t despair. You have plenty of company; readers can find your books more readily than ever before; and book distributors now regard you as a profitable part of the book-selling enterprise. Happily wagging my tiny part of the long tail, you’ll find—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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½ Price Sale on Many of My Books!

You’re looking for some great beach reads for your Kindle this summer. You keep hearing about that author—what’s his name?—who everyone is talking about. That’s right, it’s Steven R. Southard, the one who calls himself Poseidon’s Scribe.

You’ve been meaning to read my books, but you keep thinking they’re so darned expensive. Well, you’re in luck. Your wait is over.

For the month of July only, Smashwords is offering many of my books (the ones in the What Man Hath Wrought series) for ½ price! That’s right, get two for the price of one.

Here’s how to take advantage of these great prices. When you click on any book at my Smashwords site, a message will appear telling you to use a specific code at checkout to get the discount.

Here’s the list of stories and their prices during July:

AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians


RippersRing5Ripper’s Ring


TimesDeformedHand3fTime’s Deformèd Hand


TheCometeers3fThe Cometeers


ToBeFirstWheels4To Be First and Wheels of Heaven


RallyingCry3fRallying Cry and Last Vessel of Atlantis


ATaleMoreTrue3fA Tale More True


TheSixHundredDollarMan72dpi-1The Six Hundred Dollar Man


ASteampunkCarol3fA Steampunk Carol


AgainstAllGods4Against All Gods


LeonardosLion4Leonardo’s Lion


AlexandersOdyssey3fAlexander’s Odyssey


WithinVictorianMists4Within Victorian Mists


WindSphereShip4The Wind-Sphere Ship


Better take advantage of this limited time offer before Smashwords wakes up and realizes what they’ve done. Heck, you could buy all 14 books for a cool $26. How’s that for value?

Remember, go to Smashwords and grab these deals while they last. Tell ‘em you were sent by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Inside Each Other’s Heads

For a male writer (like me), it’s difficult to write a story in a female character’s point of view. I’ve read that it’s also difficult for female writers to get into a male character’s head and write realistic stories. Still, we’ve all read books by authors who did this very well. If others have done it; you can too.

writing opposite gender povAdvance warning: this post is full of opinions that may sound stereotypical and sexist. As a caveat, let me say the characteristics I’ll ascribe to women and men are generalizations. Not all men, nor all women, are as described below. There is plenty of overlap in thoughts and behaviors between genders.

Your goal, as a writer, is to produce an entertaining and meaningful experience for your readers. Say you’re female and your lead Point of View character is male. You want readers of both genders to enjoy the story and not get jolted out of it with thoughts of “No guy would think (or do) that!”

Of course, all fiction writing involves getting into someone else’s head, someone different from you. Even characters who share your gender have personalities unlike yours, so you’re always setting your own feelings and motivations aside as you write what someone else would think, say, or do.

Writing from the other gender’s POV is like that, only a bit more so. Think of the following suggestions as tendencies, directions in which to stretch a little without going too far.

For you male writers dealing with a female POV character:

  • Ensure she takes in the appearances of things, and notices minute changes over time
  • Have her look into other characters’ eyes
  • Employ more dialogue, especially small talk
  • Allow her to comment on others’ appearances, clothes, and health
  • Have her care more about other character’s feelings, and to validate them
  • Make her more willing to share her own feelings with others
  • Ensure she talks more about people, their connections, and feelings
  • Show her inner feelings more frequently and more deeply
  • Have her think about people as a network, where each person is on a spectrum between nice/good and mean/bad, and connecting lines between people are strong or weak based on how the two interact

For you female writers dealing with a male POV character:

  • As he takes in a scene, ensure he focuses more on the functions of things, even how he could use or change them
  • Have him look around more at a scene than into other characters’ eyes
  • Make his dialogue more sparse, with less small talk
  • Have him care more about other characters’ problems (and how he could solve them) than their feelings
  • Make him reluctant to disclose his feelings to other characters
  • Ensure he talks more about objects and abstract concepts
  • Have his thoughts move quickly from feelings to action (i.e. what is he going to do?)
  • Have him think about people as being in hierarchies, ranking either higher or lower than him, and how to treat them appropriately

Others have written about the process of creating a convincing opposite-sex POV character. For example, Author Shaquanda Dalton suggests focusing more on the similarities between the genders. She recommends concentrating on dialogue and getting help from opposite-sex beta readers. She also says that the thoughts of fictional characters will focus on the plot problem whether they are women or men, and won’t be significantly different. Lastly, she urges writers to observe real people to get ideas for character actions.

Author A. L. Sowards believes there are differences in the way men and women think, and a writer should keep these in mind. Women, she states, often stew over upsetting things longer, while men get angry but let it go quickly. Women think about many things at once, while men focus on one. She claims it’s untrue that women are more detail-oriented; it’s more a matter of interests. A female character might describe flowers using more specifics, but a male character would describe all the facets of a car engine in the same degree of detail. She advises writers to read books written by and about the opposite gender, and to get to know the character’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses well.

We may try, in our modern age, to dismiss any differences between the genders, but on average, there are some characteristics common to women and others typical of men. You should understand these differences, so you can become capable of writing from the POV of either gender.

Looking back, I’ve only done this with two characters in my published stories— Dr. Anusha Bharateeyanakshatra in “The Finality” and Galene in “Against All Gods.” It’s up to readers whether these female characters were realistically portrayed by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 31, 2016Permalink

Thanks to My Fans

TheSixHundredDollarMan5AgainstAllGods3fI just wanted to thank all of you who voted for my stories in the Critters Workshop Predators & Editors Readers Poll.  The results for 2012 are in, and my story “The Six Hundred Dollar Man”  came in 2nd out of 8 steampunk short stories.  My story “Against All Gods” was tied for 4th in a list of 38 romance short stories.  I feel so much gratitude for the amazing fans of—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 21, 2013Permalink