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

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
$2.00

 

RippersRing5Ripper’s Ring
$2.00

 

TimesDeformedHand3fTime’s Deformèd Hand
$2.00

 

TheCometeers3fThe Cometeers
$2.00

 

ToBeFirstWheels4To Be First and Wheels of Heaven
$2.00

 

RallyingCry3fRallying Cry and Last Vessel of Atlantis
$2.00

 

ATaleMoreTrue3fA Tale More True
$2.00

 

TheSixHundredDollarMan72dpi-1The Six Hundred Dollar Man
$1.50

 

ASteampunkCarol3fA Steampunk Carol
$1.50

 

AgainstAllGods4Against All Gods
$2.00

 

LeonardosLion4Leonardo’s Lion
$2.00

 

AlexandersOdyssey3fAlexander’s Odyssey
$2.00

 

WithinVictorianMists4Within Victorian Mists
$1.50

 

WindSphereShip4The Wind-Sphere Ship
$1.50

 

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

Making Leonardo’s Lion

An artistic acquaintance of mine has been making 3D printed models of vehicles and gadgets from my stories. Today I’ll introduce another one she made, the mechanical clockwork lion from my book “Leonardo’s Lion.”LeonardosLion5

It’s a modification of the one available on Thingiverse here, designed by YahooJapan. She added a cutout section showing gears inside. I painted the model myself.Lion 1

According to some accounts, Leonardo da Vinci made a working, mechanical lion. It was toward the end of his life when he was living in France. Records aren’t clear, but the newly crowned King of France, Francois I, met Pope Leo X in Bologna on December 19, 1515. Either the lion was presented at that event, or was commissioned then and given to the king at a party two years later.

Lion 2The lion could walk, move its head from side to side, and open and shut its jaws. It then sat on its haunches; its chest cavity opened, and a bouquet of lilies fell out. The lion was the symbol of Pope Leo X and lilies symbolized France, so this mechanism represented the strong bond between the two.

Lion 3

 

 

 

 

 

In our modern world of automated gadgets, it’s difficult to imagine the effect such a lion would have at a party in the early 16th Century.

Lion 4I got to wondering what might have happened to that lion afterward. My story, “Leonardo’s Lion,” takes place some fifty years later. The lion stands forgotten in a storeroom, hidden among numerous other gifts presented to previous kings.

A ten-year-old boy named Chev comes upon the lion after escaping an orphanage. He’s able to get the automaton working, and is small enough to ride on its back. Inside the lion, he finds a message Leonardo had meant for King Francois I to discover, and a clue to a world-changing secret. Thus begins Chev’s ride on the lion’s back, through a country torn apart by warring religions.

In potential future improvements to this model, I’d love to have movable legs, a swaying head, and a seam for the chest cavity.

I welcome your thoughts about my model. Leave a comment on this post for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Judging Covers

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but some of your potential readers will, and you don’t want them wincing at the sight of your book. Today we’ll be judging covers, or at least reviewing what makes a good one.

After you read this post, please check out Derek Murphy’s take on cover design here. He goes into more depth. Although I’ll only be discussing fiction covers, his post also addresses non-fiction.

Resources

Where do you get cover art? Here are some sources:

  • If you sold your book to a publisher, the publisher may do your cover. They will likely work with you and do their best to accommodate your preferences.
  • If you’re also an artist or graphic designer, you can make your own cover art. If you’re manipulating images found on-line, be careful not to violate public domain restrictions. Sites like Dollar Photo Club and Dreamstime offer thousands of images at reasonable prices.
  • You can pay someone to do your cover art for you. Perhaps you have an artist friend, or you can get in touch with a talented artist at a local high school or college through the art department. There are websites such as 99Designs where you can have artists compete to make your cover.

Techniques

Derek Murphy’s post spells out the secrets to good book cover art in detail, but his overall message is that people will only glance at a cover for a moment, so it has to grab them. Your cover has to convey its message in a couple of seconds. All eight of Murphy’s cover design secrets flow from this principle. I’ll discuss each technique with respect to the covers of my books, or anthologies in which my stories appear.

51aDCvEwjvL1. Make it “Pop.” Use contrast between light and dark, or opposing colors. The cover of 2012 AD uses that technique to show off the explosion.

 

 

 

 

2. Lots of space. Avoid clutter. LeonardosLion3fThe cover of “Leonardo’s Lion” is simple; the reader’s eye doesn’t have to wander all over to get the point.

 

 

 

 

ASteampunkCarol72dpi3. Make it emotional. Your cover should be beautiful; it should appeal to the heart and make readers feel something. Remember, readers of different genres react emotionally to different things. The cover of “A Steampunk Carol” has the brass gears that steampunk lovers enjoy, and adds the red and green flowers of Christmas.

 

 

4. Use a subtitle, teaser or tagline (and a review!). It’s an effective technique, but none of my covers so far have used this.

Cover art5.1jox6w Pick the right font (and effects). The font should be readable and should help deliver the book’s message. In Quest for Atlantis, the main title font has an ancient (or at least olden) look. For “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” the title font has an Asian feel.

 

 

RippersRing72dpi6WithinVictorianMists9. Make it personal (but not cheesy). It’s good to have people on your covers, though Murphy argues against silhouettes. “Ripper’s Ring” gives you a glaring Jack the Ripper. We did use silhouettes for “Within Victorian Mists” but I think we did it effectively, to convey dancing on clouds.

 

ATaleMoreTrue3f7. If it’s too hard, go simple. Murphy argues against trying to cram in all the ideas you’d like to convey. I think “A Tale More True” illustrates a reasonable amount of simplicity. The reader has to wonder how a tricorn hat ended up there.

 

 

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]8. A little more on text placement. Murphy makes some additional points about text contrast with background, as well as fitting in short words (a, by, in, or the) in among the larger words. I like how the tower in Hides the Dark Tower seems to punch through the word ‘tower.’

 

 

 

As writers, we’re not expected to be great cover designers. If you are, or would like to be, then more power to you. For the rest of us, we must depend on (and pay for) the skill of others such as Derek Murphy. Leave the judging of book covers to the experts; that’s the advice of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 25, 2015Permalink

Secrets of the Past

Is it possible that some amazing things happened in historical times, but never made it in the history books? Today I’ll discuss the subgenre of fiction known as secret histories.

Wikipedia’s entry provides a good definition: “A secret history (or shadow history) is a revisionist interpretation of either fictional or real (or known) history which is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed, forgotten, or ignored by established scholars. Secret history is also used to describe a type or genre of fiction which portrays a substantially different motivation or backstory from established historical events.”

With secret histories the author can deviate from actual history as far as she’d like, but she must return things to status quo or else explain why historical accounts don’t align with her story.

For this reason, secret histories are not to be classified as alternate histories (as I mistakenly did here.  There is no permanent altering of history. Rather the world returns to the one we know. The thrill for the reader is seeing how close the world came to actually changing in some dramatic way.

Secret histories work well as thriller stories with assassins or spies, since they work in secret anyway. Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle are two examples.

I’ve written secret histories myself, but my stories involve technology, not spies or assassins. In each one I leave it to the reader to speculate how much further ahead we’d be if some inventions had occurred earlier.

9781926704012In “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” an inventor creates a submarine in China in 200 B.C. There are obscure references asserting that something of that sort actually happened, and those references inspired my story. The tale ends in a way that explains why more submarines weren’t made as a result of this invention.

steamcover5My story “The Steam Elephant” (which appeared in Steampunk Tales magazine) is a secret history in which a traveling group of Britons and one Frenchman are enjoying a safari from the vantage of a steam-powered elephant invited by one of the Brits. They get caught up in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. This is intended as a sequel to the two books of Jules Verne’s Steam House series.

WindSphereShip4In “The Wind-Sphere Ship,” Heron of Alexandria takes his simple steam-powered toy and uses it to power a ship. If there had been a steamship in the 1st Century A.D., it boggles the mind to think we could have had the Industrial Revolution seventeen hundred years early and skipped the Dark Ages.

LeonardosLion3fAnother secret history is “Leonardo’s Lion” which answers what happened to the mechanical clockwork lion built by Leonardo da Vinci in 1515. In the story, humanity comes very close to seeing all of da Vinci’s designs made real, which would have advanced science and engineering by centuries.

TheSixHundredDollarMan3fI’d categorize “The Six Hundred Dollar Man” as secret history too, when a man fits steam-powered limbs on another man who’d been injured in a stampede. The story takes place in 1870 in Wyoming and it’s pretty clear by the story’s end why that technology didn’t catch on.

RallyingCry3fRallying Cry” is a tale about a young man who learns there have been secret high-technology regiments and brigades in wars going back at least to World War I. Members of these teams cannot reveal their group’s existence, so it fits the secret history genre.

ToBeFirstWheels5In “Wheels of Heaven” I take what is factually known about the Antikythera Mechanism, and weave a fictional tale to explain it.

As you can see, I like writing in this sub-genre. Imagine something interesting and imaginative happened in history, write about it, then tie up all the loose ends so that our modern historical accounts remain unchanged. Leave the reader wondering if the story could have really happened. History that might have been, courtesy of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 7, 2014Permalink

Meet the Punk Family

If you’re into science fiction, particularly alternate history or speculative fiction, there are some interesting sub-genres to be aware of.  They all have -punk in their name:  cyberpunk, clockpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, and atompunk.

Punk FamilyI’ve blogged about steampunk before, but here I’ll step back and introduce the Punk family.

  • Cyberpunk. This term describes fiction involving a world of the near future where computer technology has made life miserable and degraded society.  Author Bruce Bethke is credited with coining the term in 1980 in connection with his short story “Cyberpunk.”  Major writers of cyberpunk include Pat Cadigan, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling.  Some cinematic examples of cyberpunk are 1984, Blade Runner, Mad Max, the Terminator movies, and Tron.  In my graphic I’ve depicted it as the parent of the Punk Family since it came first.
  • Clockpunk.  This refers to fiction set in a time when metal springs are the primary technological energy storage mechanism, an era prior to the invention of the steam engine.  A player of the Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS) invented the term.  Clockpunk authors of note include Jay Lake, S. M. Peters, and Terry Pratchett.
  • Steampunk.  This subgenre depicts settings with steam-powered mechanisms, often in time periods similar to the nineteenth century.  Author K. W. Jeter invented the term in 1987.  Early giants of steampunk literature include James Blaylock, K. W. Jeter, and Tim Powers, though there are many, many writers continuing in their footsteps.  Movie examples of steampunk include Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Prestige, Sherlock Holmes, Van Helsing, and Wild Wild West.  I think it’s fair to say this child of cyberpunk has surpassed its parent and all its siblings in popularity.  It has spawned a culture all its own with jewelry, clothing, art, music, and dedicated conventions in addition to books.
  • Dieselpunk.  In Dieselpunk we see the gasoline-based technology of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  Game designer Lewis Pollak came up with the term in 2001.  Authors of dieselpunk include David Bishop, Robert Harris, Brian Moreland, and F. Paul Wilson.  Some examples of dieselpunk movies are Rocketeer and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  As with steampunk, dieselpunk also comes with its own visual style — art deco.
  • Atompunk.  This refers to fiction set in the exuberant post World War II age, the Atomic Age.  I couldn’t find anything about who coined the term.  Some atompunk authors are Adam Christopher and Dante D’Anthony.  I don’t know of any atompunk movies made since the sub-genre emerged, but many science fiction movies of the 1950’s can be thought of as proto-atompunk.  There are associated visual styles with atompunk, too:  Googie Architecture, Populuxe, and Raygun Gothic.

There are other, lesser known, members of the Punk family:  Decopunk, Biopunk, Nanopunk, Stonepunk, Nowpunk, Splatterpunk, Elfpunk, and Mythpunk.  Perhaps if these attract sufficient readers, I’ll blog about them too.

The ‘-punk’ aspect of each of these is meant to convey that these are not celebrations of the technology in question.  The idea in these stories is to convey dark and disturbing faults in the societies driven by the technology, and by extension, to point out analogous problems with our own modern society.

My steampunk stories include “The Steam Elephant,” “The Wind-Sphere Ship,” (call that one Iron Age steampunk), “Within Victorian Mists,” “A Steampunk Carol,” “The Six Hundred Dollar Man,” and the upcoming “Rallying Cry.”

I’ve written a couple of clockpunk stories too:  “Leonardo’s Lion” and “A Tale More True.”

Perhaps you’ll enjoy getting to know the Punk Family.  They’re an odd bunch, but they’re getting more famous every day.  Leave a comment and explain what you think about them to the world and to—

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

November 24, 2013Permalink