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

Writing Blurbs

Whether readers buy books online or in a bookstore, they look at the cover first and the blurb second. If the blurb doesn’t grab them, they move on. Don’t kill that sale with a bad blurb.

BlurbA blurb is defined as a short description of your book, written for promotional purposes and appearing on the back cover. That definition sucks all the life out of the word, though. Scratch out “written for promotional purposes” and substitute “written to seize the prospective reader’s attention and imbed an irresistible desire to possess the book and read every word.”

My primary publisher, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, asks for two blurbs for each book—a long one that’s less than 150 words, and a short one no longer than 25 words. Both of these are difficult for me to write, but the short blurb is the toughest.

What should be in a blurb?

  • Hint at the plot or main conflict.
  • Name and mention distinguishing trait of main character(s).
  • Describe the setting or ‘world.’ This is vital in science fiction and fantasy.
  • If available, include quotes about this book or your previous books.
  • If space available, include an author bio.

How do you write one?

  • Study other book blurbs in your genre. Learn the common words and language.
  • Write a summary of your book (if not done already), then shorten it down to its essence. What’s the book’s “elevator speech?”
  • Use image-laden words, those powerful words that speak to readers of the book’s genre.
  • Ensure the tone of the blurb matches that of the book.
  • Write several blurbs and combine the best features.
  • Set it aside for a few days, then read it again. If meh, rewrite.
  • Ask your critique group to comment on it. You are in a critique group, right?

Further Reading

You can find out even more about blurbs from Amy Wilkins, Marilynn Byerly, and the master of writer advice, Joanna Penn. I’ve shamelessly stolen from them in writing this post.

Examples

Here are three of the 25-word blurbs from my most recent books. These don’t contain all the elements noted above, but the 150-word, lengthier versions do:

  • Ripper’s Ring:” The ancient Ring of Gyges grants the power of invisibility to Jack the Ripper. A Scotland Yard detective tracks a killer who can’t be seen.
  • Time’s Deformèd Hand:” Time for zany mix-ups in a clock-obsessed village. Long-separated twins, giant automatons, and Shakespeare add to the madcap comedy. Read it before it’s too late!
  • The Cometeers:” A comet threatens Earth…in 1897! Of the six men launched by cannon to deflect it, one is a saboteur. It’s steampunk Armageddon!

With some practice and creativity, your blurbs should be even better than any written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Recalling the Moment

When people ask, “how did you get the idea for that story?” it’s useful to be able to remember that exact instant when the lightning struck, when the light bulb glowed, when the muse whispered. For some of my stories, I can. For others, I have no idea.

People expect you to remember. They want to hear about the light bulb moment. After all, that’s a bit of a story in itself.

220px-Suzanne_Collins_David_Shankbone_2010Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, has a great story for how she came up with the idea for the first book in the series. As reported here, she was channel-surfing between a reality show involving a competition among young people, and some news coverage of a war. The two TV shows blurred in her mind, and she came up with her book idea. She also claims that the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which she read at age eight, became the inspiration for the plot.

This is often how it happens. Two or more ideas get merged in your mind, and they can be widely separated in time. Some of these ideas could be something half-remembered from childhood.

On occasion, an entire story coming to a writer in a flash, so that it becomes a race to get it written down before the memory degrades. Other authors refine and mature a basic idea over time before they are ready to write. Whichever method you use, it’s still a good thing to write down the initial idea right after the bulb illuminates, perhaps in a daily journal. That way you’ll be ready when people ask.

What’s that you’re thinking? You’re wondering how I got the ideas for some of my recent stories? How nice of you to ask.

A Clouded Affair” came from a clash of two ideas. I was in a dieselpunk mood, having never written in that subgenre. Then I saw the call for stories for an anthology titled Avast, Ye Airships! Clearly, they wanted steampunk. What to do? How about a battle between a steampunk pirate and a dieselpunk pirate?

For “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” I was responding to a planned anthology of Steampunk Shakespeare stories. I wanted a lighter tale, so I reviewed the Bard’s comedies, and selected “A Comedy of Errors.” Clockpunk seemed a better fit than steampunk, so I went with that. While my story didn’t get picked for the anthology, it found a happier home as part of my What Man Hath Wrought series.

The Cometeers” is one story whose genesis I don’t recall. For some reason, I must have been thinking about save-the-Earth-from-destruction plot lines, and thought about how I could set such a story in the steampunk era.

Here’s a sneaky notion, to wrap things up. Since you won’t always recall the “ah-ha moment” when a story idea occurred to you, and since your zillions of fans will demand to know how it actually happened, it’s probably okay in this instance to make up a story. After all, you’re a fiction writer—making up stories is what you do. Moreover, who would say your explanation is wrong? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Votes Are In

predlogoTheCometeers72dpiTimesDeformedHand72dpi

 

 

 

 

 

I owe a great big thank-you to those who voted for my stories in the Critters Workshop Annual Preditors and Editors Readers Poll for 2014.

My story “The Cometeers” came in 3rd of 7 among Steampunk Short Stories, and “Time’s Deformèd Hand” tied for 3rd out of 25, in the All Other Short Stories category.

Thanks again for voting for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 17, 2015Permalink

Vote for Your Favorite Story of 2014

Happy New Year! That must mean it’s time for the Critters Writers Workshop to conduct their Preditors and Editors Poll (the 17th annual one this time) to see which newly published e-book readers prefer.

critters_headerYou can vote for your favorite book in a wide variety of categories. It’s not really a scientific poll, but winning it (or landing in the top ten) gives each author some bragging rights.

TheCometeers72dpi Someone has entered two of my own stories in the poll. “The Cometeers” is in the Steampunk Short Story category and is currently running 2nd out of 6 in the poll. Also, “Time’s Deformèd Hand” is in the All Other Short Story category and is currently running 3rd out of 22 in the poll.TimesDeformedHand72dpi  The links in this paragraph and the story cover images take you straight to the correct poll category to vote.

If you wish, you could vote for my stories. All you do is click the button beside your favorite story’s title (for example, “The Cometeers” and “Time’s Deformèd Hand”), then scroll to the bottom, enter your e-mail address, and type an author’s name from a book cover image to prove you’re not a spam robot. Then you’ll get an e-mail to confirm your vote; just click the link in the email and you’re done. Please vote before January 14, when they close the polling.

Once again, our good ol’ Earth has reached the beginning of its orbit and started another elliptical swing around the Sun. That’s worth celebrating! The astronomers and calendar manufacturers have declared we get to start a new year, so that’s not a bad deal. Happy 2015, everyone, from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Story behind “Time’s Deformèd Hand”

You were wondering about this new story of mine, “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” so I’ve written this blog post to answer all your questions. It’s the least I can do to satisfy your curiosity. Luckily for both of us, the post contains no spoilers.

Q: What’s the book about?

A: Here’s a short book blurb: “Time for zany mix-ups in a clock-obsessed village. Long-separated twins, giant automatons, and Shakespeare add to the madcap comedy. Read it before it’s too late!”

Q: What’s with the weird title, and why is there a grave accent mark in the word ‘deformed?’
A: The title is stolen from Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In fact, I pretty much ripped off the Bard’s whole play. The story has many, many references to time, clocks, and calendars, and all the sorts of errors associated with time measurement, so the title is appropriate. The grave accent mark (`) means to pronounce that usually-silent ‘e’ as you would in ‘scented,’ to make the poetic rhythm come out right.

Q: What made you think of writing it?

A: I got the idea, somehow, to combine Shakespeare and clockpunk. I wanted the tale to be lighthearted, so I picked one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Having raised a set of identical twins myself, I was drawn to “The Comedy of Errors” due to all its mistaken-identity gags. Rather than two sets of identical twins separated at birth, I thought I’d have just one set, but each young man has a clockman, and all clockmen are identical.

Q: What are clockmen?

A: In my story, clockmen are clockwork automatons, invented by Leonardo da Vinci a century before my story. They’re eight feet tall, with an outer shell of wood covering the metal gears, ratchets, and cogs. They display a clock on their chest, and have a large, wind-up key protruding from their back. Due to a special property of a certain kind of wood, clockmen are sentient, though they seem dull-witted.

Q: What are the story’s strangest characters?

A: First, I’d have to say the town’s Wachmeister, or constable. Wachmeister Baumann is pompous, and also overconfident, considering he can’t seem to correctly pronounce any policing terms. Then there’s the proprietor of the city’s clockman repair shop, a certain William Shakespeare. Herr Shakespeare had moved from England to this Swiss village. For a repairman, he has the rather odd habit of speaking in iambic pentameter, and a deep understanding of human nature.

Q: What do you mean by ‘many references to time?’

A: The setting of the story is a Swiss village called Spätbourg (“late-town”). It is shaped like a clock, with twelve streets radiating out from the center. It contains the Tempus Fugit Restaurant, the Oaken Cuckoo Tavern, and the Sundial Inn. In addition, the story includes several clock jokes, clock mix-ups, as well as clock and calendar paradoxes.

Q: When and where can I buy it?

A: Thought you’d never ask. The book is launching today! You can buy it here, here, and here, and soon it will be available at Gypsy Shadow Publishing and other places.

What? You have more questions about “Time’s Deformèd Hand?” Better leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 16, 2014Permalink

The Reviews Are In, and It’s About Time

My new story, “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” is starting to garner some interesting praise from reviewers. Here’s just a sample:

  • “I laughed, I cried, I winced, I snorted my milk in my cereal.”

Houston Chronometer

  • “If you read only one book set in 16th Century Switzerland…well, if you read only five, this should be one of them.”

New York Timer

  • “In ‘Time’s Deformèd Hand,’ Steven R. Southard manages to take Shakespeare’s ‘A Comedy of Errors’ and update it all the way from 1594 to 1600.”

Baltimore Sundial

  • “Your book, ‘Time’s Deformèd Hand,’ is a completely inaccurate portrayal of Switzerland. There is no such town as Spätbourg and never has been. The Swiss people are not as obsessed with clocks as you describe. You will be hearing from our lawyers.”

Swiss Ministry of Tourism

[Note to self: Not a book review. Remember to delete before publishing post.]

  • “It’s like Shakespeare meets the Marx Brothers, in a clock factory, and they’re all on a caffeine high.”

Greensborough Watchman

  • “One character in the story uses da Vinci wings to fly. Really cool! I want those wings. Second, I’ve got to have one of the eight foot tall clockwork automatons. I really want both of ‘em, but I’m not gonna be greedy.”

Allthingsclockpunk.com

Remember, the book is scheduled for launch in two days, on November 15th. With reviews like those, nothing more need be said by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 14, 2014Permalink

Time for a Story to Launch

I just learned my next story, “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” is scheduled to be launched by Gypsy Shadow Publishing in just three days, on November 15th. It’s the 12th book in that What Man Hath Wrought series everyone’s talking about.

Here’s the blurb: It’s 1600 in an alternate Switzerland, a world where Da Vinci’s mechanical automatons and human-powered flight almost work, thanks to magic trees. Long-separated twins, Georg the reluctant groom and Georg the clock thief, roam the clocklike village of Spätbourg, beset by more time and date errors than you can shake an hour hand at. Will Georg get married after all, and repair the town’s central tower clock? Will Georg—the other one—purloin more timepieces, or give up his pilfering ways? Will William Shakespeare lend a hand, and some iambic pentameter poetry, to reset the cogs and gears of this zany comedy? Only time will tell…or maybe not, in this ultimate clockpunk tale of mistaken identity and temporal mix-ups.

I’ll be sure to let you know when “Time’s Deformèd Hand” is launched and where you can buy it. You know if there’s one person who’d never leave you uninformed, it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 13, 2014Permalink