AUTHORS! Why do you write?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On Tour in Northern Louisiana

I am sitting in a computer lab in the Dubach, Louisiana, high school talking with Coach Matt Willis. Author Gary Moore is next door speaking to a group of 6th graders. It is his fourth talk of the day--fifth if you include our 6:15 a.m. TV session in Monroe, LA (we had to get up at4:15 a.m. to make it; Gary overslept because Sarah forgot to call!). The tour thus far has been absolutely amazing, thanks in large part to the good work of our marketing director Sarah Keeney, and Gary's indefatigable support of his book.

When I fly back to California tomorrow, I intend to blog about this tour--and demonstrate again what authors who want to sell boatloads of books and make important connections that help sell more books can and should be doing.

--tps

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Remember Jeff Davis? Many Say Forget It.

Thought perhaps better suited for a posting on Dimitri Rotov's outstanding (and required reading) blog, this news article about Jefferson Davis is interesting reading for students of American history.

To our everlasting detriment, our history is barely taught in government schools today. One of my recent college students could not name the first president of the U.S., one supreme court justice, or identify a single Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are in serious trouble, folks.

I have studied Davis extensively and have always found him fascinating. In fact, I am delivering a lecture to the Sacramento, California, Civil War Round Table this September entitled "Lincoln and Davis at War." Davis was a very complex individual, wholly worthy of study for a host of reasons. I think the article linked in this blog makes that abundantly clear.

In case anyone is interested, I believe the best Davis biography remains Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour, by William C. Davis (no relation).

(Hat tip to Kevin Ahearn.)

--tps

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Borders vs. Barnes and Noble

I decided to write a few words on this subject after Eric Wittenberg wrote a related post found here. I intend to eventually go much deeper into this subject (Sarah will too on her blog, I am sure).

The logic behind the placement of specific titles in specific stores can be a real head scratcher. When our distributor sells to these chains, they buy a bulk number of copies and then decide where the books go based upon their own internal data. Traffic patterns, buying habits, location, space, and other factors come into play.

If Borders buys a book on Gettysburg, for example, some stores might get six copies, some four, some one, and many none at all. But Eric is right--often local authors do not get support from local stores. It is mind-numbingly shortsighted, but it happens often. Sometimes authors call to complain, "I just stopped at a Barnes and Noble and Borders in XYZ city, and neither store had a copy of my book!" Individual placement is, sadly, out of our hands. My advice is to meet the management and explain why carrying the book will help them make money (i.e., explain why and how you will help them sell it.)

How or whether a store reorders when copies sell out is also something of a mystery. Sometimes, reorders appear automatically; in other cases, select titles sell very strongly but the reorders are not automatic and never come through. Different buyers/managers in the different chains have provided me with different answers as to how this works. Sometimes they contradict one another.

There is no doubt the Civil War sections are shrinking in a few of the stores I check routinely. The two or three Borders stores in our region (in my biased opinion) have a much better military history section than the two Barnes and Noble stores I hit now and again as time permits.

However, something that I feel compelled to discuss is the matter of internal management. I base my comments upon personal experience, and not hearsay or rumor. In my studied opinion, Barnes and Noble appears to be much better managed--at least when it comes to book signings, promotion, and the tracking of stock.

Here is a running example: Author Gary Moore began touring the country to promote his book Playing with the Enemy in September of 2006. He has participated in literally dozens of signings in the chains and independents since that time. Every time he arrived at a Barnes and Noble, the management greeted him in friendly fashion, a table or section with chairs was ready for him, free drinks or even food were offered, signs promoting the event were up and visible, and everyone was excited and ready for a successful event.

Borders was often an entirely different story. More than a dozen times, and often after long drives or even flights, Gary would arrive in a Borders and the manager would ask him, "Is your signing tonight?" (As an author, digest that fine greeting for a few seconds.)

Staff would then scramble to find a table as disaster slowly unfolded before Gary's eyes. In most cases, little or no promotion had been done, no signs were visible, and more often than not, Borders could not even FIND the books. "We show we have 30 in stock, I guess for your signing, but we can't find them," was a common refrain.

So after our marketing director spent time and money to set up the event, and after Gary had taken the time and expense to drive or fly to a specific store, he would arrive to hear something along the lines of "You are not on the calendar."

As every diligent authors does (and every author should), Gary often calls stores to see if his books are in stock, and then he drives 1-3 hours out of his way to hit those stores, meet the manager and staff, and sign his books. Copies in Barnes and Noble were always where they were supposed to be and easily found. In Borders, time after time after time, it was exactly the opposite: The computer would show X number of copies in stock--but no one could ever find them!

Now let me be clear about something. We have enjoyed a number of highly successful events at different Borders stores across the country. We like Borders and support the chain in many ways. The staffers have always been friendly. The Folsom, California, Borders store event comes readily to mind. There, tables were set in advance, signs were everywhere, the line of people was out the door, and nearly 200 copies were sold in three hours. But every time an event flopped or books could not even be found, it was at a Borders store. Something, somewhere, is seriously wrong within the bowels of that chain.

I rambled a bit more than I intended, but when someone mentions differences in the chains, this is one that always jumps into my mind and sticks in my craw. If anyone else has experienced anything similar, I would love to hear about it.

--tps

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Leveraging up on The Maps of Gettysburg

I was interviewed recently by Jerry Morelock, the editor of the uniquely interesting Armchair General magazine. (September issue, released mid-July). All of his questions were good ones, but one in particular made me smile:

In 2007, you published The Maps of Gettysburg by Brad Gottfried, an outstanding examination of the entire Civil War Gettysburg campaign of 1863 presented in 144 full page maps. Has the success of this book’s format (a detailed description of the action appears on the facing page accompanying each map) inspired follow-on books on other famous historical campaigns?

Follow-on titles? In a word, yes.

I can't do much well (just ask my wife), but I can synthesize data and ideas very quickly, and grasp the big picture easily. Brad Gottfried told me he was excited when I “understood” what he was trying to do because a couple other publishers had tried to significantly alter it: "Just do the second day," or "can you focus on Little Round Top?" You get the idea. I got it, too, but it Brad's vision (with a few suggestions from me) and not their vision.

We've received wonderful feedback and achieved significant success with The Maps of Gettysburg--even though a reviewer in Library Journal spent 2/3s of his valuable word space to chastise us for using an indefinite article ("the") in the front of the title, because it would mislead readers into believing the book offers "official" maps of the battle. (sigh)

Appreciating the concept that nothing succeeds like success, I decided to leverage up on the idea of covering campaigns in this unique fashion. As a result, we are launching the Savas Beatie Atlas Series. Think of The Maps of Gettysburg as version 1.0. We have “upgraded” the concept by incorporating suggestions from readers (thank you, keep them coming), and adding a few of our own idea. We now have several major Civil War-related “2.0” titles underway. One of them is The Maps of Chickamauga.

There are several other "applications" for this concept that are also moving ahead at full speed, but I am not quite at liberty to talk about them at this time. As soon as I am able, I will do so.

--tps

Friday, February 1, 2008

Our Move--Complete (Finally)

We are finally ensconced in our new offices, the networked computers net, the wireless printers print, and the phones--well, wait. We have AT&T. So the phones don’t always ring, pick up, or transfer. And unlike Dell Computers, there is no good number for Gold Tech Support.

We only have a handful of lines, and somehow that company can't get them to work properly. We use an outside professional voicemail system, and the phones and lines have to roll over to their number in a small combination of ways. It has taken eleven (yes, two short of a baker's dozen) calls and hours of time to get AT&T to figure out how to make our phones work the way they should.

Some of their customer service representatives barely speak English, others can't figure out how to put repair orders into the queue, and those orders that were properly entered were not done at all, only partially completed, or completely screwed up. Often, one “fix” disabled hours of previous work.

If any of your have had any difficulty leaving a message, or have gotten endless rings or busy tones when you call, rest assured we appreciate your frustration and indeed share it. And we apologize.

Thank God I can drink on premises.

More on publishing. Again.

Finally.

--tps