Sunday, January 29, 2012

SIXTH RIDER at No. 44 on Amazon bestsellers list

THE SIXTH RIDER has reached No. 44 on Amazon's Top 100 list.

Giving away a few thousand books to new friends

As I write this, the Kinde edition of my novel THE SIXTH RIDER is now #1 in Kindle westerns, #3 in Kindle historicals, and #75 for all books. That's right, all Kindle books. Up 78,886 ranks from the day before.

How did I land my novel in the top 100 Kindle list on Amazon?

I'm giving it away.

Now, giving away books seems like a foolish idea, especially when the numbers can run into the thousands. In fact, the number of ebooks given away in the last 24 hours exceeds the entire print run of the original Doubleday hardcover. 

But as any media weasel can tell you, the problem today is not throwing advertising at a mass audience, but figuring out how to reach just the right audience. In my case, readers who are likely to respond to the kinds of stories I tell -- dark and quirky (and I hope, literate). So, with no fanfare, I dropped the price on THE SIXTH RIDER from $3.99 to free to see what would happen. I'll spare you the details but the promotion was made possible by Amazon through a special program involving Amazon Prime. 

Kindle readers are apparently very hungry for good, free books. The promotion began at 3 a.m. Saturday, and the response has been dramatic. The proof is in the screen shot of my sales figure from Amazon's Author Central, top. 

On the face of it, it would seem I'm throwing away away thousands of dollars in royalties -- $13,950 in royalties, in fact, based on the thousands of copies given away so far. So, why would I do it? Simple: I want receptive readers. I've been frustrated in the past with the way publishers and bookstores have marketed my books. They always seem to be shelved in the wrong areas, or the covers suggest a traditional westerns, which I don't do. Some readers have even been angry that the book wasn't what they expected, and I can't say I blame them. I'd be mad, too. 

Take HELLFIRE CANYON, for instance. It won the Spur Award for Best Mass Market Novel from the Western Writers of America and also was named a Kansas Notable Book by the state library, but the cover and cover copy didn't remotely match what the book was about. With the Kindle books, at least the ones that I have the rights to, I can control the covers and the copy. In the case of THE SIXTH RIDER, I even asked Johnny D. Boggs, a noted western writer and former president of WWA, to write an introduction that would signal the tone of the book. I wanted to make sure that readers knew what they were in for.

THE SIXTH RIDER has had steady but modest sales since being released as Kindle, but I always thought it could do better. The problem was finding a bigger audience. After all, my books get great reviews, they win awards, and I've have a small but passionate fan base. Now, in just one weekend, I have thousands of readers who were interested enough to download THE SIXTH RIDER and give it a try. And I think they'll like it enough to pay to give my other books a try as well, especially the trilogy that begins with HELLFIRE CANYON.

We'll see. If it works, I'll let you know. If it doesn't -- well, I'll let you know that, too.

The worst that can happen is that I gave a few thousand people a free copy of a book I believe in. 

And if you're reading this before midnight Sunday, Jan. 29, when the promotion ends, then click on the heading above. It will take you to the Amazon page where you can download THE SIXTH RIDER to your Kindle device. If you like the book, please blog about it or post a review. After all, you got it for free. 

Now, I have to get back to what I'm supposed to be doing: finishing my next book under contract, the first in a paranormal mystery series set in the Old West. I think readers who have liked my other stuff will love this. So, back to work.

Monday, January 2, 2012

DAMNATION ROAD in school libraries? Yes!

I love it when my material connects with readers. Here's a surprising review posted over at A Book and A Hug, a site to help encourage kids to read. The reviewer, Robert L. Hicks (a high school librarian) does an admirable job of characterizing the book while cautioning teachers:

DAMNATION ROAD for mature readers, ages 14 and up. 

This is the third book in the award winning "Jacob Gamble" trilogy (Spur Awards). Yes, westerns also have series novels. The first two novels being Hellfire Canyon and Canyon Diablo. Whereas in Hellfire the reader met Jacob at thirteen-years-old, now it is 1898 and the main character is nearing fifty. The wild west is disappearing. As with many westerners, Jacob is on the wrong side of the law, sometimes on the fence, and sometimes his heart coerces him to do what's right. The reader is always hoping he will finally redeem himself and eventually go straight.

Since the author grew up in Kansas and teaches at Emporia, Kansas, it's no surprise the setting of his novels are Missouri, Kansas cowtowns, and Oklahoma Territory. Will his life end like the real Oklahoma outlaw, Bill Doolin? While in the Guthrie jail, his defense lawyer ends up being the historical and colorful character,Temple Houston--son of the legendary father Sam and the model for Ferber's Cimarron (1929)main character, Yancy Cravat. Not trusting the legal system, Jacob escapes and flees to Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Might the Colonel give him a pardon?

On the other hand, there's this temptation of a big haul from a train robbery--no such luck. And there's a corrupt Pinkerton dogging his trail but also a "too good to be true" tale of a lost, Confederate treasure from the lips of a mysteries and seductive woman he can't resist. Could this be his last chance? Isn't that what the West was, a place for second chances or where one could erase the past and begin anew?

This is no candy coated cowboy story. Representative of the real West, there is some profanity and soiled doves do populate the novel although readers are assumed worldly enough so practicing details of their profession are unnecessary. The author's literary strengths are fascinating, rounded characters, convincing dialog, real gun play, and yes, humor. As a cat lover, I appreciated this exchange: ' "I'm a Pinkerton operative"..."Shush," the old man said, "You'll wake Killer." But the cat seemed far from disturbed. "What did the subject buy?"..."Don't recall." Don't you keep a record of sales or--" "Now why the hell would I do that?"..."How do you know if you've made a profit?" "If there's money left over at the end of the month to buy coffee and beans, I've made a profit....You chew or smoke?" "I avoid tobacco,...It's a filthy habit"..."Killer don't think so." "What Killer may or may not think is immaterial...Describe his [Jacob's] companions." "...a wicked hellcat of a girl...She was trouble, wasn't she, Killer?" The old man scratched the cat beneath the chin and the cat roused briefly and shook his head annoyed. "Sorry, Princess Killer. I'll let you sleep." "What kind of a name is that for a common cat?" Jaeger asked. "It doesn't even make sense." "My damned cat," the old man said. "I can name it what I damned well please." '

For those interested in the novel's setting, historical personalities, and books the author probably utilized, pick up Paul I. Wellman's A Dynasty Of Western Outlaws (1961), Draw: The Greatest Gunfights Of The American West (2003),Bill Doolin, Outlaw O.T (1980) by Hanes, and any Glenn Shirley books such asTemple Houston: Lawyer With a Gun (1980) & West Of Hell's Fringe(1978). I might also suggest you play the 1973 Eagles Desperado album while reading such literature:

Go down, Bill Doolin, dont' you wonder why
Sooner or later we all have to die?
Sooner or later, that's a stone--cold fact,
Four men ride out and only three ride back.

2011 winner of the Spur Award for best original paperback novel. 280 pages.

Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian

Do check out the rest of his rather lengthy review... he excerpts one of my favorite scenes, featuring a cat named Killer (those who know me will immediately recognize the feline), makes some shrewd guesses about my nonfiction source material (Paul I. Wellman and Glenn Shirley), and even suggests playing the Eagles' 1973 album Desperado while reading. Right on all counts, Mr. Hicks. I'd love to visit your school library someday and do a workshop for your students.