Monday, November 30, 2015

Diversity - Good for Fiction AND Life

I sometimes wonder if readers know or even care what I look like. I don’t think you can tell from my writing. Hannibal Jones has a mixed racial heritage. Felicity O’Brien is Irish while her partner, Morgan Stark, is African American. BEYOND BLUE has an ensemble cast whose members are white, black, Pacific Islander, black/Puerto Rican and Japanese/British. These characters did not arise out of some socially conscious design, but rather they grew organically out of the storylines. Nonetheless it is true that I purposely work with a diverse cast of characters. Here’s why:
First, I want my fiction to reflect the real world. Where I live, in the national capital region, I encounter every type of person every day, and often hear languages I can’t identify when walking through the grocery store. I know that the world is a rich and complex tapestry of cultures. The natural friction between those cultures creates conflict and conflict is the basic ingredient of storytelling. I love to exploit it
But beyond that, if you only write about one kind of person you limit yourself as a writer.  I have to stretch when I write about people not like myself. When I wrote my first gay character, in COLLATERAL DAMAGE, I had to force myself to think like that character, to get his voice, his mannerisms, and his feelings right. I also learned how my other characters felt about him. In some cases that wasn’t a very flattering view of them, but I had to keep it real. So I learned more about my other characters, and got a view of what that character (and his real-life counterparts) faced on a daily basis. Writing people not like myself has certainly deepened my ability to create realistic characters.
Finally, I will admit to a cultural motivation. Readers like to see people like themselves. So authors who write about only black characters can count on African American readers, but they face a challenge reaching a broader audience.  I want to reach a broader, more universal readership. And if I do it right, I might just help some of those readers better understand the characters who are not like the people they spend most of their time with. Because the most important thing you learn - as a man writing female characters, or an African American writing whites, or even a Democrat writing about Republicans – is that humans have a lot more commonalities than differences. While I never preach, and never let that fact get in the way of the plot, I’ll admit that subtext does give me a good feeling.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Wonderful Book Club Experience

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with the members of the Wisdom Seekers club. The group meets once a month to discuss a book they all have read. This month they selected Beyond Blue, and invited me to take part in their discussion of the book.
I met Yvonne Kinney at the Black Authors and Readers Rock Weekend, an event designed to draw book clubs together. Generally these groups are all female, mostly mature ladies who love reading so much it provides a regular part of their social life.  If they like a book they’ll talk it up and can be the basis of an author’s platform. After hearing me speak became interested in my books. I mentioned that I enjoy meeting with book clubs so after reading one of my novels she emailed me through my web site. I was happy to accept her invitation to a meeting.
Book club meetings generally have a set protocol. They generally begin with a fine shared meal. In this case an assortment of Chinese food was laid out. Nothing relaxes and bonds people like sharing a good meal.
Then we moved to the meat of the meeting, an experience every fiction author should try to have. After expressing how much they enjoyed Beyond Blue the ladies spoke, very clearly, about what it was about the book they liked. They discussed which characters were their favorites, what about my writing style appealed to them, and what story points stood out. Not only was it clear that they got the subtext of every storyline as I intended, but they linked the events in the book to real-life current events in a way that even enriched the novel for me. They read meaning into some situations that I was not conscious of putting there, and made recommendations about the future of many of the characters.
One of the coolest parts of all this was the way the conversation freely flowed. Often one club member would ask a question and before I could respond another member would give their perspective of the answer. The fact that one member had a SWAT team member in her family and another was related to an undercover cop deepened their understanding of the material. And it was gratifying to know there were other people out there who still support good cops and understand how challenging their lives can be. One of the ladies actually said, “There should be a Beyond Blue agency in every city.”

An hour flew by, after which we took photos, and I offered Ms. Kinney a Beyond Blue tee shirt in thanks for inviting me. A few of the ladies purchased other books of mine (glad I always have some with me) and we had dessert. Then I said my goodbyes while the club eased into their business part of the meeting. I did overhear that they designate a part of their dues to literacy charities. Fine ladies, these. I’m proud to know them and look forward to visiting them and other book clubs in the future.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Price is Right

As a publisher I have to make any number of decisions that authors don’t have to consider, unless of course they’re self-publishing.  One of those decisions is product price.
Every author invests hundreds of hours of sweat into creating a novel. Every novelist (myself included) believes his books deserve to sell far more copies than they do. And most of us believe our hard work, inspiration and talent are worth far more than the cover price on our book suggests. I think that explains why so many books I see on Amazon, especially ebooks, are so costly. Unfortunately for them, book buyers are very price sensitive, so a price that’s even a little too high could kill their sales.
Remember the battle Hachette got into with Amazon over pricing? Amazon was trying to force the publisher to lower its ebook prices. Like other major publishers, Hachette was trying to sell ebooks at a price almost as high as their paper books. I have to believe that cuts down on sales.
So how do you find the right price? We start by checking out the competition. After looking at a lot of fiction ebooks for the Kindle we decided that $2.99 was the best choice. If your ebook is one of the genres we publish and it’s around our usual page count but costs more, well, thank you. People who see your promotion may well decide they want that kind of book. But when they see your price they may also decide to get one of ours instead.
It’s just as important for print books to be priced close to their competitor books if you want strong sales. It’s a bit more of a challenge because hardcovers are very expensive to make, and other things like paper choice and the number of pictures, can impact cost. To keep the price of your book in the ballpark of others like it you might need to be flexible about the number of photos or pictures. And you might need to give up hard cover production and stick to paperbacks in the most economical size. 
If you really want your book to be more expensive, and still sell, there’s only one way. Again, check the prices of other books and you’ll see that those that are both successful land higher priced are by authors whose names you recognize, authors whose fans will buy their books without looking at the price. To raise your price without lowering your sales you’ll need to build a platform as substantial as those authors. When you have enough fans who will buy a book with your name on it, without caring about a couple more dollars, THEN you can raise your cover price.
Can you get there? Maybe, if you build your fan base. So increase your email list. Get lots more reviews! Make contacts at appear at conferences.

But keep your cover price low while you are still an unknown quantity to most readers. When more people know that your books are a sure thing, price will no longer be an issue.