Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Backlist eBooks

One of the toughest things about promoting one's self-published ebooks is that there really are not many choices that aren't expensive. You can of course post frequent reminders on Twitter and Facebook that your books are available, but people generally find repeated pitches highly annoying. Worse, many writers use Twitter and Facebook exclusively for self-promotion and never comment on other people's posts. These wretches are quickly de-friended.

Two veteran writers, Patricia Ryan and Doranna Durgin, came up with a keen new idea last August: Backlist eBooks, a web site devoted entirely to the promotion of ebooks previously published in hardcover (or softcover) by legitimate publishers, not vanity presses. The ebooks featured on Backlist eBooks have all been written by professionals, then acquired and line-edited and copy-edited by professionals. They are not crude amateur offerings.

They run the gamut of popular genres: contemporary romance, fantasy, historical romance, mainstream fiction, mystery & suspense, nonfiction, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction, women's fiction and young adult fiction.

The site features a dozen ebook versions of Ryan's medieval romances and seven of her mystery novels. Durgin is represented by 18 ebook examples of her fantasies and romances. These clearly are old pros who know the popular fiction business inside and out.

I emailed Ryan and asked what gave her and Durgin the idea for the site.

"I had just published 12 backlist ebooks, and I refused to accept that my professional strategies consisted basically of Facebook and Twitter," she replied. "Back when I lived in New York City, I was promotion manager for a division of Van Nostrand Reinhold Publishing (now defunct) so I've always been interested in self-promotion. Several readers had mentioned in forums and blog comments that they wished there was one central list of authors who were self-publishing their backlists, because these were professionally vetted and edited books for great prices. The light bulb went off. I talked to Doranna about it, and it just took off from there."

At this point Backlist eBooks has a little more than 100 authors, including me, and almost all have promotional pages up on the web site. Here's mine.

Some of the authors are like me, midlist writers cut loose from their original publishers during the economic downturn. Some are staying with their publishers but have talked them into reverting ebook rights. Others, Ryan wrote, have been offered print contracts but are turning them down because they're unwilling to accept the standard 25 per cent royalties for ebooks. "They know they can publish themselves better and make a lot more money."

Is there a way to quantify how well Backlist eBooks has done in increasing sales for its authors? "Not really," Ryan wrote, "partly because our website is pretty new (we had a simpler interim website previously) and partly because only the authors really know how well they're doing. I will say that we get plenty of website hits and click-throughs to the sales venues on the book pages."

It costs $40 to join and $30 a year thereafter to stay on Backlist eBooks—a sum that I think is going to be well spent.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Nativity

For me, the greatest contribution of historical Christianity to the world has been its powerful art, and every year I try to pay homage to that idea with a fresh display of work by artists familiar and unfamiliar. This one is by the Englishman Robert Campin (c. 1380-1444), also known as the Master of Flemalle. The painting, executed c. 1425-1430, is in the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, and has been hailed as an early masterpiece of the use of landscape. Click on the painting for a larger version.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


The Alden Estates rehabilitation center in Skokie, Illinois, where I am an inmate--oops, patient--while my new right knee recovers from implantation Dec. 1, is quite a place. Because it caters only to knee and hip replacement patients, no long lines of moribund wheelchair-bound aged clog its corridors. (Actually, the only visible difference is that the equally elderly replacement patients hobble around with walkers and canes. The level of social excitement is only incremental.)

The ambience is small-cruise-ship, the corridors artfully disguised to make you think you're belowdecks. There's a small dining room whose staff seems to have been plucked off a Holland-America liner, complete with napkin origami famous among Filipino crews, and a cheery ice cream bar. The cuisine is to hospital food as Cordon Bleu is to Mickey D's.

The nurses, aides and physical therapy staff are uniformly sunny and competent.

The idea, the staff tells me, is to provide the happiest possible atmosphere for people recovering from joint surgery. A contented and motivated patient does better down in the bilges, where the torture chamber--oops, the therapy room--is located. The dungeon is camouflaged as an upscale fitness center, complete with reproductions of 1930s European golfing and skiing posters instead of shackles and fetters. Each day brings three therapy sessions.

The physical therapists may all be cheery and warm personalities, but they do have the dedication of Torquemada in getting their victims, er, patients to confess, er, work on range-of-motion and strength issues. That's what makes good PTs: one moment you want to hug them, the next strangle them. And they can take a joke. "My husband," confided one, "calls me a physical terrorist."

So exceptional is this place that society surgeons at nobby Gold Coast hospitals are shipping in their patients. You can tell them by their togs, tans, bling and botched plastic surgery.

For a mere middle-class Medicare patient who's an amateur bird photographer, Alden has another big attraction: a roomy aviary full of colorful canaries and finches. You can view some of the results on my other blog.

Call me contented. Most of the (Ow! That oits!) time.

Beauty amid pain: Therapy birds at the Alden Rehab Center.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Take a knee, team

My uncharacteristic silence (maybe it's becoming characteristic) on this blog the last month can be laid at a couple of doors.

First, I've been busy getting Zephyr ready for e-book publication, of course. All the heavy lifting is done and I'm now writing the Epilogue for the new edition. This keeps me burning the midnight electrons. After all, this blog was conceived as a means to keep the fingers limber and the mind oiled while struggling to escape bouts of writer's block. If you don't see fresh posts every day, that means things are going well.

The second reason for my absence is acquisition of a new right knee Dec. 1. That went well and I am now in the first week of what promises to be a three-week stay in a rehab center. Probably I shouldn't blog while under the influence of large draughts of happy juice, but, looking over what I've written so far, it doesn't seem as if I've been at all indiscreet.

It wouldn't do to tell you that I hobbled down the hall with my walker and saw my broad-beamed rehab center neighbor bending over naked, would it? So I'll let that go unmentioned.