Saturday, November 24, 2012

Southern Mom, Southern Blood, and “Southern by the Grace of God”

I lost my mother on the 1st of November 2012. She’d recently turned 88 and though I’d given thought to her not making it to another Christmas after the one coming up, I still figured she’d be here for this one. I was debating how to handle the upcoming holiday, believing it might be her last (she used to love Christmas so). I brought her home from the nursing home last Christmas eve, and I guess it went fairly well, but other than making me feel good, I’m not sure the visit did anything at all for her. Certainly she didn’t remember being with her family after walking out my front door when we headed back to her nursing home.

Mama suffered from Alzheimer’s, and though she still remembered me—and things from the long ago—she knew or cared little about what was going on around her in the present. That included food. Never a big eater, she’d recently stopped eating completely. I was in the process of getting hold of my brother (who lives out of town) to discuss whether or not we wanted to go with a feeding tube, but the morning after consulting with the nursing home regarding that option, I was wakened with a call from that facility and told Mama had been rushed to the hospital. She’d gone to sleep, and there in her dreams she’d gone away. She had no intention of coming back.

Lola Mignon Gibson (Nonnie to her family) was born on the 29th of October 1924 in Rye, Arkansas, the youngest child of Fed Gibson and Sarah Wooldridge. She had three older sisters.

Unfortunately, and I think this is true of many of us, I did not develop a real interest in my ancestry until all the people who could talk to me about it were gone, but I have done a little research into where I came from.

Grandma Gibson, Mama’s paternal grandmother, named her. Dubbing her granddaughter “Mignon” indicates a French origin—it means “small” or “petite” just like the steak. Now I know enough history to know France is a Catholic country and there’s not a hint of Catholicism in our family history. But in a conversation dealing with the orgin of her name, Mama said her people (and she was talking Grandma Sally’s) were French by decent. When I questioned Wooldridge not sounding very French she said it had been Anglicized. If either one of us had given it much thought at the time—and this was a lifetime ago—we’d have realized that Grandma Gibson was not a Wooldridge.

Wooldridge is actually a prolific English surname. Gibson, I have learned in my research of not only the family, but of the South and Mississippi, is a very good French Huguenot surname. The Huguenots were French Protestants primarily from Normandy, descended from the Vikings and linked to the Scots-Irish Protestants like blue eyes are linked genetically to red hair.

The Huguenots came early to the South—primarily to escape France, which was, as I stated earlier, full of Catholics—and they (in tandem with like minds among the Scots-Irish) often allied with Mother England—meaning the Brits footed the bill—in attempts to infringe on those “Catholic” Frenchmen, eyeing the lower Mississippi Valley for protection of its lucrative fur trade in the upper valley. English interest in the lower Mississippi is what drove French expansion into what is now Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. I don’t know when the Gibsons arrived in Arkansas, but I do know roughly when Grandma Sally’s “distaff” side got there. This latter line, as it turns out, is particularly special to me, made all the more precious for its Mississippi link.

All my life I’ve been the consummate “daddy’s girl”, but a few years ago I was on a quest for a Confederate ancestor. From word of mouth I knew he was back there (actually they were back there), but I had no concrete info as to who and where. I was searching the web one night for my ephemeral Confederate in Georgia where Charles Russell’s (Hip I called him, and he was my daddy) people hailed from. The Russell’s had come to the Georgia Up Country from “the Carolinas” and were characterized as happy, red-headed, blue-eyed Scotsmen. My great-grandfather, Hugh Henry (illiterate) wed Mary Price (who could read and write) in 1870 or 1871. She was quarter-blood Creek, though I have one cousin who seems to think she was Cherokee. The family passed through east Tennessee and with the Carolina connection, I wouldn’t rule Cherokee out at this point, but the “Creek” information came from an aunt, which makes it one generation closer to the mix—pun intended.

My father’s mother was a “King”—her father being James Albert King. The Kings were septs (branch) of the clan McGregor, which was one of the first Highland clans removed during the Scottish clearances. Georgia was a penal colony and many Highlanders settled (or were settled) there. I’m only speculating here—this branch of the family is murky, and there’s little information on my branch of the Russell and King families documented on Ancestry or, but to make a long story short, on the night in question, I found hundreds of Russells and Kings in Georgia’s Confederate rolls, but I couldn’t confirm my relationship to any one of those fine young men. Before turning off the computer for the night, I decided to take a quick look at Mama’s side.

As it turned out, someone on her side had done quite a bit of research on the family ( I found Sally Wooldridge and her father Hugh—I found his first wife, Grandma Sally’s mother, Nancy Young—a name I had heard before. Turns out she’d been born in Mississippi in 1870. Now that I hadn’t heard, and as far as I know, Mama didn’t know it either.

Then I found Nancy’s father, my great-great-grandfather, Phillip Sherrod Young, who had been born in Chester County South Carolina in November of 1840. His family immigrated to Pontotoc County Mississippi (along with a number of other Chester County residents) as pioneers in 1842 after Indian lands were opened to white settlers. He was two. In January of 1861 he wed Sarah Alabama McKeown the daughter of another such family. The Scots-Irish McKeowns had immigrated to South Carolina from County Antrim in Ulster, Northern Ireland in the early 18th century.

Sarah and Phillip’s first baby was born in December of 1861. Their second baby didn’t arrive until March 1866—eleven months after Appomattox. Seven more babies arrived over the next 14 years—births in the case of babies number 3 and 4 occurred only 10 months after babies two and three. From that evidence, I deduced two things—there was a virile daddy and a fertile mama and they seemed to like each other. And the lack of babies between 1861 and 1866? I’m sure you’ve jumped to the same conclusion I did. Daddy wasn’t there.

I knew I had my Confederate, I just needed to confirm him in the rolls—which I did many weeks later, in the roster of Company G, Pontotoc County Volunteers, Third Battalion, Mississippi Infantry, Confederate States Army.

Phillip and Sarah’s baby following my great grandmother was born in Arkansas in 1873. That period encompassing 1870-1873 comprises three of the darkest years of Reconstruction in Mississippi. I do not know that adverse conditions drove the family from the state, but I do know the Youngs appear to have thrived in Arkansas.

My “reputedly” handsome French Huguenot-descended granddaddy (Mama’s father) disappeared during the 1927 flood, apparently hoping everyone would believe him drowned—a ruse that did not fool Grandma Sally or her daddy, Hugh Wooldridge. Fed Gibson had abandoned his wife and four daughters for another woman. Mama was three. With the help of her family—both the Wooldridges and the Gibsons, devastated by their son’s betrayal—Sally Gibson raised her four daughters alone.

Despite Granddaddy Gibson’s perfidy, Mignon Gibson Russell came from great stock. Combine her blood lines with those of my dad’s and, it turns out a microcosm of the Southern populace flows through my veins.

I am very proud of those credentials.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Confederacy and the Roots of American Progressivism.

This past week I began Hillsdale College's second course series on the U.S. Constitution titled "The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism" also known as Constitution 201. I have a great deal of respect for Hillsdale College, an independent liberal arts college located in rural Michigan. My admiration stems from the school's rejection of all federal monies, thereby refusing to compromise its values and principles, which mirror my own. Founded in 1844, Hillsdale is an old school with, from what I've been able to ascertain from photographs, a beautiful, quaint campus and small student body. If I were to find fault, the only one I could muster to date is its admiration for Abraham Lincoln, which apparently extends back, well, to the days of Lincoln.

But I don't fault Hillsdale for that, the school is, afterall, located in Michigan; and if I displayed malice toward everyone who admired Lincoln, I'd spend my life bent out of shape. For the most part, if I can't come up with a good reason for arguing a point regarding the man (by that I mean, if I think I might actually accomplish something), I keep my mouth shut. But some injustices I simply can't ignore.

One such occurred in Hillsdale President Dr. Larry Arnn's introduction to Constitution 201. Dr. Arnn alluded to the seeds (at least some of them) of progressivism in the United States as having been sown in the Confederacy. He based this thought on two tenants of American progressivism: rejection of the nation's founding principles and the use of science as a liberal tool for the "betterment" of all mankind.

To support the argument, Dr. Arnn referenced the speech made by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens on March 21, 1861 in Savannah, Georgia citing the subordination of the Negro race as a corner-stone of Confederate society. Vice President Stephens stated modern science "proved" the Negro genetically inferior to the white man. I'm certainly not agreeing with Vice President Stephens or any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who agreed with that "finding" at the time. What I find umbrage with is the use of Stephens' speech defending slavery as indicative of "progressive" thought in the South.

For two hundred years before Stephens made that speech, slavery had thrived in the British colonies and had been justified using the same opinion Stephens espoused even without the "proof" of science.
More disturbing to me is the challenge that Stevens was speaking "in opposition to the equality principle of the American founding." Based on the evidence presented, opposition to the "founding" existed from the start. To add insult to injury, Dr. Arnn made no reference to the Republican Party's gross disregard for the Constitution in its subjegation of the South and its subsequent, purposeful destruction of the checks and balances critical to the survival of the Federal Republic established by our founders under said Constitution.

Now, I don't consider myself a sophisticated person. I'm not particularly well versed in political terminology, but for me the term "liberal" (synonomous with "progressive") conjurs up an individual who believes everyone should be equally successful and that government should ensure that success through regulation and wasteful expenditure of other people's money. My money. Hillsdale's introduction to Frank Goodnow's (American Political Sciences Association) paper titled "The American Conception of Liberty" echoes this concept of a liberal. The intro states, "Progressive political science was based on the assumption that society could be organized in such a way that social ills would disappear."

Now, let's think back. What is considered the great social ill on the day Vice President Stephens made that speech? Oh yes, slavery. At least it was to those not in the South. Personally, I think the "liberal" Republicans would have done well to focus that energy relieving society's ills on the North's factories, orphanages, and sweatshops, but then I don't buy the Civil War having been about slavery, either.

The equality principle referenced, of course, is found in the Declaration of Independence—"...all Men are created equal,..." It didn't matter that the clause was written by a Southerner and slave owner and that the Declaration was signed by a number of slaveowners who risked their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor so that our nation would win its independence. It doesn't take a genius to figure out there's a disconnect here and there always will be. The point I want to make is this particular "equality" principle was missing in the Constitution, and it is the Republicans'/Lincoln's bizarre adherence to the Declaration of Independence's taking precedence over the Constitution as this nation's founding document that excuses the Republicans' subsequest violations of the Constitution and destruction of the republic that to this day they are credited with saving.

I argue, as the South has for, gosh, two centuries now, that The Declaration is the document by which we informed King George we were opting out of his empire. The Constitution, written eleven years later, with the Articles of Confederation sandwiched in between, is the document, ratified by thirteen sovereign states, that formed the Federal Republic of the United States of America —under a limited central govenment, its powers granted by the consent of the governed through powers delegated by their sovereign states. It is the document our founders designed specifically to keep in check the anticipated growth of what would become, by its very nature, a large, all-powerful central government. Note that it is a large, all-powerful govenment that is critical for carrying out a liberal agenda. Equality, validated in the Declaration, formed one of the tenants of the Republican Party —not because it cared about each individual, but because representative government wasn't working for it. Sovereign states, which could counter the overreach of the central government, got in the way of its "liberal" agenda.

I've always heard it argued that the concessions made to the slave states during the writing of the Constitution were done so the Southern states would ratify it. Darn right—, we played a major role in writing the thing. If the Northern, non-slave holding states did not agree with the Constitution, they shouldn't have ratified it. They could have written their own Constitution, instead of desecrating ours. It was a bad marriage from the start with one partner, in bad faith, determined to change the other.
For eighty years the South was the bulwark against the proponents of strong central government and the tyranny of democracy over representative govenment. The most damaging attack made against the republic was that made to representative government 150 years ago by Lincoln's Republican Party. That's where the seeds of liberalism were sown, not in the Confederacy. That group of Republican tyrants created a fertile field, which continues to put forth its ever-increasing bounty of crop-choking weeds to this day. The party doesn't matter. What matters is the restraints are gone.
You want to promote the South for laying the foundation for "liberal progressivism"? Well, maybe we do deserve the blame. We lost the War.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Northern Resolve? Really?

This past week, I picked up a copy of the July 2012 edition of the Civil War Society’s bi-monthly magazine North & South. One of the articles drew analogies between coaching mistakes in football and Confederate blunders in the Western theater that cost the Confederacy the war, the argument being the United States didn’t actually win the war, the Confederacy lost it. It’s not my purpose here to argue the merit’s of the South’s strategy, or lack thereof, to wage the war it did. I just did research on the battle of Shiloh for my next book, Camellia Creek, and anyone who has made even cursory study of the battles in that war (or any war for that matter) knows egregious errors were made by commanders on both sides, the crux being one side had unlimited assets with time on its side and could afford to squander both, and the other did not. It’s my humble opinion that the South had a brief window of opportunity to—maybe—win its independence. But I digress. What gave me pause to write this post was the argument put forth by a couple of the contributors to that North & South article that the war would have/could have continued if the South had been willing to keep up the fight vis-à-vis the resolve of the North’s population to continue the effort until the South was defeated. Resolve? From my corporate memory, passed to me from generation to generation, which my research builds on—the latter so I can site documented specifics vice depending on the emotional diatribes of my ancestors (mostly the womenfolk, who are passionate about their men, and yes, I am proud to say that I am one such female), I do not give much credence to the “resolve” of the Northern populace. In Claiborne County, the setting of Camellia Creek, Grant spared the town of Port Gibson as “too beautiful to burn.” [The town at the time was inhabited by women, children, the old and the sick—the men being at war. Now, I’m not going into why General Pemberton remained holed in right up the road in Vicksburg with an army of 30,000 when he could have moved out and made Grant pay dearly for every inch of Mississippi soil he violated. My purpose here is the “people’s resolve.”] Though Port Gibson was not burned, it did endure raids from Federal forces stationed in the area. Soldiers came in to the town on several occasions from 1863 until the end of the conflict and plundered it. Not just thievery of every item of food, clothing, bed linens, etc., but wanton, purposeful destruction of furniture, mirrors, windows and doors, the gardens, wells, sheds, etc. so that the means of replacing food, caring for the sick, and so forth could not easily be replaced. On at least one occasion, the white troops came in one day, but left their colored troops (USCT) outside town. After the whites plundered what they wanted, they camped outside town. The next day they let loose their colored troops to take/destroy whatever was left. In Jackson, one has simply to dig a few feet into the ground to find the phosphorous Grant used to firebomb the city that same summer of 1863. Sherman razed Meridian—that was before his march through Georgia and the burning of Atlanta, and he continued that wanton destruction against the civilians of the South all the way to the sea. And let’s not forget Phil Sheridan’s laying waste to the Shenandoah Valley. And when I turn to page 46 of my copy of The Civil War Catalog (Anthony Shaw, editor), I see an ancient photo of Richmond after its surrender—it looks like Berlin in May of 1945. Humpf, wonder why the Germans didn’t keep fighting? And oh my gosh, those wimpy Japanese! Surely they could have held out for a couple more nukes on their heads! Forced us to invade the homeland. This was not a case of rogue officers and undisciplined soldiers. This was a matter of policy made in Washington. The American way of war didn’t start in the 1940s it started in the 1860s, and the South fought until it didn’t make sense to fight anymore. The only thing gained would have been more suffering and death—oh, yeah, and getting to kill a few more Yankees. [And had they known what was to follow, they might have kept up the fight a bit longer.] Hey, I’m not faulting total war; I understand the concept all too clearly, and I’ve been on the winning end of it ever since, but I do have trouble pitting the Northern populace’s “resolve” against that of the Southern people. Moreover, this attack on all things Southern is a more recent aberration that has evolved over the past fifty years and made all the more odious in that it’s all too often perpetrated by Southerners. (Wait, I think I’ll refer to that particular segment as southerners, or as apologists who happen to live in the South). Why? Even if the allegations were true—and so much of this is conjecture as we move farther and farther from the suffering of our ancestors, why would one piss on his/her ancestors’ graves? The South was not wrong. As regards the Constitution, the law of the land, the secession, and defense of its homeland, we are on solid ground and we remained on solid ground through the tyranny and despotism of Reconstruction, which undermines to this day one of the basic tenants of this Federal Republic—state rights vis-à-vis what should be a co-equal and limited central government. What exactly tested the “resolve” of the Northern populace? Given their grand strategy, their unhindered line of communication, and the ruthless determination of their leaders, the only way they could have lost that war was to roll over and play dead—and early on they might very well have if the South had pressed harder—maybe. They were “resolved” all right, but the truth is the aforementioned “resolve” refers to a populace, virtually untouched by war’s destruction, willing to employ unlimited assets to wage unrestricted warfare against a populace which was not—and in the beginning the South could have, and looking back, should have. But to paraphrase the man who set our strategy to destruction: We simply wanted to be left alone.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Republicans, the Taxpayer, Suffrage, and History

I’ve recently pulled out my fifth novel set in Mississippi, a historical mystery/suspense set during Presidential Reconstruction (1865-1866) in Claiborne County. I completed the first draft and a series of tweaks to Camellia Creek before Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast back in 2005, and I hadn’t looked at it since. In the interim, I established Loblolly Writer’s House and published my first four novels in all formats. I continue my struggle for effective marketing. This blog is a recent aberration of the latter; another is Twitter, which I hope will direct interested readers to my blog and my novels.

Regarding Twitter (the blog looms before you), I’m growing followers. Mostly I attract and am attracted to “Twitterers of a like mind.” Just the other day, one such follower mentioned we should be following the opposition if we want to start a dialogue. I think she made a good point, and I’m for enlightening discussion (140 characters a quip, however, does require some innovation), but I don’t think I want to give up people of like minds either.

My work is decidedly pro-South and therefore politically incorrect. I believe the South was right for all the right reasons, and to point out those reasons, I don’t have to look farther than the Constitution, the soul of this Federal Republic. The South’s losing the War Between the States proved a devastating blow, not only to the region, but to the Republic itself.

This brings me to the provocation that sparked this blog post. I’ve noted, and replied to, more than one of my fellow Tea Party followers regarding their 140-character tweets meant to, I think, malign the Democratic Party and its “racist history” while praising the Republicans for championing equality—hence, vote Republican against Obama in November. I can come up with lots of reasons to vote against Obama, and the Republicans are my only real alternative; I don’t need naïve and/or revisionist history to sway me.

The Tea Party champions the rights of the taxpayer within the framework of the Constitution; at least that’s how this Tea Party supporter interprets its purpose. References supportive of the Republicans of Lincoln’s day (and the administrations immediately following his death) while blatantly maligning the Democrats of that same time period miss the point, not to mention those tidbits of history tossed out in tweets are usually taken out of context or confused with later history, and when challenged, the tweeter can offer no valid reference. Okay, maybe he can cite what he’s seen on contemporary television or read on Wikipedia. Not one offered me even those.

I take issue with offenses cited between 1865 and 1876. This period is the setting for more than one of my books, and it’s one about which I have a good layman’s knowledge. I won’t try to mislead you; I look at that most disgraceful period in our nation’s history from the Southern taxpayer’s point of view. That was a time when the defeated Southerner across the war-ravaged South, couldn’t fight his way through mobs of non-taxpayers to the polling booth, assuming there was a candidate worthy of his vote even allowed on the ballot. That was true even if he had sworn allegiance to the United States and regained his vote (the ex post facto deprivation of which was unconstitutional to begin with). For years—over a decade in some states and Mississippi was one—the downtrodden taxpayer was not represented in his legislature or in Washington, and puppet governments squandered the revenues critical to the South’s recovery.

For those who delve back in time, and Tea Partiers do, look at Reconstruction not necessarily from a Southerner’s point of view, but as an American through the prism of the Constitution, because that’s the period when States touting loyalty to the Union abrogated their responsibility to not only the Constitution but also themselves by ceding unprecedented power to a Federal government flush with victory, drunk on power, and poisoned by the hate-filled greed of the Radical Republicans. Power never recovered by the States, freedom forever lost. For Tea Partiers to tacitly extol the virtues of the Republicans by maligning the Democrats of that period is oxymoronic.

Personally, if the objective is to represent the contemporary Republican Party as supportive of the taxpayer and the Tea Party, it would be prudent, in my opinion, to leave the Republicans’ dubious rise to power one-hundred and fifty years ago out of the justification.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why Should People Who Pay No Federal Income Tax Have the Right to Vote?

My husband and I filed our federal income tax this past April, on schedule, a remarkable feat considering this middle class family owed in excess of $25,000 dollars. Yep, $25,000+. That’s in addition to the $29,000+ we’d already had withheld from our pay or paid into 2011 quarterly “estimated tax.” And by “paid on schedule” I mean we paid the IRS. The money to ward those sharks off still has to be paid back to the credit card we’d just gotten out from under. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with those people—I tell them how much I can afford to pay each month, then they look at my finances and tell me how much I will pay each month. That’s the point where I’d have been arrested for sedition.

The whys and wherefores of our April shocker aren’t really relative to the point I want to make. Suffice it to say a modest inheritance, early dipping into a retirement account for needed farm equipment, and contract work amounting to another forty-hour plus work week pushed us, without our realizing it, into a higher income bracket. Our actually buying a few items we’d been putting off, for years, and doing things we’d always wanted to do, but had been reluctant to spend money on, should have raised the red flag. It didn’t. We won’t make that mistake again. We need to stay home, drive dilapidated automobiles, and jury rig everything that goes wrong in this house and let our grown kids—who can’t make ends meet—go on welfare instead of trying to help them.

What we really need to do is quit working and draw social security—early. But I’m sure there’s a hitch there, too.

I’m ranting now and getting farther off point. Our taxes were, according to the law, legitimate and have been paid. But it’s less about paying an exorbitant amount like that in one fell swoop than it is about the way the politicians in Washington waste our money without making any effort to cut back. It’s about how taxpayers are the ones who are threatened with a felony conviction for failure to pay enough while someone who doesn’t even file gets hit with a misdemeanor. The IRS goes after responsible people who are paying taxes, no matter how little they have or what they need it for. But the real question is this: Why do people who pay no income tax vote? They shouldn’t. They didn’t when this nation was founded. Only those with a vested interest (property) paid taxes, and they were the ones who had the right to vote. I’m not saying we should return to the days of the landed gentry, but allowing people who pay no federal income tax and share the benefits of, even going as far as live off, those who do is tantamount to thieving politicians buying votes with the taxpayers’ money. Votes that now outnumber the taxpayer. Yeah, speaking about paying “their fair share,” how about the fifty percent of the population that pays nothing at all? They’re the ones failing to do their part. I don’t want the rich to pay more. Jiminy—I think in 2011 I must be considered among the rich. And I ain’t rich, folks.

I highlight this point in my novel Wolf Dawson, the setting of which is late Congressional Reconstruction following the South’s loss in the War Between the States. In the book, I reference a rebellion that occurred in Warren County, Mississippi in 1874 when its tax-payer league arrested a crooked sheriff (under indictment in New York for malfeasance before he ever arrived in Mississippi) and ran him out of the county. The incident ended in bloodshed and ultimately the arrival of Phil Sheridan with federal troops and the reinstatement of the crooked parties, but marshal law in Mississippi was not reinstated and with the election the following year, tax-paying Mississippians won back their state and the Republicans scurried north like cockroaches scramble for cover when the lights turn on. Truth is, Mississippians had kept cockroaches out of the state (I’m speaking metaphorically here. We’ve got plenty of cockroaches in Mississippi and always have had) until they lost the War, at which time the occupying Republicans invited them in and kept them—and themselves—well-heeled with tax-payer’s dollars. Taxpayers, I should add, who were not allowed to vote. Today Americans, even many Southerners forget that crucial point. The taxpayer was not allowed to vote. Even after returning Confederate soldiers swore allegiance to the United States and were reinstated as citizens, they couldn’t “fight” their way to the polling booth, so don’t even go there with me.

Now go back another century to Sam Adams and cohorts who dressed up like Indians and poured British tea into Boston harbor. Same thing. No vote, no tax (vice versa in our case here). It’s one of the basic tenants of this nation. Universal suffrage is not. Universal suffrage is a politician’s way of putting into place an electorate that will put and keep him in power while he, his ilk, and his constituents steal, then squander the taxpayers’ money (buying more votes).

A flat tax is necessary to capture the fifty percent of Americans who are not paying federal income tax.

No tax, no vote.

Thanks for listening to me vent,


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Social Networking, the New Word of Mouth

I recently read a blog post, a retweet on Twitter, written this past fall (2011) and emphasizing that social networking isn’t built to sell books. It’s an interesting post with lots of stats and facts and irrelevant findings that concludes what sells books is not the internet, but good, old-fashion mass media—television, newspapers, radio interviews…books made into movies. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at this point. In defense of the author, he was talking about traditionally published authors, which leaves me at a double disadvantage, first because not even near the majority of traditionally published authors have mass media available to them and as a self-published author I’m impeded yet again. The “thing”, he emphasizes, that sells books, even bad books can outsell very good books written by talented writers, is name/face recognition. He used, for example, works by Snookie and Kim Kardashian. 

But I need further clarification here. Which comes first, the author or name recognition? Based on the examples the poster put forth, I conclude “name recognition.” Being an author has nothing to do with it. Of course, all of us traditionally ignored for the “beautiful people” already know this. And how in the world could even “mass media” accommodate recognition of every author published in a year? And I’m just talking about the traditionally published ones; don’t even start thinking vanity and self-published authors. Hawking those recognized by the vast populace is simply good business to make money, and the people able to exploit mass media are backed by those with much deeper pockets than I have. For me, mass media is a non-starter.

Oh, and lets not overlook having my book made into a what? A movie? I beg your pardon? Does he mean have my book made into a movie as if it were a matter of personal choice? No one has opted to turn my stories into screenplays. I’d do it myself, but screenwriting is different from book writing, and breaking into “movie writing” is even harder than breaking into traditional publishing. I’m comforted that I’m not the only slacker out here. Most traditionally published authors aren’t rushing around making their books into movies either. But on a more serious note, no one would turn one of my novels into film. My books are pro South and the hey-day of Randolph Scott and Gary Cooper doing battle with corrupt carpetbaggers and marauding Yankees passed with the 1950s. You want a film about the South made into a movie, present the South in a bad light or one where we see the “evil of our ways.”

No, good books, like old soldiers, just “fade away” or become legend based on word of mouth and a readership that survives the ages.

I don’t think the blog poster’s findings surprised many of us authors, traditionally published or otherwise. We know the value of mass media, we know who gets it and we understand why, and we know we’d all love to have it—and most of us who’ve been around a little while know we never will. I was a little surprised, however, at his pooh-poohing our use of the internet. I think, from his context, he believes we’re looking for pie-in-the-sky, hundreds of thousands of sales in a month, but I’m not developing an internet presence under the deluded belief that Twitter or Facebook or this blog will serve as a substitute for mass media attention. I’m using social networking for just that: social networking. I’m looking for my readership.

Do any of you authors out there remember that pitch technique that evolved a number of years ago—a one liner that compares, then meshes your book with two familiar things to help an editor, agent, or even a reader understand what your story is about (i.e. “Alice in Wonderland meets Starwars”)?  Now does that give you some idea of what the prospective story is about? Me neither, but the technique was all the rage. Maybe it still is—I’m out of the pitching business. But I digress.

Regardless of my thoughts on the technique, I did give the description of my work some thought, and I now liken my work to a cross between the romance, adventure, and happily-ever-after of Zane Grey’s westerns and the dark beauty, violence, and glory of Frank Yerby’s Old South.

The Zane Greys and Frank Yerbys of this world are no longer desired by traditional publishers. They’re not deemed popular with the majority of book buyers and are therefore a bad investment. I get that. But there is a readership for those kinds of books, and there always will be. A niche if you will, one big enough to satisfy a tiny publishing house with a practical print run and books in digital format. That’s why I’m focusing on my social networking. I’m looking for that niche. And I do believe that once I’ve found those readers, I will sell more books than I’m selling now. Oh duh!

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, April 22, 2012

From Offset to Digital Printer

I’m aware that I have let more than two weeks lapse between posts and for that I apologize, but the delay was not without cause. I have completed uploading my first three books to Lightning Source (LSI) and am waiting for the proofs—each of which I will read one more time. There are reasons for such madness (I practically have these books memorized) and those are I made corrections to typos overlooked when the books were printed on an offset press years ago and I made a few content changes—clarifying questions asked of me by readers—nothing to change the story line.

For me, this is one of the beauties of digital printing. Typos, much like a dog and fleas, are present in books—you’ll almost always find at least one. If you’ve printed 2,000 books, you live with it, multiplied 2,000 times. If you’ve printed 100 books, you live with it 100 times and you’ve fixed the problem by the time you make your next order. I love it! With digital printing, you can print as few as one copy—albeit at a greater cost per copy—instead of waiting until you’ve sold an initial print run of 2,000, errors and all, before making revisions and ordering another print run.

The other beautiful thing about this particular digital printer (LSI) is that it’s owned by Ingram—the book distributor. Now bookstore owners can order my books at the request of the customer instead of having to tell the client “it’s not in the distribution system.” Hence the term “print-on-demand.” Now, I haven’t tried it out yet—I plan to get my local B&N to order all four when I’ve blessed the last three—but theoretically, that’s how it should work, right?

So the greater “cost per book” will have been offset by cutting out the wholesaler, warehouser, distributor, and any other middle man I’m not aware of. I know other authors have been using these advantages for a while, but for me, it’s like the light just went on. I’m proud of the jobs the offset printer did for me, but I’m proud of the book package LSI does also and the paradigm works so much better for me. As of today, I have paid roughly $230.00 in interest over the last four months on my books printed by an offset printer. For that sum, I could order roughly 40 books from LSI and more than double my money on each. Okay, I left out the shipping, but you get my drift.

Oh yes, and that “double my money” part. That means I have to get out there and sell them. I do that primarily at craft fairs. I’ve got an article on my website highlighting how well that’s working for me. It’s work, for sure.

Given that, my next great quest is my online presence, which will be my focus for the next month. My mentor is John Locke (he doesn’t know it), author of How I Sold 1 Million eBooks In Five Months. I’ve read it twice. I always knew it was about finding my audience; I was just never sure how to go about it. Now I have a starting point. Check him out. Oh, and if you do, I’m reading his first western—it’s pretty darn good!

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Changing Face of Distribution

Over the years, fellow self-publishers have cited distribution as the self-publishers biggest drawback, and today, traditional distribution is as pie-in-the-sky for a self-published author as it’s ever been. But, again, I knew the odds did not favor my getting a major distributor (and given the size of my print run, what would I have done with one anyway?). I was content to limit my market to Mississippi and eventually the states making up the old Confederacy. I did hope for a regional distributor. As it turned out, I was my sole distributor.

When I wrote my first business plan six years ago, my first stated annual goal was to pay off the print run of my then current book (and it followed, in theory, to pay off each “current” book annually). Today, I’m in debt with three books printed by an off-set printer, because I never met my first annual goal--or met that goal in any of the years following.

In addition to my annual goal, I stated two objectives:

(1) Produce a new title each year
(2) Increase my print run by 50% (from 2000 copies to 3000 copies for each new title)

I didn’t give a timeline on point (2). Of course, any incremental increase would have been linked to a growing readership. Well, my readership is growing, but not enough to increase my print run annually, but more to move what I already have on hand. I do still believe that my old books (and their critical ancillary readership) will help sell my new ones and my new books will help sell my old, but that takes time, and I’m not sure how much having a “real” distributor would have changed that.

A distributor must be provided books to distribute. I talked—or tried to make contact with—two regional distributors back in 2006. I was never sure, but I think they were the same distributor (over in Louisiana), which had started out under one name, folded, then began anew under a different name. Whatever, numerous calls were never returned and I never made contact with anything but the answering machine.

With print runs of only 2000 books, I was of no interest to the big distributors and why should I have been? Unless I sold lots of books very fast, I couldn’t afford to print more. It was a catch-22. There was no great conspiracy on the part of the “disembodied” paradigm to shut self-publishers out. It was simply a matter of sound business.

Okay, calling the big publishers cycle from print to distribution and back to the publisher a sound business practice might be considered oxymoronic. I’m scarcely knowledgeable on their business practices and expectations, but I do know that the big publishers print huge runs of thousands of copies of each book they publish, then get them, via the established distribution system, in stores across the country. Then, sometimes as soon as one month later, they accept the unsold inventory (which may be substantial) back from the bookstores and destroy it.

Self-published authors cannot afford to operate like that, at least I can’t. But book stores can’t purchase books, then just let them linger on their shelves if they don’t sell. Well, I guess they could, but before long they’d have no space for new ones and they’d stop purchasing. Now wouldn’t that cause a bottleneck back in old New York? Gee, they’d have to stop publishing until the inventory cleared out. Ain’t nobody happy at that point, including the readers. My point is that to be part of the established distribution system, the publisher must be willing to accept returns.

So the system was established “by them, for them.” There is no great conspiracy to cut the little guy out—the little guy simply doesn’t fit. And like all those thousands of traditionally published authors, many copies of whose books are returned to the publisher because they didn’t sell, I’d have great difficulty marketing my books a long way from home. Returns? Egads, what would I do with them? Well, that would be what I do with them anyway—get out and sell them in Mississippi, where I can, at least, promote them personally.

And what would have been the point in distributing my books a long way from home? The answer, of course, is to get my name/books out there. But with limited time to move my books, it was not practical, and would, more than likely, have proved a fiscal disaster. I will always maintain that an individual goes to a bookstore to buy a book, not sell one; the reader has to know its there. That’s where marketing fits in.

Getting my name out there is still hard, but expense is no longer a prohibitive factor. “Time” is, though. Recall that old adage, “Time is money”?

A quick note:  All my books are now up at the Kindle Store (see my December through February posts). I got the last one, which was my first book, The Devil’s Bastard, up this week. My goal for this next week is to have my three older books—the ones printed on an off-set press—up at Lightning Source. That will be the subject of my next post, the new distribution paradigm made possible by digital printing.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 30, 2012

The Ever-Evolving Publishing Paradigm

The major misconception I had when I began self-publishing six years ago was the delusion I would operate my tiny publishing house using the same pattern that had evolved for the big publishing houses. Mine would only be smaller. Much smaller. With some modifications. Much smaller, modified, and regional. The path of Loblolly Writer’s House’s books would be manuscript → editor → print/book construction [Hardcopy only–ebooks were a glint in somebody else’s eye, not mine–a book was print on paper.] → Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) → reviewers → warehousing/distribution → fame and fortune.

Okay, not the “fame and fortune” part. Seven years of rejection had left me with no illusions, but I did figure on the other steps. Creating a book was a given. After all, there was no “published author” without one, and despite the fact I sporadically submitted my ARCs to the big five reviewers (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, USA Today, Foreword, and Library Journal), knowing the odds were great against getting a review, I did count on some sort of recognition here and there from local newspapers and magazines. I even got a couple–in small county papers.

I have to laugh when I read a positive and upbeat “how-to” piece created by a book promoter, speaking in generalities and telling me magazines and newspapers are always looking for locals to highlight in their periodicals. Maybe, but my experience tells me those local editors have more takers than they have time and space. As it turns out, the features editor at my local newspaper doesn’t (and didn’t then) believe in reviewing or even highlighting self-published work, and the big reviewers still want books with broad distribution. Today, “features” sections across the nation are disappearing along with their newspapers, and with my fourth book, I didn’t even bother to produce an ARC. No, I’m not giving up; I’m taking a different route.

More on this later. Next week I want to discuss distribution...and how its significance has changed for Loblolly Writer’s House.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 23, 2012

Old Goals and What the Digital World has Done to Them

Recently I updated my website. It’s something I do periodically, but not as often as I should. It’s a time-consuming task, even though, as a rule, there are just a handful of pages that need a re-write.

I built the thing in 2006, the same year I self-published my first book. I took an online “Creating Web Pages” course from Ed2Go via my local community college. Have I told y’all I love Ed2Go? I next took a course on Paint Shop Pro 8. I still use it for modifying pictures, making my web graphics and creating my covers. Once I’ve sorta mastered something, I cling to it. But I digress.

In the course of this most recent upgrade, and my growing involvement with the digital world, I realized both the marketing plan and business plan I created six--maybe even seven--years ago, are woefully out of date. And the goals and realities I set forth years ago no longer apply--and it dawned on me not only how much had changed in the challenge I set for myself seven years ago when I started this self-publishing venture, but how much my lot had improved relatively recently.

I knew back in 2005 that if I went it alone, I would not have the infrastructure set up that a traditionally published author has. She will, until her name becomes a household word, have to do her own marketing, but in the interim she’ll still have someone to edit her work free of charge, someone competent to typeset her words, someone talented and creative to produce an eye-catching cover. The LCCNs and ISBNs and copyright concerns are all taken care of...

I knew I had taken on a big job. And I knew I was going to have to put out some money, but I also knew there were some things I could learn to do myself. So I learned Quark and I typeset my books. I bought a high-resolution camera, activated my old faithful Paint Shop Pro 8, then combined it with Quark and produce my own covers. I have a good and capable friend who edits my books for grammar and usage (and, yes, for continuity), not for free, I want to keep her, but certainly less than what I’d have to pay a professional editor.

And I paid the printer. Even if I could afford one, which I cannot, I have
no place to put an offset printing press. Have y’all ever seen one of those things? They take up an entire warehouse.

For my first three books, I have paid the off-set printer a substantial sum. I’m years from getting out of debt and the books do not sell as fast as the monthly interest payments roll around on the loan.

All that changed with book four and Lightning Source and ebooks. The digital world, whether for a print on demand (POD) paper book or bits and bytes forming words in an e-reader, has changed my beleaguered future. Yes, a digitally printed book costs more per copy than offset, but I don’t have to print 2,000 of them anymore. I can pay as I go and not blow five cases worth of books on a year’s worth of interest payments. And I do want to continue to produce printed books...but I’ve gone ebook, too.

Over the next few weeks, I want to highlight how these changes are affecting Loblolly Writer’s House, and in some cases, compare my goals of six years ago with my goals today.

And I haven’t even broached distribution yet, but I will.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Two in Mobipocket Didn’t Prove to be the Charm, But It Is Closer

     As promised, I’m updating y’all on what transpired when I created my second mobipocket book using the templates I created back in December 2011/January 2012.
    I’m pleased to announce that I uploaded Epico Bayou to Amazon’s Kindle Store this week. I’d given myself a week to get it done, but it took me eight days from beginning to actually building the .prc, but most of that time was spent formatting the book in .html.
     The good news is that the templates for my .toc.ncx file (navigational table of contents) and the .opf  file (open package ebook format) that I created with River’s Bend worked beautifully. All I had to do was copy them into a new document, change the name of the .html file embedded in them, and make any other necessary changes. For example: River’s Bend had two more chapters than Epico Bayou, so I removed a couple of the “nav points” from Epico Bayou’s toc.ncx file.
     The same was true for the embedded Table of Contents (TOC). I copied the entire .html formatted beginning of River’s Bend down to Chapter One, then pasted it into a new document. Then I added the text of Epico Bayou. That I got by taking my Smashwords Word.doc and converting it to a filtered Word (.html) document. I started formatting from there. That aforementioned beginning to all my books (and I imagine most of you out there are like me) is generic and includes the .html document head, style sheet, title and copyright pages, and Table of Contents. Again, it was simply a matter of changing the references from River’s Bend to Epico Bayou.
     Now that only works if the “copier/pasterer” [yeah, I know it’s not a good word, but you get my gist. I’m talking about me] and her subsequent modifications do not corrupt the .html. The .html code does not take kindly to errors--and oh, those errors can be so hard to find in all that code. But in this particular case, it wasn’t the code that got me.
     When I first built, or tried to build, Epico Bayou, Mobipocket Creator told me, in its extremely aggravating, abbreviated manner, that the cover link was missing and the TOC couldn’t be built. Darn it! The toc.ncx was fine and there was a link to the cover in it. And as for the TOC embedded in the book? Well, I not only could “see” it--I could click on it and it worked. There was no link to the cover, but there never had been, and Rivers Bend didn’t have one in it’s embedded TOC. Things like that are easy to see. I could not figure out what The Creator’s problem was. I kept tweaking, looking, then clicking the build button over and over with the same result. Finally, I pulled up the original .html for River’s Bend [not for the first time, but I could not see any difference in the two files], did a search on “cover,” and sure enough, right after the closing of the style sheet and the </head> there was a link to the embedded cover (which shows up in the toc.ncx, but not the embedded TOC at the front of the book). That link was missing in Epico Bayou. I re-added my cover link, which I assume I’d inadvertently deleted; Mobipocket Creator dutifully “built” my book; then I uploaded it to the Kindle Store. There was a glitch there, too, but that was on Amazon’s end, thank goodness, and they fixed it.
     For more information on how I created my mobi books for the Kindle Store, go back and look at my blog posts between 9 December 2011 and 27 January 2012. My point was to create the mobi files without the help of the Mobipocket Creator (The Creator’s files appear messy and confusing to me). I can now take the files I create, place them in the “build” window, then let The Creator build the .prc, which I upload to Amazon’s DTP.
     My goal is to create my mobi book without a hitch. The third time’s the charm, right? That would be Wolf Dawson.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Decision not to Traditionally Publish

I’m a member of a number of on-line groups, several of which discuss self-publishing to exhaustion. Inevitably, such discussion leads to a comparison of self-publishing with traditional publishing and the advantages of one over the other. I am often amazed at the number of self-published authors who “decide” to self-publish vice taking the traditional route.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that I am a fiction writer, and it is widely accepted that an author has more difficulty marketing and selling a self-published work of fiction than non-fiction (self-published how-to/self-help books sell especially well). This post applies to works of fiction.

I tried to break into traditional publishing for seven years. I am now a true self-publisher, meaning, I own my books’ ISBNs.

As a self-publisher, I am responsible for each phase of the publishing process. This paradigm differs from a “so-dubbed” vanity press, where, for a price, the publisher-for-hire handles all facets of the process, leaving the author to “proof and pay.” Those publishers provide the ISBNs. I have nothing against vanity publishers, nor traditional publishers for that matter. I only draw the distinction for the purpose of my post.

I am responsible for editing/copyediting, typesetting, cover design, printing, marketing, and distribution of my books. Printing/book manufacturing and copyediting I farm out, but the other tasks--typesetting, cover design, and marketing/distribution I do myself. And despite the fact that I pay an editor to edit my book, I do a lot of self-editing—reading and re-reading the manuscript over and over, correcting, changing, and tweaking until I’m sick of it—an evolution that in time makes me immune to my own errors. Those I repeatedly read through. This is why a self-published author, in my opinion, needs another competent set of eyes to look at her baby.

In fact, the main problem that I see (and this is just my opinion) with self-published fiction is that all too often we independents put our books in print before they’re ready. But I digress.

For my first three books, I handled distribution myself. That’s a euphemism meaning there was no distribution. I chose Lightning Source (LSI), a print-on-demand printer, owned by Ingram, as the printer for my fourth book. Ingram will now serve as a primary distributor for that book nationwide. That does not mean it will be sitting on bookstore shelves from sea to shining sea. That merely means if an individual wants one, theoretically, he can walk into his favorite bookstore anywhere and order one. LSI will, with little delay, print the book up and send it to the store. This is lightyears better than what I had before.

I didn’t take on publishing responsibilities lightly; I had some inkling of what was in store for me, when, after those seven years, I forsook efforts to find either an agent or a publisher. And I’m here to tell you that the only choice I had was to either take matters into my own hands or run the risk of passing to glory before finding a publisher willing to take my work.

Given my experience, I wonder how long the majority of fiction authors who “decided” not to traditionally publish actually sought a traditional publisher. Truth is, like me, few self-publishers have such an option. With the traditional publisher, power is in his hands, not the author’s. I would venture that in very few cases does a fiction author “decide” to self-publish over a valid offer to traditionally publish. Odds are a better that he or she decides to self-publish/choose a vanity publisher vice “attempt” to find an agent or a publisher—and perhaps that’s what the individual really means when she says she “made the decision not to traditionally publish,” and I’m just splitting hairs. In truth, given the ever-growing ease of self-publishing—especially epublishing—maybe that is what those folks are actually refering to after all.

I can buy that, but to imply that one is self-publishing vice traditionally publishing as if it’s a matter of flipping a coin is either delusional or disingenuous. Simply put, except in very rare cases, there is only one decision made and that is the decision to “self-publish.” I say don’t even address the spectre of “traditional publishing,” especially if one “decides” to forgo the submission-rejection process completely.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, March 3, 2012

There’s More To Having a Publishing Company than Publishing Books

I’m a day late on this post. I returned from Israel just last week following a five-week stay with my daughter, her husband and my new grandson. I’ve spent this past week catching up on home chores. Today is the first day I’ve been into my Blogger dashboard since I began my journey to Israel at the end of January, though I have checked my posted blogs. Nevertheless, I was both excited and dismayed to see I have seven comments, most discussing the creation of my mobi book--excited to know folks are reading my blog and dismayed to realize I had neither published nor responded to the comments. I apologize--I didn’t know they were there. For some reason, I thought I’d be notified by the system. I’m betting I’m not looking in the right place, and it’s time to pull out my “Blogger Guide.” Now that I’m caught up with domestic chores, I’m gonna do just that. In the meantime, here’s this week’s post:

Yesterday I completed Loblolly Writer’s House’s end-of-year worksheet, which I will now submit to my tax person. She will take that data and record it on a Schedule K, then append it to our (mine and hubby’s) 1040.

Loblolly Writer’s House is a sole proprietorship. Its taxes are not complex, and I doubt it would make much difference in our tax liability if I simply “forgot” to submit the data (though Jane would probably miss it). My reason for bringing up this annual cycle is to point out what a nightmare keeping up with the books is.

Journals and ledgers, debits, credits, columns, rows--balancing all those totals! Geez. Accounting lasts all year--and ends--well, only sorta, ’cause it doesn’t really end--the year ends with the closing of “most” of the ledger accounts, then balancing the debits and credits--they have all gotta add up and equal one another. Then there are the adjustments. Now I’ve found adjustments to be very handy. In fact, I actually use “adjustments” to make the debits and credits add up.

More seriously (well, maybe only a little), legitimate adjustments have to do with perishable inventory like paper and ink cartridges. I wrote those suckers out of my accounting system two years ago. I now call such items office supplies and put them all under a single expense account. Works for me. I did simarily with “sales tax.”

Do I sound like I’m speaking to you in generalities--using keywords that sound like “accounting”? I could tell you it’s my writing style--divesting my narrative of detail so as not to bore the reader. I would not be telling the truth. I’m being simple (read as leaving out details), because when it comes to the accounting requirements of my company, I am a simpleton--or maybe just a “simple woman.” Unfortunately, I am unable to keep my accounting simple enough.

Each year at tax time, I have to pull out my course studies (I took a bookkeeping class online from Ed to Go years ago) and re-teach myself what I have to do to close out my books, gather tax data, and start up the new accounting year. I start dreading the process before I’ve got the Christmas decorations put away.

Okay, that doesn’t make me any different from a whole lot of Americans at that time of year. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a lot more to self-publishing a book than, well, publishing a book, assuming that authors are treating their book(s) as a business.

I’m sure some you are wondering, “Why doesn’t she use an accounting program?” I did use one in the beginning. [Still, I had to take time to enter data into the program. Time spent accounting is time spent, no matter how one does it.] Then one day, the software manufacturer wanted me to update--for a price. I didn’t have extra money I wanted to spend on a bookkeeping program I was happy with, and I didn’t want to update. I liked the program the way it was, and I knew it well enough to make it work; it did exactly what I wanted/needed it to do. I’m a writer for Saint Peter’s sake, not an accountant! I wanted to be left alone to enter (and print out) my information on that rare occasion (tax time) when I needed it, and I wanted to spend any free time I never came up with, writing.

Shortly after I failed to upgrade, the software program stopped working, and I did what I normally do when I feel I’ve become dependent on something taking advantage of me. I bought a journal, ledgers, and pencils, and I learned to do the accounting myself. Well...

The “disgraced”software program did do the end-of-year reports with the click of the mouse. For the past several years now, I’ve had to drag out my old school stuff and “re-invent the worksheet” so to speak. Maybe next year I’ll buy a new program, and this time I’ll keep up with the updates.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, February 24, 2012

Self-Publishing and Kindred Spirits

In my effort to establish an online presence through social networking, I recently joined a self-publishing group. Self-publishing is a subject I could, I think, get into and share (and grow) my limited expertise. I’m not talking about an “independent publisher” per se, but self-publishers who write and publish their own stuff. I’d like the focus to be on fiction--not because I have anything against non-fiction, I read lots of it, but because when it comes to marketing, the paradigms will be different, and in my opinion, once the focus becomes too broad, well it’s too broad. The focus gets lost.

Independent publishing includes self-publishers, but not all independent publishers are self-publishers. Small publishers are also independent in that they’re not part of the big publishing consortiums headquartered in New York. But small publishers still have editors and typesetters and cover designers, etc., and they publish other people’s stuff, just like the traditional publisher. They are traditional publishers.

What I envision is a group of people, each of whom is "responsible" for every aspect of their respective books. People interested in exploring the facets of typography, fonts, interior and cover design; digital books and upgrades to digital book software programs (i.e. Mobipocket and Epub...and KF8); people interested in following the International Digital Publishing Forum and the intricacies of various digital book structures and how the files work to make the book display on the screen. Learned knowledge, shared by all. I’d like us to explore building websites and online stores and using social networking such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to market books.

What I don’t want this group to discuss is writing. I want it to be about self-publishing--the physical act of publishing--words on paper, words on screen--words heard on CD.

I thought that was the focus of the group I recently joined, but it turns out, its goal is to improve the image of self-published work--the argument being, and the point is valid, that poorly written, edited, and produced work reflects unfavorably on us all.

A worthy cause, but how can it be done without putting in place the same roadblocks to publication already present in the “traditional publishing” world? I don’t believe those roadblocks are there to guarantee good writing (which is subjective).

Theoretically, traditionally published works are better because “experts” guarantee the reader that the writing is “right.” Truth is the “experts” are schooled in what they think the reader wants to buy--editing, interior and exterior design, marketing, and distribution are the perquisites provided with the traditional paradigm--a paradigm set up to publish, distribute, and sell books, not create literary masterpieces--though I’m sure an editor is happy when one crosses her desk. Nor do I believe the paradigm is designed so that only certain authors “make the cut.”

The model was established long ago with the realization there was money to be made from the publishing and marketing of books. It has evolved to where it is today to meet that objective--by necessity there is room for only so many. And yes, the publishers had the power to decide who played the game and who didn’t. The companies belong to them, after all.

Computers and the internet have broadened the playing field, allowing others to play the game--with a different paradigm, which is, admittedly, in flux. Given how fast technology is changing, it might always be in flux.

Personally, I just want to write and publish. I don’t want to regulate or even speculate on regulating content provided by a fellow “self-publisher,” who needs to concentrate on his own writing, not the writing of others.

Thanks for your visit.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Thoughts on Social Networking--The Beginning

I have a website; it's been with me almost as long as my first book. I learned .html and Paint Shop Pro 8, and I created it from scratch. I update it from scratch, too, which probably explains why I don't update it more often than I do. I know people visit it--not in the thousands or even hundreds. "Scores" over several months is probably close. My point is that it's not a viable avenue for communicating with readers.

My blog--this blog--on the other hand is something I am determined to post to weekly. So far it hasn't proven a viable avenue for communicating with anyone, but I'm determined to keep plugging away. A friend, another writer who is weighing the advantages and disadvantages of starting a blog, said he'd read that it takes an average of six months to establish a blog following. I'm going to give it at least that long--I'm into my third month, but I think I have some interesting and even valuable information to pass along to others--probably a limited number of others--but others none the less. But once a week posting to this blog takes a good work day; it's an investment in time, and I want it to be a success.

I understand I have to bring people here; they aren't going to visit if they don't know about this site. That requires reciprocating interest in others' efforts to gain a following. I'm attempting to do that by participating in writing groups on Linkedin and tweeting on Twitter. I also have a business page on Facebook, but haven't done much with it yet.

Speaking of an investment in time, those Linkedin groups are one. Part of the problem is my not knowing how to "manage" the system. Nightly, I end up re-reading the same comments I read the night before. There is a way to advance to recent posts on the Linkedin groups, and that helps some, but I think the real key to success is to narrow the discussions I follow. My interest these days deals more with self-publishing than "writing," but writing groups appear to be more popular. That's not to say I'm not interested in writing. I'm a writer, but I don't want to critique other's work nor am I compelled to ask for another's advice regarding my craft.

The other connection I need to make online is with readers. That is my ultimate goal--to get my books into the hands of readers. Trying to elicit interest in one's books via an online writing forum is like trying to sell books at a "book fair." A writer's primary interest is his own book.

In a nutshell, I haven't mastered "social networking, but I certainly haven't written it off. I'll keep you posted."

Another thing about my blog is its appearance. I like this template with the books on the shelves. Appropriate, yes, but it's not really mine. I'd like the blog to look more like my website...or maybe I could put "my" books on the shelves. Good idea, huh? I need to pull out Blogging for Dummies and figure out how best to go about that.

Thanks for visiting,


Friday, February 10, 2012

From Early Marketing to Online Presence

It’s late, I’m tired, but I really need to get this post done. Several weeks will have passed before you read it. I leave for Israel the end of the week (I have a pregnant daughter there), but I want to maintain my weekly blogging schedule. That means scheduling my post for publication at a future date--something I haven’t done before. Neat.

I’m new to the blogosphere--well, not real, real, new. I think this will be my twelfth post. Despite that, I’m still learning Blogger. Just yesterday I had to pull out my Blogging for Dummies by Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley to recall how to update my template (I wanted to add links to the resources I used in building my first Kindle book.). Blogging is my latest attempt at marketing.

Last week, I broke down and threw away two full boxes of the “advanced reading copy” (ARC) of my first published novel, The Devil’s Bastard. The book bears a copyright of 2007, but it hit the streets in September 2006--and my brain-child, the 100+ copies of a plain, white-covered ARC--was even earlier than that. One of those boxes had never been opened, but I needed space, and that brain-child had proven a non-starter.

That large inventory of The Devil’s Bastard was an idea I had back when I first started self-publishing, a delusional attempt to market my books across the states that once made up the Old South. I was going to send ARCs to every independent bookstore I could google from Virginia to Texas and north to Kentucky and Missouri.

The idea fizzled in my home state of Mississippi. Truth is small independent bookstores don’t have the manpower (or the interest) to review a distant stranger’s self-published book--particularly one with an ugly white cover.

I was a classic “newbie.”

Additionally I did not have the time or logistics to drive and promote all over Dixie, then follow up with those stores on a “routine” basis--assuming they agreed to take a few copies of the “finished” book to begin with. Odds are very good--I know this now, I didn’t then--that if you leave a few books with a store, and those books eventually sell, that store owner isn’t gonna call you up and ask you to send more. He might take more if you ask him, but unless those suckers flew off the shelves--and beginners are unknown so they probably didn’t--you more than likely won’t be receiving a call. The author has to drive the sell, first to the bookstore owner. Once the book is in the store, she has to get the buyer in there, too, to buy the book. The latter is another story and I’m not going there today.

I did purchase plain, white-covered copies of my second book, Wolf Dawson, but wiser for those boxes of white-covered copies of The Devil’s Bastard still sitting on my shelves, I bought only 25 (the minimum from a digital printer), and those I used in the true spirit of an ARC. That was to request prepublication reviews from the standard biggies: Kirkus, USA Today, ForeWord, etc. Never got one, but I’d already learned from my attempts with The Devil’s Bastard that I probably wouldn’t. More practically, I passed out a number of those ARCs to writer/reader buddies to check for typos/usage prior to my offset print run.

With my third book, Epico Bayou, I did a full-color cover with an “ARC flag” across the top. I didn’t request one prepublication review that time around. I’d learned that lesson. But my writer/reader buddies still helped out with the proofing. If I hadn’t done the ARC, I’d have gone straight to offset and that’s too late to proof.

This fall, when I published my most recent novel, River’s Bend, I printed with Lightning Source (LSI) and forwent the ARC altogether. LSI is a digital printer and though the cost per copy for digital printing is more expensive than offset, I can order as few as one book. Once again, I sent copies of my initial short run to my writer/reader buddies for proofing. Errors fixed (most of them anyway, I hope), I uploaded the corrected .pdf to LSI and purchased a larger run--but not too large.

So far, I love dealing with LSI. No huge inventory sitting around and no hefty charge on the credit card to pay off. And by hefty, I mean several thousand dollars. Now I pay as I go.

I know much of this sounds discouraging to prospective self-publishers (and familiar to others), but things are not as bad as they sound. I’ve gotten four five-star post-publication reviews from Midwest Book Review, and I’ve found my niche in Mississippi selling primarily at craft fairs. I do have my books in independent book stores within the state (and as time passes, and my readership grows, the rest of the Old South is still on my list). LSI (owned by Ingram) provides access to the big chains across the nation. Barnes and Noble now carries the print copy of River’s Bend in its online store, whereas before Amazon was my only out-of-state retailer for print books. That new connection with Barnes and Noble would not have happened without LSI. Right now I only have one book at LSI, but one of 2012’s goals is to get all four of them there. Smashwords and Kindle have made my work available to all the major ereaders and gotten them with the major online digital-book stores.

Oh, a little brag if I could: Along with that surprise appearance of the print copy of River's Bend on sale at the Barnes and Noble online store, there was a five-star review. No, I do not know who posted it, but if he/she is reading this, thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

But whether it be a digital store or the local brick and mortar store downtown, my challenge remains to get the reader to the store to purchase my book. Loading my car, setting up a booth, only to tear it down hours later, through summer heat and winter cold is getting, like me, old. That brings me back to where I started this post, my blog and its purpose. Online marketing is a new initiative for me, and that’s the subject of my next post--next week.

I’m doing it in advance, too.

Thanks for visiting,


Friday, February 3, 2012

Mobi "Build" and EPUB "Zip"

Last spring (2011), I put my then most recently published novel, Epico Bayou, into ePUB format. Elizabeth Castro's EPUB Straight to the Point was my guide. I never got to Chapter 4, "Advanced EPUB Formatting", which had been my real goal. You see, I have a Nook, and on that Nook, I have the free "classics" Barnes and Noble provided with the eReader. I want my ebooks to look like those classics.

At the time, Smashwords, where my books can be purchased in digital format for any eReader, had not come to an agreement with Barnes and Noble regarding distribution of Smashword's EPUB-formatted books, and Barnes and Noble was accepting uploads to its Pubit program, which converts books into EPUB for the Nook. I considered those good reasons to delve into EPUB formatting, with the added benefit of making my books as pretty as Barnes and Nobel's "classics."

Instead, my twenty-two-year-old daughter informed her father and me that she and her Israeli boyfriend were tying the knot, and they were coming home to Mississippi to do it. Needless to say, my goals involving Chapter 4 were set back, and I planned a beautiful wedding. By the time the dust had settled, my books could be purchased for the Nook from the Barnes and Noble Ebook Store, and I had my own web page at the Apple iTunes Store--like a rock star! Yessss. Mike Coker at Smashwords had been busy. See sidebar.

So completing that final chapter of Elizabeth Castro’s EPUB Straight... and making Epico Bayou as pretty as a Barnes and Noble "classic" faded in importance, and I turned my attention to getting River's Bend on the street (in print) and ultimately into the Kindle store as a mobipocket.AZW ebook.

Now, I spent a lot of hours with EPUB Straight to the Point last year, and I learned a lot--knowledge that proved invaluable when I started putting River's Bend into mobi format. From prior experience with Smashwords and its Formatting Guide, I knew how to format books in Word (.doc) for conversion to digital format, and I knew enough .html to convert that properly formatted Word document into .html, then clean it up. Converting Word to .html creates a messy .html document.

EPUB and mobipocket have a lot in common. In fact, from what this laywoman has been able to decipher from her internet research and the International Digital Publishing Forum (see sidebar), the former is an upgrade of the latter--or an upgrade from whatever the latter derived from. The EPUB format is more complicated in that it’s longer, the headers slightly more complex, and the content greater, but certainly manageable. The two biggest problems I had with EPUB were "validating" my EPUB file by downloading and running a java script in my "current" directory and "zipping" the EPUB files comprising my book.

I know what zipping is--compressing files to make them smaller so they take up less "cyberspace" when sent over the internet--or something to that effect. But I have trouble with it. I have trouble with the tools one uses to "zip" or "unzip". I dread dealing with either one, and every time I use one or the other, I am forced to relearn what I never really learned in the first place. I know it shouldn't be that hard. I have WinZip on my new computer. The program looks like it should be able to do everything one needs with one click of the button. Maybe some people can, but I can’t, which brings me back to what prompted this post to begin with: Mobipocket Creator.

I understand enough about the conversion of documents into eReader formats to be able to do it. More often than not I don't understand what the "converters" are doing to these carefully formatted .html, .txt, and graphic files during the conversion process, but I do know that EPUB files must be "zipped" together for the iPad/iPod/S4/Nook or whatever--the eReader--to display them as a book on the screen.

I know that with Mobipocket Creator, you put the files in the publishing window and click "build." That creates the .prc, which you can then upload to various places--in my case, to Amazon where the .prc is converted into mobi’s AZW format for Kindle.

In my mind, that "build" order is equivalent to the "zip" order. But I can't find anything to confirm that. Also, when you hit "build" in the Creator's publishing window, the Creator takes you to the next screen where you have to decide not only your encryption options but also your "compression" options--one of which (the one April Hamilton suggests you choose, as a matter of fact) is “no compression.” That rules out an inherent parallel between “build” and "zipping," right?

Whatever... If there’s anyone out there who knows what happens when you hit "build" and how that equates to what happens when you "zip" in EPUB, please let me know.

What I do know is this: If I find my new .prc book faulty in any way and need to correct it, all I have to do is go to my book's folder in the "My Publications" file on my hard drive, open the egregious file with Notepad++, fix it, close it, re-upload it to the Creator's publishing window, then "build" again. Everything is overwritten, and there’s the corrected .prc. None of that zipping and unzipping I dread so much.

And lastly, I need to download some information on that KF8 format for Kindle Fire--drop caps and embedded fonts. Now that's gonna be pretty!

Thanks for reading.


Friday, January 27, 2012

The Guide

The guide, and I know this from personal experience, plays an important role in a mobipocket book. Not so, for an EPUB book. In EPUB Straight to the Point Elizabeth Castro says the guide is optional, its purpose to identify the role of the different files making up the book.

Not so in its mobipocket manifestation. Here, it serves as another table of contents, only this time for the "book" menu in the Kindle (or other mobipocket reading device) by turning the anchors created in the .html-formatted novel into selectable links. The Mobipocket Developer Center (see sidebar) describes guide items as content for the book’s "Go to" menu in the eReader.

For the Kindle, the "guide" requires only two anchors. Indeed, if I interpret Joshua Tallent's guidance correctly, only two are used by Kindle, the novel's "#toc" (the book’s table of contents) and "#start" (in the case of my book, River's Bend, the "start" is Chapter 1).

Other mobipocket devices use additional anchors and you can expand the guide if you like. River's Bend uses only the #toc and #start, since I figure if I can get the reader (by this I mean the human reader) to the toc, he/she can get anywhere else in the book.

If the guide is not formatted correctly, the reader can't get anywhere short of clicking the device's forward and reverse buttons. I know, because the "guide" was the last thing I had to unravel to get River's Bend to work correctly in mobipocket format.

I had trouble with River's Bend's "guide" section from the moment Mobipocket Creator produced the first .opf, but it was not until a month had passed following my first warning- and error-filled "build" and I had uploaded my hand-made files into the Creator's Publishing window and created a seemingly flawless "build" that I realized something was still wrong. In the Kindle Previewer, when I clicked on the Table of Contents in Kindle's menu on the top bar, I went to the cover. I couldn't get to any of the chapters, including chapter one the designated "beginning" (#start) of my book. Always, I went to the cover.

It took a little while longer and another review of the Joshua Tallent book to zero in on the "guide", which, in the section of his book of the same name (chapter 7), he states quite clearly that if the reference in the guide is incorrect, "Kindle will not contain active links to the Table of Contents and the Beginning of the book." Well, the "toc" and "start" reference types were both there, but my error proved to be in the href. My guide read thus:

<reference type="toc" title="Table of Contents" href="Riversbend.html"></reference>
<reference type="start" title="Start" href="Riversbend.html"></reference>

What it should have read (and now does) is this:

<reference type="toc" title="Table of Contents" href="Riversbend.html#toc"></reference>
<reference type="start" title="Start" href="Riversbend.html#start"></reference>

I fixed, I rebuilt, and I uploaded to the DTP. Amazon blessed it and put it in the Kindle Store. I downloaded it to my Kindle. It looked nice. I'd worked long and hard on it. I was so proud of the thing. That's when I noticed that when filling out my data on my DTP dashboard I spelled my name with three "s"s--Charlsie Russsell. No one would find me by that name. Could I have been any dumber? I was sick, afraid it would never upload right again.

Well, I guess I just answered my last question, didn't I? Amazon corrected it. Piece of cake, but it did elicit a final gasp and one last curse from silly me.

Hope some of you will find my struggle with creating a mobipocket book of use. Thanks so much for reading, and once again, comments are appreciated--especially if you can contribute ideas to improve my efforts at mobi production.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Manifest, Spine, and Tours

I decided to combine what I've learned about the manifest, spine, and tours sections of a mobipocket book's .opf document into one post. The first two are linked in that the "item id" in the manifest must match exactly the "itemref idref" in the spine. There’s not much to say about tours, but what I know, I share below.

First, I want to show you how River's Bend's final manifest, spine and tours sections turned out:

<item id="toc" media-type="application/x-dtbncx+xml" href="toc.ncx"></item>
<item id="item1" media-type="text/x-oeb1-document" href="Riversbend.html"></item>
<item id="item2" media-type="image/jpg" href="Riversbendcover.jpg" ></item>
<item id="item3" media-type="image/jpg" href="Riversbendlogo.jpg"></item>

<spine toc="toc">
<itemref idref="item1"/>
<itemref idref="item2"/>
<itemref idref="item3"/>


The manifest lists the files that make up the mobipocket book, and the spine arranges the documents in a linear reading order. The manifest begins with a <manifest> element and contains an "itemid" for each "item" making up the book. Each item is annotated by its "media type," a declaration of what kind of item it is. Choices include "text" (the .html book), "image" (cover and/or logo and any other pictures in the book), "application," I assume that means how it's applied or used within the book (i.e. the navigational table of contents--.ncx file), and "font." That would be an embedded font, and I’m pretty certain embedded fonts are not applicable to a mobi book.

The section closes with the corresponding </manifest> tag. In the case of River's Bend, the manifest includes the toc.ncx file; the novel formatted in .html; and two graphics, one being the cover and the second, Loblolly Writer's House's logo, which appears on the book's title page. Four items, that's all.

The Spine section, as you’d expect, opens with a <spine> tag and closes with </spine>. In between, it tells the e-Reader (the machine not the person) the order in which to read the files. You can see the relationship between the item id in the manifest and the itemref idref noted in the opening paragraph of this post. Except for...

Okay, I admit it, the spine has caused me some confusion. In River's Bend's file, I called it, not "<spine>," but "<spine toc="toc">." My guidance came from Joshua Tallent in his example of the .opf file in Chapter 7 of Kindle Formatting (see sidebar).

Now, look at the manifest. The first item id in the manifest="toc" and its href is the "toc.ncx" file. Yes, that's right; it should be the toc.ncx element, but why isn't there a spine itemref idref like this

<itemref idref="toc"/>

to make the spine parallel with the manifest?

First off, Elizabeth Castro states in Chapter 3 of EPUB Straight to the Point (see sidebar) that the spine element "must have a toc attribute whose value matches the value of the id in the item that referenced the toc.ncx file in the manifest." Now, I've noticed that what's right for epub more often than not is right for mobi. The two are kissing cousins, so that explains that. And although the "toc" attribute in the spine header is present (<spine="toc">) in Joshua Tallent's example, the itemref idref="toc" in the spine's body is not. His spine is very simple:

<itemref idref="item1"/>

"Item 1" in his example references the .html book itself, the reference to the table of contents being covered in the spine's opening tag.

Now, let's keep going. In April L. Hamilton's example of the spine in her Indie Author Guide To Publishing for The Kindle (see sidebar), there is an itemref idref="toc" in the body of the spine, but if you look at Liz Castro's example of the spine in Chapter 3 of EPUB Straight..., she does not place the itemref idref="toc" [or maybe it should read "ncx" ?] within the spine either.

I conclude that the digital book works either way. Which way is the correct way is a different matter. Certainly mine, without the itemref idref="toc" within the spine, works fine, and I'd be willing to bet everything April Hamilton formats works, too. By my own assessment (I've already told y'all I can be anal), I think the itemref idref="toc" should be in the body of the spine section. If so, River's Bend's spine should actually look like this:

<spine toc="toc">
<itemref idref="toc">
<itemref idref="item1"/>
<itemref idref="item2"/>
<itemref idref="item3"/>

Anal or not, I'm not about to tempt fate. My River's Bend Kindle book works as is, and I "ain't" messin' with it. I will change the template, though, and see how Epico Bayou works with the itemref idref="toc" within the spine.


Here's how the International Digital Publishing Forum defines the <tours></tours> element: "A set of alternate reading sequences through the publication, such as selective views for various reading purposes, reader expertise levels, etc."

Got that? Neither did I.

River's Bend's "tours" section is empty. In truth, the tours section is deprecated. I do wonder what would happen if I deleted it from my .opf document altogether. I'd be willing to bet if my itemref idref="toc" missing from the body of my spine slips by unnoticed, the same would be true of a non-existing tours, but then I think if I ever understand its purpose, I might use it someday. It can be used and probably is by somebody somewhere. I’m just gonna leave it. Everyone else does.

Want to study more? My resources are in the sidebar.

Thanks for reading. Next week I plan to finish up the .opf file with the "guide" section.


Saturday, January 14, 2012


A Mobipocket publication is an Open Publication Format (.opf) file composed of one master eXtensible Markup Language (.xml) file and multiple .html and graphic files. The master file, bearing the suffix .opf, is a text (.txt) document and contains data that points to the content files (i.e. the book and cover graphic) and includes the book's manifest, spine, and guide sections. But before those, the .opf file contains the book’s metadata.

The metadata section includes information about the book: author, publisher, description, identifier, etc., which allows the buyer to find the book. This section also has a subset, which includes the output encoding, the embedded cover graphic, and the price of the book.

The metadata section begins with two metadata namespace attributes: Dublin Core metadata specifications (dc-metadata) and “open ebook” specifications (oebps), which keeps the .xml document valid. The dc-metadata elements, oebps elements, and x-metadata were deprecated with the launch of the ePub format in 2007, but the Mobipocket format continues to use them.

Here’s what those statements look like:

<dc-metadata xmlns:dc="" xmlns:oebpackage="">

And here’s the rest of River’s Bend’s metadata section:

<dc:Title>River's Bend</dc:Title>
<dc:Identifier id="uid">978-09769824-8-7</dc:Identifier>
<dc:Creator>Russell, Charlsie</dc:Creator>
<dc:Publisher>Loblolly Writer’s House</dc:Publisher>
<dc:SubjectBASICCode="FIC014000">Historical Fiction</dc:Subject>
<dc:Description>Thirty years following the War Between the States a handsome stranger comes to Mississippi and marries a cast-away beauty in exchange for a now decrepit antebellum home steeped in dark history and rumored to hold the secret to a fortune in missing Yankee gold. Mystery, suspense, and romance that will keep the lights on and the pages turning until the final mystery is solved.</dc:Description>

<output encoding="utf-8" content-type="text/x-oeb1-document" </output>
<SRP currency="USD">2.99</SRP>

For those of you who want to delve further into the “why’s” of a mobipocket book, here are the sources I used: Joshua Tallent’s Kindle Formatting, April I. Hamilton’s Indie Author Guide To Publishing For the Kindle..., the Mobipocket Development Center website, the International Digital Publishing Forum website, the Dublin Core website, and good ole Wikipedia.

I love it when this stuff starts making sense, even if just “sorta.” Next week I'll discuss the “manifest, spine, and tours.”

And if anyone is interested in how my baby looks on Kindle I'd love for you to go over and take a look at the Kindle Store.

Thanks for reading,