Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are Newspapers Killing Themselves

Last night my wife and I got into another heated discussion over the state of the newspaper industry. Her paper of choice for the last twenty plus years has been the Contra Costa Times, a reliable rag that posted international news, local stories, and most especially local events, restaurant reviews, and the usual goings on for our small portion of the world. Mine is the Wall Street Journal.

Then the Coco Times changed format. Now it is a vague shadow of itself, much has been sliced out of the paper and homogenized until it has no heart or even soul. It is under the newish ownership of the BayAreaNewsGroup (which is a part of the MediaNews Group). By the way don’t you just love the “group” thing and the company name all scrunched together into one word, it’s so twenty first century!

Finally, after numerous calls wanting to know why we weren’t renewing (I’ll get to that shortly), the caller reminded us that if we canceled we would miss getting the all the coupons they put in the paper for stuff. I can assure you we don’t by the paper for the opportunity for coupons to buy stuff. It’s a nice bonus, like butter with the bread, but I don’t go to a restaurant for the butter or the bread. Besides we get the Penny-Saver every week for free if coupons were all we cared about.

What is the purpose of a newspaper today? News? A marketing platform? Comics? Sports? Local information? I am not sure that even the newspapers themselves know anymore. For most of the twentieth century the newspaper was essentially a CliffNote (there’s that same scrunching) version of the world’s events and local happenings (with local advertising). It was a morning cup of coffee with the world and a peak over your neighbor’s fence. Change can be a bitch.

What was driving this conversation was the pending iPad my wife wants (or essentially she through up her hands and said FINE!). My WSJ comes two ways to the house: by gasoline and digital. I am slowly weaning myself from the paper, delivered quite competently every morning with the Contra Costa Times, to the WSJ app on my iPad. (I feel so green and sustainable when I scan the newspaper on the iPad, I almost gush over the thought - NOT). She is hoping to get the news on the iPad as well as books and other information. The iPhone she bought, after a family crises a few years back, changed everything. It was then that the portable digital age started at the Randall household. Now all is chaos, the gatekeepers have left their self-appointed stations.

Anyway, back to the newspaper. Today, with multiple delivery systems, the consumer can tailor the input anyway they want: paper, phone, iPad, tablets, probably coming in the new TVs. Get some news from here, some info from there, tailor your data, you’re the gatekeeper, you wave off the unwanted chaff, and settle into your own self determined world. Often the old paper newspaper pushed stories in front of your nose, made you see the world, even the bits you didn’t want to see. Now you don’t have to, and isn’t that great? Or is it?

Newspapers and the whole publishing industry are faced with the fundamental fact of trying to reestablish their consumer base. Dumbing down the product is not the answer; there are too many options. They must create a new and exciting product the informs, entertains, and challenges the user. Creating a newspaper that seems to be a shill for commerce is not the answer.

This is also true for the book publishing industry as well; they are lost in this brave new world. Independent publishers (which we are) are also trying to find our way, and a market. There is much to be excited about and frightened as well. The next few years will be exciting.

I apologize for the tardiness of this missive, we had a medical emergency a few days before Christmas and my thoughts have been elsewhere. I also have a better understanding of our health system, it has its challenges as well but I am very glad that it is there.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas

All of us here at
Windsor Hill Publishing
wish you and yours a
Very Merry Christmas
and want to share this with

Greg, Bonnie, Sharon and Kevin

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Just received my first shipment of Review Copies of Toulouse 4 Death - fantastic. Out to reviewers next week, you have been warned!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Seeking Help – and Not Where to Find It

As a mystery/thriller writers and novelists we are required to set our stories in real situations and locations (except if you’re writing that zombie/werewolf romance located on Deimos, one of the moons of Mars – then do what you want!). For the rest of us (wait a sec, that might be my next steampunk idea, but maybe it should be Phobos), it’s location, location, location, and experts.

Locations are fairly easy. In the O’Mara Chronicles most of the action takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area and a few other exotic locations (ones I have been to). Research can be fun, intoxicating, and fattening. For other locations Google Earth helps, as well as past vacations and recommendations from friends. Part of the fun of writing is the required research to add texture, color, and believability to the story (except for the views of the Martian sunrise). Travel often is a big part of our budgets, and besides is deductible against all of those outrageous profits we garner in this trade. But be careful about telling people the truth. I was at a writer’s conference and a very well know author of international spy thrillers admitted that he hadn’t been to some of the exotic locals in his books, the audience was stunned. If you’re writing these things, have a very good comeback for these questions, your reader wants credibility (even if you haven’t skulled down the River Ouse in York the week before Christmas with a springer spaniel sitting behind you).

But it’s finding experts who are willing to share and give up part of their time to answer questions; that search can be the most frustrating. As we start to construct the story there will be technical issues that need to be resolved. Issues like: How do you saddle a horse? What is the caliber machine gun typically mounted on a Humvee? How many people does it take to sail a catamaran? What is the effect on a shipping container when it falls off a ship? Can it float? Sometimes the premise of your whole story hinges around a correct fact.

What I normally do is first reach out and find friends who may know someone in the field you need help with. That’s happened a couple of times where I started talking with someone about the next book and they immediately volunteered a friend they knew. They even offered to make the introduction, and bingo, I had the meet. In fact, one economist I know, volunteered his son who was working with a shipping company, and bingo, more information than I knew what to do with on the container shipping industry (and they can float!). Ask and talk about your books, you never know.

Contacting people through emails and social media is tough. You have one simple question about sailboat rigging but no one returns your emails. How much do you pester them before giving up? That’s a judgment call, but it is surprising at times. I was searching for a good database that listed the proper ranking of the Waffen-SS during WWII. I had some lists from Internet posts but there seemed to be some changes in the latter years of the war. One email to one of the authors in the posts and bingo, I was straightened out. Lord knows, I don’t want to get the Schutzstaffel p.o.’ed at me. And actually he was very kind and helpful with a few other leads; you never know.

But what is important is to keep a list of those that helped, give them credit in your acknowledgements, and if they have made a serious commitment in time surely you can send them a book, signed of course.

And remember that you too are an expert on something, and when asked please share your thoughts, ideas, and expertise. Their stories will be better and so will yours.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's Done and Posted

Toulouse 4 Death is now at Amazon and at Smashwords. For the Amazon page click HERE, for the Smashwords page click HERE.

Last Friday I sent an email blast to 200 people who might be interested in the book and many were on my list of previous readers. I want to thank everyone who enjoy the Chronicles and have asked to know when the next installment will arrive - well here it is.

To be honest, every time I try to load the digital version on Smashwords I seem to have formatting issues and have to backtrack and rebuild the files - something gets corrupted when the files travel between three computers (Macs and PCs). So last night I sat down and rebuilt the file from scratch - Mark Coker the Smashwords inventor calls it the "Nuclear Option." I have to say that it did work, you will find it there.

In a week or two Toulouse 4 Death will arrive at iBooks (iTunes store), Nook, KOBO (a remnant of Borders I think), and Sony formats. For those who have an aversion to the 800 pound elephant in the room (Amazon) be patient, it's coming. You can go directly to Smashwords HERE.

Never one to let daylight go unused, I have already started the next Sharon O'Mara adventure. Again it takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area and its stage is the biggest that the Bay Area has to offer - San Francisco Bay itself.

And you already know how much Sharon hates sailboats (see Land Swap 4 Death) and how the Bay water itself has contributed to the evils of international trade (see Containers 4 Death), well its waters will again provide the stage.

These books make great Christmas presents for the ebook and digitally affected. In January 2012 the paperback version of Toulouse 4 Death will be available from the usual sources. If you want to be on the advanced list drop me an email at

Thanks for being so patient over last nine months. I will be posting the schedule for the next book in the series in one of the next blogs. Sharon can't wait to share it with you.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ten Things I Learned This Year and Where Did the Year Go

We (I and my live in/with publisher) have learned a lot over the last year about writing and publishing. I would guess that a small book could be written about the experience (just one more book to add to the long list of future books I’ll write). I wrote and finished two books this year, we published three books, and I am well into the fourth 4 Death book. The road, while not profitable yet, has been informative and at times, a very cool ride. A book signing at a fashion show, who’d a thunk?

As one of my teachers said, “If you'd pay attention Mister, you might learn something.”
  1. Be well organized before you start. This includes computer files, notes, articles, and all pertinent data collected. Make a plan, use it for all your books, make it a part of your routine and style.
  2. Set a schedule and try to keep to it. Those of you involved in the NaNoWrMo this past month understand, no schedule means that you didn’t write that 60K novel in November. Schedules will be broken – use the guilt to push you harder.
  3. Keep your files in multiple locations, duplicate and date every file. The cloud is the thing these days but I’m more mobile and bounce between at least three computers and access to the Internet is problematic. Memory sticks are great. Dedicate one stick to each book, save often, make copies.
  4. Publishing is hard work, but you do meet the nicest people. Think of a lifeboat set adrift with a bunch of strangers, all hoping to survive. This is the nature of publishing today. Go to bookselling shows and publisher’s trade shows. You have to do it, enjoy and bring lots of handouts, you will feel better.
  5.  Learn how to use Adobe InDesign. We self-publish and I do all the book formatting and construction (blame me for the covers, but I like’em!). It’s a reasonably easy program, just work at it; it isn’t like AutoCADD drafting software – that will make your brain melt.
  6. Read and reread Mark Coker’s instructions on posting at Smashwords (Amazon’s too). This small company with 12 employees (saw that on a Coker Tweet), is doing more than any, and in fact all, of the publishing houses in the world in changing how we access books and data. Not everything he prints is books, there are manuals, how-to’s, poems, short stories, you get the picture.
  7. Get out, do the research, and meet people. I’ve asked Canadians to edit my French, an Army ranger to review my Iraq battle scenes, a fellow who runs one of the largest sailing schools in the Bay Area about sailing, and many other experts, professionals and layabouts, to get context and data. Properly asked they all love to help - a meal or a book is helpful too!
  8. Join LinkedIn and add your name to many of the discussion groups. It is amazing how open people are with information and points about the writing and publishing craft. Sure there’s a lot of hype and book flogging, so what. Like you, they want to succeed, help them and they will help you.
  9. Read a book a week and watch TV. I know, I know, educated people don’t watch the boob-tube. It’s all so pedestrian and low-brow, and it will rot your brain and widen your ass (proven, the study is posted on Smashwords). But, if you are a thriller writer (moi?), you really would kill to have your character on a TV show, in real color, maybe 3D, with bad commercials and all. Besides you will learn, if you pay attention, to edit and reduce to a strong minimum your story and dialog. Get over it!
  10. Try to find a day job you like that pays the bills. There are maybe three writers in the whole world who make enough to live on, true story. All the rest of us are shills for the publishing and printing industry. We take the above income and pass it directly on to them, hoping to turn a $1000 investment into $250 in earnings. No one ever said this was a sane occupation, but it is fun and enjoyable.
What a year and tomorrow is December 1. We bought a Christmas tree last night, listened to carols on the radio (Michael Bubblé), and noted that there seems to be more decorated houses already this year. Maybe this is a sign that this year Americans say to the Man, screw you, I’m going to have a great holiday whether you want me to or not.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Well Flogged Book

When you write three blogs a week there will come a time when you think you have run out of words or ideas. You have already flogged the schedule, the cover, the pre-publishing announcements, the pending announcements, the “it-will-soon-be-here” announcements, the “one-more-thing-to-add” announcements, and the missed my deadline announcement . 

But then there is the: It’s almost, almost here announcement! Well this is THAT announcement.

Next Friday, December 2, barring a meteor or some other calamity, Toulouse 4 Death will be posted as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords.

For those patient readers who have followed this nine month process here is the story:

Once again Sharon O’Mara has a job to do: Return an incredible Toulouse-Lautrec painting to its rightful owners after it was stolen by the Nazis in 1938. Sharon quickly discovers there is more to her client’s secret treasure than just a few paintings. After seventy years an American GI and a Nazi SS soldier are again pitted against each other. Gold bullion and Impressionist paintings are nothing compared to the rumors of billions in hidden World War II treasure. Can Sharon solve the mystery or will she die before she can foil the evil goal of world domination by the ‘New Reich.’

That’s it. Stolen art, tons of gold, tunnels under Germany, wine making, old and young Nazis, Argentina, San Francisco, a billionaire and Paris, what more could you want?

This is the cover:

I will send an epub version of the book to the first three of my readers who respond to me at Please post your name, city you live in, and of course your email. I will send you the epub file (or other version if requested) the second week of December. Everyone who responds will be acknowledged, be the first!

I am starting a new book (actually already a couple of thousand words into it); I will post its schedule next month. I will also see if I can beat the last book’s nine months production schedule.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving,

Greg, Bonnie, Sharon and the rest of the Writing 4 Death gang

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Any Club That Wants Me As A Member I Won’t Join

(with apologies to Groucho Marx)
One continuing requirement of a writer and publisher is that they must join various associations, clubs, Internet groups, and other like-minded collectives. You can’t live in a cave, cross-legged like a guru, and expect the market to find you. Your potential readers have enough on their minds and some crackpot hawking his next best novel is just that, a crackpot. But we all like to commiserate and an association is a good place to start.

Last Saturday we attended out first Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) HERE, a better group of literary hopefuls you will never find. It's a mix of writers, publishers (usually their own work), web designers, artists and other hangers on. And we are all hangers on, each trying our best to flog our books to the great marketplace and these group therapy meetings help all of us to push forward one more week.

You have to get out of the house once and a while to meet other kindred souls and the last few weeks have allowed us to meet some great people in the industry. Two weeks ago it was the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) HERE and BAIPA last week. While similar they were very different in their membership and direction. One is strongly oriented toward the marketplace and bookstores and the other towards helping each other learn more about the industry and moving forward, primarily as a writer selling their work.

I recommend both to writers and fledgling publishers, especially in Northern California. But every region has its own groups, look for them. The writing biz is changing, just read the Wall Street Journal. Every day there is something new or frightening about the publishing industry. In today’s WSJ, has a great article on the Nook and Kindle Fire – game changers. HERE Faced with these changes and opportunities every writer needs to get as much information about the game. What’s new? What angle can I use to move my stories? What is the next great platform to prepare for?

It’s all about platform – your platform, your writer’s platform. Connelly’s Linclon Lawer, Grafton’s A-Z thrillers, Michener’s sweeping historical novels – all platforms. One book wonders are rare and pointless. You have something to say and it usually takes more than one book to say it. Think about the scope of your work then how can you expand it to include more readers, what’s your message? Some deep soul searching need to help or just to tell a damn good yarn! It’s all a part of your platform, think about it and build on it.

More later . . . .