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 . . . .