Report from the Front

Nine Hundred and Forty-Two Million. According to Wikipedia, that’s the number of English speakers in the world. That includes 603 million people for whom it is a second language.

As a writer ever in search of an audience, my first crass thought upon hearing that statistic is: I wonder how many of them might want to read my books?

A study by the Pew Research Center reported that 23% of all Americans didn’t read a single book during 2014, and there’s not much reason to expect that number to improve. In addition, some of those other 77% who did read a book only read one, so they probably aren’t exactly hopefuls. So how many are real potential readers? Well, that same study showed that 42% of Americans read 11 books or more in the past year, roughly one a month. So lets use that figure. Let’s say 42% of 942 million.

That’s almost 400 million readers. Sell to a mere one percent of those folks, and you’re one of the most successful writers on the planet.

This sort of number crunching has been on my mind because I ran my first ever free promotion on Amazon a short while back for my book Spark. As most of you probably know, Amazon lets you sell your book for free for five days out of every ninety. I chose to spend the whole five days in one swoop. Here’s how the whole thing went down:

Day One: I decided to do Day One with a minimum of promotion. I was originally going to do none at all just to establish a baseline, but I got impatient so I did a couple of Twitter posts on sites that promote free books (maybe a dozen altogether). Day One total: 69 downloads. Continue reading “Report from the Front”

Like the Fond, Uncounted Rain, We Fall All the Day

The doorbell rings.

It’s only the thought that it might be my monthly delivery from Quel Fromage! that gets me out of my chair at all–but of course it isn’t. The green jumpsuit, the white plastic boots, even the multitude of thin wire bands he wears around his neck and wrists, might be a uniform, but it clearly isn’t U.P.S.

He begins without a greeting. “Got the year, Jackie?”


“Sure yeah. Sorry n’all, but the gizmo glitches when it jumps sometimes. Date and time all fuzzled.”

He doesn’t look insane. As a guess, I’d make him in his early twenties, college student type, only with a green jumpsuit. His head is shaved in a wide band up to the crown. Above that, a thick mop sits like a luxurious blond yarmulke.

“The date?” It takes me a minute. “The eighteenth,” I say. “June 18th.”

He goggles at me. “Eighteen? Like twenny-two eighteen?”

Now it’s my turn to goggle. “No. What? Do you mean the year?” His words—Got the year, Jackie?—come back to me. I take a breath. “It’s 2016. What year did you expect it to be?” Continue reading “Like the Fond, Uncounted Rain, We Fall All the Day”

Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Six)

(This is the final bit of the story, folks. If you aren’t up to speed, you should go back and read parts one, two, three, four and five.  It won’t take long. Thanks.)

“Hey,” GP said, “Wake up.” He was jostling her shoulder. “We’re here.”

She sat up, blinking at the bright sky. They were beached on a crescent of pale, pink sand, snugged between two rocky headlands.IMG_6901

“I fell asleep,” Kip said dully.

“Understandable,” GP said. “That jump from Iceland put us all out of whack with the local time. I could use a nap myself.”

Kip stood, unsteady. To judge from the sun, it was mid-afternoon, but it felt like long past midnight. She shook the muzziness from her head. “So, this is the place?”

“Yep,” GP answered. He went inside the cabin, and when he emerged a moment later, he was carrying two shovels and had the rolled up map tucked under his arm.

“You ready?” he asked, handing her a shovel.

They climbed down into the sand and began trudging up the beach. GP led the way, shovel on his shoulder, whistling bits of Pay Me My Money Down and the song about the singular lass from Tallahassee. Kip still groggy, dragged along a few steps behind.

“So,” she asked, “how do we know where to dig? This is a pretty big beach.”

“Mmm,” GP agreed. “Fortunately, we are not obligated to dig up the whole thing.”

“Well, okay. But…where do we start?”

GP stopped and planted the blade of his shovel in the sand. He pulled out the map and unrolled it for Kip to see. Continue reading “Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Six)”

Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Five)

(Alrighty then. When last we met Kip and GP, they were in a pub, having being transported mysteriously from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to a landlocked lake near a remote village in Iceland. If you need more to bring you up to speed, I recommend reading parts one, two, three and four before continuing. Thanks.

And away we go…)



Kip awoke the next morning in an unfamiliar room, pleasantly drowsy. There were sparrows in the tree outside her window, and somewhere farther off she could hear the chuckling of ducks on the lake. She sat up. In the next room, GP lay heaped on a sofa-bed, snoring like a sputtering power-saw. She dressed and eased her way out the door and downstairs.IMG_7707

They had rented a room above the pub for the night. Brynja Finnsdottir, who had made the lobster-tails the night before, was already working in the kitchen.

She greeted Kip with a shy smile. “Good dag,” she said, “Kip?” Kip nodded. “Ja, Kip. You, uh… eat? Morgunmatur? No, wait. Breakfast! Breakfast, Ja?”

Kip nodded. “Ja, takk,” she replied.

Brynja Finnsdottir piled a plate with smoked herring and fried new potatoes, and poured Kip a mug of coffee—extra sweet and white with cream. While Kip ate, Brynja puttered around the kitchen—scrubbing a copper sauce pan, putting plates away—and all the while trying out snippets of English conversation on Kip. Since Kip had used up all the Icelandic she had learned the night before with ‘Ja, Takk,’ they made do with Brynja Finnsdottir’s broken English.

“You sleep, Kip? Good not?” She smiled a warm, crinkly-eyed smile.

“Yes, fine. Takk. Much better than the Ballyhoo,” Kip replied.


When Kip finished her plate, Brynja cleared it away and then poured a little more cream into Kip’s cup. Continue reading “Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Five)”

Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Four)

(This here be part four of this bodacious tale.  If you haven’t been following along, you can—and you should—catch up with parts one, two and three by clicking the links. Thank ye kindly.)


They beached the sloop near a smooth stretch of dark sand and went ashore. A gravel path led up the hillside to the main road.

“So, do you know where we are?”

“Haven’t a clue, Kipper.”

“Well…so what’ll we do?”

“We’ll ask for directions. Let’s try that place what’s all lit up with the music.”IMG_8324

There was a sign hanging over the door, with the word ‘Brynja’s’ painted on it. In the window, the word ‘Egils’ blinked in lazy, orange neon. Kip stopped. “GP,” she said, “isn’t this a…a pub?”

GP looked at her curiously. “Sure. That it is.”

Kip shifted her weight, from one foot to the other. “Well, I’ve never been in a pub before.”

“Never?” GP asked. “Well, it’s high time. Come on, we’ll get something to eat. Pubs always have the best food.” He held open the door. “Maybe you can even get some sue cheese.”

Inside, the music was loud. On a tiny stage near the end of the bar, a man thumped a hand-held drum the size of a garbage can lid, and sang into a microphone. It was impossible to tell what he was saying. Behind him, a short-haired girl played a pale blue electric guitar, and an older looking man slapped an upright bass. Seated on a folding chair, a young man with bright, red hair turned the crank on an odd looking box which he held in his lap, causing it to wail a high, rough melody. He kept swinging his head in time with the beat, and his hair flashed amber in the stage light. Continue reading “Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Four)”

Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Three)

(Parts one and two can be found here and here. You really should read those first if you haven’t already. Go ahead. We’ll wait for you.)




“GP,” Kip asked, looking up from Soxbridge, “how long until we reach Polynesia?”

“Hmm?” he asked, stretched on his deck-chair, hat tilted down over his face. They were two days past Bermuda and running well. “I’d expect…mmm, another three to four days, given fair winds.”

Kip wrinkled her newly-browned brow and looked down at the book once more. “GP. There is a map in Soxbridge, you know.”

“I’d expect there were several.”

“There are,” Kip confirmed, “and they all say the same thing. Bermuda to Polynesia is a fair piece. You might even call it a major haul.”

“Might I?” GP asked blandly, still not rising from his napping position.

“You might,” Kip continued. “As near as I can figure, Polynesia is more than seven thousand miles away, and that is as the albatross flies—and we cannot go as the albatross does, because we must sail first around Africa and then around Australia, and that is what you’d call a major haul.”

GP yawned, and reached up under his hat to scratch his nose. “Shortcut,” he said. Continue reading “Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Three)”

Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Two)

(If you haven’t already, you should go back and read part one first, or it won’t make a blasted bit of sense.)

The story continues, ahem:

As it turned out Kip’s homework proved less trouble than either one of them expected. Their third day out they were heading north toward Bermuda through an area called the Bermuda Triangle. Now you may have heard of this Bermuda Triangle. Many people believe it to be a place where shIMG_5285ips mysteriously sink and planes mysteriously crash, but there isn’t a word of truth in any of that. Strange things are no more likely to happen in the Bermuda Triangle than any place else on the ocean. On the other hand, the ocean as a whole is a place where strange things tend to happen and quite often.

Kip was lying belly down on the foredeck doing homework, head propped on one bent arm—the classic homework-doers pose. So absorbed was she in the cold winter of 1778 at Valley Forge, that she did not notice the rapidly approaching squall until it was right down on top of them.

“Swordfish and sou’westers!” GP hollered. “It’s a galloping blue gale! Trim the jib-boom, Kipper!

The blue gale galloped down on the Ballyhoo, and before Kip could properly figure out which what the jib-boom was, the whole lot of worksheets and flash-cards and photocopied pages were swept up in a spectacular spiral, higher than the rigging, over the top spar, and scattered like a thousand lazy snowflakes over the clear blue waters south of Bermuda.

“Good riddance to bad garbage!” GP declared, looking out over the vista of sinking, sodden homework.

But Kip had a problem. While she could live without homework (and certainly a freak squall in the Bermuda Triangle was a pretty fair excuse for losing it) she could not live without reading. And dull and dry as Miss DeMeara’s worksheets might be, they were, at least, reading. Continue reading “Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part Two)”

The Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part One)

PART ONE:    Kipling Soggs

This is the story of Kip, who traveled the ocean aboard a sailing ship called the Ballyhoo. She was brave and she was clever, and she had many adventures, and I suppose that is all I really need to tell you. But if I stop there the story would be over, and you would miss all of the best parts. Kip’s story is what people call a sea epic, by which they mean a tale of adventure and bravery on the high seas with storms and squalls and unexpected dangers. There can be sunny days and smooth seas in a sea epic too, but they never last very long.DSCN1371

If you close your eyes, maybe you can picture Kip standing on deck, tall and strong, her skin bronzed by the sun—but you would have it entirely wrong. Kip may be clever and Kip may be brave, but she is also only eleven-years old.

There she is: a fair-haired girl, slight but wiry, a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. When she was born, her parents named her Kipling Soggs—Kipling Riley Jean Soggs to be exact. The name Kipling was for Rudyard who wrote a famous book. The name Riley was for her father who’s name was Riley, too. And Jean—well, that was her mother’s idea, just in case Kip needed a more ordinary name later on. She hasn’t yet, but then she is only eleven. When Kip’s grandfather proposed a sea journey from his home on Jekyll Island to Polynesia, her parents were delighted. Continue reading “The Voyage of the Ballyhoo (Part One)”

Funny Things Happen in the Amazon.

The other day I published a little book, just an essay really, called Why YA? over at — twenty whimsical pages on the history of young adult literature. A day later, after selling one copy, it showed up as the #1 bestselling book in the kindle store in the category of History of Books.

(pause for thunderous applause.)

Thank you. In truth, I don’t even remember putting into this category, but sometimes the dropdown lists over at KDP get a little confusing so maybe I did. The funny part is, without even knowing it, I stumbled upon a brilliant book-marketing ploy. Instead of listing your book in a popular category like:


put it in an unpopular category like, I don’t know:

Collectibles>Vintage Plumbing Fixtures

Continue reading “Funny Things Happen in the Amazon.”

Prepare to be Monetized!


One of my first blog posts concerned an online course I downloaded from website expert and marketing guru John Morrow. (You can read it here, if you’d like.) John is the guy who told me I shouldn’t even have a blog yet, that it was pointless, that no one was listening. He didn’t say it specifically to me. He probably would’ve said the same thing about your blog. ‘Cuz all us wannabe-but-not-yet writers/bloggers/social commentators were wasting our time. Blogging can be great for marketing, but not until you have an audience, okay?

That makes sense. It’s mundanely obvious. You can’t sell ice cubes to Eskimos if you don’t have any Eskimos to begin with. Does he offer us a way out of this catch-22 cul-de-sac? Oh, you betcha! He offers a whole course, of course, just $29.95 per month. I wont bore you with the details, but one thing he does say is that when you reach 500 subscribers, then you will finally be ready to start blogging.

‘Cause then, see, you’ll have an audience. Your very own room full of Eskimos. Continue reading “Prepare to be Monetized!”