Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Publishers and Money

          Two years ago, I went independent after getting my rights back from the three publishers that handled my stuff. They were good enough small publishers but not one paid a dime in advance against royalties.
          I didn’t make much money with them.
          I’m not getting rich as an independent, either.
          Some writers are so giddy a publisher will accept their stuff, they fail to study the background of those involved. Many eBook outfits are mom and pop stores with poor covers and only a token nod to POD paperback production. The writer makes more money per paperback than per electronic reader. Maybe more eBooks are sold but maybe not. The problem with marketing in paperback is it has to be on paper to the bookstore and/or reader, or in person. Free expensive books have to be given away. Online advertising might peddle eBooks but it won’t sell paperbacks.
          After half a century in this writing racket wandering through just about every aspect of the craft, from tech-writing to memoirs to non-fiction to screw-and-kill to children’s book to romance to science-fiction to crime novels, I managed to pick up a few clues.
          What is a sure-fire way for a writer to make big bucks cranking out wordage?
          There is none.
          The most bucks I ever made were writing aircraft structure repair manuals under hourly contract for big aerospace companies. That kind of money was obscene. When I moved to editor the work was less and the money more. I did it off and on direct for most of my life then retired and went contract. I was in my fifties, the wealthiest time of my life, which I had never known before and have not known since. I got there by paying my dues, started by serving my apprenticeship right out of high school as a machinist in Houston, Texas, going in the Navy to become an Aviation Metalsmith working on Navy jet fightersand writing my own stuff the whole while. Most of those around me, who wanted to tech write, came with a scholastic backgroundlearn writing then pick up the tech stuff as they went along. Anyone who can spell their name thinks they can write. Usually it didn’t work. As a scholastic underachiever, I came at it holding a wrench and getting dirty. I’m still not scholastic or intellectual, still banging around with that wrench, but it worked out okay.
          Back in the beginning, fresh out of the Navy, having read through not only the masters of literature, but also those heavy talents in the mystery field, renting a duplex with a wife and two babies, I worked as a machinist, and wrote stories before and after the job. I was used to getting up at three and four; I grew up with a series of paper routes. What I remembered most about my ten married years while working and writing was a constant fatigue. You couldn’t take me out to dinner on a Friday night; I was liable to fall asleep at the table. Self-taught and a few college courses, I wrote a story a week and sent them out. They came right back. Since I had neither formal learning nor talent to write literary stuff for the intellectual magazines, I tried to hit the mystery mags, and did sell a story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
          One story.
          Repeated failures after convinced me, I had little talent for high-class mysteries. I started sending off to Men’s magazines and after a year, I began to sell fifty to seventy-five percent of everything I sent for $250 to $300 a story. Through advice from a magazine editor, I wrote and sold my first novel to an unheard of publisher in Las Vegas that cranked out eighty to a hundred titles a year destined for drug store magazine racks at 95¢ a copy. They paid me an advance of $500. I never made another doubloon from it. 
          An ad in Writer’s Digest attracted me. A huckster in New York needed twelve writers right away. He had an ongoing contract with a paperback house for a series of novels. This was screw and kill adventure stuff. He was paying $1,500 a book, half when the publisher approved the first three chapters and outline, half when the novel was completed. He required a 60,000 word novel within six weeks of signing the contract.
          (How many independent writers today would like a guaranteed $1,500 for each novel they wrote?)
          Where he eliminated 99.9% of rabid interested writers, he required they already have a novel published on their own by a legitimate publisher. I bundled up my one published novel and shipped it off to him. I guess that Vegas paperback house was legitimate enough because he called and asked when I wanted to get started.
          Real writers I knew laughed at me for taking a cash price while they continued making the rounds of agents and publishers only to paper their walls with rejection slips. They still hoped to get wealthy with a fat advance and royalties from hundreds of thousands of sold copies, someday. I made a living writing those novels for almost three years. Divorced from the one lifetime wife I’ve ever had, I kicked around the country meeting many interesting folks, but cranking out those novels every six weeks, I had little time to write the stuff I really wanted to write. I fell into a pattern of writing fast with lots of action. Good or bad, it’s what I was. I declared myself little more than a hack, and I quit writing those books.
          I hoped the books I wrote later read better. I did find publishers, especially after the eBook evolution, though many I rejected because of their lousy contracts. It puzzles me why these outfits that do so little for the writer still think they deserve the same cut as fat, advance paying publishers.
          Fact: Few books ever sell more than the advance against royalties. It is uncanny how close the figures come. Polls taken prove this again and again.
          So what is a writer to do to make good money?
          Hit a publisher that pays an advance against royalties. Then look at the deal as if you’re getting cash for you book only you get to keep many of the rights. If your marketing skills already give you more than medium size publisher advance, you don’t need a publisher, stay independent.
          However, many writers go independent because advance paying publishers will not consider their stuff. Either their subject is too off the wall, or they write what has already been done over and over, or they jump on a once-popular bandwagon that already has a broken wheelorthey just don’t write good enough to interest publishers, advance paying or not.
          I gave up on publishers to the point I don’t even let them know I’ve finished another book. I’m going to rethink that. I’ll send a few query letters to agents and advance paying publishers (not interested in any other kind) and when they ignore me, go ahead and independent publish just like I’m doing now.
          Independent publishing hasn’t worked so badly for me. Certainly, I’m not making the kind of money I’d like, but I’m finding a growing core of readers and the income continues to rise. And I continue to push marketing. Lately I’ve seen a marked rise in paperback sales.
          The learning process is constant. The world of publishing changes weekly.
          I hope your efforts are working for you.


Monday, June 22, 2015

AT BOOKSTORES OR AMAZON www.amazon.com/author/georgesnydernet

Meet Makayla “Mac”Tuff
A kick-Ass gal Private Eye
Working in Branch Lake, Arizona
Beautiful, built and brainy
Tougher than her last name



Meet Logan Sand
Hard Northwest PI
Walks the mean streets
Pushes the line of law
Barely civilized



Meet Bay Rumble
Wisecracking wandering salt
Sails in search of new friends
Mostly finds treachery and killing



Monday, April 13, 2015




          The press of wind whipping legs, arms, buffeting the face around a shield; leaning with the machine around corners and curves; firmness of the seat, knees pressing the tank between them; smell of the road—household cooking, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, roadside plants and flowers; sounds from motorcycle pipes; the hum of tires on asphalt; changing pitch of engine while shifting gears; eyes darting left, right, up, down, knowing where surrounding vehicles are located, looking everywhere for trouble—expecting it, ready for it; hands curled around handlebar grips; fingers pulling and releasing clutch and brake levers; twisting the throttle—pull of acceleration; lifting and pressing feet to shift gears and to brake; feeling at one with, an extension of, soul connected to...the machine. These sensations I have experienced while riding a motorcycle, one of the most magnificent machines invented by man.
The prime influence to motorcycle development came from two manufacturers: the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company and the Motorcycle Division of Honda Motors. No other single brand influenced American riding life more than these two. My lifetime search for the perfect motorcycle has so far taken me through five decades and twenty different machines. I bought my first two-wheeled vehicle, a 2hp Cushman motor scooter in 1952 at age 14, during a time when the post WWII motorcycle scene saw an emerging market from the British. Machines named Triumph, Norton, Ariel, BSA (Birmingham Small Arms), AJS/ Matchless were imported, and dominated American highways, growing to their zenith in the sixties and early seventies.

The European front of the Second World War saw 300,000 motorcycles involved, carrying supplies, running communication, transporting riders of importance, going where four wheel vehicles could only look. Some had fire power mounted in front that allowed the rider to shoot back. Before WWII Harley- Davidson even produced motorcycles in Japan called the “Rikuo,” used as the Emperor’s escort and by the Japanese army against us. Subsequent wars relied less on motorcycles. A few V-twin Harleys were used in Korea, but Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan were fought with helicopters and tanks. Today the United States Marines use a diesel-converted Kawasaki KLR dual purpose machine, the KLS 650 that will do 80mph and give 120mpg, available to the general public in the spring of 2006. Military also use the “Rokon Trail Blazer,” a two-wheel drive through torque converter, odd-looking cross between motorcycle and scooter. It uses a 146cc Chrysler outboard engine with 8 hp at 7,000 rpm, goes about 30mph, and carries its fuel and water in the rims. But it was the Second World War that used more motorcycles than any other conflict.
During World War Two America sent Harleys and Indians. The 500cc (30.50 cu.in.) Indian was heavy and slow. The more popular 750cc (45cu.in.)V-twin Harley reached 85mph and the factory sent 88,000 of them into battle.

The British relied on 350cc singles from Matchless, Ariel, Triumph, and Royal Enfield. Before the war Royal Enfield built a factory in India and the 350cc (21cu.in.) “Bullet” became the most popular motorcycle in Asia. Today the Bullet is 500cc and India still cranks out the sedate utilitarian two-wheel work horse. In recent years they have even been exported to the U.S., selling for around $4,000. You can pick up one new in India for about $1,400.

The German enemy used a BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) R75 that hit 70mph and was used often with sidecars. There were a few Zundapp, basically a BMW wannabe. Even Harley once had an opposed twin for combat. The Beemer engine was developed from airplanes; one powered the infamous “Red Baron” biplane during WWI. Uniquely adaptable for sidecars, BMW was first to introduce supercharging in later racing years. They were also the first motorcycle ever to use hydraulic damping telescopic forks. German engineering and craftsmanship showed in the Beemer a type of reliability other motorcycles tried for but seldom gained. On road and off-road, slogging through rutted mud trails or humming along a smooth highway, during a time long before a specialized off-road motorcycle was ever designed or built, more BMWs have been ridden around the world than any other brand of motorcycle.

The Italians, often called “fanatical fighters for lost causes” went from enemy to defeated ally and the army rode a Moto Guzzi 500cc that reached 80mph. Piaggi Aircraft supplied small air dropped scooters that they ended up naming the Vespa (wasp).

After the war, homecoming GI’s refused to accept the type of transportation American manufacturers shoveled out at them, in cars or motorcycles. They had been exposed to driving that was fun—and quick, nimble motorcycles easily adapted for off-road use. Rather than the dowdy Chevy or Plymouth they could wheel around in a zippy MG or Jaguar or Austin Healy. And rather than the behemoth Harley or Indian, there was the lighter, faster Triumph or BSA or Norton with a powerful 650cc (40 cu.in.) vertical twin engine and a four-speed foot shift. A big safety factor issued by British ads was that their motorcycles could be shifted without taking your hands off the handlebars. No foot clutch with a gas tank hand shift.

Harley-Davidson did work to compete with the British bikes. They dragged out the old Army 750cc (45cu.in.) side-valve, flat-head V-twin engine and put it in a smaller frame, introduced hand clutch, foot shift, and called it the “K” model. It looked sexy but was a performance slug. They went racing with it but it could only compete against 500cc (30.50cu.in.) British twins, which the governing body, the AMA (American Motorcycle Association, not to be confused with the current American Motorcyclist Association) sanctioned and would not allow 650cc (40cu.in.) overhead valve engines to compete at the same level. The Harley engine went to 883cc and became the Sportster which was physically small enough for a woman to ride. Later the engine was pumped to 1200cc, although the Sportster remained a physically small motorcycle, and to a few red-neck, slow-witted, simple-thinking big Harley riders it was called “the bitch bike,” just as passengers always rode “the bitch seat.”

Except for BMW, in no way could a motorcycle of that era be called reliable. At least not in the way a car was reliable. A trip of over 200 miles was an adventure. With the British it was the electrics, as if England manufacturers (Lucas) never learned how to make a decent electrical switch. The Harley’s and Indians vibrated so hard things kept falling off, and they handled so badly any road with tight curves had the rider telling falling down stories. Plus the big V- twins took 25 to 30 kicks just to get them running, and did they ever leak oil. Except for the BMW reliability in motorcycles did not occur until Honda started exporting their machines.

After the war, a Japanese mechanic, Soichiro Honda, took one look at the bombed out devastated parking lot that used to be Japan and decided people would need a cheap way to get around. His tiny business supplied piston rings for the re-emerging Toyota car company. In 1947 he found some generator engines for army field telephones and installed them in bicycle frames. He quickly sold them all. Most motorcycle companies, including Harley-Davidson, started the same way, small engines in bicycles. Honda’s first production “Dream” motorcycle, a 98cc two-stroke, came out in 1949. It was called the Dream D. In 1951 Honda released the Dream E, a 146cc four-stroke. Then in 1952 came the first Cub, a 50cc two-stroke that later became four-stroke, and Honda Motors was established on the motorcycle scene. Although popular throughout Asia, the tiny buzz-bombs were no threat to mighty Harley-Davidson.
Yamaha came late to the motorcycle arena but the name goes back to 1880 when clockmaker Taracusa Yamaha founded Nippon Gakkin Company building clocks. He died in 1916 just when the company started making pianos. During the war Yamaha produced metal aircraft propellers for the Japanese effort. In 1950 they came out with a two-stroke 125cc “Red Dragonfly” motorcycle and Yamaha Motor Company Ltd was founded.

Suzuki made treadle-type cotton looms from 1908 but their plants were destroyed in 1945. After the war, with a bad silk market, Suzuki branched out making electric heaters and farm implements. In 1952 they introduced a 7hp 36cc two-stroke engine clipped on a bicycle they called the “Atom.” Their first motorcycle, a one-cylinder 90cc machine came out in 1954.

Kawasaki started aircraft design and metallurgy in 1924 then after the war, in 1949, began producing engines for motorcycles. Their close relationship with BMW helped in design work. Their first motorcycle, based in the “Meihatsu” subsidiary company of Kawasaki Aircraft emerged in 1954. In 1960 they bought “Meguro Motorcycles” that had been building four-cycle, single cylinder motorcycles since the war, from 60cc to 250cc, and built their own plant, Kawasaki Motorcycles.

In 1956, my sailor buddies and I hit the beach off our aircraft carrier in Yokohama where we rented motorcycles. Young, dumb and full of juices, our antlers were out, hard and sharpened. After getting the bikes we swung by to negotiate with “Mamma-San” and picked up our young, adorable whores then rode up, down and yonder tearing up the Japanese landscape while our girls squealed with delight. My ride was a 250cc four-cycle, single-cylinder Meguro, a brand I had never heard of but that surprised me with its snap. My precious cargo was barely noticed back there being such a tiny package. When she held on for dear life, it felt mighty fine.

Kawasaki clung longest to two-cycle engines before switching to the four-cycle pioneered by Honda. Even as late as 1973 their Mach III had a three-cylinder two-stroke, wild/crazy handling, 498cc, 60hp @ 8,000 rpm screamer that weighed 395 pounds and streaked along at 119 mph. Kawasaki later followed Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha with inline four-cylinder, four­-cycle engines.

In Britain, besides the big builders of vertical twins like Triumph and BSA, a motorcycle factory with a short history - 1950 to 1955 - blasted on the scene with a remarkable machine. Howard R. Davis lent his initials to the 61cu.in. V-twins, and called them the Vincent HRD. Handling left much along the roadside but they did move along. Guaranteed out of the box to do 125 mph, with names like Black Shadow and Black Lightening—they came in any color you wanted as long as it was black. In 1955, the last year for mighty Vincent, a Black Lightening hit a track speed of 185 mph without supercharger or turbo.

As for big bikes in those days, there were no choices of 1100 cc, 1500cc, 1800cc, or 2,000cc. Classification was divided to: big bikes, 650cc to l,000cc with Norton and Moto Guzzi later coming out with an 850cc. Middleweights were 300cc (Honda later made several 305cc) to 450cc and 500cc. Lightweights were anything under 300cc; that included classifications of 250cc, 197cc and 125cc, with several less popular models in between. The U.S. had their big elephants, the 72cu.in. Harley-Davidson; and the 80cu.in. Indian Chief with side-valve flat-head engines.

Ah, Indian and the legendary Chief. In 1925 the Indian factory at Springfield, Massachusetts employed 3,000 people in three shifts and was one of the largest motorcycle factories in the world. By 1953 the last Indian Chief had rolled off the assembly line. The factory and everything connected to it was sold to Associated Motor Cycles of London. They brought out British looking Indians named Arrow (250cc) and Warrior (500cc) that enjoyed a short run of moderate success. In the nineties a try to revive the big Chief here in the U.S. had an abysmal parts network and faded quickly to oblivion. A duplicate experience happened in 2007. And again in 2012.

Twice the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company almost went under due to a combination of the times, bad management, greed, arrogant leadership, and some say a bad product—traits that bring companies down even today. Another outstanding flaw, their engineering people had a habit of releasing drastic changes to unsuspecting riders before they were adequately tested. The Harley rider became research and development through many justified complaints. During the early thirties, production fell 80%, caused mostly by the Great Depression. Nobody had money to buy a car or motorcycle. It was hard enough to get food. In 1935 Harley introduced a 61cu.in. overhead valve engine with wrinkled looking rocker covers. It became known as the “Knucklehead.” It was so popular it turned the company around.

Harley-Davidson survived the beginning British invasion after WWII but during the late sixties quality of their machines was so bad they could no longer match the better built British twins and sales started to ease down. In 1965 they went public. It was the same year they introduced the “Electra Glide” with electric starter. But they were in trouble. Bangor Punta tried a hostile takeover that failed. The new generation of Davidson and Harley was not as enthusiastic about motorcycles as their parents had been. After all it was the sixties. There was a shooting war going on in Vietnam. Everybody had some cause to push, each lumpy with its own lunatic fringe. Many interests competed for attention of young folks. A motorcycle company was part of the enemy establishment. Negotiations started between management of Harley-Davidson and OMC, the outboard outfit, but fell through, and in 1968 the company was sold to American Machine and Foundry (AMF) that made bowling balls and other sporting goods. From the beginning it was obvious Harley-Davidson would be just a sideline for the new owners and only 15,475 units were sold that year. By contrast Honda production reached 10 million units worldwide, and while Honda still begged Americans to set up dealer networks, at home throughout Asia they were the motorcycle leader. Nobody appeared happy with the sale. Bill Davidson was kept as CEO but had no authority in the decision making process. Before the sale, Japanese manufacturers Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki privately offered to float a loan to Harley-Davidson but they were arrogantly and promptly rejected. Davidson and Harley elders told their children to unload all stock in the company because under AMF the factory would go under in a matter of months. If that happened there would no longer be an American motorcycle on the roads of America. The offspring obeyed and thereby ended their association with the company. Under AMF leadership Harley-Davidson quality became atrocious. The machines even looked bad, like something a kid would throw together in his back yard. An electric starter meant rather than kicking and kicking you wore the battery down trying to get the thing to run. Vibration continued to spew parts along the highways and byways of America.

The debate over whether AMF saved or wrecked Harley-Davidson continues. If AMF had not taken over, there would be no Harleys today. Although Harley became a step-child in status, AMF did pump a lot of cash into the company, badly needed cash to stay alive. Harley-Davidson barely survived British motorcycle popularity. But export of the English vertical twins was already in decline and that trend would continue, from 71,000 bikes in 1969 to 3,100 in 1981. There was a new kid in town, and Harley-Davidson would never make it through the Japanese motorcycle invasion—unless they had some powerful help.

In 1969 Honda came out with what may have been the greatest motorcycle ever built up to that time: the Honda in-line four-cylinder, 5-speed, front disc brake, 4-pipe exhaust, electric start CB750K.The machine was great looking, decent handling, civilized, over 120mph fast, reliable enough to go 100,000 miles, docile at low speed and gave over 50mpg, and it sold for about $2,500. Honda touted it as a modern affordable super bike. It was unlike anything that had ever been produced before and it knocked the entire motorcycle industry right on its tail.
Harley-Davidson had already tried to compete. To counter the rising sales of affordable lightweight British and Japanese machines, they had imported the German DKW 125cc and called it a “Hummer.” The engine had also been used in the British BSA “Bantam.” It was fairly reliable for its day; one had been ridden across North America by a British lady librarian. In response to the slightly larger engine market, they imported an odd looking Italian Aermachi in 250cc and 350cc and called it the “Sprint.” But these imports were not real Harley-Davidsons built in the good old United States of America, and real Harley riders knew it. So did buyers. Although sales of the “Hummer” were adequate, and there was mild success racing the 350cc Aermachi, the imports later faded in a fog.

The seventies and early eighties were a decade of many poorly made American manufactured products. Poor quality was a disease that spread through the world, not just with motorcycles but with everything from cars to washing machines. The factory heads stated their products were “good enough” for the buying public as they took the profits and ran. Little was pumped back into factories to create better research and development, automation, and inventory control. Because of this the American steel industry was devastated by more efficient, better produced, cheaper Japanese steel.
Japanese motorcycles were put together like a watch. Though they got their horsepower through high RPM, they just ran and ran. The worst you could do to them was not ride them. They did not take kindly to just sitting.

For Harley-Davidson something clearly had to be done if the United States of America was to continue producing a home grown motorcycle. The management at Harley-Davidson threatened the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycles: Honda-Yamaha- Kawasaki-Suzuki) with heavy tariffs unless the Japanese manufacturers floated them a $40 million loan—a loan they had refused before. Harley had no authority to execute such tariffs so they went begging to the government. Although members of the UJM had to compete with each other, and all other motorcycles of the world, they had a friendly camaraderie among themselves, an attitude they wanted Harley-Davidson to join. But when threatened with high tariffs they cooled and backed off with friendliness. And later Yamaha was the first to emerge with a motorcycle designed to compete directly with Harley, the V-twin Virago.

Then, as if Harley-Davidson didn’t have enough problems, in 1974 Honda knocked the motorcycle industry on its tail again by introducing the Honda GL1000 Gold Wing, with an engine size aimed right at the big twin. Except the Wing was a water cooled, shaft drive, opposed four with the reliability of the best cars. Kawasaki quickly followed with its own versions of the Wing, and Harley-Davidson felt itself going under once again.

President Ronald Reagan heard the cries and somebody in Washington crunched the numbers. With the new decade of the eighties, sales of motorcycles with engines more than l,000cc (61cu.in.) tallied up to: Harley-Davidson 33%, Honda 26%, Kawasaki 16%. Big Japanese motorcycles were selling more units in America than the home grown product. Worse, most law enforcement traffic officers in the nation, except in Wisconsin, rode a Kawasaki, not a Harley-Davidson. The tariff was made law.
Whether it was a call to patriotism, “outlaw element” worship by a certain type of rider, or what was up to then an underground cult, the “myth” of Harley- Davidson grew like locusts engulfing a rice field. “I’m an American, no stinkin’ rice burner for me. If you’re a real American, you ride a Harley.” But the machines were ridiculously expensive and in 1981 AMF executives had all but given up on the Harley-Davidson and quit pumping money into it. To spur the budding interest movement along Willie G. Davidson, AMFs Vaughn Beales, Harley-Davidson president Charles Thompson, thirteen Harley executives, and four banks, came up with $100 million and bought out AMF. The Harley-Davidson motorcycle was back in the family, although those with the last name Davidson or Harley became more of a figurehead than part of leadership. The proud motto became: “The Eagle Soars Alone.”

For new company owners the immediate engineering priority was two-fold. Introduce a revolutionary, and most important, reliable V-twin engine, and get the vibration away from the rider. The name of the engine was the Evolution “Evo.” The German Porsche Design Group, contracted to draw the original engineering plan—the Nova Project—was told the engine had to be leak free, trouble free, reliable and built at a reasonable cost. Harley-Davidson would not start selling the engine until it had gone one million test miles. It was a far different approach from the days when they threw it together and shoved it out on the rider. The evolution engine was introduced in the 1984 Harley-Davidson, complete with rubber mounting so only the engine and frame vibrated, and belt drive. The volcano erupting myth of Harley-Davidson continued to explode, and has not abated to this day.

In 1995 the “potato-potato-potato” engine sound that the Japanese never could duplicate became a Harley-Davidson registered trademark. There are those who think it is the sound of a yard tractor with a faulty muffler. Japan has produced many wannabe Harleys. They are popular because they look like a Harley but have water cooling, shaft drive —and with crankshaft counter balancers are vibration-free —and more reliable. But they are not accepted among the loyal myth worshipping real Harley riders, except with meaningless lip service, and likely never will be. Those who believe in the myth enjoy their machines. They have learned to live with its faults while praising its virtues, of which it has many.

2001 celebrated Harley-Davidson’s 100th birthday, a remarkable accomplishment considering the history and the product. The Harleys came into Milwaukee by the thousands. Most arrived by trailer and in the back of pickup trucks to be off-loaded and ridden around locally. In 1999 I had taken the opportunity to tour the Harley-Davidson engine manufacturing factory in Milwaukee. I watched all the parts go together in a clean work environment. I saw the division between engines destined for California, and those for the rest of the world. I looked in wonder at engineering blueprint archives where every part for every engine ever built by Harley-Davidson was on file. I was told every part could be machined on request. I did not ask about cost. I listened as each engine after the assembly line was run for at least 45 seconds. And run hard too. I did feel a certain pride. There is absolutely nothing on this planet as American as the big V- twin Harley Davidson motorcycle. As I did then, I do now wish them continued success.

Though I have never yearned to own a Harley Davidson, I do ride them from time to time to see how much they have changed, if at all, and what improvements have been made. My son has owned two. He later went with a Honda Shadow, but has now returned to the fold with a new full dresser Harley..

Motorcycles in the 21st Century have developed greatly from the tiny engine in a bicycle with pedals. The trend today is to make them look like they belong on a race track. The 650cc (40cu.in.) engine in some machines puts out more than l00hp and zips along at 140+mph, an illegal speed on almost every road and highway on earth. I see the riders hunched over their tanks like a monkey climbing on a football and I wonder if that can be comfortable for hundreds of road miles. Harley-Davidson has listened to the demands for retro-design and now produces motorcycles for nostalgia, modern in engineering but designed like the machines of yesteryear. It does not, however, look like a trend. The new “wannabe Harleys” from Japan look sexy as a college cheerleader.

American, Japanese, Italian, British, German - the motorcycles of today are international. Honda and Kawasaki have factories in the U.S., and in 2002 China started producing the Honda “Today” motor scooter. The same year sales of the design award winning, wildly successful Honda Super Cub reached 35 million units. The popular Enfield Bullet 500cc, produced in India, is now exported to the United States. The Harley- Davidson Sportster is assembled in Mexico. It has been said that if all imported parts were removed from a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, there’d be nothing left to roll.
The trend these days is to look at motorcycling as a sport. For most they are no longer cheap, basic transportation. The big road burners get worse gas mileage than many cars. And their technological complication has moved them far away from the guy under the tree in his back yard with tool box in hand. They all need special tools. But there are still reliable older motorcycles out there for those of us who want something less complicated and more basic, and for a few of us, still look like motorcycles. Many early machines are still rolling along. “Keep 'em full of fresh oil and they’ll run forever.” That is truer than realized.

      With better after-market parts and better oil, cars and motorcycles can be used for more miles and years than they ever have been. Many are available and affordable. The high prices for Harley-Davidson still keeps them out of reach for most riders. But many will mortgage the house, take out long term loans, and even critically stare at how much food their children are eating, just to own one.

In my lifetime I have owned 20 motorcycles and ridden over 250,000 miles. Though not the most experienced rider, I am a rider of experience. Some of the machines I owned were good, some were awful, one or two were outstanding. It has been a lifetime search for the perfect motorcycle, at least for me. It all started way back in 1944 when I was a young shaver of six...
Kindle $3.25  Print $13.90

From Cushman motor scooter to 4-cylinder Honda, Roar and Thunder is a personal lifetime journey of owning and riding motorcycles. Solo or two-up, it tells of riding adventures through six western states, Canada and Mexicowhat was going on at the time, and the changes in motorcycles and attitudes about them. There are twisty open roads, sand trails, quick boring freeways, traffic jams, high desert winds and blinding blizzards. The big motorcycle evens of the past are hereDeath Valley Run, Indio, Lone Pine, Yuma Prison Run, Sunday Poker Runs, and just rides for burger and beers. Absent are Harley-Davidson only events. If motorcycles are part of your life, come along for the ride.

Monday, March 30, 2015






An author isa writer does.

On April 1st, 2014, I made the final decision to switch from traditional publishing, where somebody else made the decisions, to independent or self-publishing, where I was in control. My first task before the move was to gain control of my publishing rights, which took two years of negotiation with one earlier publisher.
          I had a good working relationship with the last publisher. We did four novels together and likely they would have continued to publish whatever I sent them. Our royalty rate was at a 50/50 split, and they offered to send free copies to anyone for reviews. They were local. Each time I signed a contract I was treated to a free lunch. A sweet deal, right? I had two objections with them. I didn’t like their coversto me covers sell booksand, they would have nothing to do with printed books. Sure, they’d bring out the books via Create Space POD, and sell them to me at cost. But they’d have nothing to do with retail of the books and refused to be a source of purchase for them. Like many, they were in the eBook business.
          Previous publishers were worse. A mid-list publisher did nothing toward marketing. The one novel I had with them sat in the catalog, never mentioned, never promoted. For that they took 65% of whatever sold. When a producer offered a film option, on twelve of their books, including mine, my take was $100, plus renewal of another $100 each year for five years until the producers made up their minds. The contract was non-negotiable. It improved if they moved on the option to make a movie. Then the money happened, still with my cut little more than corner mouth drool. What I mean by non-negotiable, any writers who questioned the terms of the contract automatically had their book pulled and was dropped from the option. Then the second year that contract was modified to keep me chained to the publisher for seven years. I refused to sign and my poor little novel dribbled into oblivion.
          Another past publishers refused to offer the novel as print until I had sold a minimum of 500 eBook copies. This was after I had a six month war with their editor over content. Those who actually read the final version, and were familiar with my work, could hardly believe I wrote it. I had lost the war.  
          After fifty years in the ever-changing writing racket, much of what has happened to writers, happened to me, including decades ago Paramount offering a $5,000 option on one of my earlier novels, and my agent at the time blew the whole deal through greed. Paramount walked. The agent received nothing. I received nothing. Less than a year later, she was out of business. Going out of business happens a lot with agents. Why do you think?
          So much for agents and traditional publishers.
          I feel I must qualify what I mean by publishers in my blue collar writing world. To me there are four types of publishers. The term traditional publisher is tossed around at random, as if you’re not doing it yourself, you are publishing traditional.
          Let me preface that with: A traditional publisher worth the name pays the writer an advance against royalties. No other way around it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a few hundred dollars. To actually work to promote your book, they must have a financial investment. You gotta be in their shorts. They need their money back. So off we go.
          Type One: High mucky-muck traditional publisher. Guys like Doubleday, Simon and Schuster, Harper-Collins, Penguin, Random House, MacMillan, Little Brown & Co. and Hachette, etc. What sets them apart? They give nice fat advances against royalties, like $40,000 up to the millions. Their eBooks sell for a penny under ten bucks, or more. They are really into hard books. Their control, over your novel is absolute. They’ll even change the title if it suits them. They have their favorites and you have a zip-zero chance of selling them. All they can offer is lots and lots of money. You got to love them. There are mid-list, lesser publishers included in the traditional mix, who give $5,000 to $10,000 advances and maybe are a little more flexible with wants of the writer. Maybe. A true traditional publisher offers an advance against royalties. Those are the only publishers recognized as acceptable by MWOA (in case you want to join), and other top drawer writer’s associations. Few books earn much beyond the advance. Some publishers may be like Amazon and their popularity contest, the Kindle Scout scheme that only offers $1,500 but it’s something. And if your book is selected, they guarantee $25,000 over five years. Self-nominated, so-called publishers offer no advance, ever. The only really successful writer I know personally is my beer drinking pal, Ralph. A famous guy as a military consultant, so I won’t use his full name. He has given up on books and writes articles plus his consultant military work. He came to my writers critique group because he said he wanted to write crime novels like me. Don’t ask if it was for the money.
          Type Two: The little publishers. No advance at any time. Most of those started out in eBooks, most still are in eBooks. A staff of less than five, mom and pop operations runs them. Covers come from a data base and are generally terrible. Most covers on store bookshelves, even from the big guys, are bad too. Apparently few publishers use artists anymore. Apparently few publishers think creative about covers. Better to have the author’s name smeared over the top half of the cover. The hottest covers out today come from independents. Except Hard Case Crime Publishers. Their covers come from an age when covers yanked readers to the book. Great stuff. Okay. The little guys bombarded us with their presence a few years ago and more keep adding to the mix. Make no mistake. These people don’t give a hoot in a hula hoop about the printed word. They are digital darlings through and through because digital production is cheap. They will pay lip service to print, and maybe offer Create Space POD as a sideline, but mainly to attract writers of eBooks. The entire process just costs them a little time. Apart from them are small publishers that do publish real books which don’t need an electronic device, and they may even offer a few hundred dollars as an advance. When compared to the eBook group, their number is tiny to the point of microscopic. Do not be fooled. Because the price is so low, eBooks are moneymakers only through sheer volume. The number of writers who make big bucks writing eBooks can be inscribed in Roman numerals on the head of a pin. Not many. But plenty of scribblers are writing them, more than any other type of book. Some are good to excellent, most are still terrible.
          Type Three: Independent Publisher. I detest the term Self-Publisher because of all the nastiness and really bad writing that came along the trail in the beginning and some think still do. I tell people I moved from traditional to independent writing. I work hard to avoid the term self-publishing.  During the Star-System in early Hollywood movies, the studio controlled everything. They had written contracts with actors and directors and screenplay writers. They owned the movie world, they forced people to write, direct and act in bad movies, real crap, terrible stuff. Then dropped them on a whim like a tossed empty beer can. Only when the actors, directors, and screen writers broke away, refused to sign contracts, became independent to choose the material they wanted, did they find true Hollywood happiness. So it is slowly happening to regular writers, even hacks like me, who some say produces quantity rather than quality. Independence is the way to go. Why? Glad you asked.
          Type Four: Self or Ego Stroke Publishers, or, Print Mills: These are last because they deserve to be. Remembering the early days, I had already been the print mill route. These hucksters came on the writing scene a few decades ago. They have names like I-Universe, Xlibris, Outskirts, Dorrance, and maybe a dozen others by this time. These days one deserved-forgotten-name outfit owns most. I went with two of them on two early bookssorry experiences. A high fee, and not only no editing but nobody there even read the book. The quality of their product was adequate though one of my book runs began to come apart after two months. Sales people harass you with marketing schemes for years after. If you bite and pay, they only add your title to a long list of titles on a page. There is nothing offered specifically for your book, just the name. For sure the sales people never read your book either. Nobody even knows what your book is about. The book is irrelevant. It is a product like a kitchen scrubber. Amazingly, they are still in business, still finding suckers, still charging horrendous fees to stroke egos. Also interesting, a couple of popular writer magazines endorse them, no doubt due to the exchange of advertising greasy coins.
          In my lifetime I’ve written more than forty books. One was non-fiction, a couple were memoirs, the rest are hardboiled crime novels, some stand alone, the rest with my three continuing characters: My tough gal PI, Makayla “Mac” Tuff; my wiseacre, troublemaker sailor, drifting through the world aboard his small sloop, Bay Rumble; my hard tough, ex-fighter, former Navy SEAL, killer PI, Logan Sand. About half my total productionthe early writingsare long gone, out of print. They were screw and kill spy adventure novels I wrote for a flat price when I started out. The price at that time wasn’t bad, $1,000 to $1,500 a book, but I had to write them in six weeks. Some days I wouldn’t mind making that kind of loot today but I’d never be able to handle the schedule. I have about twenty of my books currently available at Amazon, in Kindle and print.
          No matter what others say and you might think, and despite its obesity, Amazon is the writer’s friend. I buy stuff besides books from them. Books only make up 30% of their business. I sell my books exclusively through them on the KDP Select program. When I made the move to go independent, I had many hard choices. Earlier books were available through Barnes & Noble (Nook) and Smashwords and Goodreads, but from prior experience their sales of my books were a trickle when compared to Amazon, which was probably a trickle compared to royalty advance paying publishers You get perks when you go exclusively with them. B&N would no more offer my books on their bookshelves than they’d offer upstairs hookers. Yet, it has been written that anybody can display books in a B&N window for $3,500 a week. In fact, their priority is not selling books, it is renting space. Publishers pay for those tables piled with books that block your path going through the store. But let us tread lightly on the last remaining chain bookstore going. I use their basement for my writers critique group meetings.
          And this brings us to one of the biggest atrocities committed against writersthe obscene 45% to 50% discount taken by bookstores just to place the book on a shelf. Or worse, the small bookstore that will pay you nothing up front for your book but will sell it on consignment, after it has been pawed and mutilated, for the same 45% to 50% discount. Oversimplified example: let’s say your little book retails for $10. Your cost to buy the book is say $4. If you sell your book yourself you make $6. /Cool. /Even in a tavern when they buy you a few beers and let you win at pool, if you knock two bucks off the price, you still make $4./If somebody other than you buys direct from Amazon, you’re still docked the $4 cost. Cost is cost. If the bookstore buys the book and demands the 50% discount, that comes off the RETAIL price, or the ten bucks. You’re down the $4 cost, PLUS the $5 discount. Your total take is $1.Except it isn’t. You don’t get a 100% royalty. The publisher gets 65¢ of that if it’s paperback. Your cut won’t buy a pencil let alone a beer. Who needs whom the most? The writer sweats and bleeds to create the product. The seller places it on a shelf, counts it once a month, rings up the register when it sells. The writer has many outlets to sell the finished product. The seller only gets what it sells from the writer, maybe via the publisher. Flash. Nobody at any time is worth more than a 25% discount, ever. I know writers who not only do that, and make the seller buy the book up front for cash. I did that with a bookstore in San Diego. It got to the point that when he ran out, he called me and said he’d send a check for more. It can be done but writers have to do it. And, of course, publishers have to be on board. And they live in fear the stores will stop buying their product, then what? Especially now that bookstores are falling like a flock of butterflies hit with buckshot. So 25% will never happen on a big scale. But it can be done. I know it. Do we need bookstores? Maybe. But apparently not as much as everybody thought, look how many are folding? Do bookstores need us? Absolutely. Shout it from the rooftop, kids.    
          I went with Amazon exclusively, even with all their latest lending, freebee hopped-up schemes I’ll never understand. I’ve been in the program a year. Has it been worth the move?
          First off, no more free ride. I always thought the way writing novels worked; the writer sweated his or her liver and bled his and her blood to write the thing. All the money flowed to the writer not from the writer. I mean the production of novels. We all know by now the writer must promote and market the stuff by himself or herself on his or her own dime. Nobody is going to financially help you. Well, maybe the sugar daddy or (if you’re a guy), the woman equivalent who recently became widowed. And her chauffer would drive. How much you pay usually depends on how much you have to steal from necessities like food and diapers and wheelchair grease and medication. With a traditional publisher you are relieved of cover choice, editing, formatting, and pricingand sometimes marketing. You are also relieved of choices in those areas. They do most of that stuff. How well they do it depends on how good they are at it, and how much intellectual, financial, emotional investment they have in your book. When you go independent, you do all that stuff. You have the control but boy-howdy do you pay for it. Be prepared for little return on your investment. It has been rightly said, that 90% of independent or self-published books sell less than one-hundred copies. Believe me, publishers who do not offer a good cash advance against royalties do no better.
          My first move after getting the rights back for previously published books was to rewrite, edit, and get new covers for selected books. Some had been released as only paperback, before the eBook explosion. Others had been released only as an eBook. I wanted all of them to have both. I attach equal importance to the paperback as I do the digital. The process took me the entire year. Plus I wrote four new books. Now the final completed previously published book has just been released in both Kindle and print.
          Rewriting was hard and slow. A sharp Midwestern gal with a journalism degree who does my book for less than fifty dollars did my editing. She’s done them all. She works through an outfit called: fiverr.com
          You have to buy your own cover. In two versions, one for Kindle and one for Create Space POD. The outfit I use has covers for $69 on up to thousands for original creative choices. Most of my titles are the $69 variety, though I have paid as much as $120. Did I mention, covers sell books? The business started out with a melding of artists and writers serving each other. You get both Kindle and Create Space versions for one price. They will do the back cover but the price is ridiculous. Create Space will do it too but their price is also ridiculous. My format gal in New Zealand (fiverr.com) includes the back cover in her format price. Forget her. She’s far too busy to take on anyone new. Lucky me, I’m one of her original customers. One good thing about the cover people, once you buy the cover it is not ever available again, to anybody. I use selfpublishcovers.com  
          Computer nerds, of course will do their own formatting. I’m too dumb for that kind of action. I happily hire it out and pay my $25 for each book.
          Once formatted, the Kindle is for sale in a day or two. Print is ready a couple weeks after proof. I do the proof before it is released to Amazon. My gal can make whatever changes needed.
          The Amazon royalty system sucks. The graphs and charts are so complicated a simple single-lane mind like mine cannot grasp it. How tough would it be just to list this many books sold, this is what the royalty is, this is how many dollars you get this month? Kindle never shows you exactly how many dollars will be deposited. Create Space does. Aren’t they on the same planet? Are they like KFC franchises? Another cute gimmick. I’m supposed to get a 70% royalty on my books (one big reason for the switch). Kindle advertises 70% on a list price of $2.99 or higher, otherwise the royalty is 35%. Okay. I noticed that my $2.99 books were only giving me 35%. I said, How come? They told me that the $2.99 for 70% is the net price. Domestic Amazon charges a 15¢ handling fee on all books sold. That brings the price under $2.99 and therefore it is paid the 35% royalty not the 70%. I immediately raised all my Kindle prices to $3.25. 
          Another glitch I’ve had with three of my books. When the proof is approved and the book is released, it is available here and there at various Amazon outlets. I have a profile page at Amazon. There, all my available books are supposed to be shown. On three occasions, my book never made the trip. It went on a detour to the black hole. I had to write them an email asking, How come? They apologized and wrote back that I must notify their Author Control Division if I want my book shown on my profile page. Yet another nuisance step. Now my latest is not there. I notified the division and am waiting. More non-writing nonsense.
          Many other twists and turns about Amazon go beyond my understanding. I’ve read books on how their best seller racket works and still don’t have a clue. The lesson for me was, just because Amazon says it’s a best seller, doesn’t mean it is. It could be a dud that shines through list juggling. I realize, today the writer has to be involved in order to be successful. At this stage in the game, success is something that barreled by like a runaway downhill big rig, the devil driver laughing as he lays on the horn. I’m making a little money writing, and what’s important is getting on with the next one. The years are sifting through and my biggest fear is that I’ll check out before I get everything done. Though I should be chasing down where my books are on the many lists out there, I need time to write books and I work at it five hours a day, seven days a week. If they sell, they sell. If not then I’m doing it badly and it’s time for another notch in the belt.        
          I did learn early that when you go independent, those writers who want to sell books better have a lot of books to sell. Volume brings in dollars. Uh huh. You spent three to five years on your magnificent opus and nobody showed much interest (agents and publishers). You’re determined the world must read your masterpiece. What you’ll do is go independent. While your one contribution to greatness saturates the market, you will prepare for another three to five years for your next. If you are a one or two book author instead of a working writer, and you want to go independent, the row you hoe is lumpy with boulders. Keep your other source of income.
          With 20 books for sale and four more ready to go, I’m a piker. Would you believe there are writers with more than a hundred novels on Amazon? The world record for most books written belongs to L. Ron Hubbard. From 1934 to 2006 he wrote 1,018 books. Most were in the science-fiction and western genre. They’ve won tons of awards. I only have one award. His estate is still worth over a billion dollars. He once said that one way to really get rich was to start a religion. Uh huh. You bet. At least a dozen writers have written more than 300 books. For me, a satisfying life’s work would be 100 books. That is my goal. If I count the 40 already done, that leaves me 60 to go. And not much time. But I’m greedy. I want the hundred to be in addition to the 40. Lofty leaps to maybe stay a hack. But my stuff is a lot better today than it was yesterday. It’ll be even better tomorrow.
           I intend to write three or four books a year. Those who do make money being independent, deal in volume. That is an absolute fact. And usually a series. And in a well=known popular genre. Damn few have made a killing with one book. Not enough to make that a goal. You’re back to Roman numerals on the head of a pin.
          The cost of going independent isn’t anywhere near what the print mills charge, but you have to pay something. For me, I’d say the bottom line—paying for editing, format for Kindle and Create Space, cover for Kindle and Create Space (including back cover), buying five hard copies and one Kindle copy—less than $100 a book. Most of that is for the cover. Feedback has told me my books have decent covers. Some have even called them great covers. What you do yourself shaves from cost. If you think an acceptable cover can only be custom designed by an artist, or you can only lure a decent editor for $600 or more, or you must have top line management to handle distribution, you better hope that oil well keeps pumping.
          My cost isn’t a bad price. However, when you enter the world of promotion and marketing, the whiskey bottle goes over the rail, empty or not. Those paperbacks you give free to libraries, bookstores, bartenders (I’ve sold a lot of books in taverns), family, friends, women you’re trying to impress, agents you want to peddle your series for a fat advance—all that precious prose has to be paid for by guess who? Be content to know that even if you were with a traditional publisher, you’d likely still have to cough up that financial hairball. When film production finally began on The Firm, John Grisham was selling copies out of the trunk of his car. After the movie came out, he didn’t have to do that anymore. I sell paperbacks from the deck of my boat and at Farmers Markets. My sign reads: MAKE ME FAMOUS. BUY MY BOOKS. HERE. NOW.
          Okay, so a year ago I made the decision to switch. As the flirty tail filly said to the proud cut stud, ‘let us at least give it a try.’ How did it work out? For me, being truthful, a year wasn’t long enough to judge. It took the full year to rewrite, edit, get new covers, and format those fourteen previously published books, besides the same stuff with the four new novels I wrote. My total promotion has been for Kindle. I blatantly make a pest of myself on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Sales began as a dribble but in the past two months have started to pick up. I have done nothing to promote my paperbacks. Now that the last prior published book is launched, my concentration will be to bookstores—the paperback push, and new books. Book signings, email and snail mail ads, personal visits. Since I’m an award winning writer, ahem, I’ll try to become a multiple award winning writer. I won’t ignore eBooks and will continue to make a pest of myself on social networks. Tough tomatoes.
          Here is a reality I’ve had to face. For the past four years I’ve chaired a writers’ critique group every other week here in Long Beach. Total membership is over 175 now, though we have a core group of around fifteen. Except for me, not one member within my core group owns an electronic reader. None of my family owns an electronic reader. Damn few of my friends own an electronic reader. A third of my aunts don’t even own a computer. They’re too busy with Leisure World activities. When each new book is released, my friends and family are interested only in a free paperback. And less than half of those are actually read. I tell you, life is no starry-eyed honeymoon for the weary writer. I read books both ways. I like the electronic price. But when the eBook goes beyond $5, I lose interest. The dollar bookstore will give me a paperback for less.  
          Okay, that’s it so far. Going independent one year later. Too soon to know if it was worth it or not. In another year I’ll be deep into pushing my paperbacks and will have a better handle on the value of the move. Right now, I’m not getting rich. I’m not even making a lot of money. But I think I am doing better than I was a year ago. I’ll let you know how it goes a year from now.