Thank You

Now that April has passed and May is here, I wanted to take a minute (or five) to thank y’all for stopping by during the past month of stories. It means a lot to me that you all came by, checked out my website, read my stories and subscribed, liked, commented and shared my work with others. 

Reading 1At the end of last year, Cate and I sat down and figured out a game plan for 2020. We discussed events, signings, book clubs, speaking engagements and new releases. In order to really do well at any of those events, we needed new books to promote. We planned to release five books in 2020, two of them in March, one in April, one in June and one in October. Well, here it is, May 1st, and none of the books have been officially released.

That was completely my decision. 

With the current state of affairs in the world today, I just didn’t feel good about releasing books at a time when people are losing jobs and money is tight for so many. My moral side said, “Don’t do it, A.J.” My business side said, “Release those books.” Morality won out, for the most part. 

At the time this pandemic began to spread in America, We were days away from releasing My Summer Vacation by Jimmy Lambert. Books were purchased and we had been promoting it through social media in anticipation of its release the next weekend. Two days earlier, we had participated in a book club discussion of my first novel, Cory’s Way. We didn’t know then that all the events we had scheduled for March, April and May would be cancelled.

As things progressively got worse around the country, I was sent home for a week because of possible exposure to the virus. Fortunately, I didn’t get sick and I went back to work. However, during that time of quarantine, I thought more and more about the releases that didn’t happen and that were not going to happen. 

Instead of releasing a new book, I decided on a cheaper alternative for you, the readers. I set my mind to putting out one story a day for the month of April on my website. All of them free. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I wanted to give folks who were at home during this time something they could read without shelling money out of their pockets. 

Reading HeartI hope you enjoyed the month of April. I enjoyed bringing you these stories and I hope they brightened your day, week, month a little. There will be more stories in May, including a four part story titled, Because I Can. 

I will also be promoting more of my books in the coming weeks, because the truth is, I’m an author and with all of the events that have been cancelled, book sales are way down.   I’ve added a purchase tab on the website (you can find it in the upper right hand corner) that has information about purchasing autographed print books. I’ve also added a donation button at the bottom of every post, so if you just want to throw a little love to your friendly neighborhood author, he would greatly appreciate it.

I would like to thank you all once more for a wonderful April. I look forward to the coming months and I hope you will stick around, like the posts, share them and comment on them. I would love to hear from you all. Also, if you have any suggestions on what you would like to see, drop me a line.

For now, I hope you have a wonderful day, night, weekend and life. Be safe, and until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

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Being Kind

This blog is probably going to be shorter than most. Read on, Faithful Readers.

At the end of her show, Ellen DeGeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” This is coming from a woman who doesn’t just say to do something, but one who leads by example, by constantly helping people she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t have to do the cool things she does for people. She does them because she truly believes in kindness and loving your neighbor.

I met a person not too long ago who believes the same things, to do right by others, even when those people don’t appreciate your efforts, to be kind to one another, to help where you can and without seeking compensation, rewards, or notoriety. We were discussing this very aspect and she made an interesting statement that puts everything in perspective: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important.

People are important. No, not just your friends and family, but ALL people, including (and not excluding anyone at all) the homeless person on the street, the co-worker you can’t stand, the neighbor who comes in at three in the morning with his radio blaring, the woman with the two screaming children in the restaurant you are trying to eat at, the person on the other side of the counter at McDonald’s, your brothers, your sisters, folks of different color, sex, sexual orientation and religion and political views than yours.

This is not a matter of being kind to one another so others can see you do it. No, this is much deeper. It’s doing something good and not bragging about it, and not seeking recognition.

And here’s the great thing: you don’t have to let the person you are doing something nice for know that you are doing it. Yes, it is like the paying it forward at Starbucks (you know, when someone buys the drinks for the person behind them in the drive thru window). I don’t know of anyone who has ever paid for someone else’s coffee and then waited for that person to get it and said, ‘Hey, look at me, I bought you that drink. Praise me.’

You know that mom in the restaurant with the two bad kids that are getting on your nerves? What if she were a single mom, but not by choice? What if her husband was in the military and deployed overseas? Worse, what if her husband (or boyfriend) passed away? What if she just lost her job or a relative or her house just got repossessed? You see, we don’t know what is going on in people’s lives. We don’t know their circumstances. And you never know when something nice that you do for them could be the one thing that keeps them from teetering on the brink of depression. It may be the point that helps them have a good day. You could be their sun during the storm.

This person I was talking to did something very nice for me, well really two somethings. And she asked me not to make a big deal about it, not to tell folks who did this awesome thing. Sure, I could tell people that someone did something nice for me, but she didn’t want folks to know it was her. I also told her there was no way I could thank her enough for her kindness. Do you know what she said? ‘A thank you is all I need.’

A thank you is all I need…

How often do people say that after doing something for someone? She didn’t want anyone to know she had done this kind thing and she only wanted a thank you. Let’s go back to her statement: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important. She didn’t just say people are important, she showed it and she wanted nothing in return.

People, this is something we need to learn. Be nice, be kind and don’t expect something in return. How awesome would our world be if more people would adopt that mindset?

And there is one more thing: when you do something nice, the person who benefits the most isn’t the recipient of your kind deed. It is the person doing the kind deed. Yes, that’s right. When you do something nice for someone, it gives you a boost, just as much as it gives the other person one.

Like this person, and like Ellen always says, be kind to one another.

No Need To Say Thank You? Bah…

Occasionally, I get asked to play manager at work. Yeah, I know. Who would trust me to tell others what to do? On these occasions I usually get a lot of help from my coworkers. Most of the time they listen to me. I appreciate that. And I let them know.

I think it’s important to tell my coworkers ‘thank you’ when they do something I ask them to do, and then again after they have completed the task. I want them to know how much I appreciate their cooperation. It’s important.

Earlier this week one of the workers said to me, ‘Hey man, you don’t have to thank me for doing my job.’

He wasn’t being mean. He was just stating it is his job, it is what he gets paid to do, so no need to show my appreciation.

While I respect my coworker, I disagree.

Sure, I don’t have to say thank you, but it is always good to hear, always good to know that someone appreciates something you’ve done. Thank you can go a long way to getting help in the future. It shows respect and it gains respect as well.

Thank you is something that so many folks have forgotten how to say. It’s something we should say more often.

That doesn’t just go for work, though. That goes for at home and out in public when someone holds a door for you. It also goes for writers. We do appreciate when you, the readers, purchase our books, or tell us about whether or not you like our work or not, or when you spread the word to others, or leave reviews for us.

So, I say this to you readers: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Without you, well, who would we write for? Sure, we say we write for ourselves, and there is some truth to that, but in reality, we write to be read. If no one is reading, well, there is no need to write.

So, thank you.

For anyone who has read my series, Dredging Up Memories, thank you.

For anyone who has read Along the Splintered Path, thank you.

For anyone who has read Southern Bones, thank you.

And for those who will read any of my work in the future, thank you.

Some may say there is no need to show appreciation. I disagree. I truly appreciate those readers who have read my work, and those writers and friends and family who have supported me over the years.

To all of you, Thank YOU.

Until we meet again, my friends…

It’s My Job, Not Yours

I remember as a child getting comic books from a little book store out on Edmund Highway toward the small town of South Congaree (if one could call it that at the time). My dad would take my brother and I to this book store on a lazy Saturday afternoon and we would peruse boxes and boxes of comics at the back of the store, while Dad perused shelves and shelves of books at the front of it. For some reason I keep thinking that we went on Sundays, but I’m not totally sure of that. None-the-less, Larry and I were comic book junkies. He was all superheroes and I was all Dracula and Frankenstein and Conan the Barbarian.

We would get these books, take them home and spend all afternoon reading them. I often read mine several times in the course of the week. Rarely did we miss an opportunity to go get comics. It’s one of those memories I cherish from my childhood. We would take the comics back (or most of them, anyway) and get a store credit. Mrs. Laura and Mr. Al were great about making sure we were able to get new comics when we came in. Dad was, too.

Let me stop here for a second.

We would take the comics back and get a store credit.

Keep that in mind for later.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, so these little trips that my dad would make with us were like birthday or Christmas moments to us. I knew that they were special and that Dad was doing something kind and generous because he loved his boys and he wanted us to enjoy one of his great passions: reading. Store credit was important. Larry and I would look at the piece of paper Mrs. Laura filled out with a dollar amount, and then we would choose our comics based on that number. It was the ultimate in getting the most for your money.

Back then we got books any way we could: going to the book store on Edmund Highway, yard sales and flea markets. Occasionally a book would be given to us.

I was an avid reader as a kid, but very slow about it. I’m still very slow in reading today, but not because it takes me a while to comprehend, but because I take in each sentence, each paragraph, and I picture the story as it unfolds.

Fast Forward a little now.

I’m much older and Mrs. Laura and Mr. Al are gone, as is the bookstore we frequented so often as children. I don’t read comics like I used to. Instead I read other books, mostly novels and short story collections.

I am also a writer. I’m not a mid-lister or even a low-lister. I’m just a writer who wants to see my work published and who wants to see my stories in the hands of readers. If that means my stories need to be e-pubbed, then I’ll go with that. If that means they need to be in print format, I’ll go with that. If that means both, then so be it. My goal is to entertain readers, to find that happy medium of writing enjoyment and fulfillment, as well as giving readers something they want to read and something they will remember.

The publishing world is constantly changing. Thirty years ago, e-books were an unfathomable concept. Today, print books seem almost prehistoric. Thirty years ago, there were no e-zines or websites where you could submit short stories or novellas or even novels. There were physical addresses, not e-mails, and you had to print your manuscript out, put it in a big envelope or box and mail it out to agents, editors and publishers. It was a lot harder to get noticed back then.

Today, getting published is easier. You can do it all yourself with the e-pub world (and the print world for that matter). Many call it vanity or self publishing. I lean toward the self publishing term, because that is really what it is. We can call it Indie, meaning Independent publishing. I’m good with that as well.

With Indie or self publishing, or even traditional publishing, it comes down to one thing for the writer: how much are you willing to work at it. Writing is work. Writing is hard work. Don’t be fooled by some of the success stories out there:

I’ve never written anything before and this just popped in my head so I wrote it and now I’m a bagillionaire and am loved by the masses.

There are very few folks that can just sit down, pen a story and have it do phenomenally well, and that’s going the traditional route. It’s tougher going the Indie road, which is narrow and crowded with every other Indie writer out there. People shove and push and elbow their way along the streets of Storyville, peddling their wares on Facebook Avenue, Twitter Street, Pinterest Boulevard, Tumbler Road, Goodreads Circle, Blog Trail and a whole host of other places.

Readers have a ton of choices these days. The Big Six no longer really control the business. Sure, they still have a huge stake in it, but readers can go to Amazon or Smashwords or Pubit and a few other sources and browse items and titles until they find what they are looking for.

I’ve said these last 900 words or so in order to address something that is going on out there right now, and sadly, I am guilty of it.

Reading is not what it used to be. There are other things that are fighting for the consumers’ attention (especially children). Video games and the internet and television are easy distractions, and for children, probably a little more entertaining than when I grew up and books and an imagination were all you needed to escape the world for a while. Attention spans are shorter.

Reading needs to continue to be entertaining and not work. Which brings me to one of the trends of Indie publishing and traditionally published authors as well: making readers work.

Recently, one of the writers over at Book Riot wrote an article about what readers owe authors: Readers Don’t Owe Authors #%*!. I’ve read it, followed the links to other articles, and to be honest, I’m kind of sad right now. No, not with what the writer states, but because she is right.

As a writer, I want readers to read and enjoy my books. I would also like it if they told their friends about it (especially if they liked it), but they don’t have to. There is no obligation that they should have to ‘like’ my author page on Facebook or Amazon or Goodreads. There is no obligation for them to post a book review and give me however many stars they want to. There is no obligation for them to write poignant blogs based on their experience of reading my book: OMG, you need to pick this book up!

As writers, we ask so much of our readers. We ask them to choose and purchase our book among the millions of others out there. Many of us are unknown, making the risk of getting something substandard a lot higher (at least in the minds of the readers). We ask them to stick with a story long enough to get into it and then ask them to suspend disbelief that, yes, vampires do sparkle when sprayed with Unicorn dust and women can look at men through their lashes. We ask readers to trust us, to trust that we will not cheat them in the end and have them walk away from the experience of reading our books with a good taste in their mouths. We ask them to believe that our words are worth the price tag we put on them.

Let me say this: It is my job as the writer to engage you, the reader, and to hold your attention all the way until the end of the story (or collections). It is my job to give you something you will want to talk about, that you will want to share with others.

Understand something fellow writers, we do not pay the every day, average reader to read our books. Sure, we may pay professional review services to read and review the book and share their thoughts with the world, but we don’t say, ‘hey, Reader, here’s a hundred bucks. Read my book and tell everyone about it.’

At least, I don’t. I can’t afford to, even if I wanted to.

Readers read because they want to. Readers read for enjoyment. They don’t read with the idea of leaving book reviews, and posting all over social media sites and blogging about it. Readers read because they enjoy the experience. Readers are not our personal marketing department.

As a writer, I admit that there are times I have failed to market my books as well as I should. Whose fault is that? Mine. It’s not the readers’. If I want my work to sell more, I have to market my books better. Sure, if a reader wants to help by spreading the word or leaving a review or however they choose to help, then I will be more than happy to let them. If that’s what they want to do, then go for it. But, it’s not my place to tell them that I need help promoting my book and if they liked my book, then, by George, tell the world.

It takes time to promote our books, and not many of us like to do it. So, why ask our readers to do it for us?

Writing is work. It’s hard work. Marketing is work. It’s much harder work. That is my job.

So, with all that said, I would like to apologize for my part in the whole, ‘let’s get the readers to help market my work’ scenario. It’s not your job. It’s my job. If I don’t do it well enough, then my books don’t sell. I won’t say don’t help writers you like, but I won’t say, if you don’t buy my book and tell the world about it, then you are hurting us writers. That’s BS in it’s truest since.

A reader’s job is to read. That’s it. And even then, it’s not their job, but their desire, what they enjoy doing.

I go back to the comic books I read as a kid. I go back to all the writers out there who had to make it in the business without social media or the Internet or e-books and self-publishing. Sure, word of mouth helps, but I’m certain Stephen King didn’t say, ‘will you please help me sell my books to your friends by liking it and reviewing it and whatever else you can do would be awesome.’ I can’t imagine having the time to write reviews or post on social media about all the books/comics I read growing up.

I’m not going to tell any reader not to help, because, as a writer, I appreciate when someone does like my work and when someone does think enough of it to tell others or leave a review for it. That’s the general principal behind most marketing, to sell a product so good that people will just want to buy it and then tell their friends about it and use that word of mouth to help sell things. By all means, spread the word. But I’m not going to ask you to do any of the work. That’s my job, and that’s the job of every other writer out there. And I’m certainly not going to tell you, the readers, that if you don’t purchase my work, then you aren’t supporting me. Again, BS in a pure form.

There are those websites that say things like, 20 Ways You Can Help Your Favorite Writer or Support a Writer, Buy A Book. Whatever. There is one way that you can help your favorite writer, and it’s the only one that counts. Read their work. My books haven’t sold particularly well, but I know that those who have bought them have, for the most part, read them, and enjoyed them.

I want readers to pick up one of my books and enjoy them. I don’t want them to feel like if they read my books then they have to write a review or like the Amazon page or blog about it. If they want to, go for it, but I don’t want them to feel obligated to do so—that takes the enjoyment out of reading, and we should never want to take that from them.

Readers don’t owe us a thing, but we owe them. Yes, we do. We owe them a big thank you for taking the time (and money in many cases) to read our work. Thank you to anyone who has picked up either Along the Splintered Path or Southern Bones.

The only thing I am going to ask of the readers is, please, don’t steal my work (or anyone else’s). Other than that, if you see my book at the library or a yard sale or the flea market, pick it up for that quarter or fifty cents. If someone gives you my book, just say thank you and don’t worry about whether or not I could have made money off of you purchasing the book. Readers read and that’s what I want them to do with my work. Anything else they want to do with my books after they’ve read them is really up to them. That includes going to an old bookstore on a stretch of road where a middle-aged couple sales used books and credits the kids when they return books. Maybe one of those kids will see my book and want to buy it, and maybe they would like it and decide to keep it instead of turning it back in for a store credit and a comic book.

Until we meet again my friends…