Archive for February, 2014


Last May I had the pleasure to launch Stonewall Goes West at the 150th Anniversary reenactment of Chancellorsville. I met a lot of nice people, but also one not so nice fellow. He came over, chomped on a sandwich with his mouth so wide open as he spouted tinfoil hat theory that he dribbled and spat crumbs every which way, and generally made himself obnoxious.

I was a new, insecure author just a couple of weeks into having a book out, and initially I didn’t want to alienate a potential reader. That quickly faded, because I also have things like dignity, self-respect, and the gleeful willingness to physically confront people engendered by a couple of decades spent in and out of boxing gyms. I soon lost my patience, stepped out from around my table, and flatly told him to get lost.

Nowadays I have two lively Facebook groups, one for whiskey and one for my novel(s). A word of advice I have for anyone using social media — Facebook groups, forums, twitter, website comments, what have you — is not to neglect netiquette standards in the name of building an audience. I view my followers and members as my guests, and I don’t let one jerk abuse any of the others or myself in the name of keeping the one jerk.

Don’t shrink from banning a troll after a fair warning. It’s both good manners and good strategy.

I’m a big Age of Sail fan, and watching the first episode of Black Sails prompted me to blog a bit about Civil War naval power. The revolution going on — in armor, in artillery, in propulsion — at sea during the period is something that is only half-observed in my mind. The exploits of the Alabama and Hunley are the subject of a plethora of books, and the MonitorĀ vs. Virginia commented upon even in schoolbooks.

Yet I think that because the war produced no clash of battleships, naval matters as a whole don’t get nearly as much attention as they should. One of the key features, and the one spoken of the least, is the amazing increase in firepower for Civil War naval vessels.

Of course, fleets always had a vast edge in firepower over armies. In the Age of Sail, the typical ship of the line had a crew of 700 or 800 men, about the same as a small infantry brigade. Yet it was armed with at least 74 heavy guns — 24 and 32 pounders. Even with improved gun-making techniques, the heaviest field artillery in common use during the Civil War was the 20-lb Parrott rifle, and those same techniques made naval artillery truly gargantuan.

The 150th anniversary of the Hunley sinking the Housatonic was just a few days ago, and the USS Housatonic puts the massive increase in naval artillery power into perspective. She was a steam-powered screw sloop, a warship more akin to an Age of Sail frigate than anything else. In the old days, such a ship might mount 32 or more guns, usually 12-pounders, but sometimes 18-pounders.

The Housatonic mounted only 11 guns, but some of those were monsters. The smallest were 12-pounders, but the biggest was a giant 100-lb Parrott rifle. In between were a mixed bag of 30-, 32- and 24-pounder rifles and smoothbores, once the province of ships of the line, plus an 11-inch Dahlgren. Add on top of that the fact that these cannons fired reliable exploding shells that would smash a wooden ship to matchwood, and the difference between the War of 1812 and the Civil War navies becomes very clear.

Since Stonewall Goes Out came out, I have had some decidedly mixed experiences with various promotional efforts. Once of the pieces of advice I have for all indie and small-press authors out there: don’t self-advertise on Goodreads.

I can’t speak as to how effective other means of advertising on the Goodreads website, such as book giveaways or their big budget, in-house promotions packages are. This is strictly about their clickable, Google-style ads that are self-service.

My own experience with the pilot project I did with Goodreads was that it did such a minute amount of business after several weeks that most of the money allotted remained unspent. I tinkered with the audience I was targeting, and raising my budget and click bids. Nothing I was willing to do within the realms of reasonable economy improved the performance of my ads, so I pulled the plug. *

My guess as to where the problem lies is that while Goodreads has an impressive active members stat, most of those members are barely active. The result is that while there is a large number of theoretical eyeballs, the number of eyeballs that could see your ad everyday is much smaller, especially after one zeroes in on a particular, narrower audience base than “readers in general.”

* Fair is fair, and Goodreads was very gracious and prompt in refunding my money upon request.