From the e-mails and voicemails:
AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – A few years ago in this column, I introduced a segment to give local first-time authors a shout-out. I did this because many had good things to say and worthy stories to tell, but were destined to get stuck with printing costs as the Internet changed the publishing industry.
One, World War II veteran Jim Sanders, had to sell about 200 paperbacks just to break even. His book details what it was like to be a 19-year-old ambulance driver under Gen. Patton’s command crossing Europe and being among the first Americans to liberate German concentration camps at the war’s end.
Another Modesto author, Micheal Maxwell, initially believed he needed an agent to get published, but couldn’t find an agent to represent him because he hadn’t been published.
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“Catch-22,” he said, referring to the novel written by Joseph Heller back in 1961, when first-time authors could find agents because the Internet did not yet exist.
Established writers, Maxwell said, are the ones who get the advances and guarantees – not the rookies or even someone like himself, who has self-published six books with three more in the works.
“You go into Barnes & Noble and who’s going to get the shelf space,” Maxwell said. “Me or (bestselling author) Richard Patterson?”
That stated, he’s now making money writing novels, and he’s doing it though Amazon’s CreateSpace. Maxwell, 63, worked for Medic Alert as a communications officer before owning Replay Records, and then spent two decades as a high school teacher in Modesto. Several years ago, he wrote his first novel titled “Diamonds and Cole,” which became the first in a series of books he calls the Cole Sage Mysteries.
He became acquainted with Nick Stephenson, a crime mystery writer of six novels and who knows how to navigate the Web. Stephenson began writing a series of newsletters that, in essence, became test drives for his own future writings but that also involved theories about how to market books.
“This rascal was really working on a book,” Maxwell said. “It was just writing chapters (and getting feedback) to see where it would go.”
Maxwell volunteered to be a case study for Stephenson’s theories and offered to split the take with him if it worked.
Among those theories is to give away downloads of his first book, “Diamonds & Cole,” with the idea that fans would get hooked on the first one and then buy the rest in the series.
“We like to joke that it’s like heroin,” he said. “The first one’s free. They get a taste.”
Through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online sites, readers accounted for 19,000 downloads of the book, he said. The plan is working.
“I went from (actually) selling 10 books in May of 2014 to 8,200 this year (through November),” he said.
He makes $2.70 per download from Amazon, which is where the vast majority of his books are sold. Print editions also are available through the retailer. Not only that, Maxwell said, he maintains total control of his books, something he’d lose if he signed with a publishing house.
MR. BLACKWELL’S LIST – My Dec. 20 column on Modesto’s crime of the century from 1946 brought numerous comments. What interested some as much as the caper story itself was the photo of the victims – Morley and Dorothy Theaker – standing alongside two of the men who kidnapped them, took them to Modesto’s old Sears & Roebuck store downtown and then forced store manager Morley Theaker to open the safe. They got away with over $23,000 before being arrested 14 months later.
In the photo, two of the robbers wore suits and neckties, and one of them – James A. “Buddy” Figueiredo – wore a fedora. Their style mirrored that of criminal predecessors including John Dillinger, Clyde Barrow, Pretty Boy Floyd and others who dressed for success by wearing coats and ties.
Compare them with today’s criminals who wear hoodies and baggy, sagging pants exposing either their boxer shorts or worse, and it’s clear fashion statements among thieves have changed dramatically over the decades. The late fashion critic Richard Blackwell would have shredded them.
YET ANOTHER SCAM – Ruth Johnson of Modesto wrote to say she received a call purporting to be from the Nevada Gaming Commission, telling her she’d won $900,000 in the 2013 Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. They’d failed in two attempts to notify her, they claimed.
“They wanted a 1 percent registration fee to send me the check,” Johnson wrote.
When she told them she didn’t remember entering the sweepstakes, they gave her a number to call to confirm. Curious, she called it. They told her they’d already forwarded the check to the IRS and gave her a number to call. Someone at that number told her the tax man had taken his cut and that the amount was down to $745,000, but that the offer still held if she’d pay the registration fee.
When Johnson told them she didn’t have that kind of money, a woman on the line told her she could get the check if she went to DC. The scammers didn’t count on the octogenarian being online savvy and calling the real Publishers Clearing House’s listed on its website.
“(Publishers Clearing House) said they always find all winners and do not ask for any money to receive checks,” Johnson wrote. “I am 84 years old, but had enough sense to know this was a scam, but I worry about people who might think this was real.”