Tag Archives: Books

My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 2: What’s Your Vision?

If you’re thinking about self-publishing your work, you have many choices ahead of you. But before you even worry about formats, online book retailers, and author events, take a moment to think about what you envision for your book.

My vision for my book

Sure, most of us fantasize about a runaway bestseller. But envisioning more immediate, tangible goals will help you figure out the best way to approach getting your book out in front of your audience.

When I was envisioning my goals for Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder, here is what I pictured:

  1. My book on library shelves, especially in Kansas history collections.
  2. A book I could sell at events; a book I could sign.
  3. A book people could collect and pass along to a friend.
  4. A book available at local bookstores and museums.
  5. A book people could immediately access with a click or a tap the second they heard about it.

Do you see what I mean by immediate and tangible goals? It turned out that my vision focused on availability and opportunities to interact with the public. I knew, based on my goals, I wanted to be able to offer both a tangible paperback edition as well as an eBook edition.

Where do you picture your book?

Take a moment to think about your goals. Don’t think just in terms of sales–we all want sales!–but think about all the places you can easily see your book.  Here are some examples to get you started:

  • You want to be able to sell your cookbook at a booth at your county fair.
  • Your church is celebrating its centennial and you want to sell a book about its history to raise funds for its renovation.
  • You picture people reading your romantic comedy on their phones while waiting at the doctor’s office.
  • You want to see your artsy home design book for sale at your local boutiques.
  • You want people to hear the beauty of your poetry as they’re commuting to and from work.

Why does vision matter?

A realistic, tangible vision helps you do two very important things:

  1. identify your potential audiences
  2. identify what you need to do in order to reach your potential audiences

Your vision for your book will help you determine if you need to publish in paperback, eBook, or audiobook format. It will guide your marketing outreach, help you determine if author events are worth your time, and help you build what will hopefully be a long-term relationship with readers. Without vision, you might waste time and money making choices that won’t help you sell your book. So take a moment and envision.

Do and Don’t

Do dream about all of the places you want to see your book. It’s okay to dream big–who doesn’t want to see a #1 rank on Amazon?–but it’s more important to dream tangibly. Remember the Flat Stanley project, where school kids took pictures of Stanley in different places? Try that with your book.

Do be realistic. Picture your most immediate likely audience, and then the next likely audience, and so on.

Don’t feel like your book has to be everything to everyone. If your vision is to have only an eBook version and you don’t want to mess with paperbacks, THAT’S OKAY. The joy of self-publishing is that you call the shots. That also means that if, down the line, you change your mind, you can always introduce new formats.

A Final Note…

As mentioned before, the choices I made for might book might not be the right choices for you or your project, and that’s okay! Taking the time to envision your goals for your book will help you make the best choices for your book.

My Experiences in Self-Publishing, Part 1: Moving Away from the Old School Librarian’s Bias

Introduction

After Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder was unleashed upon the world, several writers asked me about the self-publishing process. As a result, I’m working on a series of posts detailing my project and the choices I made. Before you read further, I offer you two important warnings:

Warning 1: The self-publishing industry is evolving very fast, which means that my posts on the subject will probably be outdated by the time you’re reading them.

Warning 2: The choices I made for my book may not be the right choices for you.

The Old School Librarian’s Bias

I spent eleven years working in public libraries: five years as a library page at a large metropolitan library during my high school years and six years on the reference desk of a mid-sized city library during my adult years.  As recently as 2009, us librarian-types were still pretty skeptical of self-published books. It isn’t that we were opposed to an author self-publishing, it was that we didn’t want to accidentally waste taxpayer dollars on a poorly written, poorly edited book, or in the case of nonfiction, a book that could potentially give bad or even dangerous guidance. For us, the issue was that the books weren’t vetted by anyone.

Librarians WANT to support local authors. Librarians WANT to offer their patrons new and thought-provoking books. Librarians DON’T WANT to waste money on books that won’t circulate or could cause harm to readers. Sadly, this meant that librarians often dismissed self-published books without a backward glance.

Then a series of important events happened that changed the way readers and librarians looked at self-published books:

  • The publishing industry threw itself over a cliff. They dumped quality mid-list authors and focused on megablockbuster authors and celebrities; they were slow to join the eBook revolution; and they laid off their editors and copyeditors, resulting in poorly edited books.
  • Publishers Weekly began to publish PW Select, a quarterly guide that reviews and recommends self-published works, thereby creating a vetting process.
  • Online booksellers, reader-oriented sites, and book bloggers took the lead on reviewing and vetting books.
  • Digital POD presses began to create quality books that can withstand library use.
  • Pretty much everyone has access to an eReader, tablet, Android phone or iPhone, broadening the audience for eBooks.
  • An entire industry of editors, cover designers, and production people has developed to ensure that a self-publishing writer can create a quality product.

Librarians are still committed to not wasting money, but they now have the tools that make it possible to confidently choose self-published books that are a good fit for their patrons.

Why I Self-Published

In 2012, I took the plunge and decided to self-publish Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder. For two years, I accumulated dozens of rejection letters from mainstream publishers and agents, many of whom were actually very complimentary of the manuscript. I might have walked away from it if it had been a novel, but it was nonfiction, and I hated the idea of a piece of Kansas history being unavailable because a handful of mainstream publishers didn’t want the project.

Even though I had been following the publishing industry closely for half a decade and could see how the industry was changing, that niggling Old School librarian’s bias was still creeping around in my brain. I discovered, though, that the tools are out there to create the kind of book that readers will read and librarians will buy. So I self-published. The process takes a lot of work, but I’ve created a book that has been well-received. For me, it was worth it.

About This Series of Posts

Through this series of posts, I will talk about making choices about formats and costs, crowdraising, marketing, understanding and communicating with your audience, and resources I found helpful. I will be opinionated, but I will not tell you what to do, because my choices might not be the right choices for you!

Please feel free to make comments and ask questions.

The Knoblock Murder From Outside of Kansas

Florence Knoblock’s murder and the subsequent investigation and trials captured the attention of people all over the United States. Here is a sampling of some of the articles that appeared outside of Kansas.

This story announced the murder and presumed suspect almost immediately after the murder occurred. Mexia Daily News (Texas), June 1, 1925.

This story announced the murder and presumed suspect almost immediately after the murder occurred. Mexia Daily News (Texas), June 1, 1925.

John Knoblock's arrest is announced in the Kansas City Star (Missouri), August 15, 1925.

John Knoblock’s arrest is announced in the Kansas City Star (Missouri), August 15, 1925.

This story reveals the discourse regarding the bloodhounds evidence. Fayette Democrat (Arkansas), March 20, 1926.

This story reveals the discourse regarding the bloodhounds evidence. Fayette Democrat (Arkansas), March 20, 1926.

 

John Knoblock, Blackie Stevens, and 1920s Race Relations in Kansas

When I was researching the Knoblock murder, I really struggled to understand why the citizens of of Coffey County were so quick to arrest Sherman “Blackie” Stevens and continue to keep him in jail despite having verified his alibi and likely innocence. As modern readers, we need to take a step back and look at race relations in Kansas in the 1920s to better understand what was happening in Coffey County and the potential danger Blackie Stevens was facing.

Kansas and the KKK

It is a common misconception that the Ku Klux Klan rose to power immediately following the Civil War and continued to gain momentum through the 1930s. The popularity the the KKK declined steadily through the 1870s, only to experience a resurgence in membership and power in the 1910s and 1920s.  The KKK, which began as a Southern institution, worked its way into Kansas social circles through the early twentieth century and by 1925, Klan supporters controlled the Kansas Senate and had a good grip on the seats in the Kansas House of Representatives. This was scary news for minorities, immigrants, Catholics, and anyone else of whom the Klan did not approve.

Thanks to the newspapers, we know that the Ku Klux Klan was operating in both Coffey and Lyon counties in 1925 and 1926. In fact, the KKK publicly denounced any connection to John Knoblock about the time that he was first arrested for the murder of his wife. Rumors were circulating that his arrest was delayed because of the KKK’s influence. According to the Emporia Gazette article, “…whether or not Knoblock ever was a klansman, it is certain that he is one no longer…as the leaders of the order have been embarrassed by stories connecting his name with the organization.”

Not wanting to be associated with the murder of Florence Knoblock in any way, the normally invisible KKK publicly denies any association with John Knoblock.

Not wanting to be associated with the murder of Florence Knoblock in any way, the normally invisible KKK publicly denies any association with John Knoblock.

Meanwhile, in the Daily Republican, we occasionally run into ads not unlike ones for other fraternal organizations.

KKK ad Daily Republican May 15 1926

This ad appeared in the May 15, 1926 Daily Republican.

Not everyone was a fan of the KKK. William Allen White, the editor of the Emporia Gazette, was adamantly opposed to the Klan and ran for governor primarily to draw attention to the problems the KKK brought to Kansas. Charles Griffith, the attorney general who took an interest in the Knoblock murder case, was also working to drive the Klan out of Kansas.

In June of 1926, the Emporia Gazette records an ongoing battle with the Klan, which wanted to march in a parade in downtown Emporia. The attorney general’s office issued an order disallowing the Klan to march with their masks in place, and the Klan argued that it was a violation of their rights to impose such an order.

It took a legality to finally push back the tide of the Klan in Kansas: they did not have a charter to operate in the state. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Klan’s appeal, they were forced to cease business in the Kansas. By this time, members around the country were reconsidering their associations with the KKK, and the Klan began to rapidly decline in numbers and influence.

Lynching and Law Enforcement

Lynch mobs did happen in Kansas, even if it wasn’t as frequent as in other states. The UMKC School of Law suggests there were 54 reported lynchings between 1882 and 1968, which is a low number when compared to Georgia, where 531 people were lynched in the same time period. Kansans were also more likely to lynch regardless of race; of the 54, 19 were African American (compared to 492 of the 531 lynched in Georgia).

Still, lynchings were regularly reported, even if they happened in other states. At the time of the Knoblock murder investigation and trial, stories about lynchings appeared in the newspaper.

Reports of a lynching in the August 7, 1926 Emporia Gazette.

Reports of a lynching in the August 7, 1926 Emporia Gazette.

Does this mean that Sherman Stevens was in real danger?

The potential for danger was real enough.

Today, we would immediately argue that the sheriff violated Sherman Stevens’ rights by holding the man in prison for several weeks despite the fact that no charges were brought against the man and even the newspapers announced that evidence appears to clear the Sherman Stevens of any guilt beyond having worked on a bridge close to the Knoblock home and accepting strawberries from Florence on a previous occasion. Yet, we have to look at what else was going on in Kansas at the same time.

Rumors were circulating in surrounding communities about the supposed mob that was going to lynch Sherman Stevens. Though he refutes the seriousness of these rumors, in the June 5, 1925 article “Some Wierd [sic] Tales Being Circulated About Burlington,” John Redmond writes, “There was some talk of lynching the negro suspect, but half of those who talked it wore a silly grin as they said it. One loud-mouthed man might have turned that crowd into a mob, but there was no leader and consequently nothing that looked like a mob, but the officers were taking no chances and kept the negro away as a precaution…”

The talk was there. The situation didn’t escalate because there wasn’t an instigator.

To the poor, inexperienced sheriff’s credit, all indications show that the law truly did investigate Sherman Stevens’ whereabouts. I really believe that they would have released Sherman Stevens much sooner if they were able to redirect the public’s attention to another, more viable suspect. However, because there was no other suspect, they continued to hold Sherman Stevens in jail for his own safety until speculation turned to John Knoblock as the potential murderer.

What happened to Sherman Stevens after his release remains a mystery. We know that he spent some time in Garnett, Kansas, because he had communicated with the sheriff. But soon after, he leaves Anderson County and is never heard from again.

Disturbing to me is the fact that, in an interview with John and Florence Knoblock’s granddaughter, I was told that she and her sister grew up believing that their grandmother’s killer had been hanged.

Did a secret lynch mob chase down Sherman Stevens? Though we don’t know definitively, there is no evidence to suggest that he was lynched. I can’t imagine that the community would have allowed John Knoblock to endure two trials if they believed strongly enough that Sherman Stevens was the real killer.

 

Additional Reading

Kansas Battles the Invisible Empire: The Legal Ouster of the KKK from Kansas 1922-1927 by Charles William Sloan, Jr. Kansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 1974.

History of Lynchings in Kansas by Genevieve Yost. Kansas Historical Quarterly, May 1933.

Transportation in 1920s Kansas

During the 1920s, many Kansans were transitioning to new technology as it became available and affordable in their communities. People living in cities might have running water while their country counterparts might still use a well pump and outhouse. Farmers might read by lantern light while their cousins in town had gas or electric light.

Transportation was also in transition. The earliest Kansans reached the state by wagon or horseback; by the 1860s, most of the major eastern Kansas towns were accessible by train. For Coffey and Lyon counties, the railways–particularly the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Line (known as the Katy) and the Atchison-Topeka-Santa Fe (ATSF)–were a crucial and reliable means of traveling from town to town.

Katy Line Large

The Katy Line Map from 1877 shows the extensive network of Katy trains available to travelers in Kansas and beyond. (Rand McNally and Company.. Map of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway., Map, ca. 1877; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth2440/ : accessed March 23, 2013), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries, Denton, Texas.)

In town and in the countryside, wagons and horses were still the dominant modes of transportation through the 1910s. As automobiles became more affordable and maintainable, they began to travel alongside the horses and oxen. In places like Coffey County, it wasn’t until the roads in town were paved–about 1920–when more and more people began to use cars as their preferred mode of transportation.

By 1925, covered wagons in town were a rare enough occurrence that when several were seen, it merited a mention in Burlington's paper. (Daily Republican, December 30, 1925)

By 1925, covered wagons in town were a rare enough occurrence that when several were seen, it merited a mention in Burlington’s paper. (Daily Republican, December 30, 1925)

As cars took over the roads, so did the problems associated with them. Burlington installed their first stop signs in 1925 and began arresting jaywalkers for endangering themselves and others. The newspapers were filled with stories of traffic accidents, including accidents involving fatalities.

After much frustration with drivers and jaywalkers alike, the city of Burlington installed two stop signs. (From the Daily Republican, July 7, 1925.)

After much frustration with drivers and jaywalkers alike, the city of Burlington installed two stop signs. (From the Daily Republican, July 7, 1925.)

C.J. Beatty was killed in an automobile accident. (From the Daily Republican, June 29, 1925.)

C.J. Beatty was killed in an automobile accident. (From the Daily Republican, June 29, 1925.)

Transportation in all its forms played an important role in the story of Florence Knoblock’s murder and in the trial that followed. Numerous witnesses testified to seeing John Knoblock and his four-year-old son, Roger, driving into town the morning of the murder. One witness, W. P. Phillips, was sure of the time he saw the Knoblocks because he was standing near the Mosher’s Regulator–the official clock that regulates the railroad times, and the clock to which many citizens set their own watches.

A Kansas driver changes a flat tire on his 1919 Model T Roadster.

A Kansas driver changes a flat tire on his 1919 Model T Roadster.

After discovering his wife’s body, John Knoblock and several others jump in their cars and travel to nearby towns to look for suspects. John Kellerman, a brother-in-law, borrows a neighbor’s car to drive to Hartford to break the bad news to one of Florence’s sisters after he discovers that John Knoblock’s car has a flat tire.

Because John Knoblock’s trials were held in district court, many of the court officers came in from other towns (the district court covered multiple counties). The judge and court staff members had the option to drive themselves or take the train. While the train was a reliable mode of transportation between Emporia and Burlington and Burlington and Ottawa, it did limit the options for when the court officers could arrive and leave.

Both forms of transportation would cause delays at various times. During the preliminary hearing, John Knoblock’s attorneys, W. C. Harris and Owen Samuel, who chose to drive from Emporia to Burlington, were impeded by muddy roads. Fred Harris, an Ottawa attorney assisting the prosecution, was delayed by the train schedule.

Trains and automobiles caused delays during John Knoblock's preliminary hearing. (Daily Republican, November 9, 1925.)

Trains and automobiles caused delays during John Knoblock’s preliminary hearing. (Daily Republican, November 9, 1925.)

During the hearing to determine if John Knoblock’s trial should be held outside of Coffey County, Judge I. T. Richardson is delayed when he catches a ride with his court reporter, A. H. Woodrow, who insisted on driving his new Ford slowly because he was still breaking it in.

The judge is delayed by his slow-driving court reporter. (Daily Republican, Decembet 22, 1925.)

The judge is delayed by his slow-driving court reporter. (Daily Republican, Decembet 22, 1925.)

As I wrote Shadow on the Hill: The  True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder, I found myself thinking about how cars, trains, horses, and people on foot all interacted and moved around each other on the roads. It must have been a tremendous burden to farmers in outlying areas to find their way into town to serve on juries, and there would have been tremendous expense–both to the courts and to the individuals–to transport dozens of witnesses from Coffey County to Lyon County for the sake of the trial.

BREAKING NEWS! Shadow on the Hill is hitting the shelves!

Imagine my joy (and surprise!) to discover that Town Crier Bookstore, my favorite hometown independent bookstore, has my book ON THE FRONT COUNTER! If you’re in Emporia, you can buy a copy right now and experience INSTANT GRATIFICATION!

Places I’ve found the paperback so far:

Town Crier Bookstore

Amazon

As for me…this is the best picture I could find to express my feelings on the matter.

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