• 100 Influential Idahoans 2015
You can find it all here in the Pacific Northwest - much of the nation's most beautiful places, some appallingly trashed-out areas; politics running from just about as far left to just about as far right as anywhere in the country; economies of all sorts from the highly prosperous to the dying. It's all here.
 

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Two years ago at this point, Idaho was headed for a major clash within the Republican Party.

It was two years ago last week that Russell Fulcher, then a state senator from Meridian, announced he would oppose incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter in the Republican primary. That launched the most serious opposition from inside his own party to an Idaho governor in almost 50 years, though Otter would go on to win it decisively.

Months before that, in June 2013, Bryan Smith launched his campaign for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, opposing veteran Republican incumbent Mike Simpson in the May 2014 primary. He campaigned steadily for nearly a year before losing, by a strong margin, on election day.

In starting their campaigns well before the end of the year before the election year, Fulcher and Smith – who were not alone in Idaho in launching primary competition campaigns along that schedule – were doing the smart thing. Money is an important factor in many campaigns, but time is often an underrated asset, or liability if you have too little of it. I even think of the two as being mathematically related: Extra time, or money, can help make up for a deficiency on the other side of the equation. And Fulcher and Smith must have entered their campaigns knowing they were likely to be outspent (as they eventually were), so the extra time was a helpful element.

One point here is that, even with lengthy campaign efforts, each fell short, and it wasn’t especially close.

Another point is that no one this year has been making similar effort in the year-before to start an insurgent campaign the way those two did.

By this point in the last election cycle, as I noted, a significant clash between wings of the Republican Party in the state was already well in the making, and it became a big and highly unusual conflict, with what amounted to two separate slates going to war with each other in the primary. The election delivered a clear win to one of those sides – the incumbent, more establishment side – but it didn’t end the splits or the conflict, as demonstrated in the rancorous party convention of 2014.

That seemed to set up the likelihood of another, similar, battle for 2016. But no such battle seems to be coming together. Look around and you’re not seeing announcements of primary challenges around the state, a contrast to the last cycle.

There are several possible reasons. One of the biggest is simply the lack of major offices to run for: Above the legislative level, that would be just the two U.S. House seats, and both incumbents (Republicans Raul Labrador and Simpson) look likely to seek re-election and are strongly entrenched.

Nor is there, offhand, any particular reason to anticipate major fireworks on the legislative level. Put aside the presidential race and Idaho’s politics in 2016 look pretty quiet. In state, political people probably are thinking more about 2018 (when, among other things, Otter likely will step aside and open the office for someone else) than 2016.

It may be that some of the activism within the Republican Party could be diverted to the presidential nomination contest, where some of those same debates could play out (in a proxy way).

But the absence of Idaho dogs barking in the night-time, as the Sherlock Holmes story had it, may translate to an absence of heated politics in the state next year.

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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on Amazon.com are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.

The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK Publishing.com earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”

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In January I ran out a list of 100 influential Idahoans, among them (at number 43) a brand-new state official, appointed to the office just a couple of months earlier: Kevin Kempf, director of the Department of Correction.

A year after his appointment, I’m glad I included him. The indicators about his background I was advised of, that might make for significant changes at the state lockup, seem in fact to be leading to something new.

Kempf arrived as director on the shores of a troubled period in Idaho prisons, not least because of the private prison (aka “gladiator school”), then returning to state control. The typical response to hiring a new director, tasked with making major improvements after a bad patch, is to look outside the state, or at least the department. In this case, the Board of Correction promoted from within, and that may have been a key to significant reform.

Here’s some of what I wrote about him at the time: “Kempf is a career corrections officer, with work all along the line. He started in 1995 and spent his first years as a corrections officer, a parole officer and an investigator. He moved up through executive ranks, becoming a district (southwest area) manager, prison warden (at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino) and then a central office administrator, finally deputy director in 2012 (before which that particular job didn’t exist). His understanding of the
department has to be thorough.

“But it’s the combination with the next factor that really seals his spot in this list: He has done a lot of outside work, and made a lot of outside connections, suggesting an interest in trying new directions and new possible solutions. He spent years quietly working on court-corrections relations and planning, and discussions about how results could be improved. He has been highly active in national corrections organizations, starting his Linked In page by saying, ‘I love networking and getting to know fellow Correctional Professionals from across the country.’ By various accounts, that’s accurate.”

In other words, he knew the Idaho system from top to bottom, but also stayed involved enough with outside interests to pull ideas for improvement from a wide range of sources.

In his first year, Kempf has pushed for a variety of changes. One has been a significant pay raise for corrections officers. Another – which may help with the first – is an “open door” policy, especially for legislators who want to check out the insides of a prison, but also for others as well. Kempf has become quite visible in the news media.

He is also changing some significant aspects of prisoner treatment, including – at least this is his plan, as outlined to the Board of Correction on November 12 – eliminating solitary confinement. The department has started a community mentor program for prisoners, to help them transition back to the outside world, which ought to be good news to anyone who realizes that almost all prisoners one day will be back out on the street.

He has responded quickly to outside criticisms as well. In July a federal judge described as “barbaric” the dry cells – cells without running water, without a toilet – used in one of the units. Within a month, Kempf had ordered their use abolished.

Last week he reported progress to legislators on a range of areas, even reporting a welcome decline in prison population, while noting improvement in others that will take some time. “We are trending in the right way.”

In a Boise Weekly article, Kempf was quoted, “We’re behind the times and that’s not a position I want to be in.” If he holds to the trajectory of his first year, Idaho corrections won’t be.

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What’s indisputable about the shooting incident north of Council is the assessment by Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, that, “It’s an absolute tragedy.”

Try to get a lot more specific than that, and you rapidly find questions outnumbering answers – and that is a problem. We only know part of what happened that night.

Little told the Idaho Statesman, “The issue is the attorneys for the Yantis family are going out and painting a picture, and the sheriff’s deputies, the sheriff, the Attorney General’s Office, the State Police have got protocols that they’ve got to follow. And nature abhors a vacuum.”

The clear part of the case is that in the evening of November 1 a motorist collided on Highway 95 north of Council with a large bull. Neither emerged well; the humans were taken to a hospital, and the bull’s leg was shattered. Two Adams County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, and the bull’s owner, Jack Yantis, was asked to come by to put the bull down. Not long after he and family members arrived, he was shot to death. His wife had a heart attack and also was hospitalized.

The Yantis family, through an attorney, has as Little noted provided a description of the missing pieces of the story.

On Tuesday night Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman spoke to a crowd of about 300 (that’s more than a third of Council’s population), but said he himself lacked answers to many of the questions, since the investigation is being run mainly through the Idaho State Police.

He didn’t name the two deputies involved (figuring out who they are probably wouldn’t be hard in such a small county anyway) but did say both were experienced, one with five years in law enforcement, the other with 15. So much for the “couple of wet-behind-the-ears rookies” theory.

Body cameras have been issued to officers in the county, which raises the hope that the incident may have been fully captured – exactly the kind of incident where cameras could help establish just what did happen. But Zollman said he didn’t know if the officers were wearing them.

They keynote comment, though, the one explaining why 300 people in such a small town showed up and felt the way they did, may have come from the member of the audience who said this:

“If you’re so committed to the safety of the community, then why am I so scared?”

The tragic nature of what happened is obvious, and there are good reasons for questioning what the deputies did and why they did it. That’s one argument for the Idaho State Police and others investigating to share with the public as much information as they can, as soon as they can.

Because there’s also this: The news media has been full of reports in recent months about law enforcement shootings and violence around the country, and Council is one of those places where the message goes forth on a very regular basis, from media, organizations and politicians, that government isn’t to be trusted.

The Council shooting probably is more an aberration of some kind than part of a pattern. If that’s the case, and state officials want to make that point, they should waste no time releasing the results of their investigation.

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As an indie author, you can find a growing number of options for running book giveaways, but you’ll need to choose carefully to stay on the positive side of the ledger.

Give them away?  Giving away books you’re trying to sell may seem counterintuitive, and it doesn’t work equally well for everyone.  Some authors have reported sending books to people who enter every contest to win a free book, so in some cases they’re not connecting with actual interested readers.  One book giveaway analysis said, “Anecdotal evidence suggests giveaways attract contest junkies: those who enter everything and do not discriminate.  There was the one somewhat infamous example of an author whose Swedish-language book was won by someone who didn’t read Swedish.”

But many indie authors have used giveaways successfully to generate book reviews, especially on Amazon, and to prime buyer interest in the title.  Marketing expert and BookWorks blogger Penny Sansevieri has described giveaways as one of the best ways to raise interest in a new book, and “in fact, I have done pre-publication giveaways that have really helped to spike success and reviews on the site, she says.”

You have at least three distinct widely used approaches to choose from.

One, the oldest, is based at Goodreads, the reader-author site that first tried book giveaways on a large scale.

The books you give away there have to be print books, not eBooks, so you’ll have printing and shipping costs.   You can choose how many books to give away (interest tends to grow with the number of free books) and how long the contest runs, and arrange the shipping yourself.  When it’s over, Goodreads picks at random and sends you a list of winners, and you send the books to them.  You can contact these winners with a note (just once, when you send the book); many gently suggest the reader provide a review.  Some do, some don’t.  Goodreads has estimated review follow-through on about 60 percent of free giveaway books.Goodreads-Logo

You have flexibility in timing and targeting the giveaway.  It can start even before your book is released, or long afterward.  You also can limit the giveaways to groups or geographical areas.

In July Amazon (which now owns Goodreads) announced it would offer its own giveaway program as well.  The setup is similar to Goodreads, but more fully in-house.  That means, for example, Amazon handles book shipping itself (though you’re billed for the book and the costs).  It also designates the winners differently from Goodreads, either declaring the first respondents as winners, or winners being every 10th (or whatever number) person to respond.  Like Goodreads, you determine the number of books given away, and at Amazon the contest ends when all of those books are won – which can be in a matter of minutes or hours, or much longer.  Responsibility for publicizing or advertising the giveaway lies with the author.

Watch the costs and procedure closely.  Since Goodreads lets you manage the shipping to winners, you can ship for the publishers’ print on demand book cost, while Amazon requires you to buy each of those books at regular retail price, which is much higher.

Goodreads also gives you more flexibility in how long the contest runs, and how much visibility it generates.  Some authors have run contests there as long as several months to milk the exposure.  You lose that control with Amazon.

Here’s the third option:  If you were planning to use your own social media and other contacts to push the giveaway anyway, why not run it yourself?  You can do that through a site called Rafflecopter, which many large companies producing all kinds of products also use for giveaways.  (Its web site says it has run 325,681 giveaways in the last year.)  It offers a free option, and more expansive services ($13 or $84 a month) for a fee.  You get a widget that can be embedded on your website and integrated with Facebook and Twitter.  When people respond, you can collect their email addresses, which is highly useful for marketing down the road.  You can also require participants to sign up for your author newsletter or follow your social media to enter the contest.  Rafflecopter picks the winner or winners, but it does so when you ask it to.rafflecopter

Unlike the other two options, you can give away eBooks or, for that matter, anything else you want.  It’s the least expensive giveaway option.

The downside may be that your book giveaway isn’t associated with a more known brand like Amazon or Goodreads and some people may be a little more reluctant to participate.  How much response you get depends entirely on you.

Think through your options carefully.  But do consider giveaways as a way to drive up interest in your book.  It was very successful when authors first started trying it a year or so ago, and it still works well for many self-publishers.

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In 1985 one of Boise’s most significant mayors, Richard Eardley, was wrapping up a record 12 years in office, his third term, and mulling whether to run for a fourth. He didn’t.

Those were the days of the downtown mall wars, and Eardley had been through the wringer. He was no doubt getting tired of the conflict and the stress, and his long-held vision for developing Boise was being overturned. But there was also this: He probably wouldn’t have won, and he likely knew that. In that year’s mayoral election, a city councilman allied with Eardley lost decisively to a first-time candidate named Dirk Kempthorne, who was aligned with an opposition group.

Last week, Boise did what it never has done before in electing a mayor to a fourth four-year term. (Long-ago Mayor James A. Pinney won five terms, but those lasted just two years each.) David Bieter, first elected in 2003, not only won for a fourth time (breaking Eardley’s record for tenure) but won big, with more than two-thirds of the vote, against an experienced opponent who herself had won local elective office several times.

What accounts for Bieter’s track record?

It isn’t that all of his proposals or policies have been popular, though some have. Mention “downtown streetcar” and even many of Bieter’s friends will back away. But many of his efforts have been popular enough. The Boise foothills levy, also on the ballot Tuesday, won almost three-fourths of the vote.

Bieter seldom has gotten very far away from what most of the voters in Boise find acceptable. He has been a likable and presentable face for the city. And while he has accumulated some complainers over time, they have never amounted to numbers large enough to take him out. He may make proposals, but he doesn’t go on crusades; he has been active in office, but nothing seems to have worn him down, or out. And while he has never been a great orator, Bieter does have solid political and campaigning skills.

Next door to Boise, in Meridian – Idaho’s third-largest city – Mayor Tammy de Weerd was re-elected, by a margin even greater than Bieter’s (though her opposition was slighter). She too was first elected in 2003, and last week won a fourth term. She too has been an active mayor – could hardly be otherwise in a city growing as fast as Meridian has – but rarely has been very controversial.

Is a fourth term the limit? Is a still longer run realistic?

In many smaller cities, where the bench of prospective candidates may be smaller, mayors sometimes serve for several decades. In larger cities, shorter runs are the norm, if only because many more people may be interested in the job.

Still, cast your eyes a few miles over, to Caldwell, where Garret Nancolas is now in the middle of his fifth term as mayor, having won that term two years ago with 65 percent of the vote.

A dozen years would seem to be plenty to hold such an office, much less 16. But in the end, it’s up to the voters, and to candidates who continue to find ways of appealing to them.

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