• David Frazier's memoir of Vietnam, "Drafted!", is multilayered - from the days of war in the 60s to return visits as a photography - and as complex as the place itself.
From local to national, to around the world. From inside the home to speculative. From fact to fiction - though we do take care about which is which.

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There’s a good short piece in Publishers Weekly about Mike McDonald, a nature photographer who decided to self-publish a picture book about the (seemingly) unlikely subject of wildlands near Chicago. The book has done well.

PW asked McDonald what advice he would offer other self-publishers. He offered several ideas. One was to listen to the experts, but apply individual judgment. He says he was advised to stick to an e-book format for his book. For a picture book? I wouldn’t advise that even for an all-text book, but his counsel to apply personal assessment is solid.

Likewise the idea of trying to pre-sell copies of a book where possible. (I’m guessing he may have found organizational support for his nicely-wrought regional picture book.) Good advice if you can do it, though most authors may not be able to.

The point worth expanding on (and this one caught me since I’m working on a book about how to publish on a shoestring) was this: Be willing to spend money, notably “Hire at least one editor, just like every great writer in history.”

Certainly getting a good editor to work through your book is good counsel. Every writer can use one; it’s damn near essential. (Readers can pick up quickly on when a book is written sloppily enough that it hasn’t been edited; that’s been a top complaint of e-book buyers for years.) And hiring a good editor will cost you some money, sometimes in the lower four figures.

But if you’re strapped, there may be options. Cast your net around your social network; you may be able to find help for discount, or even for free. Do you know an English teacher or a newspaper editor? They may be able to help.

Spending some money, wisely, can be a good thing to do. The “wisely” part is key; there are endless ways to throw money away in book publishing. There was a time when I would have said that advertising was high on that throwaway list, but it’s not that simple. A number of authors have build steady, solid business on the back of carefully crafted and tested Facebook advertising (for one example).

Sometimes, things that work may be unexpected. Deciding where to spend can be one of the more difficult decisions in publishing.

Maybe start with this: Do all you can for free or close to it, first. Then you’ll find, when you can press that no further, you may have a little more money available where you need it.

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Sydney Duncombe, a long-time professor of political science at the University of Idaho, died in 2004.

This year, I published three of his books. And they’ve been selling; not by the truckload, but selling steadily nevertheless. There’s an audience.

Goes to show there’s never such a thing as too late to publish.

Well, almost never. There are some factors worth considering first.

Sometimes books simply go unheralded for a while. In this case, Duncombe, who turned novelist after his retirement from the university, self-published several books which did not get much exposure beyond his friends and family. Some people who knew him understood the books were out there, but few ever saw them. There was little reference to them on the web; Amazon occasionally has had a few used copies for sale, but that’s about it.

So why get into publishing these books now?

Part of it is that Duncombe is still – in certain Idaho circles – a well known and even memorable figure. When time came to write forewords for the books, some of the state’s top recent elected officials stepped forward to help.

Part of it is that the books were pretty good reads. If on one hand I wouldn’t necessarily class them with this year’s top national award winners, on the other hand people close to and interested in Idaho will find them breezy and even enlightening reading.

And the enlightening part was the other important element. Duncombe was after telling enjoyable stories, but he also had points to make and things to say. He didn’t tray out of his stories to editorialize, but his stories made points useful to today, and in some cases almost frighteningly pertinent.

(And from a publisher’s perspective, there was this: The chain of author rights is intact, and the heir was more than cooperative in bringing the book back in new format.)

And these are some of the elements, I think, that go into the question off whether to pull a book out of the past and send it out to the public again. Is it a solid book – a solid story or work of non-fiction? Does the author still have an audience – or would have one with a little push? Is the book somehow pertinent today? Is there something worth saying today?

If so, it may be worth putting back out there.

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Book publishing in 2017? A little tougher, a little more challenging … but still open for opportunity for those who navigate the currents.

That’s the view from Mark Coker, founder and big cheese at Smashwords, the largest independent purveyor of eBooks. And most of it at least intuitively feels about right.

Coker, and his site, work with large masses of independent authors (and I’ve been one of them). His viewpoint does come from a specific angle, and that has to be factored in; and his take focuses (logically enough) on eBooks more than print.

Some of the big-picture points he makes are clear and sound enough. In the decade since the launch of the Kindle (and very nearly that at Smashwords too, for that matter), and the slightly longer time since print on demand has taken off, the book publishing world has changed. The word “glut” – of authors, of books – has become basic, as the sheer volume of books has complicated selling for almost everyone aside from authors with a large established audience. Moreover, because eBooks never really go out of print, the total number of books available to a reader continues to grow massively. Meanwhile, the number of readers and the number of books read has continued to grow, but by nowhere near as much.

Those basic facts lay the groundwork for, and force the response from, everything else. Overall, Coker suggests, traditional publishing continues to have a small advantage on the print side, partly because it can much more easily get books into physical retail outlets. (That’s an advantage but a far smaller one than it was a few years ago.) At the same time, indies have an edge on price and flexibility; many titles from large publishers still are priced well over $10 each, while many indie prices are at a third or less of that.

The point is coming, Coker argues also, that a number of indies will opt out, and the independent side of the trade will start to see some consolidation as bargaining positions and cost efficiencies start to come to the fore.

Coker: “In 2017 we’re likely to see increased merger and acquisition activity as large publishers, retailers, distributors and larger service providers recognize an opportunity to take advantage of the glut to strengthen their indie author portfolio and grow their businesses. If you believe as I believe that indie authors are the future of publishing, then it starts to become clear that some form of consolidation is inevitable because the business opportunity to serve readers by serving authors and readers is so enormous. Last year I predicted WattPad would be acquired. I was wrong! Or I was early.”

He also has a good deal to say about Amazon and its eBook regime, especially Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited. My gut sense that there will be less development along these fronts in the next year than Coker projects. (And he weights his predictions with the point that he makes them more by way of starting discussions than by way of hard prognosticating.) But who knows; he’s certainly close to the game.

I get the feeling of a field changing a little less rapidly than it was in the last decade.

But then, big changes do have a way of catching you by surprise.

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It sure did fall quiet in the last couple of weeks, and that wasn’t just a result of Idaho becoming heavily snowed-in. The Christmas and New Year holidays falling on the weekend seemed to throw a big quiet on almost everyone in Idaho – at least, almost everyone public.

Idaho has the 10th lowest overall state and local tax burden in the country when compared to all other states and the District of Columbia. Idaho also has the lowest tax burden among western states when measured by the proportion of income that goes to pay for taxes. That’s according to the latest tax burden study published by the Idaho State Tax Commission.

A panel of District Judges for the Fourth Judicial District has issued a decision regarding Meridian and Garden City’s respective proposals to comply with the 1994 Order by providing magistrate facilities.

PHOTO Idaho – almost all of it – got plenty of snowfall during end-of-2016 holiday season. For a time, state police closed the whole stretch of I-84 from the Utah border to the I-86 cutoff. This image comes from Smith’s Ferry on Highway 55, on December 27. (photo/Idaho Transportation Department roadcam)

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I’m on the road around southern Idaho this week – visiting Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Boise, Nampa and other assorted locations. The occasion is showing (and giving away some free copies) of the book Crossing the Snake, which is a compilation of my Idaho columns.

Part of the idea too is setting down in places where newspapers are running the column, giving readers a chanc to converse. And me a chance to listen.

Reports from the road will be forthcoming. – rs

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We’re ramping up a bit on social media.

We’ve been expanding our presence a bit on Goodreads, the excellent site for book lovers (and for authors). And on other social media media as well.

Some of this grows out of work on a new book by Randy Stapilus on book marketing, which should be out and about in a couple of months or so. More on that soon.

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We’re trying something with one of our newer books, Eye on the Caribou by Chris Carlson, that we may be expanding elsewhere. It has to do with how the books are distributed.

Most of our print books (we do e-‘s as well, of course) are printed by CreateSpace, which offers a good and efficient deal and has the advantage of easy entry into the Amazon.com store (which makes sense since CS is owned by Amazon).

You’ll find downsides to everything, and one here is that many book stores don’t much care for Amazon and, hence, CreateSpace. And if they see a book was made at CS, some bookstores are much less likely to stock it. That seems to include Barnes & Noble, a store I’ve worked with fairly easily until I started using CreateSpace.

There are also usually options, however. In this case, that is IngramSpark, which like CreateSpace prints on demand and also has a corporate relationship – with Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the country and which services most book stores (and from which they routinely buy). IngramSpark is a little pricier than CreateSpace, but it also does good work, and printing a book through it means easy stocking in Ingram (much as CS does with Amazon).

So when Carlson pressed Barnes & Noble to stock copies of Eye of the Caribou, their response was: We will if we can get it through Ingram. So what we’re now doing, for Caribou at least, is using both CreateSpace and Ingram, which gives us very broad distribution.

There are more costs and is more work doing that. Still, we may do that with other titles. We’ll see how it goes.

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It’s been a busy year.

We started the year pushing through the new book on people in Idaho who have made a difference – the 100 Influential Idahoans 2015. It got a good deal of attention and kicked in nice sales, a good start to the year.

Next up we tried something new: A suggestion from Idaho Falls Post Register Publisher Roger Plothow to reprint letters to the editor that, for various reasons, the paper had declined to publish. The Unpublished made for very entertaining reading, and we hope to follow it up.

Chris Carlson’s Eye on the Caribou was a challenging and ambitious piece of work about the creation and passage of the Alaska Lands law in 1980, and its aftermath and effect on one miner in the state. In looking at the pluses and minuses both, it gave a nuanced view to some of the changes in land land in the country.

Scott Jorgensen’s On the Cusp of Chaos was a little more current – a personal view of Oregon in 2014 and 2015, inside and outside the Statehouse as changes in state government were underway.

A collection of my columns, Crossing the Snake, came in the fall, bringing together columns about Idaho spanning more than a decade – and all of it written from some distance away, in Oregon. It should say something at least about distance and perspective.

In the holiday season, Nathalie Hardy produced a fine Christmas e-book follow up to last year’s Raising the Hardy Boys. This one, Merry is Optional, hit the Amazon store in November.

For 2016? We have a batch of books readying for delivery. The first should be out in February.

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