Well, friends, we are past the halfway mark of the year 2018, and what a year it has been. Ever-increasing Western sales, fascinating stories, a host of new talent who are writing Westerns, and a year for innovation in the genre.
How did this innovation come about? Well, it all came from a few recent discussions I’ve been having with some good folks associated with the record business. As a specialist in selling Westerns, it became apparent to me that our industry was far behind the selling power and success of our friends in the record industry. Why is that? Well, of course, the record business is a huge industry with tried and tested formulas. But I thought it was about time we came up with some formulas of our own. As one record executive said, “We knew that if we did certain things, an artist could have a twenty-year career in records. New products, building a fan base, and creative, interesting and innovative projects to bite into other markets was key.”
In the record industry, it has been common practice for artists to make albums on a theme. For example, titles like, ‘Hank Thompson Sings the Mills Brothers,” “From Hair to Hollywood with Peter Nero,” “True Tales of the West from Johnny Cash,” “How the West Was Won, ”Ella Sings Gershwin,” “Le Bing From Bing Crosby,” and “Elvis Country,” are all what they called “concept albums.” This is how we came up with the idea of “Shorty: U.S. Marshal,” which pulled six Western authors together to write stories about Paul L. Thompson, who happens to be one of the great sellers of today, and an industry in himself. It didn’t take long for this set to reach the charts, and demand was such that a second volume was released, with a third completed and on the way. This set allowed authors to reach a bigger market and also allowed their readers to discover Paul L. Thompson. A win-win for all involved.
Then came a set called “Hulsey’s Wranglers.” This is a series of stories that revolved around one of the leading Western publishers of today. Again, it allowed readers of Outlaws Publishing’s books to discover new authors and allowed new people to discover Outlaws Publishing. Another win-win that hit the bestseller charts.
Additional ideas have come as I was sitting in on a brainstorming session that led to the conception of a new set of stories concerning the famous lawmen of the past, and a series of short stories about the men Bass Reeves killed. These sets should prove to be very popular.
“Why weren’t we doing projects like this before?” one author asked me. “The reason,” I explained, “is because nobody thought of doing something on this scale.”
Planning was another part of our new record company type focus. What can an author do to present their best work to a wider audience? How will this project be promoted? Planning releases based on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual author has become very important. This means, of course, being involved in the creative process and trying to improve product to make it more valuable for readers. It also means special creative projects to try and reach more readers, and develop the authors talent. That’s why we came up with four distinct collections designed to bring a bigger audience to our writers.
Burnett and His Inspiration
An inspirational set, currently zooming up the charts, was the first of these. Led by Pastor Jim Burnett, this collection has proved that a Western writer can be more than a Western writer… he can bring inspiration to his readers. “I can’t write inspirational fiction,” one author told me. “I write Westerns.” That author turned out one of the most inspirational stories I’ve ever read.
Placing promotional value on special items such as movie tie-ins has to become the norm, too. This is how we scored a hit, several months ago, with a certain author called Troy Andrews Smith, who has made a movie from his book “Cannon House.” The book has been on the charts now for many weeks. The strategy employed was one of drawing attention to the book’s motion picture quality. This seemed to please readers, and this strategy has also been employed in the “C-Bar” series from Mark Baugher, which is currently seeing climbing success.
Special projects like “Breaking Magnolia” from Megan Allen are also important, as these books will bring a different kind of reader into the fold. We can’t just rely on strictly Western readers. We need to expand and find readership of other genres that are compatible with a Western theme.
Short stories have started to gain a renewed importance. These are tools of introduction. A reader can zip through a short story and discover a writer they love without investing time in a big product. Don’t forget… just as a listener has to invest in an album, a reader has to invest time in a book. Six or seven hours of their life will be spent immersing themselves in a book. Giving them the chance to taste before purchase makes them feel confident that they’re investing wisely.
Presenting strong product to a varied readership who want different things is the way to make a strong career for authors. Westerns are some of the most important books because they concern an all too important history—too important to be lost. To bring the Western back to full health, it must be fed to all readers—not just fans from the golden era of the west, but to fans who don’t even know yet if they’d enjoy Western-themed fiction. If one reader discovers a love for Westerns through a project like “Guide My Hand, Precious Lord,” then that’s a new fan. If 100,000 readers discover a love for Westerns, that’s a step in the right direction; and if one million people rediscover the Old West, then we are leading the way once more. Let’s lead the way once more, I say.