Author Archives: SRSTALEY

SR Staley Signs 2-book Deal with SYP Publishing

I am pleased to announce that I signed a multi-book deal with Tallahassee-based Southern Yellow Pine Publishing two publish two novels: St Nic Inc, which will be published in fall 2014, and Tortuga Bay, which will follow in 2015. The complete press release can be found on my website ( and here.

Here is the essential text:
St Nic Inc is an update to the myth of Santa Claus with a twist involving a rogue agent working for the Drug Enforcement Agency, a twenty-something MIT trained engineer, and a washed out winter explorer looking for redemption. While contemporary in setting, the novel is a technology-oriented action-adventure novel that Staley says may well convince readers that Santa Clause does indeed exist.

“I was inspired to write St Nic Inc when my children were young,” says Staley. “I asked myself, what if Santa Claus was real? What if Santa Clause was not fantasy, with flying reindeer and a sleigh, or even a person. What if Santa Claus was a concept or an idea, or a vast secret organization
capable of delivering millions of gifts and toys to adults and children across the globe? What would it look like? How would it work? The story and characters in St. Nic Inc explore this tension between idea and reality in unexpected and challenging ways.”

The second book is the sequel to the The Pirate of Panther Bay, an action adventure featuring a female pirate captain and ex-slave prowling the waters of the Caribbean in the late 18th century. Tortuga Bay is slated for publication in 2015. Readers (
have called The Pirate of Panther Bay, “a great adventure romance,” “an engaging swashbuckler,” and “a fun and exciting adventure book that the whole family can enjoy reading.”
Reviewers say that novel is “a grand high seas adventure any teen would love; many adults as well” and a book “that remains true to the real world of pirates and Spain’s desire to reign over the New World.”

John Lehman, founder of the literary magazine Rosebud, writes Staley puts “plenty of zip into the action sequences” while exploring “some interesting pyschological implications about control in male-female relationships.” Tim Bete, director of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop at the University of Dayton says The Pirate of
Panther Bay
will forever change the way you think about buccaneers.”

Tortuga Bay continues Isabella’s saga as the Spanish viceroy continues his quest to purge the Caribbean of her presence. In the midst of high-seas battles and swashbuckling escapes, Isabella
confronts the true meaning of a prophecy told by her mother and finds herself immersed in a budding revolution and slave revolt in western Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti).

Both books are part of Southern Yellow Pine Publishing’s expansion into fiction. Known for its investment in Tallahassee and Big Bend history, including books such as The Leon County Heritage Book, a history of the turpentine industry, and, most recently, the history of the Tallahassee fire department as told through the biography of the “Dean of the Fire Service,” William Earl Levy, Sr., SYP Pub began publishing fiction in 2013 with the release of Saundra
Kelley’s Danger in Blackwater Swamp.

“We love working with new
and aspiring authors,” says SYP Pub owner Terri Gerrell.  “We believe SR Staley’s eclectic characters
and stories will broaden our fiction audience, and we look forward to working
with him to further develop a regional and national readership for his work.”

Book Signing: June 22nd!

Come see and talk to SR Staley as he signs copies of his novels The Pirate of Panther Bay,  Warrior’s Soul and Renegade at Tropical Smoothie Cafe’ in Centerville, Ohio on Saturday, June 22nd, from noon to 2 pm. The store is located at 6241 Far Hills Avenue in the Washington Square Shopping Center (behind Dorothy Lane Market). 

He will be appearing with science fiction author C.L. Gregoire who will be signing copies of his novel Death Spiral

Most Popular Posts for 2012

Well, the results are in, so to speak. The following are the top five blog posts in 2012 based on hits in this calander year (with date of original post):

1. How to Manage Sales Expectations (September 2011)
2. Suzanne Collins on Writing Novels (August 2011)
3. The Power of Movies (Versus Books) (March 2012)
4. Does a Writer Have to Sacrifice Story for Action? (February 2012)
5. Secret (Literary) Agent Math (June 2011)

Notably, three of the five stories were from 2011, suggesting once again that when we market we need to be invested for the long haul; it’s not a sprint.

Also, only Secret (Literary) Agent Math “survived” to stay on the Top Five list from 2011.

The high point the blog was in March 2012 when we received 2,512 visits! (We are averaging about 1,500 to 1,900 visits per month right now.)

Pirate of Panther Bay Cracks Top 100

Today, I reached a milestone of sorts: The kindle version of The Pirate of Panther Bay cracked the top 100 in the kindle store for childrens books on self esteem and self respect. That’s not bad for a novel that was published five years ago.

Of course, this is a fleeting achievement and needs to be placed in context. The overall ranking is 97,910. I’ve also had other days when The Pirate of Panther Bay has cracked the top 100,000, a respectable achievement for an independently published book that also suffered from a non-existent disribution system. (I’ve blogged on this extensively before, for example see here.)

But, this time the ranking seemed a little different, at least for me personally, largely because of the category.

As I’ve been “finding” my voice as a novelist, I’ve discovered a couple of recurring stylistic themes:

  1. My stories are largely character driven. Plot and setting take decidedly less important roles and I rely on my characters and their personalities to drive the action.

  2. My characters are everyday heroes. They aren’t comic book characters or two dimensional; they are put in very difficult realworld circumstances and required to dig deep to summon up the courage to do the right thing. (Okay, so Isbella is a pirate captain in 1781, not exactly realistic, but her dilemmas and personal challenges are decidedly 21st century and recognizable to anyone today.)

Thus, my books are about coming face-to-face with self-doubt, moral dilemmas, ethics and the most basic meaning of courage. They are about self-discovery. Self esteem and self respect are critical dimensions to everything I write.

So, I’ll embrace my ranking as a needed creative boost, even if lasts just a few hours.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter! @SamRStaley

Writing for Boys

I have a new article over at Blogging Authors discussing the differences between writing for boys and girls in a post titled “The Art of Writing for Boys.” Boys are tougher. They aren’t as patient as girls, and they crave action. As a novelist, the trick is to tie the action into the substance of the story and characters. (I discuss the tensin between story, action, and character in more depth in an earlier post on this blog site, too.)

I discuss the art of writing for boys in more depth in the Blogging Authors article, but the idea came to me when I gave a presentation on writing novels to an eighth grade class in Tallahassee. I talk about this experience in a recent video log (VL 7) on youtube (SamRStaley) as well.

Inside the Mind of Literary Agents

I was digging through my files and found a very interesting rejection letter from a literary agency. They were unusual in that they provided some insight into their process for deciding whether to take on new authors and books. So, I thought I would share some key parts from the letter (which I received in 2009).

“Like the rest of the arts, publishing is a very subjective business. Even though the founders of the agency have written and coauthored 14 books, most of which have been successfull, they still get rejected. And although we have sold book to more than 100 publishers since 1972, our clients’ work is still rejected. Nor do all of the books that we sell succeed.

“[We] are eager to find new books and writers, and we love to get excited about them. But the only way we can make a living is by selling books to the large and medium-sized New York publishers, and selling small books by new writers to big publshers is becoming more difficult. So, finding new writers is the hardest part of our job. And it’s getting harder.
[emphasis added.]

“Like editors, we recieve thousands of submissions a year and reject more than ninety percent of them. This forces us to use a form letter. But rejecting manuscripts that become successful books is a publishing tradition.”

(Frankly, I sometimes wonder if agents can do basic math. If they receive 1,000 books, the last statement implies they accepted 100 new authors/titles on average. This is highly unlikely. It’s probably closer to a dozen, and that probably represents new titles from current clients.)

For more, see my earlier articles on (Secret) Literary Agent Math, when it’s time to approach an agent, and literary agent “fishing.”

How Much Does Guerilla Marketing Cost?

I’ve discussed guerilla marketing tactics for book launches for new and niche authors before (see here and here), but one question never seems to be asked: How much does it (or should it) cost?

I’ve heard ranges from zero (everything is your own blood, sweat and tears) to tens of thousands of dollars. As a niche author unlikely to hit the New York Times best seller list anytime soon, most of my marketing has been “guerilla” marketing–identifying effective and relatively cheap marketing strategies to achieve my sales goals. The stone cold reality is that I could spend $25,000 on marketing for my books and still not get the return necessary in book sales to justify the costs.

But, spending nothing on marketing doesn’t make sense. Believe it or not, you can accomplish quite a lot on a marketing budget of under $1,500. I advise budgeting at least $500, and be ready to spend close to $1,000 if the right opportunities arise, but here is what a budget of $500 can “buy” you:

  1. A facebook account, and a page for your book, is free. Also, web site managers like (the host of this site) will allow you to establish blog and web sites free of charge when you buy a domain name. You don’t have to start fancy, and you can decide to upgrade your web sites and blogs (as I have) as your cash allows.

  2. Expedited reviews of your book from one or two reputable on-line book review sites such as, Midwest Book Review, All Books Review, etc. may be worth the investment to legitimize your book to a broader audience more quickly.

  3. Focused marketing efforts on developing a personal network and relationships with book clubs and experts in your field, including local book clubs.

  4. Travel to local and regional book festivals and other events, particularly if they are free.

  5. Inexpensive Youtube video marketing products such as video blogs. While they won’t be polished and professional, that can be part of the appeal to potential readers. A home video camera can provide surprisingly good quality and video editing software that comes with your operating system is probably all you need.

This marketing budget won’t get you to the New York Times best seller list, but they should be able to get you to the point you cover your out of pocket costs and can finance your next book effort!

Book Sales By the Numbers

It may seem like an odd question, but when do you know your book’s a success?

The question is a lot harder to answer than we might think. If you’ve published with a mainstream publisher, the answer is somewhat obvious: When the book makes money for your publisher. That threshold is also the point when they might consider publishing another book by you.

But, more and more authors are publishing with small and niche presses, subsidy publishers, or self-publishing. That begs the same question yet again. As someone with experience in both the mainstream and subsidy publishing world, I’ve developed a couple of rules of the road for my books.

1. I don’t worry about my publisher. I want them to make money, of course, but it’s up to the publisher to decide if they’ve made enough off my books to warrant printing new editions or picking up another book.

2. I want my books to cover my out-of-pocket costs. I love to write, but I can’t afford (or I’m unwilling) to shell out cash for books that don’t attract enough readers to at least break even from my personal checking account. (Note: I’ve given up on compensating me for the time I put into writing.)

Okay, these aren’t really rules; they’re principles. What does this mean in terms of cold, tangible, measurable numbers?

I got some help on this from Grael Norton, the acquisitions editor for Wheatmark, an independent publisher in Tuscon, Arizona (and publisher of my most recent novel A Warrior’s Soul) during on on-line publishing and marketing workshop for authors (their “Authors Academy,” of which I’m a member). I’m going to embellish his insight gained from practical experience with my own thoughts. Here are his thoughts in numbers with my embellished commentary:

One. By at least one very important measure, the physical sale of the first book is a major success, particularly for first-time authors. We often wonder if anyone will buy our book. That first sale gives us the confidence to go out and sell (or promote) the second copy. As I’ve discussed before, authors are the most important marketing tool for their books. So don’t under-estimate the importance of the first sale. But, of course, you haven’t come close to recouping out-of-pocket costs.

100. This, according to Grael (and I concur from my own experience) is a crucial threshold because this level of sales implies you have broken out of your inner circle of friends and family. Many people can leverage their good graces with their inner circle to sell 50 or 75 copies of your book. But, that’s about the limit for most individuals unless they are celebrities or have something near celebrity status. One hundred is a good number, but you are still far away from covering your out-of-pocket costs, let alone make money for your publisher.

500. At this point, you have broken out of the small, inner circle and really begun to sell a decent number of copies. This still isn’t a high enough threshold to sustain your writing career on its own, but if you have sold 500 copies, you have probably covered your out-of-pocket costs if you have used a reputable subsidy or self-publisher. (Notably, this is still not enough to make real money on your book, but at least your not draining your savings or checking account.)

1,000. Once you have crossed this threshold, Grael’s experience at Wheatmark suggests your book has tapped into a niche market. In short, it’s financially, and most likely literarily, sustainable. I would concur based on my experience with nonfiction and fiction books. You still aren’t selling enough to attract the mainstream big boys in publishing, but your making more than your out-of-pocket costs and subsidy-publishers are pretty happy.

2,000. At this level, you’ve tapped into a bonafide niche market and have a successful book. Indeed, this threshold might be sufficiently large that additional books will leverage the first into a sustainble series where you might be able to make some meaningful money. At this level, authors are approaching the sales range where mainstream niche and small presses can turn a profit on your work as well. (Notably, this is also the threshold for Wheatmark’s Great Expectations program where authors have access to a more complete array of publishing services similar to larger, mainstream presses.)

5,000. (My number, not Grael’s.) In my opinion, this is a threshold for a book to establish itself through the conventional publishing market. These sales volumes are high enough for an author to become attractive to agents and established mainstream presses (but still below what is increasingly necessary for the publisher or agent to make money). If your book is selling at these levels, a wider distribution system may well take it to a much higher level of sales. Your book will be noticed. You will develop a cadre of loyal readers that becomes your base for future books. You will be making money if you’ve signed with a decent publisher and have a decent publishing contract.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences. Because of spam, I’ve turned off the comment function on my blog, but feel free to email me at

A Note on My “Successful” Books

I realized after publishing the last several posts, all of which seemed to highlight the underwhelming financial performance of my first novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay, that some readers might be wondering whether I’ve been successful at all! (Short answer: yes.)

If the standard is whether my books have made money for their publishers, the answer is yes in every case except The Pirate of Panther Bay. I’m using this is a case study because I often find I learn the most when I’ve screwed up. Success often has the tendancy to wash over the weaknesses of a project. When your projects fail, you have to look at everything to figure out how to make the next project successful. And that’s they way I approach the Pirate of Panther Bay. (Also, I hope to publish its sequel, Tortuga Bay, in 2012.)

BTW, I should also emphasize that PPB was unsuccessful as a financial venture, not as a novel, story or other content related issues. Indeed, the content was very well received–for those who read it and reviewed it! Check out the reviews and readers comments at for proof. So, the really unfortunate aspect of this project was that our business model failed to get a very good product to a wider audience.

Also, for those still wondering about the details of my past publishing experience, here is a thumbnail publishing history. All of my books have been commercially successful for their publishers even if they didn’t make me (or them) rich! They also have had significant impacts in their targeted markets, and that was the primary measure of their success for their sponsors. (Note that my books have been primarily in academic, public policy and professional markets, not fiction.)

  • Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, hb 1992, pb 1994), about 2,500 copies sold, initial price $29.95 hd; 19.95 pb;

  • Planning Rules & Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994), copies sold unknown, price n/av;

  • Smarter Growth: Market-Based Strategies for Land-Use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), co-edited, about 500 copies sold, initial price $69 hardback only;

  • The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What You Can Do About It (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006 hb, 2008 pb), co-authored, about 5,000 copies distributed & sold, initial price $23.95 hb; $18.95 pb.

  • Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), co-authored, about 14,000 copies distributed or sold, initial price $23.95 hb.

Of course, I’m expecting to do well with the publication of my second novel, A Warrior’s Soul, beginning now! Visit and learn how you can get a 25% discount as part of our pre-order sale exclusively through

About “Adaptation”

Welcome to Adaptation, my blog on the “business” of writing and publishing. The name may seem odd, but that’s what I keep thinking about when pondering the foibles, challenges, dynamics, and potential of the modern publishing world. Among the core questions this blog will ask, and make a stab at answering, are:

  • How is technological change creating opportunities for modern writers?

  • What factors go into making a successful writing project?

  • What factors go into making a commercially successful writing project?

  • What and how does marketing affect my success as an author?

  • How is technology fundamentally changing the relationship between author and publisher?

These questions are just a start, and this blog is just getting off the ground. Stay tuned as we make our way through various publishing “adventures,” trying to learn from our mistakes and leverage our successes. The blog itself will also change, evolve and improve as well. Feel free to comment, and even suggest futures posts based on your own questions.

Thanks for visiting, and see you soon!