Monday, February 17, 2014

For Presidents' Day -- a lesson for writers from "worst president" James Buchanan

When I was in Mrs. McGarthy's class in fifth grade, each student had to choose an American president to write a report on. I don't remember why, but I picked James Buchanan. It may have been because I was a stamp collector and had a "plate block" of three-cent stamps issued in 1954, showing Buchanan's home, Wheatland. 

Buchanan was the 15th president, serving from 1857–1861, right before Lincoln. I don't remember much more about him. I do remember that he was the only president from Pennsylvania and the only non-married president.

Buchanan's significance to me greatly outweighs my knowledge of him, because that report became the source of a valuable lesson that has served me well for over fifty years: You can sell the same words more than once.

When I was a school kid, I wasn't selling words for money as I did later, but I did have to convince my teachers of the value of my words to get good marks, so the processes were related. Then and now, it's good to maximize income and minimize effort.
  • The Buchanan report I wrote for fifth grade was subsequently improved, modified, lengthened and submitted to my teachers in sixth, seventh and ninth grade, plus my junior year in high school; and was used for an American Studies course in college.
  • I also wrote a report on Warren Harding and used it in at least two classes. I think my brother recycled it, too.
Ironically, U. S. News & World Report ranked Buchanan as the worst president ("He refused to challenge either the spread of slavery or the growing bloc of states that became the Confederacy.") and Harding as second-worst ("He was an ineffectual and indecisive leader who played poker while his friends plundered the U.S. treasury").

Was there a subconscious pattern to my presidential picking? Who knows?

After college, as a freelance writer, I often sold variations of the same article to multiple magazines with different audiences, such as Rolling Stone and Country Music, or Esquire and Ingénue.

It works the same way with books:
All of those books include material originally posted on my blogs, and some material written for my books eventually shows up on my blogs.

I recently assembled several one-buck, two-buck, $2.99 and $6.99 ebook spinoffs of more expensive p-books. Each book took less than two days to produce and put on sale.

Look at what you've already written and figure out how you can recycle, reuse, repurpose, revise, sequelize and serialize. It's the American way.

My first book about phone equipment has had three spinoffs, and more are coming.

My funny memoir has had five spinoffs, so far, plus other editions.

Many thousands of books reach readers without booksellers. They are distributed --sometimes for free -- by entities that want information or opinions circulated. These “special sales” can generate high profits, with no risk of returns.

A book you’ve already written may be perfect for use by an association, corporation, government, charity, foundation, university or a political party. Perhaps a book you’ve written needs just slight changes and perhaps a new title and cover to become perfect. Maybe information in your book is fine, but the book needs a new point of view or emphasis. Make a deal.

Oh yeah, this blog post is based on one I published previously. 

(Buchanan portrait is public domain, from the White House)

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