One Foot in the Stirrup is a collection of western short stories that I first brought out myself in the fall of 1995. It consists of nine stories, six of them previously published, and it has been a nice little book for me.
The short stories range from my first published piece of fiction, a story entitled “West of Dancing Rock,” published in 1978 by a pulp magazine called Far West, to a couple of other gunfight stories, to a couple of heartfelt stories, to a closing piece that edges into irony and parody. These stories together have a varied appeal, and the collection has sold in bookstores that carry my traditional westerns.
Why I brought out this collection is an interesting footnote in itself. When my first novel, One-Eyed Cowboy Wild, came out in 1994, I plunged into the new life of a published author who did book signings and other promo activities such as interviews, readings, and panel discussions. The book sold well and went out of stock pretty quickly, so when I went to the Western Writers of America convention the next summer, I was unable to participate in the group book signing because my first book was sold out and my second one, Twin Rivers, was still going through the press. So I wandered around and looked at everyone else’s books. During this period between the release of my first two novels, I also reflected on the many occasions in which prospective buyers looked at the price of a hardcover western and set the book down. So I decided two things: one, that I was not ever going to be without a book on the table again, and two, that I was going to try to have something less expensive than a regular hardcover.
With that in mind, I went about selecting the stories for this collection, getting bids, and arranging for production. This was all new to me, but I plugged through and got four hundred copies that I could sell for $7.95, which was less than half of the $19.95 that the hardcover westerns were costing at the time. I sold the first print run in a couple of years, and I had gotten a positive enough response from readers and booksellers that I decided to do a second printing. My brother David, who is a professional artist, did me a new cover drawing, and I had a couple of review excerpts to go along with the cover copy on the back. This time I printed five hundred copies, and within a couple of years I had sold most of them. In the meanwhile I also was able to get a contract for a large print edition, so a thousand copies went out into the world in that version, primarily to libraries. All of this is still on a very small scale, but I felt as if it was a successful project.
There is a stigma to self-publishing, especially in fiction, as it seems to be an admission that no one else will publish this author’s work, and therefore he has to do it himself. In this case, it was true to some extent, as I could not find a publisher who wanted to print this collection at the company’s expense. However, my decision to self-publish was not a desperate act, as most of the stories had been previously published, and I had already had two real novels published in hardcover. Furthermore, one of these stories has been singled out for praise in a prestigious review when the story first appeared in an anthology, and the collection itself received a couple of positive reviews when it came out. After that, the large print edition got out and about and made money (for the publisher and for the author) on its own. And in more recent years, two e-book publishers have reprinted these stories. My most important measure for the success of a book is whether it gets a good response from reviewers and readers. For other writers, the success of a book is measured by whether it makes money. Either way, One Foot in the Stirrup has been rewarding to me.
One Foot in the Stirrup is available at Amazon.