About mestengobooks

Welcome to Mestengo Books, a gathering place for my work. I wracked my brain for hours to come up with a designation that represents both me and my work. With so many blogs and websites already out there, it was a challenge to come up with something original. Mustang is a popular online moniker because it speaks to strength and endurance. The horse has been a totem animal since I was a child, so I knew it would be a good symbol for me because it represented much of my character: freedom, travel, strength, endurance. Mustangs have survived the wilds of the Americas since the Spanish first brought them here, making them, by nature, most durable. The word mestengo has a neat history; its origin is from 16th century Spanish that translates to wild, stray, ownerless. I knew the moment I saw it I’d found the right name. And anyone who knows me can certainly attest to the fact that I am, without a doubt, una mestenga. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Regards, Denise Thunderhawk Denise was a second prize winner of the Southwest Literary Center’s 2006 New Mexico Discovery Awards for her nonfiction, A Bump in the Road.

Finally, Some Good News for CA Freelancers!

Thumbs Up California!

On September 4th, Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed a bill modifying the new independent contractor law that went into effect last year. This is HUGE. The new Independent Contractor law meant freelance writers here in California could no longer earn a living beyond our state border. In two previous posts, I outlined the new law, its definition and how it might affect writers. The new, modified law, which is effective immediately, includes “freelance writers, musicians, film support crews and visual artists, who now can continue working as independent contractors.1

Blog post #1: New CA Labor Law

Blog post #2: Writers Losing Contracts

Restrictions Gone

Gov Newsom also removed the restriction of accepting no more than thirty-five (35) freelance assignments from one outlet. As of Monday night, freelance writers and other content creators are EXEMPT! The bill, previously introduced as AB5, is now AB2257 and has these features:

  1. It eliminates the cap of 35 submissions for freelance writers. Yippee!
  2. Included in this new exemption of “professional services” are translators, appraisers, and (this is a unique one) registered foresters.
  3. Industry workers, including recording artists, songwriters, producers and promoters are also now exempt.

This update of a law that clearly affected writers’ ability to earn a living, especially during COVID, is a ray of light bursting through dark days. Will other states with similar laws follow suit?

1.Source: https://deadline.com/2020/09/governor-gavin-newsom-signs-ab-2557-helping-independent-contractors-1234571287/

It’s Happening Elsewhere, Too

So do other states use what is called the ABC test? This from an article on Forbes.com: “Massachusetts and New Jersey already use the ABC Test to restrict the number of workers classified as independent contractors. Other states use the ABC Test for specific situations, such as determining unemployment compensation.”

From a legal website: “Some of the states where their legislatures have adopted the ABC test include California (recent change), Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.”

Whether this change to the new law is a good thing (and I believe it is), there are still plenty of kinks to be worked out. In the meantime, writers, keep on writing. Let’s be a force for change that benefits all. Gig economies are here to stay (thanks, millenials).

So are freelancers.

#freelancers #freelancewriters #writersofcalifornia #independentcontractor #gigeconomy #Uber #Lyft #fictionwriters #nonfictionwriters #investigativejournalism

Shoes and Socks Not Required: Sell Your Books (from home) To Unique Locations


I apologize; I’ve been away (okay, hiding from my writing responsibilities). I’ve been hot, sweaty, and working my butt off but not writing. We’re in a heat wave here and my brain has shut down from all the humidity and triple digit temps. And I’m trying (and trying and trying) to get my nutrition book up on Udemy as an online class but not-so-tech-savvy me is having a hard time figuring it all out. Turns out I need video equipment for a mandatory thirty minutes of video (who wants to see me yakking on and on, I don’t know) to go with the class. Ugh.

There Is An Upside To This

The upswing to this coronavirus is everyone’s home and online – either you’re offering something (like a class) or you’re buying something (like that writing class you’d been meaning to take but were too busy livin’ large). Did you know you can get your book into numerous venues while still wearing your jammies?

An interesting post came to my attention a short time ago and I want to share the gist of its information with you. Since bookstores and many physical retail outlets are temporarily closed, what’s a writer to do? We have to keep selling our books, don’t we? In a previous blog, I wrote that we have to continue marketing regardless of this pandemic and to not feel guilty. So here are a few interesting options that maybe you haven’t thought of as a place to sell your books (and not feel guilty), courtesy of Brian Jud, author of the post, and Stephanie Chandler, of the Nonfiction Authors Association (dot.com).

Unique Venues Abound If You’re Looking

Of all the places that sell books (most of which are closed temporarily), the two best places to have your books for sale at are… wait for it… SUPERMARKETS and PHARMACIES! Yep, they’re open to the public and they always have a book selection. Obviously, certain types of books sell better here, like cheesy romance novels. If your book is more family-oriented, this might be a place for you to consider. Also, according to the article, fiction outsells nonfiction here (think cheesy romance novels). But books like mine, a nutrition book, might go over well with people trying to make better food choices in the grocery store.

Think about how to price your book for one of these venues. Supermarkets tend to discount their books (up to 25%) and book prices in pharmacies are usually under twenty dollars. Are you willing to go a bit lower in retail price to gain exposure?

That said, how will you get your book distributed to these markets? Does your current distribution partner provide access to supermarkets and drugstores? The following is a short list provided by Brain Jud and contains useful information on getting your books into these stores:

Symak Sales Co Inc.“is a leading importer and distributor of general merchandise throughout North America. Symak products can be found in a wide range of retailers and wholesalers, including discount stores, variety stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, distributors, department stores, and dollar stores.”

Readerlink Distribution Services, LLC “is the largest full-service distributor of hardcover, trade and paperback books to non-trade channel booksellers in North America, including the biggest names in retail across multiple retail channels.”

Choice Books distributes books through more than 11,500 displays in various retail locations (i.e. supermarkets, mass merchandisers, airports, pharmacies, travel centers, gift shops, etc.) across the continental United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. At regular intervals, Choice Books sales representatives visit each retail location, replenishing best-selling books and replacing damaged/slow-moving books with new books. Major book categories include family living, self-help, devotional, entertainment, gift, cookbooks, adult/juvenile fiction and bibles.

There are other unique opportunities as well: hospitals, liquor stores, and pet stores, to name a few. If you put your thinking cap on, I’m sure you can come up with additional options. Sans shoes and socks.

Words Have Power So Be Careful How You Use Them

maelstrom_picasso~25532698267856375019..jpg
Maelstrom, 2019 © DThunderhawk (acrylic)

The Power of Our Words

Writers have long known that words have power. Socrates, Shakespeare, Lao Tzu, Jesus, and many others (including Hitler) across the span of humanity have changed lives and moved civilizations to follow a particular premise. We find ourselves, once again, in dynamic and chaotic times. The ebb and flow of human existence has always been based on the power of words.
Words, whether written or oral, have the power to change, heal, hurt, destroy and/or create. As writers in this changing global landscape, we must be more vigilant in choosing our words. What and whom are we trying to effect? Writers and orators can be leaders of change for better or worse, it’s our choice.

Phrases like Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights Movement and words like racism and colonialism, these are powerful words that awaken us, call us out to be better, or remind us that we still have a ways to go.

This Is Personal

Example: A friend is in a challenging situation at the moment. Forced out of her rental (not an eviction but a notice to vacate) during Covid times, she sleeps in her car because there’s a huge housing shortage where she lives. Her hypnotherapist made a comment during a session that has stuck with her and has helped her better deal with the current situation.
He said:

“It’s not WHO you are, it’s your circumstance.”

Bam. Light bulb. 💡
Aha moment, for sure, even for me.

This, Too, Shall Pass

When she heard that, she said it gave her a whole new outlook. She no longer feels it’s her fault, that sometimes bad things happen to good people and that this too, shall pass. Words chosen carefully can help us move beyond even the most difficult of challenges.
This virus is affecting us personally and globally, some more than others. It’s imperative we choose our words more carefully to ensure our survival and recovery. Write from the compassionate heart, support a peaceful co-existence and community goals, stand your ground without being divisive. Make your words work for you, not against you – or others.

Universal Energies At Work

What’s happening now, all the chaos, is Yang (movement, momentum, anger, anguish, change in process) and what will follow, accordingly, is Yin (peace, stillness, changes completed, new way of life). Universal laws are playing out before our eyes. Patience is required to get to the next phase of this seemingly never-ending cycle.
As writers, let’s use our words, our stories, as a beacon during these dark and chaotic days. Let’s create and maintain the POWER OF WORDS.

(COVID) Times, They are A’Changin’… For Writers

Sac free library

Little Free Library, Sacramento, CA

The New Normal

Times are changing, for sure. Life is most certainly different as a result of this pandemic. Same ol, same old isn’t anymore. Everywhere I go, I hear the phrase “this is the new normal.” We all have been changed by this virus, internally and externally, personally and globally. How it affects writers has been nothing short of upheaval, including the sad news of a huge loss to the writing world. Last week we lost Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a prolific writer with an uncommon knack for vivid storytelling. His collection of books, including The Shadow of the Wind, (which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog) excited and intrigued me in a way I’d not experienced since I’d read the Neither Wolf Nor Dog trilogy. I recently re-read that book, devouring every page with gleeful delight; it is now a permanent part of my home collection.

I discovered the slightly ragged copy in a Little Free Library in midtown Sacramento. The box in the pic is where I actually found his book, among many others that have provided me with amazing trips down Imagination Lane. Best idea ever, these Little Free Libraries (littlefreelibrary.org for a location near you). For writers, it’s free advertising!

Welcome to The Digital Life

Where are we headed? Into new territory, for many, but familiar for others. Social distancing has forced writers to find new avenues for marketing their works. Some of the safe-distancing options are digital (eBooks), audio (Audible), podcasting (storytelling and reading to audience), and FB groups (among other popular SM).

For those of us not quite comfortable with the digital life (that would be me), I have to think about how to be creative in this new world. Instead of pushing the book itself, I recently decided to turn it into an online course so I can teach the concepts in the book. What better way to get people excited about their health than to actually have me walk them through the information? Since my book is a non-fiction, it’s a no-brainer. I’m a lively speaker and reader, so I know students will enjoy learning along with me. Better retention and they’ll feel they got their money’s worth; win-win.

Oh, The Choices

Options for fiction works may differ; for example, poets can offer a poetry class. Have you considered whether you could teach someone else how to write something? Do you have a degree in Journalism, English, or Communications? The digital life is now in full swing as millennials and many others take advantage of not only the social distancing aspect but also prices for online classes – they’re greatly reduced and there’s a multitude from which to choose.

Maybe you need to brush up on your MLA style or grammar and syntax in your sentences. Maybe you need help with plots and characters. Or writing a mystery. Or a comedy/farce. Whatever your need as a writer, online classes can surely fill it. Lots of experts out there so find classes taught by people with experience and know-how. Yes, we are smart to learn from our own experiences but it is the wise (wo)man who learns from the experiences of others.

Times are certainly changing; adaptability is key to not getting caught behind. Survival of the fittest, Darwin postulated. Change can be a good thing, if you’re willing to go along for the ride.

Live Small, Live Well

old Italian windows_Milan

After watching a PBS Frontline report on coronavirus in Italy , I had an idea about people living smaller lives, and not just during a pandemic. What if we chose to live this way on a daily basis? Ideas led to writing and writing led me to creating this post – even though it’s not really about writing… but ends up that way, I guess.

In other words, when something moves you, write about it. 

Small and Close Is a Good Thing…Usually

Smaller living spaces bring people closer together. There’s plenty of room for everything you need using smarter design, smarter placements, living with less stuff. Simpler lives are happier lives. People are then able to focus on what really matters: relationships and community – look at Italians, they seem to have perfected it.

Europeans have lived this way for a long time out of necessity because there’s no room for the multitudes of sprawling American McMansions or penthouse-sized apartments in most European cities. Americans seem to think they need more open living space, so they purchase bigger homes and more material items, like furniture and art and expensive kitchen toys. But is it all really necessary in order to feel fulfilled? Or is it a nod to some internal need to “keep up with the Joneses?”

Or perhaps it’s the result of an overblown sense of entitlement; that what we want we deserve simply because we work for it or can afford it. That seems more like an individual-oriented mindset.

What’s Really Important

Watching the video, seeing the small spaces Italian families share, it’s no wonder they’re as close as they are. Normally, that’s a good thing but during a pandemic that kind of intimacy, sadly, has had a deleterious effect on their lives. But I doubt they’ll change their ways because those very connections are the lifeline of Italian life.

Smaller apartment homes force people to share the whole living space, including common and private areas (in Europe, brothers and sisters routinely share bedrooms). This type of living also provides lessons in conflict resolution since we’re not going to get along well all of the time. This is a community-oriented approach.  

Smaller is Better for Everyone

Tiny houses are all the rage here in America but what we need is to reduce overall apartment living space (square footage) to make room for more people in each building. With burgeoning populations across the globe, it makes sense for us to adopt more of a European style of living. We’ve been spoon fed the ideal that the “American Dream” is to own a single family home, which requires more land space and finite natural resources (and equates to a much larger individual environmental footprint). For some reason, in America, living with others in apartment or multi-family (aka tenement) housing is perceived as inferior to owning your own home (which actually owns you for 20-30 years until the deed is in your hands). The benefits of community living can far outweigh life in the suburbs.

European style refrigerators, for example, which are much smaller than their American counterparts, force people to think about what to eat, how much, and how often. Shopping becomes a daily responsibility or at least every 2-3 days, depending on how many one is shopping for and feeding. Smaller fridges force people to choose foods that are most important: what is fresh and made daily, rather than something with a 6-month or more shelf life; that’s hoarding for a future that may or may not come. This pandemic has certainly reminded us of that.

Living smaller means living well today, within our community. Tomorrow will come when it comes.

One Story, Two Story, Three!

writing graphic

As is usual, I’ve spent part of this afternoon trying to figure out the topic for my next blog post. Needing inspiration, I checked my professional email for ideas because I often send myself links to interesting and/or informative articles from Writers Digest and other literary sources.

Bingo.

Halfway down my professional email list is a link to an article on the art of writing spin-offs. It’s an informative article on how to get more than one angle/story from a particular topic. It’s a way to maximize the information you gather on a story and leads you to other avenues, thereby creating multiple stories and more income.

Of course, you submit these spin-offs to different magazines, depending on the angle of the story. Be careful not overlap the information; keep the angles separate and unique. Make sure to pitch to noncompeting publications. 

“Travel writers often write about the same location from different perspectives. Freelancer Valentina Valentini wrote about The Gravediggers Pub in Dublin for BBC Travel. She traced the history of the pub and its owners, steering clear of the ghost stories associated with it. Later, she pitched the haunted history to Atlas Obscura.”

Dinsha Sachan, The Art of Spin-Offs: Freelance Article Ideas at Writers Digest

This reminds me of two of my previous posts: 1) Bad Choices = Good Stories (if you missed it, read here) written back in 2017, and 2) A Writing Life (On the Road) in 2016 (read here). Travel pieces, for example, can offer a multitude of angles because so many historical places are popular with travelers. You can focus on eco-tourism in one article for a travel magazine; historical context in another article for an historical magazine; food and culture in a foodie magazine. With a little imagination, you can create multiple stories from that one topic and increase your freelance income.

“Sometimes a news piece can sow the seeds for a broader trends feature.” Dinsha Sachan

“One story often leads entirely to another; both are different, and yet intricately linked.” Kamala Thiagarajan, an India-based freelance journalist

Researching a topic will often provide ample opportunities to explore different angles. Even if one avenue seems to go nowhere, don’t be afraid to explore it. You never know where it might lead. Perhaps to that writing life on the road, after all.

All That Jitters

Fear Emotion5 clipart MS Office

In this current, and hopefully soon-to-be post-COVID atmosphere, anxiety and fear have ruled many lives around the globe. With good reason. Anxiety and fear about people’s health, futures, finances, etc. are keeping many people up at night and jittery during the day. While anxiety is a normal human emotion, it becomes pathological when it interferes with our daily lives in such a way that is considered beyond the norm. Which begs the question: how does one cope?

With Chinese medicine.

You Have Options

Acupuncture has repeatedly proven its ability to mitigate and dissipate the emotional and spiritual (seen as inseparable in CM) imbalances brought on by just this type of global disaster. In CM, these imbalances are understood to affect one’s shen, or consciousness/spirit. Emotional imbalances affect organ function as well. Chinese herbs, as posted in a previous blog, are a time-tested option for reducing anxiety and associated symptoms like insomnia, rumination and nervousness, without the side effects that often accompany pharmaceuticals.

In his article Anxiety: The Unsettled Shen, Mark W. Frost, L.Ac., writes:

According to TCM theory, the emotions of fear, pensiveness, grief and anger cause the Qi to sink, stagnate, dissipate, and rise respectively.

The Seven Emotions

In CM, the Seven Emotions are: joy (Heart), anger (Liver), pensiveness/over-thinking (Spleen), grief (Lung), fear/shock (Kidney). The emotions that combine to create anxiety are fear (of the unknown, loss, for one’s security/safety), pensiveness (rumination), grief (sadness, loss), and anger/resentment (loss of control over one’s situation).

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail:

Anger is the emotion controlled by Liver in CM. Liver controls the flow of Qi throughout the body. Anger constricts that movement as does rage, resentment, frustration and bitterness. Chronic constraint (stagnation) of Qi creates Heat internally, which agitates shen/Heart (Liver nourishes Heart in the Five Element system) and fails to anchor shen within the Heart. This can result in disorders of psyche and soma.

The opposite of joy (Heart) is sadness. Sadness, while a normal emotional response to loss can, when extreme or protracted (over longer periods of time), stagnate Heart and Lung Qi, which leads to a Fire deficiency (this can affect overall or various components of bodily functions).

Pensiveness (aka over-thinking/rumination) leads to both stagnation and deficiency, setting up a chronic imbalance in digestive functions (in CM, Spleen controls digestion). This stagnation (excess) and deficiency (reduction in function) bring about the formation of Dampness (wet mucus) and Phlegm (dry mucus), and combine with Heat. Combined with constraint and anxiety, it can manifest as “knots in the stomach” or “butterflies in the stomach.” Depending on the individual, digestion and elimination can be seriously increased (seen with anxiety) or decreased (seen with depression as it causes constraint).

Grief is the emotion associated with Lung in CM. It is similar to sadness in that a prolonged state of grief will cause constraint in the Lung/Heart relationship and likely lead to a deficiency.

Fear is the emotion associated with Kidney in CM. While fear is healthy and keeps us from doing foolish things, it, too, can become protracted as a result of fright/shock (think PTSD and other anxiety disorders). 

When there is an imbalance, fear can foster a general insecurity about life. A deficiency of the Yin aspect of the Water element, the calming, receptive and grounding portion, can manifest as agitation, insecurity, and anxiety (combination of nervousness and fear). (The 5-Element Guide to Healing with Whole Foods, D. Thunderhawk, L.Ac., 2016.)

In Conclusion…

This has been a nerve-wracking experience for many around the globe. Meditation, solitude (easy with the shelter-in-place orders), compassion, in conjunction with holistic healing methods (acupuncture, herbs, Reiki, medical Qi Gong, healing hands, etc.), can ground us and reduce, even heal, our anxiety, our jitters. We must continue to move forward no matter what tomorrow may bring. Remember that adversity makes us stronger.

May you find peace and strength to ease your minds and nourish your spirit. Namaste.

 

 

 

Like, Um, Well, You Know…Seriously, To Be Fair…

crutch words1
Source: Google Images

Grammar Still Rules

Grammar rules still apply to your writing and speaking and always will. Especially if you want to keep readers and listeners engaged.

Today I’m writing about a few of my pet peeves that have become far too prevalent in today’s writing and speaking. I’m talking about crutch words and fillers: like, well, you know, ah, um, uh, etc. 

My biggest issue with these overused words and space fillers is that they make the writer/speaker sound less intelligent, less able to think or speak quickly or clearly. Which equates to poor writing and speaking skills. And poor communication skills take away one’s credibility, which means people won’t read your books or listen to what you say. Is this how you want the world of readers and listeners to perceive you? 

Ditch the Crutches

While some crutch words and fillers are acceptable in written dialogue, they should be left out of interviews and other professional conversations. If you listen to podcasts, you know what I’m talking about; fillers and crutches take up way more space in a conversation. Listen to an interview, maybe even record it to your computer. Then edit out the fillers and crutches and listen to what remains – the actual conversation sounds quite different when it’s cleaned up. It’s more direct and to the point and it’s the same with writing. Remove the fillers and crutches (except when necessary in character dialogue) and you’ll find the reading succinct and clear. And credible.

A Interesting Peeve

Another of my pet peeves of late is the incorrect use of ‘a’ and ‘an.’ Far too often, even on the evening national news, I hear professionals using ‘a’ where ‘an’ is required.

Here’s the rule: if the word begins with a vowel or a consonant with a vowel sound like the h in hour or in abbreviations/acronyms such as MBA, use an. If the word begins with a consonant or consonant sound as in book or PTA, use a. I’m annoyed every time I hear phrases like “a airplane” or “a interested party” because the speakers come off as not very bright or particularly attentive to their grammar. Or they have lazy copyeditors!

Modify This

The next peeve on my list (which I swear grows with age) is the overuse and incorrect use of what are called vague modifiers. Vague modifiers are also crutch words and fillers and don’t belong in good writing or clear speeches: A lot, kind of, perhaps, truly, somewhat, quite, seemingly, suddenly, rather, fairly, etc.. There are more, but you get the idea. How often do you use these in your writing/speaking? Are you even conscious of whether you use these or not? Here is a link to a funny article on crutch words that “literally” made me laugh out loud.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of falling prey to the occasional crutch and filler. However, I have become more conscious of my spoken words as a result of doing a podcast last year. That, in turn, has made me more aware of written words and their impact.

Those Catholic grammar school nuns beat good English grammar into me and my classmates – quite literally, actually. To this day, I can’t finish a project and ‘turn it in’ (publish) unless it’s perfect.

Seriously. 😉

#grammarrules #thewritinglife #communicationskills #writeagoodstory #podcasting #Englishgrammar

Finding Peace in Chaos

Yin Yang with Light3 (3)

Universal Law

The Law of Unity of Opposites (theory of Yin and Yang) states that nothing in the Universe is totally Yin or totally Yang. Yin and Yang are in opposition and are interdependent – each is necessary for the other’s existence (The 5-Element Guide to Healing with Whole Foods, 2016). In our current situation, it’s necessary to find the Yin/peace within the Yang/chaos. With external avenues closed to so many (e.g., fitness centers, yoga and tai chi classes, meditations, etc.), going inward is our only salvation if we’re to survive this viral onslaught.

Finding Your Peace

All over Instagram (and other SM sites), people are gathering together in solidarity (and solitude) to find that peace. Meditation and other spiritual services are readily available online to help us maintain equilibrium. Another road inward is writing: expressing those emotions, telling those stories, that must be felt and heard. Out of chaos (erratic) comes peace (consistency), it’s the natural order of things. People all over the world are finding ways to cope and, hopefully, to survive.

The TCM View

Naturally, I can’t help but think how many will be affected so deeply that physical health becomes an issue at some point. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners know that emotional distress can contribute to the development of disease (imbalances). Learning to control emotions is a major step in preventing these imbalances. The Huang Di Nei Jing, also known as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic, the bible of TCM medicine, recognized that emotional and psychological factors are important causes of illness. The Nei Jing indicated that excessive emotions impair the internal organs of the human body: Anger hurts the liver, joy hurts the heart, brooding hurts the spleen, and melancholy hurts the lungsHence, the Nei Jing proposes regulating the emotions by keeping the heart calm and cheerful and the mind free of worries:

“Do not be weighed down by perplexing thoughts; strive to be calm and optimistic; be complacent; keep sound in body and mind.” 

Let It Out

In other words, get writing! Use your writing as a catharsis, if you will, to free yourself of pent up stress and emotions brought on by this viral pandemic.

After my mother died I wrote my first book, a creative nonfiction, in four and a half months. Tears and words poured out of me and by the time I was done writing the book, I was pretty much done grieving her death. Use this downtime wisely; don’t squander the opportunity to find your peace in the chaos, no matter what it is.

#coronavirus #findpeaceinchaos #Chinesemedicine #writing #storyteller #yinyang #meditation #yoga #acupressure #acupuncture #fictionwriters #

Below is a chart you can follow for applying acupressure to various points if you’re feeling stressed/depressed (please share it with as many people as possible):

Acupressure for Depression

Source: Acupuncture Media Works

Stuck At Home? Make Lemonade From Those Lemons!

lemon-3225459_1920

Source: Pixabay

Lots of folks stuck at home right now, including writers. That may be a good thing – for writers, anyway. Sheltering-in-place is providing us all with much needed down time and an opportunity for writers to catch up on writing projects. Some folks might think it rude to market one’s book during such a serious time. I say business is business and this outbreak will eventually subside (hopefully sooner rather than later) but your business won’t. A lapse in marketing now can have negative effects later on. 

Marketing Your Book During a Crisis

Sure, some people are home because they’re sick, but many are home as a preventive. And with the Internet, we can maintain connections with loved ones as well as fans/readers. It’s a great time to reach out to others, whether for a well-check or for marketing your book/s. Use this down time as an opportunity to reach out to people but haven’t had the time. Cuz now you do.

Acknowledge But Don’t Apologize

Don’t apologize for continuing to put your book out there in front of potential readers. Sure, you can acknowledge the current atmosphere. Maybe your book is relevant to this viral outbreak: science/clinical; nutrition; ways to stay safe in a crisis (i.e., how to put together Go Bag), etc. Here are a few suggestions from an article at booklaunch.com on how to tie your book/marketing into what’s going on:

  1. Start a social distancing book club with people (that includes your book). You can have daily/weekly meetings on Zoom or Skype to discuss. This will give isolated people a way to connect.
  2. Run a “boredom promotion” where people can get your books at a discount.
  3. Partner with other authors to promote a box set of all of your books.

I’m running a ‘stuck at home’ deep discount for readers who want to shop smarter in the grocery aisles. Personally, I like the idea of a ‘boredom promotion’; takes their focus off the negative and puts it on something positive. You’re helping people through your book.

Something New

This is also a great time to start a new marketing angle like podcasting. You can host your own show or be a guest on another podcast. Check out radioguestlist.com if you need guests to interview or wish to be interviewed. Great way to get the word out on you and your book and it won’t cost you a dime.

Yeah, we’re all cooped up in our homes but there are ways to invite the world in so it doesn’t feel so lonely. Remember the old saying: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” 

Shelter-in-Place Discount

MB nutrition book-card

 

Please share this with friends, family, and others who may benefit from nourishment…

Because so many of you are sheltering in place, here’s a way to help you get & stay healthy through these troubled times. For a short time (at least until end of March, perhaps to mid-April), I’m offering my nutrition book at a DEEP DISCOUNT (40% OFF!).

Because my book is printed with Lulu Press, there should be little to no delays in the shipping process (unless otherwise noted by Lulu Press). Please, let me know otherwise.

Staying in gives us more time to read, learn how to cook, write more articles, etc. Use this down time as an opportunity to strengthen your and your family’s immune system/s. Eat more fresh food (if you can find it; our grocery stores are doing a fab job in keeping produce stocked), and less boxed food. Use more spices/herbs to help flavor packaged foods. If you can, cook outside on the grill and get some fresh air.

Understandably, in a situation like this, we MUST do with what we have. So be flexible. Be willing to learn how to do something differently. Understand your options and do what you must without inconveniencing others.

Remember, we’re all in this together.

Are All Your Eggs in One (Amazon) Basket?

eggs in basket2

Source: Google Images

New Priorities

In case you don’t already know, Publishers Weekly sent an email titled “Amazon Deprioritizes Book Sales Amid Coronavirus Crisis.” Amazon is working diligently to prioritize “the surge in demand for household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products.” Publishers (self and otherwise) are one of the suppliers whose goods (meaning books) will receive a low priority in shipping until at least April 5th. This makes sense; a good decision on their part, I believe.

So if you have your books self-published only through Amazon, this will pose a problem of lost or delayed sales. Hopefully you have listed your books (eBooks and hard copies) with other publishing sites like Lulu, Smashwords, Ingram, and the like. Because my book is published via Lulu Press and distributed to Amazon (and other retail sites), readers can still access my book here. Not a good idea to have your works all at one location, not at anytime but certainly not in this current climate.

Amazon is aware of the negative trickle-down effect of this decision and is working diligently to add 100K new positions in fulfillment centers across the U.S. The good news is that many of those folks out of work (restaurant servers, retail jobs, etc.) will have an opportunity to earn instead of falling into financial ruin or bankruptcy while waiting for businesses to reopen.

Plenty of Options

Which is why I’m glad I’m with Lulu Press. So far, I don’t see any announcements on their site re shipment issues. Not yet, anyway. But I’ll keep watching. 

In times such as this, it’s best not to put all your eggs in one publishing basket. While sales may droop overall, it’s not the end of the world (despite what some preppers may believe). There are plenty of self-publishing sites to list your work on; make a list of which ones would best benefit your genre/s. Widen your net, keep your options open. Put a few eggs in many different baskets.  

The Viral Effect

Chinese herbs

A Shift in Focus

Okay, so this is going to be one of those occasional, off-topic blog posts I mentioned in my previous post. You know, the one where I discuss something other than writing.

Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is making its way around the globe. In the wake of this pandemic (per the CDC), irrational fears about this virus are just as prevalent. So I wanted to take this opportunity to help ‘clear the air’ on some fears that have gone ‘viral’, especially regarding certain items coming from China – Chinese herbal medicines.

A Long History

Chinese herbs are the most studied herbs on the planet. There exists over 2500 years of empirical evidence (patient-centered treatments and responses) and Western evidence-based trials, though inherently flawed, are increasingly showing the efficacy of many herbs in our pharmacopoeia. Outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 were successfully treated with herbs in some Chinese/TCM hospitals. Chapter 2 of a popular medical text (that got me through four years of herb classes and clinics), Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen, 2001), is Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs. Subsections of this chapter contain many herbs that have either antiviral or antibacterial properties, or both. Several have been tested and show effects stronger than some pharmaceuticals (and without side effects).

There is an irrational fear that anything coming out of China, especially medicinal herbs, is contaminated with the virus. Let me clarify: 1) these herbs must pass muster at customs when arriving in the U.S.; 2) once they arrive at either a manufacturing facility or a large retail operation (in both cases, Kamwo Herbs, located in NYC’s Chinatown, and one of my finest herb sources), the herbs go through a rigorous testing process required by the FDA. These companies are in regular contact with either the CDC and WHO to continue providing safe, efficacious medicines.

Extra Precautions

According to several emails I’ve received from some of my professional accounts, herb companies are currently taking extra precautions when it comes to testing. They’re also reassuring customers that there are no health concerns at this time for the transmission of COVID-19 on packaged goods (traveling far, changes in temperature, etc.). Even the CDC advises that because of poor survivability on hard surfaces there’s a low risk of the virus spreading from packages shipped over days or weeks due to ambient temperatures. 

Seek Out a Professional

One of my concerns is people rushing to order herbs online to treat this virus without first consulting a TCM physician. Another is if you don’t know what you’re ordering or aren’t familiar with the company you’re ordering from, my recommendation is don’t do it. In school, we’re taught to look for specific certifications, such as GMP standards (Good Manufacturing Process) and other certifications. Certain companies (like MinShan) follow GMP standards, while some in China do not (and their formulas may contain questionable substances, including Western meds). It’s important to know the difference.

Also, if you’re not familiar with medicinal herbs, you may inadvertently buy herbs or a formula that is incorrect for your symptoms. This may lead to unnecessary side effects (i.e., loose bowels due to Cold nature of antiviral herbs), no effect (because they’re not the herbs you need), or an interaction (positive/potentiate or negative/inhibit) with other medicines you’re taking, whether plant-based or pharmaceutical.

If you’re interested in going the holistic/plant-based route, seek out a licensed, trained professional. Individual diagnosis is paramount to prescribing the correct herbs in the correct dosages, all in one formula. This will save you money and give you peace of mind, knowing that the herbs you’re taking are safe.

Be careful, and be well.

 

 

Expert Advice

expert advice

Source: Google Images/amazon.com

Listen to The Expert

My professional Inbox contained an interesting article this morning from The Book Designer blog. Written by author and former marketing consultant Brandon Cornett, his article made some good points. While I’ve read most of his how-to advice in other articles, one in particular stuck with me:

“Blog about your genre or niche. If you want to attract the kinds of readers who will buy your books, you should be blogging about those topics.”

Hmmm….

When I started this blog, I figured the focus had to be on writing (genre, research, editing, books, etc.), from an author’s perspective. It didn’t occur to me that I could write posts on a topic in my expertise (which is not necessarily writing). For example, posts regarding my nonfiction book on Chinese nutrition therapy, which I have reserved for my professional FB page (that I’ve ignored much in the past two years). I feel Mestengo Books is not the place to post alternative medicine articles but I certainly can provide some information on where Chinese nutrition therapy is now and where it’s going in the future. After all, I’m an expert (of sorts), right?

“In either scenario, fiction or nonfiction, you’re basically funneling your passion and knowledge into website content that will attract like-minded readers.” 

“But the bulk of your posts should be related to the genre or topic you write about. This will help you boost your book sales over time.” – Brandon Cornett

Some “Experts” are Clueless

In another article, author Anne R. Allen, a satirical writer, posted a vent about “clueless advice givers” – you know, the folks who think they’re experts but aren’t – and who talk like they know when they don’t (and scoff at you when you try to clue them in) . This has always been one of my pet peeves (I’m up against it far too often in any discussion about herbal medicines). I refer to those people as “armchair experts.” It’s a lack of knowledge in a particular area (but a desire to have that knowledge) combined with ignorance, giving the person a false sense of power. There’s actually a name for this: The Dunning-Kruger Effect (1999). (You can look it up but I think it’s ironic that it took so long for two college kids to name a behavior that’s been around for as long as we humans have, probably.)

How Do Others See You?

My business coach routinely refers to me as an expert (in Chinese medicine) though I am hesitant to wear that moniker. A point in my favor is that I have climbed that mountain (five years of didactic and clinical training plus years of clinical work) to reach the top, to become the expert. Many folks dream about being at the top of the mountain without having to first climb, an obviously impossible feat (and looks spectacularly similar to that Dunning-Kruger Effect).

So now I’m thinking about posting an article from time to time that has more to do with nutrition therapy itself and/or the writing of a nonfiction book. Maybe I can write about the research process and how to put it together in a chapter or book. Brandon’s expert advice on blogging about my genre or niche opened my eyes.

Every now and then, everyone needs an expert to do just that.

Fun with Fonts: How Readable is Your Book?

fonts3
Source: Google Images/wpstic.com

An Eye for Fonts?

I admit I know little about fonts in the technical sense. As a creative, I’ve always chosen fonts for their look and feel. It’s why I chose the font Candara for my nutrition book. It’s a serif font with delicate strokes reminiscent of an Asian font, which made sense to me since the book is about Chinese nutrition therapy.

But I did notice after publishing the book (and re-reading it for errors) that Candara, while pleasant to read, is not as crisp on the page as I would like. I thought perhaps it was the printing process, that the quality wasn’t there. Not true. I’ve had other books printed with different fonts by the same company and I didn’t ‘see’ a font issue. Looking at other documents where I’ve used Candara, I now understand it was not the best choice, leaving me to wonder how it affects a customer’s reading (and retention).

Technical Readability

Do the fonts in your books offer readability? Are the letters distinguishable from each other? Do the readers’ eyes flow through the text without any visual discomfort? For me, large round letters like Arial give me an eyeball  headache when used for lengthy articles or books.

And yet I find it ironic that a good online article on fonts and readability of books is written in a pale gray Arial font on a stark white background. Talk about a hard read…

pale gray font
Source: https://www.ingramspark.com/blog/best-fonts-for-books

Serif, Not Sans is Best

According to the article, serif fonts give a book more readability. Think of those fine strokes at the end of each letter. That’s a serif font. Serif fonts pull words together, making them easier to read (and less likely to cause eyeball headache or lost interest in what you’re reading). Sans serif fonts like Arial are more difficult to read in body text so reserve them for headings and titles (see example above).

The font you choose can also send a message to the reader; hence, my choice of Candara for an Asian-themed book. Editors will read a manuscript and decide the best font for both look and feel. Again, because it’s something I always looked at from an artistic perspective, I never considered the technical side. Just another of many lessons learned in the self-publishing process.

How To Choose?

So how do you decide which fonts to use if you’re a self-publisher? Do the research. A good place to start is The Book Designer website. Joel Friedman has been designing books and working with typesetting for decades. His website offers much useful information and some free downloads, too. If you have a good editor, ask for font recommendations. Play with different serif fonts, see how it makes the story feel as you read it. You can even print sections in different serif fonts and have family or friends read the passages and report back on the readability.

In the Ingram Spark article, these were the top serif fonts for books: 

  1. Caslon – preferred by book designers
  2. Garamond – originated in France; a popular font for books
  3. Jenson – designed for Adobe systems
  4. Minion – designed for Adobe systems
  5. Palatino – originally intended for headings and smaller sections, it was later tweaked for use in book texts

The Sky’s the Limit… Sort Of

For chapter titles, book designers generally advise staying away from over-used  fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus; decorative fonts like script fonts are best avoided as well. In my first fiction novel, I was feeling adventurous (especially since I was writing an adventure novel) and used an unusual font called Yanks Hand for the chapter titles. Gave the book a slightly quirky look and feel, which worked with the unique genre/story line (Native American spirits/religion).

But what do you do if you don’t have/use Adobe systems? Well, for starters you can go to the website MyFonts.com to test fonts before purchasing them. Once you find a font you like, make sure to purchase the entire family of that font (regular, bold, italic, etc.). In Adobe systems, each version of a font is unique and if you don’t purchase the whole family, you won’t legally be able to use italics, for example, if you didn’t buy it.

Remember, what’s most important is your book’s readability. Get that right from the beginning and your readers will ‘see’ your story in a better light. And font!

P.S. I’m trying new fonts on my blogs. This one is Libre Baskerville. I found the last serif too small. Might go back to the sans serif, Alegreya Sans. Do you find this new font more readable? Less?