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.

Getting Paid to Lie: Is It Worth It?

liars

Source: Google Images/Me.me

I recently received an offer on Upwork to write a 5-star review for a local business. For a whopping $10, I was offered the opportunity to write a 45-word review but obligated to give the company five stars in order to be paid. In the proposal, the owner wrote that he wanted to bring in more business for his new company. I sat on the request for a day or so to mull it over, feeling a bit on the fence about it. This morning I replied that I could not write a 5-star review for a company I’ve not done business with, that it just didn’t seem right. Then I got to thinking, well, it would’ve been a paid gig… and it would’ve added a successful gig to my Upwork homepage. Yet somehow I couldn’t get comfortable with the idea of writing a review that may or may not be true.

Sometimes I have to choose principles over pocket money for a writing gig.

Where do we draw the line? Is anyone else drawing that line? The online world has opened us up to numerous opportunities, some good, some bad, some in between the two. Maybe it’s the way I was raised; honesty and strength of character were deemed more important than making a quick buck. Now it seems to be more about making that quick buck. With a burgeoning human population, I’m sure much of it is driven by individual economics and the need to earn livable wages however one can.

With only so many jobs open at any given time, working as an independent contractor or as a freelancer has opened up countless opportunities. One of those opportunities is to provide false information; it comes in the form of online business reviews, professional references (yes, you can pay someone to lie to your potential employer about your work history but it’s fraudulent and you can get into a boatload of legal troubles for it), even on a resume (also fraudulent).

Liar-for-hire Tim Green, founder of Paladin Deception Services, will lie for you, for a price ($54 a month). He says he won’t break the law but he obviously has no problem being deceitful or fraudulent for his clients. He even has technology so he can provide a phone number that will show with any area code in the U.S.

Deceitful behavior is a sign of poor character, even if it’s profitable. Making money from it doesn’t make it okay just because you rationalize that you’re not “breaking the law”. It’s a serious breach of ethics, both personal and professional. It reminds me of a concept that I studied in a Greek (Socrates) philosophy class known as ‘fun morality’. Basically, the premise is that if it’s fun, it must be okay. For writers, this unethical approach will eventually get you into hot water.

In the end, it comes down to whether I can live with a professional deceit like a 5-star review for a company I don’t know and who is willing to mislead their potential customers.

I can’t. 

Skills Building: Write Your Own Obit

obit_citizens voice

Source: Google Images/Citizens’ Voice

Last week I lost a family member (a first cousin); it was a rather sudden, unexpected passing. I’d not seen him in many years but it did not diminish my feeling of loss. I remembered him as a sweet, gentle, quiet soul and his obituary, which read more like a loving eulogy a family member would give at a service, echoed that same sentiment.

Then it got me thinking; in two previous posts I emphasized the importance of getting your Digital Property (blog 1, blog 2) in order so that those left behind when you’re gone can manage your completed (and not completed) works. And then I thought, what better way to up one’s writing/skill level than to write one’s own obituary? It’s often an assignment in writing classes as it provides a sense of mortality and an intimate examination of our lives, as well as our place in this world (or at least what we hope it might have been).

What will you write about yourself? Would you include your accomplishments, hobbies and (mis)adventures? What would you leave out? What will you leave behind? To whom will you leave your belongings? Family? Charities? Or just donate it? If you had to do it over again (life), would you change anything? Leave anything undone, incomplete? It’s a sobering experience, for sure; trying to see yourself the ways others might. I attempted this exercise once and found it difficult to decide who got what (if anybody actually wanted any of my crap to begin with, they have enough of their own), to parcel out my “stuff” to people, some who aren’t in my life all that much and others who are. It actually scared me, as if I’d suddenly gotten a glimpse of the universe, less me.

Be colorful; use apt descriptives and pictures to express who you were in life. These days, everything goes online (e.g., legacy.com, mem.com) for family to see and they can “sign” a memorial book. How do you wish to be remembered? Are your stories/works included in that legacy? We’re told to take control of our lives, to own them, so why not own your obit? Let the world see you as the artist, writer, sculptor, etc. that you are, and in YOUR words. Give them an opportunity to revel in what you leave behind. Don’t be afraid to build yourself up in their eyes; it’s natural for the mourning family to do that anyway. If you don’t have a close family (this is a truth for some people), who has meant the most to you in your life? Family isn’t always blood; often it’s the people we surround ourselves with who care about us during both good and bad times.

Think of your obituary as your last and greatest work, the final piece of the puzzle that is YOU.

 

Writing a Whodunit Isn’t Much of a Mystery

whodunit

I recently completed an article on cardiovascular health for a trade journal. To begin the process, I researched the necessary information and laid it out in outline form to see what I would use and what I would discard. Once I used some research, I drew a line (strikethrough option in Word) through the paragraph or section. Anything I didn’t use I simply deleted.

You can utilize a similar process to write a mystery novel. There are some necessary steps in that process and I’ll touch on a few basics here to get you started:

1) Plot out the novel – This is an opportunity to put your ideas to paper. What kind of murder? How many people involved? What’s the murder weapon? Location of the murder? Setting (time period or locale) of the book? It might help to draw a map of the area(s) where the story takes place, as it will provide you with a sense of direction (north, south, etc.) and landscape (or seascape) when moving characters around. Don’t forget about seasons/climate, year/century, and overall mood (feeling) of the locations.

2) Opening hook – You need an opening hook that grabs readers and makes them want to read more of the book. I prefer a shorter first chapter that includes the hook, the protagonist(s) or antagonist(s) (or both, depending on the storyline) and a bit of mystery about what is to unfold:

“She stuck her perky titties in his face; he pretended to display a modicum of interest. He knew what she wanted; he knew she was hungry for him. She tossed her shoulder length blonde hair from side to side, waving her golden locks like a flag in the wind to garner his attention. She playfully brushed his muscular arm as she feigned interest in the fabric of his jersey. Instead, he was focused on the nondescript woman sitting in the far corner of the local watering hole. She’d been coming in regularly on Thursday nights, he recently noticed, and always alone. She sat in a quiet corner behind the bar that gave her the broadest view of the goings-on of the locals. It appeared she was taking notes.” (Rescue on White Thunder, 2012, all rights reserved.)

Based on this opening paragraph, this was the review left by a noted author (for which I was ever grateful):
“Despite the hilarious opening line, this is not that kind of book. It really is a good, serious story. At first I thought ‘chick-lit’ but it really isn’t and the characters, plot and story continue to grow throughout. I don’t know exactly where I couldn’t put it aside, but it happened. There is some really good American Indian lore that I hadn’t heard before as well.”

 

3) Build your characters – What does your protagonist or antagonist look like? How do they act/speak? Any quirks? Do you describe secondary characters enough for readers to know them? Good physical descriptions provide a visual image for the reader but personality, attitude and other intangibles are important as well:

“Leonard Laughing Bear is a six-foot man in his mid-fifties with a stout build and broad shoulders designed for carrying the weight of the world.  Hair as thick as a Berber carpet flows freely down his back and is streaked with gray between strands of deep black. The lines on his face are a roadmap to the life history of an experienced elder. His left knee is bowed outward so when he walks he tilts a little to the left. His eyes are small, dark beads that glow with an intensity and hint of a deeper knowing, and are bordered by prominent cheekbones that seem carved from rock. He is a soft-spoken man with a velvety-toned voice that draws people in to listen attentively. He is a gifted storyteller.” (Rescue on White Thunder, 2012, all rights reserved.)

4) Mishaps, obstacles, and red herrings – These are the “monkey wrenches” you throw into the story to mislead or move the protagonist(s) and/or antagonist(s) in different directions. Don’t get wrapped up in too much misdirection, it will move you further from the heart of the story and you may confuse or lose the reader.

“6:30 am: The explosion reverberated throughout the house. Braddock flew out of his chair at the breakfast table and Jim sprung to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor, both of them spilling their mugs of coffee. Smoke perked up his ears, looked around, and howled as Annie froze in front of the stove, her eyes wide with fright. Wolf, working in the garage, was knocked backward as the ground shuddered and shook. He had a bad feeling in his gut so he ran to his trailer, grabbed his survival pack, and ran to the main house.” (Rescue on White Thunder, 2012, all rights reserved.)

5) The arc of the story – This is how the plot progresses through the novel. There are  eight stages of a story plot, according to Wikihow:

  • Stasis – the normal, everyday life of the person whose point of view you’re using to tell the story
  • Trigger – this is the event that sets everything in motion
  • The quest – this is the murder or murder mystery
  • Surprise – these are the twists and turns, the complications (“monkey wrenches”) that keep the story going; most important to keep movement in the story to keep the reader’s attention
  • Critical choice – this is where the protagonist(s) must decide how to act, often faced with a hard path; it can be a defining moment for the character and tends to lead to the climax
  • Climax – where the murder is solved and murderer is caught
  • Reversal and resolution – these represent how the characters have changed and what their “new normal” looks like after the crime has been committed and suspect caught

Remember to keep the readers guessing throughout the novel (hence the movement of storyline and characters). As I mentioned in a previous post, start at the end (the murder, the location, evidence, etc.) and work backwards; take the story apart, scatter the evidence and details around (but not too much), then slowly piece them back together to create a full picture.

Mystery solved.

Knowing Where To Start Is At The End

Vision-Board-example

Source: 510mpls.com

I read an interesting post on a hypnotherapy blog this morning.  I know it may sound a bit crazy, but it was about starting at the end and looking back to the beginning, to see what you can do differently with what you know NOW. A purposeful ‘hindsight is 20/20’ approach. Brilliant.

I’m not one for making lists of goals I want to achieve, I never have been. I’m artistic and more of a ‘vision board’ kinda gal. I enjoy and even thrive on creating a collage of pictures and words that create the energy to bring goals to fruition. The idea of ‘looking back’ over what I have not yet accomplished feeds the vision board builder in me more than a list. Writers are usually more artistic anyway, so this approach may also work for many of you.

“By setting goals backwards – with a focus on result rather than perfection in the process – you only fail if you stop striving. The route to success isn’t a straight line, it’s a wibbly-wobbly windy fall down seven times get up eight times kind of a thing.”

Source: sacramentohypnotherapy.com

What results do you seek with your writing projects? Picture yourself at the end of the book/article/poem/proofreading project, etc. Is the result what you wanted? Did you miss any steps? Have you taken a good look at what it will take to complete your goal or project?

Looking backward gives you the opportunity to see the steps you must take to get to the desired end result, whether it’s publication or just completion of a certain project. Here’s to looking back at what we can do when we move forward!

Keeping Up with the Digital Joneses

book meme

In one of her recent blogs, author Lee Foster offered some good suggestions regarding traditional vs. self/independent publishing, formats and whether to license your work.

Sadly, traditional publishing continues to deteriorate with the uptick of digital media and independent publishing, whether the medium is books, magazines, or newspapers. Independent publishers are gaining more of an edge over traditional routes but it’s important to maintain any existing relationships you might have with a traditional publishing house to ensure continued publication of your book. According to Lee, physical books still account for about 70% of the market; eBooks, about 17%, and audio books about 6%. These stats will likely change as the demand for digital media surges, especially with the 18-49 age group. It’s vital for writers to stay current with what’s in vogue so their work isn’t passed over because the format’s not popular.

If you’re an independent publisher, check Meetup.com in your area for meetups. They’re a great place to network, share your work, and get/provide feedback about the writing process. Who knows, you just might get some great ideas for that unfinished scene that’s been nagging at you for weeks or months.

The format you choose for your book can vary; publishing in all formats increases your exposure and ups the odds that more readers in your target market will find you. How many of these options are you using or are yet to use?

  • Print book – Ingram, Lulu Press, Amazon KDP, etc.
  • eBook – Lulu Press, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.
  • Audio book – Audible, etc.
  • Translations of your book – the language/s you choose should be based on your target market and perhaps the setting/location or cultural aspects; if you can’t afford a translator, try Bing Translator or Google Translator. They can be time-consuming to use (one paragraph or so at a time) but if budget is limited, it’s a good place to start. You also may want to come up with additional title options, as not all titles will translate well. Do some research.
  • A “website” book, where your work is available online in a website

copyright clearance ctr author options

Something else to think about is licensing your content. Do you write nonfiction, books for academia or business? Then you might consider the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center, where you can set up an account to collect fees from people who use quotes from your works with your permission. These are a few of the options from their site:

  • RightsLink for Permissions – automates permissions and reprints from your website; “facilitate permissions and reprints requests for copyrighted articles, images, mobile and new media content right from their websites.”
  • Republication Service – allows you to secure republication permissions for others’ works, as well as subsidiary rights
  • RightsCentral – where publishers, authors, and agents manage their account; from this option you can also download title usage reports; view and manage your participation in CCC services; review your permissions and fees; and set your fees within each service

Here Are Some Easy, Not-So-Easy, Free, Low-Tech & Low-Budget Marketing Options for the Budget-Minded, Techie-Challenged, or Self-Publishing Newbies

MB window sign-new

Okay, it’s official; I’m now on Instagram (dthunderhawk325). Serendipity played a role in this decision, as I believe there are no accidents. Last week I was at my local Office Max getting some photos enlarged to sell in various home and personal forms (pillows, t-shirts, mugs, etc.) on Redbubble, when I learned of the positive effect Instagram can have on one’s business since it’s a visual-based app. A woman named Kat came to the Print/Copy center shortly after I did and I noticed what she was printing. The fonts on the cards were gorgeous; they referred to a healing crystals class she teaches. When I asked how she got started (after telling me she now did this full-time), she said she trained in architecture but due to some health issues she began using healing crystals, which lead her down this path.

Funny how that works, eh?

 She also does calligraphy, which explains the gorgeous script on the cards, all done by (her) hand, not computer fonts. She built this part-time hobby into a full-time business in less than a year, with her products (healing crystals kits and handmade calligraphy information cards) for sale online and in physical stores. Talk about the power of positive intent: Zulilly and a company called Fare contacted her directly; they buy wholesale from her and now she’s all over the place! She explained that she did a clearing with her crystals and set her intention and, lo and behold, it all fell into place.

So I got to thinking: Instagram is FREE and a great way to share your products with potential customers if you use it strictly for business (means: focus your business intent here). If you want to post to Instagram from your home computer, Bluestacks is a new app designed so you can upload photos to Instagram from your Mac or PC. Just download from their site, Bluestacks.com, for FREE and they instruct you on how to post from your computer. Nice if you’re home and want to spend some time away from your phone or if your work product is mainly on your computer (better security, I think).

Fivver is a decent (read: hit or miss) place to get some LOW-COST marketing: 1) pay five dollars for someone to tweet about your website, books, art work, etc. and you write the copy; 2) pay five dollars for someone to send a blurb (you write the copy) out to all their LinkedIn connections; I tried this avenue, with little success; probably has more to do with who their connections are and if any are within your target market; 3) pay a few dollars more for someone to create a mini-commercial that you can post on SM or your website. There are multiple options on Fivver and it won’t hurt to check out what might or might not work for you, since the initial investment can fit into a LOW-BUDGET (and tax deductible, by the way, so keep all receipts!). Also a good avenue for SELF-PUBLISHING NEWBIES to get their marketing feet wet.

MB bookmark-new

Handing out FREE bookmarks with your logo, website, etc. is a good LOW-TECH way to market yourself. I keep a supply in my purse and my wallet, just in case, and I hand them out everywhere – cafés, post office, local coffee shop – wherever I’m talking with people. They’re inexpensive to buy in bulk and easily fit into carry bags/purses. Vistaprint is one good source and they provide good quality products. I also designed a business card with the book cover of my nutrition book as the whole card; the colors are bright and eye-catching and always get a positive response when I hand it out. With a good promo, you can get 250-500 business cards for free or less than $20 on Vistaprint, a good option for LOW-BUDGETS and SELF-PUBLISHING NEWBIES.

MB nutrition book-cardCar signs (window) and magnets (door) are affordable LOW-TECH options, especially if you do a decent amount of driving around where you live (and a good motivator to go out for a drive so everyone can see your signs). It’s also a good way to get folks directly to your website instead of Amazon or Ingram (where they can often buy it cheaper, which means less commission for you); they can then see what else you may have to offer. Plus: If you have to park on the street as I do, everyone who walks by or drives by sees your car signs. Win-win!

If you have more than one business or money-earning hobby, building a landing page (GoDaddy and Wix have nice options) lets you keep all of your work in one location, giving potential customers more options to shop with you. However, no matter how much they advertise easy it’s to build one of their sites in “less than an hour,” it can take more than the hour they claim if you’re TECH-CHALLENGED, also making this a NOT-SO-EASY option for some folks.

Which easy, not-so-easy, free, low-tech or low-budget options have you tried? Were you successful? If not, why not? I’d love to hear what worked for you, what avenues you took to bring even the smallest success. Feel free to comment so we can all learn from your business acumen!

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb (I’m paraphrasing) that says a smart man learns from his own mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Let’s learn from each other!

 

 

More of the Same

All I Hear Is Blah Blah Blah

Source: PhotoFunia

My literary Inbox today: “Same old, same old” advice on writing books, marketing books, building a fan base, following the blogs of award-winning authors, blah blah blah. Today is my Groundhog Day for unoriginal blog articles on writing, selling and marketing books. I’ve heard it all before. Where are the fresh ideas? How many times can they recycle the same **it over and over again? I get it; they’re the constant nudge, the ever-present voice in your head, urging you in that direction where you actually reach a publishing, marketing or sales goal, small or large. Maybe if we hear it enough, we’ll begin to believe it, like subliminal messages: You are a marketing guru; you will sell more books; more readers will follow your blog, listen to my voice…

What if writing is a hobby for you? What if you’re not earning anything close to a full-time paycheck with your book sales? Lots of expert advice available online about marketing, hiring people (virtual or in-person) or companies to do it. Do bloggers assume that many writers have the available cash to spend on these “necessary evils?” Book experts touting the latest, the greatest, the essentials for winning more fans, earning more, being more, doing more, in an ever-growing competitive field where it’s getting harder and harder to find your niche. It’s the never-ending game of “let’s see how many people will buy my advice on [some] new marketing avenue.” Talk about even more responsibility, more time spent trying to get your books into the hands of millions of readers. Okay, maybe not millions, unless you’re a bestselling author and your books are available in multiple languages.

When do you work your “real” job (if you have to have one, as many writers do)? When do you spend time with family and friends? When do you make time to write? Only so many hours in a day, a week, a month, this thing called time. Yes, it’s essential to prioritize, to make room for each aspect of the writing/marketing/selling process but have we sacrificed other areas of our lives (read: time) for this?

If I sound exasperated, it’s because I am but I continue to rebel, to question, to be the “devil’s advocate” in the room (and on the blog).

Caveat:

“Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” From the movie The Imitation Game

Tie It Up With a Bow

tie a bow1

I’ve blogged about creating multiple income streams (MIS) as a way for writers to increase exposure and income. We are naturally curious and creative and the world around us is our canvas, from which we create sensational stories, paintings, photos, and more. Art is no longer an exclusive community available only to those with connections in the art world. Thanks to social media, digital art software and internet commerce sites, more of us can participate and contribute our creations, whatever they may be.

Utilizing the concept of MIS in conjunction with my other creative endeavors, I’m in the process of putting the pieces together “under one roof.” Writer/photographer Lee Foster, in her article, “Could You Make (And Even Sell) Your Own Pictures?” (February 7, 2019), posits that since we use photos in our blogs, on our SM sites, and perhaps even in our books, we can create some of those photos ourselves. There are multiple sites online where we can access copyright-free photos (Pixabay, Pexels, etc.); they offer many options to create new photos or works of art via digital enhancement. She then suggests that we sell those photos as a way of earning extra income. This could apply to your paintings (and/or digital prints of them) as well.

Pictures are visual stimuli used extensively in marketing campaigns, on websites and in magazines, to name a few. Selling your pictures can be profitable but in this highly competitive market you need to research where you can optimize your sales. The size of the photo and pixels are also important; make sure you know what size requirements are for each sales venue. Will you digitally enhance the photos? There are plenty of websites for that, too (I like LunaPics for basic digital effects).

In the same vein as knowing your target market, knowing which SM to use and which forms of art (e.g., acrylic painting, digital photography, poetry, etc.) to share, it’s important to decide how to create your multiple income streams, no matter how large or small, with each of your creative talents. Once they are up and running independently, you can tie them all together in one place – such as a landing page or on your existing website – that will allow customers and fans to access all of your works from one location.

Have you set up multiple income streams? What advice do you have for the rest of us? Please share your expertise in setting up and operating multiple income streams and how you manage them. Let’s all work together to make online and physical marketplaces a reachable goal for all artists.

Are You Stylin’? Ten Tips to Writing in AP Style

ap style2

Since Saturday I’ve been preoccupied with finding a topic for this week’s blog. Then I discovered two articles on AP style I’d saved. I’m trained to write in APA (American Psychological Association) style, which I learned while earning my BA in Psychology. There are some notable differences between them; a major difference is there are no in-text citations or reference lists in AP style. In AP style there are smaller paragraphs of 1-2 sentences; writing is clear and concise; wordiness, long sentences and jargon are used in APA style but not AP style.

The AP Stylebook, used by professional journalists, is a good referral source to improve and correct your writing. It’s a good idea to keep a copy on hand. While some rules have been abandoned in this digital age of abbreviated language, these are still important. I hope they help your technical writing skills.

  1. Use more than when you’re referring to numbers; ex: more than 10 miles, not over 10 miles.
  2. Paraphrasing – when paraphrasing a source, attribute it to the source at the beginning or end of the sentence: “Several factors could determine how quickly a fire engulfs a resident’s room, Frederick said.”Always use said, not pointed out or claimed, which can be perceived as bias. The person’s name or a pronoun always precedes ‘said.’
  3. Commas – in AP style, the comma before the conjunction is deleted: He used a hammer, some nails and a long board.
  4. Trademarked words should be capitalized but avoid if possible and use generic words: Kitty Litter vs. cat box filler, Dumpster vs. trash receptacle.
  5. Composition titles: AP style requires quotation marks around titles, not italics or underlining; however, the Bible, reference books and software do not need quotations.
  6. Most abbreviations are spelled out on the first reference and abbreviated on the second: American Psychological Association (APA); some abbreviations are acceptable in every reference: FBI, CIA, ATF
  7. Dates: abbreviate dates (Jan., Feb., etc.) with a specific date; spell out months when used alone or with a year only.
  8. State abbreviations (I always get these wrong) – spell them out when they stand alone but abbreviate when with a city, town, etc., or with datelines or text:
    1. Never abbreviate Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah
    2. The rest can have two or three letter abbreviations (I cheat and use the two-letter style: CT, CA, NY, etc.); see the AP Stylebook for the complete list.
  9. Prefixes – Use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel (re-entry, anti-inflammatory). Use a hyphen if the word that follows is capitalized (the ex-Beatle Paul McCartney).
  10. Money – use a $ sign and numerals for an exact figure
    1. For amounts less than a dollar, use numerals (99 cents)
    2. Use a $ sign and numerals to two decimal points for amounts of $1 million and up.
    3. Spell out special cases (She loaned me five dollars).

As writers it’s vital we not let our guard down; we cannot contribute to the “dumbing down” of American reading and writing skills. Stay the course, refuse to take the low (grammar) road and, just maybe, we can maintain a level of literature (and journalism) undaunted by those who choose another, less intellectual path.

Write on!

 

Sources:

11 AP Style Guide Rules That Are Easy to Mess Up by Melanie Brooks, March 2012.

Writing in AP Style by Sarah Bennett, Bear Claw Center for Learning and Writing

I Repeat, It’s Redundant

social-media-cube

Do We Need All This SM?

I’ve blogged about how I feel overwhelmed at times with Social Media (SM). I’ve also been thinking about how much of it is actually redundant. We build a nice website, maybe with an RSS feed or comment section on our blog page, and we add to that mix more SM than we have time for in our daily lives because we want everyone (or anyone) reading our books. If you can visit an author’s FB page and like it, do you also need to visit the website, or vice versa? Or the Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, or Twitter accounts? What’s different? What’s not?

I question the necessity of having more than a few good SM accounts. I understand we’re not all on the same SM so picking those that do the most good for you and your business (because writing is a business, if you’re selling your work) is smart. Which SM do you really need? Do you need to be on ALL of them? Only you can know the answer, after researching how you want to market yourself and your work. Factors in that decision might be age, gender, or cultural, for example; these are your target demographics and you need to know whom they are and where to find them on SM. Do you believe that all your fans (readers) are on the same SM as you?

How much of your SM is redundant and taking away from the quality of your life? Or more importantly, your writing time? (Really, how many pictures or videos of cute puppies or kitties can you get excited about?)

Marketing, Branding, Promotion, and SM

Marketing our work and our selves is important and necessary as authors. A SM-savvy person can utilize SM to its fullest capacity, if you do the homework. The rest live with a basic marketing plan and will (eventually) work their way up to the one that provides the most benefits (more sales, increased exposure, better branding, etc.). It all depends on what you want to achieve (fame, fortune, notoriety, bestseller lists, be besties with your readers, etc.) and the steps you must take to achieve it.

In a recent blog by USA Today bestselling author Kristen Lamb wrote “ads without an established relationship (platform and brand) don’t work.” She’s right. And neither does spamming everyone on your LI list (or any SM list) with a link to your book (like I did years ago; lesson learned). You need to establish yourself (brand) before readers begin lining up to buy your books; you have to build the excitement. Be selective about which SM works best for you (read: what is my target audience and where are they), build your platform on those SM and work from there. Are you on YouTube or other video sites? Or do you prefer sites where you communicate only via texting/comments? You need to know what you’re comfortable with; you also need to understand that you can’t spread yourself so thin (be everywhere on all SM) and expect to build trust in your brand (you) and your product (books) if you don’t offer something unique on each one.

Promotion is nice but it’s a long way from establishing and maintaining that critical relationship with your readers/fans. If you can tie your name (brand) with your book (marketing) with an emotional experience, then according to Kristen Lamb, you’ve got a winning combination. (Think Harley-Davidson or Geico) What emotional experience will readers gain from reading your work?  

Mix Up Your SM Options

Let’s do some math:

Website/blog + POD publishing site (Lulu, Ingram, Book Baby, etc.) + Facebook + Twitter + Instagram + LinkedIn + Snapchat + YouTube + Social Media2 = Redundant; same information in too many places; reduce the load unless you can offer something unique on each of them

Here’s my math:

Website/blog + Facebook + Lulu Press + radio interviews + car signage (I often drive to areas far from home; great advertising on the highway) = global distribution (includes Amazon, B&N, Ingram, and many others) = minimalist approach but smart, affordable, and a good start (last year I began earning royalties every month so now I can up my game a bit)

Here’s another option:

Website/blog + Lulu Press + Facebook groups (literary) + Twitter + Goodreads + guest blogging + radio interviews = easy to maintain, affordable approach

And another:

Website/blog + Ingram (this gets your book into physical locations) + Twitter + YouTube + Goodreads + author podcast = easy to maintain, offers fans text, video, and recorded/live access to you

Consolidate Your SM

How many author pages do you need (Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, B&N, etc.)? Too many ‘author pages’ can become difficult to keep track of (again, lesson learned), especially when you need to update personal or book information. Keep it simple and manageable.

Ask yourself: What do I want from SM? More book sales, people reading my blogs, connecting more with my fans? Do you want/need to be rich and famous or are you happy with the fact that some, but not all, folks are reading your works? Do the math; see what works, what’s in your budget.

Avoid redundancy; stay original.

Then repeat (for your next masterpiece).

A Writer’s Legacy Part 2

photofunia-last will

In November 2016, I posted a blog, A Writer’s Legacy in a Digital World, where I discussed the importance of planning for the future of your digital and intellectual property. I recently read two blog posts on the same subject but with a few more bits of information, like appointing a Literary Executor (separate from the Estate Attorney) to protect your intellectual property (IP).

To reiterate, it’s vital you prepare for the inevitable. You must decide what kind of legacy you wish to leave, if you wish to leave one at all. In this new digital world, our lives are complicated by our dependence on many devices, each with its own password and accessible only by you. The first step in the process is to take an inventory of your digital (online world) and intellectual properties:

  1. Do you have a Paypal, Google Pay, or any account, in addition to personal banking, with monetary value? Who will have access in case you’re incapacitated, or worse, if you die? What happens to the money? Whom will you designate as your beneficiary?
  2. What about personal and business email accounts, blogs, and podcasts? Personal and business websites? Do you want them up and running for people to read your when-you-were-a-breathing-starving-artist work?
  3. Do you keep a list of logins and passwords to all of your online accounts? I keep an updated copy in one of those many cloud accounts, just in case. Update it regularly and make sure your designated Estate attorney has the most recent copy on file.
  4. What electronic devices do you own that need a password for access? Do you have a laptop, smartphone, tablet, DVR/Tivo, Ring, or a home burglary system? How many apps do you access from your phone?
  5. Do you bank online? What about mortgage payments, investment banking, utilities, and airline (or other) memberships? Which memberships automatically renew online? You’ll need to spell out which to cancel and which to keep active for your heirs/estate.
  6. Do you have any online accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube? Any accounts to e-commerce sites (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Ebay, etc.)? Check the policies of these companies regarding access by another person. You’ll need to legally designate someone if you want that person to clean up your online life.
  7. How much of your work is unfinished? Do you want someone else to finish it? Or would you prefer your Executor/Executrix just heave every incomplete project, every potential novel/poetry book/best-selling short story into a shredder? What will you do with the work you have completed? Who gets the royalties?
  8. Do you have translations of your book? Movie deals? Audio books? Who will oversee these if they become options after your death? Who will make the decisions about maintaining and growing your work after you’re gone? (Think: Elvis Presley estate.)
  9. Will you leave the option to own, sell, or operate your business and control your intellectual property? Or will you decide so your heirs don’t have to? One option is to designate a micro-publisher to oversee your work so that royalties will be properly paid to your heirs.
  10. What about cleaning up your personal information collected by those data-mining companies? If you think it won’t matter once you’re gone, you’re wrong. Someone could use your identity and gain access to your intellectual property and online life, and then your hard-earned money. This can affect any heirs you designate and their ability to oversee your IP or pay any monies owed. One site, My Life, mines all sorts of personal information; you’ll need to sign up and join to have access to your personal information and request they delete all of it.
  11. You need to be concerned with writer scams popping up all over the web offering unauthorized copies of authors’ books or scamming writers out of money. Writer Beware is one of many sites that track predatory sites and unscrupulous people trying to steal our IP. Make sure all is good before passing it on to the heirs.

I don’t have children so I’ve been thinking about how to ensure my IP is safe so that whomever I designate as heirs (charities most likely), they will benefit properly. It’s mind-boggling for sure, but getting started is the hardest part. Start with making a list for numbers 1-4; those alone will take some time. Once that’s done, you’re more than halfway to protecting your IP. Nolo.com is a good site to find Estate and Literary attorney recommendations; you can also call or check online with the Bar Association in your state. You can find Last Will and Testament forms (as well as Healthy Proxy, Power of Attorney and other estate forms) online and at Nolo.

I’m not trying to be morose; this is a necessary part of owning a business (yourself) and smart business owners/independent contractors prepare for the worst. How many famous people left no Will for their estates, tying up legal proceedings for years in probate with family members each trying to get his share? Don’t let this happen to you – or your heirs.

Some links to good articles on this and other subjects:

Anne R. Allen on Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris
New Writing Scams to Look Out for in 2019
“As long as there are writers, there will be writing scams. Hungry predators will always be lying in wait, ready to pounce on any tender young scribe who strays from the safety of the mainstream herd.”

Maggie Lynch on Self Publishing Advice From The Alliance Of Independent Authors
Why Indie Authors Need Literary Executors & How to Appoint One
“Today I’m going to address how to make sure your heirs (whether that is family, friends, or a nonprofit) benefit from that and who makes the decisions about licensing future intellectual property rights (eg translations, movie or TV deals, audiobooks, etc.) that may not have been licensed at the time of your death.”

Chris Syme on Smart Marketing for Authors
Why Word of Mouth Marketing Will Sell More Books [Research]
“In this episode of the podcast, Chris reviews the 2018 Word of Mouth Marketing Report from Convince and Convert Consulting and how it can help authors sell more books.”

Does Reading Need to Be Saved?

Fahrenheit 451 image

Source: lithub.com

In our local News & Review paper, I read an article titled, “The Man Who Saved Reading.” Honestly, I didn’t know we were in danger of losing it, like an endangered animal teetering on the edge of extinction. The Great American Read, sponsored by PBS, had Americans reading by the thousands, perhaps millions. Local libraries throughout the U.S. are also responsible for keeping the literati alive in us. Series books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have excited the masses, of all ages, just to name two. But the article focused on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and all the political wrangling the director of the NEA had to deal with before leaving to return to his writing roots, and how he struggled against Republicans (who consider the NEA “purveyors of smut”, if you can believe it) determined to cut their budget down to almost nothing. It seems to me that the one of the reasons for this is we value success more as a measure of financial and material wealth rather than as knowledge and wisdom gained through the enlightenment found in books.

The author of the article, Scott Thomas Anderson, wrote: “In 1953, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 described a future where novels are relics and human thought is enslaved by interactive screens.” Talk about foresight – and forewarned. The NEA directed the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct a large survey on the participation in the arts. This was the shocking result:

With the rise of digital media, less than half of U.S. adults were now reading literature.

Ouch. To top it off, the survey showed a ten-percentage point decline over the last twenty years, a loss of twenty million potential readers. Ouch again. This drop, according to the survey, spread across every age group, every ethnic group, both genders, and all income levels. The steepest decline was among persons aged 18 – 34 (the Digital Generation). Yikes.

Anderson also wrote: “Other studies by the NEA also showed that people who didn’t read books were less likely to vote in elections, volunteer for charities, and support cultural institutions [and, I believe, be less informed about life and different cultures in general].” If you don’t read and activate your imagination, get outside of yourself and escape into a good book, how can you vote (awareness of the issues), be more open-minded, and be willing to serve others?

The results make sense to me, especially the forewarning by author Ray Bradbury. You see it everywhere: people plugged in to their earbuds or headphones and tuned out. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to walk around young people so deep into their phones they didn’t even see me. We use computers (phone, laptop, etc.) to look up words and they finish the spelling for us. How can we learn/grow if machines do all the work? While technology certainly has improved some aspects of our lives, I also believe they’ve made us lazy because they can do so much more, much faster than humanly possible. (I still prefer to look up words in a dictionary, it keeps my spelling skills fresh.)

As writers, we can’t let good literature go extinct; we must rail against the onslaught of technology by producing worthy work. Are we, the authors, writing good stories to enthrall the masses, to keep good literature from disappearing? We MUST. It’s one of the reasons I no longer publish in eBook format. I prefer the feel of the book in my lap, the smell of the pages (especially the older classics, they just smell better), the look of some fonts, the touch of a good leather binding. It’s all a part of the reading experience and we, the writers, must do what we can to ensure that book reading does not go the way of the dodo bird. We must create good literature, evoke wild imaginations; we must inform, teach, and tell the good story worth reading.