Fall Into Your Writing

 

autumn2

Source: Google Images/ townandcountrymag.com

T’is the Season

Last week came the first tease, the first hint that autumn was on its way. I love the word autumn more than fall; to me, it connotes a subtle changing of the guards, so to speak; that those hot summer days are mostly behind us and crispy, breezy, sweet-smelling days lay ahead. We even had to wear jackets for a few days last week, with the morning and evening temps getting pretty low. Some leaves have already begun to change, thanks to those cooler-than-usual nights. I can’t yet smell autumn in the air as the warmer summer weather is upon us once again. Autumn officially arrived yesterday and I wait with baited breath for the scent of those brilliant autumn colors.

Days become shorter this time of year and an indoor activity like writing (plus the PR and marketing) is a great way to stay busy without burning up too much energy. I love to write later in the evening, from around 9pm to 1am, this time of year; it seems everyone gets home and settles in earlier than usual so my corner of the world goes a bit quieter. Does yours?

Ready for the Holidays?

This is also a good time of year to gear up your PR and marketing for the holidays. I’ve published a nutrition book, so it’s a good time of year to get on an anthology list for holiday purchases to help people eat better during and after the holiday binges.

Alli – Alliance of Indpendent Authors – has some great tips for DIY PR for us Indie authors in a post written by Helen Baggott. She posts some sensible advice on pre- and post-publication PR (even though she’s in Great Britain, I’m sure much of this applies here in the U.S. as well). Try contacting magazines related to your book’s topic (hers was genealogy and hand-written postcards); check out trade journals as well, as they are often a good source for some free (or affordable) advertising/PR.

If you utilize Ingram Spark, it’s a good time to check whether your book is getting into libraries (locally and nationwide).  She recommends contacting Resource Managers at the library’s headquarters (or main branch here in the states). Have a 60-second pitch ready in case they don’t yet have your book on their shelves. Another option (which is a bit more costly) is to donate some of your books to your local branches. I did that with my first book and it turned out to be pretty popular, especially with high school kids doing book reports.

Hemingway – A Funky New App

And if you haven’t tried it yet, check out the Hemingway app. Dr. Judith Briles, The Book Shephard, highly recommends it as a way to ferret out bad verbiage, grammar issues, etc. It’s free and easy to use and it provides you with a readability index, meaning at what grade level you’re writing. She suggests hovering around a sixth grade level; sadly, this is the average literacy level in the U.S.  There are color-coded phrases that pop up and suggest fixes.

When I popped in the first chapter of my in-the-works novel, it came up with good readability … but at a grade 3 level. Sigh. Evidently I used a few too many adverbs but only three of the sentences were judged as hard to read (by who, I wonder, if I’m writing at a 3rd grade level). I think I will spend some more time with this app to see where I can improve my writing and the story. I’d even like to get a little above grade 6, in the hopes that some readers are more literate than that.

As I said, now is the time to ‘fall’ into your writing. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, so sharpen your editing pencils, your writing mindset and get your desk in order – it’s time to write!

Beating the Heat, Posting Book Ads & The Dark Side of Writing

Source: Google Images

The Heat Is On

OMG…summer is definitely HERE. Mid-90s to high 90s, then on up to triple digits (108 the other day), then back down to 90-ish today. No better time to catch up on some summer reading (indoors where the A/C is, of course). I’m currently digging into a Steve Berry spy novel and just finished devouring the latest in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series (one of my all-time faves). Summer reading is a nice respite from both work (if you have a day job) and writing. The heat can sometimes ‘gunk up the works,’ leaving imaginations stalled. Summertime reading can reignite that engine. So pick up a few good books at your local library or bookstore, grab a large lemonade with ice, a nice lawn chair, and you’re good to go.

What are you reading right now? Some people like to save certain books for summer reading – are you one of those? I’d love to hear what titles people are reading; who knows, you might hook me on one of your fave authors.

Posting On Book Ad Sites – Are They Worth It?

I got this idea from an email newsletter I subscribe to and decided to check out the four options they listed. You know how you ‘just know’ when a website, due to its layout style (too busy, not busy enough, asymmetrical, etc.) turns you off? That’s how I felt when I visited the some of the sites. Nothing impressive and they seemed already full of a lot of books I’ve not heard of – then again, I’m not exactly worldly when it comes to global writers and authors. They just didn’t feel right to me. Suggestions on some good sites for posting book ads are welcome.

Bookswifi.com and creativedesignwriters.com are two paid sites that seem decent enough. Books Wifi offers four options: Premium, Featured, Standard, and Basic and the prices are reasonable. How many hits you’ll get on your book, I have no idea. You can decide whether it’s a worthy expense.

Source: bookswifi.com

Creative Design Writers (.com) is definitely international; there are classifieds, company ads (realty) and fan pages (do people really look at these?); one even reads like a resume/dating site ad. There are ads in other languages, too. Something for everyone, I suppose.

Source: creativedesignerswriters.com

Also offered are SM marketing ($100 USD/month) and SEO ($150 USD/month) but I prefer to work with people I know and who live in my area. Not sure how safe some of these international sites are or who’s running them.

The Dark Side of Writing

A good place to learn about the shadowy world of writing is Writer Beware®, a brilliant website where writing and literary scams are tracked by a team of writers. The current article is on vanity publishers – you know, the companies that make you pay up front for marketing, printing, and other expenditures, only to not receive royalty payments, inaccurate accounting of sales, refusal to print more books, etc. The complaints have been rolling in on these vanity publishers and you should do your due diligence in checking out the site on a regular basis. This is one of the recent articles on vanity publishers that is a MUST-READ:

https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2019/07/from-writer-bewares-files-seven-most.html

Once upon a time, back in the early days of self-publishing, I almost fell for a vanity publisher called Tate Publishing (a Christian-based company, which I was unaware of until I read the heavy Christian verbiage in the publishing contract and changed my mind), now touting itself as Christian Faith Publishing , and is connected to another vanity publisher, Page Publishing. Lots of five-star BBB ratings to go with the numerous complaints, but the good does not outweigh the bad in these cases.

Basically, these vanity publishers take your money because that’s how they make theirs. They don’t follow through on their promises of sales, royalties and book exposure. If you’re new to self-publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH and AVOID VANITY PUBLISHERS. These days, it’s fairly easy to get your book out there as long as you spend some money on a professional editor, book layout, and book cover design.

“The secret of these vanities is that they present themselves as publishers. Their target customer doesn’t want to self-publish…what they see is the validation of being chosen by a publisher, and because they don’t realize that reputable publishers don’t charge fees, they are vulnerable to this kind of deceptive advertising.” Victoria Strauss, Writer Beware®

Summer is a busy time for writers, readers, and booksellers. Take the time to enjoy a good read and don’t fall for literary predators!

 

Freelancing Part 3: Would This Work For You?

20 ways to freelance-elna cain

Source: elnacain.com

Here are the final 3 lessons on finding freelance work, especially if you’re a beginner. I was skeptical to begin with (I tend toward cynicism naturally) and wasn’t all that impressed with what she offered. Not that she doesn’t offer quality information or lessons. It’s just that I can find what she’s offering all over the Internet so her services/products aren’t unique. Honestly, once I finished perusing her 6-day lesson, I got the impression that she moved quickly from freelance writing to selling her ‘secret to success.’

Lesson 4It’s all about you.

Again, Elna touches on something that many bloggers and writers before her have discussed – the lack of confidence in your ability to earn money by writing for other people. The DOUBT and FEAR that people have about getting themselves out there, that they don’t really have something to offer. Heard it before but I agree it’s an important aspect to face and move beyond in order to succeed.

Lesson 5Time to source freelance jobs and apply for them.

Assuming you’ve worked out the doubts and fears, she emphasizes the best way (actually, I think it’s the only way, in the beginning) is to start applying for freelance gigs on various sites. A no-brainer; how else might you find work? Once again, she inserts her call to action in the middle of the narrative (the hook). Good advice re free job boards and she lists some sites to visit. Then she offers another 53 sites by clicking on a link to a page on her website that is chock full of information. Overall, some useful information for beginners here.

Lesson 6Step up to pitch.

In this final free lesson, she details successful pitching habits, including her “proven five-step pitching formula”:

  1. Pitch often – make a goal to send 10 pitches a week, or if you’re super competitive, try sending 10 pitches every day before 10 a.m.
  2. Cast a wide net – pitch to any job ad that you’re somewhat qualified for. In the beginning, you’ll have more success if you’re not too picky.
  3. Pitch in the morning or on the day the ad is published. Heard the saying, the early bird catches the worm? Well, the early freelance writer catches all the gigs.
  4. Do some research about the company or startup. Many job ads tell you the name of the company so run a Google search to check them out. This can prove to be helpful when pitching.
  5. Include a name in your pitch – make it more personable by finding out the name associated with the job ad. This can be tricky but looking at their company website is a start.

She closes with some good advice on how to write that pitch letter.

All in all, the information in the last three segments is useful, including the 53 sites for finding freelance work. I like the details on building a pitch letter. And, of course, she closes with another call to action to sign up for her class and ends with an offer for a “special exclusive lesson + gift for you!

Take away the sales pitches and you’ll find a few good pointers.

Will I sign up for her class?

No.

Will I continue to subscribe to her website?

No.

Does she offer anything NEW that isn’t already out there on the web?

No.

That’s my pitch to you. Take from it what you will.

This and That

pad and pencil

Source: Pixabay

I’ve been itching to write something today but this heat (triple digits!) and humidity gunk up my imagination/thought process. So I’m perusing the many writing tips I save in my Writing Tips folder, hoping to find some noteworthy tidbits for you. This is what I managed to patch together:

Guest Blogging

Do you guest blog? Do you have guest bloggers on your site? Guest blogging is a great way to increase your exposure, give you access to a larger audience and increase traffic to your own site. Likewise, having guest bloggers on your site adds credibility and again increases traffic to your site. Win-win. If you’re the guest blogger, be sure to familiarize yourself with the host’s guidelines and don’t miss your deadline – that’s a surefire way to not be invited back. Have a nice professional picture you can post with the blog; readers like to see who’s writing what. If you’re the host, make sure to lay out clear guidelines regarding what to blog about, the length of the post, etc.

Niche Freelance Work

It can be difficult to find a good niche these days but with a little homework you can find areas where you have the best chance of finding work (and earn money). While it’s good to write blogs/copy on topics that interest you, profit (you get paid) and demand (this area needs better coverage so there’s plenty of work) may lead you to write on topics or on sites you haven’t considered. With a little research, a good writer can create good copy on almost any subject and it could lead you to a regular, lucrative niche freelance gig. (That means money in the bank on a regular basis.)

One of the places I see a (desperate) need for good copy is on Indeed, the online job search site. It’s obvious after reading pages of job posts that the people writing copy for their companies are clearly not writers. One idea is to copy and paste poorly written job ads to a Word document, make the necessary corrections, then email both the bad ad copy and the corrected ad copy to the company’s HR or hiring person and offer your services. Include a link to your site, your Upwork profile, wherever you’re listed. 

Some other areas that need good copy are: law/legal, insurance, financial markets, how-to topics, and employment (resumé writing, curriculum vitae, job ads).

Charging for Your Freelance Work

So how much should you charge? Are you writing only copy or do you edit as well? Do you have a degree in English/Journalism or in some other field where writing was mandatory (e.g., Psychology, medicine, criminal justice)? What is your experience? What you charge will depend on the body of work you’ve already created. If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely have to take those low-paying gigs, like on Upwork, where they pay $1-5 for 100-500 words.

Do you edit or proofread? Proofreading is a type of editing, as are copy editing and content editing. I find myself automatically editing for spelling and grammar no matter what I’m reading (which is why I picked up on the idea of writing job ad copy since so many are written so poorly). Proofreading is the easiest of the three and I prefer to charge hourly. You can also charge by the word; Writer’s Market suggests you charge $3 per page for proofreading.

Copyediting is about improving style, formatting and accuracy so experience in this area is key. You can do light (accuracy, grammatical issues), medium (correcting flow, reworking text) or heavy (restructure paragraphs, style, flow, and grammar) copy editing, depending on your abilities. Writer’s Market suggests $4 per page for copy editing.

Content editing is more intensive; you will often have to add what was left out or rewrite whole sections. Because this is a higher level of editing, Writer’s Market suggests $7.50 per page.

Miranda Marquit, an experienced editor, gives this advice: If you’re just starting out as an editor, you can charge around $20 per hour. An experienced content editor can charge as much as $50 to $85 an hour. Once you have established yourself as a proofreader, you can charge $25 to $35 an hour.

Write on!

The Bloom Is Off The Rose

withered rose

Source: Pixabay

That’s it, I’m done. This morning I read an interesting post by a writer I follow who took a 6-week break from SM (which explains why I didn’t get any new posts from her in my inbox). Many of the comments I read for that post agreed and offered some useful words on how to handle SM if you choose to stay in the game. I’ve posted before on the pros and cons of SM and how much we actually ‘need’ to be on it. I was inspired by her desire to cut the proverbial ties that bound her to her followers and the global writing community, the ties that took her away from her writing time. I constantly struggle with a similar issue. But her honesty encouraged me to take a small step today and I deleted my Goodreads account (for the second, and hopefully, last time) while reorganizing and thinning out my online bookmark manager.

Honestly, why should I give a damn which books complete strangers are reading? And why would they give a damn what I’m reading or have read? FYI – just finished Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan; I hope knowing this changes your life in some way. 🙂

I’ve also wrestled (many times, actually) with closing my Mestengo Books FB page; it contains the same information as my website and I’d rather you visited that over a lackluster FB page. All my FB followers (a whopping 35 people) can visit my website, if so inclined. Well, that’s gone now, too. Whew. A moment of trepidation but I quickly recovered. (And I have fourteen days to make it live again, in case I change my mind and realize I simply can’t live without an ineffective FB page.)

I’ll keep the FB page for my nutrition book; eventually, I’m fairly sure, I’ll tire of that one as well. I’m trying out Instagtram and Twitter for a few months; I don’t spend more than about thirty minutes a day on each (first thing in the morning is best for me) so I don’t yet feel they’re sucking the soul out of me. Give ‘em time.

Does this mean I’m focusing more on productive writing? Not necessarily. I am currently in a predicament that is engulfing almost every moment of almost every day and invading my thoughts almost round the clock . Exhausting. But that’s life: the ups and downs, hills and valleys, ebbs and flows. Due to unforeseen circumstances, my life is currently in that ebb/down/valley so I’m not focused on writing other than this post. Maybe I should be, it would bring a welcome relief from the stress and insomnia.

As I’ve posted before: all we can do, in my opinion, is what’s best for each of us, no matter what the ‘experts’ tout. If you like SM, are good at it, and are finding success with it, then stay the course. Too many people are in burnout mode from the addictive lure of instant success, instant money, instant something. As always with a fad that rapidly becomes popular, (almost) everyone  wants on board, wants their ‘piece of the pie.’ What was once shiny and new quickly fades into oblivion, replaced more quickly by the newest, baddest, greatest, freshest, cheapest, etc. And many of us (writers) are exhausted from trying to keep up. In that realization, a host of writers are backing off, reverting back to doing things ‘the old-fashioned way.’ They’re taking a step back to view the bigger picture. Exhaustion is then replaced with serenity, clarity, and wisdom gained only by the experience.

I will continue to post to my blog because I need it, even if you don’t. And I will make a concerted effort to keep only a small space in my life for SM. The bloom is definitely off that rose for me.

 

What has been your experience with SM? Positive or negative? Care to share? What are some good arguments for keeping up with it? What are some good arguments for letting it go?

 

 

 

Skills Building: Write Your Obit

obit_citizens voice

Source: Google Images/Citizens’ Voice

Last week I lost a family member; 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 (like the image above). These days, everything goes online for family to see and they can “sign” an online 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. 

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

 

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

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).

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.

Where’d My Mojo Go?

Where did my mojo go_typewriter

Source: PhotoFunia

I’m not sure when it happened, or why. After my trip to Italy, I figured I’d get to writing, pick up where I left off with several projects piled near my desk. Not so. When I sat down at my computer the other day, determined to work on something, I couldn’t do it. I opened up several files, perused them, and then closed them. No writing juice, no aspiration to finish any of my open projects. Where’d my mojo go? When I quit my job in October, I was convinced I’d finish at least one in-the-works project, what with so much free time on my hands. I even blogged about it, telling you exactly what I’d do. Only I haven’t. And I’m not sure why. It doesn’t feel like writer’s block; it doesn’t feel like anything, to be honest. What’s wrong with me? Have any of you experienced this? Do I ride out the avoidance storm, hoping it will pass? Is writing something you really need to do daily to stay fresh? Have I become stale? Do I have anything more to write, any more stories to tell? Today, I’m not sure.

Writing books and selling them is a long-term commitment, whether you write one book or several or a whole bunch. You kinda have to be committed to your digital legacy. As I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps I’ve become bored with writing. That’s typical; I easily bore with the same ol’, same ol’ whether it’s a job, or a hobby, or whatever. Time for something new, something I haven’t done, to hopefully reignite my passion for writing and storytelling. I’ve been thinking about painting again. I like to mix mediums and it’s a good way to get the creative juices flowing in a different direction. I’ve mentioned this before, but maybe I need to start a new writing project. Do you find this helps you get the juices flowing again?

Then there’s that nagging voice in my head that says maybe I’m not much of a writer after all. It usually shows up after reading a well-written book that mesmerizes me from the first page to the last. The book I refer to is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It was, honestly, one of the best books I’ve ever read; captivating from beginning to end. He weaves a story with subplots that have subplots and you can’t put it down until you know how they’re all connected, and you can’t help but love every character, good or bad. I haven’t mesmerized anyone with my books and don’t think I ever will. Do you ever find yourself comparing your work/writing skills to someone like him? I have to dig deep within myself to find that speck of confidence about my writing to move forward. 

I’ve thought about trying my hand at short stories. They do seem harder to write, though. You have to introduce the characters, weave the story in with the characters, and finish the story in a much shorter time. It’s like moving from a normal-sized house to a tiny house; you have to decide what to keep and what to discard to make it complete. 

The moral of my blog? Write what you know, write what you live, write what you dream. But most of all, WRITE. Life is full of hills (highs) and valleys (lows); be gentle with yourself as you muddle your way through a valley (as I am now), because you can only go up from there.

=> => =>

Oh, and here’s a neat tip: have you heard of PhotoFunia? It’s an awesome FREE site where you can plug a picture or text into their existing pictures to create a whole new poster, card, graphic logo, etc. It’s free all the time and really neat to use. See the typewriter graphic up top? Did that on their site. So many options to choose from, check it out. As far as I understand, they’re copyright free, too.

 

Jolt of Inspiration

the world is my canvas

It all started out as a nice dinner and conversation between friends. Actually, we’ve been work associates for the past two years and found we have some common interests. I had a spur-of-the-moment idea during one of my store visits, so I invited him to have dinner with me to celebrate my recent good fortune (see Quit It! blog). Turns out my friend is what I call a ‘costumer’; he makes amazing costumes (Halloween, Sci-fi conventions, etc.) by hand when he’s not working his day job. He brought along some pictures and I was in awe of his talent – and the pricing he gets for each commission (but if you think about all the planning and work that actually goes into each commission, it makes sense he should earn well). He pays great attention to detail, which is probably why his finished pieces and whole outfits are so outstanding.

I told him of my creative endeavors: writing, sketching, painting, working with multiple mediums (ink, watercolor, Sumi-e, & origami, for example) and that I’m tired of living the ‘square-peg-in-round-hole’ life, and how I desire to touch base again with the artist in me. He listened with enthusiasm and support, and told me of his circle of artist friends that he’d like me to meet. I gave him a free bookmark for this website and said I would forward some samples of my art. He then expressed interest in me helping him part-time with his costume work. While I’m not the stitcher my mother was, I told him, I was certainly interested in the painting, coloring, and working with fabric options. He has multiple commissions going at any given time (up to five or more) and has reached the point where he needs people to assist him with his projects (he’s already training a roommate, who is catching on quickly).

I can’t help but feel a jolt of excitement and inspiration; the anticipation alone will drive me crazy, since we won’t make any decisions about my coming on board until after I’ve returned from my extended vacation to Italy (pasta! art! wine!). Regardless of the outcome, it felt so good to talk with someone who understands that need to CREATE, no matter what. Do you feel this way? Do you see colors and shapes everywhere in your world? Are clouds more than billowy weather formations for you? Do you hear stories in mundane conversations at work, in a cafe, or at the laundromat? This is the hallmark of a ‘creative’ – someone who MUST create SOMETHING, simply for the sake of the creating itself, as an outlet for all of your mind’s meanderings around the universe. I get that many of us can’t quit our day jobs but if you can find a way to include creating in your daily life, you may get there just yet. (Starving artist, my ass.)

Let your motto be:

I CREATE. 

[It’s mine. :)]

Quit It!

I Quit

Exciting news…I finally quit my contract J-O-B. Recent events have afforded me an opportunity to rest, reflect, renew, and best of all, write. Been a long time coming. I plan to take full advantage of this wondrous extended vacation (at least to the end of this year), including a real vacation, as in get my ass on a plane and go somewhere (making plans to visit Rome and Tuscany; lots of inspiration there, I’m sure). I’ve made a list of projects needing completion, editing, or launching; tasks around the house to complete; day trips to places I’ve not yet been – it’s prime hiking season here right now. I’ll also have free time to interview some experts on aspects of my current in-the-works fiction novel.

I feel like Julia Roberts’ character in the movie, Eat Pray Love, where she tells her best friend that she has no passion and wants to marvel at something. This is exactly where I am in my life and work. Food tastes blasé; I can’t even feel excitement for the new car I spent months looking for, or the fact that I found the strength to walk away from my  contract job. I’ve gone numb and am in deep need of serious eye- and mind-opening experiences. (Okay, and gastronomic, too, since I’m going to Italy!)

On the topic of quitting: I’m also quitting LinkedIn, Mind Body Network, and a couple writer blogs I follow. I’m cleaning house, as it were. After some deliberation, I admitted to myself that I’m not getting anything from some of the SM except an overload of junk news. LinkedIn, for example, has become too much of a social platform like Facebook, though I realize that was not the intention of the LI creators. Give people a yard, they take a mile. Everyone wants to put in his or her two cents. Information overload!

As I sit back and view the bigger picture with all this SM technology, I can’t help but both marvel and cringe at the same time. Sure, it has opened up the world to everyone in it, but is that necessary for daily life? Some days I feel left out because I’m not participating in posts, tweets, and uploads. Other days I’m grateful because it frees up my precious private time to actually go live my life. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least. 

I also plan to spend some money and time (now that I have a bit of both) on marketing my current works. Sure, putting more books out there is a great way to draw attention to earlier work (hence the projects), but some type of marketing is always necessary, no matter how long ago you published and I’ve been negligent.

With opportunity comes ideas and I’m filling my new writer’s notebook with plenty. It feels good to actively be creating instead of stagnating. I look forward to some quiet time, as that is just as necessary (and often as inspirational) to move forward with my writing and life.

Where are you in your writing and life? Can you take a break? If only for a week or two? Rest and renewal are crucial to unclutter your mind, give you a new perspective, perhaps a new direction. Is it worth the risk? Possibly. Only one way to find out…