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… 

 

A Bone to Pick

bad grammar3

Source: Pinterest

I can’t help it. I honestly can’t. No matter what I read, whether it’s a blog, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a book, I can’t help but edit as I read. I instinctively pick out the grammatical errors, found online and in print all too frequently these days: run-on sentences; sentences ending with a proposition (which seems to be more acceptable but it still bugs me); incorrect words, mainly homonyms (for example: their, they’re, and there) and misused possessive pronouns (its versus it’s); not knowing when to use a (precedes a word beginning with a consonant) versus an (precedes a word beginning with a verb); and placement of commas or their overuse. They stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’m sure it harkens back to my private Catholic grammar school days (pun intended) where Catholic nuns with metal-sided rulers were quick to whip knuckles for the slightest error in English composition. Before the typewriter found its way into our home, I wrote and rewrote every paper I ever had to write, all the way up to and through eighth grade and my early high school years.

This morning was no different when I opened an email from a writer’s blog I follow. His specialty is advice on finding paid work as a freelance writer. Today’s blog was so full of blatant errors I couldn’t take his advice seriously. Immediately I thought does he write like this for clients? The article overflows with grammatical errors: excessive/incorrect word use (using most when best is appropriate, the overuse of very and just, and redundancy, to name a few); misuse of homonyms (verses instead of versus when talking about writing a comparison article); and past/present tenses and singular/plural nouns all in the same sentence. I gave up before I was halfway through the blog.

Back in June, I wrote a blog titled Graphic Un-Design, where I moaned about a new book cover that did not materialize as I’d hoped. What bothered me was the quality of the final product. I wrote “how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet” and that so much of the work lacked “style and originality.” I believe this to also be true of English grammar and writing in general, what with the advent of the Internet and the plethora of “online experts.” Far too often, I read articles and blogs where people are writing as they talk instead of editing for flow and clarity (and, ugh, spelling). A lax attitude has superseded the ability to accurately convey information. Writing, a once proud field where it was as important to be grammatically correct as it was to inform and entertain, is now chock full of lazy copy, prose, and poorly presented information. This younger generation concerns themselves less with the details because they’re more focused on having their say, regardless of how they say it, and no matter how ambiguous the message.

We cannot give up the good fight to maintain our writing integrity if we want our work to be taken seriously. Take advice from people who write as well as they speak (and vice versa) because it raises the bar – and demands more of us and our work.

That is my bone to pick.

Responsibility

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Something has been nagging at me since I watched the news the other night – the concept of crowdfunding. It’s strange to me that it has become acceptable for so many people, including writers and authors-to-be, to ask for free money from strangers to help with a book/situation/health condition. (I get asking for help with disaster relief.) But is that money truly free? No. You have a responsibility to spend that money on what you campaigned for and nothing else (or you might end up in legal trouble). I don’t understand how people  can ask for money to help publish a book, then ask them to spend more money to buy the book. 

There are so many affordable and even free options out there; you just have to do the research: Lulu Press, Amazon KDP, Lightning Source (Ingram), just to name a few; these are great options. Check their criteria to see which one fits your needs best. I’ve always used Lulu Press and have had good results. They pay me on time every month, without a hitch. To get your book into bookstores, libraries  and other public venues, Ingram Spark is the way to go. There are a few up front expenses that you must budget for: book cover (eBook or hard copy), editing (developmental or finishing touches), and layout. And there are so many options out there for these, you certainly can find what you need to fit your budget.

On the news the other evening, there was a blurb about a new website, GoFraudMe. Its purpose is to expose fraudulent crowdfunding campaigns, mainly on GoFundMe. I searched through the site and read about several campaigns where people have fraudulently collected a lot of money (one was for over $400K for a homeless guy who never saw the money) and spent it NOT on the issue of the campaign or just plain faked the health issue or situation. Luckily, the folks at GoFraudMe are bringing these cases to law enforcement and many are or have been charged with the crime of fraud, some as felonies. So be careful where you donate your money. 

That said,  if you have a campaign to help with publishing your book, make sure that money only goes towards publishing and keep receipts/details of your expenses. I’m thinking that because others have paid for the publishing and other miscellaneous expenses (editing, layout, etc.), that you cannot claim them on your federal taxes, as these were not paid for with your money. Might want to check with a tax specialist to be sure, or call the IRS, to be safe. 

I did read about a new crowdfunding option to publish one’s books on one of the author blogs I follow. A new site where crowdfunding campaigns can lead to a publishing contract is Inkshares. This is a legitimate site where, if you navigate their process successfully, you can land a publishing contract. After a quick read, I surmised that this might be a more plausible option; they will offer a publishing contract if you can secure a pre-order of 750 books. According to their FAQs page, they write: “We publish any work that successfully hits a pre-order threshold on our platform.” Sounds like a good deal if you’re on SM and have 750 friends who might be willing to ante up. Certainly is worth looking into, don’t you think? 

Inkshares appears to be a safer, smarter crowdfunding option for those who choose this road. I still question the integrity of asking the public to pay for both the process and the finished product. When it comes down to it, as writers, we have a responsibility to be both self-sufficient (to earn a living this way) and to provide work that is worthy of the price we charge. That, in my opinion,  is our responsibility. 

Scribbling

Clothesline Notes in Jack London's Country Cottage

Courtesy Jack London State Park, Google Images

Here in Northern California, we’ve been experiencing a spate of wildfires (15 statewide total) that have all but drained our firefighting resources. A local news station did a Special Report on the damage inflicted by these wildfires, including land, homes and lives lost. Terrible. As they looked back over the past seven years to show how fires have increased in frequency and size, they focused on the 2017 Tubbs fire, the most disastrous fire in California history. They talked about how it nearly decimated the Jack London State Park in Napa County. For those of you who grew up reading great classic authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, etc., Jack London was a prolific writer and adventurer who settled here in the Napa/Sonoma region in the early 1900s. In fact, it was much of his worldwide adventuring that lead to the writing of some of the best works of the 20th century, including my personal favorites, White Fang and The Call of the Wild. 

The newscasters shared details on how State rangers packed up his personal belongings in order to save them in case the fire reached his home and property (it came close, but thankfully missed), storing them all the way out here in Sacramento for safekeeping. Now returned to its former glory, his writing room still contains all of his writing instruments and materials, his desk, and other accouterments: the twine strung across a closed-in porch, with a multitude of little notes clothes-pinned to the line. Jack scribbled these notes on small square pieces of white paper whenever something came to him (which was daily, evidently). He pinned them to the line for later use in his books. And did you know that Jack London wrote ONE THOUSAND words EVERY DAY, BY LUNCHTIME

The closest I come is a notebook marked “Write What You Know” on the front and it’s where I scribble when I need to unload. It’s not a journal; it’s simply a place to jot down whatever is rumbling around in my mind at a certain moment in time instead of pinning them around my house and looking like a crazy person. It’s where I scribbled the first chapter of my novel (I mentioned this in an older post), a dark short story, and some senseless meanderings I tore out. But I have never come close to a thousand words a day and likely never will. I’m not that motivated, even in a good month.

Out there on the world wide web you’ll find a plethora of expert advice by professional writers telling you to write daily. That’s nice if you’re fortunate to be earning a living from your writing, but what if you aren’t? And does it really matter if you write daily? I think not. I think we each should adhere to whatever writing principles fits our lifestyles, since one size surely does not fit all. Jack, like many famous writers, wrote daily (what else was there to do in the middle of a jungle at night?); I think it’s because he had so many stories in him to share it was the only way he could get to the next book. Do we have any less stories? Perhaps, perhaps not. Some of us don’t travel or adventure as much as folks did back then, when it was easier and more affordable; you didn’t need a passport (until WWI), so moving between countries was much easier. And we’re busy working full-time jobs, part-time jobs, raising families, caring for parents, finishing a college education, etc. We have (modern) lives to live! Which brings me back to the point of the title – those lives give us fodder for our stories. So if you’re not scribbling daily, that’s okay; but it’s probably a good idea to at least have a place (notebook, clothesline, etc.) for you to scribble your ideas – the good, the bad, and the ugly, so at some point you, too, can turn them into a cohesive work. Like Jack.

Scribble on!

 

Creating Movement in an Action Novel

wildfire

Source: WSET, Virginia

I don’t know why, but I’ve been fascinated with fire since childhood. The duality of its beauty and danger captivate me; flames licking, eating, destroying; yet warming, inviting, even trance inducing. Many years ago, as the first chapters of Rescue on White Thunder formed in my mind, it was very different from the end result. I suppose that’s where the creativity and individuality of the writer comes in to play. Fire has become a running theme in my books and it is once again a large part of the next installation in what has become a series because I so enjoy the characters I’ve created. (And I’ve already got ideas and a premise for a third.)

For a writer who prefers to write a good action story, movement is crucial and including fire made it easy. Fire provides good movement in a story, whether it’s the fire itself or the characters involved with the fire and what they’re doing with it or to it.

In this excerpt, you can see how the characters move into action as a result of fire:

Braddock was already well above the rest of his crew on the fire line when Jim suddenly yelled, “Wind change!” 

The crew immediately stopped what they were doing and ran downhill. When Braddock and Smoke turned to do the same, a flare-up stopped them in their tracks. It was an unexpected blowup – the southeasterly winds, with pressure from the storm overhead, shifted north and caused crown fires to increase rapidly. Flames raged high and hot and separated Braddock and Smoke from the rest of the team. Braddock turned in every direction, trying to find a way out as the flames shot through the loose underbrush, creating a wall of fire around them. Branches burned off trees fell to the forest floor, spitting burning embers everywhere.

In this portion, the fire itself is the action, providing rich imagery as well:

Fires spread quickly over a fresh, loose layer of humus covering the solid ground. Tree trunks caught fire one after the other as flames overran the surrounding brush and now-dead timbers toppled from last year’s big storm. The crackling roar of the fire amplified and they had to shout to hear each other. Braddock knew they would soon be forced to move to higher ground. Some of the firebreaks held but winds were increasing in strength and velocity, propelling fresh embers to other areas. More trees and small brush ignited, creating walls of flames that nearly licked the upper branches of the tall pines.

You can also have both the characters and the fire creating action where one influences the other:

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.

Quite a distance away, they could barely make out a thin grey line of smoke over the trees southwest of White Thunder Mountain. Minutes later, the wail of police sirens pierced the air; honks like foghorns from multiple fire engines interrupted the morning’s serenity.

When it comes to action, you have multiple opportunities to create movement in your story when you include an active subject matter like fire or other extreme forms of weather. Track whether the story flows or if it skips; too many changes between scenes may break up the story’s rhythm. Use whatever tools work best for you; have friends/family read portions for feedback, build a story board on a wall in your home office (or where in the house you write), even sketch out the physical layout of the story’s location (this works for me) to keep timelines and movement in sync.

Remember, movement is life in a good action story.

Graphic Un-Design

graphic design image

Memorial Weekend loomed and my anticipation escalated; I’d been looking forward to this for a long time. Over the past year or so, I have contemplated changing the eBook cover to my fiction novel, Rescue on White Thunder. I knew the basic, cheesy cover was not really helping sell my book and I obsessed over making a change. I also discovered a few writing errors I missed with my hundreds of previous edits, so I set about making those changes to the manuscript but delayed a new book cover due to budget constraints. With all the options out there on the World Wide Web, surely there was someone I could afford to have design a new cover for my eBook. Or so I thought.

Alas, it was not to be. I stupidly went to Fiverr to get an affordable book cover since I’d had good luck with my nutrition book there (well, sort of…long story that ended in my favor). I located a young woman here in the U.S. (which is difficult, since many of the people on Fiverr are not). After reviewing her book cover portfolio a few times, I made the decision to purchase a book cover from her. Sadly, it did not go well. First, the order arrived later than promised. When I finally saw the email that my work was completed, I anxiously opened the message, anticipating a sparkling new cover that would now sell gazillions of copies of my book. The new cover looked NOTHING like the book summary I’d sent. Did she even read it? I asked myself. I sent the cover back with a revision request, my hopes dashed in an all too quick moment of ecstasy. I waited for a response. And waited. And waited. By now, Memorial Weekend was almost over and still no response. Perhaps she’s working on the revision, I tried to convince myself. It is a holiday weekend, maybe she’s out having fun, I excused. By the end of the fun-filled (for someone else, I’m sure) weekend, still no response. With great regret (and an imagined loss in gazillions of book sales dollars), I cancelled the order and requested a refund. Oddly, she responded to that request within twenty-four hours and agreed. Hmmmm…

It made me rethink the whole eBook thing. With scammers on the rise and sites offering free copies of eBooks illegally (I had this problem and it was a pain to clear up), I made the decision to take my book off Amazon/Kindle, at least for a short respite while I re-evaluate. Instead, I’m going to invest in a new book cover for a hard cover print book because I think that will serve it better than even a paperback style. Seems to me that print books still sell better, as people like to curl up with a good book and a hot cuppa. I know I do (just today finished a fabulous read titled Three Souls by Janie Chang – a must read). And I’ll have better control over scamming issues, since it’s harder with print books. I imagine I’ll still have to deal with the occasional idiot third-party seller on Amazon trying to sell my work for an ungodly amount.

Part of what bothers me is how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet and the multitude of websites where we can find these so-called experts in graphic design. I’ve reviewed many portfolios and I see a pattern: each graphic designer has a singular style that they seem to use for all their projects, changing only color, font, and background as dictated by the genre. Even the young woman who created my nutrition book cover falls into this repetitive pattern as a blueprint for all her works (which I didn’t notice until after the fact). It’s bad enough we have additives in our foods to make them all look and taste the same in every bottle; now graphic design is following suit. Conformity, lack of style and originality; unless we can afford only the best of services, many writers are doomed to copycat book covers with little novelty. 

Caveat emptor, my fellow writers – Buyer Beware. And, lest you forget – you get what you pay for, so make it worthwhile.

Jack-of-Many-Trades

jack of all trades2

There’s an old saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” It’s been on my mind frequently as of late. I use the word ‘many’ in the title since I am not a Jack-of-ALL-trades but rather a person of many talents who has not bothered to master any of my talents. I’m a dabbler; I like to dip my toes in here and there, testing different waters and enjoying different experiences to enrich myself and my life. Or so I’ve told myself over the years. Perhaps I’m just unwilling to go the distance in one area – no, that would be boring. Maybe it’s why writing (still) appeals to me. I can test different waters again and again without it feeling repetitious. There’s so much to explore in both fiction and nonfiction realms. Unlike Hollywood, which seems to be running out of (good and original) ideas, the people who live the stories will continue to have stories to tell. And write.

Even when feeling lost (as I am this week, for some reason), we are still living our stories, they are around us and in us. We must draw from our well of jack-of-many-trades when our stories need help. I’m having a crisis of confidence this week so I’m having difficulty drawing from other areas of my life to get busy writing beyond this blog (which I avoided for over a week). I’m also avoiding a crucial re-write of segments of one of my fiction novels; to be honest, I feel like I’ve failed the story by getting those segments wrong. As a dabbler, it’s sometimes difficult for me to fully invest the time and energy and focus because I’m convinced I need to be elsewhere in my life. Truth is, I’m avoiding the one thing I want most – to finish the novel and publish it. Not sure why.

The down side of being a jack-of-all-trades is that boredom sets in quickly; we are fast learners who get what we need from a situation/job/story/etc., then move on. We tend to have multiple things on our plate (job/s, hobbies, etc.) so our attention is often drawn away from where we need to be in our stories. At the moment, I do have some more important tasks at hand but I add more tasks rather than go back to finish what remains incomplete. Aspects of the novel ramble about in my mind yet I avoid updating the manuscript.

The upside of a jack-of-all-trades is we can draw from many corners of our lives because we have experienced life spherically – in all directions. We can use our ‘dabbling’ as a force that pulls pieces of a story together like the many colors of yarn that weave a beautiful tapestry or rug.

I’m trying to find a way to use what I have learned as a jack-of-all-trades in my stories and in my life. Are you?

jack of all trades