Why taking a risk matters—win or lose

It’s interesting. I just got back from a romance writer’s conference here in Atlanta and was reminded of some of the steps necessary when plotting a story to understand your protagonist’s motivation, and how they’ve changed by the end of the tale. It’s irresistible to think of your own story and motivation when crafting fiction. (It’s that whole unexamined life not worth living thing again.) I find it amazing how detailed and focused we can get in trying to figure out a character’s purpose or goal while, at the same time, blithely sail through life uninterested in figuring out our own. I’ll illustrate this with one antagonizing statement. And bear with me. Remember it was a romance writer’s conference I just got out of and so matters of the heart are on my mind.

The older we get, the less open we are to finding and accepting love.

Wow. Big statement. (I expect LOTS of comments!) If you’re happily ensconced in a loving relationship, you can sit this one out or not as you like. But here’s how I see it.

Remember in the 80’s there was that Time Magazine article that came out and sent millions of single women into vortexes of depression because they pronounced it easier for a woman over 30 to be abducted by aliens than find a husband? Well, with Internet dating and other available matchmaking tools, it is easier today to connect with someone but, statistically, it continues to be a major struggle for people of a certain age to find love.

In terms of actively seeking a mate, statistics show that as we age, we actually fear the companionship and love we think we crave. (We might’ve feared it a little bit when we were younger, but it gets worse as the years add up.) Steeped in habit and afraid of change, the older we get, the less inclined we are to risk getting hurt or disappointed. So, basically, just when we need love and companionship the most, we are more likely to turn away from it. (See how a little self-knowledge would be REAL helpful about now?)

Psychologists have shown that depression can be an offshoot of aging (no shit!) But struggles with loneliness are typically trotted out as a major reason for that.  What’s surprising is the fact that studies show that many older people (we’re talking forties and fifties here) are more comfortable being sad and alone than risking finding and being with someone who they might love or who might love them back. Like a lot of things, it’s easier to do nothing and take solace in the familiarity of your own depression than get off your ass, wash your face and “put yourself out there.”

You can say that life itself is a gamble and that’s undeniably true but nowhere is the gamble bigger than where it concerns the heart. Love is risky—no matter what age you are. (That’s why it makes such good fiction!) While the rewards are great, even if just temporary, the downside of a misguided or ill-matched romance is pain and even worse loneliness.

But, heavens, not even trying is just wrong.

Time to Reboot and Refresh

Don’t you just love computer language? Since computers are so much a part of our lives, it make sense that we would share vocabulary that pertains to them with reference to our own sense of wellbeing. That fact has to be made all the more ironic because computers are, of course, part of our big problem, too.

It’s true we each of us have control over computers and how much time we spend sitting in front of them. But this so-called control is not unlike, in my mind, how we have control over not smoking or stuffing Twinkies in our mouths. On the face of it, it looks like this is something we control, at least in theory, but do we really?

The US government doesn’t think we do. It actually encourages us to believe that we DON’T have control by affirming to us that the reason we’re all getting fat is not because we can’t stop eating the wrong thing, it’s because there isn’t a law forbidding us to eat the wrong thing.

The point I’m trying to circle around to is the one that says, once again, we are the authors of our own misery—caused invariably by the fact that we refuse to stop for a minute and see what we’re doing and see the damage we’re doing. And that’s true whether it’s cigarettes or iHop pancakes or six hours of staring at a computer screen. Six hours probably won’t kill any of us, but doing it every day—or bumping the six hours to ten like I can EASILY do—just might. And not in a grab-your-heart-and-keel-over-the-keyboard kind of kill you, but in a TS Eliot life-measured-out-in-coffee-spoons kind of death. Bit by byte. (Forgive me; I clearly have no control over easily resistible puns either.)

Six years ago, an anthropologist named Cheryl Swanson, a partner in the trend-tracking firm, Toniq, was quoted as saying that we (she was speaking about Americans but I can comfortable extend the target to my entire blog audience) are now processing information at 400 times the rate of our Renaissance ancestors. But we haven’t yet adapted physically or mentally to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise our health.

Added to the 400 times more information we are all attempting to process is the fact that it does not come with 400 extra hours in the day to do so. Without really agreeing to it or even realizing it was happening, how we get those extra hours is by giving up other stuff that used to enhance our lives and heighten our quality of life: sleep, staring at a sunset, walking instead of riding, watching a chrysalis hatch, eating a slow meal with loved ones. I’m a baker and a Martha Stewart zealot. I used to fantasize about a place setting for twelve for Thanksgiving dinner complete with matching turkey saltshakers at every place. And yet, the last year my son was home before he went off to college, our family meals consisted of the three of us standing at the kitchen counter to wolf down our meals (half the time our son took his meal in his bedroom with his calculus homework.) Swanson’s research indicated that in the sixties, dinner was 45 minutes long. By the nineties, it had shrunk to fifteen minutes and today—well, let’s just say that, sadly (forgive me, Martha!), I’m a poster child for family dinners of today. Standing. In fewer than five minutes. It takes more time to make it and clean up after it than to “enjoy” it. And of course, food manufacturers have been hard at work to help us with that part of the equation by creating cheap mix-and-go food that’s a snap to make and even digest. Of course it tastes like donkey dung and brings no moment of pleasure or satisfaction beyond killing hunger pangs but at least you can skip the wash up and just dump the cartons in the trash and call it done. (What next? An IV drip?) I guess there was some big fat reason that forced us to live like this. There was obviously some important trade off that made it worthwhile. I quake to think it was just so we could get extra time in front of the computer terminal or worse, the TV set.

Bottom line? We’re left with a population of people—of all ages—strung out, sleep-deprived and jittery with hyper-enlarged concerns (from ingestion of too much news) that we’re convinced matter very much and probably don’t at all.

Maybe that’s why I find myself writing and reading apocalyptic fiction so much. I have been fascinated (and fearful) by the concept of technological over stimulation in our culture ever since I watched my nine-year-old son eschew a live-action fireworks display in favor of saving the planet from alien zombies on his GameBoy. My post-apocalyptic book Free Falling was written, largely, because of my helpless concern  and my desire to live in a simpler, less technological time.

Let’s face it. Wasn’t the last time we all slowed down, lit a candle and stared peacefully into space  sometime during the last power outage? Or how about that time you got sick and stayed in bed with magazines and a box of tissues and just the sound of your own sniffling and the cat purring? Wasn’t it kind of wonderful at the same time it was miserable?

What does that tell you?

A Hero’s Quest – The Legend of Anaise

And now for something totally different… I’m hosting my very first other-than-me writer promotion for Author Sheryl Steines. There’s a cool rafflecopter and a fun giveaway, plus a chance for you to get to know Sheryl and her work. I hope you check it out. It looks like an awesome read!

Okay everyone, look very closely… are you paying attention?  This is  a contest to see how closely you pay attention when you read The Legend of Anaise (below) from the recently released novel She Wulf by Sheryl Steines.

GET RAFFLECOPTER CODE HERE

Don’t forget to take a tour around the participating blogs and answer all the questions – there are FIVE questions so you will have numerous chances to participate and win! There are several prizes, too – ONE random correct answer will win a signed copy of She Wulf. (Don’t worry if you don’t get it right you still have a chance to win one of several other prizes just for trying!)

Prizes:

  • 1 signed copy; winner selected  amongst all correct entries
  • 3 eBooks; winners randomly selected from amongst ALL entries (correct or not)
  • Gift Card $15; winners randomly selected from amongst ALL entries (correct or not)
  • Annie and Cham Swag; winners randomly selected from amongst ALL entries (correct or not)
  • BTW: if you have trouble reading the scroll for any reason, please go here for a plain text version

About the Author

Sheryl Steines is equal parts driven, passionate and inspired.  With a degree in English from Wright State University, Steines dedicates time everyday to her art.  Her love of books and a quality story drives her to share her talent with her readers as well as make the time to talk to book clubs and students about her process.

Sheryl has eclectic tastes and enjoys character driven novels.  In her own writing, the Annie Loves Cham series is driven by her love of the characters and her desire to place them in totally new situations. She enjoys testing their mettle.

Behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible, Sheryl is a constant surprise. Her sense of humor and relatable style make her books something everyone can enjoy.

Sheryl can be found on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog. She also encourages her readers to email her and let her know what you think of Annie and Cham!

Okay, everyone, that was fun! I’ll be back to whatever  it is I do here on this blog tomorrow with a new post. I hope you’ll look at Sheryl’s stuff in the meanwhile and catch up with me back here.

Keep Writing! And reading.

What’s the deal with trunk material?

Dean Wesley Smith has this great analogy of perishable produce that he uses to describe how traditional publishers view the products that we writers create. His point is that publishers believe there is a time stamp on books and after awhile they become stale and no longer marketable. This is a fascinating notion when you consider that so many of the best stories are those that were handed down through the generations—or retreads on William Shakespeare’s plot lines—which were probably retreads on Cicero’s or someone else’s. The point is, most authors that I know (moi, for instance) totally bought into the whole my-book-as-rotting-fruit concept. If you shopped your manuscript for longer than two years, you’d start to get rejections based on the belief that the book was now “trunk material” which, I believe, alludes to the likelihood that it has been molding in a trunk in the attic (kind of like “Confederacy of Dunces,”)  and so, of course, is not as good as something fresh and new. (Mind you, by the time publishers get around to editing and publishing your book, it seems to me even the freshest manuscript could then qualify as being trunk material by the agents and publishers’ own definition but perhaps that’s just the inherent irony of a complicated, confusing (IMHO) business and therefore completely lost to me.)

Anyhoo, laying to rest the notion of trunk material is another victory that must be claimed by the Indie Author. When I published the first mystery in my Provençal mystery series, this manuscript—which was at one point represented by John Grisham’s agent and thrown out for a bidding war among the Big Ten (at that time) and ultimately failed to find a home—was riddled with so many dated references that I despaired at ever having the time to tweak it into the modern age. (It is 140K words.) Not only did multiple plot points depend on my heroine using phone booths and doing things in an airport that today (post 911) would not be do-able, it was written in a heavily descriptive style that was more popular in the nineties than it is today, leaning more toward PD James and Elizabeth George-style exposition. But, in typical Indie style, I threw it up there anyway, priced it at a buck so nobody would be too pissed at having purchased a story written way back in the early nineties and directed my focus to my fresh stuff—written with NCIS precision and iPhones and texting galore.

I’m sure you can guess how the end of this little story goes. My ancient manuscript, dusted off from the bowels of the trunk it had been sleeping in for the last twenty years sells very well. It was always a good story—complete with dated marker comps and nary a mention of cellphones anywhere. When I read reviews on it, I always look to see if anyone mentions being distracted by how old this story is and so far no one has. They talk about the emotion of relating to the heroine, of the anger at the hero for failing to act quickly enough, of the sadness of the murder and of the pleasure of feeling like they had been transported to Paris.

Nobody even noticed it was trunk material.

I’d send this post to my ex-agent (one of many) to let him know that it all worked out in spite of his crap advice about the manuscript being “too old” (a year after I’d signed with him) but I’m sure even he’s figured out by now that the world has changed. If he’s still employed, hopefully he changed with it, (although not as a resource for authors, I trust.)

We not only have cellphones now, we writers also have a brand new dose of self respect that begins with making decisions based on what we know in our hearts to be true. And that is: a good story is a good story. And it’ll be a good story twenty, forty, a hundred years from now.

No matter what anyone tells you.

Daily Creative Habits of the Rich and Famous

I read recently that there are three things that nudge your creativity to start percolating. Some of you may already do these things without knowing why. When I read them I thought: Wow. I do that!

  1. Unique. There should be some part of your daily routine that you don’t associate with other activities. For some it’s a certain music that you put on just before you sit down at the keyboard. I only drink coffee  when I write.  If you do this special thing at other times, it loses its magic.
  2. Emotional Intensity. This is that wonderful thing called flow that we all experience when we’re so immersed in our work, we forget time and place. As it happens, this intensity is necessary for true creative work. Losing yourself in the endeavor is the result when you give all of yourself.
  3. Repetition. Not to get too analytical here and kill the buzz, but when you can put your finger on the thing or combination of things that helped create magic for you in your work, you need to repeat it.

I read once that Alexander Solzhenitsyn use to sequester himself away in a little writing cabin down the hill from his home 365 days a year—no exceptions. Here are a few successful writers and their routines for your entertainment and information. Afterward, please take a moment and shoot me a comment letting me know how you wind yourself up (or down) to get down to business. A post following this one will be about less famous writers and their methods.

Stephen King: “There are certain things I do if I sit down to write. I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

CS Lewis: “We…settled into a routine which has ever since served in my mind as an archetype. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend.”

Joyce Carol Oates “I try to write in the morning very intensely, from 8:30 to 1 p.m. When I’m traveling, I can work from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Alone, I get a lot of work done in hotel rooms. The one solace for loneliness is work. I hand write and then I type. I don’t have a word processor. I write slowly.”

John Grisham said he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, and once there, there were “enormous amounts of wasted time” that would give him the opportunity to write.  He said “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week. I was very disciplined about it. Now I don’t have to.”

Toni Morrison: “Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.”

John Updike: “I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57.  Since I’ve gone to some trouble not to teach, and not to have any other employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So I work three or four hours in the morning, and it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases. You begin by answering a letter or two. There’s a lot of junk in your life. There’s a letter. And most people have junk in their lives but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along.”

Ernest Hemingway: (Tell me you can’t hear the Hemingway of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” in this quote!) “When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and you know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

Truman Capote: “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”

When William Styron settled in his Connecticut farmhouse and began a family, his life became every writer’s ideal: productive yet relaxed, sociable yet protected. On the door frame outside his workroom, he tacked a piece of cardboard with a Flaubert quotation: ”Be regular and orderly in your life, like a good bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

So, assuming you have to be creative pretty much daily—whether because you have a daily word count or a day job that doesn’t suck and requires you to use that part of your talents—how do you get your best creative day kick started? Please, leave a comment and let me know your routine to get the juices going. Sometime next year, I’ll put your schedules right up there next to Baryshnikov’s and JK Rowling’s!

The 6 Road Blocks to Happiness

I debated titling this post “The 6 Barriers to Success” or “The 6 Reasons why your book won’t sell,” but bottom line, these barriers work across all goals, all genres, all endpoints. Whether you’re a writer or just a person trying to be happy in this life, fill in the blank where I’ve put “happiness” and you’re good to go.

  1. Availability. Here’s the example I always think of: I am constantly monitoring my weight and would no sooner buy grocery store cupcakes to have on hand in my kitchen than I would spoon sugar directly into my mouth. And yet, when there’s a party at work or when my local Whole Foods is giving away free samples of just about anything, I line up at the trough as if the calories don’t count. (This is also true with just about every job I ever said “yes” to.) The idea behind this barrier is that we often settle for what’s convenient or available instead of holding off for what we really  want.
  2. Momentum. Self-explanatory, really. If you’ve been doing the same thing forever—regardless of how happy or successful it makes you—the sheer fact that you’re familiar with it can keep you doing it ad nauseum or until you die. Whichever comes first. This goes for your book marketing efforts, or your job, your hobby. If whatever you’re doing is not so good, it’s time for self-examination. Which brings us to…
  3. Ignorance. If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied, maybe you don’t know how to change that fact. If you don’t know how, you could get off your butt and learn what you need to know to change your life. (This kind of overlaps with Momentum.) Ignorance is only bliss if you’re blissful. If you’re dissatisfied, you need to wise up and figure things out.
  4. Group decisions. As an ex-advertising agency copywriter I can tell you for a fact that committees spoil everything good. They take the magic out of a great line, they stomp the crap out of any subtlety, and they put you on the fast track to mediocre. Whether you’re trying to please a client (and honestly, what do they know?) or just a half dozen people-with-opinions, your end result will always and absolutely be the lowest common denominator.
  5. Comfort Zone. This is my particular sticking point and I bet it is for a lot of people. While you might not know it from the way I rabbit on in this blog, fact is, I’m a little shy around people-in-the-flesh. Not unlike a lot of writers, the idea of a bookstore signing is weighed and equated by me with the same relish as anticipating a root canal with no Novocain. I’m not exactly the Unabomber, but I like my comfort zone. And that’s no place to be if you want to be  successful. It’s always going to be easier to stay home, to not make that phone call, to stay in the corner instead of approaching people, to watch TV instead of knocking out word count. I used to have a line that went off in my head when I would collapse on the couch instead of at my desk: “Stress-relieving is not goal-achieving.” I think we give too much weight to our so-called stress-relieving activities. Nothing relieves stress like success.
  6. Passivity. It takes a lot of energy to be obstreperous and practically none to go along with the crowd. Somewhere in the middle is probably where we all need to shoot, but once you see how easy life gets when you just agree to most things, you may be tempted to make it a habit. Or, more likely, you won’t have any say in it becoming a habit. It just will. It takes energy and focus to examine what feels right to you and then stand up for it. It also pays off (or so I’m reliably told) in forward movement toward your goal, whatever that is.

So there you have it! Six roadblocks to happiness or success that you might not have even realized you were allowing to set up camp in your life. Do you agree? Can you think of any more?

How Social Media Helps Sell Books

Let me say right from the get-go that I’m grateful for all the other indie writers out there who publicly reveal mistakes they made so that I can try to avoid them, who suggest positive outcomes they think they created (or when they attribute to luck certain results that seem to have “just happened”) so I can attempt to emulate them, and who even make educated guesses not based on personal experience because I might not have thought of it, myself! A week or two ago, Romance Author Merry Farmer shared an experience of how having the first book in her romance series go free helped the other book in the series sell and then the first book, too, when it went back to full price. This isn’t a Kindle Select story, so everyone who has a series can benefit from learning from her experience.

My own little sharing tale began when I published my book Fear of Falling in March 2012 to practically nonexistent sales. I tweeted, I made it free, I discounted, I racked up a slew of very good reviews–mostly fours and fives–and I placed in a prominent fiction contest which allowed me to plaster a very attractive gold medallion on the cover–and still the book did not sell. And then, because while I think social media is worthless for many things (like promoting your book) but is pretty darn wonderful for making friends and learning from people, I read a terrific post from Dean Wesley Smith that changed everything for me. While I must admit to having re-read the post at least four times (I knew there was wisdom there specific to me but it wasn’t obvious at the first reading what it was), it finally clicked which toe I had, effectively, blown off with Fear of Falling, and what kind of surgery would be necessary. While I’d  cranked up the size of my name on the second stab at a cover design,  the positioning of my genre was a muddle, my sales copy was flat (and ME a copywriter!), the cover–although professionally done–was selling the wrong story to the wrong reader.

Here is the book that launched in March. It looks like what I thought it was: women’s fiction. (Turns out that’s only part of what it is and maybe not the best part.) I threw this cover to the left up on my Facebook pages where I have a great group of writers hanging around and got some opinions that basically said, “Yeah, you’re good! Love it but why not add more color?”  So I created the one to the right with the woman’s face staring reflectively off into middle distance as she contemplated her fears and the world ending etc. After a month of, like five sales, I started listening to my husband when he said: “Ditch the woman’s face and the type face. It looks too literary.” Fine. I’m flexible. I hired a designer to re-do my type and my next cover looked like the one below. It was so much better especially with the cool little “L” falling, but since I was still skating down the wrong side of the wrong genre, it wasn’t going to matter. I gave  a bunch of the books away to reviewers and started getting positive reviews. Because I didn’t know who my reader for this book really was, and because I took all the sex and the profanity out of it, I targeted a Christian audience. That worked up to a point but, really, just because my main protagonist thinks more about God when the world “ends” really didn’t make it Christian fiction. (You see how confused I was?) When a friend of mine in New Zealand read it, he told me he was absolutely surprised that he ended up liking it because he thought it was about how to overcome fears with horses! Now this was in May and I should have known RIGHT THEN that I was all backward with the marketing of the thing. But, I’m stubborn and I liked the cover (that I’d paid for) and there was my husband (and how I hate it when he’s right!) saying it looks like a horseback riding manual or some kind of toffy literary fiction. “But if you read the reviews they say stuff like ‘page turner’ and ‘had me on the edge of my seat,’ ” I would say. And still the sales didn’t happen. I wrote two other books in the meanwhile, totally annoyed that this great little book about a modern woman battling to keep her family alive in a post-apocalyptic dystopic rural society wasn’t attracting any readers! And then two important things happened.  I read Dean’s post. I cogitated. I wondered. I looked at Fear of Falling on its Amazon page and I glanced down and saw all the books underneath it that other readers looked at or bought after looking at mine. And they all had flashes or explosions or bomb dust or ruined cities on the cover. And I looked at mine. Hmmmmm.

All of a sudden, it was clear that the damn title was all wrong. I immediately changed it from Fear of Falling to Free Falling. And yes, I did it because I didn’t want to lose the value I’d paid for with the cool little wonky “L” that my graphic artist had created but also because I knew as soon as I did it that it worked. Fear of Falling said it was a nonfiction book and we were going to discuss your fears.

The horse on the cover said we were going to deal with your fears about falling. Free Falling said–what happens in this book is out of control.  I republished the book across all sites–and Createspace, too, and showed it to my husband and he nodded and said: “Now, put a mushroom cloud on the horizon, and you’re done.” What? Are you kidding? Talk about heavy handed! No way! I re-wrote the blurb and description across all sites. I repositioned the genre, killed the Christian fic slant and added sci-fi and even YA (hell, it has no sex or cussing, and a hero kid in it, why not?)  Then three days later, just for fun, just to see, I checked out istock.com for a mushroom cloud, dropped it into the cover’s indesign file and ghosted it back a tad…you know, just to see.

In 36 hours it had sold 20 books.

In 72 hours, it had sold 50 books. It went from a baseline Amazon ranking of 265,000 in the paid Kindle store to 40,000 and then 15,000.

In three days.

I was wrong, the cover was way wrong, the blurb was wrong, the genre was wrong, the damn title of the book was wrong. And because I’m an Indie, I can figure out what to do by accessing my online colleagues and advisers through social media. I can then sit down at my computer and make it right. So I’m passing this little case study on to you as living proof that (well, that Dean and my husband are both very wise men) but also that sometimes tweaking and changing and learning are all a part of the epublishing experience.

And sometimes even if you take the long way round to get where you’re going, if you meet the right people along the way, you can still get there in plenty of time.

The View from Auckland to Shanghai

As I am beginning the critical week before taking my son to his dorm at the University of Florida and all that that entrails—mega laundry, packing, last minute wellness checkups, and of course freelance assignments that I was told wouldn’t be needed until the last week in August—I am once more punting to family friend and all-round Uber Traveler Adam Jones-Kelly to bring a smile to your lips (especially since it’s not you that has to endure the 17-hour flight or the hairy crabs) until I return next week. Enjoy!

You’ve heard the old adage “going around your ass to reach your elbow?” Apparently I view this as the most direct route.
When my colleague Sia heard I was going to be in New Zealand he asked if I’d pop over to Shanghai for a couple of days of meetings.
“Sure,” I said, “that sounds perfectly reasonable!”
I don’t recall being drunk during this conversation, or having suffered a concussion recently, so I’m left struggling to explain this decision.
I like to think I’m fairly well-versed in world geography, and moderately informed when it comes to travel times between countries. For some reason I still can’t quite fathom I really did manage to convince myself that China and New Zealand are right next door.
The trip from Auckland to Shanghai took 17 hours.
Soo has stopped speaking to me.
Before making the day-long trek north to China’s largest city Soo and I enjoyed one last day with our friends in New Zealand’s largest city.
We left Rotorua bright and early, getting us into Auckland just after lunch. Soo checked us into our hotel, the fantastic Westin in the Viaduct Basin, while I returned our rental car. After freshening up and grabbing a bag of dirty laundry (Jo had graciously offered to let us do some much-needed washing at her place that night) Soo and I headed to Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano in the middle of town.
Mt. Eden offers some rather stunning panoramic views of Auckland, as does One Tree Hill, which is where Jo mystifyingly went to pick us up for dinner.
One Tree Hill is another extinct volcano, on the other side of town. Jo clearly believed we’d gone there because we only said “We’re at Mt. Eden” about 27 times. Our fault entirely.

Soo at One Tree Hill sans the one tree.

One Tree Hill, so named because of the distinctive solitary tree that once stood at its peak, doesn’t have the same deep crater as Mt. Eden, which is an entirely cool thing to see if you’ve never been inside a volcano. (Maori activists attacked the Hill’s namesake in 2000, damaging it beyond repair and causing its removal. It certainly seems like locals should now call the place No Tree Hill, but they don’t.)
During most of the dozen calls made back and forth while she was trying to find us Jo tried to convince us we really were at One Tree Hill. I can only assume she deemed us terminally incapable of identifying our own location.
She initially told us to meet her at Stardome Observatory, which she said was at the bottom of the hill.
We spent some time looking for it with no success, which made sense since Stardome is at One Tree Hill.
She then asked if we could find Cornwell Park.
We couldn’t, of course, because Cornwell Park is at One Tree Hill.
Soo and I walked around Mt. Eden for an hour, sweating in the hot sun while lugging around a big bag of dirty laundry and the two bottles of wine we’d bought for dinner before Jo finally found us.
When we got in the car Jo announced that she had pavlova, and I immediately forgot my frustrations. (My affections are easily bought.)
Jo cooked us one helluva Kiwi feast, including lamb, chicken skewers, steak and sausages. Soo pronounced it the best meal we’d had all week in New Zealand, and that was before Jo produced the pavlova. It was an absolutely perfect night with wonderful friends, and made us all that much more saddened to leave New Zealand.

Irvine, Adam and Jo enjoying the pavlova!

That dismay was only heightened when I told Soo that we’d have to be up at 2:45am to catch our flight. Seventeen-hour trips are bad enough. Seventeen- hour trips that begin well before dawn are downright miserable.
Upon arriving in Shanghai we had barely enough energy to slurp down some room-service soup before passing out.
On our last trip to China Soo was made sick by having to eat things like snapping turtle, king cobra, and crabs with hair. In an effort not to suffer the world’s fastest divorce I promised not to put her through that again.

The long-suffering Soo in Shanghai pre-pedicure.

Sadly, I kept that promise, which means I don’t have anything particularly extraordinary or gross to blog about. I worked all day, and the most exciting moment occurred when Soo sat down for what she thought was going to be a pedicure and instead had the otherwise-sane appearing man take a knife to her toes, chopping the nails right off. No pedicure for Soo.
She reported that she was so shocked by the sight of him coming at her with a sharp object that she lost her voice, and was incapable of even uttering the word “no!”
The toenail butcher did give her an exceptional foot massage, so this sort of made up for it, but Soo will probably stick to pedicures in English-speaking countries from now on.
We ended our brief stay in Shanghai shopping on Nanjing Road. Soo needed a few items for friends, and shoes for herself. (Open-toed shoes just won’t do when you have naked toes, you see.)

At least that’s what I’m told.

How NOT to use social media to sell your book

You know how you know you should keep your mouth shut or go ahead and write the blog but then not post it…but you do anyway? As a result of a few recent posters assertions on the benefits of social media to sell books, I find myself compelled to revisit the whole Social Media: Waste of Time or Important Way to Sell Your Books? argument. The bloggers that triggered this urge in me have recently reasserted their beliefs that creating a warm ‘n fuzzy social media clam bake of “good friends” can be effective in selling books.

I think that’s bollocks.

As I understand it, their basic tenet goes like this: the best way to use social media to sell books is to support each other as writers—instead of obnoxiously, repetitively hawking our wares. Just be nice and don’t overtly sell your books and eventually sales will come to you. Whether it’s via superficial friendships with other writers or infiltrating chat sites of likely prospective readers of your books, I have to say I still think using social media in this way to move books off the e-shelves is like pushing a pea up a hill with your nose. On a skateboard. Backwards.

Going a step further, I’m ready to stand up and announce after careful examination of the available facts and discussions with a lot of people who have sold a ton of books via Twitter, that I think social media might well be useful as a spamming tool to blanket the universe with your name and your latest release and trigger sales which, if the book is any good, might possibly spur a word of mouth thing. Okay, it’s obnoxious, I’ll grant you. But so are the commercials on television and every once in awhile they do alert you to something that might improve your life.

If you think spending time on Twitter or even Facebook telling people bits and pieces of your writing life is going to do SQUAT for your sales overall you are just plain DELUDED. (Sorry, didn’t mean to shout.)  And if you’re doing it for that reason, please do all of us—and yourself—a favor and sign off now. I’m not saying it’s not great to find an online community of like-minded people and if those people give you an atta-girl now and then, all the better. But if you are fooling yourself into believing that you are gathering a henhouse full of love that is going to rain down upon you when your time comes to release your next book then you are not only wasting a whole lot of time on something that won’t happen, but your main purpose for connecting with people is self-serving and devious. (Great basis for a friendship!)

Don’t get me wrong, I think social media can be great for developing a community of like minds. Writers are solitary people. We’re not the Unabomber, (most of us), but writers don’t hate being alone. So yes, I can see reaching out via the Internet to connect with other writers—I frankly love doing that—and then

So then if you write a 5-star review for me, I’ll write one for you…

scurrying back to my cave to knock out another 2K words. Social media is fun and I’ve had a few LOLs with people I’ll never lay eyes on whose wit and insight I enjoy.  But I have my hands full pushing my own career without spending thirty minutes a day promoting someone else’s in the hopes it’ll come back to me someday. Why can’t we just let the work speak for itself and use social media to announce it? Thems that is interested can dip into the constantly moving Twitter stream, and them that ain’t can let it go by. Don’t get your knickers in a twist because people are trying to sell you their books. So far, nobody’s holding a gun to your head to buy.

I think it still comes down to the  maxim we writers all seem to accept: if you want to sell more books, write more books, and make each better than the last.

Thoughts? Comments?

What Are You Reading?

I love the emails I get from Amazon that, based on what I’ve bought in the past, suggest books I might like in the future. So far I haven’t clicked through to the check-out lane on any of them. Maybe it’s because of my background as an advertising copywriter, I know what it takes to write sales copy and I know when I’m being “sold.” Sometimes I get a mental image of the copywriter knocking out copy for the day before lunch: “Hey, Beth, we need some sexy copy for these five new thrillers.” “Great. Are they any good?” “Who knows? Just give us a couple of lines.”
Exactly.
Last summer, I had a conversation with my brother that set me on a literary journey that lasted—without a whole lot of time for housecleaning, eating, drinking or sleeping—a full five months. He clued me in to George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series. My ensuing summer was a bloody cornucopia of slaughter, haints and “shape-changers.”

Great rip-roaring tale to help guarantee you get nothing done until you finish the whole series. (Not unlike The Hunger Games in this way.)

During my extended time in Westeros, I would occasionally notice a book flit by on the New York Times Bestseller’s list—or in one of the above-mentioned Amazon emails—and mentally earmark it for when my time with Mr. Martin was done. But honestly, without an honest-to-God recommendation from someone you trust to know a good story, what good is a pretty cover and a snappy title? I’ve read plenty of cover blurb promises which the content within did NOT deliver. When I’d finished reading the “Game of Throne” series, a Facebook friend of mine was in the process of adoring “The Help.” It was nice that she actually talked about it while she was reading it. Mind you, I had heard of “The Help” before she mentioned it. Everyone in North America had heard of it. It had received an amazing publicity splash that was relentless that year. And yet? Somehow I got the idea that “The Help” was a self-help book along the lines of “The Secret.” Every time I saw the bright yellow book cover, I mentally tuned it out because I’d already decided

I was a one-woman word-of-mouth machine for this book!

I wasn’t interested in that kind of self-improvement.
When my friend gushed all over the place about it, I picked it up (or loaded it down, whatever) and loved it, and turned around and Amazon-gifted it to three other friends I knew would love it, too.
Recently, I’ve been reading Indie books to try to support the movement but it does take forever to find something good on the Internet. Not that authors aren’t doing a fairly good job of pushing their books in my face—at nearly every juncture on Facebook or Twitter—but like I said before, sales copy and I are intimately related. I know what bullshit looks like. I wrote it for years.
The size and shape of the literary world is changing out there, not just for writers but for readers, too. So how do you find the books you like to read? Do you count on word-of-mouth or is there a book review publication you depend on?