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Archive for July, 2010

It’s amazing, being a mother of a toddler, how much this little girl has taught me in just the 1 1/2 years she’s been with us. What’s even more amazing is that many of those lessons can be applied to self-publishing.

Lesson #1: Anything worth doing takes time. My daughter has been a little slow in using “big people” words, until recently. In fact, up until a few days ago, she would refuse to say words we knew she knew how to say. I can only guess the reason behind it was she wanted to be sure she could say it right before putting it out there for everyone to hear. In self-publishing,  throwing your work out to the general public before you’ve refined it to its best is a very bad decision. It’s bad for sales, bad for your reputation and bad for other self-publishers’ reputations. If you think it’s worth publishing, then take the time to do it well.

Lesson #2: Learn to have patience, with yourself and those around you. Tiny Tot, as we affectionately call her, can throw some of the best tantrums when she loses patience with a toy that isn’t doing exactly what she wants. She’s actually lost patience with herself, not the toy. Thankfully, Grandma has helped her cope with those moments by teaching her to tell herself that it’s okay, with a little patience she’ll be able to do what she is trying to do. (We now hear her repeating “okay” to herself on those occasions.) As a self-publisher, you want to make it all happen right now, but that’s not the way it works. It takes time to build a fan base, time to connect through social media. Everything takes time and that’s okay.

Lesson #3: Sometimes it helps to explain what you’re doing. Refilling a sippy cup of milk used to cause a melt-down. She was getting what she wanted, more milk, but she didn’t understand what had to happen to get it. Since we began explaining each step as we do it we’ve managed to avoid those tantrums. I’ve found gathering support for my self-publishing venture easier to gain when I explain exactly what it is I’m doing along the way.

Lesson #4: If you’re having a hard time making anything do what you want, take a nap (or at least a break). When my little girl starts throwing tantrums over the smallest things, a piece of paper she can’t fit into a bottle or the opening of the freezer instead of the refrigerator (she’s still working on how to make her wants known), I know it’s time for some downtime be it a nap or just a drink and some quiet rocking time with Mama. I understand where she’s coming from because when I get tired and/or frustrated with a project I know it’s time for a break — or to go to bed when I’m burning the midnight oil. Coming back to a project refreshed means being able to look at it from other angles and maybe finding a solution I didn’t see before.

Lesson #5: You can do anything you set your mind to so long as you don’t believe you can’t. Tiny Tot has done some things I didn’t think she’d be able to. For example, at eleven months old she said her first (and only to date) complete sentence. She asked her Grandma, “Can I do that?”, meaning she wanted to help Grandma re-load the dishwasher. If her Grandma and one of her aunt’s hadn’t also heard her say it, I would have believed my mind was playing tricks on me. She didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to be able to do that, but she did it. Self-publishing can be like that. There are a lot of experts who say you can’t do better than break even by self-publishing; however there are people doing just that. In fact, it’s said that self-published fiction books (especially in eBook form) are the least likely to be purchased and yet Independent Authors like Joe Konrath are doing quite well. These people have been told they “can’t” do what they’re doing. They just don’t accept that they “can’t.”

I’m glad I’ve taken the time to get to know my little girl because she’s given me some wonderful tips. Listening to what my toddler teaches has made my life, and my self-publishing career, a richer experience on The Road to Writing.

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As I work my way through Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, I decided to take on his earlier challenge to write a post with seven links. Since this post was originally going to be about critiquing or editing, I went with seven links on that subject. Without further ado, here they are:

  1. Critters Makes for Better WritingDon’t let the title fool you. It’s not about household pets. This post about finding someone to give you honest feedback on your fiction.

  2. Sandwich Critiquing this is perhaps my favorite post, giving you a helpful technique to use when you are asked to critique someone else’s not-so-perfect manuscript.

  3. Editing With or Without a Budgetmore helpful tips on how to use money to learn how to edit

  4. Blogosphere Trends + Handling High Word Counts this is a great guest post on Problogger by Kimberly Turner on how to trim the fat in your writing.

  5. When Editing & Critiquing, Check Your Personal Opinions At The Door the title says it all. A great post by April Hamilton of Indie Author.

  6. POD People Scares Me I love this title, but that’s not the only reason I chose it. Find out why editing is possibly the most important thing you can do before sending your manuscript to the publisher or POD (print-on-demand) company.

  7. The Art of Critiquing receiving criticism is difficult, especially when the person giving it doesn’t give you helpful details you can actually use to improve your work. This post will get you thinking of specifics to address when giving criticism to someone else.

Editing your work, giving and receiving criticism, it’s all part of the process. Knowing how to do it makes it all the easier to move on down The Road to Writing.

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31 Days to Build a Better Blog, Day 2 — Write a list post with a killer headline.

I sometimes wonder how other writers develop their books. Do they plan it all out from the beginning so nothing’s a surprise? Do they “fly by the seat of their pants” and just begin writing? Do they write in bits and pieces, then somehow put it all together like a puzzle? There could be as many ways to write a book as there are people who write them. I, myself, have at least two ways I develop my books: the fiction way and the nonfiction way.

Because my nonfiction writing is a whole lot more organic (something between piecing a puzzle together and just sitting down to write from the beginning), I’m going to focus on the seven steps I use to put together a fiction book from the first glimmering of an idea to sending the guts off to the POD (print-on-demand).

  1. Come up with a general idea — I know this seems rather obvious, but it’s really the first place you have to start with any writing project. Sometimes I find that I have to narrow, or even expand upon, the original idea as the process goes along, but I still have to start somewhere.

  2. Map the plot line — You can use the same plotting method for short stories and novels, though you do need to remember that the rising action in a novel will be much longer. I like to use a plot line to get me started. By the time I’ve filled out the entire plot line, I’ve pretty much envisioned the entire story in my mind. For me, the process is like watching a favorite movie that I have complete creative control over.

  3. Get started — At this point I feel comfortable enough to actually begin writing. I have an idea where the story is going, but the characters still sometimes do surprising things I hadn’t planned. It’s also the longest and, sometimes, most frustrating part of the process. As I write each scene I do my best to describe it entirely, putting in a lot more detail than it warrants. My reasoning is that it’s a lot easier for me to cut than to add. Along with writing the story, I also format its appearance. It’s easier to catch widows and orphans and know what the ending page count will be if you set up the formatting at the beginning.

  4. The 4 R’s — You’ve heard of the 3 R’s: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Let me introduce you to Reading, Re-working, Re-reading and Re-writing. If writing the first draft seems difficult, the editing process can feel impossible. I have a simple solution. I read through the first draft making only minor editorial marks for spelling, typos, punctuation and quick notes about parts that feel awkward. I don’t do a lot of editing the during the first read because I want to make sure the overall story flows. I then go back chapter by chapter and re-work anything that was awkward. Finally I give it a second, more thorough read, making longer notations about changes and additions that need to be made to give the story more depth. After I complete the needed changes I move on.

  5. Fresh eyes — This is a term I picked up working at NWMSU’s weekly newspaper, but it’s just as important in self-publishing. When you’ve finished the 4 R’s it’s time to let someone else read your work. The more eyes that read it, the more mistakes will be caught before you send it to the printer. I can’t stress this enough. Let an editor, your family, your friends, even the family dog read it. Okay, maybe not the dog, but you get my point.

  6. The 4 R’s — That’s right. Once you’re buddies have read it, it’s back to the computer to fix what they’ve found. But don’t despair. You’re almost finished.

  7. And print — Finally! All you need to do now is send it to the printer. I use Lulu.com, though I’ve heard a lot of good things about CreateSpace. Once your book is ready to upload to the POD of your choice, it’s just a matter of following their instructions.

Self-publishing can seem overwhelming at first, but if you follow these steps I think you’ll find your path just a little smoother on The Road to Writing.

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Day 1 — Write what your blog is about “in a nutshell.” I chose to do the tagline version and the elevator pitch, which is supposed to be able to be said in the amount of time it takes an elevator to reach its destination (about 100-150 words). So here they are:

Tagline — one HSP writer’s journey to work-at-home status without sacrificing her sanity

The Pitch — In July 2008 I eagerly stepped into the world of self-publishing only to discover I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Since then I’ve done a lot of research, a lot of trial and error, in an effort to learn how to earn a living as an Independent Author while still having time for the most important people in my life: my daughter, my husband, and me. In The Road to Writing I share what I’ve learned, what new ideas and strategies I’m using (and if they work!), while encouraging other highly sensitive people wanting to transition to full-time work-at-home status to strike a balance between pursuing their dream and taking time to enjoy life.

Do these reflect what you’ve read here? Let me know what you think.

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My Father has often said that, when you start having nightmares about your job, it’s time to move on. I can’t say I’m having nightmares, exactly, but I’ve certainly begun dreading doing anything remotely connected with being an Independent Author. However, I don’t think it’s time for me to “move on.” It’s time for me to go back to the beginning and rediscover why I became an Indie Author in the first place.

When I began, my first love was crafting entertaining stories. I spent a lot of time on Writing.com reading and contributing short stories, poems and monologues. I enjoyed giving editing tips to the authors there, especially to those in whose works I saw potential. When I sat down to work it was a pleasure, an escape even.

Flash forward to July 14, 2010. Spending 30 minutes to work on my current project, Prayerfully Yours, makes my shoulders slump, my brow pucker and my feet drag. I dutifully set my timer and check it every few minutes, trying to cheer myself on with the mantra “only X number of minutes left, then I can go play.”

What happened?!

I lost sight of the reason I began this journey in the first place. I began listening to all the “advice” out there that said I needed to market the hell out of myself to get anywhere. Marketing isn’t a bad thing. Independent Authors need to do a lot of marketing to get noticed. All of that is true, but the at some point each of us has to answer one question: what is more important, getting noticed or doing what you love?

For me it’s doing what I love most, writing. While I will be doing the Problogger 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge with the SITS community*, doing what I love most means I won’t be doing a lot of other things. It means spending less time following all those tweets, less time trolling the internet to find the latest self-publishing articles, less time doing anything that takes me away from what I’m meant to do — write.

In order to do less, yet be as effective as I’ve been (perhaps more so), I’ll be following my mentor, Marla Cilley’s (aka FlyLady), advice: “by letting go of your ineffective old habits and establishing simple routines” and “Take your babysteps to recognize when you are stressed out. Find a more fun way of doing the same old thing and reach out for help!”

How about you? Have you forgotten why you began your journey on The Road to Writing?

*The challenge for all us women bloggers begins July 19, so hurry if you want to sign up.

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An alternative to a business cardBusiness cards. Some say you should have them. Others say don’t bother. There are some Independent Authors that suggest using your book as your business card. Personally, I think that would be a great idea if you had a) the money to give your book away and b) a shrink ray. I have neither, which meant one thing. I needed to get creative.

As a Highly Sensitive Person, creativity comes naturally. It’s almost as easy as breathing. That’s why many of us have chosen the careers we are in, because it gives us a creative outlet. Yet, when it comes to marketing ourselves or our product, we can become overwhelmed by the possibilities, choosing either to do nothing or doing the same thing everyone else does. That’s where I was when I was trying to decide if I needed a business card or not.

My first decision was not to bother. Business cards aren’t expensive, in fact you can get free ones from Vista Print if you can’t make your own, but if you’ve ever been stuck with multiple cards that either have an error or just aren’t needed anymore you can understand my hesitancy. I’m an Independent Author who will have multiple books and using a business card to promote them would mean a reprint every time a new book comes out. Of course I could have gone with a plain business card with only my name and contact information, but, for me, it’s about the books.

After guest teaching a Sunday school class, though, I knew I needed to rethink the idea of a business card when one of the students asked for more information about the book and how to contact me so she could “pick my brain.” All I could do was hurriedly jot my contact info on a scrap piece of paper and hand it and a copy of Fear Not! to her. I was pleased she wanted the information, but embarrassed at how unprofessional I looked at that moment.

It was back to deciding how to design a business card that would be “timeless,” yet promote each book I wrote. At first I considered putting a small picture of each book on the card. I gave that idea up when I considered the need for more information about each book and the small amount of space available (not to mention that reprint thing!). I also considered going with just contact info, but I’m convinced I need to promote my books more than myself.

Suddenly I struck upon a very creative idea. Why not a bookmark for each book? If it’s the book that’s important, what better way to promote an Independent Author than with a bookmark? What I love about the idea is that a bookmark is small enough to be carried around in my purse for easy distribution, but large enough to put quite a bit of information on it. Not only that, but, since readers are the target market, what better gift to them than a bookmark? (In my Mom’s case, it’s another one to add to her rather large collection. :D)

I don’t know that a bookmark would work for everyone, or even every Independent Author. What I do know is that HSPs are great at creatively thinking outside the box when we give ourselves time and permission. Finding a creative solution to any challenge, marketing or otherwise, is one of the great things about being an HSP on The Road to Writing.

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I don’t know if Major League games actually end due to rain, but I know Little League games do — or used to. (It’s been awhile. :)) It seems that sometimes our writing time does to, though it’s usually not because it’s raining outside.

Last Friday afternoon was on of those days for me. I was trying to work on Prayerfully Yours, when all of a sudden my laptop quit. There were no error messages, no warning of any kind. It just suddenly turned itself off. At first I thought the power cord had come loose, but it hadn’t. Seeing no other apparent reason for it to shut itself off, I decided to restart it, hoping to at least be able to back up what I had been working on. My laptop, however, had other ideas. It refused to stay on. It simply looped itself through the restart process.

To say that I was near panicking at that point would be an understatement. All my work, past and present, was on that one machine and nowhere else. If it quit I had no idea if I would ever be able to retrieve all that information, nor did I know if I could even afford to buy a new laptop right away. So I did the only thing a frustrated non-techie writer could do. I hit the stupid thing.

Okay. It wasn’t my brightest moment, but it made me feel a little better. Tantrum over, I calmly thought of other solutions and , in the end, was able to fix the problem. (At least I hope I did.) What I gained from this unpleasant ordeal were two lessons: 1) always back up your work and 2) it’s imperative to get your financial house in order and establish an emergency fund. Had I done either of these I wouldn’t have panicked. I still would have been frustrated, but at least I would have had a plan.

Long story short, if you haven’t started backing up your work do it now. And if you haven’t read The Money Book by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese take time out of your busy life to do that as well. You’ll be grateful you did both when your computer decides to take an unannounced hiatus from work on The Road to Writing.

Update: One possible way to backup your important files is to use CD’s and DVD’s. I’ve found, however, that I don’t like having multiple disks taking up my space or needing to remember to backup my files. I opted to use Mozy.com‘s online services. It’s pretty simple to use once you’ve downloaded the software and it checks your files regularly to see if changes were made and need to be backed up.

The only downside I’ve found thus far is that, if you don’t feel comfortable spending about $5 per month on their unlimited services, you only get 2 gigabytes free. I honestly believed I had less than that until I went to back all my files up. Turns out Mozy wants to back up everything, multiples of files included. That meant spending an hour manually deselecting the files I didn’t need just to bring to space consumption down to under 2 gigs. I’m a try before you buy kinda girl, so, even though it was a hassle to do some manual manipulations, I think the service is worth the effort to find out if $5 a month would be a waste or a reward. Otherwise it’s back to space hogging CD’s.

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How often have you overspent on a “deal” that was guaranteed to help increase your income, but left you broke instead? How many times have you lacked the funds necessary to buy that eBook that could teach you ways to improve your marketing strategy? If you’re like most Independent Authors, myself included, the times for either scenario are many. So what can you do to safe-guard against those ups and downs in your finances and take control of your spending? Budget.

If your primary goal is to continue to improve yourself, whether that means your writing or how you market your product, having money allocated specifically to continued education assures you that the money is there when you need it without having to ask the dragon (aka credit cards) to fit the bill. Using a budget for those funds also forces us to think before we buy.

Michael Martine of RemarkaBlogger suggests in his post “The Most Important Question You Need to Stop Asking Yourself“* that you first set training goals, something specific like learning how to take advantage of social media to market your book, and then take a look at how you spent your “training” money in the past year. (If you’ve read The Money Book you’re a step ahead already.)

From there he tells us to set our quarterly budget by taking the amount we’re comfortable with spending over a year and dividing it by four. As Michael says setting a training budget helps us decide between what is a good buy and what would make us “the victim of others for their gain.”

What I really like about this approach is that, while we’re setting a spending limit, it’s based on past experience. As Simple Life in France puts it in “How to budget for inspiration not deprivation” by building a budget at the end of the month, or in this case upon last year’s spending, “your budget is just an honest friend here to tell you the truth about the way you spend your money. You’re making observations, not judgments.” As my mentor, FlyLady Marla Cilley, says, in order to improve ourselves we need to get rid of the “stinkin’ thinkin’.” That means not beating ourselves up each time we overspend, but rather making an effort to do better this month.

If you want to budget for your continued training, basing it upon last year’s spending and reviewing it at the end of each month can be a real stress reliever, especially when you can congratulate yourself for staying within your limits on The Road to Writing.

*This is a cached copy via Google. I was last able to access the RemarkaBlogger web site on June 29,2010, at 2:30 p.m.

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