Zooming along

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern technology, something new comes along.

In the past two weeks, I have participated in no less than five Zoom meetings: two club meetings, one county convention, and two family meetings.  My son pointed out that Zoom is not exactly new, for we have had Facetime and Skype, but for some reason, Zoom has caught on. I love seeing everyone, once people catch on to how it works. You know, like how to turn on their mic or camera first. And I don’t mind people seeing me, for we all have bad haircuts. My granddaughter said she has “quarantine bangs” after a DIY with scissors.

I have tried to keep my person-to-person meetings to a minimum, but when I make a necessary trip to the grocery store, I am appalled by the number of people choosing to go maskless, refusing to obey the one-way signs in the aisles, or staying the recommended distance from other shoppers. I value my health and the health of others and it pains me to see how careless people are. If they don’t care about themselves, they should at least care about their older friends and relatives. I guess there isn’t enough technology in the world to cure stupid complacency.

Is it just me, or does this look like a dragon fell from the sky instead of a broken off tree-top?

 

My less rewarding technological effort has been with formatting my book. I have done it before, but somehow I got the page size wrong and from there everything went downhill. My proof copy was not at all what I envisioned, so here I am doing it all over again. I hate being tied to the computer on these nice days! I’d much rather be outside.

And, I need to be outside. In addition to the regular yard work, the high winds lately have contributed to my chores. First, three large limbs came down from the pine tree in the left corner of the yard. I think one limb struck the limb below it, and both then took out the third. Anyway, I managed to saw off the smaller branches and ended up with three logs I can hardly move. In fact, I got the hand truck out of the basement to move two of them to one side. I don’t know how many trips I made from the back of my property to the road with a wheelbarrow full of debris.

Then, just yesterday, high winds snapped a sweet gum in the right side of the yard “half in two” and I now have that mess to clear up. Luckily, neither mishap hurt any overhead lines.

Now that would have messed up my technology — as well as my neighbors’!

 

 

A little something

Social isolation. Unthinkable when we went into March and very much a reality now. I’m getting used to it, but as a person who had something to do and somewhere to go almost every day of the week, it is hard. I look back to 19 years ago when I was battling breast cancer. I felt too ill to go out, so I curled up with a book and our two dogs.

I’m pretty much doing the same thing now, but with four cats. And cancer-free all this time, so I am grateful for that.

Social isolation or self-quarantine or whatever you want to call it, means staying home.

I am betting that many of you, like me, live alone (with dog, cat, ferret, beta fish, or parakeet). And like me, you are looking for something to fill all these long hours. And  I am grateful there are so many places we can turn to. First, catch up with friends and family via email or texting or even telephone calls.

And there is social media. People said our gadgets kept us from real connections, but now they are the only way we can connect.

I usually limit my time at Facebook but I have to admit I have spent most of the morning watching video posts from such diverse sources as Angela Merkel and John Oliver. Different perspectives, same advice. I have Netflix, Amazon, Brit Box and Acorn TV, so there are many shows I can watch when there is nothing on regular TV.

But, you can watch only so many movies or podcasts. I’m thinking if you are reading this, you most likely read books.

Spoiler alert: The libraries are closed. So physical books that you can hold in your hands are pretty much unavailable. If you haven’t read a book on your Nook, Kindle, or iPad, now is the time to try it.

First, let me suggest you go online and find your library’s lending site. There are Freading, Hoopla, Libby, and probably more I haven’t heard of. Check with your library’s website and it should have the information you are looking for. You will need the number on your library card handy.

And there are many, many sites that offer free or discounted books: Ereader News Today, Book Bub, ArcaMax Ebooks, The Fussy Librarian

And here is the best of all: Smashwords’ authors are deeply discounting or offering their books for free until April 20. Authors Give Back  is an incredible response to helping people get through this crisis. True, we can’t just hide our heads in books and ignore what is going on around us, but they do help when you just need to escape for a few hours.

So go to Smashwords.com and find a list of books you may enjoy. Try reading new authors. Heck, you might even like my books if you go to my Smashwords page. (If you want to look them over first, there are excerpts and descriptions on my website, sandrazbruney.com, but note that they are only FREE at Smashwords.)

We will get through this. Meanwhile, stay calm, stay safe, stay well, and stay home.

 

 

Good advice/bad advice

 

Image result for tooting own horn gif

 

Our local writers’ club is again sponsoring an event. We held a writers conference for several years, but lately we are focusing on more intimate workshops. BUT we are still sponsoring a story-telling event. This will be our sixth year for that.

So I find myself once again doing the publicity: designing fliers and posters, writing articles for the newspapers, posting on websites and social media, sending out email messages …

I don’t mind. It’s what I do. The question is: Why don’t I do the same for my books?

Good question.

I know once a book is published, the author cannot write “The End” and relax, waiting for royalties to roll in. No one will buy a book if they don’t know about it.

I guess it comes from not wanting to be “pushy.” You know, that writer that posts “Buy my book” a zillion times a day on every outlet known to the Internet. Mom always cautioned me not to be a showoff or smart a$$. Well, she didn’t say a$$ but she meant it. We were told to be modest and unassuming. In other words, hide your light under a basket. Don’t bring attention to yourself.

Good advice then when I was a mouthy, attention-seeking preteen. Bad advice now when I really want to gather new readers.

I know I need to toot my own horn and at the same time, not be so annoying people hit “block” on my posts. It’s a fine line and I haven’t found a way to walk it yet.

I really need to sit down and plan a campaign just like I do for our writers club events. It isn’t that difficult.

I just need to  convince myself it’s okay.

 

Curiosity and all that…

When you were a child, did you ever sneak a peek at the Christmas gifts hidden in the hall closet or under your parent’s bed?

I think almost all of us did this at one time or another. Curiosity gets the better of our conscience. 

I’m experiencing the same curiosity regarding Riverbend. I know I should let it go, but I can’t resist checking the sales figures. I look at the graphs on the KDP page and then check Author Central for sales ranking. Then I go to the book and see if anyone has left a review.  (Check it out!)

I know I shouldn’t do it. The book will sell or it won’t, and all my “peeking” won’t bring the elusive goal any closer.

“They” say word of mouth is the best advertising, so all I can do is hope the readers who bought the book like it and recommend it to their friends. And there is nothing I can to do make that process go any faster.

There are a few avenues I can pursue to promote the book aside from social media that won’t cost more than the modest royalties I’m seeing. It’s always a toss-up. I know writers who hire publicists to get their book in the public eye, which is, to my thinking, a really big leap of faith. You’d have to sell millions of books to afford that, but unless you do you won’t sell millions of books.

Is it the cart or the horse?

As I said earlier, I”ll let you know how it goes. So far, it’s slow. So instead of checking the graphs daily, I’d be better off concentrating on my next book. And the one after that.

I write because I need to get the stories out of my head, not because I want to be a best-selling author. (Although that would be nice.) I just want the people, as many or as few as they be, who buy my books to enjoy them and feel they got their money’s worth.

But I’m not saying curiosity won’t get the better of me in a few days time and I won’t be able to resist signing in to my account and checking the sales figures.

It’s that curious kid all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balancing act

There are two things I love to do. One is writing. the other is working outside.

Lately, I wish I could discover something else to focus on.

Last week, I went to an island off the Georgia coast where I relaxed with family. My iPad inexplicably refused to pick up a signal (although no one else had any trouble getting on line). I took this as a sign to forget about email and Facebook and simply enjoy the hot days sunning, bathing, and shopping; and the evenings devoted to eating my fill of shrimp.

I came hope ready to tackle the yard and my rewrites.

Alas, “back home” we’d had 95-degree weather and no rain. My flowers were either dead or close to extinction. The grass crackled underfoot like walking on Wheaties. My blueberries resembled bunches of raisins. As if in defiance of the stunning heat, the hedges had thrust up new growth and looked like raggedy urchins in dire need of a haircut.

So there was that.

Then I opened up the edited ms.  To be fair, the woman who took on my novel and gave it her professional attention is right on with her comments and criticisms. I admit to vagaries of punctuation. I admit to discrepancies. I was prepared to dig in and correct all the places she had marked. That’s the easy part.

But it is harder to admit to the larger areas of character, plot and the mysterious labyrinth of foreshadowing without giving the whole story away. I am constantly going back to rewrite a paragraph or scene, then realizing it doesn’t work and rewriting it again. And again.

The more I work on it, the more convinced I am that the story is terrible, nonredeemable, and should be thrown in the trash.

That would be easy. All I have to do is tap the Delete button on my computer.

Then I re-read some of my own posts and remember that my mantra is perseverance. So I slogged on. Paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence.

This business of rewriting may be the hardest thing I have ever done. I keep telling myself that I have published with two different houses, and that one of my books is up for an award.

It’s just that I want this book to be better. Don’t we all want our next book to be better than the one before?

When it gets too frustrating and I want to scream and pull my hair out, I back off from the computer.

I go outside and work in the yard. So far, I have trimmed the hedges, mowed the front and back lawns–not of grass, but of weeds and buttercups, and watered the flowers.

Then I go back to revising.

There is something to be said about balance, but I think I already said it.

 

 

 

 

 

What time is it, anyway?

A question I am frequently asked is “What time of day do you set aside for writing?”

I know some writers who have a set time and woe betide anyone — spouse, child or telemarketer — who interrupts them.

But I don’t have a set time. I probably should, but lately I can’t seem to settle on any kind of schedule. I flit from typesetting our club’s anthology to laying out the ads for our Carolinas Writers Conference booklet to writing up the minutes of the church leadership team. All important, and all taking up time I should be writing.

Can you spot the big, fat lie in the above paragraph?

The important fact I omitted is that if I wanted to find time, I could. I could get up in the morning when I first wake up, feed the cats, get a cup of coffee and sit down and write before most people’s day begins. Because I wake up early. And lie in bed daydreaming.

I could stop spending time on Facebook because frankly I scroll past the recipes and what-I-had-for-dinner and political rants anyway. I could live without seeing the latest adorable kitten or finding out who my Mafia team is. Why do I let the videos suck me in? Could it be possible I am using Facebook to avoid writing?

Scary thought.

With spring coming on fast, I know I have to paint the deck and rake sweet gum balls and begin the never-ending chore of mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and weeding flowerbeds. Never mind trying to keep the house clean and the laundry caught up. I could tell myself that I have no time to write.

I used to think my writing time came after all the above mentioned chores were done. What I have discovered is, I was making up chores to keep from sitting down at my computer.

But do you know what? I am going to carve out that time. I need to quit making excuses and wasting what time I have. You would think I’d know by now that time is a rare and precious commodity.

It’s time to stop wasting it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media=Sales?

Does being active on social media translate to more e-book sales?

That’s a question a group I belong to is discussing right now. I read all the posts, and sad to say, most agree with me — you can Tweet, Blog, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook your heart out, and you won’t sell a single book more than if you’d stayed busy cleaning house.

In fact, touting your book 24-7 is a good way to alienate your friends so they unfriend you at worst, or skip over your post, eyes glazed, at best.

Yes, I like to tell my friends/fans when a new book is coming out or when one is on sale. I think in my heart of hearts they are pleased to know this information. But these are folks who will buy the book anyway, either because they like me and want to help, or they genuinely like my writing. In short, I am reaching folks who are already fans, not making new ones.

I feel a stab of sympathy when fellow writers post of the amounts of money they have spent to “push” their book on review sites or in e-book newsletters. Some even hired assistants to get their book “out there.” All agreed they had lost money they may never recoup. It is like the author who orders a thousand copies of her book, only to have them take space in the garage for years on end.

I have spent a little bit of money, and it did bring a spurt in sales. But when I added it up, I’d spent more than I earned. Every time.

And yet…I know some writers who have earned over $1000 in sales and their books have not even been released yet!

What is their secret? I wish I knew. Catchy covers…great log lines…an enormous network of fans?

Not that I’m envious (she said snarkily). I’m happy for their success.

But let’s face it, competing with the thousand+ ebooks released every day is daunting. I could sell more books if they were print, but my books won’t be in print until the publisher sees X dollars earned by the e-version. Talk about a catch-22!

I will continue to Tweet and blog and post on Facebook, but only when something new happens that is worth sharing. My philosophy is that pounding someone over the head with your book isn’t going to make them break down and buy it.

But not having an online presence isn’t the answer, either.

I think there’s a happy medium. Be nice, be present, share, but don’t nag.

And meanwhile, write the next book and make it even better than the last one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you write “The End”

We all know a book isn’t finished when you write “The End.” It is just the beginning of a long and arduous journey.

The next steps are writing a query letter, taglines, blurbs, and synopsis. Then you send these out…and send them out…and hopefully one day you get a request to read the full manuscript.

If it is accepted, you still are not done. There are line edits and copy edits, and sometimes rewrites of whole scenes. But finally you send baKaren's Bookck the final galley proof with a sigh of relief. Then, in a few weeks or months, you hold the finished product in your hands.

If you decide to self publish, you must hire an editor, find a good cover artist who shares your vision, and if you lack the patience to do this yourself, hire a tech person to format the pages.

And then you upload it to your author platform.

Wait for this…in either scenario, you are still not finished.

The book is published. Now it is up to you to promote it.

I am happy to tell you that a friend of mine has published a book that tells you how you can do this it is called “How to Become a Best-selling Author Using Powerful and Easy-to-Make Videos, then Leveraging them Over the Top (How to Become a Best Seller Book 1)”. 

The title is almost longer than the book, but believe me, those 69 pages are loaded with information. She tells you what you needs to do and then tells you how to do it, plus providing the resources.

I just completed my first book trailer video, following her guidelines. I think it turned out pretty well, considering I never did one before. Heck, I never thought I could do one until I read the book. If you are curious, here’s the link: A Question of Loyalty.

The book is reasonably priced for the wealth of information it contains. I believe it will be a helpful addition to your promotion toolkit.

You may have written the best book in the history of literature, but unless you promote it no one will ever know.

 

 

 

 

Blog tours: do they work?

Not too long ago I didn’t know exactly what a blog tour was. I knew they were important, but not why or how much.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it’s when you answer certain formatted questions about your writing life  on your blog and nominate two or three others to pick up the baton and answer the questions on their blog, giving credit to the person who nominated them and nominating others in their turn. Sounds confusing, but it isn’t. Think of a chain letter. Only instead of getting dozens of recipes or salt and pepper shakers, you get dozens of people reading about you and your books.

Now that I’m a little more savvy, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are important mainly in introducing writers to other writers. Why do I say this? Because not one of my non-writing friends has any idea what I am talking about when I tell them I’m making an appearance on someone’s blog and give them the link. They go, see an unfamiliar name in the header, and click off thinking they have landed somewhere by error.

One friend asked me if I had changed my name for my upcoming release. She knew I had a book coming out; the blog talked about a book coming out.  So when she saw who the author was, she assumed it was me using a pen name. It didn’t help that the author pasted my  photo on the top of her page. She was thanking me for featuring her on my blog, but that didn’t come until the bottom of the article.  Not her fault, it’s the way the blog was set up. But confusing my fans is not part of my marketing plan.

So I’m guessing people didn’t read that far because several congratulated me on my new book.

Thanks, but wrong book.

The idea behind participating in a blog tour is a good one. It exposes you to more people, who hopefully will run out and buy your book. Or become fans of your blog. Or at least will recognize your name if they run across it while browsing for something to read.

So I won’t say no if I’m asked to participate in future tours. I may even ask bloggers whom I know, however faintly, to allow me to be a guest on their blog.

It’s just one social media plank in that ever-elusive “platform” from which we launch our product.

But the foundation of that platform is solid writing. And if we don’t have that, nothing else matters.

 

 

 

Enter the publicist

I suppose it was inevitable.

Last week I received an e-mail from a  publicist who would love to guide me to the top of the New York Times best seller list.

Who wouldn’t jump right on that offer?

Now, let me explain. I didn’t mean it was inevitable that my sparkling talent and superior writing brought me to the publicist’s attention. I meant it was inevitable that a new business would grow up around Indie publishing. With so many new books being self- or Indie-published, there is a growing market for entrepreneurs who see the need for marketing said books. I figured this one trolled the trade magazines to get the names of writers whose books had recently been purchased and went to the trouble to getting their e-mail addresses in order to make a pitch.

I was tempted, I’ll admit,  to have someone else plan my publicity campaign, including appearances on national television. Well, maybe not that. Unless the station sent its interviewer and camera crew to my home. I’ve gotten better at speaking to book clubs,  but I’m sure talking to  a television host would bring my awkward, self-conscious public persona out of hiding.

Host: Tell us a little about your book?

Me: Well, uh, it’s sort of an  alternate history with characters who have paranormal abilities.

Host: So it’s a paranormal?

Me: No, not exactly.

Host: Steampunk?

Me: Not really.

Host: Well, what is it, then?

Me :  Uh…

Host (after waiting an agonizing 15 seconds):  So, tell us about the plot?

Me (staring at ceiling and perpiring as if it were 90 degrees inside the studio): Uh–it’s complicated.

Host: Time for a commercial break!

Me: I thought this was public television.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’d be no good being interviewed on either radio or television unless I memorized the questions and answers first. And at my age, I can’t remember what I came into the grocery store for.

So I guess I’ll decline. Too bad, I’d really like to make the New York Times best seller list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The planks in the platform

Ah, social media.  We recognize its importance even as we bewail how it eats up our time like a monster out of control.

As writers, we know we have to “build our platform,” and that blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr,  and all the rest are the planks.

I read recently (and forgive me if I can’t remember where) that when you blog and then “share” with your other accounts, you aren’t really doing any good. The writer argued that each venue should be treated differently because the followers differ. I think she may be correct, in that I know all my Facebook followers, but there are people following me on Twitter whom I’ve never met, let alone heard of.  So do they expect different things from me?

But, I whine, it’s so easy to just tap the “share” button and you are all done.

share

Or not. I’m not sure how many of my Twitter followers actually click on the link to my blog.  Probably none.

So, I know one thing for sure: it’s tricky to navigate the social media path. And you can lose your way to your goal, be it educating people on a topic, sounding off, sharing recipes or (ahem) promoting your books.

My own opinion is that rather than getting bogged down for hours each day trying to keep up, you select the “planks” that seem to be reaching the most people. And even more important, the  ones you feel the most comfortable doing. Some people love to Tweet all day long; if I tweet more than once a week it’s because I’m feeling chatty. But I do  like Facebook, so  I’m likely to be on there quite a bit. I’m thinking of Pinterest, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. We’ll see.

What do you think? Is all the effort worth it?

Or should we stick to writing our books and hope word of mouth is our best friend?

 

 

 

 

 

Getting hooked on YouTube

I posted a few weeks ago how much I loved being able to connect on social media. Shoot, I hear the news before it can get on TV or in the newspapers.

The other night I took a picture of Spooky, our calico, with my phone , e-mailed it to my iPad and posted it on Facebook, all without leaving my comfortable position on the sofa. I felt very clever and if you knew how old I am, you’d think so, too. And yes, I know I could have taken the photo with the iPad, but those pictures have generally been a little fuzzy. I’m surprised at the quality of the phone camera, though. Almost as good as my Canon.

People think these toys are something for the younger generation to enjoy while we old fogies scratch our heads. Not so. I think we elders have found our niche.

YouTube is another great invention that we wouldn’t have dreamed of a generation ago. I tend to enjoy the cute kitten videos most, with cute toddlers a close second.

My husband has recently discovered this miracle. He stumbled into bed after midnight one night last week and when I asked him what on Earth he was doing up so late, he mumbled, “YouTube.”

Of course my first frantic thought was –oh no! Because you know what the most popular videos are. I instantly put this thought away as definitely not in character.

“Cute kittens?” I asked. “They’re the most popular uploads next to you-know-what.”

“No, he said, “Military.” Seems there are hundreds, if not thousands, of videos on military matters. Airplanes, ships, helicopters, you name it.

Now he tunes in and watches the latest updates on the latest airplanes and vessels. Then he tells me all about them. I can’t complain, because before now I complained that he never talked to me.

I’m glad he found a new interest, because after all, how many James Patterson and David Baldacci books are out there? And except for a few British comedies, we don’t  watch much TV.

So I’m glad he’s found something to occupy his time, even if he does feel compelled to share.

I can get even. Last night I stuck my iPad under his nose and demanded that he watch a cute kitten video.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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