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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Compost Bins, 1, 2, 3

The compost bins are finally up. It took far longer than we expected. Our biggest obstacle was definitely the weather. It's been oppressively hot. If we couldn't get out to the garden before 7am, the best we could manage was a couple of hours before the heat did us in. It's been triple digits for weeks around here, with no end in sight.
We also ran into organizational problems. We thought we had all the crucial items on the materials' list and we didn't, so there went a whole day of workable time. To add insult to injury, this happened twice!
And then there was husband-evaporus. Greg could only be here for a few days in the last couple of weeks and I've been working the poor guy to a frazzle with one honey-do project or another. The compost bins were not that high on the priority list, but he managed to fit it in.
The bins are done though--all three of them, 8 foot deep by 4 foot wide. We probably won't have mature compost in time for next spring's planting, but hopefully we can have at least one bin ready by next fall.
Garden 2009: We didn't know what we were going to run into when I planted. I didn't have much time to prepare so I took a chance and threw some seeds out there. The soil closest to the potting shed is the poorest. The back 30 feet is better but not by much. Despite the lack of nutritional amendments the harvest has been surprisingly good--so far.
Next year will be better!
At least I have my bins. In a couple of years I expect some really nice soil and lots of earthworms. All thanks to Greg.

In the beginning, there were trees. Lots and lots of trees. As well as assorted shrubbery. I'm pretty sure Greg said some unkind things about me when I showed him where I wanted to put the compost bins. But it really was the best place. And that shrubbery had to go anyway. I think someone with Monty Python was looking for it.

Ah, that's better. Nothing beats a nice clean area to work in.

The first cut. I try never to operate loud machinery with angry, rotating teeth. I've been known to shed blood with a butter knife, so Greg courageously does all the cutting. I'm quite the dangerous damsel--but mostly to myself.

Chain saw. Check.

Post hole digger. Check.

4-foot Level. Check

2x4's. Check.

4x4's. Check.

Welded wire fencing...Rats!

A ride into town.

Fencing nails...Double Rats!

Be back soon.

This must be how Stonehenge got started. We had to deal with an awkward slope of the land and then we discovered we had the wrong length for one of the 4x4's, so we made do with what we had.

Naked Bins.

We kept waiting for the fence elves to finish sheathing the skeleton, but as usual they were drunk or passed out, so it was left to us. Damn elves!

The finished product. Close to the garden, water and sunshine.

Future home of percolating new soil.

One project down, hundreds more to go.

And how about you, dear readers: What's been on your project list?

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Monday, June 29, 2009


Courtesy of Josh Vogt.

War of the Words Contest

"War of the Words” is the SciFi Now writing competition in association with Tor UK, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited (“the Competition”)

The winner will receive a publishing contract with Macmillan Publishers Limited for publication in 2010 dependent on publishing schedules. For the purposes of this competition we will pay the winning author a 20% royalty on net receipts but there will be no advance (i.e. an advance payment against future sales). Our contract is non-negotiable and we acquire world rights, with rights revenue split 50/50. We also reserve the option to publish the author’s second novel. The final book is intended to be published in the United Kingdom. Publication will be subject to the winner’s acceptance in writing of those terms and conditions and compliance with them.

Novel Length: Between 80,000 and 150,000 words long, completed and available upon request by the close of competition on 20 August 2009.

Submit: Full synopsis and first three chapters

The winner will be announced no later than 25 November 2009.

Note: This contest is only open to authors who have not had a novel published.


This is a holiday week in the US so my posts will probably be sporadic for the next couple of weeks while I'm on the road.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Friday, June 26, 2009

Killer Campaigns: Conducting Workshops

I think one of the best ways to promote yourself and your books is to teach a workshop. Not only does it put you in front of an audience, it gives you a platform to talk BRIEFLY about your book(s).

For a good workshop you're going to need a couple of things.

• You need a topic that will draw people in.
• And you need to be an expert in that topic.

We can usually accomplish the first one, but what about the second?

For the purposes of this series, we will concentrate on topics of interest to writers.

The best way to find a workshop-worthy topic is to visit your regular writing forums. What kind of questions do they ask? What subjects come up most? Make a list of the most common or interesting topics.

Now, from this list what subject can you speak about with expertise?

Recently, someone from a local writers' group asked if I would be willing to talk to their group about hooks. I haven't decided if I'll do it yet because it is quite a drive for me to the group's location, but I'm leaving my options open.

I'm pretty good with hooks. My background in advertising has helped groom that talent, so I feel I can go into that workshop comfortably.

But I need more than a command of the subject to present well. I've been to quite a few workshops and aside from expertise, the most important aspect to a workshop is the presenter herself.

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

• Can you speak confidently and in a clear voice?

• Do you have an animated or bubbly personality that is infectious? The audience loves fun people.

• Do you know more about your topic than your audience? There is nothing worse than a presenter whose expertise is only veneer-deep. Remember that many people pay for workshops. You want to give them their money's worth.

• Do you have an interesting twist to an old problem? Most of us can Google for answers nowadays. You have to offer something extra.

Tips for preparing for a workshop:

• Practice your lecture notes

• Write up probable questions the audience might ask you and work up ready made answers so you don't fumble for the right words on class day.

• Try to find out before hand the general audience's skill level. You don't want to talk down or too far above the audience.

• Gather visual aids for your presentation

• Put out your wardrobe and make sure it is clean and not in need of mending

• Get a good night's sleep before your big day.

And when you do get up in front of that crowd…

• Don't forget to smile and welcome everyone warmly.

Workshops can either be live or online. The live ones are a little more nerve wracking because well…it's LIVE. Online workshops give you more leeway to measure your responses and depending on the forum, you may not be expected to answer except for once a day giving you ample time to prepare.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. As much as I adore online workshops, you run the risk of not understanding the question or perhaps not presenting in a way that's immediately understandable. Live workshops allow you to ask questions back and forth immediately. This keeps the momentum strong.

My other misgiving to online workshops is that sometimes conversations start between one or more participants and the instructor. Not only is it usually boring to the rest of the class, but it makes those not involved feel left out.

Whether you hold a live workshop or an online one, always make everyone feel welcome and encourage involvement from the whole group. They are counting on you not only to inform but to lead.

Lead with confidence.

For more Killer Campaign posts go here.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's My Nickel

The other day my niece wrote to update me on her upcoming wedding. She sheepishly admitted that the reception was going to be held at a local no-frills restaurant. She explained further that she and her intended were paying for both wedding and reception and this was the best they could afford. Then she asked me not to discuss it with the family yet as they would insist on giving her grief over her decisions.

Her email came on the tails of a blog post by the lovely and talented Josephine Damian. (The cuter half of our doppelganger existence.) Josey mentioned once before that Donald Maass looked at blogging as scratching an itch. She further cited Robin Hobb and her rant about blogging, who described blogging as literary pole dancing.

So this gives me the opportunity to tell both my niece and my readers the same thing.
Feel free to ignore people who give you unasked for advice. How you spend your time (and money) is no one's business but your own.
In the first place, if you chastise others for blogging, bear in mind that it's not your time, it's theirs. In the second place, most of us are adult enough to know when to stop blogging and start working on the manuscript.

I don't know about everyone else, but writing does not consume my every thought. I feel perfectly comfortable making time for manuscripts, blogging, freelance work, gardening, cleaning, cooking, traveling, studying, researching, building, tearing down, reviewing, thinking, and even reading. And you know what? That's only the icing on the cake. The 18+ hours I'm awake every day leaves me time for even more wonderful things besides writing.

I adore Josey but we disagree on the advantages of blogging.

Blogging helps me to form opinions, to articulate a thought, to journal my discoveries, to examine ideas and to strengthen my writing. Blogging IS writing. It's not an itch, nor is it literary pole dancing--at least not for me, and not for the dozens of other writers I follow. These are working writers, people who put out quality work as well as blog.

Blogging is also a useful marketing tool.

I don't know who Robin Hobb is, but I might have had she blogged. On the other hand, I've come to know LS Viehl's work quite well and it's entirely due to her blog.

Not only does Ms Viehl educate and entertain, but her well written posts have convinced me that she is worthy of my investment in her books.

So gentle readers, I caution you not to paint each other with such wide brushes. Blog if you want to, or don't. Just don't assume your way is the only right way.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Slush Reader Needed

The very excellent and wonderful John Klima is in need of a couple of slush readers for Electric Velocipede.

EV is a sci-fi ezine of the highest caliber. I work with John through the OWW Newsletter. Every month he turns in an Editor's Choice Review for a current story that's on the workshop and he is both eloquent and articulate when teaching writers how to make a story better.

So if you have a little time and would like to contribute to the SF community, you might want contact John or his assistant Anne. See the blog for details on contact information.


Duh. I forgot to post the winner of my contest. I already contacted Becky101 and shipped her prizes.

I learned a few things while doing this contest. Even though I thought the instructions were pretty simple, a lot of people didn't follow through. It also didn't get as much exposure as I'd hoped.

Live and learn. I'm not totally convinced contests are useful unless it's a really big prize. And how many of us can afford that?

Still, I'm grateful to those of you who mentioned my book or blog. May good karma never find the way out your door.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Monday, June 22, 2009


Star Dreck Anthology

Ed. note: No fan fiction, please!

Before we go any further, this is SATIRE*. This is PARODY*. This is SPOOFING*. These things are fully protected under American copyright law, with the benefit of Supreme Court decisions.

That being said...

I saw the new Star Trek movie, and I was depressed. It was quite a paradox, because I actually had a blast watching this engaging, exciting, exhilarating, fun film. But as I let it all sink in the rest of the day, I realized I actually hated it. I won't belabor why here; either you agree with me or you don't. If you do, then this anthology is for you.

Paramount Pictures, in its endless quest for piles of money, have finally completed the utter destruction of Star Trek, a process at which I feel Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had already worked very hard for several years to achieve anyhow. As any Trekkie who has writing skills, my ego tells me I could have done a better job than Berman, Braga, and J.J. Abrams. My sixth sense tells me that talented Trekkies all over the world could do better writing SATIRES* and PARODIES* and SPOOFS*. So, I want to give them the chance.

Length: 3,000 to 12,000 words

Deadline: October 31, 2009

Click on the link above for more info.

Ed. note: I am so very, very tempted. LOL! I knew I wasn't the only Trekkie who thought the movie misfired a few thrusters.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Links-A-Lot 2

Forgot these two. Addendum to today's earlier post.

Booking the Future by Ransom Stephens. This is one of the best posts I've read to date on the future of book publishing.


Kindle Swindles: I knew I was right not to buy one just yet. seems to be up to more funny business with their Kindle. I suspect they are on a slippery slope. Greed is spearheading their rise, but it may also very well bury them. There are too many other contenders out there for them to screw up now.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --


I wasn't planning on posting today, but there were so many good posts recently, I wanted to pass them on.

My friend Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is at Clarion West as we speak and she is documenting her day by day journey. Rochita is a terrific writer and her diary proves it.

Now that my time is my own, I want so very badly to attend a writer's workshop, but I can't justify the expense. I will have to live vicariously through Rochita.

She also wrote an article for Fantasy Magazine called "In Anticipation of Clarion West" which also beautifully details the steps and sacrifices involved in making the decision to go to this workshop.

Thanks to Marshall Payne for bringing the article to my attention.


Marianne Arkins succumbed to meme-itis and took the 100 Things meme. Go over and see how you do. I ticked off the number of things I've done on the list and came up with 72 out of 100. I don't know if that's bad or good, but of all the things on that list, I can promise you I will NEVER go bungee jumping.


On a more serious note, unless you've had the internet off for a while, you probably heard about the brouhaha over at RWA.

RWA offers the most phenomenal workshops, and has been a powerhouse in providing information, but the organization has proven itself discriminatory to e-published authors. When Deidre Knight pointed out their shortcomings, Diane Pershing fired back a letter in response "explaining" why RWA will not recognize ebook authors within their sub group PAN (for published authors) or be eligible to participate in the highly acclaimed RITA contest.

Ms Pershing not only came up with a weak and implausible rebuttal, but she further inflamed members by attacking Ms Knight personally, including using information that came out of personal correspondence. RWA's criteria for a professional sale is not only elitist and insulting, it is antiquated. Is RWA paying attention to the contracts print publishers are offering their authors lately? At least I get paid upfront.

RWA boasts 10,000 members. I have a feeling it is going to be quite short that number from here on out unless they change their ways.

For more information, read the article that started this all by Deidre Knight and Diane Pershing's rebuttal.

Aztec Lady also does an extraordinary job of pulling together various links on the subject and asking the right questions.

And Dear Author has an excellent post on the pros and cons of print and digital. I strongly recommend this article.


Because I don't want to end on a bitter note, let me also direct you to Jessa Slade who learned how to train her writing muse by watching the Dog Whisperer. (Dog lovers will understand perfectly!)

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Friday, June 19, 2009

Killer Campaigns: Pens & Pencils

If there was ever a useful swag item--this is it. Who doesn't use a pen or pencil? They get scoffed up at conferences faster than candy. Plus they last longer. What's not to love?

You know I'm going to tell you, right?

Pens: The cheap ones dry up almost as soon as the package arrives. Years ago I had a freelance design business and bought a couple thousand pens with my company name and phone number.

Worst. Mistake. Ever.

I was constantly testing them to make sure they worked before I handed them out.

Recently, I found a few in a forgotten box, and of course none of them worked, but my company name and phone number was still deeply embossed and very much legible.

I've mentioned in the past that I am a pen kleptomaniac. But I will toss out a pen if it skips even once. Where do your promo dollars go then? Right into the garbage.

If possible, see if you can try a sampling of pens, so you can get a feel for each one. Better to spend $200 on 200 pens that work than $200 on 2000 pens that don't.

When choosing pens, consider:

• pen quality
• ink quality
• Is the engraved name clear enough?
• clip or no clip. Many people love pens with a clip. But don't assume that's true for everyone. Consider getting a few of each kind.
• ink color. If it doesn't cost any more, I would offer both black and blue ink.

Pencils: I love pencils. Unfortunately, unless you have a pencil sharpener handy, pencils can be a chore to keep.

Show of hands. How many of you have a pencil sharpener in your house? (And I don't mean a kitchen knife, though that will do in a pinch.)

Unless you have kids (or you're an artist) it's not one of those things that lie around in the open. But if you do want to give away engraved pencils, you can put them out already sharpened.

Pencils are cheaper and you can usually find them in a rainbow of colors and designs. They last a long time too--sometimes even longer than a cheap pen.

When choosing pencils, consider:

• hardness: A #2 pencil is the standard. Don't go for anything fancy.
• width: You can probably err on a fat pencil, but don't get too crazy with the really skinny pencils. They're hard to hold and break easily.
• design: Don't let the design overwhelm what you're really trying to promote. You want your name or book titles to be the most prominent feature on the pencil.

Aside from leaving your pen and pencil booty at conferences and book signings, leave your pens at:

• Drive through banks. Leave your pen(s) in that plastic cylinder that travels back and forth between customer and teller.
• Restaurants. If you're a regular, give a big handful to your server so he can pass them out when people sign their credit card slip. Be sure to leave a nice tip too, so he can brag that an author dines there often.
• Bowling alley or miniature golf. Why use those teeny little pencils?
• Beauty salon
• Health club
• Doctor's offices. They're a big hit there!
• Leave them at work. (I was never comfortable mixing my author life with my office life. But if you are, by all means pass them around.)

Pen & Pencil dealers:
Marco Promotional Products
Hub Pen Company
Graphite Pen & Pencil Company
National Pen

For past Killer Campaign posts go here.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Let's Salsa

I had about 14 cups of tomatoes and decided to make the first fresh salsa of the season. To say I love salsa is an understatement. I LOVE fresh salsa. So you can imagine my glee when I saw all those tomatoes ripening on the vine.

Oops! Not ready yet.

This is better.

Surprisingly, I only ended up with about three pints of finished product, but it was so good my mouth is watering just writing about it now.
It is very easy to make salsa and I will show you the way my mom and dad used to make it.

You'll need fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, garlic, onion and salt. Gather your ingredients and have them ready for blending so you can dive into your salsa while it's still nice and warm.

Step 1: Coarsely chop up a medium onion, a handful of cilantro and a small bulb of garlic. I like mine garlicky, but you can skip this if you don't like garlic. (There's more than one bulb here. I needed extra for another recipe.)

Step 2: Boil your water

Step 3: make an X on each tomato

Step 4: Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water until the skin starts to come off. It won't take long.
Step 5: You can either roast your peppers in the oven (too much energy usage for me) or you can simply blister the skin of the pepper on an open flame. This is very fast and easy.

Step 6: Get your tomatoes out of hot water and carefully pull off the skin.

Step 7: Do the same with the peppers. I like to scrape the blistered skin off with a sharp knife.

Step 7.5: ALWAYS wear rubber gloves. There is nothing worse than accidentally touching your eye after you've been seeding peppers.

Step 8: For your heat level, add as little or as many of the seeds from the peppers as you can handle. I used the seeds from all but three of the serrano peppers. Did you notice I switched some jalapeno for serrano? I found some in the fridge and since they were older I decided to use them up first. Serrano is a bit hotter than jalapeno. The flavor is excellent though.

Step 9: Toss a handful of each ingredient into your blender. I like mine kind of chunky, but blend it to the consistency you prefer. Salt to taste.

Step 10: Keep repeating until you've finished using up all your ingredients.

Ta Da! Salsa.

Have some chips nearby. You don't want to miss the pure Nirvana of tasting the freshest salsa you've ever had.

I promise you, you will never settle for store-bought again.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another Name For Loser

I'm in a grumpy mood today and it's all due to a spammer.

This blog was put on modified comment moderation several weeks ago when some bozo decided to sell his wares on MY blog.

To prevent further abuse, comments on posts older than a day have to get my approval. Sometimes that misfires because I don't always realize there's a comment waiting and it ends up sitting in limbo.

Yesterday, another spammer decided to promote her book on my blog.

Let me make this clear. Occasionally, I invite authors to do a little promo. Those who comment regularly and make an effort to maintain a relationship with me earn big brownie points. I never turn down a friend if s/he needs me to get the word out on their behalf. I consider it an honor. I hang with a pretty smart crowd. Their appearance on my blog makes ME look better by virtue of association.

But if you think you can slap your blurb on my blog without so much as a polite email, buddy, you're delusional and ignorant.

Before I deleted the comment, I Googled this person. She has a book with a publisher I've never heard of, and the only other entries I found were other comments she made on other blogs.

Tell me, please. On what planet do you think that works?

I've read spam comments on other blogs and the only thing that comes to mind is that this person is a total LOSER if he thinks that kind of promotion is going to get him a following.

Well…maybe a following of angry bloggers with pitchforks.

Every Friday for over a year, I've analyzed one specific promotional venue and I've shared my findings with those of you who care to follow. In all my research, no where have I come across information that suggests bulk spamming your blurb equates to sales.

If anything, it blacklists you.

Cyber space has a long memory. A reputation for spamming will follow you forever.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody

After years of living the Bohemian life, I've finally allowed myself to tread on the dark side of traditionalism. I bought matching dinnerware.

I know. It's a shock.

I have had complete sets of dinnerware before, but as they break (almost always the dinner plates) I replace them with garage sale finds. Needless to say, it doesn't take long before everything is mismatched again.

This time, I bought two sets and I'm on the hunt for the third matching set, so if another plate breaks, I'll have extras.

Perhaps now my mother won't feel so sorry for me.
Look, Ma. I match!
I decided to go for a white dish with an embossed garden motif. White is easy to pair up with my plain white serving pieces. For formal occasions I still have my black on black china. Amazingly, it has survived nearly 30 years! But I can't seem to keep my everyday dishes for more than a year or two.

Am I the only one with mismatched stock? Do your dishes match?

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Monday, June 15, 2009


Gemini Magazine Short Short Story Contest

Entry Fee: None

Grand Prize: $100 and publication in the October Issue of Gemini.

1,000 words or less (excluding title & byline).Any style, any theme.

Open to anyone.

Deadline: August 31, 2009.


To all my horror-writing buddies (and CPs) ;o)

Fresh Blood Contest

Leisure Books, the company “leading the way in publishing paperback horror,”* is partnering with Rue Morgue magazine in association with horror fiction web site ChiZine, to present “Fresh Blood,” a new writing contest specifically for unpublished horror authors. The winner will receive a contract for publication in Leisure’s 2011 lineup, as well as a contract from ChiZine Publications for a limited-edition hardcover release, also in 2011.

Leisure is looking for finished horror novel manuscripts, either supernatural or non-supernatural, of 80,000–90,000 words. A panel of experts, including Leisure Executive Editor Don D’Auria and editors at ChiZine, will judge entries. The finalists will be announced in November 2009.

From December through July 2010, monthly competitions in categories such as “Best Summary,” “Best First Line,” “Best Title,” and “Most Frightening Scene” will run on Readers will have the opportunity to vote for their favorites, and after each deadline, entries with the fewest votes will be eliminated.

The winner will be announced in August 2010 at Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear in Toronto, Canada, as well as on the Leisure and ChiZine web sites.

Click on the link above for more info.


There's a brand new romance publisher in town. It is run by Kassia Krozser. Some of you may know Ms Krozser from Booksquare.

Galaxy Express (run by Heather Massey) broke the news the other day with a link for a great interview with Kassia Krozser conducted by Ciar Cullen.

Quartet Press looks pretty polished to me. If you are looking for a publisher, you might want to pay them a visit.

Quartet Press

Quartet Press is currently accepting queries for all genres of romance fiction, including erotic romance. We will also consider other genre fiction, provided the story contains a strong romantic plot thread. At this time, we are particularly interested in queries for erotic romance and romantic suspense.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Week's End Report

Iko is getting along famously with Tank. They act like long lost brothers! It's so heartwarming to see them play, especially when Tank brings that giant head down to Iko's level so the little guy can jump on him.

Tank gave me a scare though. Ever since his teeth cleaning, he's been vomiting bile. Not everyday, but enough to put me on alert. Dogs vomit bile all the time and it's nothing to be concerned about in most cases. But the other day he spit up blood and then he threw up his food. Not good.

Off to the vet we go. Doc thinks it's related to the antibiotics he was on. Some dogs don't tolerate them well and it may have created an ulcer. My poor baby!

He's on meds to calm his tummy and seal any tears in his stomach. I am feeding him much smaller meals more often. That seems to help.


We only got two-thirds of the compost bins up before Greg had to leave. I'll post pictures when they're finished.

We decided to recreate the bins we have at Ranch South and built three 4x8 bins. It sounds large and it is for the average gardener, but it's proved useful for us in the past. Three bins allows us to have compost in different stages of readiness. Hopefully by next year, we'll have one ready for use, one cooking, and one in the early stages of composting.

Spiders: The creature I'd love to hate. In one week alone, I have gotten bitten by spiders FOUR times.

The last bite was particularly painful and I got that when Iko wandered into some bramble that was too close to the street for my comfort. I dove in after him before he reached the barbed wire fence and came back with a puppy and a full frontal attack from the spider community.

You would think the Council of Spiderdom would grant me safe passage through their realm considering I go out of my way not to kill them. They are beneficial creatures and I let them do their work unimpeded. But this last bite-a-thon left me a little cross.

The wounds are pretty painful.


Marianne Arkins has been keeping us posted on the vole situation at her place. Considering how dasterdly they are, I'm glad I've been vole-free. (knocks on wood) The only annoying pest I can complain about are the grasshoppers. They haven't been voracious like the locust swarm in The Good Earth (great movie and book!), but they are a nuisance.

I'm hoping my future chickens will help with the hopper hoopla. I know my neighbor's free ranging guinea hens help themselves to the hoppers whenever they wander over.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Box Of Money

"A Box Of Money" is over at the Samhain blog.

Killer Campaigns: Postcards

In the art world, it's not uncommon to choose an especially well done piece of (your) work and turn it into a postcard. It's like a mini portfolio, a sample of the artist's work. We generally send them to art directors, printers, and prospective clients.

The same thing can be done with your novel. Only in this case, you are not (necessarily) showcasing the art, but rather trying to create interest in the story.

I generally see these postcards at conferences and signings. There's usually a picture of the book cover, a short blurb, and contact information by way of a web site, blog or other social networking site. A few have a short bio of the author, which I always like to see.

The postcard can be one or two-sided, but if it's designed with its original use in mind, it is usually one sided so the other side can be used to mail the card.

I always pick up postcards at cons because I like to see what other people are doing in this realm. One of the best ones I ever saw was for a horror novel. The author didn't use the cover of his book, because he was trying to market himself rather than just the book. I like that he chose a simple black and white palette, with the partial image of a skull howling.

It had minimal copy that used active words to imply horror and danger. I loved the simplicity of it all. I'm not a big horror fan, but it definitely got my attention.

When I used to design advertising, a week didn't go by when I didn't come across a client who 'insisted' we fill up the vacuum in his ad. He didn't want to see any white space. Ads are expensive and he wanted to get his money's worth.

I always tried to gently explain that he'll catch more flies with suggestion than overstating his case.

The same holds true for postcards. It is a selling tool; an advertisement that will either go through the mail or sit on a table begging to be picked up.

Try this experiment with your postcard. Mix it in with several other postcards and scatter them on the table. Which one do your eyes land on first? Why do you think that happened? If your postcard caught your eye last, send it to someone (not your mother) who hasn't seen it before and ask them for suggestions.

Artwork: If you are using it to market your book(s), your choice of art is fairly easy. On the other hand, if you are looking to market yourself as an author, you have to think beyond your book covers and more towards your brand. Use the elements that define the genre and style you write in.

History and the passage of time comes up often in my fiction, so I might use a watch or an hourglass in my graphics. It's a theme I like to write about. Try to pinpoint what it is that comes up most often in your fiction.

I think a mistake many authors (including myself) commit is trying to appeal to too many people. Deep down, maybe we're afraid our core group isn't big enough. Or maybe we think: "I write so many different kinds of genres. I want to include them all."

I learned the hard way that scattering your forces makes you less visible, not more. Concentrate on your specific audience and market to them alone. If you write more than one genre, you'll have to do twice the marketing to each specific audience.

What makes a good postcard?

• Clean imagery. Use your cover art if you're marketing that specific book. Otherwise use art that describes your style.

• Tight copy. Don't give away the first chapter. (Leave that for your web site.) Suggest, tease and intrigue the reader. Polish your back cover blurb.

• Author bio. I'm a big fan of bios. I like to know a little about the person whose work I'm reading. Stay away from political rants or personal crusades. You don't want to scare people away.

• Contact. Always include your web site, blog, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter name, and any other social network where they might read more about you.

• Mailing lists. This is probably a post in itself, but if you are not collecting email and physical addresses, you should. This is where that thing called networking comes in. Even if you don't do mass mailings. It's good to have a list and keep it updated. Next year you may up your ante and decide to start marketing more broadly and you'll be glad you started collecting this data.

Treat postcards like a great piece of advertising. For ideas, study the ads for the big time authors in the RWA newsletter. Look at magazine and newspaper advertising. Pull the examples that appeal to you and then write down what it is that works for you.

Chances are, they'll work for your readers too.

For more Killer Campaign posts go here.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

First Fruits

Yesterday, we had dinner with vegetables from the garden.


I would have posted pictures of the finished product, but by the time I thought of it I was neck-deep in cooking and prepping.

We had cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes in yesterday's meal. Today, I'll make fajitas with jalapeno, bell peppers, tomatoes and cilantro from the garden.

The garden is a work in progress since I don't know how the previous owners used it. I can tell it will need more (much more) compost and Greg is going to try to rig up the water so it can water while I'm gone.

The heat has been pretty oppressive so we are having to water regularly to keep everything producing. Being away for several days took its toll. I was afraid I might lose some of the plants but we gave them a good drink yesterday and this morning they look much better.

Today we will build the compost bins. I am really looking forward to making compost. It beats chemical amendments by a mile.

What isn't doing so well?

Snow peas did okay, but now that the heat is here, they're done until I can sow them in the fall. I think I was too stingy with the water with them. When I try them again, I'll be more diligent to make sure they always get enough to drink.

Cucumbers: I had to start them twice since we got hit by a surprise frost. The bigger surprise was that many of our other frost-bitten veggies survived. They're stunted, but they are producing.

Basil: Everybody else's basil grows like a weed. I get a pathetic single stem. What am I doing wrong? I planted it in a pot. Would it have grown better directly in the ground?

Heirloom tomatoes: They are lush and have a few flowers, but not nearly as many as the hybrid tomatoes. They are in a shadier spot and in huge pots.

Experts? How close can I move them to hybrid tomatoes without risking cross pollination?

Radishes: I know. It's supposed to be the easiest veggie in the world to grow, but I can't raise a decent radish to save my life. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I have had a lifetime of failure with radishes. Glad I'm not Scarlett O'Hara and have to depend on them to survive. LOL!

All you gardeners out there. What has been the easiest fruit or vegetable you've ever grown? Which one bedevils you every year?

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Digital Hurricane

Replace "Advertising" with Traditional Publishing and you'll reach the same conclusion.

Digital has changed everything. Welcome to the New World.

Is it for the better?

I'll miss newspapers, checks that clear in three days instead of 3 seconds, and wandering brick and mortar bookstores just to find a new author.

Progress is a hurricane that cannot be stopped. You either ride the maelstrom or fight it and die trying.

It makes me sad on several levels.

Many thanks to Small Press Blog for posting this yesterday.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Monday, June 8, 2009


If today is Monday, it must be time for Markets.

I'll be on the road all day today. We are still hauling stuff from one house to another. It's a good thing Greg is giving me a couple of years to get this done. I will need every single day--maybe more.

Ranch South, as I like to call it, is where Greg lives. I live in Obscuria North. We have to get the contents from Ranch South up to Obscuria before Greg retires.

:Shakes head:

I don't know if I'll make it. We have 35 years of stuff, and Greg doesn't want to part with any of it. I spent THREE days on one little room and didn't even make a dent.

Greg is the kind-hearted one in the family. Everything has sentimental value to him. I play the ogre and keep tossing things into the trash or the donation station.

I hate being mean, but I can't see storing all this stuff. There are tools, books, outdoor gear, gadgets, art and furniture that will never see the light of day. I'd rather they go to someone who will appreciate it and use it.

To be fair to Greg, we do have some very neat things, much of it still in mint condition. If we keep them any longer they will be bona fide antiques.

If I can get enough rooms cleaned by September, maybe I'll throw a big garage sale. We'll probably be going up to Chicago in October so the cash will come in handy. that off my chest. On to markets. Since I've been in a dog frame of mind lately, I thought this one was apropos.


Dogs and the Women Who Love Them True Story Contest

The Angel Animals Network (AAN) is accepting story submissions about dogs and the women who love them. The stories should demonstrate the benefits for a woman who fulfills a life purpose by partnering with a dog to perform extraordinary physical, emotional, or spiritual service.

Entry Fee: None

Deadline: September 30, 2009.

Grand Prize: $250

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Presenting Iko!

Puppy has a name!
After DAYS of debating what kind of dog he'll grow into, we finally agreed on Iko, from the song, Iko, Iko by the Dixie Cups.

When the name came up, we took one look at Puppy and agreed. He's a good time Charley who unlike Tank, never knew real suffering or heartache. This puppy was dumped as soon as he was weaned and we came along the next day.

Iko is sweet, charming, and innocent. I think his new name reflects that.

Please say hello to our boy, Iko. You'll be watching him grow up on this blog. I hope it's a long and happy life. One more furry baby saved from the pound.

I know everyone must know the song, Iko, Iko, but if you want to hear it again, here it is. Iko, Iko by the Dixie Cups.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Friday, June 5, 2009

Killer Campaigns: Magnets

I love magnets! The prettiest ones grace the file cabinet in my studio. But I also like the magnets that give me important information, like: the date, emergency numbers, and my favorite pizza place (which also falls under emergency numbers).

For promotional purposes, an author's magnet might be a feasible swag item for you. If the magnet is pretty and colorful, it might end up on someone's refrigerator. And if you printed your name on a calendar, they might keep it for a whole year--and actually look at it from time to time.

One reason I so rarely rely on promotional knick-knacks is because I don't believe they have holding power. Magnets are reasonably useful in that if they are not flimsy, they might hold up a menu or an important number, thereby raising the chance that the recipient of your magnet might look you up.

But look at it from the consumer's point of view. How often on your way to the fridge have you ever said, "You know, I'm going to look up Zannini and see what her book is like."?

See what I mean?

The design, the imagery and the genre might appeal on a base level, but it rarely has the ability to hold on to them once they get that piece of pecan pie out of the fridge. Pie wins every time.

I was at an indie bookstore recently and picked up an absolutely gorgeous magnet for a fantasy author whose name I'd seen before on the bookshelves. She used the cover art of her book as her background of the magnet, and I reiterate, the art was stunning.

Yet, even if you threatened to put me in a room with a dozen screaming babies, I would NOT be able to tell you who the author was or the name of her book. I love this magnet, but it did ZERO to induce me to buy her book or remember her name.

Good art, clever titles and even name recognition is not enough to make a sale.

What good swag does is reinforce your brand or your name. Giving away swag by itself is not enough to produce a sale. Promo items, blurbs, reviews, and excerpts, along with a web site or blog have to work in chorus with each other. One marketing ploy alone isn't enough. It has to be part of the whole.

So if magnets appeal to you, (they appeal to me on account of their usefulness to hold things) here are some sites to try.

Payless Magnets

While business card magnets seem to be the cheapest, you might also consider doing:

• Memo holding magnets (they look like chip holders with a magnet on the back)
• Pad magnets (a pad of paper with a magnet on the back)
• Die-cut magnets in shapes that reflect your brand
• Calendar magnets (good for at least a year)

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Email Wonky

I am 300 miles from my computer and for some reason, I can't access my home email. If you need to reach me, try the gmail account. That always travels with me.

Killer Campaigns will be late tomorrow. I'll try to get to it in the morning, but it might be later in the afternoon.

We are narrowing the field of names for Puppy. I hope it's soon. I'm tired of calling him, Hey, You.

He is learning fast! The doggie door has been a formidable barrier being double insulated and magnetically sealed, but he's learned to push through when he wants to be outdoors.

And he runs to the house door when he wants to go out too. Lordy! Is he getting housetrained already?

Please let it be. Then my sleepless nights will not have been in vain.

In The Beginning

During the early 70s, Greg and I were fascinated with going 'back-to-the-land'. My guess is it's because we're hands-on kind of people. We're not content to eat jam and bread. We want to know what goes into making jam and bread.

Unfortunately, both of us were hard-core big city kids with not a clue as to what we were getting into. It seemed silly to imagine us trying to grow a tomato, let alone enough food to feed us.

Nonetheless, we devoured Mother Earth News from cover to cover, back when it was a real teaching tool and not the glorified "country gentleman" magazine it is today. (If you ever consider this lifestyle I highly recommend the early issues from the 70s to the 80s.)

We started slowly; tilling our first grassy yard and growing the best vegetables I had ever tasted. We were hooked!

Every year we expanded the garden, trying different varieties, experimenting with new procedures. Most importantly, we were learning about our climate and soil.

Back then our paychecks didn't go very far, but our dream had always been to buy a few acres and be able to feed ourselves for an entire year.

We reached that dream in year 10, when we bought a friend's acreage. They too, had the dream, but not the motivation. We were younger, hungrier...dumber, which in hindsight helped a lot.

True story: Our first acreage was so dense with trees, I got LOST on my own property. It was getting dark and I must have been going in circles because I could never find the property fence. Talk about embarrassing, but that shows you how green I was. I knew nothing about living in the country.

By the early 80s we were hitting our stride and added livestock to our little piece of heaven. It was small stuff at first: chickens, ducks and rabbits. Then we tackled bigger animals like pigs, rheas and emus. I never could talk Greg into letting me raise a calf--but we are planning for goats next year.

We were living the dream. But silly me--I was getting bored counting chickens and canning vegetables. I wanted a real job, where my hands didn't get dirty and I wore heels instead of rubber boots.

I learned the hard way: Careful what you ask for.

In the mid 90s, I was offered a phenomenal job as an advertising artist. I was already employed as an artist elsewhere, but this was different. This was for serious money and great benefits. I had to take it. In doing so, the homestead fell by the wayside.

Still, we never lost faith that we would go back to it someday. Someday came this year, and it's been an eye opener on what we'd forgotten and what came back to us.

The climate is different and so is the soil, so there's a learning curve involved. We're older too. You wouldn't think 15 years would make that much difference, but it does in a BIG way. It's easier to get injured and it takes longer to heal. We've learned greater patience and how to work around obstacles and uncooperative muscles.

There is one more thing that's different than our original dream. Because of our age, we can no longer call it homesteading in its purest sense. I have no intention of cooking on a wood stove or doing laundry by hand. It just ain't gonna happen.

But I will grow my crops, raise my animals and try to live as green as I can for as long as I can. Besides, according to the local news, apparently it is chic to grow your own vegetables. Many people in Dallas (of all places) are raising chickens! I never would've believed it if I hadn't seen that story.

This blog is still about writing, but it will also be about our homesteading journey. If you have any interest in growing stuff, I hope you'll visit regularly.

There is nothing more wonderful than being able to do for yourself. I hope you'll like the stories that will come out of it.

Trust me, if our past is any indication, there will be some doosies.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Conference Do's and Don't's

Going to a conference this year? I posted a few do's and don't's to get you through it.

I highly recommend Tony Eldridge's blog. He has some terrific marketing tips and regularly hosts a lot of great experts on his blog. (Yeah, I know. How the heck did I get on?) LOL

Go over and visit. Put his blog on your RSS feed or Reader and pour over the archives. It's worth it! I read him faithfully.

Puppy Update

He-who-has-no-name is doing well.

Better than me.

We went to the vet yesterday. Doc verified him to be all of 7 weeks old and 9 whole pounds. He also said I looked a little sleep deprived.

He's lucky I didn't deck him. I do that when I'm sleep deprived.

It's getting better though. Puppy is yowling less and I am sleeping more.

Ahh, the tender moments of crate training.

I think we did the right thing adopting he-who-has-no-name even though we are awaiting adoption approval for the adult female. My only regret is that three was my limit for dogs. Greg is all for getting a fourth (my Aussie) but I think three is enough for now. I can't afford to lose any more sleep.

Traits I have noticed:

• He is fearless for a little guy.
• But likes to know me or Tank are nearby--just in case.
• His appetite is enormous
• And he is not fussy about what bug or plant he puts on the menu
• He has the sweetest temperament
• But doesn't approve of his bedtime hour.
I really didn't want this puppy. But I'm glad we saved him.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Monday, June 1, 2009


I could have sworn this ezine went under. Must have been a different one. Anyway, they looked very much alive when I checked them out just now. Extensive guidelines. Please see website for full guidelines.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Beneath Ceaseless Skies publishes "literary adventure fantasy": stories with a secondary-world setting and some traditional or classic fantasy feel, but written with a literary flair.

Pay & Rights: For standard acceptances, we pay 5 cents US per word, which is professional rate as defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

For this payment, we purchase the following rights:
First World Serial RightsFirst World Electronic RightsAn Option to buy Non-Exclusive World Anthology RightsAn Exclusive Period to buy Limited-Time Exclusive Audio Rights

Response Times: Our response times are currently averaging 3-5 weeks, occasionally as long as 6-7 weeks.

From the "what the heck" files:

Samhain Publishing

In the most recent issue of the RWA’s Pro newsletter (Prospects) it was reported that Samhain is closed to submissions. We’re unsure where the erroneous information came from, but we are not closed to submissions and have no plans to be. We continue to accept submissions in all genres of romance, as well as science fiction/fantasy/urban fantasy all with romantic elements. All questions and submissions can be directed to

Sub away, folks. Samhain is more than happy to look at your stuff.