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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Free Book Paradox

At what point is FREE detrimental to sales? If you follow my Back To Basics Blog and The Frugal Way Facebook page, you know I'm always sharing freebies. This includes books.

I've lost track of the number of books I've downloaded for free. Most of them are nonfiction, but the conclusions are the same. Why buy when you can get so many other books for free?

My 'To Be Read' pile is immense. The only time I buy anymore is if it happens to be a book from an author I know and can trust to deliver the goods. New-to-me authors come via the freebies. But my batting average for finding an author I really like through the freebies has been relatively small.

So do freebies help or hurt the author?

I have to filter in the fact that I'm particularly hard to please (so sayeth my husband). The law of averages says that eventually I'll find the right author for me. But even with the thousands of books published every day and so many of them offered for free or very cheaply, it's a little like being a fish in a pond with a thousand hooks but no bait.

A hungry reader might snap at the empty hook, but most of us are looking for meat. Sometimes it's the pesky fly who is constantly pimping her books. Sometimes it's the meal your buddy-fish are nibbling on.

I regularly see listings for free books from various groups. Often, the only thing guiding me are the titles and genres. To learn more, I have to investigate each one individually.

A lot of factors have to be met before I click the "buy" button. Did I like the blurb, the cover, and the reviews? More importantly, did I like the writing style? It must be doubly interesting if real money changes hands.

So does FREE help or hurt sales? I look at it like playing the lottery. You might hit the jackpot, but most likely, you'll walk away with a small prize. A little distraction, quickly forgotten by the next day.

Have you ever tried a free book? Do you think the author made the right decision giving it away for free?


This week on Back to Basics I posted a complete supply list for creating your own Pet First Aid Kit, and also a super-duper remedy for cleaning toilets.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Horse-Wrangling, Coop-Cleaning Weekend

It's a long holiday weekend in the states. Today is Memorial Day. There are no words sufficient to thank them for their sacrifice, or that of their families. If I could bequeath them anything at all, it would be peace.


Many people have the day off today. I should be outside working, but I'm forced to take a day off by default. De fault of my bum shoulder.

Over the weekend, we super-cleaned and disinfected the chicken coop with a power washer and bleach. We let the chickens roam that day, but the dumb birds kept coming back. We finally had to close the gates on them so the coop and yard could dry out.

That coop was immaculate when we were done. Somehow I threw out my shoulder and I can barely lift my arm today. So here I sit, critiquing a friend's book, waiting for the pain meds to kick in. This is my second dose and it still hasn't helped. I must've wrenched it good.

The weekend was exciting for another reason too. We went horse wrangling. Sort of. Greg and I had to go into town and we decided to take Tank with us as a treat for him. On our way back we saw this big guy turning every shade of red as he tried to keep up with a runaway horse. 

We thought at first the horse had thrown him because the guy looked beat. But no. The crazy horse escaped his pen and had been keeping just out of reach of his owner. 

Greg turned the truck around so we could pick him up and try to head the horse off before he got too close to the road, already crowded with holiday traffic. I jumped in the back with Tank and we stopped to give the guy a  lift.

Boy, was he ever glad to see us. I've had to wrangle an assortment of runaways before. Believe me, even when you're in good shape, all that trotting tires you out fast. It took a while but the guy finally eased up on the horse. Thank goodness. I'm sure the poor animal was spooked enough with all the extra traffic.

The winds have been especially fierce lately and lots of grass fires have started. The closest one was less than ten miles away. I always worry. I live in a forest. If those trees caught fire, I'd lose the house for sure. So far all the brush fires we've had in the area have been contained quickly. 

We're hoping for rain this week. That'll help a lot.

We watched Limitless on Netflix over the weekend too. It was a pretty good movie, even if some of the plot points were tidied up too neatly. In the movie, the hero takes a pill that allows him to use 100% of his brain, making him instantly focused, motivated and aware of everything. 

...if only.

So what's new at your end? Any movies you recommend? What's your plan for today? If you live in another part of the world, do you also have a holiday set aside to honor your fallen soldiers?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Facebook Friend: You're Doing it Wrong

I have a feeling some people don't understand the term: social networking. I say this because around election time the fur flies and people start posting the dumbest things. Most of the sound bites are taken out of context, or else the little bits of information are twisted to justify the argument.

But here's the thing. No matter what side you're on--no matter how sure you are--I can find a compelling argument for the exact opposite conclusion. (Learned that little trick in debating class. :grin:)

So in effect, these tirades are pointless. The posts come across as spam and it makes the poster look like a six-year old.

Everybody's entitled to an opinion and I usually ignore the vitriolic posts, but one of those Facebook hotheads posted one diatribe too many. After the fifth post on the same day, I clicked on her name and discovered I couldn't even find a nice, friendly post. She was nothing but vinegar.

I unfriended her. Give it a rest, honey. When I go to Facebook, I want to socialize. I don't want to read political propaganda.

But what if I'm wrong? Maybe people DO go there to read the trending political rhetoric. I could be totally out of touch. (Wouldn't be the first time.) So I thought I would ask you guys. Most of you have far more experience on Facebook than I do. What do you like to read when you visit Facebook? Have you ever unfriended somebody because they offended or annoyed you?

Is something fishy going on? If you haven't backed up your blog recently, you might want to do it today. Lately, the spam has been coming faster and meaner than the scorpions around here. And I noticed that a blog I normally follow suddenly showed up on my Reader with a dozen posts about travel--and with someone else's name on each post. I don't know if her blog had been highjacked or if she was the victim of corrupted code.

Makes me nervous when I see signs of a potential blog apocalypse.

If you're on Blogger, go to your Settings, then to the Basic tab, and click: Export Blog. It'll take you to a new screen that says: Download Blog. Click on Download and save the file. 

I try to do this every quarter, but maybe I'll start backing up more often--just in case something nasty is trolling around.

This week on Back to Basics I gave tips on moving, and more ways to recycle small jars and containers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

State of the Homestead

Grumble...I've been finding at least one scorpion a night. If they'd at least hide from sight when people approached, they might be tolerable, but noooo. They're bound and determined to attack even if it means their death. Those of you who've been with me for a while might remember my first death-defying encounter with a scorpion. I make no apologies for their genocide. I smash them so completely, there's hardly any DNA evidence left.

I worry mostly for the dogs. Other than Iko, the other two are oblivious to the danger. But Iko remains my steadfast early warning system. He was an early casualty of a scorpion sting and he's never forgotten.

Garden: I'm harvesting squash, onions, peppers, radishes, bok choy, and Swiss chard. The tomatoes are starting to ripen too. Greg rigged up a temporary irrigation system for the "big" garden. This is the garden for all the tall and sprawl-ly vegetables, like corn, sunflowers and sugar beets. I still have room back there. I think I might plant some watermelon too.

I'm hoping my loofah plants make it. The fruits (when skinned and dried) make terrific scrubbers. The mangels (sugar beets) have been slow to grow. Half of them didn't make it so I replanted. I'm hoping now that we have regular water, they'll do better.

Chickens: I clean out the coops and freshen them with new straw every month, but this month will be a very thorough cleaning, complete with pressure washing and sanitizing. The poor birds have been pulling their feathers out so I suspect mites. I'll dust them with diatomaceous earth before they go back in.

Home: I was extra virtuous last week and painted the last guest room, then washed the carpet. It turned out quite nice. It's a beautiful pale apricot color. Very cheerful, yet calming color.

mural non-grata
There's only one room left to paint in the house, and a certain husband is fighting me because it has a mural (from the original owners) that I want to paint over. 

It's not a terrible mural, (I've seen far worse) but I dislike the colors and I'm not crazy about the subject matter--not for this house. Something classical would be more appropriate considering our furniture and decor. But if I get my way I don't want a mural at all. Too permanent.

Dogs: Everyone is okay. I'm still a little concerned about old Tank. He's sporting more fatty tumors than before. The vet wasn't worried about the lumps. As a matter of fact, he said Tank was in great shape for a dog his age. Still, it hurts to see him slow down. Iko, on the other hand has more energy than a nuclear reactor. He desperately needs someone to run with. Neither Tank nor Mama can match his warp speed.

Maria: I've been bugging Greg for a vacation, but I doubt it'll happen. I want a real vacation with scenery and someone else washing dishes and making the bed. The problem with having so many animals is that you can't just up and leave. And there are very few people I can trust or impose upon to watch said creatures.

I loved Sedona, AZ, but I wouldn't mind visiting some place new like Oregon or Washington state. Who's going on vacation this year? Is there any place you've been that you recommend? I'm especially partial to mountains or places of historical significance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Never Left Kansas, Dorothy

There's been a growing list of well-known and veteran authors leaving their publishers, and sometimes even their agents. For the most part, the establishment has stayed out of this discussion, but then came a twist when agent, Scott Eagan used a guest post by Ann Voss Peterson (that appeared on JA Konrath's blog) to discuss this issue.

To be fair, Mr. Eagan never linked to the post, but Ms. Peterson was the only Harlequin author appearing on an indie's blog that week so it was obvious that's what he was referencing. Ms. Peterson spoke on how it was unprofitable for her to continue working for Harlequin.

I would've linked to Scott Eagan's post but he took it off his blog after some unfavorable comments appeared. Unfortunately for him, deleted posts are very easy to recover from the archives. A commenter on The Passive Guy posted the archived link and the comments from the deleted post in PG's comment stream. The comments alone make for interesting reading.

I know a lot of people out there want agents. Some of you have agents. But I lost my zeal for representation a couple of years ago. Every time I researched agents, I couldn't shake the feeling that they were working more on the publisher's behalf rather than their clients.

When I research, I RESEARCH. I read the agent's blogs and web sites. I read the blogs of their client list. I read Publisher's Marketplace on what kind of sales they've made, what kind of deals they negotiated for their clients, and for which publisher. I scout out Absolute Write for the latest rumblings of any agent misconduct. Things like: What they said at a conference, inappropriate behavior, or how they mistreated or misled an author. You'd be surprised what a little sleuthing can turn up. (I might've missed my calling.)

Do I blame agents for wanting to make money? No. But I dislike this mantel of alleged altruism and partnership with the client.

If it were truly a partnership, then they'd be more amenable to letting the money go to the author and allowing HER to divvy it up. The author is paying them for their services. They shouldn't be paying the author for her work.

And if it were a real partnership, they'd sit down and explain EVERY clause and how it could affect their client's future earnings. That's what an advocate is supposed to do, isn't it? 

Instead, authors are treated like milk cows--cows with more than one pair of lips on those teats.

Harlequin is another issue. I sympathized with Ms. Peterson because I understand sweatshop mentality. I cut my teeth on that sort of work ethic when I was an artist. I took any job that became available, working for mediocre wages. But let me tell you, it is nowhere near the agenda that book publishing pushes.

Yes, Ms. Peterson made a living. I'm sure a lot of Harlequin authors do. But they have to work their tails off, spitting out book after book just to make a decent wage. Maybe that sounds good to some of you, but even when I worked in Corporate America, I received (paid) time off and lots of other perks for way more money.

I rarely speak out about these things. It's a personal choice for each writer, and I'm not about to tell anyone how to run his career. But for me, the writing was on the wall several years ago. It just took a while for it to become self-evident.

Some authors will never leave their publishers. Better a meager wage than no wage. That too is a choice.

And I truly believe some agents are honorable and honest with their clients. There's no monopoly on greed or dishonesty in any field. While their place in the new paradigm has shrunk, there's still a need for them in some avenues, particularly foreign rights.

I urge you to put JA Konrath and The Passive Guy on your reading list--not to sway you, but to keep you informed.

This isn't Oz, and the great and powerful wizard doesn't live here. We never left Kansas, guys. Get used to it.

By the way, by sheer coincidence, I interviewed The Passive Guy, aka, David P. Vandagriff for the OWW newsletter this month.

And if you missed it, Back to Basics is posting regularly now, Tuesday and Wednesdays...and occasionally other days when someone asks a question.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Style Sheets: The Writer's Punch List

I hadn't planned on discussing style sheets until the end of the month, but Shelley Munro asked about series bibles on her blog recently so I thought I would go ahead and do it early.

Because the worlds I build are so complex, I regularly use style sheets. A style sheet in its simplest definition is a punch list of every unique detail in your story. A series bible is usually the same document but it transcends the style sheet in that it keeps track of the over-arching details like names, phrases, and other world building facts that will appear in book after book. 

Both are indispensable. It's especially useful for SF & Fantasy writers when designing aliens, languages or customs.

True Believers had an immense style sheet. Not only did I have to keep track of the Nephilim, Alturians, and humans, but the computer characters as well. 

Each aspect of the world building has its own style sheet. Some readers said True Believers had an epic feel to it. That was totally intentional. But I wouldn't have been able to accomplish it without my punch list.

I recorded religious holidays, human politics, language, and cultural habits. There was also a style sheet on time lines that not only kept track of the time of day, but the time of year. Even though I lived and breathed that story, it was too complex to do it without a guide. It saved my bacon plenty of times when I was trying to remember spellings and practices.

Readers notice when you screw up. A style sheet helps keep the facts straight as you're telling your story.

Names & slang: Every time I used a proper name or created a new term, it went into the bible. Hint: When you create a character name especially one with a unique spelling, add it to your Word dictionary so Word will correct it if you spell it wrong later on in the story.

Characters: Each of my characters had his own page where I described physical appearance, quirks, what made them angry, and what made them scared. In my new book, "Mistress of the Stone", my heroine uses sea-faring expressions unique to her. I jot them down both under "Slang" and "Characters" so I know these are distinctly hers.

Time: It is so easy to lose track of time. If the hero is making breakfast at the start of the chapter, you have to make sure you don't have him eating dinner by the end of it.

Weather: Atmospheric conditions are common in settings. Like the time line, you want your weather to be consistent. If it's sunny when your heroine looks out the window, it can't suddenly be dark and stormy just so you can match her mood.

Topography: Fantasy authors often deal with vast distances and geography. It doesn't matter where you send your characters, but stay aware of the time in relation to the geography. If your hero crosses a desert in the morning, don't have him land on the other side to a tropical paradise (unless you're talking virtual reality).

Whether you use a style sheet just for your own peace of mind or turn it in to your editor with your manuscript as a supplementary database, it will save you hours of searching for a specific detail and it will keep your story consistent from book to book.

Have you ever used a style sheet or series bible?

Other stuff: I'll probably be late answering comments today. The county in its infinite wisdom called me in for jury duty. In my whole adult life, I have never been chosen. Greg says it's because I have the look of a hanging juror. But who knows. It's a different county. Maybe they haven't heard of my reputation yet.

If you follow me on Facebook (and why shouldn't you) you saw a picture of the giant snake on the gravel road in front of my house. This was a big guy, far bigger than the one who was climbing up my office window a few weeks earlier.

There are days when I think I'd rather live in the city... 

Anybody want to place bets on whether I'll get picked for jury duty?

This week on Back to Basics we talk about cheapo gardening and re-purposing empties.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Avengers: Mini Review

Who hasn't seen The Avengers yet?

It took us a while. The first show we attempted to see was sold out so we opted to go during the work week. All in all it was full of action, but a little shy of actual story. I loved how the main characters played against each other. And Hulk, oh, Hulk. He stole nearly every scene.

I kind of wish they'd get rid of Nick Fury's character. I just don't like him or the hierarchy he's supposed to answer to. I guess Joss Whedon had to create some generic Big Brother persona, but I found it distracting to the story at large.

Love Phil, though. Everyone loves Phil.

Captain America, the noblest and least self-serving of all the superheroes seems to take over the logistics on how everyone can best serve. The others, surprisingly, follow his lead without too much argument--which is good because otherwise they'd never quit fighting each other.

The movie probably would've made more sense to me if I understood the Marvel history behind all the characters. For example: Who is the Black Widow? And what's the story behind The Hawk? I liked them both, but I would've like to have known their back story first.

I liked the movie overall, though after reading other reviews I expected to love it, and that didn't happen. Great action. Great cinematography. But with such a huge ensemble, Whedon had to take script shortcuts to get the whole story in there.

The superheroes separately were okay, but together they were rocket fuel. See this movie--if only to see the Hulk smash indiscriminately and with a wicked sense of humor. :wink:

I can't say any more than that, but those of you who've seen the movie probably know exactly what I mean. 

Have you seen The Avengers? Can anyone explain the back story to the Black Widow and The Hawk?

I know I said I'd only post twice a week on Back to Basics, but a reader emailed me with a question I couldn't answer adequately. If you have some expertise in freezing and preserving, maybe you can stop in and answer this week's question. The post is now live.

Speaking of readers, I got a lovely fan letter the other day. It just warms my heart when fans write to tell me they enjoyed my books. It makes me feel like it's all worth it.

Note: If you leave a comment about the movie, please refrain from spoilers--or put up a spoiler alert for those few dozen souls who haven't seen the movie yet.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Editing is Like Eating an Elephant

You tackle it one bite at a time.

I don't like to over-complicate my life, so I keep my editing technique simple. Whenever possible, I let Word do the tedious stuff. I also rest my brain between edits so I can review my draft with fresh eyes. 

I generally edit in several passes. Once each for continuity, clarity, POV, and scene strength.

This list below isn't inclusive, but it covers my normal modus operandi.

Typos: To catch typos and omissions, I use a clean font, anything other than Times Roman. It tricks my brain into reading each word individually instead of scanning for what I think is there.

Tracking Changes: Oh, Tracking Changes, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I LOVE this Word tool. Whenever my editor hands me her edits, I make the changes then bring them over (one chapter at a time) to a new sheet with my editor's changes already implemented. Then I switch the ink color to blue (my personal preference) and redo the edit--turning on 'Track Changes' again so I can see what I modified since my editor's initial edits.

It not only lets me read the chapter in a new light, but it helps me strengthen my word choices where necessary. Placing one scene or chapter by itself allows me to edit without the distraction of the rest of the manuscript. When I'm happy with it, I compare it side by side with my "real" draft and implement my new changes for the editor's approval. 

Chapter Hop: I like to read my chapters and POV scenes out of sequence. Often I work from back to front. This helps me pick up continuity issues.

Trust No One: Or at least be suspicious of Word's spell-check and grammar-check. It's not always right. When in doubt, double check it with Strunk & White or Webster's dictionary.

Create a Style Sheet: A style sheet is a punch list of every detail unique to your book. 

--and here is where I'll be mean and tell you to come back next week for the style sheet details. But I promise it'll be worth it. I just didn't want this post to run too long.

Profile your characters: List all your characters' physical and emotional details. Quirks, mannerisms, expressions, hair color, defects, etc. List them all so that you can refer to them later. A lot of people do this, but I also add their psychological profile. What makes them tick? What do they want most? And why can't they get it? Curious readers will want to know. 

Language inconsistencies: I do at least one editing pass to make sure each character's speech pattern is consistent. This is especially important when doing accents, expressions, and gender-specific dialog.

POV: Point of view always messes me up. Sometimes while I'm drafting a story, I will change the POV to see if it's stronger in someone else's viewpoint. It never fails that pieces of the old POV gets left behind, and I forget to switch it.

I goofed on one chapter in Mistress of the Stone, but my editor found it right away. Any time you do multiple revisions, POV is bound to be the first casualty. Save yourself the agony and run an edit strictly for POV consistency.

That's it. These are my main editing tricks. How about you? What's the hardest thing for you to edit?

Next Monday: Style Sheets

Homestead Update: Greg is black and blue, but I swear I didn't hit him. 

Yeah, I know it looks suspicious, him being married to me, but it's true. 

He was on the tractor mowing a weedy area when a tree limb smacked him into yesterday. The branch threw his glasses off and he was stunned for a split second. All he could do was slam on the brakes before something else hit him. 

Fortunately I was nearby and ran over to him when I realized he was in trouble.

His face was bloodied, and his nose swelled up right away. It took a while to find his glasses too. They really flew far. By the end of the day, he had a black eye. Poor guy. It's dangerous out here!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Canned Confidence

Gillette used to run a commercial for Dry deodorant and it always ended with the catchphrase: Never let them see you sweat. 

I should be their poster child.

I am probably the most insecure person you will ever meet. Everything scares me, or at least sends my anxiety meter off the chart. I worry about every little detail. And nobody loses sleep like I do when I'm trying to figure out a problem.

If you know me, I'm willing to bet that confession surprised you.

The only person who knows my living hell is Greg and he's been good about keeping my secret. I'm only telling you now because it troubles me when I see new writers agonize over a review or a beta-reader's critique.

Writers, both newbie and seasoned, are regularly beaten into a state of jellied insecurity. It makes me sad how easy it is to destroy our confidence. It happens to me two or three times a day.

But do I look downtrodden to you? Pfhht!

Confidence is a broad label. Some of it has to be innate. You have to draw from your well of tenacity, and if it's empty, it's a terrible drain on your well-being.

But a certain amount of confidence can be learned, or at least faked until your well has enough of a reserve to sustain you.

Remember that:
• Almost all attacks, rejections, or passive-aggressive rejoinders are SUBJECTIVE. They do not identify you. It's a manifestation of someone else's opinion--an opinion that could be mistaken, malicious or simply misinformed.

• Bad things, (and good things) don't last forever.

What can you do to improve your confidence?

• work on projects that create little building blocks of success
What good is waiting on that halo-wearing agent if you're still sitting on a book you wrote ten years ago? Try publishing in smaller markets or different venues, like nonfiction, short story, or flash fiction. Every little success adds to your self-esteem as a career writer.

• name your demon
In folklore, knowing the true name of someone gives you power. Start by naming your demon. What is it that scares you the most? What's the worst thing that can happen if you failed? Once you identify it, it won't scare you near as much as it did before.

• never let'em see you sweat
If something hurts me, I ignore it completely. I learned this in grade school. Bullies look for weakness. If you let them think something bothers you, you've already shown them the chink in your armor. By ignoring a rejection or a bad review, you've released yourself from insecurity's dominion.

• get proactive
I never sit still. If one door didn't open for me, I look for a window, a sun roof, a doggie door--I don't care. Give me a few sharp tools and I'll jimmy the lock.

I'm far from impervious. I have the same self-confidence issues everyone else has. But I've learned to take everything I hear with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila. (Your brand of devil-juice may vary.)

Wonderful reviews are good for the ego, but I never let them go to my head. And rejections might nick me, but I never let them get to my heart.

In a hundred years, what will it matter? I'll just be a footnote in a great grand-niece's family album. 


Homestead update 

No chicks yet. I might have lost the whole batch. If you follow me on Facebook, you know that ten days ago, I lost power for up to 24 hours. That incubator might've fallen to room temperature for too long.

I am a mass-murderer of grasshoppers.
I'm pretty sure I saw a wanted poster in one of their little nooks. A couple of scorpions and a snake were checking it out for the bounty money.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Back to Basics, the Blog

I never knew starting a new blog could be so stressful. I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but I was nervous. What if it failed? What if no one read it?

I'm comfy at this blog. Many of you are regular readers and commenters. We're friends and I talk to you like friends. But this new blog is different. It has to serve two purposes. 

• It must be able to deliver good, reliable content.
• It must be interesting enough for advertisers to invest in it.

The advertisers are secondary. But content is critical. I spent the last two months accumulating topics and tips. This week is purely a "get to know me" schedule. Next week is when the real fun begins. 

I haven't decided on prizes, but I think we'll have a contest to help introduce the new blog. It's contest-worthy, don't ya think?

Anyway, it's official. Getting Back to Basics is now open for business. Browse around. Click on links. And let me know if anything doesn't work on your browser. I'm going to spend this week making sure everything is filtering through Facebook and Twitter properly.   

When you visit, add yourself to Networked Blogs if you're on Facebook and Like her sister page, "The Frugal Way, Back to Basics".

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you--for all the support you've given me. I'm giddy with anticipation. I hope you like what I have planned.