Labor Day Weekend

Is there anything greater than a three-day weekend? (Unless, of course, you have a job that requires you to work on Saturdays or Sundays. Working while almost everyone else is off, which I’ve done a few times, is a bummer.)

But Labor Day, three-day weekend or not, has never been one of my favorite holidays. I grew up in Chicago, and at that time (and possibly still today, I just don’t know), the Chicago Public Schools reopened the Wednesday following Labor Day. So Labor Day meant the end of summer freedom and going back to the grind of school. Where I live now, in a suburb of Chicago, the kids go back to school the week before Labor Day. I’d feel sorry for them except nowadays they go back to air-conditioned schools (unheard of in Chicago schools, where we sweltered if the weather was hot in June or September), and they get out of school at the end of May (the Chicago school year lasted until the end of June).

I realized I really didn’t know much about Labor Day and its origins so I did a little Googling. The first Labor Day, before it was an official holiday, was a celebration held in New York City by the Central Labor Union on September 5, 1882. In 1884, the Central Labor Union chose the first Monday in September for their annual Labor Day celebration. The first law that created an official Labor Day holiday was passed in Oregon on February 21, 1887. (That kind of surprised me. No offense to anyone in or from Oregon, but I don’t tend to think of that state as an industrial area.) In 1894, twenty-three states recognized Labor Day as a holiday, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act which made the first Monday of September a legal holiday in Washington, DC.

Did you know the Sunday before Labor Day is Labor Sunday and is supposed to be “dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement”? Neither did I. (All this ‘fascinating’ Labor Day information is courtesy of the U. S. Department of Labor website: http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm)

This Labor Day I’m not looking forward to seeing a parade (the traditional way to celebrate this holiday), or having a picnic or going to a cookout (there are bugs outside; who wants to drag food out of the house to cook or eat while trying to keep flies off the food and mosquitos off of you?). But I am looking forward to having more hours than usual to devote to writing.

That made me think that I really don’t look at writing as work, not even when, under self-imposed deadlines, I’ve written when there were other things I could have been doing (sleeping comes to mind – can never get enough of that!). Did the advent of KDP, Nook, D2D, Lulu, and whoever else is out there, change what was for the majority of writers an avocation into ‘work’ (whether we chose to view it as that or not)? If it is ‘work,’ then it should rightly be termed a labor of love, because we don’t have to do it, nobody’s making us do it, and we’d be doing it whether anyone ever wanted to read it or not (but it’s so much nicer when they do!).

Whatever it is you consider your writing to be, I hope you do end up with extra time to work on it this holiday weekend,if that’s what want to do, and if it’s not, enjoy what you do instead!

The Irony of Being An Indie Author

I think I first happened upon the idea of becoming a writer when I was in third grade. My reason for wanting to be a writer was probably the usual one: I loved to read. I loved the adventures books could give me without my ever having to leave my house (except maybe to read on the porch). I wanted to do what the authors I read did: create new worlds, new adventures, and new lives too.

Of course things didn’t work out quite as I planned. Tons of rejection letters, and, when I finally had a publisher ready to offer me a contract, that publisher was sold and the new owner decided, in corporate speak, ‘to take things in a different direction’ and no longer wanted my book — none of that was in my life plan. Then I learned about KDP, and since I’m not the most computer literate person in the world, it took me about six months and an e-class on e-publishing to figure out all the ins-and-outs of getting a manuscript ready to publish electronically. I finally managed that in January of this year, and now have four books published, and two more in various stages of preparation for publishing. (And please excuse a little bragging here as I’m so excited over this news: at the time I am writing this – Thursday, 8/21/14, around 10:30 a.m. – one of my books. Secrets in Stone, has reached #14 in its category, Romance-Gothic. I know this ranking won’t last, as it is updated every two hours or so, and I fully realize that it’s not the same as being on Amazon’s best-seller list. But considering the last time I had tried to market that book to an agent, I received an almost instantaneous automated return email rejecting it, even though there hadn’t been time for them to actually read my query. Getting that ranking enables me to say: Ha-ha, agent, I actually do have a book people want to read!)

Back to the irony: As an indie author, you are much more than just the author — you’re your own editor and proofreader; you’re your own publisher; whether you buy a ready-made book cover, hire an artist to produce one, or make it yourself, you’re your own book designer; and you’re your own marketing director. That’s a lot of hats to wear and a never-ending flow of work to get your books out there in front of buyers. I am finding with the time-consumption that wearing all these hats requires, I no longer have much time to actually read. I’m lucky if I can fit in ten minutes a day. There are no more long, lazy weekend afternoons spent on the couch with a good book. The very thing I loved enough to want to make producing books my life’s work is what I’m not able to fit into my life very easily any more. I suspect that other indie authors are having the same experience. I suppose as well that no matter what it is you choose to do with your life, it requires sacrifice in some other area. And I really, truly do love being an indie author.

It’s just that… I miss reading.

DIY Covers

If you read my series on preparing a manuscript for e-publishing, I had a link in one of the installments to an article about making e-book covers using PowerPoint.

This morning I received a promotional email from an e-book author named Naima Moonpreneur who included a link to a YouTube video she made in connection with an upcoming book of hers about making covers on PowerPoint. I have used the instructions from the article to make a cover for my next book, but I found this video quite helpful, in that it showed me things you could do on PowerPoint that I had not known about (like making text boxes off to the side and then moving them onto the cover).

I could not tell from the video what version of PowerPoint she was using. I have an older computer at home, a newer one at work, and a recently purchased laptop (with Windows 8.1, which I hate, Hate, HATE! Avoid it at all costs!!). None of the versions of PowerPoint I’m familiar with (2003, 2010, and 2013) looked anything like her version. However, I believe she lives in Europe and that may be the reason it looks different.

In any event, here is the link: http://youtu.be/Xmkm2CkC-r0 If for some reason the link does not work, you could search YouTube for it by title: Cover 1 From Graphic to Completed Cover in PowerPoint. The video runs about 14 minutes long.

I hope it will prove useful to you.

(BTW, I do not know Naima Moonpreneur — which is not her real name, that’s Dee something per her earlier books — nor am I affiliated with her in any way. I got on her email list after I had ‘purchased’ a free book she’d offered on Amazon.)

Branding – Good or Bad?

I recently took a survey from a big box store about branding. It was a word I’ve heard bandied about a lot lately but never gave much consideration; in fact, I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what they meant by it in its current use. From what I learned by taking the survey, it sounded like a way to homogenize our society. Instead of stressing originality and individualism, branding seemed to want everyone and everything (and every store) to be just like something that already existed, or at least that was the impression I got. And if that is what it means, I fear for the future. Branding smacked of pigeon-holing and close-mindedness. If we don’t recognize something as being like something we’re already familiar with, we’re supposed to eschew it? Original ideas are to be ignored? We should continue doing things in the same old manner or never try anything new because we don’t want to rock the boat? Is that the kind of world you want to live in?

Branding, as in brand-name recognition, can be a good thing. If I’m going to the grocery store, or going to buy some appliance, large or small, I like buying a product whose name I recognize as having a good reputation. I feel more assured that I’ll get a quality product for my money. And back in the days of the Wild, Wild West, branding your cattle was a good thing, too, as it kept those dirty varmints from stealing your livestock.

But what they mean by branding now (unless I have completely misunderstood it) is something I want to avoid.

Does branding have any relevance to indie authors? I think it does, but the choice of giving in to it or not is ours.

When you first start writing, you’re learning your craft and exploring genres and styles. Do you want the very first book you write to ‘brand’ you so that from then on, you’re expected to write only mysteries or sci fi, or whatever genre your first book was? Maybe you do; maybe whatever you wrote is your niche and you want to stay with it. That’s fine, as long as it’s your choice. If your first book was sci fi and your second historical fiction and your third about a serial killer, do you want to be criticized because your books went off brand? Shouldn’t the writing be the important part, the story that grabs the reader and keeps his/her attention, not that all books you write match some predetermined expectation? As indie writers, I think we’re lucky in that we don’t have an editor or a publishing house dictating what we should write (it shocked me when I learned that many editors assign books to their writers; what happened to using your own imagination?). We indies still get to choose for ourselves — as long as branding doesn’t completely entrench our society.

Think about the fall of the Roman Empire. As it started its decline, in an effort to remain strong, their leaders declared every man had to hold the same job that his father had held. It was their way of keeping things under control. Or was it an early form of branding?

Stand strong, don’t be pigeon-holed, and most of all, enjoy what you’re writing!

The Best Advice That I Can’t Give

In trying to come up with a subject for this week’s post, I began to reflect on what the best advice I ever got about writing was. I came up with two things, but I can’t give complete information on either of them. But I will share with you what I can.

I think, like most prospective writers, I spent many years starting and not completing many manuscripts. I’d read many books about writing and taken writing classes, but I was still unable to cross that finish line and type ‘The End’ on anything but the shortest of short stories. Then I read an interview with a newly published first-time author who credited her ability to finish her first novel to a book she had read. Therein lies the problem: I can’t remember the name of the book. I think the author of that writing book was named John Gardner, and I checked on Google and found there is an author by that name (now deceased) who did write two books about writing: On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction. Were one of those books the book the newly published author mentioned? I have no idea. I know I have neither of those books on my bookshelves, but perhaps I checked it out of the library at the time instead of purchasing it.

So while I can’t tell you what the book was, I can tell you the salient advice it gave: Write a page a day, every day, and at the end of a year, you will have a completed book. Maybe it even expounded on that and advised that two pages a day would get you two books in one year’s time.

I think something clicked in me when I read that. It made writing a book seem far less overwhelming. A page a day? Easy. Ten or fifteen minutes on a good day. A lot longer than that on a not-so-good-day, but as long as I knew I could stop when I reached the bottom of the page on a bad day, I could get it done. Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to stop at just one page and there have been glorious days when ten to twenty pages just flow from my fingertips. The important thing to remember on those very productive days is that just because you’ve written twenty pages, you can’t take the next 19 days off. Consistency is the key, that and perseverance. You write your minimum page a day even on those days when you’re beat and you’ve fallen into bed before you realized you didn’t do your writing yet, so you get up and get it done. The reward comes when you get to type those six little all-important letters: The End.

The second piece of good advice came from a book I do still own, but I have no idea how I first came across it. It is called Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham, and was first published in 1968. I never had any driving desire to write for children or teenagers, but I think I picked it up because I thought that books for those ages have to be pretty engaging since most kids have pretty short attention spans, so I thought it might contain some ideas that would translate well to adult books. I haven’t looked at this book for years but flipping through it today, you can tell it’s pretty outdated in many areas; after all, it was written at a time when people wrote on typewriters, not computers, and you could still send actual manuscripts directly to a publisher — no agent needed — and had to include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope, in case you are familiar with that term) because there was no such thing as e-mail, and mail was just that, mail, not snail mail (it was, in fact, much faster than it is these days).

The thing in this book that I found helpful was the “Twelve-Point Recipe for Plotting” in Chapter 12. While with the previous advice, it was my faulty memory that kept me from being able to share its source with you, in this case it’s my niggling sense of ethics that’s preventing me from reproducing that information here. It is, after all, copyrighted material. I believe the author is dead (which doesn’t void the copyright), and that the book is probably out of print, but as someone who is now a published writer (even if it’s only in e-Books), I feel obligated to show respect for the author’s work and copyright. Looking at the ‘recipe’ now, I can say it’s pretty simplistic: twelve questions whose answers would basically give you an outline for your book. But I am not one who does well with outlines, and I think that is why I responded favorably to the question format. The questions are pretty basic: the main character, the antagonist, the main character’s goals, obstacles, and struggles, what happens in the climax, the outcome of that, and the theme of the book. Prior to reading this book, I had been a ‘fly-by -the-seat-of-my-pants’ kind of writer, just sitting down and going at it. These questions, which I no longer formally use, gave me a better sense of direction and were what saw me through to completing a book-length manuscript for the very first time.

I am not promoting these books as something a newbie writer should purchase. To the best of my knowledge, the information I’ve encapsulated here is the best that they contain. However, I did check on Amazon, and Gardner’s book On Writing Fiction is available there (though I’m not sure that’s the one with the page-a-day advice) and Wyndham’s book is also available from 1 cent upwards (of course you end up paying, what is it, $2.99 or $3.99 for shipping now, so you end up paying 300 to 400% more for the shipping than the book).

So there you have it, what I considered the best writing advice I ever received: Write at least a page a day unfailingly, and have at least a notion of where you want to end up with it.

The best news of all for writers these days is that you don’t have to wait for the powers that be at some publishing house to accept your book or send you into the depths of despair when they reject it. You can publish it yourself on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or one of the other e-publishers, and see where the chips fall.

Happy writing!