I’ve been thinking about venturing into new writing waters lately, as if I haven’t been doing enough of that already with doing my first biography, my first co-authored book, editing someone’s memoirs, and doing work under a pseudonym. Anyway, now I am thinking about publishing a book in the public domain.

I came across an interesting historical character and had considered doing a biography about him. When I did some preliminary research, I discovered that he had written his own autobiography in the early 1800’s. The book has seen limited circulation and is in the public domain. So I thought, “Why re-invent the wheel? Maybe I should just reprint this book.”

I do have some issues with the original book. I would want to give it a nice cover and a better title. I would also want to do some light editing and add some illustrations.

I’ve seen some reprinted public domain book out there that have a plain cover and the interior pages are scans of the original book pages. You can see that the publisher didn’t put much effort into them so is it any surprise that they probably don’t sell? The only ones I’ve ever purchased are the ones that I have specifically been searching for for research.

Having never published a public domain book before, I wasn’t sure if there was anything I needed to do to reprint this type of book. I put the word out on some forums that I’m part of to see what people had to say. Boy! I got answers all over the place!

Some did recommend this web page, which I found immensely helpful. You should definitely read it if you are considering going this route.

I also found out that by making the alterations I wanted to do, I would be making the book able to be copyrighted because I would be making it my unique version of the book. In the future, someone could certainly reprint the book, but they wouldn’t be able to reprint my version.

So this project looks like it will move ahead. Of course, finding the time to get it ready for publication will be the real trick.

1326221518292791933Confused Squirrel.svg.hiDoes anyone else get confused when working on multiple projects? I usually don’t, but lately I find myself having trouble jumping between projects, particularly book projects. Or is this just a sign that I’ve about stretched myself to my limit.

I spent years as a newspaper reporter so I’m used to juggling multiple stories. In any given month, I write, I write about 15 newspaper and magazine articles.

I’m even familiar with multiple book projects. I tend to have a project in edits, one that I’m writing, and one that I’m researching/outlining. Of course, right now I’ve got six book projects that all have various reasons why I need to be giving them priority. Two are being edited and four are being written.

A couple of the projects are set in the same era. I would think this would make it easy to switch from project to project, but I find that when I am working on one book, something will crop up that will send me off on a thought tangent about the other book. My writing grinds to a halt while I make some notes that I can come back to, and then I have to take time to try and get back to that “writing zone” again.

I’ve have been trying to write a couple thousand words for each project a week, but I feel like I’m not making much progress on them. However, if I try to focus all of my efforts on one, then the others might slip too much that I will have trouble getting them finished on time.

That doesn’t even take into consideration what happens when some of these books come out close to each other. Will my marketing efforts wind up being split, giving one or more of the books short shift?

I love all of the projects and want to see them written. I just don’t want to find out when I think I’m writing about the Civil War, I open the document the next day and find out that I’ve been writing my fantasy novel!

Sometimes accidents can yield pleasant surprises. That’s how we got penicillin among other things.

Last week, the Cumberland Times-News ran my monthly Looking Back column. It was a two-part article, which the Editor’s Note at the start of the column told readers. The story was about a young couple in 1911 who on the eve of their wedding turned up dead in a closed room in a house full of people. You can read it here.

The column I wrote ended with the line: “The young couple were dead, but just what had happened?”

Then the newspaper stuck my tag line on the end of the column, which they add to end of every column. It read: “Contact James Rada at jimrada@yahoo.com or 410-698-3571.”

The day the story ran and for the next two days, I got calls and e-mails from readers asking what had happened to the couple. I even had one person stop by a book signing I was doing to ask about it.

These people had skipped over the Editor’s Note and jumped right into the story. Then they had read the tag line as a continuation of the article event though it was italicized and in a smaller font.

Writers don’t always get feedback on their articles, particularly if they aren’t writing about controversial topics. Sometimes you even wonder if anyone is actually reading your articles. I will occasionally get an e-mail from someone who liked one of my articles and I meet a lot of people who will tell me they read my columns and articles. It is quite nice to get such an immediate feedback from my column even if it was the result of a mistake. I know it made my weekend.

confused-boy-with-books1Sometimes it’s odd how life moves. I got into independent publishing in 2001 as a way to get my work into print for what I saw as a limited market. That market turned out to be much larger and the project turned out to be profitable.

So I started independently publish more of my books because I enjoy the control I have over the project and the fact that I make a lot more per copy sold. Certainly there are some drawbacks, but the longer I do this work, the more I find ways to work around those drawbacks. For instance, when I started publishing my own work, you had a to pay a book printer thousands of dollars up front and then find a place for all the boxes of books you would have arriving on your doorstep. Print-on-demand technology has changed all that so I have minimal up-front costs to produce a book, which has made it easier for me to do multiple projects in a year.

Now just this week, I’ve had two people approaching me to produce their projects. I’m intrigued and definitely flattered. However, I’m not sure if that is a direction I want to move at this time.

When I started out in 2000, I had in the back of my mind that I might someday publish other people’s works. I have so many books I want to write, though, and publishing other people’s works would take away from my writing time, which I never have enough of. I have four works in progress right now, plus two others that I can put off for a little bit before I have to start working on them. Then there are all the other book ideas I want to research and work on.

I am a writer. I got into independent publish because it helped me further my writing goals, but I have never felt comfortable doing all the marketing. I know it’s a necessary evil and I do it, but do I want to do it for someone else’s work?

I count myself lucky that the opportunity has presented itself, but it could have come at better time. I’ve always tried to seize opportunities, but I’m afraid that I’ll overextend myself. It would be nice to help some other writers’ dreams come true, though.

Originally posted on M J Wright:

One of the biggest challenges in writing is producing even when the well’s apparently run dry. As anybody who’s worked in a newsroom will attest, deadlines don’t wait for the muse.

Wright_Typewriter2That’s true of book writing too. Some authors perhaps enjoy the sounds of deadlines whistling past, but that’s not likely to please publishers.

Publishing is a business, you see – a serious one, with low profit margins. Production is dovetailed, and if a book misses its slot, that’s actually significant.

This is where contests like National November Novel Writing Month come in – apart from a challenge to write to length, they’re also a challenge to write to time. On average, 1667 words a day – though, in reality, some days would doubtless be more productive, others less. Remembering always that word count is a tool, not a target.

So how do you keep going when the muse has…

View original 223 more words

9780770436209_custom-91ae188bedae87f8b4facaf730d081f9dd842434-s6-c30I remember picking up paperback books when I was a kid that were filled with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoons. I loved them! Those little snippets of information peaked my interest about the world around me and instilled in me a fascination for the odd and unusual. This summer, one of the stops on my family’s Great Smokey Mountains vacation was to visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. I had hoped that it might spark curiosity in them as well.

So when I saw, A Curious Man by Neal Thompson, my curiosity kicked in. Why hadn’t someone written about Robert Ripley before? I purchased the book and enjoyed it immensely.

It is the story of Robert Ripley’s journey from struggling newspaper cartoonist to cultural icon. He came from a poor family and was teased for his buckteeth and stutter. It is a true rags to riches story because Ripley also had talent, determination, and a strong work ethic.

A Curious Man also paints a picture of a talented man whose passion for travel and oddities gave way to a life of excess and then obsession.

Ripley conquered newspapers, books, radio, television, the speaking circuit and museum circuit. Even with the help of the staff that he eventually had, I am still amazed that he could do as much as he did and still travel for months at a time.

Along the way, readers get a good picture of life during an interesting time of American history—the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and WWII. They watch the rise and beginning decline of the newspaper industry.

I found the book easy to read and enjoy. I also liked the Ripley-style callouts of interesting factoids throughout the book that Thompson called “Believe It.”

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that it continued too long for me after Ripley’s death. The battling over the Ripley empire after his death held little interest for me.

A Curious Man made me start looking around for those old paperbacks again so that I could read more about the wonder of the world.

In my last blog, I wrote about the advantages that I’ve found as a freelance writer, but there are some disadvantages, too. So just to be fair, I’ll let you in on what they are as well.

Cash flow

By this, I mean making sure that you have enough money coming in each month to pay the bills. I have clients who pay twice a week and clients who pay 6 months after a piece is publishing, which can be a year from the time I get the assignment  and everywhere in between. Trying to balance my cash flow so that I’ve got enough each month is impossible if relying on cash in hand. I’ve developed a budget of expenses. I put all income into a savings account and then at the beginning of the month, I transfer the budget amount into checking. It’s the only way I can work it.

Lonely work

Though you will go to meetings and do interviews, those things don’t give you personal, non-work interactions. Freelance writing can be lonely work. That’s why I like the old time radio shows playing on my computer while I work. They provide white noise in the background. It’s one reason why I joined a writer’s group so I can have dinner with fellow writers once a week and talk and laugh.

Discipline to work at home

It’s easy to get distracted. Oh, there’s dishes to do or a show on TV I want to watch and doing those things beats the hard work of putting together an article or marketing campaign. There’s also the problem of friends who think you’re always free so call or stop in when working so make sure to set your limits.

Overwork easily

It’s easy to work too long, too. When I was starting out, I did that to grow my business. Now when I’ve got free time, I find myself at a loss for something to do. It’s hard to turn off the work sometimes, but you’ve got to or you can burn out.

You do everything

You’re a one-man show so you just can’t write. You have to market yourself, keep the books, answer phones, etc. Don’t be surprised to find yourself spending about half of your time doing non-writing types of things.

Don’t let these drawbacks to freelance writing discourage you, though. Many of them can be overcome, or at least managed as you become more experienced and/or successful at what is a very fun and interesting career.

thAs I get ready to teach a class at Frederick Community College on making a living as a freelance writer, I figured that I would write about the advantages that I’ve found as a freelancer over the years. Then next week, I’ll touch on the disadvantages just to be fair.

Set your own hours

I work early morning before my kids get up, then I get them ready for school, work some more, break for awhile to go to Y, work, maybe do something fun, etc. You know the work that needs to be done, so you set your time accordingly. If you are freelancing part-time, this means it will fit whatever work schedule you have.

Work from home

This is a double-edged sword. On the one side, it’s been a great advantage during the bad weather. My work commute is walking down the hall from the bedroom to the den. On the other side, it means I have to work on bad weather days and don’t get a snow day. It can also be distracting in the evenings or mornings when there’s lots of other people moving around and making noise so you might need to set limits like if your office door is open, you can come in, if closed leave me alone. I can also play what music I like or some old-time radio shows. So on the whole, I count it as an advantage.

Choose your work

You can choose your work in two ways. 1) You’ll send out queries, pitching story ideas or companies about your abilities. You only send out for ideas or companies you’re interested in. 2) Once you start getting contacted about stories, you can choose what you want to do. However, if you turn too many down, you might lose the client’s interest.

Income depends on you

When I worked for someone else, I’ve had my boss tell me, “I wish I could give you a bigger raise, but the company’s not allowing it” or my wife had a job where all the raises in her department had to average out to a set number, which meant for one person to get a larger than average raise, someone couldn’t. As a freelancer, your income depends on you and you alone. If you’re a hard worker and inventive about finding revenue streams or very productive, this is an encouraging prospect. My income has grown by at least 10 percent each year I’ve freelanced.

Tax advantages

You can write off part of your mortgage and home expenses on your taxes. You can pad your retirement. I have found that there are a lot of things that I use in my business that I might otherwise have bought – computer, new desk chair, etc.

You aren’t dependent on one revenue stream

When you work for a company and get one paycheck a week, you are dependent on that company. Your fortunes rise or fall with it. As a freelancer, you can work in a variety of fields and in a variety of media.

 

So any of you freelancers out there: What are the advantages that you have found as a freelance writer?

f2632c43ce8bb590d6a191dc6e010b66I just finished reading The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell and found it very useful. How do I know? I made a lot of notes to follow up on.

This is a book for magazine writers, which I don’t come across too often. It takes you through the entire gamut of the magazine writing business from breaking in to collecting on unpaid invoices. It is also easy to understand, which allows you to get more from the book.

The format of the book was very easy to follow. You have chapters that group “rules” by subject. I guess the rules could be classified as the consensus thinking. I think if I had to define it idea behind the book is that there’s no one right way to do things. The authors list each rule that should be broken and why it can be broken. They also include plenty of anecdotal stories to illustrate their points, too.

I found that even when I didn’t agree with breaking the rule, the explanation often had me seeing how breaking the rule could be useful. Sometimes, I even changed my mind about breaking the rule.

In between each chapter, there’s a profile on a renegade writer. I didn’t find these particularly interesting, but I can see how some writers might find it useful. You can look at these profiles as rule breaking in action.

As I said, I bookmarked quite a few rules to follow up on and decide if I wanted to try breaking them. I may be too set in my ways to change on some things and other things are working fine for me without breaking the rule.

What I found amusing when I read is how many rules I am apparently already breaking in my magazine writing work. I didn’t think about these things being rules when I started freelancing. They were simply changes I made because they worked.

That’s what this book does well. It causes the writer to think about why they are doing something. If you can defend why you are doing with something other than that’s the way it’s done, then it is probably a rule you shouldn’t break. If you are only conducting your freelancing in a certain way because that’s what you were taught, then maybe you should try breaking a rule or two to see if it jumpstarts your business.

 

10629567_10205399385524332_49140035685463060_n

Besides being a veteran, the subject of my new book is an artist and sculptor. This is a panel from his illustrated diary of his time at Guadalcanal.

I am still trying to get my head around an interview I conducted this afternoon. It was the first of what will probably be many as I start working on a biography of a WWII veteran. There’s so much information to take in and digest that it’s overwhelming me at the moment. I need to digest what he told me and start to shape how I want to present his story. I’m looking at a few different directions that don’t seem like they would connect—World War II, Civil War, Art. Yet, they all do connect with this man.

I want to do this man’s story justice. I think it is pretty interesting. This is the first time that I’ve worked on a true biography. Saving Shallmar was sort of a biography about a coal town. This book will be a biography about a living WWII veteran. There’s fewer and fewer of them left, and I want to be able to tell his story so that others will know what he did long after he is gone.

Right now, if I’m honest, I’m a bit intimidated by task I’ve set for myself. I’m at the bottom of a very tall mountain looking up and hoping I can find the trail that gets me to the peak.

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