thSo it’s tax season, which sucks. I work on my taxes a bit at a time because I have to gather tons of documentation to do them. When I look at my final business income, I often wonder could I make more at a steady job instead of as an indie author.

The problem is that it’s hard to compare apples to apples.

As an indie author, I have the pay the business side of FICA taxes as well as the individual side. I don’t have an employer who matches my 401(k) donations, pays sick time, or picks up most of my insurance premium. I also regularly work more than 40 hours a week, which reduces what I make on an hourly basis.

On the other side, I don’t have to pay unemployment taxes. I also get to take deductions for my car, phone, internet, and home office that I wouldn’t get to take as a regular employee. Then, there’s the fact that I don’t have a commute, which saves me hours each week that adds to my hourly rate.

I’ve never been able to try and make an accurate comparison without taking more time than it’s worth. I haven’t even been able to make a ballpark comparison between the two that I have thought was worthwhile.

One thing that was nice was that I am responsible for what I make. When most regular employees were seeing little to no pay raises a few years ago, I was making double-digit increases in my income.

In the end, I have come down on the side that I love being an indie author, and with that, I have to take the bad with the good.

Still, if anyone has a worthwhile way to compare indie income with employee income, I’d love to hear it.

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51aThcRqsrL._SX332_BO1204203200_I became a big fan of the BBC series Poldark this year. I’m not quite sure why because British historical drama is not my typical viewing fare. However, I got caught up in the characters and their stories. I also loved the scenery. It reminds me of how the setting of Longmire was almost a character in the stories in that series.

I then discovered that not only had there been a 1970s BBC Poldark series, both series were based on books by Winston Graham written in the 1940s.

I read Ross Poldark, the first book in the series and enjoyed. Usually, I enjoy books more than their movie or TV adaptions, but I think I like the TV series a bit more in this case. That’s not to say I didn’t like the book, but I might only give it 4 stars, whereas, the TV series gets 5 stars.

Ross Poldark is a man who has returned home to Cornwall after the Revolutionary War. He is a changed man because of the war, and he returns to find his hometown changed. It is deep in a recession. His father has died, and the woman he loved is about to marry his cousin.

And so, Ross begins to build himself a new life. He tries to get over his feelings for Elizabeth, his former love, but it is hard when she is now family.

As he begins to try and restore his family estate, he realizes that he no longer believes in the boundaries that society has placed on his social class. He doesn’t feel comfortable with the genteel nor the working class.

He hires an abused 13-year-old girl named Demelza to help in the kitchen in his home. As she begins to work to become a good servant, she also finds her world expanding and she finds herself becoming a compassionate, strong-willed woman. The first book in the series takes place from 1873-1787, which allows Demelza to mature from 13 to 18 years old.

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Demelza and Ross Poldark from the BBC series.

 

Graham’s writing is beautiful and engaging. I did have to sound out some of the accents that he tries to duplicate, though.

Because of the four-year span, it seemed like the book was taking it’s time to move from scene to scene. Maybe I am just used to the TV series where months or even years passed between episodes and you only realized it because a baby in one episode is a toddler in the next.

If you are a fan of the TV series, I definitely recommend reading the books. You’ll recognize a lot of shared scenes between the two, and you’ll even get some bonus scenes that didn’t make it into the series.

Note that there are a couple of big differences between the TV series and the book. The biggest is that Demelza is only 13 when she first appears in the book. They never note her age in the TV series but she is definitely not 13. Also, George Warleggan is not the immediate enemy of Ross in the book. In fact, he barely even appears in Ross Poldark.

I enjoyed the book immensely and read through it quite quickly. I am now on the second book in the series and wondering when the fourth season of Poldark will be released on BBC.

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audiobooks.jpgLast week, Rosemary Hutchison spoke to the Gettysburg Writers Group about audiobooks. She is an avid listener of audiobooks and researched how indie authors go about producing audiobooks. She and her husband, author Will Hutchison, were considering turning at least one of his novels into an audiobook.

I had my first novel turned into an audiobook years ago. How long ago, you may ask? Well, it was so long ago that the audiobook was put out on two cassette tapes. Also, I was given the task of cutting my book down to fit on three hours of recording time, so needless to say, it was not an unabridged version like today’s audiobooks are. I’m not sure I even have a cassette player in my house to play that old audiobook.

My, how things have changed!

According to the Audio Publishers Association, the audiobook market totaled $2.1 billion in 2016, which was up 18.5 percent from 2015. It was the third consecutive year that the market grew by nearly 20 percent.

Here are seven items that Rosemary came up with when considering e-books.

What type of audiobook do you want to do? The typical audiobook is narrated by a professional reader. You pay for and download the audiobook to your device and you can listen to it at your leisure. The most popular site for this type of book is Audible.com. The other form of an audiobook is a podcast that you stream on the internet. This is generally a free service.

Is it a good idea? Rosemary said one very attractive aspect of audiobooks is that the market is not overcrowded. This means it should be easier to attract readers than it is for print and e-books.

How much does it cost? This could be why there aren’t as many audiobooks as print and e-books. Rosemary estimates that at the low end, it will cost $5,000 to produce an audiobook. While there are royalty sharing options that reduce the upfront expense, the audio engineer cost is a separate fee. Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) is a popular site that matches authors with narrators. It will also provide audio engineers for the books.

How to choose a narrator? Some fans of audiobooks look for books narrated by their favorite readers, according to Rosemary. This makes the choice of a narrator very important. Will your narrator need to do accents or both male and female voices? “A truly great narrator is an actor who can make every sentence, regardless of how banal, sound exciting and appealing,” Rosemary said. As you listen to narrators auditions, think about whether you would want to listen to that voice for hours.

What happens after the book is recorded? Having the narrator record your book is like writing the first draft of the book. Then you send it to a sound engineer, who serves as an editor. The engineer polishes the recording to regulate the pacing and volume. The audio engineer charge can range from $500 to $15,000.

How about the cover? If you are making an audiobook of an existing book or e-book, use the cover of that book.

How do you promote an e-book? Your author platform becomes the basis of your marketing efforts. Audiobooks do have some drawbacks. For instance, you can’t do an audiobook signing or sell them at a festival. On the other hand, you can stream clips to websites. Play to the strengths of audiobooks as you market them and be creative.

In the end, Rosemary and her husband chose not to do an audiobook because it seemed that thousands of copies would need to be sold to begin making a profit.

If you’re considering adding audiobooks to your offerings, ask Rosemary’s questions about your book and see if it will be a good fit for you.

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2061471151-rijagd4irI’m often told that I get a lot done in a day, so I must be a good time manager.

I don’t think so.

I think I get a lot done in a day is because I have a lot to do. One of the things about being self-employed is that unless you want to pay someone to do it for you, you have to do everything. So not only do I have to be an author, I have to be a salesperson, book designer, social media marketer, blogger, accountant, PR rep, graphic designer, and more.

My to-do list every day is longer than two people could finish. It helps that I don’t have a long commute that eats up an hour or two each day. It also helps that I’m finding new technology all of the time that helps me automate some of the routine things that I need to do.

So even when I accomplish a lot each day, I always know that more needs to be done. I just keep chipping away at the list like a man trying to eat an elephant. I take small pieces, knowing that eventually, I will finish the whole thing. I do a little bit of each project every day to keep them all moving forward. It takes longer to finish any individual project, but I don’t fall behind on any of my projects. Doing things this way means that if I run into a problem with one of the projects, I have the time needed to fix things without having to pull an all-nighter. It’s something that I learned to do in college while taking a full course load and working a full-time job.

Since college, I’ve learned two other techniques that help me.

The first is that I reprioritize my list every day. Projects that are due sooner are at the top of the list and get a bit more attention. I have found that by doing this, some projects consistently fall to the bottom of the list, and I might not even need to do them.

The second thing I did was to watch less television. Some studies show that the average American watches five hours of television a day. Now I’m no saint. I still watch an hour or two a day, but that still saves me three hours a day. Also, I stream my shows or watch DVDs on my computer on half of my computer monitor and work on other projects on the other side of the monitor; nothing complicated, just routine work.

One final thing is that I have gotten used to things getting done a little slower than I would like, but they get done. That’s the important thing.

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a_team_20My dad used to watch The A-Team when I was a kid and the main character. The main character, John “Hannibal” Smith, was known for chomping on a cigar and saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

I know how he feels. I’ve had this historical novel project in mind for at least five years, probably more. I knew I wanted to do a novel set around the 1922 national coal strike set in Western Maryland. I’d written about the strike in a couple articles, and it had come up in a non-fiction book that I’d written. It seemed like a rich setting for me to work with. The strike seemed like it would have a lot of action and drama.

Previously, my efforts in historical fiction have either been my family saga, Canawlers, which is set on the C&O Canal or action-oriented books as in The Rain Man or October Mourning. This novel I envisioned as being more action-oriented. However, I’m beginning to wonder about that now. It may wind up being a very character-driven story.

I had many false starts with the book. I’ve probably written the opening two or three times. I’ve written different scenes. I’ve got it outlined, and have done a lot of the research I needed. Yet, they didn’t work. Something was missing. It wasn’t coming together.

Every time that I put the book on my schedule as a project that I wanted to finish, I’d get started on it and then get distracted by another project. For me, when that happens, my belief is that if I’m writing something that I can’t stay interested in, I’m not going to write something that a reader will be interested in. Plus, I need to maximize my time, and if I’m struggling to push through writer’s block on a project, that is time I could have been doing something that pays.

I actually had this project on tap as one that I wanted to release this year as a herculean effort to produce four books in 2018. I’m putting the first book on the schedule to bed now and doing work on the second book.

Then all of a sudden this past weekend something clicked inside my head and pieces started falling into place for how I could structure the story, which has a working title of In Coal Blood. However, even though I’ve loved that title for a while, I’m not sure it will fit the book that I’m writing now. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my title caused me to think of the book differently.

I spent all weekend writing notes about characters, outlining section of the book, and writing scenes. I’m really liking what I’m coming up with. I think this has been the turning point for this project. I believe that this year will finally see the publication of the story. I think that I may even switch it with the project that I should be working on.

I had this happen once before when I hit a major stumbling block with my first historical novel. I actually got about halfway through the draft, and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I banged my head against the wall for a long time before I finally laid the book out chapter by chapter on postcards. That’s when an epiphany hit me that a major character who was supposed to survive the story needed to die. Once I wrote that into the story, the floodgates opened, and the book was easy to write from that point on.

That’s how this has happened. I think the key point this time was that I needed to make the story more personal for my main character. Originally, he had no ties to where he was. He was being sent as an undercover Pinkerton agent into a community to infiltrate the miners’ efforts to unionize. It was a job and that was pretty much all it was. Then I decided to connect him personally to the community and have him face some of his demons.

He was always a WWI veteran, but I began to think of him as a man who had joined the army at the beginning of the war to escape the mining life. After the war, he did not return home because his parents had died from the flu. He had missed their funeral because he was still in Europe. He still works for the Pinkertons in Baltimore as an undercover agent. However, now I have him returning home because he was offered a job that would pay more than usual because of his connection to Western Maryland. He is also trying to get away from the memory of a failed romance in Baltimore.

By connecting him to the community, the book is now so much better for it. It is all coming together. I’ve created new characters and fleshed out the ones I already had.  This is giving me a better understanding of who these characters are, and with that better understanding, I am so looking forward to writing this book. I’ve got so many ideas. Now my problem is getting my other work complete because I’m spending so much time on this story.

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UntitledHere’s the cover for my next book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories and Hidden History Along the Potomac River. It is also the third book in my “Secrets” series.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 29 true stories about the canal and 67 photos and illustrations. My favorite stories include:

  • The chapter about where the original destination for the C&O Canal was. Hint: It wasn’t Cumberland, Md., or the Ohio River.
  • The sad story of the Spong family and how they met their tragic end on the canal. This one might give you nightmares if you’re a parent and even if you aren’t.
  • My third-favorite story is the one of about the connections between the canal and the JFK assassination. Let that sink in. The C&O Canal closed in 1924, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and this story takes place in 1964.

It should be no surprise that the C&O Canal is a favorite topic of mine. I’ve written three novels, a novella, and dozens of short stories about it. I’ve even got an outline for another non-fiction book that I want to write about the canal.

One thing that I find fascinating about the canal is that although it closed in 1924, we are still learning new things about it nearly 100 years later.

Secrets of the C&O Canal will retail for $19.95 when it is released next month. You can pre-order a signed copy and get it shipped free to your home (U.S. addresses only) at this link.

If you’d like to take a look at the other books in the series, take a peek at their Amazon pages.

3 Secrets

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Happy-New-Year-2018-clipart-images-1024x640Welcome to 2018. I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons.

Last year was a great year for me on the business side of things. I sold more books and earned more money than I ever had as an author-entrepreneur. Hopefully, I’ve learned enough to replicate the results for 2018 and build on it. I did a lot more marketing last year and a lot more examining of the results of the marketing.

I had a couple missteps at the end of last year. One, I can correct. The other I will just have to keep in the back of my mind.

The thing I can correct is that I misjudged the demand for one of my new books and some stores ran out of copies. Not only was I embarrassed to have to tell the stores that I couldn’t get them copies before Christmas, I lost potential sales. This year, I will make sure to order more copies of my newer books for the Christmas season.

The thing I couldn’t really plan for was a customer who over ordered books for a fall event and then returned half of them in December. At that point, I didn’t have enough time to make up for the lost income by the end of the year. It wasn’t a crippling thing, but it broke the growing momentum I had been on the rest of the year.

I’ve got book projects planned for this year, and I have even made progress on all of them coming into the New Year, which makes it more likely that I’ll be able to get them out on time.

Since January and February are relatively slow times for me, I can hopefully get ahead on some projects and layout my marketing plan for rest of year. I’ve hit the ground running and plan to keep going.

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rrI’ve written about getting ideas from dreams before. Well, the other morning I woke from a dream around 4 a.m. It was a neat story that as I thought about it loosely tied in with a novel idea that I had started work on years ago. The images were still fresh in my head that I actually got out of bed to start writing it down

Then, even as I was writing, those dream details started getting fuzzier. I managed to get a decent representation of the dream down on paper, but as I looked it over, I realized that it wasn’t the same thing that I had dreamed. Things were missing that I just couldn’t recall, I had filled it in with general statements.

I will go over it again my recollections again and try to create a coherent story line. Then the story will go into my tickler file. By the time I pull it out to write the story, it will have hopefully jelled into a more complete idea.

I don’t know what the final story will be like, but I hope I can capture the excitement that I felt while I was dreaming it.

The morning following that idea dream, I work up again with another idea dream. It was a completely different dream that I anxiously tried to capture on paper. The problem was that try as I might, I could only remember that this dream took place on an island.

So what is it that allows someone to remember one dream and not another? I don’t know if I would want to remember all of my dreams. Most of them probably wouldn’t make sense. I would like to remember the ones that wake me up, though.

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Empty_supermarket_shelves_before_Hurricane_Sandy_Montgomery_NYI’ve always thought that it would be a nice thing not to sell out of books. I’ve had it happen a couple times at festivals. It happens near the end of the festival usually. It’s flattering at first because there’s such a demand for the books.

In the case of festivals, I usually wind up taking orders and offering free shipping for delivery during the following week. Not everyone takes up the offer, though, and I undoubtedly lose some sales.

Those lost sales have slapped me on the head this month.

My book, Secrets of Garrett County, came out near the beginning of the year. It sold well, but sales had leveled off. I thought I had enough to meet the demand for the holiday season. Then in the middle of November, a big order came in for the title. I was able to fill that order, but it pretty much wiped out my inventory.

I ordered some more, but once we’re into the holiday season, it takes much longer to get a shipment. Usually, I can have a book ordered delivered within a week after placing it. Currently, I have an order that I placed 12 days ago and it still hasn’t shipped yet.

Meanwhile, in the past week and a half, I’ve had three stores and two individuals contact me trying to get copies of the book. I sold out of my last copies this past Saturday at a book signing at a store. The store owner wanted me to leave behind 10 more copies, but I couldn’t.

So how many sales won’t I get because a customer doesn’t want to wait until after Christmas to get their book? It’s a unique book, but it’s not an iPhone. People will just pick out another gift or another book, and I’ll lose the sale.

So it’s flattering that the book is in demand, but I need to do a better job of keeping books in stock. Even my 15-year-old son gets this. When I was preparing for a show that I had run out some titles before, he told me, “It’s better to have one book left at the end, than no books.” What he was telling me was that with one book left, at least I know I had met all the demand. With no books left, you’re not sure how many sales you lost.

I wonder how Santa keeps up with demand?

Usually, I do a better job managing my inventory. As an idie author, you have to otherwise, bookstores won’t want to work with you if you can’t get them copies of your titles.

I looked at the problems that I ran into this year and have made some adjustments for next year.

My problem this year has been that I’ve done a lot more fall festivals than usual. It has hindered my efforts to build up holiday inventory.

Next year, I plan on increasing the minimum number of copies that I have on hand before I reorder, to increase the size of my orders, and to place my holiday inventory orders at the beginning of November rather than the middle.

My hope is that these changes will keep me with a supply of all my titles. If I’m lucky, I will still run into supply problems, which will mean that demand continues to increase.

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bible-dream.jpgI get ideas from a variety of different resources; things I see or hear, newspaper articles, something I read in a book, research for other articles. One of the most-unreliable resources is my dreams.

As I’m sure you know, dreams can be weird. Mine (at least the ones I can remember) can be very disjointed. People jump in and out of the scene without reason, scenes can change drastically and might not even be realistic.

Every once in a while, something about a dream strikes me that it might make a good scene in a story or even the basis of a story. I wrote a horror story years ago called “The Grand Illusion.” Most of that story, including the main character of Panfilo Vasquez who dressed in a lime-green tuxedo, came from a nightmare that I had. Luckily, the nightmare was scary enough that I woke up from it and wrote what I could remember down.

Because of that experience, I tend to keep a pad and pen next to my bed for just such times. If I wake up from a dream that I think is interesting enough for a story, I’ll make some notes about it because I know that I won’t remember it when my alarm goes off in the morning.

That has happened more than once.

A few months ago, something a bit different happened. I woke up from a dream and scribbled down some notes about the dream. When morning came, I remembered enough that I had made some notes about a great story.

I picked up my pad and looked at my notes. They were jibberish. Now, it might be that I wrote out the dream precisely as I saw it in my head, and that the dream was just too disjointed. More likely, I was still half asleep when I made the notes.

Either way, I feel like I lost another great story idea.

That’s frustrating to me when it happens because although more often than not, I can’t use the dream idea, they represent some very creative ideas. My subconscious is connecting lots of bits and pieces into a narrative that I might not have considered. Using my dream ideas, helps move me outside of my comfort zone.

I don’t consider my pad a dream journal. Each dream goes into my idea file to be reviewed and considered later.

I just wish that I could remember them all so I can consider them later.

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