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Chuck Caldwell and I at his home during an interview he did with the Hanover Evening Sun. For more Evening Sun photos from the interview, visit here.

I had a presentation this past weekend at the annual WWII Weekend at the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg. Now, I’ve been given an average of two presentations a month for the past couple years, but this one made me nervous.

It was a talk about Chuck Caldwell, a 92-year-old WWII veteran whom I got to know while writing his biography. I had spent about two years working on the biography, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy. So I knew the topic.

Why was I so nervous?

I think it was because I know the audience would have preferred to have Chuck speaking to them. Heck, I would have preferred it and attended. However, Chuck spoke at the weekend two years ago and the heat got to him and he collapsed. Since that time, he’s been gun shy about going back.

It just felt odd for me to be talking about the life of someone who was still alive. Some of the audience members would know Chuck. What if I said something different from their memories? What if they thought that I didn’t do Chuck’s Forrest-Gump-type life justice?

I was nervous because I really wanted Chuck to proud of the job I did even if he wasn’t there.

Well, the presentation went fine. Once I got started, I only rarely looked at my script. I even started throwing some anecdotes that really showed the way Chuck has interacted with history. For instance, one time during an air raid on Guadalcanal, he and another Marine dove into the nearest air raid shelter for cover. Well, inside that shelter was none other than Marine General Vandergrift and Army General Patch discussing the Army’s takeover of the island from the Marines. Chuck and the other Marine decided to run back out and face the Japanese bombs rather than the two generals.

Chuck Caldwell is one of the greatest people whom I have had a chance to meet and I’m glad I have gotten to know this American hero.

Some other posts that you might enjoy:

canstock9790341When I used to work as a reporter, I didn’t have a whole lot of leeway in what I wrote. I had a beat and it was my job to cover as much as I could in that area. A lot of times that meant I was writing about meetings or events that I was not too interested in. I used to come up with some great ideas when I was writing for a newspaper, but I couldn’t write the story because it wasn’t part of my beat.

That’s one of the things that I like about freelance writing. I write about topics that interest me far more often than when I was a reporter. The drawback is that usually I have to be the one to pitch the story to a magazine or other media outlet.

The way to make that pitch is with a query letter. There have been books written about how to write a query letter and they are filled with lots of examples that you can use as patterns. So if you are really having trouble putting a query letter together, I would suggest borrowing one of these books. Check out the list on Amazon here. You can also check out writers’ web sites. One good place to visit is Writer’s Weekly. There are lots of different articles about what to do and not to do when writing a query.

It all comes down to this: The sole purpose of the query letter is to hook the editor, intrigue him or her, and make them want to learn more.

In that respect, a query and your article work the same way. They both need to hook the reader. So that first paragraph is very important. Many times, the first paragraph in my query also ends up being the first paragraph in my article. If it hooked the editor and got me the assignment, then it can hook readers and keep them reading.

After I catch the editor’s attention with a paragraph or two, I lay out the article I am proposing. If I have a title, I’ll add that, but mainly I’ll let the editor know what the article will be about, who I will be interviewing, and any other resources I have that will help paint the picture that I am the person the editor wants writing the article.

The next paragraph is where I lay out my qualifications to write the article. I list pertinent publications that have published my articles and that I have won 25 newspaper writing awards.

Finally, I wrap it up by letting the editor know how to get in touch with me and asking for the assignment.

My queries aren’t long, but I have found that this is the format that works best for me. I have sent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of queries out over the years. This is the format that seems to get me the most assignment.

Check out the query letter books, though, and try a few of the formats that seem to catch your attention and see how they do. I occasionally change my format if I think the subject lends itself better to something different or I see a different type of query that catches my attention. Always look for ways to improve.

A couple other points to consider when writing your query:

  • Always check and see if there are writer’s guidelines. Nowadays with just about every publication having a web site, you will often find them there. Even if you don’t you will see current articles and be able to judge the lengths.
  • Consider writing for a department when trying to break into a new market. Editors will usually assign large feature articles to writers whom they know will deliver. If you are trying to break into a new market, pitch an article for one of the magazine’s departments. These are smaller pieces and less important to the magazine, which means the editor has less risk by assigning it to a new writer.
  • Address the query to a specific editor. Unless otherwise stated in the writer’s guidelines, find out the name of the editor who handles the type of article that you are proposing. This can be found by looking at the magazine’s masthead, which lists the magazine’s staff.
  • Use only published clips. If a magazine asks for clipping, use only published clippings. Scan them into your computer and attach them to your e-mail query. If you don’t have published clippings, then simply don’t attach anything.

writersblockI realized today that I’ve got writer’s block although I’m still writing around 6,000 words a week. I’m writing articles, blog posts, newspaper columns, and presentations. What I’m not writing is my next book project.

So can that be considered writer’s block? After all, I’m still writing. I’m just not working on the projects that I want to be writing. Even when I free my schedule up so that I’ll have time to write a few pages of my new book, I still wind up doing something else.

At first, I thought it might mean that the new book just isn’t working. I’ve been dabbling with three potential book projects, though, and I’m doing very little work on any of them.

Has anyone had this happen to them? I didn’t even realize it at first. Since I was writing, I thought everything was going fine. Writers write and I was writing. It was only when I started trying to focus on writing my book that I realized I had other things I could be writing.

Now that I’ve recognized the problem, I’m going to redouble my efforts to get some of my book writing done. Hopefully, I can break through the problem.

Some other post about writer’s block:

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI recently met another author at a festival where we were both doing signing. I was impressed when she mentioned the number of books she had been selling at some of the festivals in the area. Then she told me that she only made an average of $2 a book, meaning after she deducted the cost of the book and any promotions from what she received, she was left was $2.

She also said that her goal was to be able to be a full-time writer. I asked her why she didn’t raise her book prices then. She said she wanted to get the books out to as many people as possible.

I was struck by this. I am a full-time writer and I would like get my books read by as many people as possible. However, if I reduced my paperback prices so that I was making only $2 a book, I doubt that my sales would increase enough to make up the difference.

Here’s why.

My average gross profit per book is $10. So the author who I met would have to sell five books for every one that I sold. During our time at the festival where we met, I sold 17 books. Now I don’t know how many books she sold. It may have been more than 17, but I doubt that it was 85 or more.

Plus, we’re only talking about gross profit. You still have to consider booth costs, transportation, hotels (in some cases) and other business costs. No wonder she can’t make the jump to full-time. It’s doubtful that she’s making enough to cover her costs.

It also sounds like her publisher is making more per book than she is, which is sad, because it doesn’t sound like the publisher is doing much promotion for her books. She said that one title had sold 1,300 copies in a year, but she had hand sold 1,200 of them at festivals.

She definitely has the energy to do the marketing and is doing it. It has also paid off in more reviews for her books on Amazon. She is also getting her name out there.

I have a festival promotion that  I use, which is “Buy 2, get 1 free.” I’ve tried a lot over the years and that one works best for me. It encourages more purchases and I’m offering a better deal than the reader can get on Amazon or in a bookstore. Not to mention, that it’s a signed book. It definitely moves more books than I see other authors selling who offer no discount.

What are your thoughts about pricing of books? Should it be very low or competitively priced? Does selling physical books at deep discounts lead readers to expect all books to priced at that level?

The odd thing is I am all for using low-price promotions for e-books. For one thing, there’s no base cost that needs to be covered by the sale when you sell digital versions. Plus, low-pricing along with strong marketing has shown sales not only for your promoted book but also back list books at the regular price.

You might be interested in these posts:

freelancingI’ve written about the pros and cons of freelance writing from the writer’s perspective in other blogs. That all still holds true if you are considering writing on a freelance basis. However, the person paying the bill needs to find benefit in using freelance writers, too.  Employers don’t care that you can select your own projects or have a flexible schedule. They want quality work at a good price with as little hassle as possible.    

Part of being successful as a freelancer is understanding what role you as a freelance writer play for with an employer. How you help them? Knowing that, you can fulfill their needs better and improve their satisfaction. This allows you to more easily retain those businesses as clients and get more work from them.

Magazines like to use freelancers because they provide new sources of ideas and perspectives. If a magazine uses full-time writers, it might only be able to hire a handful, but if it uses freelance writers, the number of potential writers is limitless. The editor can pick and choose the most-promising stories from a large pool of possibilities. So not only does the magazine get more new ideas, the editors can choose from the best of new ideas.

I used to do a lot of stories for a now-defunct magazine called Maryland Life. As the name suggests, the magazine’s coverage area was the entire state of Maryland. If the magazine had had to hire full-time writers to cover the entire state, it would have been too expensive. By using freelance writers, they don’t have to pay benefits, which can account for around 30 percent more above a full-time employee’s salary.

It can be simpler to hire a freelance writer. The company pays the writer a set fee for the article and the writer is responsible for dealing with paying the employment taxes on that amount.

In general, a freelance writer would charge less than an agency a company might hire for public relations or advertising. They can also get a higher level of expertise if they search for a freelance writer with the skills they want.

These are just a few things to keep in mind. While you become a freelance writer because of the way it benefits you, the only way you can stay a freelance writer over the long run is if you find ways to benefit your clients.

You may also like these posts:

 

CanawlersFor just today and tomorrow, Canawlers (Canawlers Series, #1) will be a featured book on KindleNationDaily.com and Bookgorilla.com. As such, it will be available on Kindle for just 99 cents. You can start your journey on the bestselling series with a great deal.

This was my first historical novel and it continues to be my favorite. It also continues to be a reader favorite when I am out a festivals.

At a time of war, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was caught in the crossfire between two nations.

Hugh Fitzgerald proudly calls himself a “canawler.” He works on the C&O Canal transporting coal nearly 185 miles between Cumberland, Maryland, and Georgetown. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. The Civil War was in full swing and the canal, which runs along the Potomac River, marked the border between the Union and Confederacy. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Here are some other canal stories that you might like:

Remember, Canawlers is 99 cents just today and tomorrow so don’t miss this great deal!

Logans Fire

My first novel. It’s out of print now, but I hope to one day bring it back in print the way I envisioned it.

I didn’t start out to do indie publishing. My first two novels back in the 1990s were publishing with a small press and mid-size press. My small-press experience was that it was virtually worthless for me, and my mid-size press experience was pretty positive.

My problem with the mid-size press came when I tried to get the second book published in what I hoped would be a series. The company sent each manuscript out to pre-readers and had it reviewed by an editorial committee. All it took was one person to say “no” and the book wouldn’t be published. I kept running into that problem as the company also started to shift its focus.

Meanwhile, I was also shopping another manuscript in a different genre around and getting frustrated from the lack of response. It wasn’t that the publishing houses were saying “no,” it was that many of them weren’t saying anything even after six month!

Then in 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel after I took a bike trip along the C&O Canal in Maryland. As I was writing the novel, I started to wonder if I wanted to go through all of the hassles that I was going through to get a publisher interested in the book especially since I couldn’t take it to the two publishers I had already used. They didn’t handle that genre.

I knew someone who had been self-publishing since the 1980s, though. I talked to him about what it involved. He published targeted books that were generally collections of postcards that he owned. He also did very well with it.

So I started doing more research and I realized that everything my publishers had done for me, I could either do myself or farm out to someone. The biggest obstacle I saw at that time was distribution. I wasn’t sure how I could go about getting national distribution. It wasn’t a big concern for me, though. I thought that my major sales outlets would be places near the canal, and I could visit them myself. Also, by the time, the book was complete, I had found a way to get into the Baker & Taylor catalog to get my national distribution.

As far as marketing went, well, the publishers I had used hadn’t done a lot of marketing. I knew that I could do at least the same level. Besides, who was going to promote my book more enthusiastically than me? I had invested part of myself in it. I wanted it to succeed.

Canawlers

My first indie-published novel.

I took the jump into indie publishing and Canawlers became my first project. It is still in print and selling 16 years later when my first two novels have long since gone out of print.

I discovered that I liked having the control over the project. If there was something that I didn’t like about a project, I could change it. By contrast, with one of my first novels, the publisher didn’t like the title and changed it without asking me.

I also started making decent money from writing. I remember that my very first novel sold around 10,000 copies in three years. It had a cover price of $10. I made an average of 50 cents a copy or $5,000 over three years. My first indie published novels has a cover price of $18 and I make an average $8 a copy, taking into account printing costs, shipping, and bookseller discounts. That’s a 5% versus a 44% royalty!

About half of my income is from my books and the other half is other types of writing. I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump to a full-time writer if I hadn’t taken the indie-publishing track. I have since found out that many popular authors with mainstream publishers still need other work, despite their books being successful (just not bestsellers).

Indie publishing is certainly not the easy way out for authors.

You take on more responsibilities and duties, so much so that I would say it’s harder than simply being an author. If you stick with it and work at it, though, the payoff both financially and with a book that is just how you envision it are worth it.

thSome writers say that staring at the blank page and having to fill it with a story is the hardest part of writing. It’s the getting starting and gaining some momentum that is hard.

I have run into that problem when I write fiction. My efforts tend to go nowhere until I write that first page and get the first scene right. Even if I have other later scenes written, I need to get that first scene written before the story starts to move forward.

I guess my mind is treating me like a reader as well as a writer. I’ve got to hook myself into the story before I can see what happens next. My fiction writing tends to be very linear. I start at the beginning and write through to the end.

My non-fiction is a different story. It’s not the intimidation of the first page that causes a slow start. It’s that I have too much information that I can’t set parameters for the story and find where it starts.

Getting a non-fiction project started is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all in place, one of them jumps out of the corral.

A similar thing happens when I start a non-fiction project. I spend a lot of time and energy collecting my research and interviews. Then I have to figure out what the scope of the project is going to be.

When you are writing non-fiction history, you are writing about life and a very small part of life in the grand scheme of things. Your non-fiction history is a link in a very long chain of events that happened to cause what you are writing about and continued afterwards influenced by what you wrote about.

Your job is to cut out a section of that chain and write about it, but finding where to cut is hard sometimes because everything is connected. There may be something interesting, funny, or tragic that happened that you discover in your research. You have to decide whether it is pertinent enough to the larger story to be included, and if you do include it, does it change the scope of the story.

When I’m still in the process of herding all those cats at the beginning of a new project, it can seem overwhelming because everything seems to be in motion. Once I decide on the scope of the story and look at things through that perspective, I can start to make sense of all that motion that is my research.

At that point, I can start to get scenes down on paper. Writing things down also helps me further define the scope of my story. Oddly, I don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning when I write non-fiction. I write the vivid scenes that are in my mind. Once they are on paper, it allows my mind to focus on other things.

No matter how you start your story, it will probably be slower going than how you write much of the rest of the book. It’s all part of the process, though. Work through it, knowing that it does eventually get easier.

These articles may help you get started on your book:

 

 

 

The_Sum_of_All_MenI originally read the fantasy novel, The Runelords, when it came out years ago. It caught my attention and I went on to become a fan of David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton). I’ve also gone on to read the other books in the series.

I recently downloaded the e-book for my Kindle and re-read it. I am happy to say that I still like it.

It starts out like a typical fantasy novel, but then you quickly discover a unique magic system where traits can be transferred from one person to another using rune brands made of blood metal. The traits are called endowments and the rich and knights use the runes to increase their strength, speed, sight, beauty, etc. and become runelords.

The catch with endowments is that the giver of the trait (a dedicate) loses it. So someone giving their sight will be left blind. The care of the dedicate is then the responsibility of the recipient of the trait. It’s a moral responsibility, but also the trait only last as long dedicate lives.

Prince Gaborn Orden is a runelord who is also starts to realize that he is being endowed with another type of magic. Earth magic. He has traveled to a foreign land to try and convince Princess Iome Sylvarresta to marry him.

However, he is caught up in political intrique and a power struggle at the kingdom is invaded and taken by Raj Ahten. Ahten says that he wants to protect mankind from invasion from the reavers, huge monstrous creatures. While his goal is admirable, his method is to take thousands of endowments by whatever means necessary. This had turned him into a force of nature.

Gaborn finds himself on the run, trying to avoid capture by Ahten and save Iome whose has been forced to become a dedicate to Ahten.

Meanwhile, King Orden, Gaborn’s father rushes to try and help his friend, King Sylvarresta. Facing an opponent like Ahten, who can use his endowments of voice to convince enemies to surrender without a fight, forces Orden to make some risky decisions.

What I liked about the book was the characters who were deep and complex. The good guys don’t always win and when sacrifices are made, you feel them deeply because Farland has created characters you can identify with.

There are eight books in the series so far, but the series takes a radical change midway through. It should have probably been called a different series. The second half of the series is good, but not nearly as good as the first four books.

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Lots and lost of offset signatures ready to be folded, cut, and bound into pages.

My writer’s group had the opportunity to tour Sheridan Press in Hanover, Pa., last week. One member had printed her book with them and another member had worked for them previous.

This particular location can do offset as well as digital printing. It began as a small company in 1915 that printed a single poultry publication that went out to 100,000 people. Today, it had multiple locations and prints magazines and journals as well as books.

There is definitely a lot more work that goes into printing offset and although our guide said that she could tell the difference, I can’t see it.

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Polybagged journals getting shipping labels.

I was also surprised that with all of the automation involved in printing, how much still needs to be done by hand. The more your project has something that needs to be done by hand, the more expensive the project will be.

Walking through the plant gave me a much better understanding of what happens to a manuscript when it goes to the printer. It gave me an appreciation for what I’m paying for. This is a double-edged sword.

While I now understand better why offset can give you a price break that print-on-demand can’t when you order more books, I also see that the cost many printers charge for print-on-demand corrections is ridiculous.

And anything that helps me better understand the industry is a good thing.

Here are some additional shots that I took during the tour.

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The high-speed print-on-demand machine sends the paper in a continuous line through printing on one side and then the other before the paper is cut into individual pages.

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Checking the signatures coming off the press to make sure everything looks good.

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