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.

I facilitated my first writer’s workshop this past weekend. I wasn’t sure what to call it until I started writing this post. It wasn’t a traditional writer’s conference where there are lots of speakers and classes that an attendee can choose from. It also wasn’t a writer’s retreat where a writer’s goes off to some inspiring locale for a week to write and critique writing.

The Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute conferences are a series of three themed weekends. The weekend that I facilitated was for history and historical fiction. The institute is part of Garrett College in Garrett County, Maryland, which is a beautiful place to visit.

Friday night was an ice breaker for me, my fellow facilitator Neil Brooks, and the attendees to get to know each other.

Saturday, we traveled to the Evergreen Heritage Center in Mount Savage, Maryland. This is a historic homestead as well as a nature and ecological study site. The students got a tour of the grounds and were told about the history of the place. Then we settled down outside in a pavilion next to an old sawmill to start talking history. It was a good back and forth discussion, which helped me keep focused on making sure I was meeting the needs of the students. I also had certain points that I wanted to make sure that I hit.

There were supposed to be three different sessions that I taught on Saturday, each with a different topic, but they all seemed to get rolled into one long discussion about how to write history and historical fiction.

That evening, there was another session that was a Q&A with the facilitators about how and why we became writers.

Sunday morning was a half day of meetings. We traveled to Oakland, Maryland, to the Garrett County Historical Society to tour the facility and see the research aides that the historical society has. I talked with them about how to find the facts for a story and how to use them in their writing. We also toured the B&O Railroad Historical Museum to talk more about the value of historical sites for research purposes.

This was different than any writers’ conference that I’ve either spoken at or attended. I liked it and I especially liked not being stuck in classrooms all day. We were out and about enjoying the sun and perfect weather. I feel like the historic sites helped the writers envision the past better and I hoped they found value in what Neil and I had to say.

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A train approaching the B&O Station in Oakland, Maryland, while the Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute was there.

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1500x1000xBoeing-B-52D-60-BO-Stratofortress-55-0100.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ggBxPxC9RMEver since I finished my last book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy, I’ve been looking for my next project. Usually, I know what I want to work on next by the time my last project is finished. It didn’t happen that way this time.

So I looked at my list of previously started projects and ideas for future projects. Nothing jumped out at me as something that I wanted to spend a year or more working on.

I’m a big believer in enthusiasm. A writer should be excited about whatever he or she is working on because that enthusiasm will translate in some way onto the page. If the enthusiasm isn’t there, it will be detectable in your writing.

I picked out two projects from my list – one historical fiction and one non-fiction history – and started reviewing them. I had previously done work on both (outlining, research, a couple rough draft chapters). I read through the previous work and started adding to it. I wasn’t feeling excitement for either project. That’s not to say that I won’t ever feel excitement. It’s just that whatever my subconscious wanted me working on now, it wasn’t either of these projects.

That wouldn’t stop me from moving them forward, though. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting past a mental road block in the story to get excited about. Even if I wrote entire draft without getting excited about the book, I could put the draft aside until I do feel excited about it and then go back and edit it.

52d17a1cdf5da.preview-500I didn’t have to go that route this time because a reader of my columns sent me an e-mail asking me if I had ever considered writing a book about the crash of a B-52 in Western Maryland that had been carrying two thermonuclear warheads. I had written a column about years ago. I had also considered writing a longer article about it. I even have the idea for a Cold War thriller based on the story.

Surprisingly, I had never thought about writing a book about the event. I e-mailed him back saying that I wondered if there was enough “meat” to write a book about it. He said that he had talked to family of the crew members who had died and crew members and that he believed there was. He said that there was information and pictures that had never been published.

I started getting the feeling that I get about all my new project, curiosity. I reviewed my column and some other information I had about the incident. Suddenly, I was seeing a way to write about it as a book.b526

There’s still a few ways that the story can wind up going. A lot will depend on what the interviews and research reveals. I will be starting on that next week after I meet with the person who wrote to me to get a list of contacts he has. Hopefully, the project will also push me to improve my research and writing skills. I think it will because I see some possible research possibilities are outside of my comfort zone.

One thing is definite. I am excited about the project. I even have a working title. In the future, watch for more information about Buzz One Four: The Day Nuclear Bombs Fell on Maryland.

 

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Me, Chuck Caldwell, and Bernadette the book store owner.

I had a book signing recently that went really well. I sold a lot of books and the book store owner was delighted. However, I can’t say that I was the reason for the big turnout. Sure, I had written the book everyone was buying, but they came to meet the subject of the book.

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is a biography of a man named Chuck Caldwell. Chuck lives in Gettysburg and is well known there from his years of running an shop where he made miniature figures. In fact, the store where we were doing the book signing was literally next door to where his shop used to be.

People were coming into the bookstore and purchasing two, four, ten copies of the book, and they all wanted Chuck to sign them. I was an afterthought. I guess I should be grateful that they even had me sign them. I went to the unit of the Marine Corps League that Chuck is a member of last month with the book. Again, plenty of books sold, but there no one even had me sign one. They were all chasing after Chuck to get him to sign them.

Besides keeping me humble, the lesson I learned from this is:

  • It’s all about the story not the storyteller.
  • Tell a good story and tell it well.
  • A good storyteller doesn’t draw attention to him or herself, but keeps the reader lost in the story.
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Chuck signing a book for one of his fans.

I hope that’s what I’ve done with Clay Soldiers. I know I had plenty of good material to work with and I found myself getting swept up in certain parts of the book as I wrote it.

I think that readers can identify with Chuck. His story is not that of a general, a high-level politician or a multi-millionaire. It’s about an ordinary guy. He was a private at Guadalcanal and charged into machine gun fire when told to do so. That’s more interesting than being the general who gave the order to charge. During the above ground atomic bomb tests in the 1950s, he went in with minimal protection to find the balls of fissionable material, sometimes even as the mushroom cloud was rising from the explosion. Meanwhile, the scientists who examined that material were safe in bunkers miles away.

Chuck is just an ordinary guy who played the cards life dealt him and did his best to be a good husband and father.

Another reason I didn’t mind being the center of attention at these events is that I got to watch Chuck’s face light up when someone he knew from years ago came in to get his book. I got to listen to him talk to people about stories in the book. Most of all, I got to see him smile.

That tells me that I got things right.

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Chuck sees someone he knows come into the book store.

 

My newspaper column, Looking Back, will start appearing in its fifth newspaper this month when the York Dispatch begins publishing it. Looking Back is a local history column that tends to look at the history stories you won’t read about in textbooks.

I have a lot of fun writing about these stories that I find. I’ve been writing these columns since 2004, although I only began trying to get the column into other newspapers a few years ago. Unlike a syndicated column in which the same story is run in all of the newspapers that pick up the column, Looking Back is unique content targeted for that newspapers readership. Sometimes I may write about the same topic, such as the Spanish Flu, but I always focus on how that topic affected each newspaper’s readership.

The other newspapers currently running my Looking Back column are:

Newspapers like the column because as one editor put it, “It’s value-added content.” Readers like it because it’s local and about people and places they may know. They also seem to like the topics, by and large, so I guess I’m a pretty good judge of what makes a good story. The column in the Cumberland Times-News won an MDDC Press Association award this year for best local column.

I’m still trying to get the column into a couple more newspapers. I know that it adds to my workload not to truly syndicate the columns, but it’s the fact that the columns aren’t syndicated that makes them valued by newspapers and readers.

I’d like to think that because of my extra effort to make history interesting to readers is paying off by getting people more interested in history in general. That seems to be the consensus from people who talk to me about the columns.

I was looking at some of my reviews on Amazon the other day. Sure, the four-star and five-star reviews are nice to read, but some of the other reviews are frustrating. They make me want to scream because they are contradictory or just plain wrong.

Shallmar CoverSaving Shallmar probably gets the most undo criticism because it is coming from people who lived in Shallmar when they were children when the story took place or they heard things second hand. Because my story doesn’t agree with their memories, I’m wrong even though my information is all sourced. Some of it comes from people who were adults at the time so they have a different perspective then people who were children. I know because I interviewed people who grew up in Shallmar and they have plenty of gaps in their childhood memories. I also have contemporary sources for information that isn’t dulled or altered by time.

I am tempted to respond to some of these reviews when I read them, but I have learned from previous experience that most of these people when given the facts, simply find something else to rail on you about.

I’ve had a book get a bad review because someone thought the title was too close to the title of another book that I had never heard of or because a book didn’t have enough pictures. Worse yet, I had a three-star review from a reviewer whose actual review of the book was positive. These types of reviews just leave me shaking my head.

I can stand criticism. You don’t get to be a full-time writer without having gotten criticism and rejection, but what galls me is that some people feel the need to be mean or get personal about it. It’s like they want to get into an argument and they don’t even know me.

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI was lucky enough to have a festival to attend the weekend after my most-recent perusal or reviews. I had a lot of people come up to me and say that they had this book or that book of mine and had loved it. Many of them even bought another title, which certainly backed up what they were saying. It’s one of the reasons that I like selling books at festivals. I can talk with my readers and if they do have an issue, we discuss it calmly and politely.

Now if I could only get all these people to leave reviews on Amazon. That’s a drawback to selling at festivals. Because people didn’t buy the book from Amazon, they don’t think to leave a review there.

By the way, when I have come across a specific criticism, I check it out (even the ones from angry reviewers) and when needed, I make changes. Unfortunately, the reviews don’t reflect the change. That’s not the reviewer’s fault. They don’t know about the corrections. I could e-mail them about, but I’m afraid that could lead to the reviewer going and nitpicking things about my other books to see if he or she can get me to make more changes.

I like this quote from actress Octavia Spencer:

“You cannot live to please everyone else. You have to edify, educate and fulfill your own dreams and destiny, and hope that whatever your art is that you’re putting out there, if it’s received, great, I respect you for receiving it. If it’s not received, great, I respect you for not.”

 

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Writing a book and earning royalties isn’t the only way you can make money from your book and it’s certainly not the fastest way. Even before your book hits the shelves, you can be making money from your research by creating articles related to your book topics. Not only will you create an additional revenue stream for yourself, you will help create interest in your book when it is released.

When you wrote your book, whether it was fiction or non-fiction, you most likely did research to make it authentic. That knowledge you now have can be turned into a number of different articles, each of which will earn you additional income, increase exposure of you as an expert on a subject that book explores and increase exposure of your book.

By using your research to create articles to help market your book, you’ll help increase your sales so that when those royalties come in, they will be larger than they otherwise might have been. The other way articles will help increase your sales is that they will increase your reputation as an author of topics in whatever field you write about.

For example, if you write a historical novel set during the Civil War, you can sell articles about the Civil War based on your research to regional and history magazines. Those readers will become familiar with your name and your writing style and be more likely to buy your books.

How Do You Do It?

The big question is how do you take a 100,000-word book and turn it into a 1,000-word article?

Serialize: The most-obvious answer is if your book is fiction, you can serialize it. You don’t see a lot of magazines serializing novels anymore and the serialization rights are usually part of your book contract so if you haven’t sold the book yet, you might be giving something away that could be valuable.

If you do serialize your novel, you can turn each chapter of your book into an article. Just imagine the extra revenue that could mean for you. Even if you run the article for free, you will still benefit consistent, regular and large exposure for your book. You probably couldn’t afford that much advertising.

A variation on this that has started gaining some popularity is serialization on the Internet, either through your own web site or an e-zine. Horror writer Doug Clegg serialized his novel Nightmare House on the Internet and by the time the serialization ended, Cemetery Dance Books had given him a five-figure advance.

Summarize: For non-fiction books, the most-obvious answer for creating articles from your book is to write articles based on one of the concepts in your book. It can be as easy as taking a chapter from the book, reworking it so it has a beginning and end and selling a stand-alone article. For books that don’t easily breakdown to one idea per chapter, you can summarize a concept or idea into an article. Jeff Guinn did this with an article he wrote about Bonnie and Clyde in Smithsonian Magazine that was based on his book Go Down Together. For someone interested in the article, he or she would also be interested in the book.

New Ideas: This method requires more work, but it can be more rewarding. Not all of your research on a topic makes it into a book, but it can be used to write articles. The article will still be about a topic found in your book. It just won’t be as directly connected to your book.       When doing this type of article, consider your research, not necessarily your book. What ideas did you have when you were reading up on different subjects? Chances are someone else could find it interesting, too.

Localize: Localizing your research is a technique that local news media teach for how to handle national topics. You find a local connection to a national topic. It requires additional research, but you already know the basics of the topic from your initial research. With a localized topic, you can market articles to every regional magazine in the country. There are two big advantages with this technique. 1) Even though your book may not be about the local area, it can create interest with local readers for your book by making a local connection. 2) It’s easier to create interest when you’re writing about something closer to the readers.

You Already Laid the Groundwork

The thing about using your book to develop articles is that it should be easier than coming up with a completely original idea. After all, you are familiar with the subject and enjoy it enough to have written a book around it. Because you are familiar with the subject, it should be easier for you develop the query letter and write the article.

Your article will probably be around 800 words, though the magazine editor will give you the word count that he or she needs.

  • Just like a short story needs to hook a reader early on, so does your article. Have an interesting fact or story that you can use to catch a reader’s attention.
  • Move into the main point you want to make and then move onto the lesser points.
  • Don’t make the article about you or your book, and don’t write in the first person.
  • Use subheads, bullets, numbered lists, etc. These things break up the copy and make it easy to follow.
  • Make sure to include your website at the end of the article.

 Reference Your Book

Though your article shouldn’t necessarily be about your book, you should make sure to get a reference it and/or your e-mail address into the article. This usually comes as an author blurb at the end of the article so that you can tie it back to your book or web site. John Kremer, 1001 ways to market your book noted that Tom and Marilyn Ross have sold articles based on their books and “In each case, they insisted that the magazine include an endnote telling readers where they could order the book.”

Within the blurb, ask the reader to visit your web site. In an ad, that would be a call to action. This call to visit your web site should be the only place in your article where you promote yourself.

Don’t Forget the Internet

Don’t overlook web sites as a location to publish your articles. If you can generate visitors to your web site, it can make a great place to serialize your novel. On the Internet, your author blurb will become an active link to take the reader right to your web site. You can also write articles as free content for other web sites to attract readers to your web site where you can hopefully entice them to buy your book and turn it into a bestseller.

In today’s marketplace where catching a reader’s attention can take some creative marketing, using your book to create articles will bring readers interested in your topic right to your doorstep. It will build your credibility in your field and increase your contacts with editors who might be willing to review or promote your books in other ways. Besides, how often do you get paid to market yourself and your books? Don’t miss out on this chance.

 

BeastlyBonesBeastly Bones is the second novel in the Jackaby series by William Ritter. I’ve heard the books described as a cross between Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and if you read them, you will see all those elements.

In this second book, paranormal investigator R. F. Jackaby and his assistant, Abigail Rook, find themselves at the site of unearthed dinosaur bones. Paleontology was Abigail’s father’s profession and an interest of her. Jackaby is uninterested until the site becomes connected to a series of unusual murders that Jackaby, Abigail, and Detective Charlie Barker set out to solve. Needless to say, there is much more going on at the dig site than first appears.

The book is still a fun adventure, but it lacked a little something that the first book had. Perhaps it is that Jackaby doesn’t seem quite so odd now in the second book or that this book seemed more grounded in reality than the first book.

I enjoyed the new character Hank, a master trapper. He reminds me somewhat of Hagrid from the Harry Potter novels. I hope he shows up in future stories.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of the dinosaur dig site and the rivalry between the two scientists. I recently read a book about the first discovery of dinosaur bones and there definitely was fighting between different scientific parties.

The book also sets up the next story and a character who could turn out to be Jackaby’s Moriarty or The Master.

Though it is considered a young adult novel, readers of any age who enjoy fantasy will enjoy Beastly Bones and want to read more.

With the supposed arrival of spring, my busy time starts. I attend a lot of outdoor festivals to sell books. These can be enjoyable events when the weather cooperates. However, this year, spring has been slow in coming. The temperatures have been cool and rain has soaked to ground. Not the optimum conditions for an outdoor festival.

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI attended the Gaithersburg Book Festival this past Saturday. It was my first time there so I didn’t have any past experiences to draw upon for how I would do. I had heard that the festival had very good crowds and I could see that they had extensive and well-known roster of speakers. I went with great hopes.

The day before the festival was bright and sunny and I crossed my fingers that weather forecasters would be wrong.

They weren’t.

It rained all day during the festival. At least it wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was still rain, which keeps people inside side. On top of that, it was cool all day. I found myself shivering most of the day.

I was disappointed with the turnout, although I expected it when I saw the rain. I did manage to sell a decent number of books. This gives me hope enough to return next year and hope for good weather. If so, I should do a brisk business.

I have found that outdoor festivals are great places to sell books.

  • They get a lot of traffic. I attend not only book festivals, but craft festivals and Christmas bazaars, too.
  • People like to get an autographed book as a gift for friends and family.
  • Since I’m not a household name (like J. K. Rowling and Stephen King), my books tend to stand out as unique to festival visitors.
  • I’m independently published so I can offer great sales at festivals, which helps increase my sales. I experimented with different offers over the years and have settled on one that works best for me.
  • I always see an uptick in online sales and e-book sales after a festival. I understand the e-books, but I’ve never understood why someone who can get my autographed books at a great price at a festival, pass on that, to go home and buy an unsigned book at a higher price. I’m glad they do, though.

I’m always on the lookout for how to make my booths more attractive to pull in more passersby. Then once I get them to stop, I’ve got to find a way to get them looking at my books and interacting with me.

  • I have definitely seen big banners catch people’s attention. They stop walking to read the banners and look at the pictures. That gives me a chance to step outside my booth and speak with them.
  • I have expanded the types of books that I offer. For years, I sold only history and historical fiction. I have started offering a historical fantasy novel and I will be offering a young adult novel later this year. This should increase my potential pool of buyers.
  • I keep experimenting with counter displays. I am going to offer a larger book display rack that should hopefully attract more attention.

I know authors are always looking to do book signings, and they can be great. For independent authors, you can make more money and sell more books if you make the most of festivals. Don’t let the rain discourage you.

 

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