norwegian-escape_i2894798.jpgYou know you’re in trouble when you are gearing up for your busiest selling time of the year and dreading it.

My fall and Christmas season are packed with events, mostly festivals, where I do a lot of my sales during the second half of the year. I was filling out applications and checks this morning and looking at my calendar with just about every Saturday and most Sundays filled up from September through Christmas. Rather than looking forward to the opportunity to get out and meet readers, refine my selling techniques, and make a living, I had a sense of dread.

That’s a warning sign to me that I’m starting to burn out. I need a break. It’s been a stressful summer because of things other than writing, but apparently, it’s taking a toll on my work life.

Luckily, we have a family cruise planned to the Caribbean. I love cruises and wish I could do more. I can see that I need this break, which is coming up next week. Of course, to get to that much-needed break, I have to pretty much double up on my workload this week.

That, combined with the burnout I’m already feeling, means I may not want to come back from the vacation.

Writers need vacations like everyone else. It gives us a chance to step away from work and deadlines and allow the creative subconscious to percolate with new ideas. If we’re lucky our choice of vacation will throw some new ingredients into the mix that our subconscious can work with. Years ago, when I returned from a vacation in the Netherlands, I wrote a creepy story set in a windmill that I still enjoy today.

So, the countdown to relaxation has begun, and if you don’t hear from me in two weeks, don’t come looking for me. It means that I’ve decided to live in the islands!

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A part of the discussion among members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade this past Wednesday involved where to find festivals where we can sell our books.

Here are two websites that I use that make searching for festivals easy.

Festivalnet.com allows you to search for the details of festivals across the country for free. If you want more details, you can either join the website, or you can do a web search for the name of the festivals you find.

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I’ve been doing the latter, but it is becoming time-consuming so I will be joining with a basic level membership.

Given that the Gettysburg Writers Brigade is in Pennsylvania, I found another site called PA-vendors.com that gives, even more detail about Pennsylvania festivals than Festivalnet.com.

You can also find similar sites for festivals in New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

So if you would like to find a long list of potential places where you can market your books, check out one of these websites.’

BookCoverPreviewI came across this post yesterday, and with the title “There’s no such thing as historical fiction,” it certainly stopped me. I mean, if there’s no historical fiction, then what have I been writing for years?

Here’s the post by Paul Lynch on Literary Hub so you can read for yourself. If I’m reading it right, it is saying that historical novels aren’t about the history but about exploring universal truths.

“Let’s suppose you are a novelist writing fiction set in an historical era. Ask yourself this question: What reader from 1817 would recognize themselves in a novel written 200 years later? That reader would collapse in a cold swoon and wake up bereft and bewildered,” Lynch wrote.

He says that the accurate creation of history “is an act of prestidigitation.”

“Of course, we read the “historical novel” and marvel at its simulation of the past. But pay attention and you will see the historical novel can speak with cool clarity about what is timeless in the present,” Lynch wrote.

With that, I think Lynch gets to his point, which is that history viewed through the prism of the present is tainted. This is something I see not only with historical fiction but also books that are touted as non-fiction.

I’ll go even further and say, it is the same problem that plagues the modern media. Events are reported through the biases of the writer. This leads to facts being left out, underemphasized, or overemphasized.

I think it is unavoidable. At the best, if you try to create an accurate portrait of the past, there will be things you don’t know and not even realize it. However, if you have done your best as an author to create a believable past and authentic characters, then you can be forgiven such mistakes.

The problems arise when you ignore information because it doesn’t fit within the narrative you want to create.

Sure, it’s fiction, but I learned a lesson in writing fantasy and science fiction that also applies to any fiction. If you want readers to believe, or at least accept, the unbelievable, you need to make as much as you can believable. This builds your credibility with the reader.

If you want to write about history, get as much right as you can.

So, while I disagree with the title of Lynch’s post, he makes some good points. There is historical fiction. Our job as writers is to make sure that it doesn’t become fantasy.

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s-l500About a month ago, I wrote about ways that I’ve been trying to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I do well at festivals, but in talking with other vendors, I have realized that books aren’t the biggest sellers, although they probably have a better profit margin than many other items.

The reason that I want to maximize sales at festivals is because my costs for a festival are fixed. The booth space cost one price and my gas costs another. They don’t change whether I have more or less to sell.

One of the things that I talked about doing was to offer additional items for sale that are related to my books.

I have been selling 1 oz. copper coins with various designs on them for five festivals now. They have sold well. In fact, at a small event last Saturday, I sold four times more coins than books. That was the first time the coins outsold my books and it certainly made my attendance at that event worthwhile.

I also added hand-crafted coal figures for the past three festivals that I’ve done. The prices on these vary widely, but they have been selling. They tie in nicely with my book, Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town, and I do some of my events in coal country.

The results? The extra items have added an average of 27 percent to each event’s gross sales. It’s definitely worth adding these items. I’m not sure how much of my annual income comes from festival sales, but I’m guessing that if that percentage holds, it will add a few thousand dollars to my income.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that the shiny coins and varying size figures on display attract more people to the table. It’s easy to overlook books, but they are curious about the figures and what they are made of. They want to see what is on the coins.

Once they stop at the table, they tend to look at everything so I get a chance to pitch my books.

While I can say that the extra lines have increased the traffic to my booths, I can’t say for sure whether it has increased book sales. My sales have increased, but they were already increasing nicely before I introduced my additional lines.

So adding extra lines is one experiment that has proven successful.

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dictation_recorders-mainI’m always looking for ways to increase my productivity. As a one-man show, I either have to do the job or pay to have someone else do it. So I’m always trying to get more from my day to tick off another few items on my “to do” list.

I have been thinking about dictation for awhile now. I even bought the Dragon Talk software. However, I quickly figured out that my most likely time to use dictation was not necessarily when I was going to be sitting at my desk.

I let the idea fall by the wayside for a while. Last week, I decided to try it again.

I downloaded a speech-to-text app onto my phone. Then the next time I went walking, I pulled out my own and started dictating a chapter in the book that I’m working on. When I had finished, I emailed the text to myself.

When I got home later, I opened my e-mail and copied the text into a word document. Then I took a couple minutes to read through the text, add punctuation, correct spelling, and format. Within about a third of the time that it would have taken me to type 1,000, I had my draft of the scene done. Plus, most of the time that it took to prepare the scene, I did while I was walking.

That’s an increase in productivity!

The other place where I’ve found the app pays off is when I go to bed. As I lay there winding down each night, I tend to think of things I need to do or scenes I want to write.

Now when that happens, I grab my phone and start dictating. Then I can review what I dictated in the morning.

Next up, I’d like to find a way to have my computer translate interviews that I conduct while I’m researching. I can’t simply use the app because there are translation errors that I would need to be able to refer back to original interview to check. I’m thinking I need to record the interview and then see if I can play it into my phone so that it’s translated.

Whether it works or not, dictation has definitely increased my productivity. I also think that it helps improve the flow of my writing, particularly when I’m writing dialogue.

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I want to go to one of these stores just to see how it compares to other bookstores. I found a list of the current stores here: https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=13270229011

Pages Unbound

Discussion Post

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Amazon Bookstore in Manhattan (there will be a second one in a couple months) and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it after reading some ambivalent reviews from mainstream sources.

The primary complaints seem to be:

  1. You have to pay list price for the books unless you are an Amazon Prime member (i.e. The physical stores are really an avenue to push Prime sign ups, though no employee would probably actually say this).
  2. The stores stock “only” about 3,000 titles (because covers–not spines–face out on the shelves).

Personally, I loved the set-up of the store.  I think there’s a benefit to being able to really see a curated selection of books, rather than getting stuck staring at the spines of 10,000 books I was never interested in buying anyway.  So, no, I wouldn’t go to a physical Amazon store to purchase…

View original post 633 more words

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So I am just finishing up a long weekend of book signings. I had a signing every day from Friday through Monday. I also had a talk on Saturday afternoon that was filmed by C-Span. Luckily, all of the events were in Gettysburg where I live.

I’m always surprised by how much signings and festivals tire me out. For the most part, I’m just sitting around. There’s some physical activity with the set up and take down of an event. In between, though, I just talk with people and sign books.

When I get home, though, I am invariably tired. Then I have to do the unloading of the car, putting away all of my equipment, and unpacking books.

So is it a sign that I’m getting old? I hope not because I plan on doing this work for many years to come.

I especially like attending the festivals. Not only do I tend to sell a lot of books there, but I enjoy seeing what other people are selling. I have met some wonderful artists and craftsmen at these event. Plus, I can get my two favorite festival foods, Italian sausage sandwiches and funnel cakes.

It also gets me out of my den so I can meet my readers, which I enjoy doing.

I just wish I didn’t get so tired.

boy-2028167_1280June has been my best month as a freelancer so far, and the month is not even finished. I have sold more books and had more income this month than I’ve ever had.

I wish I could specifically list what I’ve been doing this month that has worked so well, but the truth is, I don’t know. I’ve done some new shows, but most of what I’ve been doing is the same.

I would say that my record month is a culmination of a lot of things. I’ve been working hard for years, and I continue to do a lot of hard work to build my business. I say this because I’ve seen my annual income and average monthly income rising steadily for the past five years. In fact, I just looked at my chart and saw that I will have made more by the end of July than I made in all of 2012!

Here are a couple things that I can recommend that have helped me be able to work full-time as a writer:

Be willing to try new things. I am willing to try new marketing methods, sell at new shows, and speak to new groups. If the opportunity makes sense and I can afford it, I will try it. Most of the time, it proves very worthwhile. Only a few times can I say that doing something new was a waste of my time. Even the things that don’t work for me give me information that help me make better selections for future opportunities.

Evaluate the opportunities you take. I have been breaking down each of my events to an hourly cost in order to know whether it was worthwhile or not. I may sell a lot of books at one event, but it that event cost a lot for the table, required overnight stays, and meals, the hourly rate may be less than a smaller show that is close to where I live.

Continue to write. You can’t write one book and expect to make a living from it. I publish at least one book a year. Lately, I’ve been doing more than one book a year because I write in different genres. This new material fills the need my fans have when they approach me at shows year after year and ask, “What do you have that’s new?” My growing backlist also provides plenty of material that I can use for promotions that I use to attract new readers.

Good luck in your efforts to make a living as a writer. It can be done.

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Portrait of Author Henry MillerHenry Miller, a painter and author from the 20th century came up with 11 writing commandments. Here are the commandments.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

While these are all good rules, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t follow them all. I can say that I regularly follow numbers 5, 6, 7, and 10. The rest I break regularly.

Although I break more of these “commandments” than I follow, my process works for me. That’s what’s important.

What works for you? Do you keep more commandments than you break?

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notes-514998_640In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about four different types of writers: Great, Good, Competent, and Bad. He also makes the argument that a Bad writer can’t move up to competent, and a Good writer can’t become great. His term is fuhgeddiboudit. Great writers, such as Shakespeare and Faulkner, seem to be born with the divine gift of creating magic from words.

That seems discouraging. Writers should aspire for greatness. If you don’t want to be at the top of your game, why write?

King does feel that Competent writers can with diligence and effort become Good writers. That was his silver lining.

I see an even larger silver lining. If we accept his premise that Good writers can’t be Great writers because Great writers are born that way, there’s still a lot that can be done.

First, how will you discover the greatness within you unless you write? Even Shakespeare had to learn to spell, Faulkner had to practice grammar. So don’t use the excuse that you will never be a Great writer as a reason not to write. Exercise the belief that you will be a great writer, and it just may come true.

Next, even if it doesn’t happen, working at the craft of writing to make it so will definitely improve your writing. King believes that Competent writers can become Good writers. More than that, there just isn’t one type of Good writer. There are lots of different levels within that broad category. Think of it as military rank. There are officers and enlisted men, but within each of those categories, there are varying ranks.

You can move from a Competent writer to a Good writer as King says, but you can also move from a barely Good writer to a very Good writer. You may never reach the level of Great writer, but continually working to develop and hone your skills will allow you to nestle just beneath the level of Great writer.

We should all seek to be the Avis of writers. We’re no. 2, but we try harder.

 

 

 

 

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