girl_writing_outsideNow that the weather has gotten very nice, I find myself spending some of my days in the sun room of my house. It’s bright and pleasant, but most importantly, it inspires me.

Not directly inspire me, but it improves my mood. I find that the attitude change helps me focus on my work.

It doesn’t have to be the sunroom that inspires me. Many times, all I need is change a change of place that gives my work a jumpstart. The other day simply taking my work into the living room and sitting in the sun started my creative juices flowing. I sat in a chair with my face in the sun reading and suddenly I was writing out the draft for the beginning of a chapter on a book that I’m writing.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes it is just a change of position that gets me moving forward. Sometimes, I’ll take a notebook and lay down on the floor and start writing.

On gorgeous days when it’s hard to stay inside, I will even go outside and sit in a hammock swing or take a trip to a local park.

So does a change of location or position give your writing a jumpstart? Where is your favorite spot to write?

a7e3a582a5939d56e64ce62c407a426aI like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. I haven’t seen Tom Cruise playing him in the movies and I don’t think I will since I have a certain picture of Reacher in my mind and Cruise would destroy that. I liked 61 Hours even though I figured most of it out early in the book. It was still a fun adventure, though. I particularly liked how Reacher is definitely a warm-weather person and can’t handle the South Dakota winters.

61 Hours starts with Reacher getting stuck in a small (but growing) town of Bolton, S.D., after the bus he is riding on slides into a ditch. From there, he gets involved with the local police in trying to protect an old woman who witnessed a drug transaction that can bring down a huge gang of bikers. The problem is that the police know that someone has been sent to kill her.

I found myself liking a side story between Reacher and the new commander of his old unit, Susan Turner. He has to call her for a favor in trying to figure out who is after the witness whose name is Janet Salter. This begins a series of calls as the two of them exchange information and get to know each other or at least as well as someone can know Reacher. He even helps Susan catch a killer whom she is after just by her giving him a briefing of the case.

It an action-packed ride with a slightly ambiguous conclusion, though you know Reacher survives, otherwise there wouldn’t be a series anymore. I’ll have to check to see if there have been anymore since this one.

I’m sure I am now reading the books out of order. That’s one of the nice things about the series. Each book is a stand-alone title with little connection to any of the other books in the series.

BooksAlive-LinkedInI attended the Books Alive! Washington Writers Conference the other week as a panelist, but I also listened to different panels and picked up some good information. The panel that I enjoyed the most was the agents panel. Three agents spoke about what they want to see in a submission or hear in a pitch that can be made in about five minutes. Here are some of the things that I gleaned.

  • Start you pitch with a hook. Give them one or two sentences that will entice the agent to want to know more about the project (this works equally well for articles and books).
  • Move into a short description of the project. Again, keep it short. Imagine you are writing the jacket copy for your book.
  • A short bio about yourself. Why are you the person who should be writing this?
  • What’s your platform? Do you use Twitter and Facebook? Do you have a web site? Maybe you are a columnist or magazine editor who has a following? What are the ways that your name is already getting out to the public.
  • Where does your book fit into the market and how large is the market? What shelf in a bookstore would someone find your book?
  • What’s your next project? You can’t rest on your laurels. Build on the success of your previous projects.
  • What are some comparable titles to your book? Be realistic here. Don’t just go for the big name books. List books that have similar content and scope. If you try to pass yourself off as the next J. K. Rowling or James Patterson, it will come across as hype.

So that’s what I took away from that panel. Someone else might have gotten something different from it. I’ve heard a lot of these things before so it is a pretty good bet that it’s what most agents want to see, but you should always check the agent’s web site just to be sure that you are sending what that person wants.

20150422_181251Usually, I can come up with pretty good titles for my book projects. I come up with a few ideas and one of them usually jumps out at me.

I’m working on a biography now and I’m stuck for a title. It’s the story of a very interesting man who fought in the Pacific during WWII and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He also worked out at White Sands for a bit when they were doing nuclear testing. He attended the 75th, 100th, 125th, and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and met and corresponded with Civil War veterans. He is also a very talented sculptor. (The picture shows a figurine that he did of my son.)

So, I’m enjoying talking with him, researching, and writing his story. I would like to have a title, though.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Clay Heroes: One Marine’s Story of the Civil War, WWII, Art, & Nuclear Energy

From the Civil War to WWII and Back Again: One Marine’s Story

Which one do you like? Any other suggestions?

blue-growth-chartMy new book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, launched a couple weeks ago and I’ve been busy promoting it and making sure that bookstores have it in stock. It feels like an uphill battle at times. There’s a lot more bookstores than there are me and my co-author.

This leads me to an observation that I’ve found as an independent author. The difference between independent authors and traditionally published authors is like the story of the tortoise and the hare.

Traditionally published authors are looking for their books to take off with a quick start. They have to have strong sales right from the start in order to keep their book in stores and in print. Independent publishers certainly would love to have strong sales up front, but tend to see steady sales that stretch out over a much longer life for the book.

I’ve seen that with many of my titles. They may be 5 or 10 years old, but they still sell well.

I think this is because while I can’t put an army of sales reps and publicity people selling my book hard for a couple months before they move onto their next project, I can continually work on promoting my older titles along with my newer ones. The efforts build on themselves, expanding the books exposure and sales.

The key to promotion is to keep at it. Do something every day to market your book. It adds up in the end.

I read Allen Taylor’s E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books as an Advance Reading Copy. I have published a number of e-books and thought I pretty much had the process down pat, but I still found information and tips in here that I will use on my next e-book project.

If you haven’t published an e-book yet, then this book is a great primer to get your first book up and for sale. It has plenty of step by step information to walk you through the publishing procedures for various platforms. Hopefully, Taylor will keep the book updated as changes are made with the different publishing platforms so that the book’s information stays current.

That was a concern I had about some of the data about e-publishing I read early in the book. The most recent seemed to be 2013. If the 2013 trends continued, I wouldn’t be so concerned, but I saw stories last year showing that e-publishing might be leveling off. So the rosy picture, Taylor paints, may not be so rosy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a great market to get into and this book does a great job of doing it.

Taylor has a relaxed writing style so you don’t feel like you are reading an instruction manual as he walks you through the process. You just do what he says and before you know it, you have a book electronically published. I’ve read some manuals where the steps get so technical that I felt overwhelmed, but Taylor makes you feel like he’s a friend talking you through the process.

What novice and veteran e-publisher alike will find useful are the chapters on marketing, pricing, and running a digital press. Publishing your e-book is really just the first step in a very long process of getting it into the hands of readers. Taylor covers a lot of strategies to accomplish this. Try them out and see what works for you.

He shows you how to publish your e-book in a variety of formats and also with a variety of publishers. My biggest concern is that the book has separate chapters on publishing your book in different electronic formats and also with different e-book distributors. Reading the book you get the feeling that you have to format your books a half a dozen different ways and then upload it a number of different web sites.

One thing I have discovered is that pretty much all I need to do is publish my book with Kindle and then Smashwords. I used to only do Smashwords because it formats your books to a variety of platforms including the ones that Taylor lists as separate chapters. Although Smashwords publishes a Kindle format (.mobi), I’ve found that nearly all Kindle users buy their e-books from Amazon.

So I format my book two ways and upload it to two sites, but then it is distributed to probably more than a dozen sites.

All in all, it’s a very handy reference book to have. I highlighted a number of different web sites and passages to study in more detail.

2012 National Book Festival            I stumbled across this article in the U.K. Daily Mail the other day and it shocked me. I’m not sure if there is more to this story about how poorly Octavia Butler treated her fans, but it made me sad to read how she acted on this particular occasion.

At a booksigning at a Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, she complained about petty things and took her fans for granted.

As one former fan said, “’Octavia was acting like a diva. She was mad because the event coordinator gave her a small glass of water but she wanted a large liter of ‘good water’ and demanded to know why she was being treated this way,”
Some of the people were parents who had been waiting for an hour with their children to see Butler. It’s sad, as the article notes, that a lot of those people are now former fans. Plus, she generated a lot of bad publicity for herself.

As a writer who has worked hard to gain fans, I wouldn’t want to lose them. I always do my best at booksignings to speak with the fan, have my picture taken, or anything within reason. Granted, I don’t have lines of people waiting for me for an hour, but a writer needs to remember that their success depends on their fans.

As a fan, I have attended the National Book Festival many times. I love being able to meet some of my favorite authors and have them sign my books. I have seen instances of some authors acting very poorly towards their fans, showing up late, refusing to sign anything other than their current book, leaving early, and refusing to take pictures with fans. Some of those things I’ve seen firsthand. Other instances, I heard about while waiting in other lines. When an author behaved badly, it spread quickly among fans.

On the flip side, I feel most authors do appreciate their fans. Here’s a few examples.

I waited in line to get David McCullough’s signature. He was scheduled for an hour at the National Book Festival (the length of time), but his line was so long it became obvious that he wasn’t going to get to everyone. Then word spread that he had asked to stay another hour and the organizers had been able to accommodate him. When I finally got to meet him, I thanked him for staying later. He said, “I would have been a schmuck if I hadn’t.”

I watched Harlan Coben at the National Book Festival joke around with fans and have pictures taken with them, seemingly with nothing better to do than have fun with his fans.

I once sent David Farland some books I had of his and asked him to sign them and mail them back (I included a check for return postage). Not only did he sign my books, he included a paperback copy of one of his early novels in the return package for me, which was a nice surprise.

I know that there are lots of authors who do similar things. That’s why their fans like to meet them and when they make a good impression, they can make a fan for life.

Last To Fall CoverThe Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg is now available for sale online and at stores.

Thomas Williams, executive director of the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company, said, “Every American is familiar with the iconic battle fought in Gettysburg during the American Civil War, some are even aware that two Marine officers and the ‘Presidents Own’ Marine Band accompanied President Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg in November 1863 to dedicate the National Cemetery there. However, few people are aware that 59 years later the US Marines would “reenact” the battle.

“In 1922, General Smedley Butler would march over 5,000 Marines from MCB Quantico, Virginia to the hallowed fields of Gettysburg. Conducted as a training exercise, but more importantly to raise public opinion and awareness, the Marines would travel to the National Battlefield and carry out many aspects of the original battle. Ultimately over 100,000 spectators would come to witness this monumental event.

“Authors Jim Rada and Richard Fulton have done an outstanding job of researching and chronicling this little-known story of those Marines in 1922, marking it as a significant moment in Marine Corps history.”

The 178-page book is 8.5 inches by 11 inches and contains more than 160 photographs depicting the march from Quantico to Gettysburg and the simulated battles on the actual Gettysburg battlefield.

“The march involved a quarter of the corps at the time,” co-author Richard D. L. Fulton said. “It was part PR stunt, but it was also an actual training maneuver for the marines.”

James Rada, Fulton, and Cathe Fulton (who served as a research assistant) searched through hundreds documents and photographs looking for the details of the march and battles, but the book was meant to tell a story. For that, they went hunting through lots of newspapers in order to piece together the stories of the marines on the march and the people they met along the way.

“What’s really fun is that the marines re-enacted Pickett’s Charge both historically and with then-modern military equipment,” Rada said.

The event was also marred by tragedy when something happened to one of the bi-planes and it crashed into the battlefield killing the two marines flying it. The pilot, Capt. George Hamilton was a hero of World War I.

President Warren G. Harding and his wife, along with a number of military personnel, politicians, and representatives of foreign governments, stayed in camp on July 1 and 2 with the marines and witnessed some of the maneuvers.

The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg retails for $24.95 and is available at local bookstores, online retailers and ebookstores. You can purchase it from Amazon.com here.

Last To Fall CoverI generally love the layout and design phase of a new book. Psychologically, I know that the book is nearing its release date so I’m getting excited about seeing the finished product. Mentally, I get some down time from writing a book to transferring that design to a layout and helping plan a cover. I’m still working on a book, but I’m not writing so that area of my creative psyche is getting a break while I still get to be creative and productive.

That said, the layout and design of my new book has been a rough one. I really like the cover image. That all came together pretty easily. However, I ran into a couple snag expanding that cover to front-spine-back version. Getting the spine in the right place has been tricky. It didn’t take long to fix, but usually I have never needed to fix it before.

The bigger snag has been laying out the interior. I have always had little to no problem getting a typical book set for publication. That’s because there’s little creativity involved compared to a tabletop book size. My book, No North, No South…, was my first oversized book. It worked out all right because the design was relatively simple for a tabletop book.

My upcoming book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Death of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, has been much more challenging. There’s a lot of variety in the book and very few pages that don’t have some sort of graphic element on it. There’s different sidebars and call-out quotes that are presented in different ways. There’s tricky pictures that look fine until you prepare them for publication and suddenly they look pixelated, or worse yet, you don’t see the pixilation until you see the proof.

However, the biggest headache has been the bleed photos. They will look great, particularly the two-page spreads that are 11 x 17 inches in size, but the program that will be printing the book doesn’t like them. It can print them, but I have had to make all kinds of adjustments to get it to work. I’m waiting to see how it looks in print to see if too much of the photo is lost to the page gutter and it destroys a beautifully centered image.

So, I’m waiting nervously to see the proof. Some changes will need to be made. I knew that because I needed to see the book printed before I could decide on those changes. When it’s done, though, and in bookstores, I expect it to attract lots of attention.

The Warded ManI’m not sure why I decided to buy The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, but I now have another fantasy writer that I’ll be reading.

I wasn’t sure what was happening at first. There were three storylines that didn’t interact until late in the book. Also, I didn’t even try to follow the dating system, but I realized while following the three storylines that the stories weren’t running simultaneously.

However, I enjoyed all three of the characters. There is the warded man, an herb gatherer, and a jongleur. They are different ages, have led different lives, and have different personalities. The two-thirds or so of the book you learn about their backgrounds and what happened to bring them to the point where their lives intersect.

They live in a world where humans and demons battle for supremacy. Humans rule the day, but at night hide behind wards to protect them from the demons who rise from the core. It is a battle that humanity seems to be losing because although they can protect themselves, they have forgotten how to use the wards as weapons.

While the book explores some themes of morality, science, and religion, it becomes a solid action story with all three of the main characters using their special talents to fight demons.

It’s the first in what is currently a 4-book series so I am anxious to see where Brett goes with the story.

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