untitledI got a chance to go on television again the other week. The first time was last year when my co-author and I went on PCN’s PA Books to talk about The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg. I’m not sure how much it boosted my book sales, but at least I got a chance to put it out there. I also heard back from some people who saw the show.

I was on the WHAG Sunday Newsmaker program on October 16. I got to talk about freelance writing and three of my books (although only two books made it into the clips on the web site). Here are the different clips if you’d like to take a peek. Enjoy!

Here are some other posts that you might like:

Here’s something that I was thinking about last night. There’s no right answer, but I would be very curious as to the reason why you answer the way that you do.

Let’s start with the assumption that you are a very successful writer (Yay!), now would you:download

  • Want to have authored a book that that was a mega-bestseller and then spend the rest of your career not writing anything close to that successful again? This is where J. K. Rowling is right now, although she may still write something more successful than Harry Potter, it’s hard to imagine it happening.
  • Want to write books that sell well, although none can be considered a breakout novel? I would say, another favorite author of mine, David Baldacci, fits this model. He writes consistently good thriller so that there’s not one particular title that he’s best-known for.
  • Want to write regularly and have some of your novels become bestsellers, but then have your other novels be considered subpar?
  • Write a book every five to 10 years, but have those novels be bestsellers?

david-baldacci-book-listThere are advantages and disadvantages to each option. It depends on what you are looking for from your writing career?

Money? Then the first option might be what you want. Like Rowling, you could make a lot of money this way and be set for life, but I don’t think I would like working the rest of my life trying to recapture that early glory. I guess this could be called the “peaked too soon option.”

A long-lasting career? Then the second option might be you. This is the one I think I would like, although I wouldn’t say “no” to any of them. I have a lot of ideas. This option would mean that I am able to write and have them published regularly and have them sell well. The money is good, but it doesn’t give Warren Buffet any competition.

Critical acclaim? Then the last option might be what you strive for. With this option, you would be considered one of the best writers out there, but you might not be able to make such a great living at it. Each book makes you good money, but it has to be spread out over a number of years.

The third option is a combination of the second and fourth. You publish regularly and would have regular income, but your writing would be inconsistent. When you hit the mark, it’s a bullseye, but otherwise, you hit in the outer rings.

As I said, I think my ideal would be option number two, but that’s for me and my personality. What is your choice?


Yema de huevo crudo.I’ve always been an advocate of not putting all of your eggs in one baskets. I learned that lesson when the last newspaper that I worked full-time for closed up shop. It came as a bit of a surprise, but luckily, I had already started doing some freelance writing. It wasn’t near what I was making as a newspaper editor, but it helped supplement my unemployment.

Since that time, I have worked to have a variety of income streams (article writing, book writing, teaching) from a variety of customers. I can count on monthly checks from eight clients and probably just twice as many that I do regular work for just not monthly and dozens more clients that I do occasional writing for.

Sometimes juggling so many clients can be confusing, but it’s a trade off for not getting too stressed if I should lose a client. That has happened in the past eight years. One business, one newspaper, and four or five magazines have either closed or decided to stop using my services. I’ve been able to take each hit without too much of an impact.

The reason I decided to write about this is that I had another example of the need for variety this past weekend. I attended a huge festival where I made five percent of my total income last year. However, this year, Saturday was marred by rain that kept many people indoors. Sunday was sunny but cool with gusting winds, which may have held down the crowds a bit. I only did a third of the business that I usually do.

It was a big income hit, but I’ve got festivals to attend the next two weekends and a class to teach and a presentation to give later this month. They are all indoors so if the crowds hold, I should be able to make up some of my losses from this past weekend and then make up the rest with Christmas events.

Where one door closes another opens.

Writers should do their best to diversify their writing income because you never know where the next big hit will come from.

Good info about writing a synopsis.

Kristen Lamb's Blog


There is one word known to strike fear into the hearts of most writers. Synopsis. Most of us would rather perform brain surgery from space using a lemon zester and a squirrel than be forced to boil down our entire novel into one page.

Yes one.

But alas we need to for numerous reasons. First and foremost, if we want to land an agent, it works in our favor to already have an AWESOME synopsis handy because the odds are, at some point, the agent will request one.

Sigh. I know. Sorry.

A Quick Aside

When it comes to synopses, I lean toward the, “Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission” camp. Which is where already having a seriously spiffy synopsis helps.

Think of it this way. E-mail sucks. Getting lots of email and having to juggle it all sucks. Agents get a lot of email. Since I am…

View original post 2,433 more words


Writers are dreamers. We dream of worlds and characters and try to make them come alive on the page.

We also dream at night. Sometimes I wake up from a vivid dream and think, “I have to make that into a story.” Then I’ll either get up and write it down or think in my sleep haze that I’ll remember it in the morning.

Last night, was one of the latter. I woke up thinking it was the middle of the night, but I had only been in bed an hour. That was disconcerting because the dream time had been much longer. I remember thinking that my nightmare would make an excellent story. Then my eyes closed and I went back to sleep.

This morning when I got up to write my dream down, all I could remember was the line, “Toys don’t play with themselves.” I also remember an image of a clock running both forwards and backswards in time simultaneously.

Needless to say, as terrifying as the dream might have been, the fear didn’t last. Also, I should never eat a Stromboli close to my bed time.

The problems with dreams is that even if you do remember them, they are usually disjointed. I’ve only had one dream that was a decent storyline that I could turn into a story. It involved a man in a lime-green suit who ran a chamber of horrors wax museum where the wax figures were actually real figures encased in wax.

Luckily, I had a pen and paper on the nightstand next to me and wrote down what I remembered when I first woke up. Of course, some of my night writing was chicken scratch that I couldn’t read and some of what I could read didn’t make sense. Enough did that I could turn it into a story.

Once, a few months ago, I recorded what I had dreamed on my phone. I am pretty sure that t is probably recorded pretty close to the way I dreamed it. I am also pretty sure that should I ever have a mental competency hearing, it will be played as evidence that I should be locked it.

Despite not having dreams that come out as fully outlined stories, I still think they are great sources for ideas. I might not get stories from them, but I sometimes get characters or settings. It might just be an image that I remember.

The beauty of dreams is that your subconscious is unlocked from the waking restraints you place on them. When that happens, some unlikely things emerge, which may be just what a writer needs to create a memorable character or scene.

So keep a piece a paper and pen by your bed or use a recording app. Record those dreams that disturb you enough to wake you up. Even if you can’t use them in your writing, you may get a good laugh.

Here are some other posts you might like:

I was listening to another indie writer talk about her business model that allows her to be a full-time writer. Besides books, she gets income from selling writing courses, speaking, and affiliate marketing.

That got me thinking about my business model. About 45 percent of my income is from book sales and another 45 percent is from articles. The other 10 percent comes from speaking. While I would love to see the book sales percentage much higher, I don’t think the article writing will ever disappear from my business model.

Article writing for me is obviously an income stream, but my articles are also seeds. I spread them liberally. Some will take root and grow. That growth might be humungous or it might be moderate. Some might sprout and die while others might not sprout at all.

nov2_pollinationLet me explain.

Many of my articles have become the source for books that I have written or other articles. For instance, my book, Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town, grew out a pair of newspaper columns that I had written years earlier.

Another way that my article seeds have grown is when I gather some of my favorites for a collection.

Many of my articles have spun off other articles. For instance, after I wrote about the Tuskegee Airmen from Maryland for the Maryland Life Magazine, I wrote similar articles for Wonderful West Virginia and Pennsylvania magazines.

Then, of course, the articles help keep my name in front of readers. I have even gotten speaking invitations from my articles.

If I were to give up article writing, I would be giving up a lot of the inspiration for my books. So if I’m going to grow my book business, I’m going to have to do it without cutting into my article writing much.


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:

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