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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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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…

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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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18892965_10213701312467317_221280445819670687_nI’ve been looking at ways lately to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I have been attending some of these festivals for years and have seen my sales plateau. Since these events cost money for the space and sometimes hotel and travel, I want to be able to maximize my sales.

Events like a festival are also great places to sell because you are generally selling at retail. You are keeping the retailer, distributor, and wholesaler cuts. I usually use some of that to create a deal that the customer can’t get in a store while still giving me more profit than if I sell the books through other channels. I make it a win-win to give them incentive to buy at the event rather than going home and buying the book off Amazon.com (which they still do sometimes).

So here are some things that I’ve tried or am in the process of trying to improve my event sales.

Keep Writing

My main purpose in attending these events is to do direct selling to my customers. It works, and I am happy to say that I have many customers who return year after year to see me at events and purchase my new books. That being the case, I’d better have new books to sell them.

You can’t rest on your laurels. You need to be continually working on a project. I work on multiple projects. I might be writing one book while researching my next. You want to have at least one book a year being released. Indie authors can generally do even more because they are not held hostage to their publisher’s timetable. 384472_10150370255946867_270838901866_8795042_317292409_n

Expand Your Genres

I generally write in the history and historical fiction genres, but I have ideas for other books. Two years ago, I decided that I would write some of these books under a pen name (J. R. Rada). The pen name wasn’t to hide who I am but to create a separate brand so my history readers wouldn’t be shocked to read a fantasy or horror novel.

Part of the reason that I finally made this jump was because I would often see potential customers looking over my titles and then say, “I don’t read history.” Now, when they say it, I have an alternative to point out to them.

I have to say this has been more successful for me online than at festivals. Festival attendees like the local appeal of a topic more, but I have been selling my horror, fantasy, and YA works. I expect the sales will continue to grow as I work more under the pen name.

Impulse Buyers

I’ve spoken with two other authors in the past few months who offer more than books at their festival tables. One told me it was profitable, but not a major part of his sales. The other one said that the additional products that he offers are the reason that horror conventions where he can sell 50 books are profitable for him.

I even saw an example of this in action this past weekend. My son attended a WWII weekend with me. On the afternoon of the last day (the slowest time), he decided that he wanted to go into business. He found a vendor at the event who also sold wholesale. He bought some Lego-style minifigure sets at wholesale prices and began selling them at retail prices ($3). He quickly started making sales. My estimate is that he could have made $400 if he had been selling during the whole event.

So I will also start offering $5 copper coins with a historical theme on them. In addition, a friend who deals in coins offered me a small box of tokens made from pieces of the Statue of Liberty. I’m hoping that this will add about $300 to my gross sales at my next festival. If it works, I will be expanding the variety of copper coins that I offer.

The key to offering other products is that it should tie into your genre. One author I know writes about the Civil War and also offers small lead busts of Civil War generals. The horror author I know offers horror character t-shirts and horror scenes in snow globes.

Other Buyers

Some festival attendees will walk right past an author tent because they aren’t interested in books. I can capture the impulse buyers with a low-price line of products. These products have a small profit margin, though.

I wanted something that could really help my sales while tying in with my books. I won’t say what it is now because I want to try it out first, but the retail prices are $5 to $25 for the products of which half is profit.

The big feature of a festival is traffic. You have thousands, even tens of thousands of potential customers. I want to attract as much of that traffic to my tent as I can and have something that will appeal to them to buy.

That’s how I plan on continuing to make festivals a profitable venue for my books.

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checklist-clipart-response-clipart-clipart-pencil-checklistSo in the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how going the extra mile and developing a relationship with the editor. For this final piece, I’m going to look at how becoming an expert in your field will help you get more assignment.

I’m not talking about getting a degree in every subject you want to write about. You can become an expert by writing extensively about the subject.

This is something that comes with time. As you consistently work with a magazine, your work may tend to fall into a niche. Usually, my niche is history, but I’ve written two stories with Hagerstown Magazine that accidentally turned out to be health stories. I’ve also written health stories from time to time with other magazines. I now have a niche in health writing.

As you start to develop a niche, the editor will begin to recognize you as such. You will become the magazine’s go-to person for that topic. It doesn’t mean you can’t pitch the magazine other stories, it’s just what you’ll become known for. When I first contacted the editor of Allegany Magazine about doing stories for him, he was very excited because he was a fan of my column, so he knew my work and was anxious for me to do local history articles for the magazine.

That’s not to say I only do history articles for the magazines. I’m working on a feature piece now about a local bookseller’s experience running a bookstore in Ireland.

Becoming the go-to person: The benefit of becoming an expert is that when the editor is looking to assign a story in your niche, you’ll be the first person to come to mind. The bad news is that you won’t be the first person to come to mind if it’s not your niche.

Extra benefits of being an expert: Becoming the go-to person for a topic leads to more than just editors contacting you with assignments about your topic. I know a man in Cumberland who collected historic postcards and pictures for years about Western Maryland. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, he published them in numerous books. He is considered the go-to man for local history in Cumberland and he is the first person everyone thinks about when they need a photo, a judge for a contest, a speaker, etc.

Continually improve your writing skills: Another aspect of becoming an expert includes becoming an expert writer. I’ve been writing professionally since 1988 and I still look for ways to improve and expand my skills. Never stop learning.

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adult-2242164_640Last week, I wrote about how to get more freelance assignments by going the extra mile. This week, I want to talk about how to get more assignments by developing a relationship with the editor.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about becoming buddies so that the editor does his or her friend a favor and gives you work. I’m talking about developing a professional relationship where you work well together to create an excellent finished product.

When you first start working with an editor, you are strangers. You may not have met or even spoken to one another. However, as the saying goes, “The work speaks for itself.” As you submit assignments, the editor begins to trust your ability to meet deadlines and deliver quality work.

Don’t underestimate the value of that trust. Chances are editors work with dozens of different writers and not all of them are professional or dependable. The fact that you are puts you a few steps ahead of them.

What’s the value of this to you? It means your stories will get accepted easier. A borderline idea might be rejected if the editor doesn’t know the writer, but if the editor knows you, he or she may be more willing to take a chance. I’ve had stories assigned to me after just writing a sentence or two to the editor about an idea.

Another nice thing is that once editors know what you can do and how well you do it, they may contact you to write stories. I love when this happens because it means that’s less work I have to do coming up with a story and querying different markets. I just had this happen recently when I ran into an editor I know and she asked me if I was interested in taking on an assignment that she had.

Meeting deadlines

I mention meeting deadlines a lot as a talk about freelance writing. That’s because I have been an editor who has had to wait and see if a new writer is going to deliver a story on time and in what shape it will be.

You may think being a little late is fine because the magazine the article is supposed to appear in is not due out for a couple months, but you have to understand that your deadline is just an early one in a series of deadlines that will allow the magazine to come out on time. There is some wiggle room, but not as much as you might think. Besides, it’s not your call whether it should be given to you or not.

That being said, sometimes you will run into problems. The story doesn’t work out the way you expect, interviewees don’t get back to you, or you might get sick or have an accident. Things happen. If you do run into a problem that will keep you from hitting your deadline, contact your editor as soon as possible and see what can be done.

Editors won’t hold it against you if you have a legitimate excuse. Don’t dawdle and waste your time with the story, though. Most editors will give you at least a month to complete your article. That sounds like a lot of time. You’d be surprised at how quickly it can disappear when you’ve got other things that need to be done.

I’ve gotten into the habit of creating my own mini-deadlines. For instance, when I had four articles due one month, instead of doing each in bits and pieces, I set it up so I could focus and finish one each week.

You might also want to prioritize. If focus most of my efforts on completing the story that is due the soonest while doing a little bit on any other articles that are coming due in the next month. This might be researching, interviewing, or transcribing notes. I do these things bit by bit so that when each story gets the focus of my attention, I’m ready to write.

Next week, I’ll finish up by talking about becoming an expert.

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magazine-806073_640I’ve been doing freelance writing in one form or another for 25 years now. When I started out, I was getting only a few assignments to write articles. Nowadays, I have plenty of work, and the best part is that many times the editor offers me the assignment without me having to send a query letter.

So I thought I would share some tips with you to improve your odds at getting the assignment. Many of these are quite simple, even logical, but I have run into writers over the years who have neglected them and then wonder why their query letters are rejected.

Going the Extra Mile

  1. Reply quickly to any inquiries made by editors. You would like them to do it for you, do it for them. This includes being quick about proofing. The quicker you are in responding, the more time they have to do their thing. I have had more than one editor thank me for doing a quick turnaround on a project.
  2. Be willing to be edited. Your words aren’t gospel. Unless an edit is incorrect, be willing to consider and accept the changes. You are being paid for the work.
  3. Add extra information when appropriate. For example, provide captions for any pictures you submit.
  4. If you are submitting pictures with your article, submit more than needed so the editor had plenty to choose from.
  5. Keep to the assigned word length. I’m not saying that you have to hit the number spot on, but you should stay within 10 percent of the assigned length. If you fall too far short, your story may no longer meet its purpose. For instance, your short feature story, might only be the length of a department piece. If you go too far over the limit, you are creating extra work for the editor who will have to edit the piece down to the proper length.
  6. Produce quality work. Always turn in the best story you can write. Poor work won’t win you more assignments.

By going the extra mile, you make an editor’s job easier. If you’re doing that, when an editor is considering who to assign stories to, you will be topmost in his or her mind as a writer who not only provides good work but also relieves some of the stress of their job.

Next week, I’ll provide some tips for developing a long-term relationship with an editor.

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