I like writing for regional magazines. Some writers are all about getting into the big-name magazines, and that’s fine. I like writing for them occasionally, too. However, the bread-and-butter side of non-book income is writing for magazines so I need to keep the assignments and checks coming.

2fd069a12889a0c3761c5db01730cb0d6858b490Here’s why I like to write for regional magazines:

  • Larger market: If I wanted to write a story for a national history magazine, I have three or four possible markets where I could pitch the article. However, if I look at the local angles of the story, I could at least double that number of market, maybe even triple it. I live in Gettysburg, and there are six magazines that I can think of that directly cover the town.
  • Easy to resell articles: I find that it is easy to resell article ideas between regional magazines. The article needs to be refocused a bit to fit the market of the magazine, but probably half of the article can stay the same between the markets. For instance, I wrote an article about the Tuskegee Airmen who were from Maryland for a Maryland magazine. I then repurposed it for both West Virginia and Pennsylvania magazines focusing on the airmen from those state. While the names were different and I had to interview different people, the basic information about the history of the airmen was the same.pa-heritage-magazine-spring-2016_large
  • Multiple chances to impress: This ties into there being a larger market of regional magazines. Each of those magazines has a different editor, so you have multiple chances to build professional relationships that can serve you well. Once I have worked with editors for a few stories, they quickly realize I like history so when history ideas up in editorial meetings, they contact me to write the story. Also, if the editor moves on to a new job, they know they can contact me for assignments.178e9ea3549cac3b6d3a2d20aee0ad2c
  • Good payment: Certainly national magazines pay more, probably around $1 a word, but regional magazines easily pay 25 cents to 75 cents a word. If you repurpose your article idea for four magazines, you’ll probably make more for the overall idea by selling it to regional magazines.
  • Unique stories: Because national magazines have a national market, I find that the stories they tend to tell are more generalized. I find that I have plenty of good articles ideas that national magazines wouldn’t be interested in because they are too local. For instance, I recently wrote an article about the year-long hunt for a supposedly escaped gorilla. It was a fun story that local people enjoyed reading about, but I doubt that a national magazine would have cared for it.
  • Less competition: Regional magazines have fewer writers competing for the editorial space. That means you have a better chance of being accepted. While national magazines may pay more, if you don’t get the assignment, you won’t be making anything. Not only do I have a better chance of getting the assignment at an individual magazine, but if I’m pitching an idea to multiple magazines, such as the Tuskegee Airmen story, I have a better chance of getting the story accepted somewhere. The odds are against me getting the $1 per word story, but I could easily get 50 cents per word.

1192240118All that being said, national magazines still offer advantages.

  • More-impressive clippings: When querying magazines for assignment, having national credits is more impressive to editors. That would make them more likely to see my query favorably. I do have some national credits, and I name them in my queries as well as pertinent regional credits.
  • Better pay: As I already said, if you can get a national assignment, it will more than likely pay better than regional publication. This is particularly true if you can get an assignment from one of the big-name publications that might pay you even more than $1 per word.
  • Author reputation: It doesn’t happen as much now as it used to, but some authors can build a following of readers who are anxious to read their articles.

From my perspective as a full-time freelance writer who needs to earn a living, these are my reasons for favoring regional publications. You may have a different perspective. If it works for you and gets you published, keep it up. If you find it failing you more often than not, try your luck with regional publications. There are some great ones out there. I should know. I write for them.fm2017_smcover-1

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14079603_10210778257032758_954325199517999867_n

My two-table set up for weekend festivals.

Having a strong backlist of books is great for a writer. When I sell books at festivals, I am able to have a large display of different covers, genres, and sizes of books to attract readers. In fact, last year my show display grew from one table to two tables. A backlist also means that I have multiple ways to attract readers. Each title gives me a new opportunity to catch a reader’s eye.

 

That’s all great.

However, I’ve run into a drawback with having a library of 18 books, and it has been driving me crazy this past month.

Grammarly Review

I have started running all of my books through Grammarly to catch any mistakes my editors, readers, and I missed when the book was originally published. Surprisingly, given how many eyes were on the manuscripts, I have found too many. Running 18 books and a half a dozen e-books through the program takes times. I started doing this in December, and it could very well continue until next December.

Review Request

Since I  was reviewing each book, I also decided to make sure that all of the electronic editions had a review request at the back. I haven’t worried up until not about getting readers to post reviews of my books online. That delay has come back to bite me recently as I have tried to expand some of my marketing efforts. Some places that I have wanted to use to market my books want to see more reviews of the books. So I’ve had to detour some of my marketing in order to increase my Amazon.com reviews.

Book Descriptions

Last month, I learned some new techniques for writing book descriptions that I have also started applying to my book pages as I update them. This is not a single update. I need to make changes to a book on four different websites (Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, and Bowkers) to make sure the descriptions are all the same.

Hardback Editions

I recently discovered a way to accomplish two things that I have wanted to do for years. When I switched from doing offset printing to print-on-demand through Createspace, I stopped being able to get my books into physical chain bookstores. The three reason I heard for this were that the stores couldn’t get their typical discount when purchasing the books, they didn’t want to support Amazon.com, and stores can’t return print-on-demand books.

Up until now, I haven’t worried too much about it. I  have been making most of my sales through other channels. However, as my marketing efforts expand, I have started running into this roadblock more often.

I have discovered a way to use Ingram Spark and Createspace together. I can still get the books that I sell through Createspace, and customers purchasing books on Amazon will still see the books always in stock. Meanwhile, I can use Ingram Spark to get my books into the chain stores and offer a hardback edition.

I have wanted to offer hardbacks since I wrote No North, No South… It is an oversized book, which is typically printed as a hardback.  Since that time, I’ve written another tabletop book and a couple novels that I would have like to offer as hardbacks.

All of these are useful things for me to do. They each will have benefits to help me continue moving my career forwards. I recommend authors do all of these things. It’s just that having to do all of these things for all of my books is very, very time-consuming.

It’s happening, albeit slowly, but I’m excited to see the results.

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charlatan-9781400136070-lgI wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I bought Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, but the topic caught my attention. I have to say that I loved it. It was a narrative type of non-fiction that I like to read and Pope Brock can tell an intriguing story.

Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.

In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.

Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.

I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.

Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.

So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.

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“Dr.” John Brinkley looking like a medical professional.

I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?

Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.

One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.

When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.

Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.

When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.

I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.

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I had the opportunity to run the same promotion for two different books this month and have been evaluating the results.

CanawlersThe Books: Canawlers and The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. Canawlers is a historical novel that was first published in 2001. The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe is a horror story published last year under my J. R. Rada pen name.

The promotion: I decided to use my five free days on KDP select on a Monday through Friday promotion.

The Marketing: I blogged and tweeted about both books through my accounts. I advertised the books on Facebook groups that I belong to. I used the Author Marketing Club promotional submission tool to have my promotions listed on 31 free book sites. I can’t say how well the book sites worked, but I did see a sales surge with both books after I posted a listing in my Facebook groups.

The Results: Canawlers had nearly twice as many downloads as The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. Does the number of downloads indicate that there’s a larger audience for historical fiction over horror? I think it may. This seems to dovetail with some things on paid promotional sites that charge more for historical fiction than horror novels. Most of the downloads for both books came during the first two days of the promotions, although Canawlers had a surge of downloads during the last 10 hours it was on sale.

Since there is no direct return on investment because the books were free, I had to estimate sales that the promotions generated for my other books both with actual sales and pages read. My indirect sales were three times higher Canawlers than The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. The fact that it was as profitable as it was surprised me a bit because a ran a paid promotion for a 99 cent version of Canawlers last year that turned out to be a loss.

The profits weren’t tremendous, but they were profits. It also gives me a baseline going forward.

UntitledMy Conclusions: It pays to promote books in a series. They have some coattails. Canawlers has three sequels and an omnibus edition. All of them saw sales during and directly after the promotion. The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe was a stand-alone novel.

Also, it helps to have a backlist. I have 14 ebooks available as James Rada, Jr., and only five ebooks available as J. R. Rada.

Don’t ignore the Kindle pages read during a promotion. They jumped significantly for both promotions. It was a big enough jump to make me consider adding more books exclusively to Kindle. I still considering this. I probably should just find a way to market my non-Kindle ebooks better.

I will definitely run future promotions, although I will break my five free days into two or maybe even three promotions. I will continue to use the Facebook groups and perhaps try a paid site for the free promotion. I will do it with Canawlers, though, since it generated a greater return. I realized that I should be asking for retweets of the promotional tweets I did. I forgot.

I want to try a promotion for a non-fiction history book and a middle-grades series I’ve started. Then I will compare those results against the results I got for Canawlers and The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe.

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CanawlersCurious how to pronounce the title of my historical novel Canawlers?

It’s CAN-all-ers. It’s what boatmen on the C&O Canal sounded like when they used to say “canaller”.

They also had a challenging and dangerous job during the Civil War. Canawlers brought coal and other goods 185 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown. All the while, they traveled along the Potomac River within site of the Virginia shore and the Confederate States of America. The C&O Canal ran along the border of two warring nations, the canawlers were caught in the crossfire.

Hugh Fitzgerald is a proud canawler. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Download your Kindle copy for FREE until Jan. 20.

From the reviewers:

  • “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlers documents author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.” – Midwest Book Review
  • “James Rada, of Cumberland, has written a historical novel for high-schoolers and adults, which relates the adventures, hardships and ultimate tragedy of a family of boaters on the C&O Canal. … The tale moves quickly and should hold the attention of readers looking for an imaginative adventure set on the canal at a critical time in history.” – Along the Towpath
  • “Mr. Rada presents an interesting slice of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal boatman’s life set against the backdrop of the turbulence and uncertainty of the American Civil War. The use of the canal as a route on the Underground Railroad is also woven into the plot which reveals how hard work, a strong family and difficult times could come together along the canal.” – Rita L. Knox, Park Ranger, C&O Canal NHP

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UntitledIf you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe solves the mystery of the great writer’s murder, and you can get it FREE on Kindle until Jan. 13.

You might be thinking that Poe wasn’t murdered. He died in a hospital. You’re wrong.

While he did die at the Washington Medical Center, before that, he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and wearing clothes that were not his own. He was admitted to the hospital where he died without explaining what had happened to himself. One clue to what happened to him was that he shouted the name “Reynolds” before he died.

The hospital and its records were later destroyed in a fire, so we’re left with theory and conjecture about how the Master of the Macabre died. One person knows how the Father of the Modern Mystery died, and that person is …

The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe.

This is his story, although it reads like one of Poe’s horror tales.

Alexander Reynolds has been known by many names in his long life, the most famous of which is Lazarus, the man raised from the dead by Christ. Matthew Cromwell is another resurrected being living an extended life. Eternal life has its cost, though, whether or not Alexander and Matthew want to pay it.

Alexander has already seen Matthew kill Edgar’s mother and he is determined to keep the same fate from befalling Edgar.

From the time of Christ to the modern days of the Poe Toaster, The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe is a sweeping novel of love, terror, and mystery that could have come from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Get Your Copy Here

From the reviewers:

  • “Impressively original, exceptionally well written, absolutely absorbing from beginning to end, ‘The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe’ showcases author J. R. Rada’s outstanding skills as a novelist. ” – Reviewer’s Bookwatch
  • “…this fictional nail-biting account of the two men whose blood feud brought about Edgar’s death. … it’s a great ride through suspense, horror, and mystery – worthy of the writer for whom the novel takes license.” – Allegany Magazine

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I noticed that recently Kindle publishing started offering an option to produce a paperback version of your e-book once it is uploaded. That seems only fair. Createspace, another Amazon company, has been offering to produce the Kindle version of paperback books for a while.

I’ve never taken advantage of either option. Why? Because despite the convenience of having to do set-up only once and working with a single publisher dashboard, the finished versions aren’t compatible.

I discovered a long time ago that the best way to ensure that my Createspace-printed book looks just the way I want it to is to upload a .pdf version of the interior. I discovered this after spending a couple hours trying to tweak a Word document that I was uploading. Even though I was using a Createspace template and everything looked fine, when I reviewed the uploaded document before publishing it, something had always changed. For instance, a line would roll to the next page. This caused a domino effect that threw off the pagination throughout the document.

 

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Screenshot of Kindle Direct Publishing offering to publish the paperback version of an e-book.

 

My solution to this problem was to save my Word file as a .pdf before I uploaded it, and the problems I had vanished. I’m not sure what the difference was between me saving the document as a .pdf first and then uploading or Createspace saving the document as a .pdf after I uploaded it, but it made all the difference in the world.

Somehow the uploading process changed my document. Saving it as a .pdf first locked everything into place. The pagination, images, and fonts were all saved and fixed in place.

While this works great for getting my paperback layouts right, it isn’t so nice for e-books. E-book documents need to be able to change fonts, point size, and margins. Sure, Kindle can publish a .pdf, but with everything locked in place, your Kindle or e-reader is going to show each book page as a screen page. I do some of my reading on my phone. Just imagine how a page from a book would look if it was condensed down to a 2×4 inch screen. To make an e-book work best, I upload a Word document.

Since I need to upload two files—one for my paperback version and one for my Kindle version—, I need to publish both separately.

If you don’t have problems with uploading Word files on Createspace, then publishing your e-book should be no problem. However, I’ve run into other writers who have had the same problem I’ve had with Word documents. I told them my secret of saving it as a .pdf, and most of their publishing issues have disappeared.

So while it’s another option to have with Createspace, you may cause yourself more headaches if you aren’t careful about how you use it.

gjon-mili-writer-damon-runyon-working-on-script-at-deskThe most-frequent question that I get as a writer is probably, “Where do you get the ideas for your columns?”

It’s hard for me to give that questioner a short answer to this, especially when we’re talking face to face at a book signing. I thought that I would go through the process with you for my blog.

For those of you who don’t know, I write a local-history column for five different newspapers in Maryland and Pennsylvania. These aren’t the same column appearing in five newspapers. They are different columns, pertinent to each newspapers’ readership, published in those newspapers. This means I need to regularly come up with interesting history articles on a regular basis.

Finding ideasmultitude-clipart-writing-clip-art-3

I routinely go through the old newspapers that service the different areas where my columns appear. Many of these old newspapers can be accessed on newspaper databases that I subscribe to, but others require trips to different libraries that have the old newspapers on microfilm.

I pick a year at random, and I generally start with whatever month the month is when I’m doing the research. There’s no reason for this, other than it helps me gather articles not only from different years but different times of the year.

I start scrolling through the newspapers. I read all of the headlines looking for something that catches my attention. I search for stories about interesting people, unusual events, famous people, local versions of national events, and others. This is where personal preference comes in. My selection of stories is going to be different than someone else’s choices.

One other thing about story selection. I try to find stories that seem to have enough meat that I can turn into a column. If the original newspaper story is short, it had better be fascinating to me because I will probably have to do a lot of research to flesh it out.

As I find the possible stories, I save a copy to my idea file.

bernard-schoenbaum-writer-working-on-computer-uses-a-electronic-tablet-to-handwrite-his-words-cartoonStory selection

I don’t start working on the stories I save right away. When I need a topic for a column, I go to my idea file and look at the different ideas that I’ve saved. If the idea still catches my attention, I may use it.

Sometimes the story doesn’t. There have been instances when I have saved a copy of a newspaper page that had a story on it that I thought was interesting. When I went back to look at the story again, I couldn’t even tell which one was the reason that caused me to save the page.

Research

Once I select the story that I want to work on, I start researching it. The first thing I do is search the newspapers to see if there are additional stories concerning the topic. I also study the people and places in the story to get more background about them. Sometimes, I may interview someone, but often, I can’t find someone living who has something pertinent to say about the story. I may even do a web search to see if there is anything out in the ether that might help me.

Preparationboy-writing-clipart-boy_writing

I transcribe the information and quotes from my research into a Word document. This pulls together all of my research into one convenient location. I then sort and rearrange the information into roughly the order that I see the story progressing. This will sometimes show me gaps in my research that I need to research and fill in.

At this point, what I essentially have is a very meaty outline.

Writing

I start writing, moving from point to point in the outline and including the quotes that still make sense to include. This is another place where individual style comes into play.

I may write about the same thing as someone else, but the story I come up with will probably be very different. Both stories may be fine versions of the same idea. It just depends on whose style appeals more to readers.

So, that’s my process. Nothing too fancy, but it works for me.

 

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Here’s a screen shot of this blog post as I started to write it. You can see how the suggested changes are in the right sidebar. You can also indicate on the toolbar what types of checks you want the program to do.

 

I signed up for Grammarly last week, and I have been enjoying it. It seems to do a very in-depth grammar and usage check. I ran a 300-page manuscript through it, and it came back with 2,500 issues. As I am working my way through all of them, I find that about one-quarter are changes that I definitely need to make and another quarter are in a gray area that I think can go either way. I usually make the change. About half of the issues are things that I don’t believe need to be changed.

The program looks at contextual spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, style, and vocabulary enhancement. You can also run a plagiarism check. I haven’t tried this feature yet, so I can’t comment on how effective it is.

Grammarly offers a free and paid version. I’m not exactly sure what the differences are, only that the paid version found a lot more issues. The paid version is $140 a year. With the amount of writing that I do each year, it’s a bargain for me. I can head off mistakes before an editor sees them.

What I am finding is that the program is calling my attention to words that I use too much. I have to look at each one and decide if I want to keep it or substitute a different word.

I can see this becoming a very valuable beta reader of my books and articles; one that will improve my writing.

The program was easy to install. It not only looks at my Word documents, but another add-on also looks at any writing that I do online, such as e-mails.

Writers should check out this program. Sign up for the free version and try it out and see if it doesn’t help you write better.

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2500dagenrust-dicht-8001-300x300A common question that I hear when I teach novel writing or even talk with other writers is, “How long should my book be?”

My answer is usually, “What genre of book are you writing?”

There are different acceptable lengths for different genres of books. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write outside of those limits. I found one writer named Wildbow who had written a web-published book called Worm. It’s not on Amazon but you can find it online. It is made up of 31 arcs and an epilogue and each arc has about 10 sections. If it sounds long, it is. It has 1.75 million words or about 7,000 pages. Each arc I’m guessing could probably make up its own novel.

That’s an extreme example of an author writing outside of typical lengths. Some well-known novels can be outside of the typical lengths for their genres. Les Miserables runs long at 530,000 words while Old Man and the Sea is a short novel in any genre at 26,000 words.

Word count matters for publishers for a couple reasons. Longer books cost more to print, which means that they will have to charge a higher price, which could affect sales. Also, readers of certain genres expect books to be certain lengths.

Nowadays, an acceptable length for a novel depends a lot on the genre. Here’s a list I’ve compiled from different sources on the web and averaged out.

  • Flash  fiction: up to 1,000 words.
  • Short stories: 1,000 to 10,000 words.
  • Novellas: 10,000 to 50,000 words.
  • Middle grade readers: 20,000 to 55,000 words. The longer books are for the older students.
  • Westerns: 50,000 to 80,000 words.
  • Romance: 50,000 to 100,000 words. The smaller ones are the ones that are published by companies by Harlequin while the larger are independent.
  • Young adult: 55,000 to 75,000 words.
  • Memoirs: 75,000 to 85,000 words.
  • General fiction: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Mystery: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Horror: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Historical fiction: 90,000 to 105,000 words. These tend to be longer because of the need to weave in historical detail.
  • Science fiction and fantasy: 90,000 to 115,000 words. These books tend to be longer because there is a lot of worldbuilding involved.

These numbers aren’t locked in stone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which were all in the same genre and targeting the same audience, ranged from 76,000 words to 257,ooo words. So there can always be exceptions, but generally not for first-time authors. Even Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was pretty close to the range for a young adult novel. The numbers didn’t grow until she had proven herself as a writer and the shown the popularity of the characters.

So, the first thing to do is write the best story you can. Once you have a good solid draft, then take a look at the word count.

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