Monday, December 17, 2007

Finding Space

I decided to take time over the past few weeks to clear out some of the many magazines, papers and other reference materials I've managed to hold onto for far too long. But, it's like trying to solve one of those puzzles handed out as favors at a birthday party when I was in elementary school many eons ago. I clean and clean and clean - I bundle and bag and recycle and even though I am making great progress I also feel like I'm getting nowhere. I think I've managed to scare the recylce pick-up person as I clearly am an aggressive recycler.

Another thing about holding onto certain information too long is that information is perishable. A good intelligence officer (some would say there is no such animal) will tell you that information is only valuable if received when it can be used effectively. Moreover, there is so much information now archived on the internet - some you have to pay for - that it's now so much easier to just search for it.

I've switched to electronic delivery of just about everything I can - and you guessed it - my email inbox is now as cluttered as my snail mailbox used to be - and even more so. However, I do find it much easier to purge the electronic mailbox than the physical one. In my last posting I talked about the digital revolution and I for one welcome the switch on most things. However, I'm not ready to switch some of my magazine subscriptions to the digital device without the option for color - among some other desired features. I do have some magazine subscriptions coming to me electronically but they are easier to read on a larger computer screen than on a B&W smaller ebook device.

Still, as I was purging some older reference materials I did note that I am already capturing more and more reference materials electronically than I did even five years ago. That's because it's so much easier to do so. The main way I capture articles and other information of interest is to print to pdf format into a well-organized electronic file structure for my use only. I like to share links with folks on my blogs and in my various writer forums but my pdf files are for me and my reference. It's easy even for writers to forget that online material is copyrighted. It's almost too easy to share stuff on the web and forget copyright restrictions. The best way to share is by sending a link or using the publishers email option.

I often hear in writers forums the concern about electronic material being 'stolen' and republished illegally therefore depriving the author and publisher of royalties. This is a legitimate concern but as a friend of mine who's a publisher said, the cost of using some of the digital security software is so high that the ebooks would have to be priced well above amounts most folks would be willing to fork over. Besides, word on the street is that hackers have already cracked some of the security measures. So, it's not an easy situation to deal with.

As we go from gigabytes to terabytes to petabyes it's clear that we are addicted to information. Check out this link for just how much data we are poised to capture in the near future:

http://www.t1shopper.com/tools/calculate/

Another site I like for computer references like these is:

www.webopedia.com.

Well back to my efforts to reduce my paper clutter and make more space for what I like to do best - read and write.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Digital Revolution

Just when you thought you knew everything you needed to know to become a published author-- the world changes.

Okay, I know that sounds awfully dramatic, but some of the recent changes in the publishing world are just that - DRAMATIC!

And I’m excited about the possibilities.

Almost simultaneously the following publications provided their own brand of ammunition for the digital revolution can(n)on:

In the Nov 12, 2007 edition of Publishers Weekly is an intriguing but teasing cover story with lots of visuals about some of the ‘New Models for Digital Content.’ Yes, you’ve been hearing about digital content and new platforms for sometime now, but the revolution may actually be here - or at least be getting started. I personally think that it’s been here for a while, creeping along, pulling us in - some screaming and kicking, others with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts and on their MP3 players.

What’s important to note here is that publishers are looking for more and more digital vehicles to sell content to increasingly tech-savvy and time-crunched generations. Delivery can be via your cell phone, email, PDA or the new e-reader from Amazon.

The Nov 26, 2007 edition of Newsweek touts that ‘Books Aren’t Dead’ and delves into the new reader from Amazon.com with a teaser about the ‘Future of Reading’ by Stephen Levy. Personally, I’m just happy that there is a future, given the decline of readership in the past decade or so. The device that Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos is now introducing is called the Kindle. According to the article, the Kindle is so named to evoke the crackling spark of knowledge.

Here’s the link: http://www.newsweek.com/id/70983

Contrast these two articles with a brief but poignant article in USA Today about the decline of recreational readers. Fiction writers may be shuddering at this pronouncement, as it renders an already competitive arena even more difficult to break into and maintain a foothold.

Here’s the link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2007-11-18-reading-decline_N.htm?csp=34

and from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette here’s the NEA’s take on this issue:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07324/835242-42.stm?loc=interstitialskip

So, what are we as writers to think about all of this? Will readers read more recreational material, such as fiction, if the material is delivered on electronic devices? Perhaps. I say perhaps because anyone writing content for digital devices needs to understand that the use of white space is important. Readers pressed for time want to be able to read whenever they can - between train stops, on lunch breaks, long elevator rides, and even in the restroom. Information has to be delivered in concise chunks that can be easily parsed around the readers daily life.

Add to this the fact that traditional print sources for fiction reviews are going the way of the dinosaur. However, online review sources are proliferating.

So, as a writer, especially of fiction, why am I so excited? I’m excited because just as readers today are pressed for time and have too many things clamoring for their attention, I face the same challenges in finding time and space to write. I’m excited about the electronic devices that allow me as both a fiction and non-fiction writer to deliver smaller, more bite-size pieces of information and entertainment to my readers. I’m also excited because the new digital world allows me to reach an increasingly international audience, many who crave anything American.

I love the challenge of trying to compress my thoughts and ideas into a smaller more concise package. In some ways, I view this as the part of writing that defines each of us as unique artists as we carefully select the words we want to use to paint our literary pictures. The challenge for writers is to distinguish themselves from everyone else. The rise of digital media gives us the opportunity to do so.

In a way, we were all given a wake-up call when Graphic Novels became so popular, especially with younger generations. Shorter sentences. Faster pace. Infobites.

Does this mean the complete demise of paper-based books? Hell no! Remember the paperless office? Didn’t happen. Certain things will always lend themselves to electronic delivery such as bank statements, etc., but some things will always be better in ‘traditional’ paper format. What seems to be happening is that readers are increasingly given a choice as to which format they want their books delivered in. And more choices for readers can mean more opportunities for writers.

While others bemoan the electronic age, I for one am joining the digital revolution!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A little bit of research

A couple of sites to visit to research publishing industry statistics include:

The Association of American Publishers - Estimated Book Publishing Industry Net Sales:

http://www.publishers.org/industry/2005_S1FINAL.pdf


Dan Poynter's Para Publishing site:

http://www.parapublishing.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm


Romance Genre Statistics from the Romance Writers of America:

http://www.rwanational.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics

Monday, November 12, 2007

As Time Goes By

Okay - it's been longer than I expected before I could get back to blogging. BUT - I've been working on some very important projects to include a series of tax tips articles for writers. So many writing projects - so little time.

I did want to share something that I read today at Publisher's Weekly online. Here's the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6496987.html

The topic is the best books of the year (according to PW). What struck me most was the reference in the intro to the list that 3,000 books are published daily (yes, DAILY) in the US - not the world - the US! I find that staggering, especially as writers struggle so much to become published. Apparently, PW reviews over 6,000 a year so that oughta tell you the odds of getting reviewed by them.

So, let's look at what this number might mean.

Not so long ago, Todd and I were at a writers's conference and I remember listening to a talk where the topic was the odds of becoming published. I regret to say that the name of the presenter escapes me but not his words - I do remember that the presenter was male. Anyway, he said something that has stuck with me since that conference and that is:

It is easier than ever to become published, but harder than ever to make a living at it.

So, those 3,000 books represent in some ways a saturated market where potential readers have more choices than they can realistically consume. As a result the average writer makes less money than before. Yes, the writers who make those million dollar advances make the news but they are the exception, which is why they make the news. The average writer still makes a much smaller amount of money. About 10 years ago that was pronounced to be around $10,000 a year by one of the trade associations that represents writers and that's the average which included all the writers who received those million dollar advances.

So, you can work very, very hard and make very little money. What's a writer to do? Write the best damn book you can and one that you can be very proud of because in the end that's priceless!

Friday, October 5, 2007

It's been awhile

I know it's been awhile since I last blogged - kinda defeats the purpose of blogging, doesn't it? I won't bore you with all the reasons except to say that there are many. I hope to be back blogging on a regular basis soon.

In the meantime, have a great long, holiday weekend for those fortunate enough to get Monday off.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reality Gets In The Way

The following was originally posted at the Acme Authors Blog:

One of the joys of writing is the ability to escape to other places and pretend to be whomever you want to be or create characters who do many of the things you might be afraid to do yourself. Writing is also a way to work through personal difficulties.

One of my ancestors, Wallace Bruce - or WB as I call him, was a world-renowned Robert Burns scholar and poet. In fact Wallace Bruce held the same Poet Laureate post in Scotland in the late 1800's that Robert Burns had held a century before and it is through WB that I am a descendent of Robert the Bruce according to genealogical records. While I'm not putting my self anywhere near WB's league in my writings I find myself drawn more and more to poetry to work through some difficult times.

Here's my offering of a poem-in-progress (the name I use is another story):

Learning to Fly by Vashtie

I learned to walk
I wanted to learn to fly
I learned to smile and talk
And I learned how to cry

Every step I take a treasure
In this journey called life
Bringing both pain and pleasure
With intense joy and strife

At times the pain is too great
At times the joy euphoric
I hang onto the ride each takes
The highs, the lows are chaotic

I dared to love but life stalled
While I tried learning to fly
My wings breaking in the fall –
I fell hard looking up at the sky

But I will take these broken wings
And learn to fly again and again
Because to not try, to not fly nor sing
Is like slowly dying before the end

As I put one foot in front of the other
I console myself that I can even feel
But these feelings threaten to smother
Both what is farce and what is real

Every step is part of life's journey
Every joy and pain part of a story
Every story is a journey
Every journey has a story

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Conference Plugs

Okay here's my plug for a conference local to the Chicago area and my discalimer is that I'm on the board. It's called Love Is Murder (www.loveismurder.net) and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2008. It's held the first weekend in Feb each year so check out the website and consider coming. My husband Todd, the Novelist's Boot Camp guy, will once again present his workshop and in the past there has been Standing Room Only (SRO). So come on over this coming Feb to the Love Is Murder conference and make sure you register for the Novelist's Boot Camp - one of the best kept secrets in the Chicago area. Also, check out www.storytellerroad.com for more information on Novelist's Boot Camp - a Writer's Digest book - and Todd's works of fiction to include two award winning mysteries. See you at Love Is Murder or one of Todd's other venues for Novelist's Boot Camp.

His loving and supportive wife, and his number one fan.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Many Hats A Writer Wears

I've been sadly neglecting my fiction WIP. Instead I've been working on my non-fiction Tax Tips for Writers articles. It's a different mindset than writing fiction. I've also been working on tallying up the costs for this years writers conferences, events and other related expenses. Let's just say it's not uncommon for those of us at the lower end of the publishing rung to spend much more than we take in with regard to our writing.

In the process of researching information for one of my tax articles I came across some information from and relating to a Government Accounting Office (GAO) audit of the IRS. Yes, even the IRS is adutied, but specifically for the way they do business. The audit addressed the Tax Gap, which is the amount of money that is not collected but owed to the Federal government. The GAO has determined that the largest contributor to the increasing tax gap - now estimated to be in excess of 300 billion dollars - is from underestimating income and overestimating deductions. The biggest offenders of this, contends the GAO, is from tax entities that do not have third-party verification measures, specifically Schedule C filers, which includes writers who earn money as independent contractors.

As a result of this audit the GAO is strongly recommending that Congress give the IRS an adequate budget to perform more audits on this and other categories to close the Tax Gap in this country. For more information on how this breaks down go to http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06208t.pdf. You can also do a google search on "GAO Tax Gap" and you will get lots of hits. It's a hot topic!

Why is this such a hot topic? Well, as a country we are spending far more money than we are taking in and the tax gap provides a ready-made solution. After all, the gap address the money that isn't collected but that is legitimately owed, so there isn't a need to pass new tax laws. The IRS just has to collect what is owed.

So, what does this mean for writers? It means that writers need to have a better understanding of how the federal tax system works and how they can best comply with the rules of reporting and recordkeeping because based on the GAO recommendations to Congress and based on the need to bring in more money, the chance of being audited by the IRS just increased significantly.

A writer wears many hats in the course of her business - writer, promoter, travel agent, and yes bookkeeper. I hope to have a series of Tax Tips for Writers articles out very soon that will help writers navigate the thorny road of tax compliance. Yes, there is a plethora of information about taxes on the web and you should familiarize yourself with what's out there, but I'm hoping to bring a fresh approach to understanding the complexities of the federal - and some of the state - tax rules so that writers can feel confident that they are making a good-faith effort in complying with the law.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Man in Kilt

Todd recieved some interesting 'exposure' on a PW Blog. Here's the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/880000288/post/1830011983.html#comments

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Measuring Success

Todd's workshop at RWA (Romance Writers of America), "Unstick Yourself – A Dozen Dynamite Drills From Novelist's Boot Camp" was a HUGE success. I had 60 handouts and ran out with two rows of people left to go. To me this was especially amazing given that it was on Friday night from 6-8PM. The bookseller has also sold out of the Novelist's Boot Camp books and from my estimation she brought at least 40 maybe even 50 copies and quite a few people ordered the book online to have it waiting when they return from the conference. So we are jazzed. We have no flyers left and very few business cards. BUT, wait there's good news (I think) - Todd now has a camouflaged Toby Keith cowboy hat! Yes, you got it - Novelist's Boot Camp does
Dallas.

We also found out that some published authors are using Novelist's Boot Camp as their guide and text book for online workshops they are giving and several are here at the conference. The feedback is that they love using the book for this purpose.

And, most important of all - Todd and I have been able to spend some much needed alone time reconnecting. It's so damn easy to get caught up in all the work that has to be done with this crazy writing and publishing business (not to mention working full-time jobs) and lose sight of what's really important. Too much opportunity for feelings of neglect and not being appreciated, and while that type of angst works for characters in a book it's not that great for real relationships. It makes one vulnerable to predatory people who love to exploit the situation. So, don't neglect your life and your important relationships for your writing or the sake of being published. It really isn't worth it in the end if those relationships are important to you. I consider this trip to have been a success in our relationship as well as with the book. Ah, what a nice feeling that is.

We're looking forward to going to RWA National next year in San Francisco and then Todd will be on my turf. I grew up in Venice, California but spent an army assignment as a Company Commander in Monterey, California before heading for back-to-back assignments in South Korea. While stationed in Monterey, I spent many weekends in the San Francisco area and of course lots of trips to the various wineries for which Northern California is so famous. I would have taken Todd out to travel around this area before but I was (and still am a little) afraid that he wouldn't come back to the Chicago area. We're already making arrangements to rent a motorcyle and travel the area and as much of the Pacific Coast Highway as we can. We're thinking of retiring out that way.

As far as I know our daughter hasn't burned down the house in our absence, just a few other minor problems that can be worked through. We head back home tomorrow and then the reality of our day-jobs (the ones we can't quit!) loom over us sooner than we'd like.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blogging From RWA National

Well, after some iffy travel experiences we finally made it to Dallas and are now in the same hotel as the RWA National conference. We had to spend the first night in a different hotel because only three of the nights we are here were available in the conference hotel. Add travel manager to the many hats a self-employed author and his/her signficant other have to wear.

Todd and I are finding it ironic that when we left Chicago just yesterday, the weather had finally turned nice, just in time for us to come to Dallas and find the hot humid weather that was finally relenting in Chicago. Ah well, timing is everything.

We've been making new friends here and are pleasantly surprised how many have come up to Todd and have raved about his book Novelist's Boot Camp. His workshop is tomorrow night and we are optimistically hopeful that lots of eager faces will show. We're going to work the crowds the rest of the day to entice them to spend their Friday night with us instead of going out on the town. I think spending time with Todd and his Dozen Dynamite Drills from Novelist's Boot Camp is definitely the preferred place to be.

The keynote speaker at the luncheon today was Lisa Kleypas, whose first book was published when she was just 21. She told a fascianting story of her journey over the past 20 years as a published author. Let's just say that armadillos were featured. Seriously though, it was a great speech and she echoed many of the issues both aspiring and published authors face and that Todd and I talk about at our workshops and other venues.

On the plane ride to Dallas, I decided to read The Writer magazine that I had received in the mail just the day before. I recommend that everyone get their hands on the August issue (or go to http://www.writermag.com/wrt/ to see what the cover looks like), but it's the article on the Edgar finalists and winner. That article is fascinating because it dissects the journey each writer took to get to the point of having their book published. Again, something Todd and I talk about frequently when we present at conferences and other writing related programs.

Well, gotta go - Todd's throwing stuff around the hotel room anxious to get going on the things we need to get done today. Although I have to say that it's been nice to be by ourselves this trip. The grown-up daughter stayed home. Someone asked me who was babysitting and I said, "The dog, of course." Now before you take that the wrong way, we have a 14-year-old West Highland Terrier, and being both a Terrier and Scottish he knows what needs to be done and when.

But back to being alone. I often joke that I want to co-write an erotic romance with Todd so we can do the research. Let's just say that lately, and especially on this trip, we've done enough research to write quite a few.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Novelist's Boot Camp Does Dallas

Todd and I are off to the National Conference for the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Todd will be presenting a workshop called:

Unstick Yourself: A Dozen Dynamite Drills from Novelist's Boot Camp.

We've been to many, many writers conferences but this is our first time for RWA National and we are really looking forward to it. It's also the first time without the kid. The now 21-year-old kid so probably about time. I'm hoping for some much needed alone time with my husband although a national conference with 2,000 (mostly women) other attendees doesn't sound very alone, especially when he will spend most of that time in a kilt!

But we've gotten better at taking more alone time in the past few weeks - lots of motorcycle rides which he has always enjoyed and I just re-embraced, but also time to just sit together, drink coffee, stare into each others eyes and more. Sounds simple but that's what we let slip away over the past several years and that's what we've needed the most.

In trying to work out some of our issues recently, I likened marriage to a lawn (guys love their lawns!). When the lawn isn't maintained and nutured then weeds are very attracted to that lawn and have a better chance of taking root and keeping the lawn from being healthy and united. Todd and I have pulled a bunch of weeds out of our lawn lately both literally and figuratively. Some weeds were unfinished business from the past that have now been contained and eliminated. Bottom line is that it's the lawn owners responsibility to make sure weeds can't get in and anchor.

Next a trip to the hardware store - another place where guys like to indulge themselves.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Keeping It Real

The literary field is littered with writers who are alcoholics, on their third even fourth marriage, drug addicts, you name it. Not every writer has one of these scars but many writers do because how else would we be able to put into words such intense emotions as loss, redemption and growth! How can a writer describe something she has never felt?

Well, some writers can because they are keen observers but still there has to be something in their experience that resonates with the energy and emotions going on in a scene that they are writing. That's why many writers are such tortured souls.

I am one of those writers. I have a very tortured soul and I sense that Todd does as well. We both grew up poor, hungry for love and badly abused. We've beat the odds in many ways and not only survived but thrived. Still old news and old demons have constantly attacked our present day selves and we almost let them win recently. We certainly let them in and they pinged around doing some damage. Time will only tell if the damage is reversable enough to recapture the love and attraction that brought Todd and I together in the first place.

I owe my husband an apology - and I will do so in public - for letting the fear of the past shutout my true feelings for him and get in the way of us. He even gave me a message in his second mystery novel, No Place Like Home, at the end where the hero and his love ride off together on a motorcycle. I even said, "You wrote that for me, didn't you?" and he replied, "Yes."

I'm hoping that it's not too late to correct the damage that's been done. I'm hoping that from now on we can keep it real between us and not let the past define our present. I even said to Todd that once we honor our current author/writing commitments if he wanted to stop chasing all the writing dreams then I was with him. If he wants to keep going I'm with him as well. I just don't want to lose him, myself or us in the process.

We had two wonderful rides together over the weekend and I'm hoping for many, many more. I love you Todd - have since I met you and always will. You're my hero and bad biker dude and I just want to let you know that you are more important than any title or book contract or anything else and I would love to ride off into the sunset with you.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Writers Block

One of the things that Todd likes to talk about in his Novelist's Boot Camp Workshops is Writers Block. He has several drills to help properly identify what it is and what it isn't as well as drills and techniques to overcome it.

Often writers say they're 'blocked' when in reality their life events are getting in the way or weighing them down. We had such an event recently.

Todd was walking the dog Wed night at around 10:35 PM when another dog was suddenly let out of a house not too far from ours and this dog attacked ours. Now our dog Rocky is a 14 year old West Highland Terrier (all things Scottish to go with our heritage) who is in pretty good shape for his age but he's a smaller dog. The dog that attacked him was much bigger and grabbed Rocky by the neck and started shaking. We took him to the emergency vet service in our area because he had a puncture wound in the back of his neck.

Rocky is a member of our family and I know lots of folks will relate to this sentiment. So, we take good care of him, which is why the Vets often tell us he looks and acts much younger than he is. Still he's an old dog and events like being attacked take their toll on older dogs, and their owners.

We've already followed up with our regular vet and I have to take him back in a couple of days to make sure he's healing properly. So, far so good but Rocky is definitely feeling the pain. I did contact animal control and this isn't the first time they've had a problem with the dog that attacked ours.

So, life gets in the way and my plans to work on my writing projects got a bit derailed, albeit temporarily. I was also incredibly tired on Thursday after spending time in the Vet emergency room waiting for Rocky to be seen Wed night. On Thursday riding the commuter train home from where I work in Chicago I dozed off while trying to type. Again, life events got in the way. But it was interesting talking with the other folks in the emergency room even thought it was almost midnight and we were all there under traumatic circumstances.

One of the women had brought in a feral cat that had kind of adopted her but stayed outside. She had found it that day with a metal trap (you know the kind they use on wild animals) around one of it's legs. Ultimately, the cat ended up with a broken bone but what a cruel thing to do to this animal. We're not talking an area that is out in the boonies somewhere. We're taking a developed and established area that has animal control services. The woman said that she believed it was teenage males next door to her that set the trap up to see what would happen.

She described other aggresive and down right evil behaviors from these males that were definitely anit-social and even somewhat psychotic. So I said to her - "I know this might sound strange, but my husband is a mystery author and because we've had to reserach criminal behavior, what you're describing isn't healthy." She said that she knew that but that her brother told her just to ignore these males but another family member said how much she worried about her living next to people with such dangerous behaviors. I encouraged her to report the situation to at least animal control.

I also told her that while not everyone who does what these young men are doing turns out to be a serial killer, all serial killers have this type of behavior in their pasts - especially the sadistic behavior.

Writers block (if such a thing really exists) aside you never know when your research will come in handy.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Weekend In the Life of a Writer

Todd and I spent last night at Dukcon (www.duckon.org) where he presented his Novelist's Boot Camp. It was a great success. Then this morning we dragged ourselves out of bed to drive to downtown Chicago and Printer's Row for the annual bookfair sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. Todd signed books in the Twilght Tales Tent and a great time was had by all. It was a beautiful day for an outdoor event such as the Printer's Row Book Fair and we caught up with old writer friends and acquaintances.

Tonight I return to Duckon, which thankfully is just a few blocks from my house, to help another writer friend of mine, Kelle Z. Riley (http://www.kellezriley.com/), sell her books and provide assistance in her workshop as needed.

Then tomorrow I return to Duckon to present a session on Tax Tips for Writers.

On Monday - we all return to work our day jobs that pay the rent, put food on the table and provide medical coverage.

Okay, I know it sounds like I'm complaining. Yeah, I am a little. Just want folks to know it ain't as easy as people think. Even the folks who make it look easy are only foolin' ya!

So, why do we do this. Because we can't NOT do it. Disease or Passion? Take your pick but it's a calling, it's a compulsion, it's an obsession, it's all of the above. Just know that it takes a lot of stick-to-it-ness to make a go of writing. I often say (and may have said it in this blog) that there are two types of writers who don't get published - those that give up and those that die first. That should tell you something.

I suspect that most of the artistic endeavors have the same challenge. My daughter is a musician and that is yet another arena where very few make a living off their talent. But we're in there helping her. She cut her first demo CD and she's been a backup singer in a local cover band. So far, lots of hard work but more money going out than coming in.

So, next time you see an new writer or a struggling musician consider buying their book or CD. You can always give them as gifts but you just might find out that you like them for yourself. After all, even the big name authors were nobody's starting out hopeful that someone would buy their books. I just read that a first edition Harry Potter is expected to 'catch' 20k (that's $20,000!) at an upcoming auction. Can you imagine if you had bought one of the first editions?

Okay, so the odds are against you being able to predict something like this but think about how much good you can do for a struggling writer or musician. The holidays are coming up and books and CDs make great gifts. They really do.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Don't quit your Day Job - Part III

Continuing with the example in the previous blog let's look at the following:

It's the next tax year and I've received my second half of my advance - $2,500 (or $2125 if I have an agent). I've also received my first royalty statment and while my book is selling I haven't yet earned back my advance from the publisher. So my income for the year in the second quarter is $2,500.

On my second royalty statement I've earned back my advance and earned an additional $1975 in royalties. So my income for the year is $4475. I have expenses of $375 to my agent and $1100 in additional expenses that include travel and attending conferences to promote my book. So, my net income for my Schedule C is $3,000. This amount becomes income on my Form 1040 and if it's my only income then my standard deduction will reduce this to zero but once again I will still owe Self-Employment tax which in this case amounts to $423.89. The calculation is ($3,000 X .9235) = $2770.50 then ($2770.50 X .153) = $423.89. Again, see Schedule SE for more details.

One of the ironies of becoming a published author who is earning royalties is that you, the writer, have to spend some of that royalty money to promote your book so it sells and so your publisher will want to publish even more of your books. There's a saying in the writing/publishing industry - "You're only as good as your sales figures from your last book!"

Bringing this discussion back Close To Home (great title for a book!) I see Todd working very long hours not only promoting his latest book, Novelist's Boot Camp, but also his four works of fiction. In addition to this he is working on another piece of non-ficiton and working a full-time job, AND developing the story line for another piece of fiction - this one a military suspense/mystery, AND working on the plot for a motorycyle mystery series.

The second weekend in June 07 we're off to Duckon (www.duckon.org) and off to Printer's Row (http://www.chicagotribune.com/about/custom/events/printersrow/) both are happening Close To Home (there's that title again!) so we don't have extensive travel for these two gigs - thankfully!

We traveled last weekend for a sister RWA Chapter's retreat - Todd and I are both members of the Windy City RWA Chapter (www.windycityrwa.com). It was an incredible retreat and we had a fabulous time with all the members of the Chesapeake RWA Chapter in a beautifully rustic setting. Todd gave a Novelist's Boot Camp to the group and it was extremely rewarding to see recently published, multi-published and struggling-to-be-published (including me) get something out of the techniques that Todd presents. I attend every boot camp that Todd puts on and while he has a basic set of drills and techniques that he presents based on his book he also tailors the presentations based on the venue and the audience.

I get something out of every boot camp and I as I continue to work on my final (I hope!) edit of my romantic suspense novel I marvel at how much I still have to learn.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Don't Quit Your Day Job - Part II

Most folks wrongly believe that once a writer has a book published he or she becomes instantly rich. While that does happen occasionally, it is unlikely for most writers. In fact, a small percentage of writers can actually make a living off the income generated by the sale of their written works, and that takes into account all those writers who get those fat advances. These folks are in the very small minority.

To illustrate, let's look at a few examples over the next few blogs:

First example: Let's assume that I just received an offer for my romantic suspense novel. Depending on who the contract is with and depending on whether or not I have an agent (who will take a percentage - normally 15 - right off the top) I can expect on average an advance of a few thousand dollars as a first time novelist. Let's say that advance is $5,000. Advances are often paid in two installments (first half when the contract is offered and the second half when the book is published) and go against future sales. Given the time between when a book is accepted and when it is actually published we will assume that the two royalty payments are in different tax years. Oh BTW - not all publishers offer advances.

SIDE NOTE: According to Jane Friedman of Writer's Digest Books speaking at the Aurora, Il Literary Festival this past June, 30% of all books where an advance is paid never earn back that advance for the publisher. What does this mean for a new writer? You may not get another offer from that publisher since your book didn't earn back your initial advance or if you do your next advance will be less than your first or none at all.

Okay back to my example. So, I now have $2,500 in my bank account ($2125 if I have an agent). BUT I obviously had expenses leading up to the sale of the book and I obviously have living expenses. If I'm married or have a day job the impact of this on my living expenses will be somewhat mitigated.

Let's say my expenses related to producing my novel (my product for sale) total $500 and to keep things simple let's say it's my only income. So, my net income on my Schedule C (Sole Proprietorship), which is part of my federal income tax return, will reflect gross income for my writing business of $2,500 minus the 15 percent to my agent or $375 and minus the $500 for my expenses leaving me with a net business income of $1625.

The $1625 is carried over to the federal 1040 tax form to be included in the calculation to determine income tax (if this is my only income my exemption and standard deduction will most likely zero this out). BUT as a small business owner - which is what a Schedule C is I may also owe self-employment tax.

Remember that I'm not receiving a W-2 for the $2500 because I don't work for someone else who is collecting and paying what's called payroll taxes to the respective government agencies - think medicare and social security and other taxes. Self-employment taxes are essentially applied to small business income of $400 or more net income and it's essentially a 15% tax (See IRS Form SE for the exact calculation). So, even if I wipe out my income tax I still owe self employement tax which in this case is $230. And if I didn't make an estimated tax payment during the quarter(s) in which I earned this money I will have to write a check to the federal government, and there might be penalties involved for not making those estimated payments. I just depends on my overall tax profile.

Oh, and I may even owe state income tax depending on where I live.

And BTW - royalties from most publishers are paid quarterly or even semi-annually. Again, there are not withholdings for taxes because it is the responsibility of the small business owner - you the writer - to make those payments, hence the quarterly payment process.

So you see, just because I received an advance for $5,000 doesn't mean I get to keep it all and doesn't mean I get it all at once.

Next time, we'll change the scenario and run the numbers again.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't Quit Your Day Job - Part 1

I managed to squeeze in 45 minutes worth of revisions on my romantic suspense on the train the other day -- the train I take home each day after work. The crowded, noisy train. I can usually block everyone out - I don't know them so it's easy to ignore them. I put my head phones on, tune out the people, tune in the music and try to lose myself in my story. Most of the time it works.

When I'm tired it's harder to do.

At home it's harder to ignore my family -- including the dog. So, it's harder to write, most of the time when we're all home together. I'm tired at the end of the work day and all I want to do is veg on the nights Todd and I don't go to the gym.

I find myself wishing I could quit my day job and stay home and write. You know how that feels. That sense of longing when you say to yourself, "If only I could do X, I'd be so happy."

But then I run the numbers. The former army engineer in me can't help it. The IT support person I am now won't let me do anything else. So, I run the numbers and I run them often to see what my options are.

Reality is that my husband and I have worked very hard to achieve what we have. We both grew up poor and used ROTC to get through college followed by nearly 14 years in the army. We are now enjoying the fruits of our labor - well sorta. We're also putting our daughter through a private college. I find it ironic that we worked hard to pull ourselves out of the low-income life we came from so we could pay through the nose to provide a better life for our daughter. I know others can relate to this.

Anyway, back to the numbers. My husband and I haven't worked this hard to give up what we've worked for. We don't have a lavish life - far from it. We don't take 'real' vacations (although I hope that changes next year). We go to writer's conferences or motorcyle events - Todd's other passion. So, we'd want to have enough income to continue doing the things we enjoy doing.

We buy cars that we expect to last 10 to 15 years. I'm still driving my Honda Prelude that's 20 years old now. We'll probably have to replace it this next year as it's finally showing it's age.

But I won't go back to the days of struggling and wondering where my next meal was coming from. I won't go back to the time of having to forgo a doctor's visit because it would cost more money than I had.

My goal is to retire debt free and have enough retirement income to cover all our retirement expenses and not worry about how I will pay for increases in medical expenses, property taxes, gas -- you name it. Just watch the news today to hear how hard it is for people to cope financially, especially those on fixed incomes. Hell, just look around your neighborhood or your extended family - I'm sure you'll find at least one person who is a senior citizen (not sure I like that label) who is having to make a choice between essential items that need to be paid but where money is insufficient.

So, I run the numbers and I continue to write within the confines of my working life because I can't afford to quit my day job and maintain what I've achieved.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

One foot or word in front of the other

Writing and revising a novel is a lot like training for and running a race. Just as there are short stories there are short races (5k and 10k) and just as there are novellas there are in-between length races such as half-marathons. Then there are the novels of various lengths and difficulty just as there are marathons and marthons combined with other events to create duathlons and triathlons. Depending on what you want to write or which race you want to run your training and practice will vary.

One thing they all have in common is being able to persevere, to put one foot or one word in front of the other, especially when you don't think you have it in you.

I write and I run races. October 2006, just shy of my one-year anniversary from major surgery, I ran the Chicago Half-Marathon. I was very nervous about running the race but several people in my office had signed up and it was the 10-year anniversary of the race. I had run lots of 10k races when I was in the army and after we relocated to the Chicago area I ran mostly 5k races with a few sprint triathlons and duathlons thrown in over about a 10 year period. I'd only run a 13 mile distance in training many years ago. As I said it was one week shy of a year since major surgery. BUT I had turned 50 in 2006 and I desperately wanted to do something challenging to prove to myself that I wasn't old and half-dead. Still, I was not in the best of shape and I'm still struggling to get back to a level of fitness that will make me happy and feel good about myself.

I ran the Chicago Half-Marathon and didn't stop until 8 1/2 miles. I never like to stop running during a race for many reasons and this was the first time since I started running races that I did this. Still I ran 8 1/2 miles before stopping! To me that's a signficant accomplishment all things considered.

Then I had to finish the race. I always finish my races no matter how slow I run. It's important to me. It's also a challenge because I have severe, chronic asthma and I have to pace myself accordingly. Several people were taken away in ambulances that day so this is serious stuff. I finished the race. I wasn't the last on the list of finishing times but not far from it. BUT I finished the race!!! I met my goal of finishing the race alive.

It finally dawned on my that my writing endeavors were very similar to my running endeavors. It really is a matter of pacing yourself to accomplish a goal and a matter of putting one foot, or one word, in front of the other and reaching THE END.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An Overnight Success

Todd and I just returned on Saturday from the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention in Houston where we met up with some friends and acquaintances. One of those who we definitely consider a friend is Kate Douglas (www.katedouglas.com). Kate is just a wonderful person.

We first met Kate at an Epicon conference in Washington State in 2002 - soon after the organization started. Todd and Kate both have novels published with Hardshell Word Factory, an independent publishing house that has given many authors a chance to publish and in some cases start and build successful careers.

Kate's publishing carrer has begun to skyrocket as you can see from her website mentioned above. She is now published with Kensington and has a loyal and growing readership for her Wolf Tales and Sexy Beast series. Kate and Todd were marveling at the overnight success label that often is placed on writers and other artists who have suddenly made it big - or so it seems. The overnight success is often the result of decades of hard work. Both Kate and Todd have a long history in the field of writing to inlcude newspapers, academia, freelance work and corporate communications. They've both worked extremely hard and they both have loving and supportive spouses.

So what sets writers like Kate and Todd apart from some others? In my opinion both are hard-working professionals who've paid their dues. Despite many obstacles, they've persevered because they've continued to work hard until they found an outlet for their voice.

I often say there are two types of writers who will never be published - those who give up and those that die.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Passion or Disease?

Anybody who has been writing for awhile and been around other writers has to wonder at some point what is wrong with all of us.

Think about it!

We toil for hours if not days or even years to produce a written product, such as a novel that we desperately hope some editor will love enough to plop down a fat advance for and even request more future works. That's our fantasy.

Our reality is usually filled with rejection letters from both editors and agents and when we are rewarded with a book contract it usually means editorial corrections and back and forth negotiations over titles and characters. Don't even get me started about promoting the book, something I work hard with Todd on for his four novels and of course his non-fiction work, Novelist's Boot Camp.

So, what is wrong with us? I keep hearing the Church Lady on SNL say, "Well, aren't you special!"

Well, yes, we are. Writers record history, they record life and through their lens we and future generations just might espy scenes of life that might otherwise be lost. We are a camera in a way for current and future generations. But it comes at a cost.

Most of us work fulltime jobs - we have to. Most writers are not employed by a company with benefits. Writers typically are self-employed and 'freelance' whether it's writing articles or works of fiction or nonfiction. These commitments leave less time for family, friends and other pursuits. Still, most writers wouldn't have it any other way. They can't help themselves.

Todd and I - and the kid - are leaving towards the end of April to fly to Houston for the Romantic Times Book Lovers convention. I often tell people that my family doesn't go on vacation we go to writers conferences. We probably won't get outside the hotel much - Todd is presenting one of his Novelist's Boot Camps and I am assisting. We will try but we will also be very tired after long, long days of networking and doing what writers do at conferences.

We're lucky in that the whole family - all three of us at the moment - participate in this writing adventure. Otherwise, I'd look at my husband and consider him possessed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Writing - A lonely pursuit

Writing is often a solitary process and the internet has made it even easier to be isolated from people. Oh sure, there are the chat rooms, email, virtual gathering places such as My Space and more but that's not the same as actually meeting another person face-to-face. Yeah, there are pictures even sound files that someone can add to express their individuality but it's not the same as seeing someone in person, warts and all. While these aforementioned virtual communication tools make it so much easier and faster to conduct business they lack the multi-dimensional interactions with people that have both positive and negative results.

I'm all for taking advantage of these tools but much of what we bring to the table as writers is our ability to observe the many nuances of human nature that help make our characters come alive and feel real to our readers. People often present themselves differently in emails than they do in person. They can hide or take on a different persona or worse abandon all boundaries of human decency. They can even operate in the extremes.

In Novelist's Boot Camp, Todd discusses leveraging the senses to engage the reader. To do this it's important to be able to observe with all the senses, which is why it is so important to interact with others. So how does one find time to do this while maintaining a busy writing schedule and life? Most of us don't need to add one more thing to our already cluttered to-do lists. So, we draw from our own lives.

I would argue that writers can't help but draw from their own experiences, even in fiction. So, when does fiction cross over to reality? Well that's the million dollar question as we all saw with the James Frey/Oprah Winfrey debacle in 2006. There's also a crop of new fiction books out where speculation is running wild that these are really non-fiction tales wrapped up as fiction to expose the authors experiences working for well-known personalities. (See USA Today Book section article titled, Insider Novels Push the Envelope - April 3, 2007.) Just the idea that these stories might be true or even partially true is intriguing to all of us. Scandal sells but when it backfires it does so in a big way.

One of the ways I try to keep myself grounded and less lonely as a writer is by joining certain groups and attending certain writer's conferences. One of those groups is the Windy City Chapter of the Romance Writer's of America and one of the reasons I belong to this particular chapter (located in the Chicago area) is to keep the writing process less lonely. I feel fortunate to have found this particular group so close to home because it's a group of writers who are extremely supportive and we all fuel each other towards accomplishing our goals. We have many published authors and every year we seem to add more and more first-time fiction (and even non-fiction) authors which is exciting. I hope to be one of those first-time fiction published authors in the very near future.

I've been published in non-fiction (mostly articles and commentary) but am still revising my first novel which is a romantic suspense centering on a forensic linguist who is pulled into an international smuggling scheme when the client for whom she is analyzing documents turns ups dead. I'm currently going through the seven revision passes that Todd defines in Novelist's Boot Camp. At first I balked at all the hard work this seems to require but now that I'm in the thick of it I feel that I am making real progress with my novel.

So, stay tuned as I share more of my writing adventures peppered with my observations of other writers whom I know and the one I even sleep with (2 if you count me!).

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Beginning

Actually, it's difficult to say when my writing adventure began, so I'll start with meeting my husband, The Published One!

When I met my husband he had already inked a contract for his first novel. It would be a year before the book would actually be released and the only copy to read was the manuscript that he had submitted to the publisher. That’s the book I read at the time.

When the book was finally published it was not exactly the same. The editorial process had chewed it up a little. Three more novels later I will tell you that this is not uncommon. The manuscript that an author submits and even gets accepted by a publisher is not necessarily the book that is published. This can often be a good thing, especially with the right editor. A good editor is invaluable to a writer.

My husband is Todd A. Stone and that first book is titled Kriegspiel - a play on a German word for war game and war story. A military techno-thriller it garnered favorable reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Time’s Review of Books. The editor chose the title as well. Todd’s offering for a title was actually War Story and for some reason the publisher thought that a hard-to-pronounce German word would be better. Better how, we aren’t sure. But the publisher prevailed and Kriegspiel was published in 1992.

More than a decade later Todd’s first non-fiction work – Novelist’s Boot Camp – a Writer’s Digest Book (WDB) was released in March of 2006. The book was originally pitched as How to Build a Better Book (we wanted to use the construction metaphor) but the editors at WDB wanted to leverage Todd’s military background and changed the title to Novelist’s Boot Camp and produced a military style book that has proven to be a highly successful product. I have to say that when we received that first copy we were truly impressed with what WDB had done. Sometimes the editors and publishers get it wrong and sometimes they get it right. In the case of Novelist’s Boot Camp, the WDB editors definitely got it right. Todd and I both have a military background and felt at home with the likeness that the book has to some of the military produced books we had used while in the army.

Todd routinely presents workshops and overviews based on Novelist’s Boot Camp (NBC) at libraries and for writer’s groups. He's been in this business of writing for a very long time - more than three decades and I've learned quite a bit from him, especially as I complete what I hope is my last revision of my first novel - a romantic suspense. In fact, as he was writing NBC I was working on my first draft of my novel and asking lots of questions. I often say that he wrote the book because I asked so many questions. Now he can just say - read the book! Which I do.