Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Electronic This and That

I receive quite a few eNewsletters and alerts. One of the more recent ones is from PW Daily and the tag line that caught my attention is: More iPhone e-Books.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6624689.html?nid=2286&source=title&rid=173369612

I find this intriguing for a number of reasons. The first is that it wasn't that long ago that many of the "big" publishers were dismissing eBooks as a fad that would never find a commercial audience. Of course, back then we didn't have the proliferation of electronic devices that we now have. Second, in some ways we've come a long way and in others we haven't. The article in the above link talks about how pricey the eBooks for the iPhone are right now. Often price is a deterrent for the acceptance of new ways of doing things so I'm always suspicious of why some manufacturers seem to price themselves out of success. Last, timing is important along with knowing the audience that is using the iPhones and therefore would be the logical audience for purchasing content for this device.

The price points mentioned in the PW Daily article suggests an older audience with more money. I could be wrong but I'm not sure the younger crowd, especially the college group, is going to pay the same price for an eBook on the iPhone as the hardcover price. The perception that electronic versions should be more affordable than paper ones has hung on for quite a long time and I doubt it will go away anytime soon. It will be interesting to see how well the iPhone does with eBooks but one thing is sure - despite the predictions that eBooks would never find an audience there are certainly lots and lots of manufacturers trying to get in on the action. Even though ebooks are a smaller portion of the types of books sold, publishers can no longer afford to ignore having an eBook format.

Ironically, one area where publishers are actually pushing the eBook or electronic format is in their own catalogs typically produced to librarians and booksellers. The main reason is the amount of money saved in print and shipping costs. In this case, the switch to e-format is being pushed from the top down, in other words, the publishers are forcing this on the consumer for their catalog - the librarians and the booksellers. Now, they won't force it on their reading public but it does make one wonder why they seem to be actively getting in the way of it being adopted by their consumers by making the e-format as expensive as the phyical paper format. Obviously, I'm missing something. I hoped to be enlightened one of these days.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Books as Gifts

Books are great gifts. Books stay with us and let us explore worlds that we may not be able to access any other way. I remember in elementary school reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and being transported to a place different than any other I had ever known. As a class we read along with a record the teacher played where a narrator led us along an amazing adventure, but we read along. No visual stimulation other than the words. Our imgination was free to go where it wanted with the guidance of the words written and narrated.

Television was still in its infancy back then and my family only had a black and white one. At that time only rich people had color television sets when they first came out and nobody I knew had more than one black and white television set. Fast forward to today and I have a color television in almost every room. But I'm still a little behind the times because I don't have any LCD's or Plasma ones. Given the price drops in everything retail due to the current economic crisis I just might buy one for myself next year.

Anyway, one thing that television - regardless of the technological advances - can't provide is the freedom to escape via one's imagination with a good book. So, give a book to someone you care about - including yourself.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crime Pays!

Wait, wait, wait - I know the economy is tough but I'm not suggesting that anyone commit a crime. Rather, I'm echoing the cover of TV Guide magazine, Dec 8-14, 2008 issue. The gist is that crime shows, especially procedural ones, are hotter than ever. Well this grabbed my attention since I write romantic suspense. But hold the presses! What does this really mean for writers, especially since we're talking about the medium of television - and to an extent - movies.

Well, just because people watch television, doesn't mean that they read, but it doesn't mean that they don't. Television provides a more passive way of being entertained than reading but the fact that the crime shows are so hot means that viewers are looking for that adrenaline rush of what the crime shows provide. The twists and turns of trying to solve the crime along with the protagonists is intoxicating for many of us and mystery/suspense/thriller writers (and really all writers) need to take note.

The reality is that television has impacted on what readers expect. And let's not forget the impact of the internet and all other technology that is an increasing part of all of our lives. Simply put - readers, and potential readers are more interested in fast-paced, quicker reads. To a certain extent think James Patterson. He has short chapters that encourage the reader to want more and turn the page, something that lends itself well to electronic readers.

But I think a main element of the success of the crime shows is the problem or puzzle solving. Ironically, certain genres do better in poor economic times than other generes. If we harken back to other times of uncertainty such as right after the civil war and the Great Depression we can find that relatively inexpensive reads become a popular form of entertainment. The "Dime Novel" is just one example. See wikipedia for more information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dime_novel.

So, writers and readers sit up and take note. I believe that reading is still an affordable form of entertainment and it's during times of financial uncertainty that we sometimes see increases with certain publishers, especially category romance, mystery and more and more, online publishers. Whether it's because people want to escape from reality or immerse themselves in a problem-solving adventure I believe that the romantic suspense genre is attractive to many readers and I'm so glad that it is.

My second romantic suspense novel is progressing nicely and it is a joy ride for me to create it. I look forward to being able to share it and my first novel with readers in the near future. I'm being optimistic here but I really have high hopes that a publisher will want to share my voice with readers. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Writing

I started my next novel - another romantic suspense - and I can't begin to tell you how excited I am. Just a week ago I was anxious because I wasn't sure which project I would take on next. I routinely jot down ideas that strike me here and there and I was reviewing a number on my list and passing on each one. Then I thought of yet another one and the spark of creativity ignited a fire in me to write and I'm euphoric about the process and the potential.

Writing is hard work - no mistake - but when a story idea, and the process of writing that story, engages you - it's magical. I'm feeling like a kid again when I went to DisneyLand for the first time - Magical!

The only thing better than this will be a publishing contract and readers who feel the same about the story I am sharing with them. I look forward to that moment.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Writing With Purpose

Earlier this year I joined my local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and I just finished helping judge contest entries for the annual Patriot Pen's essay contest sponsored by the national VFW organization. Local chapters collect and judge entries and then the top ones are sent onto the national level. This particular contest - there are others - was open to middle/junior high school grades and while it was a bit of work, it was very rewarding. This is a great way for schools and veteran organizations to engage the student body in thinking and learning about veterans. The theme this year was: "Why America’s Veterans Should be Honored." For more information here's the link:

http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=cmty.leveld&did=151

I was very touched by how invovled the local schools were in supporting this contest but there are also valuable awards associated with this and the other contests that the VFW makes available. If you know any students who qualify or teachers please pass on the links for these annual contests.

Even with all the work involved with this contest I continued to work on the last rewrite of my manuscript - that is the last before an editor provides feedback, whenever that might be. I'm feeling very euphoric lately about my writing and continue to develop my writing, whether or not I actually get a contract. I now know it's in my blood and I can't give it up. One of my future goals is to setup a mechanism to engage veterans and all military personnel and their family members in writing more about their experiences. There are several projects sponsored by a variety of groups that address this need so I want to take some time structuring something that doesn't interfere or compete with these but rather augments their efforts. Stay tuned.

On another note and another passion of mine is running races such as 5k, 10k and half-marathons. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I ran the Chicago Half-Marathon and did well - I strive to do better next year. I also ran two recent races that raised money for veteran causes - a 5k and 10k. Prior to the 5k I stubbed my toe and didn't realize that I had actually fractured it. I thought I had only strained it. So, I ran the 5k and did okay and my foot hurt but after icing it again it seemed to be healing. Then I ran the 10k! Around mile 4 I started to hurt like hell, but I was determined to finish the race. I started chanting to myself - Troops in Iraq, Troops in Iraq. I figured if the Troops in Iraq could endure what they do everyday then I could run through the pain of a sprained foot. Well, the next day I went to the doctor and that's when the x-rays showed that I had badly fractured my toe and it was now infected. I'm glad I finished the race but I still inspire myself everyday to get through any adversity by remembering what the Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world are going through everyday.

If you know a veteran or a family member that has a story to tell conisder documenting it. So many veterans pass away before their story is told and it is their experience that helps us understand the past and hopefully make better decisions today and in the future. I often hear from people that the veterans in their families don't talk about their military experience, especially in times of war, but it's important for us as a nation, a country, a society and even for the world that this information is captured. I hope more veterans and family members are inspired to do this.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Next Step

Well, I haven't heard back from the editor to whom I submitted my query letter but writing buddies of mine who are published with this particular company say that's not unusual. I'm considering contacting an agent who represents some writer friends of mine and who has placed authors with this company. So, we'll see.

In the meantime, I've continued to work on my rewrites and that has gone well. I'm also looking at my next fiction project because if I'm going to spend this much time with another writing project, I want it to be one that I'm just as passionate about as I am with my first one.

I write during my commute on the train. It's the only place that I'm truly not distracted. When I'm home I can't escape all the chores and house projects I need to do and when I'm at work - well, I rarely get a lunch break and I'm on the go responding to all kinds of IT requests and urgencies. So, for about 30-40 minutes twice a day I get to ignore the world and lose myself in my story and writing. It's wonderful and very consistent which I'm finding out is important.

So, carve out that time of day that works best for you and get into a routine where everyone knows it's your time.

Happy Writing!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Some Great Opportunities for Students

There's a great writing contest opportunity every year for junior and senior high school students.

Go to www.vfw.org for more details about the following:

- Patriot's Pen, a youth-essay writing contest endorsed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals' and is a nationwide competition that gives students in grades 6,7 and 8 the opportunity to write essays expressing their views on democracy. Annually, more than 115,000 students participate in the contest. Contestants write a 300-400 word essay based on an annual patriotic theme. The first-place winner receives a $10,000 savings bond and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. The top national winners each receive a savings bond anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

- Created in 1947, the Voice of Democracy (VOD) scholarship program is an audio-essay contest for high school students in grades 9-12 that annually provides more than $3 million in scholarships. The first-place winner, who competes with all the first-place VFW Department winners, receives a $30,000 scholarship that is paid directly to the recipient’s American university, college or vocational/technical school.Besides competing for the top scholarship prize, as well as other national scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $16,000, each Department's first-place winner receives an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by Target. The VOD program is endorsed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals' and is designed to foster patriotism by allowing students the opportunity to voice their opinion in a three to five minute essay based on an annual theme.

- The VFW's Military Scholarship program provides 25 $3,000 scholarships annually to VFW members who are currently serving in uniform or have been discharged within the 36 months before the December 31 deadline. The scholarships will be awarded to servicemembers from each branch of service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard) during the first quarter of the year following the deadline. Note: For 2009, the program has been renamed to VFW Military Family Scholarship, and servicemembers may elect to use the scholarship for their spouse or child to attend school. Click on the VFW Military Family Scholarship Program brochure at right to apply and find out more information.

If you miss it this year - remember there's always next year so keep checking out the VFW website for details.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It's been a while BUT

I have a darn good reason. I finally submitted by query letter and synopsis to a publisher for my first novel - a Romantic Suspense. Two weeks ago I went to the post office and with pride and fear mailed off my precious envelope containing three sheets of paper that I hope will bring a response asking to see my completed manuscript. I toyed with sending it with delivery confirmation then decided against it. Wish I had done that now. I just want to know that it was received and when. Of course there's no way of tracking or timing where it goes and how long it stays at each stop within the publishing company.

As writers (published and unpublished) who have submitted know, it can take awhile to receive a response from any publisher. During this time I've tried to remain focused on my writing even browsing my numerous notes for other story ideas to start working on my next novel. I'm choosing to think and act optimistically. Of course, peppered in all of this have been fears and bad dreams that the post office lost my envelope, that it's sitting in some huge stack on the assistant editor's desk, or in the stack waiting for the form letter stating - thanks but no thanks!

As time has dragged by I've also gone back to my manuscript making one more pass to reassure myself that it is truly ready for an editor's desk. Like making bread, I have to be careful not to work it too much or the end product won't be as ready for consumption as I want it to be.

Other large events have been looming in my life as well so there's lots of pull on my time and attention. I'm on several boards related to writing - and one with a motorcycle club. The Love is Murder Board is increasingly busy as we ready for our 11th conference in June 2009. Check out our wonderful guests at www.loveismurder.net.

I'm also the program coordinator for my local chapter of the Windy City Romance Writers of America (RWA) and of course I have a full-time job. If that weren't enough I trained for and ran the Chicago Half-Marathon on Sept 14th and did pretty darn good - if I do say so myself. I clocked in at 2 hours, 17 minutes and 19 seconds. I'm very happy with my results. Two years ago it took me over three hours to run and I'm hoping to break 2 hours next year. In the meantime I'm readying for two 5k and one 10k race in November, two of which are fund raisers for veteran causes.

I aslo have a West Highland Terrier - Rocky the wonder dog - who is 15 years and 5 months old. Months are important for a dog when you think of the ratio of 7 dog years to one people year in terms of how fast they age. So, I'm spending as much time with Rocky as I can. So far he's looked and acted great for his age. Even the vets marvel at how well he looks when I take him in but I think this winter is going to be hard for him as he's showing signs of arthritis and his vision and hearing are degrading. He's already on high-blood pressure meds, but he has top-rate health care. I often joke that he has better health care than most of the people on the planet. Sad but true. Still, he's been a good friend and companion all these years - actually better than some human beings have been - so I'm enjoying being a good companion to him these days.

Then there's my yoga classes - twice a week. I've dabbled in yoga and pilates over the years but this time I'm in it for life and I'm enjoying every moment of it. I have two different instructors and while they both teach some of the same movements the energy they communicate with is different. I'm actually liking this difference right now as it challenges me in some interesting ways but my one instructor has this incredible ability to inspire and motivate people without pushing too hard. I walk away from his class feeling like I've grown spiritually, emotionally and physically. I rarely miss his class. I resumed yoga classes because running has become increasingly hard on my aging body and I'm finding out that I can run less in my practice runs because yoga is proving to be a challenging workout. I've added a yoga routine before and after my runs and while this has been tremendously beneficial, I find that having an instructor benefits me even more. I think everyone will benefit from yoga - give it a try!

Well, back to my last run through my manuscript. Wish me luck and send hope and positive energy that the publisher requests the completed manuscript. It's not a guarantee but it's a foot in the door. I hope to have good news to share in the not-too-distant future.

Take care and have a blessed and uplifting day and week.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reaching a Milestone

I finished the final major rewrite of my first novel. The image of Rocky Balboa running up the stairs and reaching the top comes to mind. Anyone who has written a novel remembers their first time when they finished their final rewrite. It's the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest for writers. Don't believe me? Write a book and find out for yourself.

There's still minor editing work to be done on my novel and I still have to submit it, but I'm now one major step closer and I have greatly enjoyed the journey these past few months. More so than I expected.

I spent last week in a wonderful little place just northwest of Toronto. A place called Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. I've been going there for a number of years now but this was the first time after the recent changes in the dynamics of my family situation. It was a reflective time for me which greatly facilitated my work on my final rewrite. I found a contentment there I've never known before.

In addition to writing, I went on several runs keeping pace with my training for the Chicago Half-Marathon this fall. On the last one I was chased by a dog but better than a bear, eh! At the end of each run I'd practice my yoga to the setting sun on the bay - the only word that justifies this experience is perfect! I also helped pick beans on my friends farm and later helped prepare them for freezing to be part of many good and delicious meals in the future.

So, my query letter and synopsis are ready to go and now I just have to take that leap and actually submit my work for consideration.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stranger than Fiction

Have you ever truly wondered why genres and themes of books and movies that do well resonate with so many people. Themes like betrayal, shame, deception and lies? That's because these emtional experiences really do happen in real life. They happen more than any of us care to admit.

We've all heard that the media sensationalizes things and as writers so do we to an extent. We amplify the imagery - if you will - of a scene or set of scenes to hook and draw our readers in, but in order to be hooked in the first place there has to be an emotional connection that the reader can grab onto. That's where real life experiences play a valuable role for writers.

Throughout history people have always gravitated to the surreal, to the sensational, to the larger than life stories. Before radio and television, public executions were a big entertainment draw. It's no wonder that reality shows do so well. People just naturally like to gawk and look in on others lives and often their misfortunes.

Why? Well, sometimes it helps us deal with our own lives as we think - "Thank God that isn't me!" Or we feel less alone when we know that we're not the only ones experiencing such emotional stress and heartbreak. Sometimes it's just because we want to be entertained and have an experience we wouldn't have otherwise. Just think of all the special effect movies and theme parks that draw people in.

Just look at your own life and look at the lives of some of the writers who've made it "big" in terms selling a lot of books. When their personal stories are revealed through interviews and articles there's usually something intense about their background that allows them to communicate on a level that grabs their readers and says, "I know how you're feeling."

Some recent experiences in my own life made be think that while shame, deception and betrayal are great for story themes, plot and character development, they suck for actual realtionships and then I thought: No wonder readers connect to certain genres! Most of us have been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt! When we are experiencing these situations it does feel amplified, it is dramatic, it is earth-shattering.

So, as writers that's what we need to give our readers if we want to connect with them. A depth in our writing and in our voice that says we understand what you feel, what you think and what you need, because in the end, life really is stranger than fiction.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Since I'm a veteran (former U.S. Army Engineer) the 4th of July has always been a true day of celebration for me. I think it's important to remember the sacrifice of all of our veterans whether in a war zone or not. I've always contended that just putting on a uniform and serving one's country - especially this country - is a mark of heroism. I extend that reverance to law enforcement, fire fighters, medical personnel, and so many others. I have great regard for what so many people in this country do that helps all the rest of us and their communities. Many of these people are quiet heros. They do what they do without expectation of recognition or even thanks. They do it because it's the right thing to do and their satisfaction is derived from knowing that they did the right thing. Just look around and you will find one of these heros in your community. Take that step to thank them for what they do.

I can trace my ancestry all the way back to the 1600's in this country and I have a number of ancestors who served bravely during the revolutionary war, the civil war and the two world wars. So, I take this day very seriously. I consider myself to be a true patriot of this country but some of my opinions about war and what the world really needs now suprise people. I believe in a strong military, hence one of the reasons I served, but I also believe that war should be avoided. I understand there are times when we have to defend ourselves and others but the real purpose of a strong military is to avoid going to war. Diplomacy works best from a position of strength but strength doesn't only come from threatening war. It comes more from doing good in the world. It was General and later President Eisenhower who in 1961 gave his famous Military-Industrial Complex speech. Here's the link:

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

Here's another part of that speech:

"Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad."

His words are perhaps more true now than ever.

So, what can each of us do this 4th of July and going forward? Here are some suggestions:

- rely less on oil. Look for alternate energy sources - a web search will give you some great information but here are some links to consider:

http://www.thegreenguide.com/
www.nrdc.org
www.worldwatch.org

- Do charity work. There are so many options out there. Despite the bleak economic news most Americans are still better off than the rest of the world. Money isn't the only thing charities want but check out your employer's matching programs and payroll deduction options. Charities often need you to physically join in. Consider visiting nursing homes, donating books to places like nursing homes, veterans centers, etc. Definitely consider visiting VA hospitals and just play a game of cards with a veteran or read a book. Cook a meal for a neighbor who needs help. Donate to your local food pantry. Little things really do make a difference.

- Looking for a pet? Get it from a shelter, especially now. As forclosure rates increase more and more animals are also homeless. Shelters are overwhelmed. You can also donate to and volunteer at your local humane society.

- VOTE!!!!! This is one of my big bugaboos with half the people in this country. They don't vote! I'm tired of hearing excuses like, "I don't know who to vote for," usually said in a whiny voice. DO your reasearch, damn it! With the internet and all the libraries in this country it's not that difficult. The other excuse, and the one I find the most ironic is - "My vote doesn't count," again said in a whiny voice. Well if you don't exericse your right to vote which in effect is your voice then of course it doesn't count - dumb a**! Politicians have all kinds of people collecting demographics of who does and does not vote. Guess what - if you routinely don't vote, politicians will ignore you. It's that simple. So, if you want your vote to count, if you want your voice to be heard then get off your lazy backside and vote! If you don't vote then don't bitch about anything, especially to me. As far as I'm concerened you get what you deserve by not voting. Think I feel strongly about this? Well, you're right.

What does all this have to do with writing? Glad you asked. Writers in this country have the first amendment that helps protect them and allows them to write what they want without fear of going to jail. There are exceptions to everything, but we aren't as in danger as writers in other countries are of going to jail because we write about the unpleasantries of life in this country and the world. Another reason to vote.

So, exercise your freedom to write and exercise your freedom to vote. The two go hand-in-hand.

-

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Writers & The IRS Presentation - Duckon 2008

For those attending my presentation on Writers and the IRS at Duckon 2008, June 15th - here are some links to information I will be presenting:

My Helium articles:

IRS three-out-of-five-year profit rule:

http://www.helium.com/items/1072740-irs-three-out-of--five-year-profit-rule

Understanding the Tax Gap:

http://www.helium.com/knowledge/151721-understanding-the-tax-gap-and-what-it-means-to-you

Why you should use electronic filing:

http://www.helium.com/knowledge/148276-e-file-the-benefits-of-filing-your-taxes-electronically



IRS Web site links:

IRS Study on Tax Gap:

http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=137247,00.html

IRS strategy for reducing tax gap:

http://www.ustreas.gov/press/releases/hp111.htm

Tax year 2001 federal tax gap chart:

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/taxgap021406.pdf

IRS Tax Tips 2008:

http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/content/0,,id=104608,00.html

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tipping Point for eBooks?

There are two very interesting articles this month at www.publishersweekly.com that every writer/author should read.

Why?

Glad you aksed.

Those of us who've been around the publishing business for the past decade or so know what an uphill climb it has been to get traditional publishers to accept the idea of eBooks as a viable alternative publishing format. Not a replacement for paper, but a choice to give the readers who prefer an electronic option.

Why?

Again, glad you asked.

It's difficult for larger companies to change their business models, especially if the one they are using is making their main audience happy. And, guess what - that main audience isn't necessarily the customer - in this case the reader. I know this is a difficult concept to grasp but for most big businesses, the primary audience is their major share holders and/or the board that has a tremendous amount of influence with the company head honchos. After all, it's ususally the board that holds much of the stock and hires/fires the head honchos. You don't have to look that far back in the news to see many examples of this.

When I was studying at UCLA in the mid 1970's, the major amercian car makers took a similiar approach about selling cars that main stream publishers took about a decade ago about eBooks. I distinctly remember an interview with executives at the big car companies where they stated that they weren't going to make more fuel efficient cars like many of the foreign imports at the time. Their position was that americans would only buy american made cars regardless of the fuel efficiency issue. Well, those of us who were struggling financially to put ourselves through school had a different attitude. Especially those of us in a place like Los Angeles.

Keeping costs under control was critical for a starving college student. When I started driving in the early 1970's gas cost twenty-nine cents a gallon. Less than a month after receving my driver's license gas shot up to thirty-nine cents a gallon. I was mortified. My main income was babysitting at less than a dollar an hour so that ten-cent increase was significant for me. Not long after starting college the gas crisis of the 1970's hit and gas shot up to $1.80 a gallon. Doesn't sound like much today but like anything else, cost is relative to how much money you make.

So, what does this have to do with eBooks?

Again, glad you asked.

Just like the reluctance on the part of the big car companies to change with their customers needs, big publishers dragged their feet, digging in their hells about selling electronic versions of their books. In the beginning especially, the cost of a hardcover and the eBook format were the same. It was easy for readers to get the hardcover for as much as 40% off at stores but the eBook version ususally wasn't discounted at the same rate and often the only place to get the eBook format was the publishers website. Confusing - isn't it! Well, not really.

If you don't want to change your business model and you want to show everyone that you were right that something wouldn't work, then it's easy to understand why big publishers essentially undermined the acceptance of eBooks in the beginning. Readers weren't going to embrace eBooks when they cost the same amount as the hardcover and in some cases more. True there weren't many electronic reading devices in the beginning but many, many obstacles had to be fought by those who did develop these devices.

Now publishers are scrambling to make sure they meet their customers needs who prefer an electronic format for their reading. Will paper ever go away? No it won't, and if you need evidence of this just think about the paperless office that was touted in the 1980's. (Okay, yes I'm showing my age here.) The idea is that eBooks are one more option for the reader and with more and more readers wanting to go green, it's also one more way for authors/writers to expand their readership.

Back to the two articles I referenced.

One is called The Customer is King at Digital Book 2008. Here's the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6561155.html?nid=2286&source=title&rid=173369612

The other is called Taking the Digital Plunge - A Case Study. Here's that link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6557091.html?q=digital+institute

Just remember - knowledge is power and these two articles definitely contian knowledge that every writer needs to read to further empower themselves.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Don't Mess with the IRS

Younger folks out there might not remember the complete story about Al Capone but one thing everyone should keep in mind is that when no other government agency could make any criminal charges stick to good old Al, the IRS came to the rescue. Yep, Big Al killed lots and lots of people but he went to jail for tax evasion.

How you ask! Well, he didn't pay taxes, claiming not to have any income - yet, had villas and other assets that told a different story.

The IRS has always had the ability to track money to a certain extent and today the agency does this better than ever with the help of computers and other modern technological advances. What is not well known is the fact that the IRS has the ability and the authority to do what are called life-style audits. This is basically what they used to get Big Al.

The main premise of a life-style audit is that your life style should reflect the income claimed on your tax return. In other words, if you are living high on the hog and claim small amounts of income or no income on your tax return, then the IRS can use this as a basis for conducting an audit and collecting taxes.

There's a big difference between supporting a dependent - whether that person is a relative or not - and giving someone large sums of money or expensive gifts with whom you do not have a legitamate tax relationship. If you exceed the gift tax threshold then the gift giver must file a gift tax return. In 2008 that threshold is $12,000 and this is now being indexed for inflation. For decades the threshold was $10,000. So, the Big Als of today can't have anybody give them large sums of money - at least not legally - without taxes being paid. For more information go to www.irs.gov and either search on gift tax or refer to Publication 950.

Now remember I said legal. If politicians pass tax laws that favor the rich, then the rich can then legally pay less taxes. But they'd better keep it legal or they too are subject to the long arm of the IRS auditors.

For a modern-day example just look at the situation that the actor Wesley Snipes now finds himself in. He will be serving 3 years in jail for his misguided attempt to pay less taxes. His co-defendents have also been charged and sentenced. For more information on this story go to:

http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2008-04-24-snipes_N.htm

So, at a time of looming deficits, politicians not wanting to raise taxes but bring in more money, you can bet your next pay check that the IRS is and will contintue to be more aggressive in collecting unpaid taxes and that Congress is making sure the agency does so.

Every writer should make sure they show due deligence in paying the taxes they are legally requried to pay and none of us is exempt from an audit. In fact, as writers we are more vulnerable to an audit because of the nature of our income and how we have to deduct our expenses. Unlike an employee whose employer provides a form of verification for the IRS, writers are essentially small businesses (or hobbies) and their income/expense records are primarily verified through IRS audits.

There's also the issue of the Tax Gap that has everyone in Congress excited about collecting more taxes without raising taxes. For a discussion of what the Tax Gap is please see my article at the following link:

http://www.helium.com/items/956548-theres-phrase-congress-legislators

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Kindle credited with recent boost in e-book market

Last week USA Today published an article with the following title:

Kindle boosts tiny e-book market

Here's the link:

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2008-04-04-kindle-ebook-market_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip&POE=click-refer

It's a must read.

An then there's the article at Publishers Weekly that is very, very interesting. Longtime Hyperion president Bob Miller is leaving to form a studio at Harper Collins. Check out the reference to a new kind of publishing program.

Here's the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6547542.html

Both of these articles are definitely food for thought.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Print on Demand is moving forward

As a serious writer if you don't follow the articles in Publishers Weekly - well you should! You can sign up for their daily email newsletter at www.publishersweekly.com by selecting newsletters and then subscribe. You may have to register at the site as well.

So why do you want to do this? Well, there are some interesting news tidbits that come out of this electronic newsletter. The most recent is about Print on Demand or POD. Once a dirty word in the publishing industry it's now a hot new fad.

There was a time when the quality wasn't quite there but with technology that has changed. In fact, rumor has it that short runs are the same printing process as POD. Rumor further has it that most of the printing process for all publishers is actually shifting to the same type of printing technology, regardless of print run size.

What's the advanatage of POD? Well decades ago when printing costs per unit were based on large numbers of prints - essentially decreasing as the publishers printed more copies - it was actually cheaper to print 10-50,000 copies of a book and put it in a warehouse until it was sold. In fact, in order to justify the "make-ready" or setup costs of printing, a large minimum number had to be printed and then it was up to the sales force to get the books sold. This was primarily in the typesetting days of old.

With all the advances in technology and printing efficiencies the cost disparity between printing one book, short runs and larger runs is diminishing. There is still cost disparity between the size of smaller and much larger print runs but publishers now have more control over the number of books that get printed, don't sell, then are returned. The nubmers of returns on books that were expected to sell well and didn't is legendary and it's a horribly inefficient business model.

In my opinion a main reason for this eagerness to embrace POD is the increase demand for content at a faster, more I-want-it-now rate, and while the newer generations are hungry for online content there's still a desire for the printed format and always will be. Part of this is owed to the baby boomers and their aging eye sight but part is also because sometimes paper is just best. The good news is we have more choices now. The bad news is we have more choices now and it's sometimes hard to make up our minds about what we want so often we choose both.

More than ever you will be able to sort through content online and then decide which format you want it in and receive it, perhaps even putting your own book together from various pieces of content. It's both exciting and scary.

This latest article at Publisheres Weekly online (and in print) is just another indication that POD is here to stay.

Here's the link:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6547006.html?nid=2286&source=title&rid=#reg_visitor_id#

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Getting Results

Sometimes as writers we get discouraged because of all the rejection that goes with the territory of submitting to publishers. So, it's important to seek out those opportunities that provide positive opportunities and feedback. I've been experiencing some of those lately.

Even though the monetary aspect isn't significant at the moment, the feedback from readers has been incredibly uplifiting, especially for my Therapy 101 blog which is a fictional and episodic story about a therapist named Georgia who is struggling with her own demons through her patients while maintaining a delicate balance with her rebellious teenage daughter. Some of the emotion is from my own experiences and I've been blending this with observations I've made of people over the years and of course using my insights and imagination. It's an incredible mixture and I'm really enjoying the process. Just yesterday a reader asked me when the next episode was coming out because she was "hooked" and couldn't wait. That's music to my ears as I suspect it would be for any writer.

Please check it out - http://therapy-101.blogspot.com/

I've also been publishing more articles on http://www.helium.com/ about taxes. Right now they have been generalized and not specifically written for writers - although I have been working on those types of tax articles as well. However, my most recent posting about the Tax Gap is a must-read for writers even right now. So, please check it out:

http://www.helium.com/items/956548-theres-phrase-congress-legislators

It's free to read but you can greatly help me by reading the article and I know you'll find it very informative. The money is minimal right now but I'm developing a body of work that I can leverage in the future. It's also a way to build a solid readership.

As always - have a happy and successful writing day!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My latest writing gig

My non-fiction projects are rolling along. I'm still rewriting my first romantic suspense novel but the non-fiction projects are providing me with a more immediate sense of accomplishment. Since I have such a strong background in the area of income taxes - having worked for a major tax preparation firm for 13 years - I decided to pursue the "info snack" approach to writing articles about areas of taxes that are relatively unknown to most people.

Check out my efforts on electronic filing and why you should do it and just why a baby needs a social security number (SSN). You can either click on the links below or go to www.helium.com and search for the articles.

E-file: The benefits of filing your taxes electronically
http://www.helium.com/items/930986-electronic-filing-first-available

Why does a baby need a social security number (SSN)?
http://www.helium.com/items/944161-there-information-required-return

So, what's in this for me? Well, eventually I hope some money - check out Helium's writing guidelines and conditions for more information. Perhaps even more important right now is the ability to develop an online portfolio of my writing that will hopefully lead to bigger and better paying gigs.

I appreciate everyone's support and have a happy writing day!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Extra! Extra! You Tube added

I found some You Tube clips of Joyce Carol Oates talking about her writing process and an interview with Kurt Vonnegut. I've added them to the blog so check them out. Hope you enjoy!

Happy Writing!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Other Writing opportunities

You may have noticed one of the features of my blog includes ads. I don't select these ads, they are fed via Google's AdSense program. I earn a small percentage of the ad revenue based on parameters such as page views and/or click throughs to the ads, depending on how the advertsising has contracted with Google.

I like to see who the advertisers are and I've actually found most of them to be quite interesting and they have led to some other writing opportunities, mostly non-fiction but I'm actually more comfortable with non-fiction writing than fiction. Probably because I've done so much technical and fact writing over the years and my many careers. I'm still working on my fiction but I'm finding that the non-fiction writing is giving me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Moreover, the majority of the writing is artcile length that I can produce in short bursts of information or "Info Snacks" which hopefully will find a wider audience not only on the web but on other digital devices such as mobile phones, Blackberries, etc.

My favorite fiction challenege right now is my Therapy 101 blog because it's not only providing me with an outlet for my fiction writing but also the subject matter is helping me work through some of my own issues. As writers we really can't escape ourselves, can we? I remember seeing the book, Just Open A Vein by William Brohaugh, and thinking, "Yeah, that's right!" I haven't read the book yet but it definitely caught my attention.

So what are some of the other writing oppportunities that the ads on my blog are presenting? They include:

www.helium.com
www.createspace.com
www.zazzle.com

Some of these sites like zazzle are more oriented towards my poetry and I also am developing a tax calendar for writers but that's only at the projects-to-be-considered stage right now.

So, don't hesitate to check out online sites for publishing your articles while you are working on your fiction. Even non-fiction can be an extremely creative process that moves you further towards your ultimate publication goals.

Happy writing!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Baby steps and second acts

I've been making progress on my final edits of my novel and I'm not obsessing about making it perfect. Still I'm a bit impatient and a novel takes time to write and rewrite/edit. In the meantime I've published a poem as part of Ranger Against War Story Project - check it out:

http://www.rangeragainstwar-story-project.blogspot.com/

I've had an idea for another project for a long time and I'm blogging a episodic story at:

http://therapy-101.blogspot.com/

We'll see how it goes. It's nice to have something of a length that affords me a sense of completion sooner than a novel does. At the same time it actually helps me progress with my novel.

In case you think you're too old to write - check out the article by Frank McCourt in Parade Magazine at:

http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2008/edition_03-09-2008/Second_Acts

It's a great article to keep nearby when I get frustrated with my progress or lack thereof.

One of the features on my blog is an Adsense where Google ads appear. One of the ads that appeared addressed providing content for profit for the Amazon Kindle Reader, so I'm going to do some more research on that.

Seems like lots of folks are getting into digital feeds of a variety of materials. It will be interesting to see the stats on which types do well. My sense is that shorter material is better. Seems folks, especially younger generations, are embracing Info Snacks over longer material. Part of this is driven by the device they're using to read but also by the amount of time and where they have to read.

A number of publishers have recently put out the call for shorter material for the ebook program. Harlequin is just one example:

http://www.eharlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=538&chapter=0

The possibilities are very intriguing.

Memoirs are one of the best selling types of books out there but it will be interesting to see how the latest fake memoir scandal affects this. Margaret Seltzer using the name Margaret B. Jones wrote a memoir that was marketed as a gang memoir and it was climbing the charts until her sister turned her in. Didn't she think her real family would notice?

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/books/04fake.html


Well, signing off and more baby steps for me tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Letting readers downlod a novel for free - what are they thinking!

Hoping to push sales, publishers are starting to allow free downloading of some of their books at the same time that they are published in print - even hardcover. What the heck is going on?

It wasn't that long ago that I was sitting at a luncheon during a writers conference and the keynote speaker was discussing the reluctance on the part of traditional publishers to embrace ebooks. The evidence? Ebook versions of mainstream novels usually cost the same as the hardcover so why would anybody spend $25 on an electronic download when they could get the real deal for the same amount of money? It was clear that publishers were pretending to embrace ebooks while undermining their acceptance. When ebooks didn't sell in numbers that rendered them commercially viable, the mainstream publishers seemed to be saying, "See we told you it wouldn't work!"

Then came the smaller, independent publishers who embraced ebooks with a passion at a time when many in the industry treated ebooks like a dirty word. Elora's Cave stands out as one of the pioneers as does Echelon Press and so many others. Writers everywhere owe these pioneers a tremendous amount of gratitude for hanging in there. Now the mainstream publishers are embracing ebooks with a passion as well - which signals that it's now a money maker.

But why now?

There are lots of reasons but a pivotal one is generational. The newer generations - X, Y, Millennials, Igen, or even Z are so much more comfortable with technology that they almost demand it as the media of choice. They're busy, they're mobile, they're wired and can out multi-task previous generations.

Publishers know that if they are to grow they need to recruit new readers and if they want new readers from these newer generations they have to play on their turf.

A recent interview of a young writer in Japan who has the number one "cell novel" which is not only being read on the cell but she wrote it on her cell. Yes, wrote it on her small little cell phone in bits in pieces - on her lunch breaks, on the train, anywhere she had an inspiration she flipped open her cell phone an started texting. The book was available for free on the internet but then something extraordinary happened. A publisher decided to make a print copy available and even though it was free on the web, it sold millions in a very short period of time.

There are so many ironies here but one is that the technology that main stream publishers have been so afraid of for so long may actually be the very thing that saves them and gives them a future.

Take a look at the following article at USAToday and you'll understand what I mean.

http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2008-03-03-free-books-downloads_N.htm

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Looking for rainbows

I've decided to throw in a poem in which I wrote back in July 07 under the name Vashtie.

Here it is:

Looking For Rainbows

A hungry man
But not for food
His hunger ran
For a love no good

A love that cost him
More than he wanted to pay
A love that lost him
Precious time each day

He was looking for love
In a faraway rainbow
While ignoring the love
That gave him a chance to grow

That love was for him
For the soul of the man he is
But he still sought to dim
The past ache of an unfulfilled kiss

That yearning for what could have been
Consumed his better judgement
He reached for the carrot and spin
That took him back to an earlier juggernaut

He was used, abused and thrown aside
Wanted only for the shining star he became
And not for the man who dwelled inside
A shell of a little boy and his hide-n-seek game

Now there is another chance to find
The true color of love here on earth
To reach out and touch a heart in kind
That will fuel loves eternal hearth

Saturday, March 1, 2008

When an author's fans get in the way.

You may have heard by now that J.K. Rowling and her publisher have filed suit against a Michigan publisher - RDR Books - to stop it from publishing a book compiled by Steve Ark based mostly on information presented on the Harry Potter Lexicon Web site. The rub is that Rowling has openly priased the efforts of fan Web sites regarding her Potter series but now she and her publisher contend that this book - as opposed to the fan sites - will infringe of Rowling's intellectual property rights. While other tomes have been written and published by fan site creators the tome in question is one for profit and this has clearly created a problem. Apparently, Rowling is also planning on her own encyclopedia of her famous boy wizard, his world and friends but hers is expected to benefit several charities. The Michigan publisher has stated that it will proceed with publication of Steve Ark's book despite the law suit.

So, when does the work of fans, including fan fic, become an infringement? Reviews after all have been widely accepted as a legitimate way to embrace an authors work. So, clearly reviews do not cross the line. It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit goes and what kind of answers we all get. Some years back the estate of Andy Warhol sued after an individual took one of Warhol's works and morphed it with one of the new software morphing programs. As I recall the gist was once the new work no longer subsantially resembles the original work then a new work has been created.

Again, this will be an interesting law suit for authors to follow and to watch for in terms of rights and legal protection on and off the internet.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Stone's Throw from Hurting

Life likes to throw rocks at us from time to time and I've recently had a boulder dropped on me. This blog isn't about the boulder but rather about some realities I've had to face to include admiting that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. It's something I've lived with most of my life but not really been able to identify until recently. It's funny because the series Monk first got me thinking about OCD. What's funny is that while he's a neat freak, I've surrounded myself with stuff, lots and lots of unnecessary stuff - something that I now am working very hard to change especially since it has cost me so dearly in my personal life.

I can see what this has also cost me in my writing life. I have obsessively gone over my writing again and again waiting to get it just perfect before I dare submit anything to an editor/publisher or agent. Well, that's about to change and I look forward to being able to post positive results - okay I'm being a wide-eyed optimst here but hey as my daughter and I have found out recently - Reality Bites!!!! sometimes. And sometimes you have to just take the positive approach or you'll fall apart. I am choosing the former.

Wish me well on my road to recovery and on the road to publishing success.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Social Networks

One of the more well-attended panels at the conference included discussions of social networking. The panel was called:

MEDIA FRENZY: You Tube, Blogs, MySpace, Dorothy L., Crimespace

and those on the panel included:


Morgan Mandel, Karen Syed, Todd Stone and J.R. Turner.

The room was packed and for a Sunday morning that was saying something.

So, over the next several blogs and in other forums, I and the others on the panel and some guest bloggers will delve into this subject that seems to be on everyone's mind.

In the meantime go to some of the following links to see how folks are leveraging the web, social networking and more:

http://www.storytellerroad.com/
http://www.echelonpress.com/
http://acmeauthorslink.blogspot.com/
http://www.jennifer-turner.com/
http://www.loveismurder.net/
http://www.myspace.com/tvmstone
http://www.myspace.com/toddwrites
http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/Toddwrites
http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/Tvmstone
http://bookplace.ning.com

Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Taking a break

Todd and I are busy this weekend with the Love Is Murder conference/convention. We're on the board and presenting and moderating so it's been an invigorating but exhausting time. I presented my tax tips for writers and it was a great session but as usual way too little time to talk about income taxes and all the varied implications for writers. So, I have a number of issues I plan to followup in this blog and other venues about some of the questions that the participants asked so I can hopefully do justice to the topics.

It's Saturday night and Todd is resting before having to sign books, go to dinner and host our traditional Scotch tasting - with piper and all.

Looking forward to sharing more about the conference in upcoming blogs.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How resolute are you?

Okay - how are those New Year’s writing resolutions going? How many did you make and how many have you already broken?

Ouch!

I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m not being very positive but the truth is that most of us who wait until the New Year to resolve to do something or change some behavior are almost guaranteed to fail. A high percentage of us will break the majority of our resolutions within the first few weeks if not the first few days. While a new year seems a perfect time to start fresh and do those things we’ve been promising ourselves we’d do or stop doing those things that have caused us so much grief for most of our lives, it’s also unrealistic to think that change takes place just because we’ve begun a new year.

In order for change to occur we have to make sure that it’s:

- easy to implement and feels natural
- won’t disrupt the overall routine of our lives - unless that’s the change we want
- acceptable to the other people in our immediate lives because we need their support and understanding.

So, how does all this relate to writing?

Most writers have a resolution to write more. But what does this really mean. If they write more, how much more will they actually write? Moreover, what is the quality of what they are writing? What about editing? What’s the end result and how is it being measured? These are all questions that need to be asked and answered in order to set up goals that can be realistically accomplished.

Often goals as vague as "write more" do not advance the writer towards the true objective of either finishing a first draft of a work-in-progress (WIP) or rewriting a completed first draft to make it acceptable for submission to either an agent or an editor.

Instead consider goals like:

- write fight scene between main character and main opponent in Chapter 3
- write scene and dialogue where main character learns her lover has betrayed her

Goals like these help organize and structure the writer’s time and provide a better end result. These types of goals are more definable and therefore more manageable. And when you can manage your goals they don’t manage you, which is less frustrating and leads to more success. And success, my friends, breeds success. Failure breeds failure so when you set non-definable, non-manageable goals, you set yourself up for failure which is exactly the opposite of what you need and I suspect want to do.

So, here are my goals:

On a large scale I definitely have the goal to write more, but write more in an efficient manner, and for me this is what this means:

I can’t set aside a specific time each day because my schedule is so non-routine and "unsettable," except for my train ride to and from work in downtown Chicago. In fact, I am drafting this blog on the train. So, I know that I will have at least 20 - sometimes 30 - minutes each way, depending on the train I take, especially on the way home. In that 20 minutes my goals are to write. My routine is that I find a seat where I can easily pop open my laptop, boot it up and start writing. I put my headphones on to block out the other commuters and also play music that gets me ‘pumped up’ to write. Then I write. A sentence, an idea, a paragraph. It all adds up.

I sometimes review my work as well, but mostly I write because that is my overall goal. But my specific goal on the train is to write a sentence, a paragraph, etc and the next thing I know I’ve written two sentences, three, four and even several paragraphs. Sometimes my goal is as simple as to write the dialogue between two characters in a particular scene. I know this is what I want to do so throughout the day I’m playing the scene in my mind and when I sit down to write it tends to flow. It’s almost as if I’m dictating the script from the scene in my head that my characters are playing out.

I have to stop and give credit to my husband and his incredibly successful nonfiction work - Novelist’s Boot Camp. Take a look at Drills 2 and 4 and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

The bottom line for me is that it’s easy to get lost in my writing when I am able to accomplish my daily goals and I feel more successful. When Todd was writing Novelist’s Boot Camp he looked at many of the issues I was struggling with to formulate drills. Since I’m a struggling fiction writer, it worked out well in terms of timing. As I’m developing my voice and style as a fiction writer, he’s writing a book to inspire and motive and organize beginning fiction writers. Although I can honestly attest that Novelist’s Boot Camp has something to over published authors as well.

Back to the point of my blog - go ahead and make those resolutions. Just set yourself up for success and make sure your resolutions are ones you can keep and not just for a day or a week, or even a year. Make sure they are ones that you can reasonably use for the rest of your writing career and set yourself up for writing and publishing success.

The best of luck to all of you - I love seeing writers getting at least a piece of their dream.

Hope to see lots of inspired writers at the Love Is Murder conference/convention the first weekend in February of each year. Go to http://www.loveismurder.net/ for more information.