I'm Polish by descent, so growing up, we ate a lot of sauerkraut. Always the store bought stuff, usually caramelized with some onions. It's delicious.
But lately I've been getting into making my own sauerkraut. I use red cabbage because I like the added color it gives to my meals. I eat it with sausages and meat loaf, but more often I put a scoop of it in my salad for some added sour crunch. Supposedly it's healthy to eat fermented foods, but I try to just eat as many vegetables as I can. Sauerkraut just happens to be a very delicious vegetable :)
It's surprisingly easy to do if you have the right tools. My mother-in-law got me this crock for Christmas last year.
I just chop up 3 red cabbages into thin strips, knead them with some salt (~1 tablespoon or so per cabbage), and then I pound the cabbage down in the crock with this wooden stick that my mother-in-law also got me, which makes the job so much easier.
Then you cover everything with a cabbage leaf or two, weight it down with the two pickling stones the crock comes with, and squish them down again with the tamping stick until enough water comes out of the cabbage to more or less cover everything. Then you put the lid on the crock, pour some water into the water seal (the groove in which the lid sits), and let it sit on the counter for 2-3 weeks. Check it every day, squishing down the weighting stones each time. If there's a little scum (dried up bubbles basically), just scoop it off the top. The fermentation microbes make the mixture too acidic for any nasty bacteria to survive.
After at least 2 weeks, remove the lid, remove the weighting stones, remove the big cabbage leaves, and behold the beautiful red sauerkraut that's ready to be put mason jars and kept in the fridge for whenever you need it.
It's really very easy (though a bit physically demanding during the "kneading" stage). Three cabbages make me enough sauerkraut to last for about a third of the year. Yeah, we eat a lot in this house...it's just so good on a hot dog!
The other night, I went to a local book club hosted atMystery Brewing (an excellent pub/brewery in Hillsborough, NC that's well worth a visit if you're in the area). It was my first time going, and I kind of lucked out because the club had organized a Skype session with the author of the book (The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel). Obviously, it was really cool to listen to her thoughts on the novel, which was about the devil in small town Ohio, but I was even more interested in what she had to say about her publishing experience, since I have similar goals.
Although The Summer That Melted Everything was technically her "debut," I think Tiffany said it was something like her eighth completed novel. According to her, she had met some resistance over the years from agents who thought her work was a little too dark to be commercial. I totally respect her for sticking to the stories she wanted to tell, but it's also interesting to know that dark plots can be considered a "problem" in the publishing industry (as unfair as that is).
She also mentioned the amount of marketing she did for the book herself. I've heard that's fairly typical these days, but it was helpful to hear her confirm it, because it made me realize how much more serious I should probably get about building my author "platform" (i.e., this blog).
The thing is, it just feels weird to be soliciting emails for newsletters that you readers aren't interested in because I don't even have a product yet, or something of value to give in return. Yet everyone says to get started as soon as possible. The sooner you begin getting blog subscribers and email addresses, the more you'll have for marketing purposes later on down the road (and boy, did it feel icky just writing that sentence - even if it's true).
I do some self-publishing on Amazon KDP and have a totally separate website for that pen name to list all my titles. So in that instance, I actually do have something to "give" the reader in exchange for their contact information. For instance, I can tell subscribers when I'm running free book promotions. That feels like a fair exchange.
Whatever your thoughts about marketing, since I believe many of you are also writers, I figured the very least I could do is share a tool with you that I use on my KDP website to analyze user information and solicit emails for my newsletter. I spent an entire day looking for a tool that would allow me to easily copy and paste code to create simple subscription pop-ups, click-maps, and compile Google Analytics into a more user friendly interface, and I finally found it:
This website tool is so easy to use and it does exactly what I want it to. It's also free. So if you're trying to build your author platform, don't waste time looking for something better. There are a lot of options out there, but they all cost money, and what I've learned as a KDP author is that your success somewhat depends on how low you can keep your operating costs. Sumo fits the bill. It's exactly what every aspiring author needs to manage their website.
With all that said, I hope giving you this information will also allow you to forgive me if I install Sumo on Wordly-Bird. So if you see a pop-up requesting your email, feel free to ignore it. It just seems like if I want to get serious about being a published author - then I need to get serious and do some things that make me slightly uncomfortable. I'll try and figure out what more I can give to make these kinds of annoying email solicitations more palatable. Hopefully sharing this Sumo tool with you is a start. (Seriously, install it, it's amazing - they also have incredibly helpful download and installation videos on their website.)
Ctrl + Shift + T will reopen a tab that you just closed on Chrome.
(the more you know)
Hello, hello! How's it going? Having a good week? Bad week? Productive? Lazy? Even though I've been updating here fairly consistently, I've been feeling a little disconnected from this blog. I think it's because I haven't been sharing as much personal and inner-life stuff as I'd like. I'm going to work on that because there's nothing I hate more in a blog than a tedious run-down of external life stuff (Here's what I ate! Here's what I wore! Here's where I traveled! Here's a recommendation!). All of that is well and good, but it gets boring without knowing a little more about the writer and their thoughts and hopes, etc. It's a tricky balance.
I've had an unusually light editing week, which has let me focus more on writing and publishing. I always appreciate these moments, because they're so few and far between, but I also find them a little overwhelming. There's so much work to be done. So many stories to write, edit, publish, and market. Being an indie author could easily be a full-time job (and I think it is for some people), though I guess it depends on whether or not the pay is commiserate to the effort.
I haven't talked about this stuff much, but I've been publishing on Amazon Kindle fairly regularly (Kindle Direct Publishing). And just so you know, for almost six months, I had almost no sales. This didn't surprise me in the least. It's hard to break through the algorithm of any online platform and get noticed among the millions of options that are available. But I kept plugging away at it. I don't know why exactly. I guess I felt like I'd be writing this stuff anyway (or something like it), so I may as well post it on Amazon.
And then a funny thing happened. About two or three weeks ago, my sales started to pickup, particularly my KENP numbers (the number of pages that are read). For six months, I had more or less ignored those page counts because they occurred so rarely. Maybe once a week, someone would read one of my stories, and since you only get paid ~half a cent for every page read, that didn't amount to much money. But I did notice that when people read my stories they virtually always read all the way through. That felt pretty good. Like I was on the right track.
Well once I broke through Amazon's algorithm (I think by shear volume of stories) and more people started reading my work, suddenly those KENP numbers started adding up. It's still not a lot of money, but I've now made more in the last two weeks than I had in the previous six months.
So I'm busy trying to capitalize on that momentum. Bundling stories together into book deals. Establishing better social media presence for that pen-name. Tweeting (affiliate) links to those deals. Writing more stories and considering different genres. Like I said, this could be a full-time job.
What stories are these? Unfortunately, I'd never share that trash on this blog in a million years. Basically, I sold out and wrote a lot of commercial romance garbage that I would never feel comfortable attaching my real name to. But I'm still kind of proud of it because it's a fun exercise to put literary merit aside and just focus on writing a story that draws more people in.
Amazon KDP is obviously not a good place to publish if you're interested in being a literary fiction author. The people who sign up for Kindle Unlimited (who will be the most likely to find your ebook) are not there to discover and read the next Hemingway. They're looking for good deals on fun genre fiction (romance, science fiction, maybe some mysteries, etc.). But if you enjoy writing romance, I would highly recommend posting a short novel or a few short stories on KDP. It's fairly easy to do. I find the hardest part is designing a decent cover, but other than that, there's really nothing to lose. It's a fun hobby with the chance to make a few bucks at the same time. It's like the writer's version of Etsy.
I still hope to go through the traditional publishing route one day, and I'm still working on those stories. I wish I could share them with you now, but I'm not sure it's a good idea to publish those particular books on Amazon first, even if I still retain the copyright. I don't know, maybe it doesn't matter. If I had more time, I would devote a lot more effort to understanding traditional publishing, and whether or not publishing on Amazon first is considered a detriment.
Anyone have some advice on that? If you have a story that's good enough for Amazon KDP, but it might also be good enough (with some additional editing and work) to query agents with, should you save it for the traditional publishing route? Or could you "test the waters," so to speak, on Amazon first? It's just so tempting to jump right into the immediate commercial opportunities of self-publishing, but maybe that's short-sighted.
My strategy of late has been to focus on writing more commercial work, post in on Amazon, and hopefully draw enough income from those sources to allow me to cut down on my editing work so that I can devote even more time to writing what I would consider my more literary projects. But maybe that strategy is all backwards. I really don't know.
Seriously, if you have thoughts on this, please comment. I'd love to hear your opinion. Or if you have questions, feel free to post them too. I would love to get a conversation going on this self- vs. traditional publishing debate. Do you start commercial and go literary? Or do you shoot for the literary publication first if that's your real goal?
And if anyone's interested in learning how to publish on KDP and understand some of its quirks, let me know in the comments. I feel like I've learned so much from trial and error over the past six months. I'd be happy to share if you'd find it helpful.
I sometimes listen to The Minimalists podcast, though I can't entirely recommend it. They spend way too much time promoting themselves and whatever product it is they're shilling (particularly their documentary and speaking events). And I can't get on board with everything they suggest (no, I'm not going to teach kids to find "joy" in throwing out family photos and artwork - that's just weird). Plus, it's kind of frustrating when you realize how much of an initial monetary investment is necessary if and when you decide to adopt a more minimal lifestyle.
For instance, I decided to get rid of a lot of the clothes I owned, because I wasn't actually wearing them (didn't like them). But then I didn't have anything to wear, so I bought multiple copies of this one t-shirt I really like and made a sort of uniform out of it with gym leggings. The thing is, that's only possible because I'm in a secure financial position right now. So to lecture people to adopt a minimal lifestyle with less stuff - well, some people can't afford to throw out sub-par things that they will then have to replace. Yes, even bad, ugly clothes have function and worth. They keep you warm.
So all of that is just to say The Minimalists kind of rub me the wrong way.
BUT, I still find their podcast just useful enough to give them an occasional listen, if only to reiterate this one fundamental principle they constantly repeat:
Does it add value?
That's the question I've learned from them to ask myself before I purchase anything and before I decide to throw anything away. If the object in question adds value to my life (or will add value), then I'll keep it or maybe buy it. Though I have to be REALLY honest with myself about the answer to that question. Dishonesty = impulse/regretted purchase. If the object doesn't add value? Donate it (or just don't buy it).
Those old clothes weren't adding value to my life because they made it harder for me to get dressed each morning (decision fatigue) and they made me feel frumpy. They also made it harder to see/find what I actually owned (a lot of good stuff I had forgotten about because it was hidden out of sight due to sheer volume). And I happened to have the money to replace those clothes with a t-shirt that I already own and love, so I know it will add more value to my life. It's a pretty good rule of thumb and has helped me to make better purchasing decisions, something that I've always struggled with. (Maybe a lot of people struggle with it too?)
Taking inventory the other day, I noticed there are two objects in my life that add a HUGE amount of value to me.
The first is our robot vacuum cleaner. With two cats and a dog, our place can get pretty gross, pretty quick, what with mud getting tracked inside and fur clinging to just about every surface. Before we got the ILIFE vacuum, I was spending so much time cleaning our house. And that was time I really valued to do other things, like write. Eventually, it was my husband who talked me into getting one of these robot vacuums, because they had one at his lab and he saw for himself how useful it was. So we sprang, dropped the dough, and have never regretted it. That vacuum cleaner picks up SO MUCH DOG AND CAT HAIR. I don't have to vacuum or sweep anymore because of it, which has given me more time to do the things I actually value.
The second thing that has added a lot of value to my life is my convertible standing desk. I'm an editor. I work at a computer all day long. Being able to switch between sitting and standing in a matter of seconds has significantly improved my health in so many ways. I feel good at the end of the day, which wasn't the case before I bought the desk. My back feels great. My core muscles are stronger. And I've dropped a little weight that I had gained once I started working from home. I value all of those things, therefore, I really value my desk. If it broke, I'd buy another one, though it feels so sturdy I can't imagine it ever will (knock on wood, cause I love this thing).
Does it add value to your life? What a great question. Seriously, ask yourself that whenever you're of two minds about buying something. Will you value this thing in 6 months? If so, get it (if you have the money). If not, then don't worry about it. I wish somebody had taught me this 10 years ago. I would have saved so much money.
If you're ever feeling bad about your weight, particularly when looking at old pictures of beautiful, slim people - don't.
The rise in obesity is strongly correlated with the decrease in smoking rates. Basically, post-1964, we stopped lighting up and started reaching for the potato chips as an alternative way to self-soothe. Combine that behavioral change with the increased availability of junk food and prevalence of eating out and you've got yourself a three-punch combo that makes staying trim a constant struggle (at least for us Americans).
I mean, you can't even go to Staples, an office supply store where they sell paper, without being confronted with a wall of junk food at the cash register. Same for the FedEx store. Why are they selling Pringles next to the packing tape? On my old commute (which was long and stressful and topped off a long and stressful day at a job I didn't particularly like), I passed probably a dozen fast food restaurants and another half dozen gas stations stocked to the gills with junk food every. single. day. How long could I resist that level of stimulation and advertisement encouraging me to bliss out with a bag of cheesy popcorn or a crunchwrap supreme?
So if we're not suppressing our appetites with cigarettes anymore (cause we don't want cancer, cardiovascular diseases, emphysema), and we're exposed to more calories/day than any previous generation has ever experienced in the history of humankind, then you probably shouldn't feel bad about your weight.
Go ahead and eat healthy, exercise more, get fit, etc. Those are all great things. Just don't let yourself fall into a cycle of despair and guilt over weight issues or for caving into a junk food craving, because the odds are stacked against all of us. It's really unsurprising that it's an issue given the conditions. It's not all about free-will. You are the product of the society and culture you live in, and right now things are out of whack.
And this NOT a PSA to encourage you to smoke, which is infinitely worse for your health than carrying some extra weight. This is just a reminder to be kind to yourself.
-signed, the person who stopped at McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake and decided she wasn't going to feel bad about it. She'll change when everything else does too.
Writer, editor, scientist.