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.
I'm genetically prone to fairly significant acne (thanks Dad...). And the older I got, the more cystic it became.
Years ago, I started going to the dermatologist who prescribed me spironolactone, an oral medication that absolutely worked. I took that stuff for years and had nice clear skin. Then I turned 30 and started thinking about having kids. Spironolactone + pregnancy = no go. So I weaned myself off and sure it enough, the acne came back, worse than ever.
So I experimented with a lot of different things, and nothing seemed to work until I randomly stumbled on this skin care combination:
1) Sulfur soap
2) Glycolic acid facial wash with hyaluronic acid
The sulfur soap more or less changed my life. I heard about it on some obscure online forum in which person after person agreed that sulfur soap actually cured their acne. So I gave it a shot...
No joke, my acne went completely away in two weeks. I really wish I had had the foresight to take before and after photos (because they would have been AMAZING) but these kinds of topical treatments have never worked for me before, so I didn't have a lot of confidence that this particular face wash would have any more effect than usual. Well, it did, and I stand corrected. Now that said, I think my acne will come back if I stop using the soap, but I was going to have to wash my face anyway, so it doesn't seem like that big of deal to continue using it. There were some dryness issues in the beginning, but then my skin seemed to adapt and it stopped getting flaky.
Then after about six months of consistent sulfur soap use, I randomly threw this glycolic acid facial wash into my shopping basket at CVS (your classic impulse buy). But unlike most impulse purchases, this one actually rocked. It seemed to help the sulfur soap to work even better by getting rid of dead skin. Overnight, my face went from "acne-free" to as close to "luminous" as I'm ever going to get.
This magic combination of sulfur and glycolic acid has finally made me feel confident enough to see friends without wearing any makeup (something I haven't done since I was about 16 years old). I don't even really moisturize anymore, although this CeraVe night cream is pretty good (don't get the A.M. stuff, it's basically straight sunscreen). But I only use it when I'm in the mood, not because I feel like I need it. Something about that combination of hyaluronic acid + glycolic acid really seems to help with the dry skin that's somewhat inevitable with the sulfur soap.
If you don't have a CVS near you, you can also find similar glycolic acid washes and hyaluronic acid products on Amazon, though I haven't tried any of those specific brands, so I can't speak to their efficacy. I wish this Skin + Pharmacy brand was more widely available, but it seems to be exclusive to CVS.
If you do have acne issues, or you have a child who's struggling with it, please try the sulfur soap. A single pack costs only $8 (just remember to soak the soap for 30 seconds before use - that's why it comes in a funny plastic jar). Acne is so embarrassing and frustrating, now that I've found something that actually works (for me), I felt like I had to share.
Do you have skin issues? Did you ever find a solution or are you still looking?
One of the things I'm constantly confronted with is how little I know. In fact, the more I study a subject or think about it, the more I realize there's so much more out there to learn and it's so much more complex than I had originally imagined. It can be daunting. I know a lot of people in science struggle with this issue. You go through life being a know-it-all, then you put in all this effort to get a Ph.D. In the end you feel stupider than ever because the process basically only taught you how very big the world is and how you will never completely understand anything - just the tiniest sliver of a fraction of knowledge, of which you get to claim "expertise."
But even if it feels quixotic, that doesn't mean I want to stop learning. This is one of the reasons why I love podcasts. About 50% of the podcasts I listen to are for pure entertainment (The Weekly Planet, Serial, Imaginary Worlds, Bitch Sesh, Death, Sex, & Money, This American Life, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast), but the remaining 50% I see as free learning resources (Fresh Air, Coffee Break Spanish, How I Built This, History Extra, Radio Lab, History Chicks, TED Radio Hour, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Call Your Girlfriend, On Being, Stuff Mom Never Told You, etc.).
This week I'm adding a new podcast to that list: Civics 101.
The Trump Administration's flagrant disregard and ignorance of the way the Federal government works is not just pathetic, it's fucking scary (and hypocritical as hell to criticize the Obama administration for executive overreach...).
In general, I'm interested in the news, government, and U.S. History. I also grew up in the D.C. area and both my parents have strong professional connections to the Federal government. My Dad actually is a Federal employee. My mom is a lawyer for a trade association and works on congressional legislation and enforcement. So just by osmosis alone and by asking my parents questions, I've learned a lot about how the government works. But it's a super complicated system! There are still so many things I don't understand.
To help fill in some knowledge gaps, I've started listening to the Civics 101 podcast. It's a great resource on all sorts of issues related to the U.S. government. In short 15 minute episodes, they explain things like executive orders, how the constitution can be amended, commenting periods, how supreme court decisions are overturned, etc. It's very helpful and I think EVERYONE in the U.S. could use a refresher on these topics. I know my government class in middle school was pretty inadequate for some of the constitutional questions that have been popping up on a daily basis since the inauguration.
If you're interested in the Supreme Court, I would also highly recommend More Perfect, which is a short podcast series done by the same people who produce Radio Lab. They choose interesting Supreme Court cases to explain and discuss, providing some much needed context and history for the way the Judicial branch works.
So if Trump is giving you anxiety, go ahead and try listening to Civics 101 and More Perfect. It's easier to fight against an autocracy (or an administration that would like to be one) if you understand what protections and subsequent revisions were put in place in the Constitution to defend against exactly this type of situation.
Consider this step 5 of my action plan to resist Trump and his cronies (or should I say Bannon and his crony Trump?) Get educated and know your rights.
I'm working on a little book right now (just an ebook) for scientists on how to improve their writing. With the amount of editing I do, I noticed they tended to make the same mistakes over and over again, probably because scientists get very little training in how to write despite the fact that they're expected to publish research articles almost continuously.
So as I edited, I started keeping notes on these errors. Then I pulled together an outline from these notes, and lately I've just been chugging away at the actual writing of each chapter.
It's kind of fun and it's coming along! I've finished the first draft of the Introduction, the chapters on how to write in the active voice and other little "secrets" of good writing, like varying your word choice, and last night I more or less completed the first draft of the grammar section. Now all that remains is a few chapters on the best method for writing a research article, how to format a manuscript for submission, some basic Microsoft Word tricks that really make writing and editing so much easier, etc.
And as I was taking stock of what work remained, and congratulating myself on how far I had come, I thought to check my old notes for these upcoming chapters.
Lo and behold, I discovered I'd already written the method chapter! I'd completely forgotten about it, but while I was taking those notes, I got on a roll one day and slammed out ~1000 words on that section.
Copy and paste? Don't mind if I do.
I tend to do this a lot. I write things, and then I forget all about them. Usually it's a problem. I know I've needlessly re-written chapters of my sci-fi novel several times over only because I forgot where I was in the thread of the story. It's hard to keep track of these things when I'm often overwhelmed with editing work and have to put the writing on hold for a while.
But sometimes this little habit of mine comes in handy, like last night, when I was staring down the barrel of another chapter to write, and then 30 seconds later realizing I'd already done that work!
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book so I can do I a little editing to spruce it up, then give it to my beta readers (i.e., my husband and my mom), and finally get this project finished. That's been my theme lately - just finish.
I have so many writing projects I want to work on, I decided the most efficient thing I could do is finish up the ones that are in progress right now. So I published another short story on Amazon. I'm also finally finishing the editing on my practice novel, which I set aside for a little while because things got busy while I was starting the editing business. When that book's done I'll post it on Amazon too (because it's fun to get a buck or two every now and then from your writing and to see that people actually read your stories to the end!). Now I'm finishing up this science writing book and once that's done, then I'll have the time to focus on my close to completed (but not quite) NaNoWriMo project from last year.
Then I'll have a decision to make in terms of what novel I want to work on next. There's my sci-fi story I've been thinking about and writing/rewriting for several years now, but I've got other ideas too that might be a little simpler and more at my skill level. Then there's always my little book on organic chemistry (I love little books), which again, might make a good Amazon ebook. Decision, decisions...
This is why I wish I could write full time. I hate having to choose my writing projects based on efficiency, but I also want to be smart about it. When you have limited time to write, you've got to make that time count.
How are your writing projects going these days? Are you spread thin? Or are you better at focusing on starting and finishing a single story at a time. Honestly, I'm undecided about which way is better. It's nice to switch tasks when I get stuck on one project, but the tendency to never finish anything longer than a short story is also much higher.
Not a lot of time to blog today, so I'll just say this:
Go see Get Out as soon as you can.
It begins wide release on February 24, but I was able to see it a little early at an advanced screening in Chapel Hill last night...and it was amazing, easily in my top 5 (3? Maybe number 1?) scariest movies of all time. Just a very tightly written movie. Extremely well made. Super creative. And I'm not even a fan of the horror genre, but I was completely absorbed in the story the whole time.
Systemic racism as a horror trope is not just a brilliant idea, it's fucking on point. Everyone in the theater was so freaked out that this collective hysteria kind of swept over us. There was screaming, laughing, cheering - I can't describe how involved everyone was in this movie.
Also, in the current political climate, I really am trying to get outside of my echo chamber as much as possible since I think that's at the route cause of a lot of the issues the country is dealing with today (that and not bothering to just shut up and listen). I'd never heard of Jordan Peele before, who wrote and directed this movie, so I'm really appreciative of my friends who introduced me to his work by giving me their extra ticket. I'll be checking out his show for sure.
Get Out - 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Go see it. Totally worth the price of admission.
Writer, editor, scientist.