Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A New Calendar Division for a Writer's Year.

Let's face facts, weathermen, calendar makers, and retailers: Your seasons are seriously out of whack! Oh, don't cringe. This is not going to turn into a rant about climate change or Christmas trees in August at Costco. I'm satisfied with our trees still sporting green leaves in near-November and Gerber daisies cheerfully blooming on my porch on Halloween. I've even been known to smile as I switch on the furnace in the early morning hours and then turn to air-conditioning by dinnertime. I simply no longer find myself being guided by the old concepts of spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Several months ago, I discovered a new planner format that has changed the way I look at my work projects and my daily activities. It comes from a company called "Best Self," and it begins with the basic assumption that expecting normal people to plan ahead for a whole year is a formula for failure.  New Year's Resolutions are not sustainable over twelve months. Too many variables get in the way from one January to the next. This new system provides a planner that covers just 13 weeks at a time. And best of all, your year ( or rather, your "season" ) can start at any time. You set goals that are reachable in three months. Then you chart your days with those goals always in mind. And somehow, it works. Once you get the hang of it, 13-week goals are do-able and satisfying. At the end of that "season," you rate your progress, close the book, and start off again in a new planner, with new goals.

My latest planner covered August, September, and October. And here I am on Halloween--all goals accomplished and an extra day left over to re-evaluate where I've been and where I'm going. What I'm realizing is that my moods, my daily activities, and my writing goals all vary with the seasons, although my "seasons" don't necessarily correspond to the traditional divisions of spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

I don't recognize January first as the start of anything new. The Christmas decorations are still up (though bedraggled) and my thoughts are unavoidably occupied by memories of illness and loss. My year starts with February/March/April. I'm calling it "Emergence." It's a period of new beginnings, of breaking out--marked, perhaps by the swelling of tree-leaf buds that gives the bare branches a tinge of green. Maybe (as in spring)  there's a daffodil poking up through the cold mulch or a single confused flower on my azalea. More importantly, for me, there's a stirring of ideas, a shaking off of the past, an eagerness to start something new. I'll be planning, plotting, drawing story arcs, doing character sketches--all the first steps in writing a new book

Next, comes my season of "Implementation"--May/June/July. My birthday falls in early May, which always gives me a feeling of "OK, another year--here I come!" And then I'm ready to work hard. I've never been much of a summer person. I'm not a swimmer, I hate bugs, and I burn before I tan. So traditional summer finds me indoors, enjoying the air-conditioning, and eagerly pursuing my favorite pastimes of reading, researching, and intensive writing.  By the end of the season, I may be indulging in a Camp NaNoWriMo writing challenge, pounding out the conclusion of a new novel.

My third season is "Fruition"--August, September, October--when I set firm goals to finish up my current projects--to harvest those ideas that started to form in February and have been growing ever since. My current planner--the one I'm closing down today--started with three major goals, two of them involving book publications and the third having to do with a need to do a little travel and socializing. I can write "finished" on all three. I managed several meals out, a trip to San Antonio, and attendance at an important anniversary celebration for one of my favorite charities. And along the way, I've polished, edited, re-written, and formatted those two books.

And now I head into the fourth period--"Hibernation"--covering the worst cold days of the year-- November/December/January. These three months are always the most difficult for me because of their emphasis on family and celebrations, while I am distracted by empty dinner tables, missing family members, and the anniversaries of some of the most difficult times of my life. But I will also enjoy the days when dusk falls very early and I can close the shutters and light the fireplace. There is a peace in solitude that allows deep breaths, a straightening spine, and hope for better days to come. Contrary to popular opinion,  real hibernation involves much more than sleep. It's a period of evaluation, self-reflection, and a marshaling of resources, a necessary period of hatching and preparation for new projects to come.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hope Springs Eternal . . And Then Slowly Fades

During the last week of September, just as I was gearing up to do a major blitz campaign about my new book, Henrietta's Journal,  the blog site attached to my company website went into a major revolt. The website still works. It is possible to go back and read old blog posts. I can tweak the website as a whole. (I just made some more changes today.) But I still cannot post anything new on the "Roundheads and Ramblings" blog site.

Why? No one seems to know! I developed a lengthy history of e-mail correspondence with Vistaprint's technical support team. We were on a first-name basis. They were comforting and "supportive." At first, they said, "We'll fix it immediately." Then they said, "Have found the problem. Give us 24 hours." Then it was  "48 hours." And then they said, "It's still being worked on, and it looks like it may be resolved in the next couple of weeks." That was on September 29th.

And here we are, a whole month later, and they no longer even take my calls. Talk about a bad break-up! By now I'm facing two dilemmas. First is the logistical problem of maintaining the blog.  Over on the Katzenhaus site, I have postings that go back to 2010 -- hundreds of them--many too many to consider moving them. But if I drop the blog function over there, thus avoiding the monthly charge, I will lose all those postings.

I can continue to post on Blogger, although I find that most of my readers have not followed me here, preferring to wait for a solution, I suppose. And Blogger does not charge, which is a definite plus. I've been holding off on postings in the forlorn hope that the problem will be solved. However, starting Monday, I will be doing some regular postings here as a lead-in to the release of The Second Mouse Goes Digital: Self-Publishing Comes of Age. 

Ah, but therein lies the bigger dilemma.  In the new book, I have sections on building a website and using a blog to promote interest in a new book. Elsewhere, I discuss other promotional ideas, including business cards, rack cards, flyers, posters--even magnetic signs for the side of a car. And in each case, my recommendation has been to use Vistaprint, since all those items can be coordinated with the same logo illustrations that appear in your website pages and your blog.

Now, in fairness to those who will purchase the new book looking for guidance about how to succeed in self-publishing, what do I tell them? I can't very well excoriate the whole company in print without risking a lawsuit. But I can no longer recommend them, either. I have about ten days to make final changes in the text. What do I do? I welcome suggestions for a diplomatic solution.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Second Mouse Goes Digital

It's that time again. Pre-ordering for The Second Mouse Goes Digital: Self-Publishing Comes of Age is now open in the Kindle Store. Go to the Kindle Store to order your copy at the reduced price of $2.99. Copies will become available on November 15, 2017.

In this updated version of The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing, I offer a closer look at the self-publishing innovations that have opened the gates to mainstream book publication since 2011. In twelve detailed chapters, I'll walk you through the self-publishing process, from that first decision to forego traditional publishing, through setting up a business and office, choosing the right software and social media platforms, planning the book, writing the first draft, revising, editing, choosing the best publishing partners, and finally to the book launch and marketing phase. 

As the Katzenhaus website suggests, some cheese ages well, so I've included all the old advice that still works today. Other cheeses are best sampled fresh, so I've picked the newest recommendations from a family of literary mice. My advice is still based on my personal experiences and still touched with enough gentle humor to make this a fun read, even if you're only dreaming of writing that great American novel. Among my new rules to write on a rock are these:

·       Treat your writing like a business.
·       Words are meant to be read.
·       Software does not come in one-size-fits-all.
·       Don’t start your author journey until you know where you are going.
·       Do your homework.
·       Watch your language,
·       Your cranky old English teacher knew her stuff.
·       Remember that your words (and mistakes) will outlive you.
·       Don’t be fooled by promises of instant fame and fortune.
·       Choose your publishing partners wisely.
·       Give your readers what they love at a price they can afford.

Remember, by November 15th, you're going to be thinking about turkeys and cranberries, and pumpkin pies, so get your book order in now, before you forget. And thanks for supporting my books.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Designing the Final Product

The Second Mouse Goes Digital: Self-Publishing Comes of Age

Author Carolyn Schriber takes a closer look at recent self-publishing innovations that have opened the gates to mainstream book publication.
Pre-Orders available now, with Kindle release date: Wednesday, November 15.

Click here to order

Chapter 10: Designing the Final Product

Anatole is a jaunty little French mouse who does his best to improve the reputation of mice in general by settling a good example. He’ll lead you through the puzzles of printer-speak, cover design, the required parts of a book, layouts, copyright, ISBNs, and electronic coding. He’ll do his best to convince you that you have a responsibility to all other indie writers to get the details right.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Keeping Up with Language Shifts

Have you noticed lately that our world is speeding up? I don't refer to that well-known sensation that time passes more quickly as you age. That's a given. But I've been noticing that in this digital age, information multiplies faster than most people can keep up with it. And that means that our language is changing, too. Here's a prime example.

I have spent the last few days doing a careful word-by-word check of the manuscript for my next book, which is scheduled to come out in November. Because it is something of a "How-To" book on self-publishing, I have been more than usually aware of any mistake that might cast doubts about my ability to write such a book.  After the usual spelling and grammar check done by Microsoft's Word for MACs, I put the entire thing through two passes of Grammarly Pro, which promises to find any of  250 common writing problems, including spelling.  And only then did I turn to reading the manuscript out loud, almost one word at a time, to spot words left out, awkward phrases, unclear explanations, and random typos.  I did that three times!

Today I was confident enough of its correctness that I uploaded the .mobi file into Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing Platform. The program accepted my formatting and then announced it was searching for errors. "Ha!" I thought. Then to my dismay, it churned out a list of 51 possible spelling errors. The instructions said I should consider correcting these and then re-submitting.

I couldn't decide how to react. Angry? Insulted? Embarrassed? Ashamed? Humbled?  I started going through the items, one by one. A few were proper names, which I could simply mark as "Ignore." Three were British spellings -- not exactly incorrect, but needed "Americanizing" for a US audience.

But the rest? They were all terms that have come into common and accepted usage in the last few years as we all become more and more computer-literate. Several were words I used repeatedly, which increased my total number of errors. Here's the list:

bulleted list

I'm trying to be understanding about this, but deep down, I have to wonder why an internet powerhouse like Amazon's KDP is not as current on computer language as this 78-year-old woman!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An Ongoing Contest--Kindle versus Spark

As I was putting the finishing touches on my upcoming book on self-publishing, I realized that I could not come up with a definitive recommendation about the best indie publishing methods. Amazon Kindle Direct and Ingram's Spark are currently locked in an arm-wrestling match. Both offer simplified e-book publishing. Both have ways to move a manuscript from its electronic format to a paper version. Each one touts certain advantages over the other. Spark offers hard-back publication, but the process can take weeks or months. Kindle only handles trade paper editions, but its speed and efficiency are great. And each has a fan base of users who are convinced that its methods are superior. In the end, I waffled:
Both programs are changing rapidly, and they seem to be spurring one another on to greater and greater improvements. I cannot recommend one over the other. I would remind authors, however, that the final decision on publishing must not rely solely on quick and inexpensive options. If self-publishing is ever to compete with traditional publishers, or if you hope for best-seller lists and big-name reviews, your printed books must meet the same high standards as the rest of the industry.
This morning I discovered new reasons to keep watching this fight without betting large sums of money on either side. My e-mail box had a message from each of the combatants.

Ingram Spark announced a new landscape format:
Take advantage of the new 11 x 8.5 in (216 x 280 mm) trim size offered for Premium Color in both paperback and hardcover formats.This new trim size coupled with rich Premium Color is perfect for children's books, art & photograpy books, and more.
With 30 available trim sizes, you're sure to find the perfect size for your book.
And Kindle Direct Publishing countered with:

Did you know that with X-Ray for Authors, a free Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) tool, you can now add your own definitions, descriptions, or commentary that will show up when the reader engages the X-Ray feature? X-Ray is a unique Kindle eBook feature that allows readers to learn more about a character, topic, event, place, or any other term, simply by pressing and holding on the term or character that interests them. With X-Ray for Authors, you can add new X-Ray entries, edit existing ones, or enable X-Ray for a new book. Even a few descriptive words can make a big difference to the reader as they try and situate characters or learn more about terms or events.
I'm now wondering what others think about these latest offers. Would either of these innovations interest you? If you are a writer, would you use either one? Particularly in the case of the new Kindle program, would you be willing to spend the time it would take to set up the X-ray features? And what about you readers? Would you prefer to have a children's book in this new landscape format? Does it make the book easier for a child to hold? And what about the pop-up feature of X-ray. Would you really take the time to interrupt your reading to follow an explanatory link? Does either idea spark an interest? Do you have a burning desire for either one? Leave your comments below.