Monday, January 23, 2017

New Beginnings, New Paths

This past weekend I attended my very first writer's conference. I went in with zero specific expectations but my hopes and dreams intact. I was prepared to be a sponge for all the keynote speakers as well as the instructors of the sessions. I had set up advanced reading appointments and found I was even more eager than I had anticipated. The moment I got there I felt at home among other writers of all levels.

I learned about the conference just five short weeks ago. I was attending a local author showcase at the Barnes & Nobel near my house and spoke to the lady at the table next to me. She told me about how she had attended previously and even found her agent there, landing a job writing for Harlequin. I decided to look into it thinking I could save up and perhaps attend next year. That thought nearly solidified when I saw how close the conference was. I was ready to make a plan to save up the money and attend in 2018 when I saw the list of keynote speakers. JA Jance, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jonathan Mayberry and the reason I made it happen this year, RL Stine.

I was first transfixed by the written word at the age of six when I could read just enough to get through the poem This Is My Rock by David McCord. It goes like this:

This is my rock
And here I run
To steal the secret of the sun

This is my rock
And here come I
Before the night has swept the sky

This is my rock
This is the place
I meet the evening face to face

I read that poem hundreds of times. I could close my eyes and see that very spot in my mind. I was forever changed. After that I read Shel Silverstein's Where The Sidewalk Ends cover to cover in less than a week. Keep in mind I was only six so I had to ask for help occasionally but I got through it and it became a permanent fixture on my bookshelf.

When I was in fourth grade my parents agreed to let me read a book in the Fear Street collection by RL Stine. They were worried I would have nightmares but instead I devoured them one after another. My teachers were concerned that I would read such scary books at my age but like many other writers I was already telling my own stories as well. My mom would tempter the horror books with something lighter now and then but ultimately she let me read what I liked.

For christmas when I was in sixth grade I received the first two Fear Street Saga books. They are still some of my favorite books I have ever read. I even threw a tantrum when my mom refused to drive me to the store the day the third book in the series came out. Those stories have stayed with me just as that first poem has. I was thrilled to speechlessness when I had the opportunity to have him sign a book and take a picture with me at the conference, something to check off the bucket list!

After spending the weekend among people just starting out like myself and those of the caliber of RL Stine is am not only motivated to move forward but I feel like I have a better sense of how to do that. One thing he said in his keynote speech struck me deeply, Always say yes. Say yes to every opportunity because you never know where it may lead. That made me think. There was a reason that author sat next to me and told me about the conference. There was a reason my idol was going to be there to draw me in and now there is a reason I am going to be able to move forward. I agreed to do the local showcase, I took the chance to go to the conference and to speak with him. Now I am not going to stop saying yes. I am going to look for as many ways as possible to try new things and grow into the writer I believe I have the potential to become. I cannot wait to see where this journey leads next.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Rejection File

What is that sitting on the edge of my shelf? A common manila folder unassumingly taking up the tiniest bit of space. Why you might ask? What could it be doing there? Or more importantly why is it not joined with its friends in the pile of works in progress on the corner of my desk? That file is not about what I am working on, not in the writing sense anyway. It is a collection of sorts that both pain and please me. It is my folder of rejection slips.

I am an Indie author which means my work is not traditionally published. This however is not the way I wish to remain permanently. I love the idea of becoming a hybrid author with some books self published and under my complete control while others are done through a traditional publisher. This is of course where my file comes in. In order to get a book into the hands of a traditional publisher I need to land an agent first.

There are a few publishers that will accept manuscripts without an agent but even then you must submit your query letter and possibly sample pages to be read ad decided upon which can result in those same rejection letters agents often send. I have collected them from both sources and I am sure the file is far from complete. It is one of the many reasons why people will say you need to have a thick skin to be a writer.

I am a former model and once upon a time I thought I would be an actress but during that time in my life I had no ability to handle the criticism that came with the territory. I didn't model long, I rarely auditioned for anything and eventually found it easier to run and hide than even try. It took several years of work to be ready to put myself out there for judgement again and now I do it with something far more personal than just my looks, I put my heart and should on display for the world to see, I pray for acceptance while expecting rejection.

These letters are not simply a scar upon my heart though. They are a badge I wear until such time as I get the acceptance I so crave and can wear it like a cloak to cover those scars. In order to find the acceptance you must be willing to face the rejection. It is hard, I would never say otherwise. It hurts just as much if not more than a bad review but the point is to remember you did something so many talk about but never accomplish. You wrote a book. Beyond that you took the chance to share it and with hard work and dedication you can hopefully find the person that will tell you yes. Keep pushing, the acceptance is always worth the rejection.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hitting The Road Again

Last Monday I hit the road in search of raffle prizes for an upcoming charity event I am helping to organize. I had about five hours to go to as many locations as I could and after making contacts with more than a dozen I was feeling exhausted. I now have a number of places to follow up with and was given one very generous donation, a fifty dollar gift certificate to an Irish Bar. Today I will be doing the same thing once again.

I am fortunate enough to live in Las Vegas where there are more things to see, do, eat and enjoy than almost anywhere else in the world. We also have a wonderful community that is willing to step up for a good cause. The organization we are working with is called Veteran's Village and they do incredible work on behalf of homeless veterans. They work to get them off the streets, find jobs and offer health services. The community has come out for them in the past and we are just trying to do a small part to say thank you.

I worked on going to locations on the Strip last week because with it being the beginning of the year many places outside of the tourist hotspot were still closed for the holiday. Now that things are open again I will be aiming to finish the Strip locations on my list while moving on to more local companies as well. Even doing my best to avoid any conflict of interest between our benefactors and our location for the event as well as not take advantage of my employer I still have nearly one hundred places I can make a request. 

Today will be about making initial contact with places I haven't been while following up with a few previous places. I am also hoping to stop by Veteran's Village to speak with the founder about any ideas he may have. It is a large undertaking to put a charity event together but it is by far my favorite thing I get to do. This will be my second fundraising book event and I learned so much from the first one I am hoping to build upon that and make this next one a huge success. I am also happy my partner will join me for today's prize hunting expedition!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Rescue Me Update

At the end of each week I am hoping to give updates on one of my favorite projects, Rescue Me - Animal Anthology. I created these books because I am a broke author that wanted to do more than just spend time volunteering at local shelters. I love spending time with the animals, am happy to clean up after or play with any dog, cat, rabbit or whatever the shelter happens to be housing at the moment but ultimately I know they need money. Sadly this is an area I fall short.

I formed the series with the intention of publishing a book that would give all of the proceeds to charity and I am thrilled to say we have now published two. The first book Rescue Me Volume 1 - Stories of Hope donates to an organization out of Chicago called War Dogs Making It Home. They work with veterans that have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aka PTSD as well as Traumatic Brain Injuries or TBI. They partner them with therapy dogs and the cost to the veteran is completely covered. I am honored to work with such a group.

The second book that just became a valuable the week before Christmas 2016 was the Feline Edition - Purrfect Companions. This book donates to The Cat Network. They are a shelter out of Miami, FL and have a mobile unit as well. I am working to expand the feline reach to other organizations that also work with feral cats as well as groups that do trap and release. Right now this is our only feline specific book though.

There are also three that are accepting submissions. We have a Canine Edition, a Senior & Disabled Edition as well as Volume 2. Each of these also has its own organization that will receive all of the proceeds of that book. The Canine Edition donates to National Mill Dog Foundation, Volume 2 goes to the National Search Dog Foundation and the Senior & Disabled Edition benefits Leave No Paws Behind out of California. I believe in each and every group we partner with and I encourage anyone interested to please comment here or find Rescue Me - Animal Anthology on Facebook. We will happily answer any questions and are looking forward to publishing the next books in the series.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Meet Victoria Kaer

One of the things I have always appreciated about being a writer is the friendship that forms with fellow authors. I have been fortunate enough to have friends that have promoted my work in the past and while I admit I am great at promotions I wanted to take one day a week to say thank you and help get the word out about other authors I either work with and / or respect.

Starting off with the first week of the year I wanted to share my friend Victoria Kaer. She has helped me create my website and is working to show me several aspects of the Indie writing world I am still completely behind on. For this and so many other things I owe her a debt of gratitude I will most likely never be able to fully repay.

One other incredible aspect is her generosity. She saw a mention of a group of authors holding an event to raise money for a charity and formed the idea of doing our own here in Las Vegas. I stepped up immediately to help her because I love charity work. We have since found a location, date and time and have been meeting to come up with the details of the event. We will even be going out to collect raffle prizes in a few days, part of the process I love.

She writes in genres I myself am not totally familiar with as I do not read middle grade fantasy or dystopian often. I do own her dystopian novels Regulated and Liberated which have joined my personal To Be Read list for the next couple of months. I am excited to broaden my reading horizons while helping to support a friend.

She has a website that can be found at www, and I recommend any and all that enjoy either genre to definitely check her out. She is dedicated but still willing to take the time to help other authors on their journeys. I am proud to call her a friend. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Please take some time and check out her books available on Amazon and Nook!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Making Connections

There are a number of ways to connect with your readers. The most common currently, though definitely not my favorite is through different forms of social media. Personally I only use Twitter and Facebook though their are others like Instagram, Periscope, Vine, Linked In and Tumblr just to name a few. I am not sure how to use most of them but I have gotten better with the two I use. Once you have established your profile on any that you intend to utilize you must then let your audience know you are there.

Teasers, posts and pictures are wonderful ways to step out into the world of social media but interaction is key. Having information thrown at your readers without inviting them in is a great way to scare them off. Ask questions, play games and respond to comments or messages when they are received. Letting your readers know how much they mean to you will make them not only keep coming back but if done correctly, bring their friends with them the next time around.

Websites are also important places to connect. These days everyone has a website and allowing your readers to come into your world makes them feel less like customers and more like friends. Show them who you are, what you have to offer and give them a place to share in the fun. Once again being interactive is key. My soon to be launched site has my books and calendar of events on it but also has several links to my Facebook, Twitter, this blog, my email and a way to sign up for my newsletter I am launching this month. It will be a learning experience but one that my readers and I get to do together.

Newsletters are common for authors. Not everyone I know has one but several do. It is a way to share struggles and triumphs, upcoming events and a teaser or two along the way. You can also use it to spotlight organizations, events or people that are particularly meaningful at the moment. I am a part of an all volunteer group that writes, publishes and promotes charity anthologies. I was listed as the volunteer of the month which went out in the monthly newsletter for that organization. It is great to be able to feature people or companies that help make a difference in your life both personally and professionally.

The last connection is by far my favorite, face to face. I can say without hesitation it is the one I am best at. I love to smile, shake hands and see the other person as we talk. When I am selling a book there is nothing like signing the copy and handing it to the person that will be taking it home. When networking it is easier to stand out from the crowd by looking the person in the eye and reading their body language as you converse. I cannot wait every time I know I have an event coming up so I can meet new people. 

No matter what your preference in style, for most of us it is a mixture of them all to some extent, the important thing to remember is to make that connection. Most people by nature are social creatures we just have to find that common ground. As writers we must remember that people are more likely to buy from a friend and keep coming back than to make a quick purchase from a stranger they feel nothing towards. Reach out and find a way to bring others into your world and when done right they will keep coming back for more.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tell Me What You Think

I have four published books. Two are part of my charity series Rescue Me - Animal Anthology, and the other two are novels I have created. I also have four books waiting to be edited and either published or submitted. I am not lacking for work as I am also working to finish drafting the rest of my thriller series which when completed will contain four books just in that series. The question for most people would be though, are my books any good?

Reviews are what answer that question. They are the testimonials that authors live by and while of course we all want thousands of five star reviews, I would be happy to just hit fifty honest ones. Right now I would be ecstatic to get to twenty-five. Yes, it is fair to say I am not great at getting reviews. I am planning to improve that in the coming year however. I have watched a few authors as they have used different strategies to get reviews and I am planning to work on using some of them myself to see if it can grow my own number.

I am hoping to have all four books go up so that maybe they will be more visible though my focus will be on Survivor as well as the Rescue Me books. Anything that helps either let people know they are not alone dealing with anxiety or brings attention to the animals that need to be rescued from the shelters of the world will always be my priority. I am hoping to use promotions on both Goodreads and Amazon in order to get my work in front of a larger audience.

One of the most common practices, and the one I will be employing first, is to give a free ebook copy to someone in exchange for an honest review. This allows the person to take the time to sit down with your story and help you with their review without having to buy something that may not be their personal cup of tea. There are actually entire groups on Facebook that are dedicated to reviewing books for authors. I will be exploring them as well.

Promotions go hand in hand with growing through reviews. It isn't enough to upload a book or perhaps have a publisher release the story, you have to know how to find your audience and let them know it is there. Then periodically remind them so that new members of the group can have the chance to enjoy your book as well. Hopefully people will find out by word of mouth (reviews) but in order to keep getting new ones it never hurts to tell people you are still out there. This will be a focus for me beginning in March though I will be studying up between now and then.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fighting Through Self Doubt

One of the most common things in the creative world is a crushing sense of self doubt. We fight the frustration, depression and unwavering belief that we are not good enough on nearly a daily basis. Some of us have it more than others and some have other contributing factors. The most difficult part isn't even dealing with these issues but handling the comments from those around us that either don't understand what we are dealing with or think telling us to get over it will somehow cure the pain.

For me it comes on suddenly. I can be going about my day with thoughts unrelated to my writing when something strikes me and brings me to tears. Something as simple as an email or perhaps a scheduling conflict with something I wanted to accomplish can make me start to rethink things. It sounds ridiculous and for those that have not experienced it I am sure that it is just that. For me it is uncontrollable. I become a pile of useless mush when these moments hit and it takes a great deal of effort and energy to fight back.

I spoke recently with my mom about the problem and had to explain that while she is one of the most honest people I know I still have to take things she says with a grain of salt because she cannot turn off what I have named mommy mode. She will protect me, especially knowing that I suffer from depression and anxiety. She will do her best to still tell me the truth but in those moments when I can barely believe whats happening in my own head I don't trust that she is speaking as anything more than my loving mom.

The fact is creative types express our emotions through our work. We paint, sculpt, sing, dance and write among so many other things to help us tell a story that hides deep in our minds and hearts. We are not always the best at healthy forms of expression but we also struggle to hide what is happening. It is a puzzle. We are not looking to drive the world crazy by making them play our games. In fact we are not necessarily trying to tell anyone in particular what we are feeling. We just want it out of our heads. It is only by reading the story within the work that anyone might truly understand the battle within.

Please if you know someone that deals with these issues as I do, don't tell them to suck it up or just get over it. Know that we are listening and your understanding means the world to us but sometimes it is about us working through things on our own. We will let you in when we are ready. You are our support system that helps hold us together when the war raging inside threatens to blow us apart. We cherish that. We cherish you and when our brains have stopped screaming and our hearts belong once again to sanity we will thank you in our own special ways. For those that don't say it often enough I thank you for everything you do for us.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Starting Off Right

Yesterday was New Years Day and with that comes the onslaught of the New Year, New Me mentality around the world. For me it isn't so much a "new me" I am aiming for as a way to build upon and improve from the previous year. I stopped making resolutions a few years ago choosing instead to make goals to work toward. I have found my ability to maintain the motivation for that much easier.

I am also working to be more well rounded in my everyday life as well as my goals. I have a list (nearly 2 full pages long) of things I want to accomplish this year. They range anywhere from running my first half marathon to publishing the rest of my charity anthologies to raising my credit score.  One of the ways I want to continue to grow is right here on social media. Between using my blog to help bring readers into my world and find a way for us to share things together and launching a website and a newsletter to keep people informed I will be learning quite a bit as well as reaching out far more this year.

I have never created something as intricate as a website before nor have I published a newsletter but I will be starting that this month along with the website. I will also be working to interact more on Facebook and Twitter to grow my audience and with any luck I will find a way to make Goodreads a bigger part of my business as well. I have become friends with a woman that thankfully knows how to do a lot of what I am trying to learn and therefor I am hoping to pick her brain as we work on growing our books and knowledge together.

One of the biggest aspects of my life both person as well as professional is my deep belief in charity. The same woman, Author Victoria Kaer is partnering with me to create a book event benefiting a local veteran charity which helps fulfill my desire to give back. I will also be making a large push to get enough stories for the last three books in my Rescue Me series and work with the organizations those books will be donating to in the next several months.

I am grateful for my planner so that I can keep everything straight but I believe if I do it right I will have a very successful and productive year bringing me to a place that perhaps I can begin to help others as they have been assisting me thus far. I cannot wait to see how the year progresses.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Marketing Tip - Displaying Marketably

A few months ago I read a book called Working The Table by Jeffrey Cook and Lee French. There were a number of things in the book that I believe are more commonsense than anything such as making sure banners are visible and having enough of your product to sell but there were so many nuances that I have found helpful and over time have begun to incorporate or modify to my personal style.

One of the big ones is that you want to appear as though you are prepared to sell a large number of your products. When I first started I would only set out a couple copies of my book because I didn't want to look silly having dozens of books just waiting for a buyer. It was the wrong way to look at it though. Instead of telling people I only have a few left some come grab yours before they are gone it communicated that I wasn't confident in my ability to sell many from the start. The last couple shows I have done I put out a much larger number of my books on the table and managed to sell more as well. People see that I am prepared and psychologically it tells them there must be a reason I am so sure I can make the sale.

Another is making sure that people know who you are. If you have a banner or a sign that goes with your table than you would know how important it is for people to be able to see it. However it is even more important to simply have that kind of information available. I do not currently have a banner or a sign even though I know exactly what I want it to look like. It is not something I know how to make and have not found anyone that can help me yet so I am tinkering with online services to get a feel for graphic design. While attending the Vegas Valley Book Festival I had a woman come to the table with her daughter. She looked over my books and asked if I was the author. When I told her I was she mentioned how much easier it would be to know who I am if I were to put a sign up or have a banner for the front of my table.

I am hoping to have the sign made within the next month or two as finances allow. I am also working to create other marketing materials that will all flow together with color and design. When I put up my materials I do my best to make sure everything is visible and easily accessible without overwhelming the table. I want people to feel welcome and interested instead of like a high pressure sales situation. I continue to read and learn with every new experience so here is hoping that in 2017 I will be able to make an even greater impact with my materials and display.