Chorus Line, Carrie Bradshaw, and the Real Writing Life

A Chorus Line features a great song for writers, “The Music and the Mirror.”

Like all the songs in that musical, it was originally written for dancers but it speaks to everyone. You don’t need to be a dancer to get the song–we’ve all felt a bit useless at times:

Give me somebody to dance for
Give me somebody to show
Let me wake up in the morning to feel
I have somewhere exciting to go . . .

tumblr_lu8t4yJ46n1qjrugbo1_500Does that sound like Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, the newspaper writer with a shoe habit? Maybe on a bad day? With newspapers cutting staff left and right, I think the next Sex and the City movie should revolve around Carrie losing her job. Her book deal falls through and she’s forced to join the throngs of real freelancers scrambling for gigs.

My beef with Carrie is that she adds to this ridiculous idea most people have, that writers do very little work, live glamorous lives, and make lots of money.

So let’s address those points.

First, the amount of work.There’s a very funny open letter to Carrie from freelancer Lucy Ledger in which she says, “I’m pretty sure I work 10 times harder than you but my picture is not on the side of a bus.”

Since writers always seem to be available for lunch or coffee, folks assume we don’t work much. The truth is that most writers write 10, 12, 14 hours a day. The reason that we’re always available for lunch or coffee is that we are desperate for a break and some human interaction. Writing is lonely.

As for being glamorous:  imagine me laughing so hard that I must run to the bathroom before I pee my pants. Now imagine I’m back. That’s about as glamorous as it gets.

That leaves making lots of money, which fictional writers like Carrie and Castle seem to do easily. The truth: writing is a poorly paid profession. There’s no minimum wage for freelancers. That’s why so many of us are waiting on tables, teaching high school, or signing up with Kelly Services.

Writers scramble to find writing work. They send query letters to agents and editors, proposing articles and new books. There’s lots of competition and the markets change constantly. I say that not to whine, but to be clear: writing jobs aren’t handed out like day labor gardening stints. You don’t hang around till someone says, “Hey you, give me 500 words on your favorite celebrity!”

I wish. In reality, the writer thinks of a topic, spins it, finds a market, creates a killer pitch for the idea, sends the pitch to the right editor–and often hear nothing in response. Ever.

(Is that news to you? An old friend of mine thought that writers just called up magazine editors, identified themselves as writers, asked for work, and got assigned a story. And that the editor also provided all the research material to the writer. No.)

Back to the song: “Use me, choose me . . . “

Now, while waiting for editorial responses, a writer also looks online for work. It’s easy to spend several hours a day looking for writing jobs. CraigsList and other sites post gigs for writers, so of course every other writer in the world is checking them out along with me and sending a letter or application. Sometimes I get lucky. Since my specialty is history, I’ve gotten a few jobs by letting my academic work push me ahead of the crowd, and that’s fine.

downloadThere are also places that offer work at a price of a penny a word.  Quite a few places, sadly. Even worse are sites that don’t pay at all, but will remunerate you later based on a certain level of clicks that your article may attract. Kind of a “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”  set-up, only I don’t think anybody ever makes enough money to buy a hamburger. At least not a big, juicy Bluenami from Islands.

Not all writers scrounge for work. Either they don’t need the money–like Carrie, they married a Mr. Big–or they have day jobs that they don’t dare give up because, let’s face it, who wants to spend 3 or 4 hours working on a someone else’s blog post that’s only going to get them $5? And when I say blog post, please don’t assume that blog post will be on the writers’ choice of topic. No, when you work for hire, the post you must write could be about maintenance on an HVAC system, the nearest parks to a condo development in another state, or edible plants that grow wild in the Pacific Northwest.

Actually, that last one was kind of interesting.

But you get the idea. These aren’t the kind of thing you can toss off without research–way more research than anyone should do for a penny a word.

But it’s writing and it pays. I look at such jobs as  my way of telling the universe, “Hey, I’m doing my part. I’m taking the work I can get.” Amazingly, once I swallow my pride and start plugging away, something better does come along.

“Give me a job and you instantly get me involved.
Give me a job and the rest of the crap will get solved.”

I know other writers who earn money as writing coaches and editors. Some teach their craft; they’re very good writers, but they need that supplemental income that comes from the class.

I also know some absolutely great writers that have honed their skills and energetically built up a network and resume, so they always have work at top-paying markets. I am not jealous; I know how hard they worked to get themselves to that point and I applaud them.

That’s an upbeat note to finish on, but here’s one thing more: like most creatives, writers are happy doing what they love, even if they’re not getting rich. We take those other jobs because bills have to be paid, not because we’ve become disenchanted with writing. Like the hoofers in A Chorus Line, we are  passionate about our craft–but our careers will last longer than a dancer’s.

So there.



Editing Advice from a Pro

The nice thing about living the Los Angeles area is that there are so many meetings–both social and instructive–for writers there. **

oldtypewriterRecently, I listened to a wonderful editor of many years’ experience talk about writing. She said that the most important choices writers make is what to put in, and what to leave out.

Yes! And I would guess that no one gets that exactly correct, because each reader is a little different. Some wish for more detail, while others are impatient to get to the end.

Time changes our preferences too. I just read Middlesex: A Novel that won the Pulitzer Prize twelve years ago. Guess what? Much as I loved  it–loved it, truly madly deeply loved it–there were a few parts where I thought the author went on a little too long. Did he? The Pulitzer committee didn’t think so. I am sure the reason I did is that in the last twelve years, we’vecome to want more and more trimmed from our stories.

Remember when Joe Friday used to say “Just the facts, ma’am,” whenever someone started to ramble? Who knew he was prognosticating?



Anyway, back to Editor Aviva’s talk. What to put in and what to leave out?

She used the image of a stage, so picture your story on an empty stage, scene by scene:

  • Where does the spotlight go?
  • How many people are on the stage? Do they all need to be there?
  • Really?

OnelightTo start setting the stage at the beginning, you must be clear for the reader about who the protagonist is and what the story is about. Every detail should contribute to that.

She put this in another way: Think of your story as a magnet. Everything in that story must adhere to the magnet. Little asides and scenes that don’t adhere to the story should be dropped.

In all the areas Aviva the Editor talked about–voice, point of view, structure, etc.–the main advice she had to impart was CONSISTENCY. Always be consistent.

  • Point of View: once you establish a point of view, stay with it!  If you’re omniscient, jumping into everyone’s head, you have to stay with that. If you’re telling one person’s story through their eyes, stay with that.  If you tell a story from one person’s standing for 150 pages, please don’t suddenly switch to another person for a chapter. That’s so jarring it can ruin the story.
  • World Building: Even in SciFi and Fantasy, where you create the world, you must be consistent. If you create a world where the sun rises in the west, make sure it rises in the west throughout the novel. If the world is a burned-out wasteland, that world could not suddenly have a garden in it, right?
  • Characters: These must be consistent too. They must feel real, and they can be complicated, but the annoying girl with a whiny voice will not suddenly turn into a mothering, gentle soul. Now, people should and do change in the novel, but you have to lay the groundwork for that. You just don’t have people changing for no reason, or doing things randomly.
  • Style: If you’re writing in a tough-guy, 1940s voice, stay with it. Don’t change in the middle of the book! Don’t ‘forget’ to use it for a chapter or two!
  •  Stay consistent to the end. The reader must feel that the story is DONE. Folks have changed. Issues are resolved.

One other word of advice. In a book, you are opening the door for the reader to see another world. You have to kick it open!  You can’t just nudge it a little. Plunge in, and bring the reader with you.

** Rather than bore you with a recitation of all the opps a writer in LA has to be entertained, instructed, and befriended, I’ll just mention that said opps inspired me to create the Writers Calendar LA.  If you’re in the Los Angeles area, please check it out. And if you like, scroll to the bottom of the calendar and treat me to a virtual cuppa coffee to keep me chugging along.

Stories . . . They’re Everywhere! Arghh!

telling storiesI once thought it might be fun to say to everyone I met, “Tell me the most interesting thing that ever happened to you or your family,” then gather all the stories into a book.

I still think it’s a good idea. Maybe I should delete that paragraph so that no one steals it.

The point is that stories–good, thought-provoking, colorful stories–are everywhere. If you write, you need to know that.

I know a lady in her 90s who thinks her tale would not interest anyone–it’s not as if she were a Holocaust survivor, she says. No, she was merely a newlywed who traveled by steamship and rail to the old country–Berlin in 1937–to visit her husband’s relatives. There, they had a front-and-center view of Krystallnacht–the night when  Nazis went on a rampage, smashing windows and setting fires to Jewish-owned shops and synagogues. During the next few weeks, she and her husband–both Jewish–managed to get some of his relatives out of Germany by train. They used coded telegrams to learn if the next stations were safe from Nazi inspections, and spent some time wondering just how much protection their American passports would be if push came to shove.

But who would be interested in that?

A friend of many years just revealed that her marriage in the late 1970s was performed by Johnny Cash, who’d only become a minister that week. A coworker and her daughter took fencing lessons from the guy who taught Hollywood stars like Errol Flynn and who donned the Darth Vader costume to duel with Luke Skywalker in the 1980s. And should I even mention the 80-something lady who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and a prison camp to be rescued by Otto Schindler, and who was the inspiration for the little red coat in Speilberg’s film? She is setting down her own incredible life story with the help of another writer.

Amazing tales are all around us. You probably know a few too. They don’t have to be about a whole life; memoir is not autobiography. An incident or a year is perfectly acceptable as fodder for your imaginationMaybe you don’t know the end of the story or all the details, but the bits and pieces inspire you. That’s fine.  

My father sat his parents down once and put a microphone before them. It was the early 60s and he wanted them to talk about their lives. When I listened many years later, my first thought was disappointment. My grandmother , who had a phenomenal memory for addresses and dates, droned on for a full 20 minutes about every house they’d lived in. Every three or four months, a new one: “And then we moved to Juanita Place, 3530, that was in Inglewood, and then that December we moved to Boyle Heights, to a blue building on the corner of . . . “

But I soon realized the bigger truth behind this, which she kept at bay with her stark addresses: They had no money. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s, they moved from a place whenever the landlord threatened to bring the sheriff. A few months here, a few months there. Often the move took place in the middle of the night.

That’s how my father grew up. And that’s a story, a sad one in his case, but I can see it being a funny story too, for a different family. The Marx Brothers, maybe.

Please understand–I am not suggesting you appropriate someone else’s biography and use it for your plot! Bad, bad. But a story like my grandmother’s may spark a lively scene in your 1920s romance, of someone sneaking out of their home before the landlord comes calling. That happened to many folks; it’s generic and not traceable to any one person.

I realize these are all old stories. OK, how about the 30-something adoptee who traced her birth parents and went to visit her newly-found family in the Carolinas? She came back to her West Coast home depressed and overwhelmed; she hated everything about them. Including their toothlessness. Or the aerospace industry engineer, who was found wandering the streets of Tijuana as a toddler and adopted by missionaries, then educated in the top schools? A brilliant man, but still hampered by an accent and shyness he can’t seem to shake. The crazy lady writing her rambling memoir that (she’s convinced) will expose the malfeasance of corporate America’s GMO food producers and change the world forever has a story to tell too–all grist for the mill.

Jennifer Egan filled A Visit from the Goon Squad with vignettes that charm–like the story of a 1970s African safari recalled fondly by a character reminiscing, twenty years later. And then we’re there, on safari, meeting new people, seeing younger versions of the characters in the book. At the end of that chapter we learn that one of the children on that safari starts a Facebook page fifty years later, which led to a chance meeting and marriage for two of the participants, now senior citizens. I loved that small bit and wondered if a real-life episode inspired it.

In my last corporate job, my boss walked in one day and said, “I hear you write?”

“I do.”

“My mother has a great story. I just don’t know what to do about it.”

The boss’s mother was raised in a proper Japanese home in Southern California in the 1930s. At one point, her traditional parents–no doubt worried that she was becoming too Americanized–sent her to a Japanese “finishing school” in mainland China. Why they decided on China and not Japan itself is a mystery to all. Maybe it was cheaper there. Japan had taken over Manchuria a few years before and had a strong presence in China.

Right after the young lady traveled to China and settled into her new dormitory, all hell broke lose. The Japanese picked that time to attack China. Ever hear of “The Rape of Nanking” ? Japan attacked Shanghai, then Nanking, the capital city, which became the site of some of the worst wartime atrocities in modern history. If I went into detail, I would make you physically ill. In Nanking alone, 300,000 people died in six weeks. And the war spread out from there.

So here’s this teenage American girl of Japanese descent in mainland China. The school’s shutting down, teachers are fleeing, and there’s a vicious, bloody war going on. Neither she nor her dozen classmates speak any Chinese language. Some of them don’t even speak Japanese! They’re in a dangerous place and their only hope is to split up and escape, go south toward Hong Kong, and try to get back to the USA. They make a pact to contact each other once back home.

My boss’s mother made it. She never heard from any of the other girls. Not one.

By the time I heard the story, the woman suffered from Alzheimer’s. She’d never talked much about the horrors she saw in China and I don’t know how much of the details her children were able to learn. Her story–the little I know–still gives me chills. What a novel or movie that would make!

So when people say they don’t know what to write about, I really think they’re just not listening.

Confessions of a Non-Communicative Writer

Writing used to be the haven of the socially inept.

William Hogarth's The Distrest Poet--from Wikipedia.

William Hogarth’s The Distrest Poet–from Wikipedia.

We could be shy, cowering in our garrets. Wallflowers, plain or geeky but secretly brilliant . . . we might appear to be nobodies now but would become famous after slipping away from our unappreciated lives. Think Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole. Among the living, there’s Thomas Pynchon–even Lemony Snicket.

Then there were the rude, brooding authors, often drunk and brutally honest, even more often drunk and wildly dishonest. Their boozing or drug-taking was excusable, along with occasional foul mouths and surly or arrogant demeanor, because these were souls tortured by the inner visions struggling to emerge. Hemingway is my ultimate example of this stereotype, but you might prefer Bukowski.

Engraving after William Marshall, publidhrf by William Richardson, 1794. From Wiki

Engraving after William Marshall, published by William Richardson, 1794. From Wiki.

Back in the day, writers didn’t have to appear in public. Or if they did, they didn’t have to presentable. Unkempt clothes and a growth of beard added to the mystique. Women could wander the streets in pajamas like Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction. If you were a writer, you could talk to yourself. Life was good.

What the hell happened?

I aspired to that style of authorship. Mystique becomes me. I can brood well when motivated, and I do talk to myself, though drugs and drinking are out. But someone has changed the rules, and I’m not happy about that. In fact, I may start drinking in protest.

Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk. Yes, she was fabulous. Sigh.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk. Yes, she was fabulous. Sigh.

Where once writers communicated solely through their work, they are now expected to be media-savvy on all levels. The ideal author is animated and coherent–check them out o YouTube. They wow their fans at TED Talks and conventions, and make entertaining party guests.

Technologically, today’s authors are conversant with Twitter, post selfies on Instagram, and stand ready to jump on the mastery bandwagon of whatever the Next Big Thing turns out to be.

I honed my craft–writing–for years so that I could be invisible. If I wanted to charm folks into buying my books I would’ve gotten hair implants and budgeted for a better wardrobe. And I hate letting a trendy avatar speak for me–where are the rotund and sagging characters?

Posting this blog essay represents the summit of my technological expertise. And I like it that way. Dammit , Jim, I’m a writer, not a programmer!

Yes, I know I’m pissing into the wind. But what good is a blog if I can’t vent on in once in a while?

Warning: Writer Distracted

I just read a very amusing blog post at the 8 Great Storytellers site. It’s all about “Why Writing at Home Won’t Work.”

Wait a doggone minit! I write at home! I do just fine, thank you very much. What does this upstart mean, it won’t work?

This shirt available at

This shirt available at

After skipping through email, deleting merrily till she gets to the one about the Zappos clearance sale (“Squirrel!”), and trying to eat breakfast, the author–Julie M. Brown–puts herself back in front of the computer and opens a new Word document, saving it with a temporary title:

 save as . . . What is that out there on the lawn? A flock of birds eating my grass seed? I jump up and run outside with the hose to scare them off. That’ll show you! I holler. Since I’m now outside with the hose running, I decide to sprinkle the lawn. And water the pots, pull a few weeds, and . . . oh my, look at that gorgeous pink rose! I should put it in a bud vase on my desk to inspire my work. I go inside to get my gardening shears. I rummage through several drawers to find them and go back outside to snip the lovely rose. Then I prune the rest of the bush. And the bush next to it.

Just like me!  Well, except that I have no lawn or roses. I like these ladies at 8 Great Storytellers.

The blog post makes its point, but notice that it got written. Julie M. Brown turned her frustration with distraction into a humorous article. She managed to sit herself down and write.

There’s more to be said about this.

Countless sages have talked about the importance of disciplining yourself to write. In a 2008 article from Writers Digest, James Scott Bell claimed that he made himself write 350 words before doing anything else.  Why?  “There are any number of things I can do besides write. If I don’t watch it, my day can fill quickly with little tasks, distractions, interruptions, phone calls and crises of various magnitudes.”

Yup. The Internet is full of advice on how to discipline yourself to ignore the phone and everything else, and write. I just looked. I even found a concise one-page article on why we are hardwired to be so easily distracted.  But I must admit that before focusing on this post I googled Karen Valentine, just because I was curious about whatever happened to her, and previous to that I was on Facebook and before that a couple of calls setting up an Oscar party and on and on.

It’s not just me. We are all being led away from our work with painful ease. Beelzebub in this case is a mouse and a fleeting, half-remembered item of cultural trivia.


So whether your coping methodology is to write 350 words immediately or set a timer for 50 minutes or unplug the TV and/or modem–or even to simply realize that if you don’t write, you won’t get paid and your bills are due and the homeless shelters are quite unpleasant compared to a heated apartment, you have to find it in yourself to shut the noise out and write.

Louise Erdrich won the National Book Award in 2012. She’s written more than a dozen books for adults, a half-dozen for children, several volumes of poetry, and a few collaborations. Briefly, she is prolific. She is the same age as I am, and she runs a bookstore as well. No excuses.

One of her poems is called “Advice to Myself” and I love it, partly because it tells me she has the same problem as the rest of us–distraction–and partly because it tells me how to solve that problem.

The first line of the poem is:

“Leave the dishes.”

My mother, my grandmother, my aunt-with-the-spotless-house and every other female relative is probably turning over in their grave at this very minute, but Louise Erdrich’s advice trumps everything that I ever learned from anyone else. And let’s face it, I never kept a very neat house anyway.

I don’t know if it’s legal to reprint someone else’s poem here, so instead I will provide you with a link to read the rest at Garrison Keillor’s page. He used this poem on his Writers Almanac series several years ago, and I’m sure he had permission. Here it is.

And that, gentle and distracted reader, is how to sit down and write.

Lincoln and Slang

I learned something today that solved an old mystery. Any Lincolnophiles out there?

Lincoln schmoozing at Gettysburg, before he spoke. Lamon is the big guy on the right.

Lincoln schmoozing at Gettysburg, before he spoke. Lamon is the big bearded guy on the right. From Wikipedia.

If so, you may remember that after Lincoln gave his short speech at Gettysburg (so short that the photographer didn’t have time to set up and take his picture while he spoke), he sat down and murmured to his friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, “That speech won’t scour.”

I always took it to mean something like “That speech won’t play in Peoria,” to use the slang of fifty years later. Or is it Poughkeepsie?  Or “That speech doesn’t have staying power.” And actually, all those things capture the sense of it. Lincoln thought his speech had failed and would be forgotten.

Still, what an odd word to use: scour. Scour is when you scrub something with iron wool, right? (I’m dating myself here. Iron wool is what we used to call Brillo or SOS pads–those soap-encrusted scrubbers used to cut through grease on frying pans.) You scour with the iron wool–clean with it. Scrub ruthlessly. Wreck your nails. What does that have to do with giving a speech?

I have just learned that “scour” had a different meaning back then. To a farmer–and most people were farmers in the 1860s–scouring had to do with plowing a field.

Plow designed by John Deere in the 1840s, from

Plow designed by John Deere in the 1840s, from

As you pushed your plow through the earth, the rich, black dirt (well, in Illinois it’s rich black dirt) scooped up by the plow either turned over and fell to the side, or clumped up on the mouldboard of the plow–a big pain, because then you had to stop plowing often and scrape the dirt off.  A good plow flipped the dirt to the ground along the row. That was called scouring.

Lincoln’s words were verdant with meaning, as always. Everyone knew what scouring was; after all, Lincoln was not a farmer himself, and he knew. Everyone also knew their Bible back then. In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable comparing words to seeds scattered in the earth, and that would have been familiar to anyone who heard Lincoln’s comment.

Words were like seeds; the Bible story said. They could, in the right soil, take root and grow the way the farmer planned. Plowing scoured the soil and made it right. Lincoln wanted to plant an idea and he feared he had not scoured the dirt well.

Nothing is richer than slang and idioms, but sadly, nothing ages faster and loses its meaning more quickly.

I learned about scouring from Ian Frazier’s article on the John Deere Plow in Special Collector’s Issue of Smithsonian Magazine, which has been sitting in my bathroom,  partially-read, for three months.

Hey, there are two types of people in the world: those who read in the bathroom, and those who don’t. Those who do are infinitely more interesting, imho.

My Big Fat Google AdWords Campaign

attachmentI’m going to pass this along, for what it’s worth. I created and ran a Google AdWords campaign for my my book The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories. It started about ten days before Christmas and ran into the second week of January.

I figured this book was perfect for such a campaign. It is a Christmas book aimed at Baby Boomers, or at people buying gifts for Baby Boomers. I wanted to put the book in front of those people. How better than to connect it to words and phrases those people might type into Google?

The young folks at Google AdWords were excited and eager to help. They worked their magic on my ad, building the click through rate to an astounding percentage over that first week. It was downright exhilarating–so exhilarating that I doubled my daily expenditure during the last week before Christmas. After all, I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, right?

I understood that in spite of the great click-through rate and the other acronyms they threw at me,  there was no way to measure the actual effectiveness of the ad. Amazon would not allow that. I could not tell how many of the potential customers who clicked on my ad actually bought the book, but my hopes were high.

The result? Sadly, the sales did not pay for the expense of the ad. Not even close.

As I said, just passing it along.

Promoting Your Free Kindle Book

So you signed your book up for Amazon’s KDP, and now you want to schedule a free giveaway. Yes, you do want to give it away, and here are a few reasons for doing so:

First, to increase the book’s sales ranking, if only temporarily. There are people who will download any free book, and that’s OK. These people wouldn’t buy your book anyway, so you lose nothing. But the sales can boost your book’s ranking in different categories. If your book goes to #1 in any category, you can always claim that it was an Amazon Best Seller. Look at the bottom of this graphic–my book was Number 1 in two–count ‘em, two!–categories.

No1-PopCult-and-Toys cropped

And yes, that means you may spend a few hours refreshing your screen and watching the rankings on your book’s Amazon page, ready to do a screen-cap when it hits Number 1. But it’s worth it.

Second, to build buzz and get attention.  All attention is good. Every set of eyes that sees your book title belongs to a potential reader. Each reader has friends. Millions of readers have Goodreads accounts. Those accounts mention what book that reader is reading-often on the reader’s Facebook page, so all their friends and family see it. The reader might post reviews, which drive sales. All good.

Third, the free books can reinforce a Goodreads or Google ad campaign. I’ve heard that people need to see something at least three times before it clicks in their mind, so anything that puts Your Book Title in front of folks is good.

How do you let people know about the KDP giveaway?

Amazon will do some promotion, but your book will be only one of hundreds they mention. You must help spread the word. There are organizations that let their members know, every day, what books are being offered for free. Most charge nothing to include your book in their announcements.

The list I used was titled “15 Places to Promote Your Book for Free” and it came from MediaBistro’s Galley Cat. It was published in August 2013 but by the time I used it in early December, the list’s #1 and 2 sites had already disappeared. IOW: any list is just a starting point, not a carved-in-stone guide. I’ll share that #5 on the list (Digital Books Today) requires that your book have at least 18 reviews, and #10 (Free Kindle Books & Tips) says it must have an average of 4-5 stars.

Just by going to the sites on that first list, I found other sites that do the same thing. Some of them need advanced notice to promote your book, so don’t wait till the last minute unless they tell you to. One–Snicks List–wants you to contact them on the first day of the promotion.

Other sites I found had names like EReader Girl, Free & Discounted Books, Free Booksy, Indie Booster, Book Goodies, Free Book Dude, and eReader Cafe. You’ll have to look up the links, but the names will get you started.

Of course, you’ll also do all the following. INCLUDE A LINK to your eBook’s Amazon page in all these mentions and posts:

  • Talk up the KDP promotion on your blog (you have one, right?)
  • Mention it on your book’s Facebook page (it has one, right?)
  • Share the promotion on your author Facebook page (you have –etc.)
  • Tell all your friends and family members, especially the ones who hoped for a free book from you
  • Post about the free book on the “Promotions” tab of any LinkedIn groups you belong to
  • Tweet about the promotion before and during it
  • Post or email announcement to all members of your critique group–for that matter, to any writers’ group you belong to, either physcially or online, through Yahoo Groups or Gmail, etc.
  • If anyone gave you pictures, information, or endorsements that you used in the book, let them know that they can get a copy free. This, especially, could result in future sales as they tell all their friends, “Look–I’m in a book!”
  • If you are running an ad on Goodreads, it’s very easy to edit the ad and show the promotion dates. Just remember to change the ad back after the giveaway is done.

It’s a big list, but most of the items take only minutes. Once you’ve composed an email or announcement that you like, just copy and paste it for other venues.

In addition to all this, think of groups of potential readers that you’d want to reach. What sites do they visit? Here are examples for my two books, a historical novel and a non-fiction trivia collection for Baby Boomers.

  • For Death Speaker(the historical novel) I wrote to the administrators of a UK-based, very popular blog and podshow focused on Celtic culture. I asked them to mention the free giveaway on their FB page and blog. They did–and I should mention that I’d written them before and sent them a review copy of the book, so this request wasn’t out of the blue. Bottom line: I had over 120 downloads from the UK–and later, a few sales.
  • For The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories I posted a note about the free eBook dates on every Baby Boomer-oriented site I could think of, including my high school reunion site and several FB pages for local Boomers who talked about the “good ol’ days.” Since I was contributing and commenting on all the pages before the promotion, my mentions were fine. (But please note that no group wants people to become members just to promote and sell their products.)

Every author has a different book, so it’s up to you to think of ways to promote it. That’s another topic in itself. However, now you know the basics of how I got the word out about my KDP freebie. For the record, over 1200 people downloaded a copy of Death Speaker, and over 500 downloaded The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories.

Two Great Articles About Reading

Both from the New York Times.


The first, “In Praise of (Offline) Slow Reading” by David Mikics uses a novel (The Circle) as its starting point. That book, set in the immediate future, tells of employees pushed into  social media to the point that their privacy is compromised–and their individuality.

As Mikics describes the novel by Dave Eggers, each employee’s value is measured by how many thumbs-up their thoughts/posts receive. That affects them not just as employees, but as people. And, Mikics points out, “some of us are already living in this world, at least a good part of the time.”

In this deceptive place, “We connect with others by cheering for our favorite things, turning ourselves into simple fans and ignoring the many-leveled, ambivalent selves that we actually are.” But, he warns, “a preference is not a self.”  (So much of the OpEd piece is quotable I will have to restrain myself.)

A self–a personality–requires time. Unhurried reading, as opposed to quick scans of tweets, provides that. Books take us on journeys and allow us to intimately know another character. Mikics uses Anna Karenina as his example here; she’s complex and not completely likable, yet “she interests us from first page to last, and each reader feels compelled to ponder why she has such a hold on us.”

Books lead to introspection and self-awareness, in other words. Since reading–real reading, not skimming over a screen or magazine–is a solitary business, it allows us that time.

Mikics is the author of Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, which seems to be part of a growing subgenre of advice books that tell us to chill out and stop trying to reach our maximum potential at all levels–which is quite a relief for me.

noTVBetween my two NYT articles, I’ll mention that I have now been TV-free for several months, and can testify to the incredible benefits of simply curling up with a good book before bedtime, rather than watching late-night talk shows and news. Of course, I can (and do) get news on the internet–even the Daily Show. But I have broken the habit of sitting down for an evening of TV shows, good or bad. So I work more, read more, sleep better, and don’t miss the distraction.

OK, second article: “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” by Colin Robinson, states again that “reading is a solitary affair” and tracks the reasons why we’re losing our guides to the activity. And in so doing he tells us a lot about publishing.

First, there’s the downtown in publishers’ sales, which has not resulted in a lack of profit for said publishers. Why not? Well, they cut costs, partly by cutting out midlist books. That’s not new, but it doesn’t get mentioned often enough, I think. Midlist authors were “pretty much all new titles that are not potential blockbusters,” which means anything not by a King or Kardassian–and that’s becoming a cliche, isn’t it? But Robinson reminds us that these midlist authors are often the most interesting; the ones with the innovative ideas about to break through. Only now the big publishers don’t bother with them.

In talking about other cuts–to advances and marketing–Robinson says, “It’s hard to imagine that the quality of manuscripts from writers who have been forced either to eat less or write faster isn’t deteriorating. ” I just love that sentence.

bookstackBookstores in general and library budgets are also in decline, and professional book reviews–once a staple of good newspapers–have given way to the freelance reviewers on the internet. There, reviewing can be a popularity contest. Although Robinson doesn’t say this, my mind went immediately to the point of the previous article: Is the review a considered, informed evaluation of the book, or are we looking for reviews with the most likes and thumbs-up?

Finally, Robinson points to a problem that most writers understand: with dwindling returns, more and more writing is done by people who don’t need to earn money. Academics, hobbyists, retirees. Some may be turning out great work, but a lot of good writers simply can’t afford to write. They have to earn money, if only to pay for the editors and cover designers that even self-published authors need.

That last sentence is my addition, not Robinson’s. Based on experience, the gift that keeps on giving. Robinson’s point is that it’s the reader who is losing options, which is ironic because technically there are tens of thousands more choices in reading material than ever before–just no one left to guide us to the best.





Random Facebook Lesson

Well, it was inevitable.


I was beginning to feel some mastery of Facebook. Each day: hop on, visit each of my pages (Vickey Kall, Boomer Book of Christmas Memories, and Death Speaker), and as that user, find a picture or interesting link to post. Log off.  Get another cup of coffee.

Yup–although I wasn’t posting on the blogs so much, here was one thing that I was keeping up with. Facebook. Yay, me. Never mind that teenagers are leaving it in droves; my audience tends toward the Baby Boomer cohort, and we love FB, right?

Then I saw this article in Business Insider. Facebook has alienated users by cutting the exposure that their posts receive. And to many users (including the online group that pointed out the article), Facebook has not been and is not being honest with users. One company that paid for big ads in October is, under the new algorithms, getting less exposure now that the ad worked. People liked them…but those people are not seeing them.ThumbsDown

So, those friends who are suddenly not posting? Have they unfriended me, or has Facebook just decided I don’t need to see their posts? And followers who were interested in my books–do they think I’ve dropped off the map?

I know it’s a free service (though not for those who spent money on ads), but it is extremely time-intensive. And if my time is being wasted, why should I bother with Facebook?

This is all very recent news, so it will be interesting to see any followups.

But note I did include links to my Facebook pages above. Just in case.