Michigan Signs (for the balance)

After my post about British Signs and Street Crossings, I started thinking how someone from another country coming to upper Michigan would react to some of our signs here. For example…

There is the infamous Michigan no-brainer: “Do Not Pass When Opposing Cars Present,” a sign I always go by too quickly to whip out my iPhone for a shot. It is for a two lane road opening to a three land road on a hill. The third central lane is for passing coming up the hill. But if no one’s in that lane, feel free to go into it to pass your slow downhill car in front of you.

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There’s the caution sign that the road ends…before you drive into Lake Michigan.

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There are the “Icy Bridge” or the newer “Bridge freezes before road” signs.

Hotels up north warn to be on the lookout for falling icicles (even in summer?) or instructing guests to not use hotel towels to wipe down sleds, or no snowmobiles allowed through the parking lot.

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A central Michigan truck company placed this sign on the back of their truck:

IMG_9156  But you had to drive up real close in order to read it.

Is this sign for a zoo? Or to be on the lookout for mating wildlife (X-ing)? Or is it a misspelling and polite way of indicating a nudist camp crossing ahead?

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Other states have their own peculiarities. When we lived in South Dakota there were official signs like, “Next Rest Area 365 miles” or “Do not cross road when flooded” or my personal favorite, a series of old pickup tires hung on fence posts in the Black Hills with the white words painted on them: “No Hunt.”

In defense of signs in England, we’ve all got our own local signs which may bring a smile or questioning look to outsiders. Mostly they’re used to keep us safe, I suppose, or on the flip side, not get sued.

So when you are writing your real or make-believe worlds, be aware of your region’s culturally different signs intended to help or guide, not confuse people.

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Little England. Big America.

It was only upon our return to the United States that I realized how big America is. I mean, I knew ahead of time that England was about the size of the state of Michigan, but everywhere I looked on our return was . The driver’s lanes here are wider. The sidewalks here are wider. Even the wastepaper baskets and toilets are bigger. In England, it was obvious who were Americans by their big (loud) voices. Yards, if they exist, are tiny.  Distances between major cities are shorter over there. Semi trucks are shorter in the UK, and even on the motorways for several days, I saw no doubles or scary triples like in the USA. And upon our return, I was surprised to notice how physically big Americans are. I guess my eyes had merely overlooked that fact before, or been adjusted to the sights. But coming home, it seemed that every store I entered, I found big people — big compared to thin Englanders. (Of course, you can find some skinny Americans, and you can find some plumb Brits.)

Therefore, it’s my casual observation that England is little and America is big.

Relating this information to writing…what is the feeling of your setting? Is it large and roomy or elbows-tucked-in small? How would your main character respond growing up in a roomy land v.s. a crowded one? Or feel visiting one the opposite type of setting?

Play with your characters. Play with your setting. Write, rewrite, tweek.

Restaurants, Cafes, Pubs — Eating out in London

London is a crowded place. It’s been that way for over a thousand years. Consequently, the buildings are flush to each other on the block. The eateries also tend to be must smaller than the restaurants we in America are more familiar with. For instance, you could fit 3 restaurants into the space of one fast food chain restaurant here. Indoor seating is about for twenty people, max. There are often four or so small tables with chairs along the front of the restaurant or cafe on the sidewalk.

Screenless windows and doors are left opened during business hours. In a ten-day period, I only saw three bugs. They must come out at night or something in order to pollinate the plants.

Pubs are dark on the inside, but in summer, it’s light until 9:30, GMT. Again, the inside seating of pubs is quite limited, but crowds can stand outside. We had a pub about fifty yards from our hotel door. (We had a small room six floors above the front door.) We’d pass this corner pub each night to go to a small grocery story a couple blocks away for our next day’s picnic lunch. Along the windows outside the pub (and other pubs have this as well) and on the quieter side street is a narrow metal shelf wide, enough to place a drink upon. The sidewalk was shoulder-to-shoulder people, about six times more people could stand outside there and socialize than sit down inside.

Another thing I noticed besides outside seating (and standing) was that people in London sit on steps or on lawns. Going through Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon, we found thousands of people sitting on the grass, either eating or merely socializing. The pond area of the Victoria and Albert Museum was so crowded with people sitting on steps or grass that we had to slowly weave our way through them.

Although it’s no longer legal to sell food for pigeons, there are still many pigeons around, and they are there to snatch up any fallen (or intended) crumbs from the human eaters. We ate at the Raven Cafe in the Tower of London. There was only outdoor seating. Pigeons danced on our feet, begging for treats. Pigeons also apparently have the right of way in England. We had to duck more than once to avoid flying pigeon during our stay. The whoosh of wings brushing my hair is still vivid.

I must close by saying that the taste of the food in England is exceptional. I didn’t have a bad spoonful of anything during our entire time in this lovely little country.

 

Raphael’s Tapestry Cartoons, London, UK

My husband and I sat on one of the benches inside the Victoria and Albert Museum (more affectionately known as the V&A). My mind knew I was admiring rare works of art indeed. In front of me, hanging from the walls were several of the 13 feet by 17 feet designs Raphael used to make the tapestries for the Sistine Chapel in 1519. I wish I could attach a photo, but no photos were allowed in this particular room of the museum. The figures were life-sized. It was artistic and colorful. A wonder to behold.

However, I’m thinking that perhaps it was from being tired from visiting so many new places and experiencing so many new things that I kept grinning away in that room. I mean — cartoons? Well, yes, I understand that the word is an Italian word for “large sheets of paper,” but why did I keep trying to look to see something funny? Decades of hearing that word and thinking of an entirely different meaning. That and being exhausted. That’s why.

We sat and studied Raphael’s tapestry cartoons. They are amazing to be sure, but not really funny.

Jet Lag Writing — England

After a 10-day whirl-wind trip to England, we are now back in the USA. I went grocery shopping at 7 a.m., and have been working on sorting through some of my 3,000 digital photos I took on the trip. I was working for about three hours when suddenly I realized my fingers weren’t moving on the keyboard and I was merely staring at the screen. I think I’d fallen asleep, eyes opened. Hmm. So this is jet lag?

For my picture-taking to record our trip, I actually used up all the internal storage on my iPhone and had to use my “old” digital camera the last three or so days. Gone are the days when I’d limit my photo shots to 24 film pictures a day while on vacation. And I used to think that (24) was an outrageously huge number of travel shots in a day. Hello, technology. So far I have twelve file folders on my computer now, nice and sorted out. The trouble is, I haven’t used all the shots from my iPhone and haven’t even begun to look at the digital camera SD card.

Realizing I needed a change in what I was doing, I closed down all the photo stuff and started a new post for my blog, which I unfortunately, but happily neglected during our vacation.

This was our first trip to England. It will take a long time to process. We sincerely hope to return some day.

There are three typically London things for visitors to do which we didn’t do, or barely touched upon. They are: 1) theatre; 2) shopping; 3) and royalty. No theatre, play or ballet. We only did a little souvenir shopping. And we went on a Changing of the Guards walking tour for our royalty fix, not counting the castles and cathedrals, where royalty have walked in the past.

You see, my husband and I went to England for three reasons: 1) study-education; 2) spiritual pilgrimage; and 3) literary pilgrimage. Next time we go, it will be all of that PLUS to visit some of our ancestral locations in the southwest, and hopefully make it to the Lake District, and Wales, and maybe even Scotland and Ireland. There is just so much to see and do…

Okay. I faded out again — caught myself staring at the screen without fingers moving and who knows what thoughts I was dreaming. I mean, thinking. Must wait eight hours till bedtime…Must wait eight hours…Must wait…

What is Writing – Publishing Success?

A writing friend recently called me successful. Her comment gave me pause. What is writing and/or publishing success?

I see author success in steps.

Step one: Write a good book. This involves taking classes, reading books on craft, attending conferences, webinars, workshops, joining critique groups – all to improve your writing. Every year you should be a better writer than the year before. If you’ve got a well-written story, you are successful.

Step two: Submit to and have agents and editors give you positive feedback about your work, even if they reject you as client or for a manuscript. When your story makes it through the initial reader, through the editor, through the editorial group, and to the acquisitions group, this all indicates that people in the publishing industry verify that you have been successful with step one. If traditionally accepted, follow that route, and I’d strongly recommend it.

If wanting to pursue self-pub, follow the next steps.

Step three: Partner with an awesome cover illustrator. Sales rank has proven that fresh covers make a difference even when there is no text change. You can judge a book by its cover. Traditional presses can pay $1,000 – $5,000 for a single cover illustration. That’s out of my price range. But if you know an illustrator whose work you admire, negotiate for a reasonable fee. Never accept an offer for a free cover. There could be legal and relational repercussions in the future. Finding a good illustrator match is success.

Step four: Learn how to self-publish. There are entire books on this subject. I could list a few hundred tips here, but it would be like a flood gate opening. Read as much as you can about how to self-publish. If this is the route for you, then do it. Having an ebook, or holding a physical copy of your book in your hands with your name on the cover, this, too is success.

Step five: Book sales indicate success. If only friends and relatives are buying your books, your success is limited to who you know. To me, when one stranger buys my book or does a review, this is success. To sell books, learn about marketing and promotion. Again, many books on this subject. Read. Read. Read. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Repeat what works and embrace your failures. I spent $92 on gas alone for a far-away book signing and sold a mere three copies of my book during the signing. I didn’t get paid for those books, not until, according to their contract, all their inventory of my books had sold, which they never did because they went out of business and donated my other 17 copies someplace. I can only hope that “someplace” wasn’t the dump. What is marketing success to me? Marketing success is when I sell books.

Step six: Write another book. If you make millions of dollars from your first and only book, good for you, but that’s not truly literary success. Being able to be creative enough to write more and more good stories – this is success.

Step seven: Having the strength and endurance to repeat these steps with each book, and to convince your friends and family that you really do have a job which takes up your time – this is success.

 

(Success to the successful thistle sifter.)

And More Marketing Tips for Authors — Indy Book Stores

With most writers preferring to concentrate on writing, getting out in the world to have others to sell your books may be contrary to our nature. It is also something which needs to be done.

Be bold. If it helps, think of yourself as acting out a character in your book when you approach a store owner or manager.

Introduce yourself and your profession. (Hi. I’m Sandy Carlson, and I wrote this book...)

Give the owner your book as you spout out your elevator pitch, or better yet a one sentence synopsis. (…which is about an actual town buried under sand dunes in the 1800’s.)

Explain why you’ve come. (And I’d like to know if you’d like to stock some copies?)

Let the potential buyer read the back cover. As he does, freeze. Don’t twiddle. Relax your shoulders. Don’t look desperate. When he looks up, smile. No, not that terrified he-hates-it-and-me smile, but your confident how-many-would-you-like smile.

If he says no, still smile. Shake his hand and thank him for his time.

If he says yes, refrain from dropping to the ground and kissing his shoes. Put on your marketing smile and pull out an order form you have in your bag and fill it out. Hand shake and thanks.

Realize that most indy stores sell books with 60/40% with the author getting the larger share. By the time you count in the gas and mileage and shipping and printing costs, the indy owner may make more than you. But your book is out there, in a stranger’s hands, to pass along to other strangers.

Smile.

Even More Marketing Tips for Authors — Reviews and Awards

Continuing with my blog series on marketing, whether you’re traditionally published or self published, we move on to Reviews and Awards.

Re: Reviews

Some websites will not advertize your book unless you have twenty or more reviews on Amazon, or else pay them to advertize.

One author friend called reviews “golden.” My response to her is that if reviews caused gold to come in, they would be golden. But what she meant was that readers tend to put stock in reviews, and skip over books with little or few of them. Even bad reviews are all right (as long as there are hardly any), and sometimes a banned book can work to one’s sales rank. One friend from a very large family and married into a large family, had all her relatives give reviews. Therefore, in my opinion, reviews can be biased and not very helpful. What I personally like best are reviews from strangers, for I know they are honest reviews.

There are also reviews on Goodreads and through blogs, but in the count of things, they don’t. I mean, the reviews in these locations are wonderful, but don’t count in the tally of Amazon reviews. I’ve even had people write reviews on my FaceBook page, as reviews. I love getting the review numbers, but don’t really fret about any negative comments. There are plenty of positive ones. Besides I’m already working on my next book to worry way back there.

Sometimes authors will trade reviews: “You review my book and I’ll review yours.” The trouble I find with this is what if I don’t like their book, their characters, their plot, their language, their themes? I will be honest, but there’s no need to point out only the warts. I’ve not come across a really, really, really badly written book, anyway, only ones I won’t recommend.

There are also numerous paid reviews on-line and in print. So you dish out money to get a review which may be praising of your baby, or may stick out their tongues at it. It’s always a risk, but it’s yet another review. Of course, the most respected is that Kirkus review, and I’d love to have one from them on any of my books. Today, Kirkus accepts $400-500 for a book review, depending if you want a fast track or not. Every time this starving artist states those figures I start gasping for breath. Sure, I’d love their review, but I like food better.

 

Re: Awards

I know many legitimate award-winning authors. I even know some award-winning authors whose companies who gave out awards are defunct or were given by their micro-publishing house. I’ve won writing awards, a few of them. But they are from local or small places (Less than 1,000 entries) that I can’t in all honesty write: “Award-winning Author” on my books or fliers or website. Most every contest these days requires a fee to enter, which is often over a hundred dollars. (Starving artist — Food. Need food!)

I entered a contest about 17 years ago where one judge gave me a 97% and another 37%. Because of the large discrepancy, they brought in a third judge for a number, which was also in the 90’s. However, my friend who won, only received her two numbers in the lower 80 percentile, while my three judges balanced out in the 70 percentile. I realized how subjective judging was, and was so discouraged I’ve only entered one contest since, and I’ve never even took up that dystopia tween book again.

 

P.S.  Upon rereading this post, I realized how negative my views of reviews and awards are. My apologies. Since these two areas involve what others think, part of me isn’t sensitive to that. I write what I write. I suppose that I hope some people like my stories, but likes are so subjective and sway with the times.

In general, awards and reviews are good — for readers, for organizations who invite you to speak, and if legitimate and large, they are also good for the author. But if you seek after awards, be prepared to budget funds to cover your entrance fees.

 

More Marketing Tips for Authors — Schools, Festivals, Book Signings, and QR tags

Today, you, the author must be the main book marketer. If you are traditionally published there is some marketing guidance. If you are self-published, devour as much as you can about marketing and promoting and put on your business cap and get out there.

Marketing and promoting take time. Marketing and promoting costs money. You must decide how much each of the events is worth your time and money.

School are an excellent place to promote your books, but as a former teacher, know that teachers want more than just book-promotions. So offer something else. If your book parallels any of the curriculum, state that. You can offer writing classes. If you book is connected to a holiday, make connections and book up to a year in advance to present near that time.

Themed festivals are an excellent way to market your book. If your book takes place in the Civil War era, there are many Civil War reenactments throughout the summer.  If you wrote about dragons, Renaissance Faires are a perfect outlet. One consideration here is the vendor fee. They can be low ($35/table) or high ($175/table), and there are usually specific requirements of tent size.  You must be prepared for both wind and rain. Be prepared! Visability of author and book are important, but breaking even on the event is good.

A book signing, either by an individual author or a group, can be an event unto itself. You can do this at various book stores, or libraries, or gift shops, or cafes — in as many places where books are sold or read. Many times the stores will take a 40% cut of sales and require you to do all your own advertizing. Straighten out that business cap.

Wherever I go, I set out not only my books, but business cards, bookmarks and a QR tag or code which can be read by a phone and takes the reader directly to where they can purchase books. Oh, and usually wrapped candy.

There are many other places to consider besides the ones listed here, like dog shows (if your book has a dog in it), local book clubs, museums, women’s organizations, Scouts, etc. You are a creative writer. Learn to be a creative business person. Good luck to you in the marketing and promoting of your book.

 

More Marketing Tips for Authors — Communication with your Readers

So you’ve written a book. Me, too. What now?

Last year, I took half a year off of writing to learn about marketing and promoting. Nearly every day I spend some time in marketing. Now you get to glean some of what I learned.

In March I posted my top four marketing tips here: http://sandycarlson.com/2014/03/26/top-four-marketing-tips-for-books/

Elaborating on communication with your readers…

There are two major forms of communication today: Online or with Paper.

Online: Website

As listed last month, having a website is vital. People will want to check you out. No need to be shy about this. You wrote it; people read it; they want more. Your website doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive.  There are several free sites, like Wordpress or Weebly, which are not too difficult to figure out, or you could invest in a designer. As far as content, keep it simple and easy for your fans to locate information. The minimum in an author website is an About Me page (author bio) and your published book or books (a separate book page with covers and links to order) and an email contact. Beyond that you could add a blog, or a calendar of events, or contest page. Look over other websites and see what you would like to have on your own website. Never think this is a one-time project. You will find it needs plenty of attention and updating.

Online: Blog

A blog is another social media means of communication. I’ve read suggestions of posting 1-3 times per week. Chose your theme, be it author interviews, book reviews, literacy, writing tips for kids, writing challenges for adults, squirrel sightings, etc. You could also team up with other bloggers to do interviews or giveaways.

Online: Reader Groups, Forums, BlueBoards, and Listservs

You could participate in reader groups, like GoodReads or LibraryThing, posting your author page, doing giveaways, or writing other book reviews. In , getting involved in discussions.

Online: Other Social Media

Other social media means of communication are Twitter, Facebook, instagram, pinterest, YouTube, Vemio, etc. The list is growing.

(Before you’re too overwhelmed, I would like to take a moment to encourage you to start one of these social media venues at a time. Use it and get used to it before expanding to another one.)

During book signings or author presentations, even if someone doesn’t buy your book, they can walk away with something of you in their hands. Most of these need little to no explanation.

Paper: Business Cards

Again, look around at what others have done or see what is available online. Minimal information on the card would be your website addy and your book cover.

Paper: Bookmarks

Similar to information on your business card, except these would be long and narrow.

Paper: Flyer

This is a one-page summary with a short author bio, short synopsis of your book or books, how to reach author you, and how to buy your books. Colors stand out.

There is so much more, both with online communication and paper communication, and each of the bolded titles could have an entire post to itself, but then I’d be writing a book v.s. blogging.

I wish you each well in your reader communications.