Saturday, September 24, 2011

Books for Dummies

We've all seen them--those yellow and black paperback volumes touting their function as 'a reference for the rest of us'. They're everywhere you turn: brick and mortar stores, online sites such as Amazon, flea markets, garage sales. Here is an official looking site boasting 141 pages of such helpful tomes. And here is THE official site where you can subscribe to an email newsletter, browse among books covering 16 different categories from 'business and careers' to 'travel', shop, and read how it all started.

With over 250 million books of kind in print, I think the 'dummies' books rate standing as a valuable resource for writers.

A good rule of thumb is to check out the credentials of the author(s). Does he have a stellar background in the field? Good enough to explain the topic to the rest of us? Look for information in 'About the Author' at the front of the book.

Next, skim the detailed Table of Contents. It's generally lengthy and perhaps even a bit intimidating. But if you're only looking for certain information, why plow through the entire book?

Before you read, familiarize yourself with the icons used to the left of the text throughout the books. (See Introduction) Be prepared for sidebars, which are chock full of facts, but don't let them distract you. Likewise, be aware of the appendices at the end of the book, as well as the index that follows. And, like any serious researcher, don't sit down to read without your notebook and pen. It's easier to jot down a fact (and a page number) than to go back later and try to find it.

I'm currently reading (parts of) Catholicism for Dummies. No, I'm not planning to convert, although the explanations I've read so far of its various theological tenets go right along with my own Protestant ones. (Yes, really--we're more alike than different, my friends.) My purpose is literary--the heroine of my cozy mystery series (currently in book four of six), Penelope Pembroke, is a practicing Catholic--which the reader needs to know in order to understand and appreciate Penelope as she goes about solving mysteries in the sleepy little town of Amaryllis AR.

What I need to know to make Penelope believable is right here within the pages of the 'dummies' book. (It also helps that I have a writing friend who is Catholic and can explain anything I don't quite understand.) While research ought to be verified with more than one credible source, these books are a good starting point for whatever you've a mind to delve into and import into your writing.

Have you used a 'dummies' book in your writing research? Which one--and what was your experience with it?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Selling Books on Amazon

Congratulations to Calisa Rhose who won the drawing for a selection of writing journals--and thanks to all of you for your suggestions!

Since beginning to research all things publishing, I've subscribed and unsubscribed to various newsletters and blogs, but one that has become a permanent fixture in my email is Dana Lynn Smith's The Savvy Bookmarketer's Newsletter. It's free, and at the time I signed up, I received a bonus ebook. I notice that she is currently offering 3 bonuses if you sign up now for her newsletter.

Recently I bought her ebook How to Sell More Books on Amazon, downloading it on my handy-dandy free Kindle-on-computer. Reading the book and implementing all possible strategies has been my focus this week. For example, I have
  • updated both Author Central pages (one for Judy Nickles, then other for Gwyneth Greer) with book trailers and edited bios
  • tagged all three books
  • updated my personal profile and created a signature which will appear each time I review a book
Unfortunately, I cannot sign up for Amazon Affiliates because, due to the sales tax issue, my state has been dropped from the program. But I did discover that all three of my books now have the 'Look Inside' feature--which I was going to set up, but it's already been done--automatically, I assume.

Still to be done are:
  • Consider an 'Amazon Bestseller Campaign'
  • Create a 'Listmania' List
  • Check out Amazon Customer Communities
The book has links for each suggested strategy. In addition, I'm planning a future (probably mid-to-late 2012) venture into indie publishing with my Penelope Pembroke cozy mystery series, and I made a note to go back and re-read Chapter 3 when I get to that point.

Do go to and check out How to Sell More Books on Amazon for $8.99. You'll get your money's worth.

Other books by Dana Lynn Smith
  • How to Get Your Book Reviewed
  • Selling Your Books to Libraries
  • Directory of Top U.S. Libraries
  • Facebook Guide for Authors
  • Twitter Guide for Authors
  • Successful Social Marketing

I share this information with no remuneration of any sort; rather, I'm indebted to Dana Lynn for subject matter for this blog and for all her great marketing ideas.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Old Writing Journals Never Die...They Just Pile Up

With apologies to General Douglas MacArthur, I submit these facts:

Old writing journals, well-read, highlighted, underlined, perhaps a big dog-eared, do not fling themselves into their own funeral pyre. Rather, they just pile up on my bookshelves or in the wicker basket beside my recliner. How to send them--honorably and kindly--to their final reward?

Four journals arrive regularly in my mailbox: Poets and Writers, The Writer, Writers' Digest, and Writer' Journal. I make every attempt--and usually succeed--to read each issue from cover to cover. I share them with my critique partner, who reads and returns them. Then what? I have a couple of options, neither of which suits me: I can toss them in the trash, or I can give them to the local library which has a room from which to sell donated books and magazines. I wouldn't mind the latter IF I felt that writers would find the magazines and plunk down their dimes. I suppose that any magazines there too long receive a one-way trip to the dumpster.

One of the magazines, to which I'm less attached (it's thicker and a bit more technical) is available for Kindle. I will go that route when the renewal comes due. Still, three magazines remain to be dealt with in some "green" fashion. I recycle cardboard, glass, plastic, and aluminum cans, so surely I can recycle these writing magazines.

If you do not subscribe to any of these treasures and would like to browse, leave a comment with a suggestion for recirculating them among other writers, and I'll draw a name for the January-March issues of each. I'll even pay the postage!

Think! (I don't have time right now.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Writing on a Budget Part II

The March-April  edition of Poets and Writers Magazine features "The Spring 2011 Guide to Writing Vacations", complete with listings for and information about conferences and residencies in the United States and abroad. Who wouldn't enjoy four days in the Hyatt-Regency in the Pacific Northwest or studying creative writing in the heart of Rome for a summer or a year? Unfortunately, such dreams aren't in tune with my budget, so I simply look at the pretty pictures and sigh--but not necessarily with regret.

We all live within our budgets (well, with the exception of the Federal Government--sorry, I just had to get in that small snark), so I doubt that many of us waste time longing for what is beyond our means. Such exercises in futility take up valuable writing time. Besides, for every opportunity one can't afford, another is waiting to be seized.

Personally, I can afford only one out-of-town excursion a month--and that within reason. So I plan short trips with an eye to research possibilities and economy. The more economical I am, the longer I can stay. Arkansas is particuarly rich in historical and general tourism sites, and the distances are fairly short (which is good for gas economy). Sometimes I can combine another hobby, genealogical research, with a writing-research trip.

Excellent destinations for day-long 'writing retreats' are state parks. In good (cool) weather,  I keep a bin packed with a supplies such as a tablecloth, hand sanitizer, legal tablet/notebook and pens, and packaged snacks. The night before I leave, I toss in a battery-operated cd player and some music cds, the latest writing journal from my mailbox, and a folding lawn chair. The lappy and a small cooler with water and soft drinks go into the car the next morning--along with the beast, her water bowl, and poop-scooping necessities. (I leave a place as clean or cleaner than I found it!)

Every October, I attend the Ozark Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs. A writing buddy and I split gas and the cost of the room and come out quite well. I'd like to find one more conference to attend each year, but I want to make sure it's a fit for me--that is, worth the time and money.

Meanwhile, I like to get out of the house at least once a week and find somewhere cozy to 'hole up' and write. (A location with free internet access isn't always conducive to writing productivity!) There are at least half a dozen such places in town, and a change of scenery is good--and a sandwich and drink won't break the bank. Also--the public library is always available and always free! Ours here in Hot Springs is exceptional in many ways, and I always feel my time there has been well spent.

Speaking of Poets and Writers Magazine, it's an excellent resource, but it's very thick and difficult to store. (and I never get rid of my writing journals--just share them out and welcome them home to retire). I just discovered it's available on Kindle, so I'm going that route.when it's time to renew. And speaking of Kindle, that item is on my 'wish list', but meanwhile, I've downloaded one free from and find it meets my needs for now.

So, while I won't be going to Rome, France, Canada, Senegal, or the Czech Republic--nor even to the Pacific Northwest--I'll be writing just as prodigiously in other locations near at hand. It's practical--not Pollyanna-ish--to bloom where you're planted. And when you write that 'great American novel', who cares where you did it?