Category Archives: Recommendations

SING–Movie Review–A nice solid family outing.

 

I am a dad of a five year old.  These are the types of  movies that I see.

And SING is a good one.

Buster Moon is a  Koala Bear is wanna-be successful theater producer.  We are introduced to him when he is six years and his parents take him to the theater.  He falls in love with theater, and his six-year-old mind decides he doesn’t want to be an astronaut anymore, he wants to produce theater.  And we are with him.

Fast forward a couple of decades and we find that Buster is a failed theater producer.  So much so, that the bank is about to foreclose on his property.

He begs for money from his best-friend and business partner, a sheep named  Eddie Noodleman, whose parents are wealthy.  But this time Eddie, turns him down.  Buster’s recent plays have flopped.  Flopped.

Buster’s Big Idea to get people back into the theater is to run a singing competition.  Eddie quickly points out the obvious, that nobody wants to see a singing competition made up of only locals.

Buster ignores him.

In a silly and stupid plot point, Buster’s secretary, Ms. Crawly an aging iguana, accidently turns the $1,000 prize into a $100,000 with a typo, and then within 30 seconds thousands of the flyers are blown out into the town, where the townsfolk begin to read about the $100,000 prize.

Consequently, more people show up to Buster’s talent audition than he expected.

From here we are connected with several enjoyable characters.

Rosita, a pig, who is mother to 25 piglets.  Her dream of being a famous singer abandoned to raise a family.

Ash, a teenage punk rocker who is forced to break-up with her boyfriend, when she is allowed in the competition and he is not.

Meena, a teenage elephant, who has a gifted voice, but is crippled by debilitating stage fright. 

Johnny, a teenage gorilla, whose family is a gang of bank robbers.

Mike, a mouse, is the Frank Sinatra clone.  He gets into trouble with women and the mob.

Gunter, a German-accent pig, is Rosita’s dance partner.

The story continues as Buster tries to get the singing competition off the ground.  The movie continues through obstacle after obstacle, each more over the top than the next.  Until finally the theater itself is destroyed.

Buster hits his low, and goes into hiding.  But those that were going to sing in the competition pull a singing performance off in the end.

Overall

The movie is funny.  But there is nothing groundbreaking here.

Plot points are obvious and silly.

But we can relate to characters that have given up on their dreams, but find hope and joy when the chance to finally live those dreams happens.

And for Generation Xer parents and Baby Boomer Grandparents there are some great musical numbers here.  The writers knew who would be bringing the children to see this.

And my five-year-old got up to dance during the movie, which makes me recommend the movie.

 

Image credits:

Several of the images came from here.

 

The many things to learn from Neil Gaimen–Ideas for writers and other artists.

I published my first book in 2013.  It was a children’s picture book.  

At that time I thought I would keep writing picture books.  I felt out of sorts when my second book was not a picture book.

But then I learned about Neil Gaiman.

He does everything.

neilgaiman1

I knew that he had written Coraline.  I had read the book and seen the movie and liked it a lot.


Then I saw him appear on Youtube with a wonderful commencement speech.

And an amazing speech at Bookfest in 2013.

Then, I read American Gods.


Wait?  The guy that wrote Coraline is the same guy that wrote American Gods?

How is that possible?

Then it seems he writes many other things.

He takes the time to write short stories.

 

Hold the phone–

He began his career writing comic books.

 

And before that he was a journalist.

And it was as a journalists that he learned to write fast and under a deadline.

What I did was work as a journalist. It forced me to write, to write in quantity, to write to deadline. It forced me to get better than I was, very fast.

Oh, and P.S. he didn’t go to college.

HE. DIDN’T. GO. TO. COLLEGE.

And yet he has an honorary Doctorate.

Oh, and now he does audiobooks.

Yes, his books aren’t made into audiobooks.

But not only that….He narrates them.

Seriously,.

And he does pictures books

Now he’s just showing off.

My favorite book of his is, Fortunately the Milk.

Just wonderful.  I remember reading it and thinking “Man, this is the book I wanted to write.

(Seriously I can’t recommend this book enough.  Just pure joy from start to finish.)

Here’s what I learned from reading his books and reading about his career.

  1. Write many different things.

  2. Learn to write fast.

  3. Be creative in different domains

  4. Enjoy the process of writing.

I’ll leave you with his eight rules of writing.  Very beneficial for anyone trying to write.

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Check out my post about Neil and the need to market like a dandelion.

Also check out my latest book:

 

Why I stopped using Scrivener or just focus on the work

scrivener-logo

I know.  I know.  I am supposed to love the new writing app Scrivener.  It’s supposed to be the great thing, since, well ever.

Scrivener is to some writers, what Apple is some designers.

In other words…without error.

So I bought a copy and began writing my next book with it.  It took a while to be able to get a hold of how it works.  It changes how everything is organizer, which I guess is the point.  But I found I was taking a lot of time to get it right.  A lot of time.

Time that could have better been spent, I don’t know, writing the book.

Even if that meant writing the book in Word.

The HORROR!

Scrivener is supposed to be able to do just about everything.  Export to Word, Export to PDF, Export to Modi and Epub, and send your mother a card.

Maybe not that last one.

But then I saved my work.  And what appeared wasn’t a file, but a folder.  And then I tried to save a back-up in the same area.

Scrivener told me I couldn’t do that.

Why not?

I don’t know.

But most importantly I lost work.  I lost a whole chapter of my next book.  And that shouldn’t happen.  And it almost ruined my beach vacation.

I was at the Outer Banks and sitting on the outside porch of the condo we were renting.  I had a good view of the beach.  I pulled out my laptop and set it on the table with the sound of the ocean waves and I opened my book up and Scrivener told me something about a corrupted file.  (I admit I don’t remember exactly what it said as my eyes went dark and my head exploded.)

But corrupted to Scrivener apparently meant only the most current chapter I had been working on.

After exporting the other chapters to Word to get another back-up I continue to write my next book in Scrivener.  I don’t know why.  Word had never lost any words I have created.

For some reason I kept trying to write the book in Scrivener.  One thing that I like about Scrivener is that I can see notes on the current section I am writing.  I don’t have to flip back and forth between files.

I like that I can see notes in the bottom right. But note that the file was named to show that I was missing Chapter 10.

I like that I can see notes in the bottom right. But note that the file was named to show that I was missing Chapter 10.

After some research I learned that I probably lost the chapter because I had been saving it to the cloud in my Onedrive.

Ummm…it’s 2015.  Cloud saving is a non-negotiable.

I work on two main computers.  I have a desktop with a larger monitor 27 inch and a Lenovo thinkpad that I carry around.  Not being able to switch easily between those two machines makes writing too difficult.

Then I joined a Scrivener group to see if I could learn what I did wrong, but I proceeded to see several posts with people losing work.  And losing work because through cloud storage.

Scrivener is a great idea on paper, but save yourself the trouble, and your work.   But if you are losing time to learn HOW to use the tool, as opposed to writing, then work with something else.

I hear George RR Martin writes massive popular novels on a DOS Machine.

Maybe he is on to something.

 

 

Kindle Unlimited as a reader

KU

Nothing gets debate more going among the writer community than Kindle Unlimited.  The idea of exclusivity is completely unacceptable to many.  And then there are many arguments as to why exclusivity is good.

But from the reader’s perspective, I am a fan of Unlimited.  I spoke with a writer recently who is not a subscriber to KU because they’re aren’t authors that he knows.

Two things on this.

One, JK Rowling and Ian Fleming are two authors currently in KU.  You may know them better for their creations of Harry Potter and James Bond.

Two, the point IS to discover new writers.  I discovered Elwyn Tate, his book The Deep and Snowy Wood is wonderful.  I highly recommend it, wonderful picture book.

I discovered it, because of KU.

As a reader I recommend it.  I have been able to read many different types of books as well.  Books on stocks, picture books, sci-fi books, Kindle singles, I find that currently it is worth the $10 a month.

And as a writer, I notice that when people check out my books on KU sales increase as well.

For both the reader and the writer, that is a good thing.

 

 

Become an Idea Machine-by Claudia Azula Altucher (and why you should)

What is an idea machine?

I’d like to be one.  I need to have my life change drastically in some ways.

I have written before about the importance of combining and creating ideas.  But her work takes it to another level.

Claudia Azula Altucher has written a book to help people become an Idea Machine.  Her work is based on her husband’s, James, work in Choose Yourself.

 

The premise of being an Idea Machine is that you should need to be able to present ideas in any situation to help yourself and those around you.  When things get difficult, if you’re an Idea Machine, then your life doesn’t remain difficult for long.  There will always be solutions available to you.

Here is the basic idea.

Write down 10 ideas.

Easy. Right?

Do it everyday.

Write down at least 10 ideas a day around one theme.

It take time, but that is how it works.  I have been practicing it awhile and can testify to it working.

Claudia has written a very well organized book.  The first 90 days are idea themes for yourself.  The second 90 days are themes of ideas that you giveaway.  There is where the magic really begins when you are an idea machine.

Claudia suggests if you are new to practicing  writing down ideas that you follow the themes in order as she presents them.

Since I’ve been practicing this seriously for about a year.  So I went went through the book to see the different prompts she suggests.  One of my favorites she suggests is Ten Apps You’d Like to Use.

When I practiced with that one I realized I need an app combines Evernote and One-Note.  I use both.  I need that.  Seriously someone get on that.

I like her introduction to the second 90 themes.  Because after 90 days your brain is getting stronger with idea creation.  So now is the time to begin really sharing your ideas with others.

There is a lot value in her suggestions on how to share your ideas with others.  That is my current area work.  Sending out ideas to people in a cold email.  I’ve never done it.  I give ideas away easily when people ask for them, but sending them to people who didn’t ask for them.  Well, I’m not there yet.

There’s my theme for writing tomorrow.  “How to get over this fear of sending out ideas.”

The introduction written by her husband James alone is worth the price of the.  James details why ideas are the currency of the 21st century.

The currency of the 21st century.

I absolutely love that imagine.  Suddenly currency goes from something that is scarce, to something that you can create on a daily basis.  That changes everything.

I have regularly tried to write down ideas.  For years my primary side business was wedding videography and photography.  I regularly write down different packages to present to clients and different ways to get clients.  What James and Claudia’s work added for me was coming up with ideas EVERYDAY with different themes.  When you do that, it gets easier for you to create ideas.

Claudia and James both say that your life changes when you do this.  I can attest this.

For me in the year or so since I have really been practicing this, here are some examples of what has happened to me:

  • Published five paperbacks, and 7 no 8 Kindle books.
  • Read one of my books on my  schools morning announcements.  Who else gets such a captive audience?
  • Created an audio book for my first book
  • Hired to create websites for several colleagues and got paid to do it.
  • Gotten several photography  clients without advertising
  • Interviewed other indie-children’s writers on my blog.  Including several Google Hangouts and Skype interviews.
  • Grew my mailing list from one (me) to over a 100 in about 6 weeks.
  • Had one of my books hit #14 on the Amazon Kindle children’s list.  Literally sitting on the same screen as Harry Potter.  And right next New York Times Best-Seller Wonder. Seriously, what’s that about?  (See the post complete with screen shot.)

That’s just what happened to me.  Read Claudia’s book to see the value in doing this daily practice, and help you create joy in your life.

Also read her husband’s book. I hear it’s pretty good.  (Actually here is my review of his book.)

 

P.S. If you are interested in getting free short stories and my next book for free before it hits Amazon join my Insider’s List.  You will also be entered to receive signed copies of my paperbacks.  Winner will be announced on February 1.

 

Interview with Darren Pillsbury-Author of Peter and the Monster books

I recently read Peter and the Dead People, by Darren Pillsbury. The first book in the Peter and the Monster series. I read it in Peter and the Vampires, a collection of the first four Peter stories. I found the book as a freebie on Amazon. Darren has put out over 20 books about Peter. I found Peter and the Dead People to be tightly written and highly enjoyable. The story involves Peter Normal moving into his grumpy Grandfather’s creepy house, and meeting a new friend Dill. Peter and Dill get into trouble by not following his grandfather’s instruction of “Not going into the garden!” Reading the story I felt like I was watching a good 1980’s monster movie, along the lines of Goonies. Very enjoyable.


I read the book and immediately wanted to connect with the author. That’s what I love about the 21st century, I can reach out much easier to people whose work I respect. I don’t need to track down some mailing address. Email does the job just fine. And yes, I now email people I don’t personally know and ask them questions. Shockingly most of the time they actually respond. That’s how I roll these days.  I recommend it.

I want to highlight good indie children’s writers. Most indie writers that are highlighted are, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance writers. Hello, there are good indie children’s writers out there as well.

So I emailed Darren some questions and he was kind enough to answer my questions in excellent detail.

You first self-published “Imaginary Friends” in 2007. How has self-publishing changed for you since then?

It’s gotten ten times easier, with the possibilities of gaining new readers a thousand times better than before. When I self-published Imaginary Friends in 2007, it was largely a paper-only world. The print version was difficult to set up; I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get distribution just on Amazon; and because it was printed on paper, the end product was exorbitantly priced. (It didn’t help that I tried to make a $4 profit on each book.) Who in their right mind is going to gamble $12 on an unknown author they’ve never even heard of before?

But ebooks are cheap and relatively easy to produce. You can offer them for 99 cents on Amazon, and for $0 on virtually every other retailer. (In fact, by jumping through some hoops, you can offer them for $0 on Amazon, too… sometimes.) A lot more people will take a chance on you at 99 cents or $0 than at $12 – at least a thousand times more people.

You have written 26 Peter stories so far. Where do you get ideas for the stories? Are there more Peter stories coming?

I usually come up with the monster (or villain) first… and then I think, what can I do that will make this monster different from other depictions I’ve seen? Sometimes it’s a little different, sometimes it’s a lot. Novelty isn’t the main goal – a good story is, one that either freaks you out or makes you laugh or just plain entertains you. But if I can put a twist on the monster, I prefer to do that.

Examples: usually vampires are depicted as adults, or when they are children, they are secondary characters (as in Interview With A Vampire). I thought, “What if your main villain wasn’t some scary guy in a black cloak, or a Nosferatu-looking freak, but a little girl in the same fourth-grade class as you who died and came back with tiny fangs, eyes black as a Great White’s, and the ability to fly? And what’s worse, she has a crush on you?”

Sometimes it starts with a fear I had as a kid. I saw an episode of the 70’s animated Spiderman cartoon where a bunch of mannequins come to life and attack Spidey, and it freaked me out at the time. Because, hey, mannequins are everywhere at the mall. What if they’re really alive?

A lot of times, it’s just a fantasy – a cool thing I wish I could have done as a kid. Who wouldn’t want to encounter a yeti while skiing? Who wouldn’t want to go into a hall of mirrors and see something really terrifying in the reflections? (Well, maybe some people wouldn’t. But I would.)

And yes, there are definitely more stories coming. I originally planned to do 100, but I’ve scaled that back. I think there will probably be 50-60 by the time I’m through.

How would describe your writing process?

Lots and lots of daydreaming. I pace up and down my house, just getting lost in a mental movie I create in my head.

Usually there’s an initial idea, or a specific image or scene I want in the story… and I just start daydreaming about it. Like, “If that happens, how did we get there? And what happens afterwards? And what would happen if…”

Usually I start coming up with other cool scenes or images I want in the story. Conversations between characters and bits of dialogue. After a period of time – sometimes two days, sometimes two months – I think I’ve got enough major events to make a story, so I sit down and do a brief outline. Nothing fancy, just a one-line description of four or five big scenes, along with some of the dialogue. By the time I’ve written all that down, I start getting other ideas on how to make the scenes connect, and I write those down, too. And that’s my roadmap for the rest of the story.

Usually my process is coming up with scenes A, D, F, J, M, Q, T, and X and Z… and then I fill in all the other ‘letters’ as I go, creating the connective tissue between the main scenes I originally wanted in the story.

I think the cover illustrations for your Peter collections are great! Who did those covers?

If you mean the covers for the Volumes – the multi-story collections, like Peter And The Vampires (Volume 1) with the white bat on the red background – a very talented graphic artist by the name of Ronnell D. Porter did them for me. He did them up through Peter And The Witches (Volume 5). After that, because of the economics of my situation, I started doing them for the collections Peter And The Ninja (Volume 6) and Peter And The Ghost (Volume 7).

If you mean the single-story covers, I did those. I have some background with Photoshop. Some of them are pretty good (like #25, Peter And The Kindermord, or #23, Peter And The Ghost)… and others aren’t. If you want to make a serious go of this writing thing, I recommend getting professionally produced covers by a talented graphics artist. It doesn’t have to be super-expensive – if you go to Kboards.com and look at the Author’s Café subforum http://www.kboards.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=iit2id0cnme0lqkv0amabt8r90&board=60.0), they have a resource page with sites of pre-made covers that range from $25 to $75. And you can sometimes find a really good up-and-coming artist who is willing to do quality work for $50 or $75, though the better they are, the more likely you’ll have to spend $150 or more.

We all like to say, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but that is EXACTLY what 99% of readers do. Do NOT put a crappy cover on a book you want to sell, because no one except your family members and closest friends will ever buy it.

Do you have other writing projects coming?

Not in the children’s literature world. I might do an adult sci-fi action book at some point, or something else… but the Peter series is all I’m going to do in the children’s lit world.

What is your advice to others who are wanting to self-publish?

It depends entirely on why you’re doing it, and what you want your endgame to be.

If you are self-publishing as purely creative self-expression or as a hobby – and if you don’t care if you make any money – then do whatever the heck you want. Go wild. Have a ball. Just keep your expectations very low concerning how many copies you’ll sell and how much you’ll make.

If you want to make a career out of self-publishing and eventually make some sort of money at it (whether that’s your car payment, your mortgage, or a full-time living), that’s a different beast entirely.

Your best chances to make a living at writing include doing the following:

– Write in a genre where the readers are passionate about the genre, or there are a TON of readers who read that genre. There don’t HAVE to be a lot of them, but they need to devour books in that genre. Romance is great for this – the average romance reader plows through 2 or 3 ebooks a week. Mystery fans? Same thing. Thrillers, it depends – but everybody reads thrillers. The crumbs from a humongous pie (think a pie as big as the state of Texas) are better than a large slice of a tiny, tiny tartlet.

Other genres are more difficult. You have a fairly good shot in fantasy, military sci-fi, and science fiction. Children’s picture books (for 3 to 5-year-olds) can do very well. Horror, humor, and literary? Not so much. Are there indie writers making a living in those genres? There are indie writers making a living in virtually every genre. But it’s far easier to do it in romance, thrillers, and mysteries.

By the way, children’s series – at least independent children’s series like Peter And The Monsters – don’t sell that well. If you absolutely must write a children’s series aimed at 10 years old and up, do it for the love, not for the money. I do not make enough money to live on with the Peter series, even with 26 books/novelettes and 7 collected volumes.

– Write a series. The hardest part of self-publishing (after you’ve written the first couple) is marketing yourself and finding new readers. If you get a reader hooked on the first book in the series, he’ll keep on coming back. This, incidentally, is one of the few reasons I make ANY money on the Peter series – because people who love the first collected volume tend to read all the rest of them. Standalone novels (stories where the characters only appear in that one novel) are fine, but they’re harder to market than series.

– Write a great book. Do not publish the first thing you write as soon as you finish writing it. I spent over a decade writing, on and off, before I published Imaginary Friends. Work on improving your craft.

Does this mean that you have to write a decade before you publish anything? No! All I mean is to publish the very best book you possibly can, not your first draft! In fact, I suggest you begin getting feedback as soon as you can. Publish your work on Wattpad.com, or on dozens of other similar sites on the internet, and get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. If you really, really, really want to self-publish right out of the gate, self-publish under a pen name. Or be willing to potentially start publishing under a pen name later.

– Get your book edited – or at least proofread – by someone else, preferably a professional. I did not do this when I started, largely out of economic necessity (and hubris – HEY! I was an English major!). I still cringe when I find typos rereading some of my older stuff.

– Get as cool a cover as you can. It’s the ONLY thing that will catch a potential reader’s eye and make her give your book a second look. Pay for a professional cover if you can afford it. If you can’t, get a professional pre-made cover that’s close to what you want and within your budget. Aim for simple, memorable covers with easily readable type. Don’t get some minutely rendered picture that demands a 6 x 9 inch cover to fully appreciate its beauty. On Amazon, the images range from the size of a postage stamp to roughly 2 x 3 inches. Get a cover that can be shrunk down and people can tell what genre it is, see your name (and hopefully the title), and say, “Oooh, that’s cool-looking.” And make sure your fonts are clean and easily readable. I violated this with my Peter series, and I’m probably still paying for it. The lettering on the single books looks great at full-size… but at postage-stamp dimensions, it borders on illegible. Bad choice on my part. Learn from my mistakes!

– Always make your name (or pen name) VERY BIG and VERY READABLE. You should be selling yourself as a brand. You want people to remember your name first, your book titles second.

– Have a mailing list. This means an automated service where someone can sign up and get email updates on new books you publish. I use Mailchimp. They have paid and free accounts; I recommend the paid because you get an autoresponder, which means you can send people an email automatically as soon as they sign up.

The reason for a mailing list is, if you have a list of people who liked one of your books enough to sign up for updates, you want to be able to contact them directly. You don’t want to gamble that readers will randomly stumble across your new book on Amazon and say, “Oh, wait, didn’t I read that author’s last book?” Don’t leave it to chance.

Another alternative to Mailchimp, at least in the beginning, is to register a free Gmail account and have people send you an email if they want updates. Then keep track of those addresses and email them when your next book comes out. When you get too many addresses and it becomes cumbersome to email everybody, $10 a month will be a bargain for somebody else to automate the process. I failed to start an email list until late in the game, and I am sure I have lost out on hundreds – maybe even thousands – of purchases because of this. Don’t be foolish: free or paid, start an email list with your first book, and prominently feature the link to your sign-up page (or your email address with instructions on what to do to be notified) in everything you publish.

– Once you start publishing pretty good stuff, write as fast as you can. If readers like your books, they generally want MORE, RIGHT NOW. This is a very, very good problem to have (if you’re making enough money to justify it). But if you’re doing this for love, and for love only, never lose sight of that. Rushing out books just to placate a handful of readers will burn you out and eventually make you hate writing. Know your desired end result, and write for that. If it’s more money, then speed is your ally. If this is primarily something you do because you love it, then do whatever you want.

– Be very careful on how you price your books. At Amazon, everything $0.99 to $2.98 gets you 35% royalties. (99 cents is the lowest you can officially charge, though there are ways around this, including going exclusive in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program.) $2.99 to $9.99 gets you 70% royalties. $10 and up gets you only 35% royalties again. Guess how Amazon wants you to price your books?

A $2.99 book will get you $2.00 in royalties. You would have to sell six times as many 99 cent books to make the same amount of profit (99 cents x 35% royalies = 33 cents a book, and .33 cents x 6 books = $1.98).

99 cents is good for short stories, or for first novels in a series to get people to give you a try… but in general, you’re not going to make any money off of 99 cent books. Are there exceptions? Yes. But in general, most financially successful self-publishers charge between $2.99 and $5.99 for full-length novels. Also, these days, 99 cents carries the stigma of ‘cheap’ and ‘low quality.’ Be careful how you represent yourself.

– If you don’t mind some occasional R-rated language, read J.A. Konrath’s blog. I got into ebook self-publishing because of him, and I agree with 90% of everything he says about writing and marketing. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com

– There is a very popular – and in my opinion, pernicious – theory out there that the only marketing you need to do is ‘write another book.’ You say you’re not selling any of your latest book? Just write another one and publish it. Not selling any of that one, too? Write another and don’t worry about it.

BAD IDEA. You need to do a certain amount of marketing. This doesn’t have to be complicated; it can mean writing books you give away for free to lure readers in (and advertising those free books when you give them away). It means having a way (an author’s Facebook page, a blog, and/or an email address) where readers can find you and interact with you. It means experimenting with advertising you can afford. If you’re really outgoing, it means befriending other authors and promoting them to your readers if they will promote you to theirs. Or agreeing to do ‘sampler’ books, or participate in boxed sets, or short story collections – something, ANYTHING, to get your name out there. You don’t have to do all of this at once, or even half of it – for instance, I didn’t get a Facebook author’s page until my 20th fan wrote in asking, “How do I find you on Facebook?” My resolution for 2014 is to utilize Twitter and Goodreads better. But put some effort into marketing yourself and your books, and you’ll get a lot farther than just writing book after book and praying new readers will accidentally discover.

Things that DON’T work: don’t spam people on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else with “Buy my book! Buy my book!” It doesn’t work. Seriously. Don’t be that person. If you want to use social media, put in the time to engage other people, build up real connections, be interesting… and then mention, ‘Hey, I just put out my newest book.’ People will be a lot more interested than if you tweet “BUY MY BOOK!” 270 times in a row.

Now, is it important to ‘write the next book’ as soon as you can? Yes, it’s EXTREMELY important. But put forth at least a little effort so new readers can find you, and current readers can strengthen their bond with you.

– If a reader contacts you, whether by Facebook, blog comments, or email, always contact them back. You never know when one friendly email might convert a casual reader to a fan for life.

– Consider going ‘permafree’ with your first book once you have at least two books in a series, preferably three. ‘Permafree’ means the first book is permanently free. You want people to take the free sample, get hooked, and buy the rest of your product. Without a doubt, permafree is the only reason I made ANY money on my Peter books: the first book in the series is free, which lures in new readers. It’s not always easy to get Amazon to make a book permafree – officially it’s against their terms of service – but there are ways. Google ‘Smashwords + Amazon + permafree’ to find out more.

Keep your expectations realistic, though. Only about 3 to 10% of people who download free books actually ever read them.

– I use ‘Amazon’ a lot to refer to the entire ebook market, but know that there’s BarnesAndNoble.com (they make the Nook ereader), iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play, plus ebook distributors like Smashwords.com and Draft2Digital.com that will take one copy of your book and convert it and distribute it to many, many different sites (for a cut of the proceeds, of course). Do your homework and decide what’s best for you – to go exclusive with Amazon and get 5 free promotional days out of every 90 (the KDP Select program), or go for diversity and try to reach as wide a potential audience as possible.

Whatever you do, though, PUBLISH ON AMAZON. Amazon accounts for 90% of my revenues. That’s not true of all writers, but it’s true of many. Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla of the US ebook market. Ignore it at your peril.

– Grow a thick skin. (This is one thing I continue to fail miserably at.) Listen to constructive criticism, and try to ignore the rest.

Once you are reasonably happy with your writing – and once you’ve received enough reviews that a single 1-star won’t tank the entire rating for your book – stop reading reviews posted on Amazon and other retailers. It’s basically seeking validation from other people, and there will always be people who hate your work. Some will have valid reasons, others are just jackholes. Assemble a group of people whose opinion you trust, who like the genre you are writing in, and then listen to their opinion rather than to random people on the internet. The problem is that few reviewers give truly constructive criticism on how to improve your writing. It’s usually, “I loved this!” or “It was okay” or “I hated this – there’s no happy ending!” Reviews with great advice are usually few and far between. If you think you can get insights from reviews, but you handle criticism horribly, get someone you trust to read through them and summarize the nuggets of gold. Believe me, a good review will give you a sugar high for five minutes, but a vicious review can destroy your whole day and sap your energy to write. Why do that to yourself?

Now, does that mean ignore your readers? No. If people write you emails (and you should always include your email address in your books), listen to those opinions, even if they are somewhat negative, and even if you end up disagreeing with what they say. Reviewers acting under anonymity sometimes take that license to be raging buttholes. People who write you directly usually aren’t going to be absolute jerks – they’re more thoughtful, and they have to attach a real email address to what they send you.

If you can handle criticism no matter how spiteful it is, you’re golden. If you can’t… and I certainly can’t… protect your energy and your inner writer at all costs.

– The best advice on feedback I have ever heard comes from Stephen King. To paraphrase him, assemble ten people who like the genre you write and whose opinion you trust. (These can be fans you recruit, whose emails impressed you with their thoughtfulness and intelligence, not just people who suck up to you and tell you you’re brilliant. Surrounding yourself with ‘yes-men’ will do you no favors.) Give them the book after you have finished writing and editing it and you think it’s basically ready to go. If five or more people mention something as a problem – not liking the hero, the dialogue is bad, pacing is off, the ending is flat – then it’s probably an issue you need to address with another rewrite. If everybody dislikes something, but they all dislike different things, you can safely ignore all of them.

What’s the hardest part of the act of writing?

Making yourself sit down and actually do it. The time leading up to getting my butt in the chair is the absolute hardest part, because I can always think of a dozen things I would rather do. When I’m actually in the groove, there’s nothing better than writing. But I have to keep forcing myself to do it every time, over and over and over – just get my butt in the chair and start.

What’s the hardest part of writing as a career?

If you’ve never written a book, then it’s finishing the first one. That’s tough. Don’t ever, ever go back and start revising until you’ve written the final page. I did that with my first novel years and years ago, and I still haven’t finished it. Been meaning to forever, though…

Once you’ve written a couple of books and you’re self-published, then marketing is pretty tough. At least for me. Other than giving books away and talking to fans, I don’t particularly like marketing. But you’ll go a LOT farther as a pretty good writer and a persistent marketer than you will as a brilliant writer and a crappy marketer. I wish that weren’t the case, but over and over again, I see persistent marketers end up doing well, no matter how good their writing is. There are always exceptions, but 95% of success stories lean toward people who continuously go out and try to get new readers (in non-tacky, non-spammy ways) and who interact often with their fans. Now, hopefully you’re a brilliant writer and a persistent marketer writing in a viable genre. If so, the world’s your oyster. But just know that, over the long run, ignoring marketing is a fast ticket to Zero Salesville. And even if you’re not doing it for the money, presumably you would like SOMEONE to read your books and enjoy them. So work on both writing AND marketing.

Sorry if all this advice is overwhelming. But these are the things I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out. I probably wouldn’t have listened to them… but after six months of beating my head against the wall, I might have said, “Huh, maybe I ought to go back and take a second look at that advice…”

Thanks Darren.  I think this advice is solid.

If you are interested in monster books I would definately check out his Peter and the Monsters books.

The above links take you to Amazon.  I love Amazon.  You can also check out Darren’s books on Nook:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/peter-and-the-vampires-darren-pillsbury/1100686093?ean=2940011309281&format=nook-book

On iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/peter-vampires-volume-one/id452735081?mt=11&uo=4

On Kobo:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/peter-and-the-vampires-volume-one

And lastly on Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58850

Also check out my interviews with best selling children writers, AJ Cosmo and Raymond Bean.

Raymond Bean-Best Selling Children’s author answers some questions. Only one question about farts though.

I am a teacher, and I write books.  I am not the only one.  Raymond Bean teaches 4th grade in New York City, and has two best selling series with Amazon, Sweet Farts and School is a Nightmare.  He teaches 4th and I will be teaching 5th, and judging by pictures we both seem to have the same hairline.  But the difference stops there, as he has written two series and is on his way to releasing a third series.

He was nice enough to answer a handful of questions.  But it was how we came to connect through James Altucher deserves a mention.  James is also a best-selling indie-publisher whose recent Choose Yourself sold over 40,000 copies in it’s first month.  Enough to put him on the Wall Street Journal’s best seller’s list, and the New York times for that matter.  But because he didn’t sell them in stores the New York Times list doesn’t include his work.  That’s a post for another time. (See my review of Choose Yourself.  James retweeted my review, and consequently that was the biggest day on my blog so far.  There is a lesson there.)

James does a weekly ask me anything through Twitter on Thursday afternoons.  Typically I can’t participate because I am in school during that time, but during July my schedule is a little more open.  After the success of James’ Choose Yourself and a subsequent post on Tech Crunch about self publishing 3.0, I asked him on Twitter how would his advice differ for selling children’s books.  And this is how James replied:

Three things on this:

  1. James thought I asked a great question.
  2. I stumped him enough that he passed me off to Raymond Bean.
  3. I steal James’ idea and interview Raymond myself.

And from there Raymond was nice enough to respond to the tweet and then was nice enough to answer some questions for me.

(I believe this is a very important 21st century skill.  We should be teaching our students and children to expand our connections through technology.)

Enough backstory, here are the questions that Ray was nice enough to answer:

1.       How long have you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always written.  I remember a pencil box I had in elementary school (probably second grade) that had an elaborate scene of kids having a snowball fight on the cover.  I wrote speech bubbles next to each kid.

2.      Did you ever send the manuscript for Sweet Farts to agents or publishers before sending it to KDP?

Yes, I sent Sweet Farts out to many publishers and several agents before and after self publishing on Createspace/KDP.  Amazon Publishing ultimately picked up the first book and the rest of the series.

3.      Did you use any services from Createspace such as editing, cover design, or illustrations?

Createspace does all the services for my indie titles.

4.      How long did it take for the book to begin selling well?  Was it immediate or did it take a while for mouth-of-mouth to kick in?

It took about three months for sales to kick in.  I was lucky because the book seemed to generate a good deal of word of mouth between readers.

5.      Where did you get the idea for Sweet Farts?

See the video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTwd-3s9FJM&w=560&h=315]
6.      What sort of promotion did you do?

I gave away a good deal of free copies.  It was way back in 2008.  I think I was fortunate because self publishing hadn’t really exploded yet.  Once my book started selling on Amazon it pollinated with other popular children’s titles and its discoverability increased dramatically.

7.      When did Amazon approach you to sell through their imprint?

I don’t remember exactly, but it was in 2009.  I remember googling Amazon Publishing and nothing came up.  I took a leap of faith that Amazon would grow its publishing business.  I’m glad I did.  Today they are growing at an amazing rate and announcing new imprints all the time.

8.      What sort of advice would you give to new writers considering self-publishing?

I think the most important thing is to get your work out there where readers can find it.  Once it’s available, write more.  Self publishing helped me land a fantastic agent and kick start my writing career.

9.      What do your students think of your success?

They’re very supportive.  I try to use my love of reading/writing to encourage my students to read and write more.

10.  Who is your favorite sports team?

I’m a big basketball fan.  The Knicks for sure.

Thanks so much to Raymond for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you’re a teacher of old elementary school students I would recommend checking out his work.

In spite of basketball being his favorite sport, Raymond’s upcoming book is about baseball.  Which is my personal favorite sport.  So I will be checking it out.

Any other indie writers I should track down and interview?  Leave suggestions in the comments.

Also check out my interview of best-selling children’s author AJ Cosmo.

Interview with Children’s Indie Writer AJ Cosmo

I recently reviewed James Altucher’s “Choose Yourself” and in the spirit of Choose Yourself I emailed AJ Cosmo, an indie children’s book writer, a request for an email interview.  That’s how the 21st century works, you want to work with someone or talk with them, go ahead and email them and see what happens.

I was lucky, AJ was nice enough to agree to answering my questions.  Thanks so much AJ for taking the time to answer my questions.

1. When did you publish your first book?

My first book was published on the Amazon Kindle in December of 2011. It was called “Gordon’s Gravy.” It was about a man that kept asking for gravy for his turkey until he got it. I had tried to get published under different pen names for different types of books but, like most writers, was met with silent rejection. Amazon opened up an opportunity for writers such as myself to approach an out of reach market. I didn’t understand at the time just how difficult self-publishing could be.

2. You write in one of your books that you were a teacher, what did you teach?

Great question, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to clarify this. A. J. Cosmo is a pen name that is a collaboration between two different writers. We have both been teachers but Jeff, the J. in A. J., taught primary grades for nineteen years in Southern California (seven of which were special needs.) Chris, the C in Cosmo, has worked as a class assistant, an adult ed. teacher, and a Sunday school teacher. Chris, that’s me, has done all of the illustration and most of the writing while Jeff shaped the direction of the stories and edited the prose.

Back in January, we decided to stop collaborating and Jeff turned the pen name over to me. Though Jeff still makes sure of the books’ merit, I can no longer in good faith use the same bio, so I have since evolved it. Thus the odd divide in my work. However, as a writer and an illustrator, I hope to teach and entertain beyond the confines of a classroom.

3. How do you illustrate your books?

I illustrate using a grab bag of methods that I have acquired and developed over the years. I prefer to change the method each time I approach a new book and tailor the style to the type of story I’m telling. “My Pet Raptor” was done by painting directly into Photoshop using a Wacom drawing tablet. This made the drawings painterly. “Monsters A to Z” used a more complicated method where I first drew the pictures in pencil, scanned them, added the paper texture, and then colored in Photoshop. This gave the monster illustrations a handcrafted feel. “Hug Bat” was illustrated like a coloring book. I first drew in non-reflective blue pencil and then inked over top of it. I then scanned the images, which eliminated the blue lines, and color filled the white areas. This is similar to how animation is done.

None of these processes would be possible without Photoshop. It is a wonderful tool has enabled me to quickly illustrate new books.

4. What sort of promotion have you used?

None. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The books themselves are the promotion. I created them fast enough and had them all linked together. I put the ads for the other books at the end of the book (I do not put any of the acknowledgements or copyrights at the front of the book, only the end.) I enrolled the books in Kindle select so that I could put them up for free. And that was it. The new books promoted the old books and something of mine is available for free every week on Amazon. It’s a tremendous amount of work and ultimately unsustainable, but I feel that it is at least honest. If you want to read my work, it’s easy to get a taste of it.

Now that I have a foundation for my work, I have started to slow down and work on more interesting and complicated projects. In doing so, I also have to start traditional promotion. It is incredibly difficult, but I enjoy it immensely when I get to communicate with people who have read my work and find out about their lives and their families. I have an open policy on my twitter account @ajcosmokids that I will help out any artist or writer struggling with their work.

5. What was your most successful book and why?

The Monster That Ate My Socks” hands down. That book has had a life of its own from the get go and I am one proud parent. I don’t have a firm grasp on why it connected with an audience, and I don’t think other artists fully understand their own appeal, but I have my theories. When I write I try to regress to an eight year old and create what excites that mindset. The idea for Sock Monster came from doing laundry, go figure, while “The Imagibles” came from reminiscing about my imaginary friends that I had when I was a child.

Children’s books need to appeal to children as well as adults. You need to engage them with a good story, and surprise them along the way. I try to deal with issues that children will face in their daily lives: bullying, getting in trouble for something you didn’t do, losing a friend, no one listening to you, etc. I was an outcast as a child, so I create work for those children.

I also want to give something to the parents too. I try to add little Easter eggs in my work just for them. They should be entertained too! It’s also a personal goal of mine to create stories that are a little more cerebral, a little more thought provoking, than what the age group normally gets. I want children to read and fall in love with literature, so I hope a small way to push them towards that.

6. Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t know . . . Ok, that’s not a good answer. I can’t site the source, though I am a man of faith, but I can say that often times the idea comes spontaneously when I’m doing something completely un-related. The next book I’m going to put out came to me while walking past the daycare at my gym. I saw a little boy that had a blanket draped around his back like a cape. That started a chain of thoughts that led to a workable idea and I extrapolated a story from there (I wrote a blog post about this technique.)

The Truth Fairy” came from time I spent in the corporate world (and is also a play on words) while “An Alien in the City” came from being overwhelmed when I got lost in downtown Los Angeles. You can’t force ideas either; you can only create the space to allow them to bubble up. If you are stuck on a project or experiencing writers block I highly recommend taking yourself on an artists’ date (from the book The Artist’s Way by Cameron.) You expose yourself to other art and take your mind off of your work. It’s important to do this alone. The last time I got stuck, an exhibit of Marie Antoinette’s life recreated in doll form got me out of my funk.

I have a whole list of unused ideas stored on my phone and computer. I sometimes go back, dust one off, and make it work. Then again, most of them are unused for a reason. 😉

7. What writers inspire you?

I adore Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, and Shel Silverstein the most. Dr. Seuss did an incredible job of encouraging readers and creating a fanciful world and I don’t think anyone will ever recapture what he accomplished. Willems is adorable and his books read like a great joke that you would tell at a party. I love his simple writing style. I admire Mr. Silverstein for dealing with heavy life issues in whimsical ways. I don’t think anyone else got so many children to think so deeply about typically adult topics.

Whenever I’m out and about, be it in a bookstore or a Laundromat, if there happen to be children’s books I will grab a few and read them. I’m always surprised at the variety of them and I think the form still has a lot of room for growth and experimentation.

8. What do you tell someone who is interested in self-publishing?

Make the best work you possibly can. Create something that would appeal to you. Make it professional in every aspect. Don’t skimp on effort or time but don’t obsess over it either (nothing is perfect.) You are a one-person publishing house and you need to perform every aspect from cover creation to editing to promotion. You can of course hire any of these aspects out and I would recommend doing so if you lack any of the appropriate skills. The gatekeepers may have changed, but the public is as demanding as ever.

Lastly, don’t give up. Nothing is instant in life, nothing worthwhile at least. I tend to look at it like farming. You plant the seeds, tend the soil, water the ground, and then, when it seems like nothing has happened for a long, long time, suddenly something starts to grow. And as long as you keep working, waiting, and trying, you will some day get your harvest.

Check out A. J. Cosmo’s latest book “ The Monster That Ate My Socks 2” on Kindle!

Thanks to AJ for answering my questions!  Now go check out his work.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher True 21st Century thinking

The world has changed.  This isn’t in the future.  The rules have quietly changed.  No one is coming to choose you.  You need to Choose Yourself.  James Altucher’s indie published book really brings to life the need to “Choose Yourself.”

I don’t remember when I began reading James Altucher’s blog.  But I kept reading it because he was articulating things I had been thinking about and noticing for a long time: The middle class is weakening, starting a side job/business isn’t a waste but smart, don’t have just one decision maker that can make or break your financial life, and focus on your own health first.  In other words, he agreed with me. (Isn’t it nice when you find people like that.)

But James according to his writing has started more businesses than I can count and failed at most of them apparently. Thank goodness for his refreshing honesty. He has made millions and lost millions. My success and failures don’t have that sort of grandeur. His book is about focusing on what made him successful and focusing on that approach.

In my own life I accidentally discovered Choose Yourself thinking. I began my first side business over 10 years ago as a freelance wedding/event videographer.  That morphed into a photography business.  (see martintillerphotography.com)  Although that never brought me enough revenue to quit the day job, that’s okay.  It at the very least brings in extra revenue to smooth out any lack of raises or cuts I receive as a teacher.  And the side business has taught me a little about taxes, insurance, working with clients, and all the other stuff that goes with a business. That wouldn’t have happened if I just sent out resumes in search of a video job.

My goodness it was early when I shot this.  You can also purchase this at Etsy.  (See what I did there...)

My goodness it was early when I shot this. You can also purchase this at Etsy. (See what I did there…)

And of course I recently have delved into self-publishing, or indie publishing as I prefer, the books that I have put out have brought in a little extra cash, but they have also increased my professional respect as a teacher.  A side benefit I did not count on when I wrote my first book.  None of that, the extra money, respect, would have happened had I sat around and waiting for an agent to come and pick me.

Choose Yourself covers all these ideas that I have done, and others, and does it in only way that Altucher can.  His blog has taken off because of his obsessive honesty and sharp writing.  He is very honest about his life and failures, and therefore greatly human.  And frankly his writing is funny and engaging.

What’s Happening Now? 

You feel it.  Maybe you can’t put your finger on it.

The middle class is dying.  Jobs are being outsourced, to China, robots, and technology.  Face it, get over it and move on.  The days of get a college degree, get a job, work 30 years for the same company and then retire with a pension are over.  If they ever existed at all. Pay for middle class jobs is declining compared to inflation.  So what are you going to do?  Sit around and whine?  Sure most do.  But that’s where you’re different.  You can Choose Yourself, choose a rewarding career without waiting on that ONE DECISION MAKER.

The Opposite of Choose Yourself

My wife and I caught an episode of 60 Minutes the other night.  The episode was a few years old, and it was discussing the financial meltdown.  There was an on camera interview with a 50 something woman who had been an executive assistant for her whole life and was now at a job fair (with hundreds of others).  She spoke directly to the camera “I will relocate anywhere  I will make any boss look great!  Just give me a chance!”

My heart broke for this woman.  I couldn’t imagine her pain or frustration.

But this was the old way of thinking.  If I could just get this or that person to select me then everything will be good.  That is the opposite of Choose Yourself. Altucher explains why jobs are dead and how we can begin in baby steps moving away from jobs. Much needed thinking in today’s world.

Indie Writing

What can you do?  Well if you read this blog your probably interested in Indie Writing.  Indie writing, is a perfect vehicle for a Choose Yourself venture.  Indie writers have stopped waiting for an agent or Big 6 publisher to choose them.  Prolific, focused, Indie writers choose themselves on a daily basis.  And more and more I read about indie writers that are making a living with their writing.

But Altucher’s book is more than just a simple “you too can be an entrepreneur!”  Altucher’s shares what has worked for him in his life when he has been on the rise and his life has gone well.

He calls it the Daily Practice.

Focus on:

  1. Physical Health
  2. Emotional Health
  3. Mental Health
  4. Spiritual Health

Physical Health doesn’t mean running marathon’s, or benching 300 pounds.  (But if you can do those thing, good on you.)  Physical health means going for a walk, cut out excessive alcohol, and for crying out loud…sleep.

Emotional Health is about being around people that lift you up.  Stop engaging with those that are negative and bring you down.

Mental Health, work that brain of yours.  Altucher recommends writing down 10 different ideas.  Everyday.  Your brain needs exercise coming up with ideas.  Use your brain daily.

Spiritual Health is not about going to church.  It’s about being thankful, grateful, and releasing those things we can’t control.

The World has changed

Yes, the world has changed and that’s a good thing.  Altucher’s book describes the New World and gives you the map to navigate it.  Check it out.

Altucher is also doing something different.  If you can prove that you have read the book, he will give you your money back.  Just send a pic of you reading the book, a review, something to prove you’ve read the book and he will pay you what you paid for the book.

(Update: for those that are coming here because James sent a tweet about this post, first thanks for the visit, and second here are a couple of other posts inspired by James’s thinking, One on Alex Day and one on why the 21st Century is great for creative people.  And thanks for the visit, go ahead and subscribe to the blog thanks!  I’ve also written a couple of books too.)

Recommended Indie Children’s Books May 21 2013 Edition

I posted a couple of weeks ago about a couple of indie produced children’s books.  I want to start promoting other indie children writers, because most successful indie writers are in other genres.  People are writing about things other than vampires, the apocalypse, and romance.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

Here are couple to check out:

The Monster Who Ate My Socks


AJ Cosmo is a former teacher.  He is also a talented artist.  I recommended another book of his in my earlier post.  The Monster who ate my Socks solves the age old riddle of why my socks have holes in them and go missing.  This would have been useful info when I was 7.  I love his illustrations in this book, very detailed and great texture.  They come across very well on my Kindle Fire HD.

P.S. The Monster Who Ate My Socks 2 is now out.

Also follow AJ on Twitter.

How to be a Superhero

This book was written by high school student Rachel Yu, and published by her dad.  Rachel has many books out and I first thought she made the illustrations herself.  But I learned that she hires out the illustrations.  This the story of a slightly arrogant superhero explaining the rough life of a superhero.  A wonderfully silly story.

All of her books seem to rank fairly high in the Amazon Kindle store, as in the 1,000 to 9,000 range.  The sequel to this book, which I have not read, How to be a Super Villain, spent the 2011 Holiday Season outselling Watchman and Batman.

Rachel was 16 when that book hit the best seller’s list.

SIX-TEEN.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

I am happy to be here.