Category Archives: Writing

Launching your book: Could you benefit from a beta audience?

In the past I have talked about beta readers as a way to test my book. Today I came across an article about an author who is publishing his book to a beta audience of 1,000 people before he even makes his work available to the public. While this size sample audience is likely too large for most self-published authors, it does raise an interesting idea.

By releasing a book to a smaller audience, there is an opportunity to build a buzz and a collection of ready-reviews before your book is available for purchase. Admittedly, I am more likely to buy a book with at least some reviews (even mediocre) than one with none at all. Likewise, it provides more opportunity for refinement as readers provide input before the book hits Amazon.

Now, I know many authors question the validity of seeking so many different opinions, but perhaps this method of a larger beta audience (be it 1,000 or 100 or 10) provides the opportunity for a consensus to form. While the opinion of one may not be extremely useful, the overlapped opinions of many start to hold more value, particularly if the audience is picked intentionally. In the article, the author seeks readers in his academic community, not just any old volunteer.

I am curious of your thoughts– do you see advantages to a larger beta audience? Is there some secret to successful marketing in this approach?

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Beating the Vacation Hangover

I’m suffering from a bit of a vacation hangover. Pictures freeze time when I cannot. Fortunately, there is still the anticipation of all that is left to come, and it is a lot.

Life

What is life?

Sisters bouncing in the waves,

Rituals untouched by age,

Mosquito-ridden hikes through streams,

To waterfalls guarded beneath a canopy of trees,

Jasmine pearl ice tea,

Sunscreen layered thick,

Tiki Mai Tais hidden in a maze of stalls,

Millions of stars in the night sky,

Sprinklers then laughter,

A ghostly figure in the dark,

Manta ray arms stretched wider than my own,

Two turtles and a friendly fish,

A Buddhist temple with a bell so large,

You are promised happiness and peace.

A catamaran skips across the water,

Edging closer to the unknown,

A fish caught and punched to death in the head,

Blood diluted by the sea,

Tears of brevity,

Life impossible to hold,

As sisters howl and scream beyond the break.

Sisters

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Playing the Part: Fake it ’til you make it!

Fake it ’til you make it is a common piece of advice for anything you want to achieve in life. While on the surface, it might sound a bit disingenuous, there is a lot of truth to this statement. As a teacher, I had to fake it until I knew what I doing. Had I not, the kids (and their parents) would have eaten me alive. Likewise, when it comes to writing, platform creation is the current buzz.

However, for all of us yet-to-be-published authors out there, we know platform creation comes with a little faking. After all, we have to create the image of the author (and an audience) before our books even have real spines. I knew I had achieved some success in this endeavor when a friend introduced me at a party as a “real writer” again and again. While I protested a bit at first, she was adamant I had earned this title. At that moment I realized I had successfully played the part.

So, now it’s time to take this adage to the next level as I prepare to query (last round) and possibly self-publish Expecting Happiness. Some of the most common advice in platform creation is to make sure you present a professional and unified picture of yourself across all of your pages, (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Gravatar etc.). It’s important to make sure you pick just one or two photos as many readers will not know you well enough to identify you in different settings without these cues.

As such, I enlisted the help of a local blog friend and talented photographer to take some head shots to help me polish my presentation. While I’m going to hold off on picking which photo (or two) to use until after I get back from my trip, I wanted to give her a shout out for her photographic talent. If you live in the Sacramento area and need photos for any occasion, head over to Urke Photography’s blog. Likewise, Ashley also runs her own blog empire over at Domestic Fashionista (and has been my delightful inspiration for Thankfulness Thursdays). Stop by, say hi, tell her I sent you!

And, most importantly– keep on playing the part until it becomes a part of you! Any secrets you want to share on how you’ve faked it to make it?

Photo credit: Urke Photography

Photo credit: Urke Photography

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A call for beta readers… Want to read my book?

I have to decide what to do with my novel… I’m leaning toward one last round of queries and then self-publishing, but there is always the option to shelve it as well. I haven’t lost faith, I’ve just hit the point where I’m done working on it and need some fresh perspectives.

That’s where you come in…

If you’re interested in reading, I would ask the following:

1. Be available to begin reading mid-July when I get back from my trip.

2. Read like you downloaded off Amazon for a maximum of $5, (if I self-publish, it will likely be priced lower). When you finish, I want to know if you would feel satisfied if you had paid to read.

3. Note any typos.

4. If you get stuck and lose the momentum to finish, tell me where. If it feels like a chore, I need to know. No obligation to read the whole thing.

5. Be honest, but kind. Everyone has different tastes, (many of the books I read fall in the three star category on Goodreads even though others love them). I won’t be offended if it’s not your favorite book ever, I just need to know if it’s readable.

What you can expect:

1. Think Revolutionary Road meets One Day meets Shopgirl. If you have read any of those titles, might help gauge your interest. Think simple story about a young couple who feels frustrated and leaves everything behind to travel and find themselves, separately. I am looking for readers who read regularly and have an interest in mainstream fiction that crosses over to chick lit.

2. Gratitude. While I can’t pay you, I can thank you a thousand times.

If you’re interested, please either comment below with the title of the last book(s) you read or email me privately. Only volunteer if the premise interests you. I need a few more readers and will resort to names in a hat if necessary. I will contact you privately to let you know and appreciate the support given, even if it’s just a high-five for reaching this point!

Manuscript

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A Letter for Peace to my Child

Dear {Insert top secret, hotly-debated name choice},

You don’t exist yet, at least not here. I don’t know when you’ll be a part of our lives, but I know deep down you will be. My mom, your grandmother, has this story of how she almost drowned before I was born. As she looked up through the water, she knew she had to stay, she saw two children, a girl and a boy. I’ve seen you in much the same way.

You appear in my dreams in circumstances I cannot attribute to just my overactive imagination. You love your dad and share rituals with him I do not understand, especially when it is time for a nap. I’ve felt you in my body, healthy and ready to be born. Others have seen you too. Your dad, your great aunt’s mom, my mom’s friend. They all know you’ll be here soon even when I myself am not sure how many years from now we’re really talking. Sometimes you feel near, others you feel worlds away.

This big introduction is not the point of my letter. Today I am writing to you about peace as part of a monthly challenge to create more peace in the world. When I considered who I would like to write, you popped into my mind. You see, when I was a little girl, your grandfather used to be involved in local politics. He wrote this letter to the editor that I have kept in a little box, the paper now yellowed, but his words even more significant than I could have ever understood then. He talked about wanting a life where his children had clean air and water.

That’s my vision of peace for you. A life in a place where the air and water are clean. Your grandmother will tell you all kinds of reasons why this is a challenge– but some places are still cleaner than others and it is my dream you will end up there. It’s a simple wish, but this world you will soon visit is full of a lot of chaos and trouble. Some people decide not to have children for this reason, but I feel you have made the decision to arrive for yourself. We all have lessons here and I could go on to envision a world full of peace for you, but the reality is that people have created chaos for centuries, millenniums maybe.

The best I can do is promise I will work hard to teach you how to find peace within yourself and pursue a life where you help to create peace for others, too. That is what I have begun to discover for myself, so it is what I will offer you as your mother. Those words feel strange, me someone’s mother, but I know you’re out there– whether you will truly be born through me or someone else, you will be part of our family, one day, and you have a magnificent group of people, family and friends (and dogs!), who will help you navigate this world where both inner and outer peace take effort.

As I wrote that last line, I could see all the smiling faces that await you, especially your Uncle Seamus. He promises to take you on some good adventures and bring you back in one piece– with an even deeper love of nature than anyone else could give you. A few tears and smiles were shed as I wrote all these words, but they are true. Of all the monthly peace challenges, this one has affected me most deeply. Our children, whether they be truly ours or ones we help to raise as teachers, aunts, uncles, friends, are our greatest contribution to peace.

This letter just made me all the more excited to meet you one day.

Much love,

Your mother

My wish for you is a deep love of nature and peace through this love.

My wish for you is a deep love of nature and peace through this love.

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In other news, I see why it’s easy to reject manuscripts.

I just stopped by the pitch party over at Brenda Drake’s site and scrolled through dozens of pitches only to realize my attention span is quick– authors either had me or didn’t in the first couple lines and only a few got me to read their whole entry. Likewise, I realized I have distinct taste in what I will read and won’t, as some genres were an instant skip.

This is not to say the entries I did not read were bad, but rather I now empathize a bit more with agents. They know what they like/are looking for and if you send a query to an agent who doesn’t rep your genre, you’re wasting your time. If you write, I challenge you to go read through some of the entries, really puts everything into perspective to imagine an inbox full of pitches. It also takes a little of the burn out of rejections to recognize your own narrow interests.

The good news, there are a lot of different tastes out there…

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Why do we blog?

A blog friend recently retired… Or, more likely, decided to step away from blogging for awhile. I both admire and understand his decision. Blogging can become a drain on time. The dopamine released when others comment, like, validate our thoughts has been proven to create online addiction. The instant validation temporarily beats the years we wrestle with other creative projects. And, sometimes, blogging can feel selfish, vain…

Still, I find reasons to stay. Blogging is an instant creative release, the kind of regular writing that makes you into a better writer. It provides a way to practice the craft in short bursts, to get the fingers moving, the mind thinking. It is a window into the real lives of other people I would never meet in my regular world. It is a source of friendship, camaraderie, inspiration. For me, blogging provides a way to be brave, to put myself out there, to stop caring so much what other people think. It is powerful medicine.

Even so, I sometimes feel tempted to do the same thing as my friend, to hit delete or disappear. Sometimes it feels like too much of me out in the world or like a waste of time when I could be doing something more productive. Then I think of blogging as my hobby. I enjoy it. Words help me process the world, connect, live. In that context, it is a much better hobby than many of the alternatives, at least for me. After all, the whole point of having hobbies is to take a break from always having to be productive, right?

What is blogging to you?

Much like riding shotgun while my husband races, blogging was one of those instances in life where I had to push myself to be brave.

I recently pushed myself to ride shotgun with my husband while he raced (his hobby of choice). Blogging is kind of the same thing. Sometimes it feels scary to put myself out there, but I still hold on tight and hit publish, and it gets less scary the more times around the track.

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I Always Love a Contest to Pitch my Book…

As I wrap up my final re-read and contemplate how to move forward with self-publishing and a last round of queries, I can’t help but enter a pitch contest. You know, if it could really all be so easy as to submit a 35 word pitch and the first 150 words of my book and then kaboom– agent/published/hurray. I guess the little kid part of me knows it happens for someone, so it might as well be me.

Information on this latest pitch contest can be found here. Per usual, I’m not over-thinking my entry because I question whether it is worth much of an effort, however, I will share in hopes you will consider entering as well!

My 35-word pitch: 

After a jarring miscarriage, Jake and Kristen embark on separate journeys. Kristen departs for Europe in search of independence, while Jake sets off on a cross-country adventure. Torn between old and new, they must choose.

The first 150 words of my manuscript:

It began as a drop. One smooth drop of blood running down her pale thigh. She touched the moisture with her fingers and looked to see the crimson stain on the back edge of her beige, linen skirt. Aware of her coworkers in the neighboring cubes, she fought the urge to fall to her knees and cry in the small break room. She clutched her glass water bottle tighter, careful not to let it crash to the ground. Her heart ached. Dizzyness followed. She needed to sit.

The cessation of pregnancy symptoms left her in denial, the nausea gone, the sore breasts once again pliable. She read on the internet it could be a sign of miscarriage but did not know what to believe. She refused to call the doctor, unwilling to shatter the illusion. It made her happy to imagine a child growing inside her. A dull ache echoed…

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To Love Me…

To love me is to love quiet, time spent deep inside of thoughts. I often retreat into myself, thinking, thinking, thinking. As a kid, some days I would disappear, still present but without words. I do the same thing now. When summer comes, I climb inside my laptop and write. My husband is patient for me to come up for air, to talk, to notice, to be. He understands this is part of me.

I made a rule for summer. Night is free from writing, free from technology, save a few minutes here or there if something important arises. Otherwise, I’d be gone for days and nights, but still here, in my chair, trapped in thought.

I’m getting better at balancing introvert with extrovert, but quiet is my natural habitat and summer is my friend.

Is it the same for all writers? Or, are some of you the other way around, more outside than in?

Solitude.

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Saturday Song: Only Miss the Sun When it Starts to Snow…

Yes, two songs in a row, but you can kind of get the feel for the inside of my head right now. I’m deep in my book, deep in my thoughts, deep in the solitude of summer. Pleasurable melancholy, if there is such a thing.

Time to prepare for a small dinner party with friends, time to emerge from my inner world for just a little while.

What about you?

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Changing the Way We See Self-Publishing

This morning my perspective on self-publishing shifted. I had always seen it as a second phase, either the space you reach when you cannot find an agent (at no fault of your own, of course…) or the choice you make when you’re already established and want to regain control over your profits. Sure, I had read all kinds of success stories, but I had also scrolled through the sea of titles, lost in the myriad of choices, uncertain of the quality and dissuaded by the prospect of reading on an electronic screen.

However, this morning as I sat over tea at my favorite French bistro with my uncle and my husband, I was swayed a different direction. Suddenly, self-publishing was the indie choice I loved all along without ever realizing it, akin to making an independent movie instead of waiting for a big studio with its formulaic tastes to discover your project. I adore many independent movies. I don’t know why I never made this connection before.

In fact, this past weekend, I saw an indie flick at Tower Theater in Sac, the kind of place you sit and revel at moviemaking’s past, the crown molding and neon sign making up for the struggling air conditioning and sagging seats. We watched Frances Ha, a movie which at first makes you wonder if you’re witnessing a slow theatrical train wreck but eventually blossoms into a genuinely funny and touching film. Indie movies may have their flaws, but they also bring you into worlds more refreshing than those where everyone has a shiny new car and drinks Coca-Cola with the label pointed outward.

I see my book as kind of the same deal. It may lack some of the sheen of a blockbuster, but there is enough beneath the surface to make it worthwhile, especially if you stick around until the end. Likewise, I recently read my uncle’s first novel, a book which marries Dan Brown’s ability to create suspense with Pillars of the Earth’s timeless heroes and villains. It is exactly the kind of thing I would expect to see on the bestseller’s shelf at the local bookstore, yet he has not been picked up by an agent. Proof the old system is imperfect, overlooking true gems in the ocean of submissions.

So, as I left our little book meeting, I could see my novel self-published with an indie charm, no less meaningful without the mark of a major publisher on its spine. I’ve always been an acquired taste, as my father likes to say. It only makes sense I would find a quirky world for my words to thrive, an audience who appreciates this sort of thing, the kind of people who go to sit in Tower Theater instead of always opting for the comfort of the megaplex. The gatekeepers may bemoan the changes in the publishing world all they like, but it is about time the indie book market follows in the footsteps of its movie-making big sister.

Part of my late embrace of the self-publishing model is also learning to experiment with e-readers. So far, the borrowed kindle kicks the iPad’s butt and I’m coming around to the idea of reading my own words on one of these screens.

Part of my late embrace of the self-publishing model is learning to enjoy e-readers. So far, this borrowed kindle kicks the iPad’s butt and I’m coming around to the idea of reading my own words on one of these screens.

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The Infamous Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

I know I recently wrote about myself at 66, but this week I have been thinking about myself at 34 (cough::: err, almost 35). It’s that time of year when you sit down with your boss and discuss your 2 to 5 year plan, or at least it is if you’re a teacher. Thinking about my answer, I could not help but trace back 5 years.

Five years ago today I was in Lake Tahoe with my boyfriend. It was Sunday, the day after our first set of friends got married. We had stayed at Harvey’s and ended up in an outdated two queen room so that I could see the lake instead of the parking lot in our first assignment. Looking out over the glory of Lake Tahoe, I wanted the future to be mine. I wanted Alex to propose.

In that odd state of wedding fever, we ended up with a dog. Maybe I thought a dog would make us feel more like a little family. We had visited the pet shop the day before and fallen in love with a toy poodle. He was boisterous and tiny, a baby. As soon as we left the pet shop, I was sick to my stomach. We sat in the parking lot beside the lake and I felt like I was going to throw up. I called the pet store and asked if we could return him. They told me no.

Achilles turned Preston represented a lot more than just a dog. He meant grown-up responsibility, the kind that lasts more than a decade.

Achilles turned Preston represented a lot more than just a dog. He meant grown-up responsibility, the kind I wanted but didn’t know how to handle.

It was my first recognizable panic attack. Before I did not realize my emotions sometimes made me sick. I did not know if I could manage the decade plus responsibility I had just signed up for. I feared our noisy inward-opening apartment on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley would kick us out. We weren’t allowed to have pets. I don’t know what I was thinking. Alex sat patiently as I lost my cool, my whole body trembling with anxiety.

We drove home slowly, the dog, then named Achilles, peed on me more than once. We stopped at my parents’ house and let him play in the backyard, my brother and sisters and best friend sitting in a circle in the grass as he ran between us, stopping at each person for kisses and playful bites. I simultaneously loved and feared him.

We made it back to Berkeley at nightfall and discovered sneaking him up and down the stairwell to be a daunting feat, neighbors passing, looking quizzically, the apartment manager potentially lurking around any corner. That night, neither the dog nor I slept. He bounced around the apartment and cried, helpless. I turned in fits of nausea constantly concerned he was pooping or peeing or alerting the neighbors with his yap.

The next day I went to work a mess and sat in my cube searching for an answer instead of performing my duties as an economic analyst. Animal rights activists pulled down my posts on Craig’s List and PetFinder instantaneously. The Bay Area is good for shaming people into keeping their ill-acquired pets. By some stroke of luck, one of my best friends and her mom had been looking for a toy poodle. That evening, Achilles became Preston as I passed him into my friend’s loving arms somewhere off the road between Sacramento and Berkeley, tears in my eyes, guilt in my irresponsibility.

Everything turned out okay. The shame disappeared, Preston became the prized dog of a family with an actual dog door and backyard. I came to grips with the fact that I had an anxiety problem. I read books and saw doctors. I refused medication, but tried countless natural remedies. It has been three years since my last anxiety attack, the day I quit my job with less than two days notice to begin my teacher residency program. Since then, I have been fine.

Five years changes a lot. I went from a cube to a classroom, dating to married, a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley to a house in Sacramento, anxious to often complimented for my calm. I don’t know what changed exactly. Maybe it was making the conscious decision to stop being scared and live more in line with who I was meant to be. Maybe it was the decision to take one day at a time, instead of freaking out over next week, next month, next year. Perhaps it was all the reading, or the change in diet, or the exercise, or the yoga. I really don’t know. It wasn’t an instant process and it’s still not complete.

So, when I am asked where I see myself in five years, I have no idea. Mother or childless, teacher or writer, or still both. Low-income school or private where I can be myself more often. Teaching yoga to high-risk youth, or part of some organization that fights the fight I want to champion. Living in Sacramento or on acreage in the foothills or on the other side of the world. I have no idea. All I know is that the last five years have taught me to follow my heart and keep working hard toward what matters. The results may not be perfect, but they will be better than I could ever imagine.

Which leaves me with my usual question, what about you?

My favorite picture from 2008, Carmel, beach, friends, Alex. Some things don't change so much.

My favorite picture from 2008, Carmel, beach, friends, Alex. Some things don’t change so much.

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