Books I & II of The Lova Chronicles is available now!

The Lova Chronicles kicked off with The Earthen Shroud in August 2013!

Want Your Book to Read Like a Movie?

Check out my book trailer and see how I did it!

Author Book Signing

I've only done this once, but I had the time of my life! You can too; see how.

Food-Inspired Art

Check out my guest post on Notebook Blogairy about how food inspires my writing.

Pages From My Diary

I started a new blog series: awesome, intimate, legendary.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

So, this week I got to enjoy a wonderful movie: The Adjustment Bureau (2011).  The star of the film is Matt Damon, who we all loved in the Bourne series, and of course, his breakout role, Good Will Hunting.  His leading lady is Emily Blunt, who recently did the voice of Juliet in Gnomeo & Juliet (2011).  This amazing film, directed by George Nolfin, is based on an incredible short story, "The Adjustment Team", again by Philip K. Dick.  (Remember, we talked about him in my Short Stories to Film post.)

The movie, and short story, is about David Norris (Damon), a young politician whose congressional career is floundering, primarily due to wayward impulse.  He meets Elise (Blunt), a talented dancer, in a men's room who inspires him to give his greatest speech to date, and sends him down his pre-ordained path.  However, a chance meeting with Elise on the metro bus causes David to see some things he otherwise wouldn't have, starting a spiral of rebellion against a group of supernatural beings otherwise known as The Adjustment Bureau.

This movie/story is inspiring with its subtle spiritual undertones.  However, because of Dick's scientific background, there are gentle implications about the validity of God's judgment, as depicted in the reference of the Plan.  The Adjustment Bureau and its agents are constantly admonishing David about deviating from the Plan and how the world will change drastically, for the worst, if he insists on fighting for his love affair with Elise.

But the film/story raises the question, too, if one is truly in control  of one's own destiny.  Is free will simply an illusion to give us a sense of choice; is our life already planned for us and we're simply unaware that we're traveling down a road that was mapped out well before our own existence?  Depending on your religious background or faith, you probably have a pretty solid answer to this.  But it's an age-old question that mankind has struggled with for centuries.

No one wants to believe they are not in control of their own destiny.  Everyone wants to feel that they have the opportunity to change the course of their future at any time, hence the reason many of us deny the existence of an omniscient, omnipresent Higher Power.  But whether the Superior you believe in plans your future for you or is simply instrumental in seeing that you get where you'd like to be, this film puts in perspective mankind's need to take responsibility for his actions and the road he's traveling rather than relying solely on the nature of divinity.

The Adjustment Bureau is out on Blu-ray and DVD through Universal Studios.
The Adjustment Bureau, Official Trailer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Simpsons Go Indie!

I'm a bit of a Simpsons fan; have been since I was a kid when my parents told my brother and me the content was too "adult" and forbade us to watch it.  While I'm not a fanatic fan, I do like to catch up on Hulu every once in a while.  The latest Simpsons episode was titled The Book Job, which ended up being one of my favorite episodes to date.

{Warning: Spoiler Alert ahead}

The ep starts with Lisa and her family at a spoof event of Walking with Dinosaurs where she discovers her favorite young adult literature author.  However, this "author" confesses to Lisa that she's only the cover author; the books are really written by a machine of independent lit students and a team of publishing execs who do market research to find out what will sell, then churn out the sequels in droves.  Bart and Homer catch wind of the idea, deciding to write and market a YA novel Ocean's Eleven style, with a look alike Andy Garcia as the publishing executive.

When Lisa discovers Homer and Bart are doing it for the money (to the tune of a cool million) and not the love of the craft, she challenges that she, too, will write a novel that children like her will adore.  While Bart and Homer's team churn out a creative masterpiece in about a month, Lisa finds herself unable to get past the written words "Chapter 1".

Finally, the book is ready to be published, only to find that the publisher has changed the entire integrity of their book and all the hard work they've put into it.  Both startled and crushed by this, the crew endeavors to undergo a second mission: to break into the publishing house and make sure their original work goes to print.

What I found so endearing about this episode was the twist, when Bart and Homer's creative crew discover that the integrity of their written work is more important to them than the original gain of money.  How true that is for all independent artists, of any type!  Very few authors, maybe an estimate of 3-5%, are blockbuster, New York Times Best-selling writers, and actually make their living on writing alone.  The rest of us do it simply for the love we have of words and storytelling.  Only a small percentage of the American population will ever even read what we write, and so the gratification that comes with completing a masterpiece for us 95-percenters is almost entirely personal--for the joy and satisfaction it gives us to do so.

Retaining aesthetic integrity is important to any artist that respects their craft, and, as The Simpsons episode so brilliantly showed, that integrity is always rewarded.  As cliche as it sounds, staying true to yourself and your work means the money will come, even if only eventually.  Perhaps I'm living in a fairy tale, but dreams do come true, especially if you believe in what you're doing.  If you love it, others are bound to love it too, even if motivated only by your own enthusiasm.

While this episode showed the horrors of publishing, it also showed what's brilliant about embracing a craft as well, and the gratification that comes from completing something you know inside is great.  There's no self-esteem booster like knowing a completed project is as good, or better, than what you set out to make it.  And sharing it, in its original form, with others is a pretty great feeling, too.

Bearing that in mind, I can't wait for May 1st, so I can share my masterpiece with all of you.  Kudos to the writers of this Simpsons episode, all of whom probably have endured many of the same frustrations they depict :-)  Enjoy!

(If you can't view this video, click here.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing the Previously Unwritten

"If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."-- Toni Morrison

There wasn't a day in my life that I wanted to do something other than write.  Even when pursuing my "illustrious singing career", I wrote my own material.  I had a voice I was always desperate to use, and not using it was never an option.  I've written in a journal for as long as I can remember, and when I couldn't hash out exactly how I felt there, I wrote prose, verse by verse, until the universe understood me.

My work became very dark and brooding.  I couldn't figure out how to convey exactly what it was I was feeling, but I understood that feeling was never very...happy.  Love was always unrequited, I was always invisible or underappreciated, and my self-esteem was poor, to say the very least.  I found my favorite authors were those who wrote about death and mystery, primarily Edgar Allan Poe.  I was confused about my identity, and due to some dark happenings in my childhood, I frequently debated if I was a child or an adult--and this confusion was evidenced in my writing.  But my work was praised by teachers and fellow peers alike.  My first real criticism didn't come until college.

Quite frankly, my creative writing professor cited my work as "troubled", saying: "Musing about one's dark and embittered past is not only cliched--it is boring to its very core.  Find your center and write from there."  I got a C+ in that course--my first C in anything other than math or physical education.  And I was crushed.  Because not only was I passionate about writing and had never conceivably failed at it, but I was also (and still am) very much the perfectionist and anything less than a B in a subject I adored was crippling to me.

Edgar Allan Poe
This led to a determination to hone my craft.  Truthfully, honing your craft is something you never actually finish; it's an ongoing feat of perseverance.  I found a mentor who has been a major factor in the development of The Grim, and of my writing.  I discovered that all the unaddressed elements of my childhood I had suppressed were surfacing in my work, much in the same way as it was understood Poe's did.

I am still compared to Poe by my mentor who finds my work just as thought-provoking and macabre as Poe's haunted tales.  A short story I wrote, The Haunting, was compared to Poe's Tell-Tale Heart, which of course is one of my favorite Poe stories.  I wrote The Haunting as a contest submission for a major writing magazine.  The premise was to write a short story, no more than 15-pgs single spaced, retelling an old classic in a new way.  The classic could be a short story, play, poem, movie or novel--just as long as it was older than 1960 and had been legitimately lauded as a "classic" in its industry.  I took second place.  I chose--well, I'll let you read it.  Comment below and tell me which classic you think it is...

I am in my millionth edit of The Grim, motivated, as always, by my first real criticism--and the desire to tell a story I hadn't heard before.  I never expected the story I'd tell though would be my own...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Short Stories to Film

So I've been working on a short story collection, and it got me thinking about the short story greats.  And because I so love film as well as the written word, that got me thinking about short stories that were made into films.  Yes, we've kinda talked about this before--we all know there's no shortage of incredible novels made into movies.  But being that short stories are so often underrated, I thought it would be interesting to find out what short stories (or novellas) had been recognized by the film industry.  That being said, the market was kinda loaded--by Stephen King.  And why wouldn't it be?  His work is the stuff of written genius, whether or not you like being terrified to death.  So here is a short compilation of amazing short stories successfully converted to award-winning film.

1.  Securing Tom Cruise as your leading man seems to be the first ingredient in the recipe for success.  In Minority Report, he surfaces as a futuristic, ambitious chief of police of the Precrime Unit, eager to clear his name when the "pre-cogs"-- psychic beings who detect premeditated murders--foresee him killing a man he has never met.  The film is only loosely adapted from a short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
      The movie is a home-run of sci-fi excitement, satisfying with both action and drama.  The author is also responsible for the movie adaptations of Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford, based on his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; and Total Recall (1990), based on another sci-fi short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.  Philip Dick is known for his engaging futuristic sci-fi premises, and captures audiences with inventive plots and mutant characters living alongside their human counterparts.

2.  Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been adapted for film so frequently that I think even the industry has lost count.  The short story is about Ichabod Crane, a lanky school teacher in the town of Sleepy Hollow who is abducted by the Headless Horseman, a phantom ghost rider whose favorite pastime is swiping heads off innocent townspeople.  Each adaptation has different variations due to producer vision, and none ever sticks very closely to the original work.  However, my two favorite versions are Sleepy Hollow (1999) starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, and Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), a short film combining Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) and Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
      The Johnny Depp version is so appealing for its dark comedic wit, typical of its director, Tim Burton, with whom Depp has worked frequently in his career (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland to name a few).  Being a big kid at heart and a huge fan of animated films, I largely enjoy the Disney adaptation, delightful for its colorful characters, narration and innovative music.  The video included is of the signature song in Ichabod, sung by Brom Bones, the town bully, about the Headless Horseman's yearly visit to the Hollow.


3.  Everyone is pretty familiar with Stephen King's work, but there are many who don't know that King is responsible for many works which don't have fear and horror as an undertone.  Fall from Innocence: The Body is a novella originally published by King in his compilation work Different Seasons in 1982 and spawned the cult classic Stand by Me (1986), starring Corey Feldman and the infamous River Phoenix.  In the story, the narrator reminisces about he and his childhood friends finding the body of a missing boy on the outskirts of town.
      There are some who feel the King work is done little justice in the movie, but I beg to differ.  Of course, I feel written works allow for more detail and integrity, but that doesn't imply that done correctly a movie can't emulate both visual and poetic mastery.  Stand by Me certainly holds up to King's novella and adequately earns its placement in cult history.

4.  Stephen King again accomplishes creative genius with Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, also included in the Different Seasons compilation.  Many critics find this novella to be King's greatest work: the story is about Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover.  Told through the eyes of Red, a fellow inmate and eventual friend of the banker, Andy's life, ambition, and influence on the prison and inmates is illuminated.  The film, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), starring Tim Robbins (Andy) and Morgan Freeman (Red), is also lauded as one the greatest films in history, earning seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
       I am in love with this movie, easily one of my favorites--and mostly my favorites are musicals!  This film has so many great moments and the cast blends magically.  Tim Robbins really demonstrates his acting chops in this film, and the drama of the character's struggle is emotionally engaging.  While the film deters in many places from the original story, both are classic depictions of the human heart and soul.

There are, of course, a few more short story/film conversions that I'd love to include here, but for now, these are enough.  I'm sure you've found plenty here to comment about, and I can't wait to see and hear what you have to say!

What are some of your favorite short stories?  Which do you think should be or have been made into film?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friendship Anniversary

At first, I struggled with this post.  I didn't have any idea what I was going to write about.  And then, yesterday, I celebrated a 13-year friendship with a remarkable woman.  The Tigger to my Pooh...

My best friend and I have been friends since senior year in high school.  She was the new girl (as she often was since her mother was military), and she was in four of my seven classes.  It started feeling like she was following me around because I saw the girl everywhere.  So after a few weeks of this, I finally decided to approach her.  I wasn't at all diplomatic about it (smile), and surprisingly, she was receptive to my forward confrontation.  We've been friends since that day, October 11, 1998, and neither of us has forgotten it.

Now, I know it sounds odd to celebrate a "friendship anniversary", and we may be one of the few people on the planet who do it, but there's a method to the madness.  You see, she and I had an amazing senior year together, and there were some incredible memories generated in that small amount of time.  But, when graduation and senior week were over, and all the graduation parties had either been crashed by unsuspecting parents or broken up by bored night cops, it was time to say goodbye.  My besti has been in the military since the year we graduated; I see her one week a year, usually around New Year's--until the war started, and she found herself headed overseas every 14-18 months.

This last separation from her has felt the longest because both incredibly wonderful and horrible things have happened to me in the last year's time.  I've struggled with the inability to reach her in moments of great distress or happiness, and harbored animosity with the U.S. government for taking her from me, especially when I needed her most.  The majority of her duty stations have been 3000 miles away, and when she's deployed, the distance is horrifically longer--communication is almost non-existent.  She missed the birth of my son; I missed her college graduation.  It feels like we're light years apart.

And then there's these incredible moments where we'll get an unexpected care package from each other: I'll send a Christmas deployment package; she'll send me Valentine's Day cupcakes special delivery.  It's these endearing moments that carry us to the next time we see each other, and I remember why she's my besti--because she's thinking of me no matter where she is, and I am always thinking of her.

We don't celebrate our "anniversary" just because it's something cheesy to do; we celebrate it because we recognize that every moment of our time on this earth together is precious.  Any deployment could result in a Marine knocking on my door with his hat in his hand and a somber grimace on his face.  I know while I'm sleeping, she's watching the borders for me and the millions of others in this country who take our freedom and our liberties for granted.  And when I start feeling embittered about our separation, I remember the sacrifice she's making and instead try to be grateful that she is one of few who was willing to take the risk.  She has re-enlisted two or three times since the war began when she could have taken herself out of harm's way.  Instead she chose to remain in service, and that courage and conviction reinforces our friendship every day.

Thank every veteran or serviceman you see.  You never know the sacrifice their families and friends endure at the expense of your freedom.  So happy 13th anniversary, Besti!  And may God grant us many more.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Choosing the Right Self-Publisher

I had a conversation with a fellow writer, Sally*, who was discouraged about self-publishing her next work.  She had made so little money on the first novel and didn't feel it was worth risking the start-up costs on a second.  Sally's quarterly royalty checks were only coming in for a dollar or two--when they came at all.  I agreed to look at her publishing contract (yes, self-publishers have those, too), and, right off the bat, I highlighted all her problems.

There are several points to look for in a self-publishing contract, if you're allowing them to handle all the pre-publishing (designing your cover, formatting, editing, royalties, etc.)  Some sites, like Lulu, don't charge you to upload your work if you'd like to handle the formatting and cover design yourself.  But most indie authors who want to have print books as well as e-books like the benefits that come with pre-publishing, and there are definitely some pitfalls you can avoid if you know where to look.
All self-publishers have a standard theme of offers: creative control, retention of exclusive rights to your book and its copyright, and print on demand distribution.  Certain points are industry standard; when you compare the standard packages at each company, there are certain aspects of production each publisher provides--like your book's ISBN.  However, there are several points to consider: printing costs, price setting, and start-up costs.  The variation in these few points will dictate how much money you make on your book--or if you make none at all.

Low printing cost = big profits
It's a common reaction to look for the self-publisher who's making you the cheapest start-up offer.  When their website is screaming, "Publish your book for $599!", you can't help but reply, "Well, sign me up!"  But cheaper isn't always better.  That $599 sounds great, and who wouldn't want to make good on that?  But if that $599 also means never making a cent on your book, then maybe you'd like to look again.  The first thing you want to know is the price of printing.  The formula usually looks something like this, and varies based on your print options: per unit cost + cents/per page.  For example: at Publisher A, the cost for printing a paperback book without color inserts costs $2.00 per unit + $0.02 per page.  If your book is 300 pages after formatting for print size (5x8, 6x9, etc), then $2.00 + (0.02 x 300) = $8.00.  This is how much it's going to cost you each time Publisher A prints your book.  Each publisher's price varies.  Maybe Publisher B is offering $1.50 per unit + $0.02/pg.  You just saved 50 cents.  Or maybe Publisher C is offering $2.25 per unit + $0.017/per pg.  Do the math; is Publisher C cheaper?

Why does this matter?  Well, your printing costs dictate your book's retail price.  And your retail price dictates how much you make in the long run.  Be very leery of a publisher that is unwilling to tell you their printing cost formula.  Setting the right retail price for your book will be based primarily on your printing costs, so know that root number.  Most self-publishers offer distribution on the major online networks (ex. Amazon, Barnes&Noble).  These networks generally take 40% of standard book sales and 30% on ebook sales.  Now, a customer goes to one of these online sites and purchases your book.  The retailer takes 40% (of the retail price), your publisher takes their printing cost per book, and what's left is considered author royalties.  If you fail to price your book sufficiently, you will make little, if anything, off your standard book sales.  Generally, you want the retail price of your paperback to be 2.5 times the printing cost of your book.

Do the math
Say we went with Publisher C; each book costs us $7.35 to print.  Two and a half times that brings our retail price to roughly $18.40.  The online retailer takes 40% (18.40-7.36), your publisher takes the printing costs (11.04-7.35), and you're left with $3.69--a decent amount to make per book.  If you sell 20 books in your first quarter (a quarter is roughly three months), you just made about $74.  Now, for the down side.  Say you feel $18 is just too high to charge for your little 300-pager.  Perhaps you decide to charge $12 a book.  The retailer takes 40% (12.00-4.80), the publisher takes the printing costs (7.20-7.35), and...uh oh!  You owe your publisher 15 cents.  Say you sold the same 20 books that quarter; you won't get a check because your publisher is showing a red $3 deficit on your account.  Sure, $3 doesn't sound like much in this scenario, but imagine that happens every quarter.  That $3 will stack up, and you just spent start-up costs on a book that's making you absolutely no money.  Because of this, make sure your contract allows you to stipulate the retail price.  If the publisher dictates the retail price and sets it too low, you'll be owing them every time a customer purchases a print copy of your book from a retailer.  And no amount of sales or promotion will erase that hole, because every purchase of your printed book is putting you further into debt.  (You might make it up in e-book sales, but that's a topic for another day.)

Be sure your chosen publisher has a fair direct rate as well.  Direct rates are the price you, the author, pay to the publisher to order your book directly from them.  Ideally, the direct rate per book should be the pre-determined printing costs only (this doesn't include shipping).  Anything more than that, and you're essentially paying retail (even if it's discounted retail) on your own book.  This is also why it's so important to establish an online presence.  If you can purchase your book for a flat direct rate from the publisher, you can set your own, cheaper price on your website of choice; selling your book at any price above your printing costs equals profit for you.  In this way, you can undercut the set retail price and still make a profit per book.  Now, mind you, if your set retail price causes a deficit of payment to your publisher with each purchase, you'll have to pay those arrears before your publisher will sell you anything directly.

Compare packages feature-by-feature
Now that you've compared each potential publisher's printing costs and price settings, you can start scrutinizing start-up costs and features.  How much are they giving you for your money?  For example: is e-book formatting standard or extra?  How much promotion do you want the company to do for you, and is their marketing package reasonably priced?  If you wanted to use their editing services, how much does it cost and how long will it take?  What's their rate of speed for production (industry standard for pre-publishing is about 3-4 months)?  Decide early what you have to have in your production package and what you can live without (or can do cheaper or free elsewhere).  Then, based on printing costs, price settings, and package pricing, decide which company is best for you.  I will warn you that self-publishers with super low package prices are generally the companies that make their money elsewhere (like in printing costs and direct rates) so make sure you do your homework before you jump on the cheapest price.

As I said in my So You Want to Write a Novel series, writing a book is an investment if nothing else, so invest wisely!  If you do, your pockets will most assuredly thank you.

*Sally is a fictitious name for a real acquaintance whose publishing troubles inspired this post.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Promotion

When The Grim finally went to print, I asked my mentor, "What do I do now?"  His infamous answer was, "Promote, promote, promote."  Every author wants to sell their book; why else did you write it?  Sure, it was for the personal satisfaction of having achieved that long-awaited dream, but if no one reads it except you, than that achievement loses its luster pretty quickly.  I'm certainly not a marketing expert, but I'll give you the benefit of my knowledge, and hopefully, you'll get some success out of these suggestions I've tried.

As I said in the marketing segment, you will not succeed without an online presence.  The world is too technologically driven in the 21st century, and if your audience can't Google or Bing you, your book is sunk right out of the gate.  There are (free) ways to remedy this catastrophe.  Facebook and Twitter are definitely your friends.  It's called social networking, and, unless your audience is of a demographic younger than 10 or older than 60, your audience is on one or both of these sites.  Even if your direct audience isn't on these networks, someone close to them is, and you cannot afford to run the risk of skipping over millions of potential readers.  The name of the game is accessibility: your have to make sure you and your book are right at your readers' fingertips so that they can purchase to their hearts' content.  Almost everything can be found online now, and the internet is the easiest method of accessibility.  So if you're nowhere to be found online, I doubt many of your potential readers will bother running to a mall or bookstore hoping to find what was nonexistent a moment ago via search engine.

You might start a blog.  You can do this free on several sites, like Blogger, WordPress, and MyBlogSite.  Start community pages on magazine sites that fit the interest, genre, or demographic of your book.  But the best tip for getting your awareness going are finding other independent authors like you.  My Twitter page has opened me up to a world of extraordinary authors and independent publishers, editors and the like.  The best part about networking with other indie authors is the amount of support we offer each other.  Just a few days ago, I was approached by a fellow indie author about a giveaway.  If I donated a few of my books to his pre-launch giveaway, he would donate some to me when his book released for any venture I wanted to pursue.  I've also been able to approach other authors to have them guest blog on my site.  Sometimes when I promote on Twitter, my posts get "retweeted" by other indie authors with a suggestion to their followers to, in turn, "follow" me, and I return the gesture as often as I can.  It's a fantastic tool to help expand your fan base, and these authors often have tons of experience under their belt that they're more than happy to share.  If I tweet a question about how many books to bring to a signing, I've got hits from other authors in minutes with suggestions.  The community feel is phenomenal, and being that these authors span across the world, the benefit of the connection is indispensible.

Public appearances, even online appearances, are a must.  Your audience has to feel they have access to you.  Book fairs and signings typically don't work as a marketing tactic.  They're good ways to mingle with your audience, but you don't tend to sell many books despite the fees you put out for tables and travel at these events.  I would still suggest attending book fairs, however, because selling books, in this particular instance, is not the focus.  "It's not?" you may say; no, it isn't.  Participating in the book fair is, again, about networking.  There are hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of other independent authors, literary agents, and publishers in attendance at these fairs.  Exposure alone is worth the table, even if you don't sell one book.

Network your local area.  Your hometown is going to be more supportive than any other.  Local newspapers love a success story about "one of their own", and if you promote yourself just right, maybe your local paper, radio station, or maybe even cable news network will want to do a small piece on you and your book.  Again, finding you has to be easy, so you'll want to have a website to direct all your interest.  Also, don't discount the best foremost authority on books in your area: your local library.  Offer a few books free as an incentive: "If you buy five books, I can throw in two for free."  Offer to do one or two appearances as well; it's an added bonus for the library, and you get to meet some supportive locals!  The video to the left on networking for writers offers some amazing tips you can capitalize on.

Compile a list of book reviewers; don't discount the online magazines and freelance book reviewers.  Do your research and find the mailing or email addresses for inquiries and submissions.  Make sure you follow the instructions posted or given for submitting your manuscript for review.  Most reviewers don't take work earlier than three months prior to its release date, or more than eighteen (18) months after so be mindful of your time frames.  Be open to feedback; every review won't be positive.  Glean from each review what you can to make your next work better.

Finally, consider web-based book launches and tours.  There are a lot of sites who offer webinar capabilities for free.  Try for free webinar services.  Also, web-based book tours are the new industry standard.  Like virtual book launches, there's hardly any cost involved, and your promotion lasts months after the tour is over as new readers come across your guest postings and recorded interviews on their favorite sites.  You can try Pump Up Your Book or Virtual Tour Cafe to get you started.  These sites do charge a nominal fee to organize your tour, but as a new author, this is a priceless tool; it will be very difficult to forge the necessary relationships it would take to make a tour successful as a new author.  Dale Beaumont, one of the foremost authorities on author publishing, gave an informative talk on virtual book launches and tours (see video above).

Take pictures and save copies of all the appearances, interviews, and reviews you do and get.  Not only will you have those positive responses to forward to future marketing prospects, but it adds to your credibility as an author.  Post these reviews and pictures to your web page or social networking site.  Let your audience know how fun it is to meet and greet them!  Appreciate your readers and reviewers; they make or break your career.

These are certainly not the only methods there are.  Again, Google promotional and marketing tactics for new self-published authors and see what works best for you and your project.  Take whatever starters you can from this post, and happy promoting!

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Marketing

Next post: Choosing the Right Self-Publisher

Sunday, September 25, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Marketing Set-up

So now you have written, edited, submitted, and published your novel.  Now, all you need to do is convince readers to buy it.  (That being said, this post is primarily for those endeavoring to self-publish. If you have chosen traditional publishing, you can still implement some of your own promotion, but primarily major publishers are prepared to do the marketing work for you.)  There are a great many marketing tactics you can use, but before we get to that, there are some things we need to address.

First, you need to establish who your reading audience is and garner some demographics about them.  For example: who are they? What do they do?  What's their age range?  Does your book appeal primarily to a particular ethnicity, religious background or faith, or profession?  If your book is non-fiction, what trade or interest are you targeting?  Without knowing your audience, you can't figure out how your readers think.  And without knowing how they think, you don't know where they shop or how to find them.  And if you can't find them, you can't sell your book to them.

The next thing of which you need to be cognizant is what type of seller you are.  Are you outgoing and willing to engage strangers in conversation?  Or are you more timid and withdrawn?  Are you willing to make appearances and interact with your readers?  Or are you the strong silent type that is at one's best when using the written word?  If you're the outgoing type, you're not going to have a lot of issues implementing most, if not all, of the suggestions in this and next post.  However, if you're a little leary about social interaction, many of these suggestions will be difficult tasks for you.  Introverts should probably stick to a strictly online campaign which is better suited to their individual personalities.

And finally, before you start, set up a marketing strategy.  Essentially, this is a plan of action or an outline of how you expect to use different tactics to promote yourself and your book to maximize your earnings.  Do your research; there's tons of stuff on the internet about marketing a self-published book.  Take some polls.  Join some book clubs.  Ask readers what draws them toward a book; ask other authors what strategies have worked for them in the past.  And above everything, consider your budget.  As I mentioned in previous posts in this series, self-publishing is an investment if nothing else.  While a lot of these suggestions I'm going to make in this and the post following have minimal start-up cost, you have probably just spent anywhere from $600-1400 on pre-publishing, and maybe there is no more stretch left in your income to tackle a broad campaign.  By no means do you have to do them all.  See what you can do monetarily, then build your promo campaign around that.  There are many options we'll discuss that are entirely free, and equally effective.  Be realistic about what you can spend then build your marketing campaign to match that amount.

I will stress as we begin that the 21st century is nothing if not a technological age.  You will not succeed without an online presence.  Period.  You may say to me, "But Ray, I'm not all that tech savvy."  Well, shoot, neither am I.  I don't know HTML code, and I certainly can't build a website from scratch, but there are ways around these things if you know where to look.  So, obviously, the first thing you should do is get a website.  It doesn't matter if it's your own domain name (like or if it's just an author page provided by the self-publisher with which you're working.  You can even set up something as simple as a blog on Blogger, which is free by the way, and advertise yourself and your work there.  If you want more than just a blog, you can look into companies like Intuit, GoDaddy, and Google that have website packages for a few bucks a month with simple click-and-drag interfaces that make designing your website easy and fun.  For the introverts, your website is key because this will be the only interaction your audience will have with you since you will not be out greeting them in person.  It must reflect your personality and style and draw viewers in.

Marketing your site and SEO (search engine optimization) are their own complicated gremlins about which, I admit, I have no real clue.  Find help with these issues as best you can; there are a plethra of sites and organizations that specialize in just this kind of stuff.  Again, consider your budget.  If it's something you have the room to pay someone to assist you with, great.  If not, don't sweat it.  If you're using your tactics efficiently, word of mouth will help build that SEO over the long-term.

In the next post, Promotion, I'll give you some suggestions on tactics you can use to start promoting your book.  I've used a lot of these tactics myself, and they'll really give you the edge to get your work and name out there!

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing
So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Promotion

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing

Congratulations!  Your book is complete, edited, and ready for submission!  Now, all you want to do is get it out there.  Well, there are two ways to do this: traditional publishing and self-publishing.  In this post, I'm going to try to give you as much information as I can about both so you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed from here.

The first thing you need to know (and I'm just going to put this right out there) is readers don't care who publishes your book.  For instance, do you know who published the Harry Potter series?  Davinci Code?  Eat Pray Love?  Do you care?  Sure, we all can ramble off a couple major publishers, but really, when a reader is in a book store or online hunting for new books to read, they're not asking themselves what new books Random House put out recently.  They are searching for subject/genre, maybe title, and authors.  That's it.  So really, the publishing choices are entirely up to you.

I decided to self-publish.  For me, that was just the better option.  That doesn't mean it's the best option for you.  So I'm going to give you the benefit of what I've learned and researched so you can make the best informed decision for you and your project.  Check out the video I've included from Dale Beaumont, arguably one of the foremost authorities on author publishing.

Traditional publishing does have its benefits.  For one, national (and sometimes even international) distribution is guaranteed.  When you traditionally publish, you'll know that your book will be on a shelf in major bookstores on your launch date.  You'll most likely be given a significant advance on sales, and there's no large capital (start-up costs) that you'll have to put out up front.  Plus, you get the benefit of knowing that your publisher knows how to market and sell your book, leaving you free from the headache of the business end (that's the part I loathe).  You get to sit back now, and enjoy the fruits of all your hard writing work.

Cons to traditional publishing: you lose creative control.  Your publisher can nix your idea for the cover, the title, even which chapters you've included.  They get complete say over your final product.  That advance money?  Depending on your contract, you may owe it back if your book doesn't sell.  You will need a literary agent to snag a major publisher, and one of those is pretty expensive.  They're also hard to obtain.  And even once you get one, there's no guarantee they'll be able to get you a deal right away.  It could still takes months, even years, to convince a publisher to take you and your book under their wing.  Now, here's the part that deterred me: with a traditional publisher, you no longer own the rights to your work.  It belongs to the publishing house.  So if your book ever becomes a hit movie, unless you've got a killer lawyer, you won't be reaping the benefits of any of that.

When you self-publish, you retain the rights to your work, and you have complete creative autonomy.  It's your work; it belongs to you.  No matter which self-publisher you use, and there are several, your work remains yours.  Another advantage to self-publishing is a larger profit margin.  Because the cost of printing in many cases is only a few dollars, you make almost 40% on every sale, and that percentage is even higher if you're selling it directly at say a book signing, book fair, or direct with libraries and bookstores.  Also, your book with a self-publisher is print-on-demand, which prevents having a stockpile of books you're trying to get rid of.  Finally, because all the decisions are being made by you, your book can be released in as little as a 3-4 months (versus the waiting game many publishers can play when there's no immediacy or current market for your work).

There are some major pitfalls to self-publishing though.  Because everything is up to you, all the start-up cost is your responsibility, too.  (As will be all your promotion; more on that in the marketing segment.)  Most of the major self-publishers offer online distribution with the major companies: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.  Some even have marketing packages that include wider distribution, press kits, and press releases, but these options are usually extra.  They may even give you a web page on their site for readers to purchase from you, but again, they won't advertise for you.  It will be up to you to promote your book and direct people where they can purchase it.   As I said in my introduction to this series, without the funds to invest in your book and its promotion, your project is dead in the water.  Deciding to self-publish is a major investment, even after the physical publishing part is done.  The self-publisher you choose will simply get your book in bound form; the rest is really entirely up to you.

Regardless of which publisher you choose, traditional or self-, you're going to want to research your options in that field.  For example, publishing points in a contract with traditional publishers vary between companies, as do the prices of printing and individual publishing costs with self-publishers.  Know what you're getting from the company you're expecting to work with, and make sure what they are offering suits your needs.  At the end of the day, this is your baby, and no one is going to speak for it but you.

Happy hunting!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing

*Satisfied sigh*  You've completed your manuscript.  It's finished.  You're done.  Well...not quite.  You have editing to do.

Editing is arguably the toughest part of the writing process.  If you're anything like me, you've been editing from the start: changing words, correcting grammatical or spelling errors, and rereading previous pages for readibility and fluidity.  But now, you have to take your manuscript and shred it apart to find high level errors you missed while writing.  You have to scrutinize plot, character development, and believability.  Plan to invest some time doing this because you have quite a few months ahead of you.  Yes.  Months.  You now have to make your book as perfect as an imperfect person can make it.  And a task that weighty never happens overnight.

The easiest way to do this is with the traditional editor.  You know, the person that charges anywhere from $250 upwards of $1000 to read and evaluate your manuscript, depending on the level of edits you're asking for.  They will proofread for grammatical and spelling errors as well as syntax.  If you want to take it a step further, they can evaluate sentence structure and readability, character development and plot inconsistencies.  This purchase can get pretty steep.  But there are other options that you can pursue; some may even do it for free.

Do you have an old English or Lit professor that was hard on you?  You could consider asking them to read your manuscript.  College professors can get pretty busy though, so make sure its a professor you respect, and who remembers you fondly.  Maybe on one of their lighter or inactive semesters, they will consider helping you, and most likely for free.  You should also seek out English grad students.  They are taught to look for the errors you're hoping to catch, and editing creative work is part of their graduate program.  If you're planning to self-publish, your publisher will most likely also have an editing package you can pay a little extra to use.  If none of these options works out for you, don't forget the suggestions made in the Writing segment of this series.  If you joined your local writer's association or a freelance writing workshop, there are tons of other authors and writers at your disposal that you could solicit for editing help.  If they are not available or able to help you themselves, they can at least point you in the right direction.

Now, of course, you could edit your novel yourself.  The video to the left, posted by The Editor's Blog, shows you how to do it step by step.  Essentially, they tell you what a traditional editor would be looking for if you were to hire one to edit your book.  However, in my opinion, it is better to get someone else to read your work, even if it's just an avid reader or one of the aforementioned suggestions.  A second (or even third or fourth) pair of eyes on your work will help you to catch errors you may not otherwise.  You have to remember: you've been working on and rereading your manuscript for months, maybe even years.  You know what it's supposed to say, so your brain may be filling in words, thoughts, backstories and other content you may not realize aren't actually in your manuscript.  Having someone else read through your work will help catch those questions you wouldn't otherwise ask because you know your own story so well.

For instance,  Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, while editing her hit religious thriller, Pentecost, realized she had made a major character development error.  Her main character is an academic, but apparently has significant martial arts abilities.  However, because Joanna knew her main character's backstory, she neglected to mention how her main character acquired these abilities, leaving the reader questioning how her main character was suddenly able to go out and kick butt.  Joanna realized it was a significant part of the character's backstory she would have to weave in to the manuscript.  Thankfully, Joanna was able to catch this error.  But, what if you decided to edit your manuscript yourself and you didn't?  You would hate to see such a significant error plastered all over a book review after it's already too late to correct it.  (You can see the rest of Joanna's story here.)

Whatever you decide, editing is a tedious and involved process that takes time and patience to perfect.  Be diligent because you will get frustrated at some point.  Take a step back, regain your focus, and keep plugging at it.  Again, sharing the load with someone else during this process also significantly reduces your stress level.

So take the next 3-6 months and make your work as perfect as you can.

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing

So you've got your idea, you've fleshed out characters and plot, and now you're ready to write.  Or so you think...

In all fairness, while my experience writing The Grim may very well be an individual experience, I feel it only fair to warn you: The Grim took five--count 'em, five--long years of writing.  There were moments I gave up.  There were times where I thought what I had already written was ridiculous, mundane, preachy, and a whole host of other adjectives with which I berated myself every time I sat down at my laptop and stared at the next bare page.  I wondered frequently if anyone would even care what I was writing.  And that's the first thing you have to do before you even lift your fingers to tap a key on that keyboard:

Are you writing about something you care about?  Does the story and its characters matter to you?  Do you have something prominent to say, whether its literary fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance, erotica--whatever it is, it has to matter to you.  If you don't care, no reader is likely to either.  Besides, how can you promote it later if it's some half-brained effort you don't believe in...?  You became a writer because you love it; show that love for your craft in your work.

Now, writeEvery day.  I know, I know.  It's ridiculous.  You have a life, a job, children.  You're a soccer mom, an entrepreneur, your daughter's recital is tomorrow, there's an important presentation due at work, the church needs cookies for the bake sale, and you totally forgot to eat today.  But you want to be a novelist, a writer, the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.  So like everything else on that list that matters to you, you must make writing a priority.  I know our lives get busy, but commit to at least glancing over your manuscript every day, if for no other reason than to add that comma you missed.  It keeps your work relevant and fresh in your mind.  Trust me, I made the mistake of stepping away from my manuscript.  One day went by, then two, and before I knew it, it took a co-worker to remind me about my book, asking, "Hey, how's the writing coming?"  By the time I got back to The Grim, it had been eight months.  And catching my stride after that...well, let's just say it was an uphill battle.

There are people who will convince you that writing a novel is easy.  I suppose that's up to the individual writer.  For me, I struggled most of the way.  My main character's story was so emotional for me, and I wrestled with her development every time I began to write.  I am also somewhat a perfectionist.  I knew where I wanted her story to end, and it was important to me to get her there in a certain way.  This contributed to the length of time it took to finish the project, because I had set goals, and I was determined the meet them just so.

That said, here's your next important tip: let the story tell itself.  You are the architect, but the story knows better than you do where it's headed and what it needs to say.  I know that sounds funny now, but you'll see once you get started.  I wanted things to happen in a particular way when I wrote The Grim.  But if you know your characters, their back stories, and plots well, the story will build itself with minimal assistance from you.  You'll be surprised how all the pieces come together.  The notes I fleshed out for The Grim was not the story I ended up with...and my novel is better for my lack of "interference".

Of course, it never hurts to learn more about your craft.  As a matter of fact, I'd insist upon it.  Take a literature course, or attend a writer's workshop in your area.  Local recreational services or community colleges usually offer them pretty frequently.  Also, Google your state's writer's association, pay the membership fee, and join.  Trust me, in the long run, it will be so worth it.  Not only are those groups comprised of others just like you, but they offer tremendous programs that cater specifically to your needs as a writer: writing workshops, editing services, publishing contacts, book fairs, and sometimes even job offers.  I belong to my local group and got a part-time position running the charity writers' workshop they developed for high school students.  The seminars they hold are quite informative and can get you pointed in the right direction.

So, now you're perfectly equipped to start tapping away on those keys!  Ready, set, go!

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing

Saturday, September 10, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea

I'm not going to lie to you; sometimes the hardest part of writing a novel is finding something worth writing about.  I can't tell you how many unfinished manuscripts I have in what I call my "writing box".  I've gotten 50, sometimes even 100, pages in and realized the story I was developing was crap, that my characters were basic, unrealistic, or downright annoying, or that the premise upon which the story was based didn't carry long enough to generate 300 pages of copy.  *Sigh*  What are you going to do, right?  Well, here are some tips that help me when I'm stuck.

Inspiration can come from anywhere.  Most often, it comes from personal experiences.  For example, I'm employed by a prominent mental health clinic in my area (hey, I'm an indie author, remember?).  My debut novel, The Grim, is about a girl who is sentenced to an inpatient psych ward.  Sound familiar?  You wouldn't believe the stories I could tell about the things that go on at the clinic where I work; mental illness, while no laughing matter, certainly has its odd and peculiar moments, to say the least.  It also gave me a pretty solid background on the subject matter, and the parts I wasn't sure about, I had access to professionals who could fill those holes in.

In addition, a lot of my main character's experiences, road blocks, and issues were things I had endured myself, so her perspective in a lot of ways was an excising of my own feelings and opinions.  While you don't want to do this frequently, that background knowledge can help inspire you to create a realistic, identifiable character with depth and dimension.  Remember, art is the best imitator of life.  On that note, you may also want to delve pretty deeply into some of the dark things you or someone you know may have experienced.  If you check out my blog on suffering, I discuss how pain is the most identifiable human emotion.  Find some of it, anywhere around you, and try to expound on it.  However, if you do end up basing a character or plot on someone you know, don't tell them, and don't recite it verbatim.  Generally, people don't appreciate their lives being used as some writer's novel experiment.

You know that spunky kid you see walking home from school every day?  Or the homeless guy standing in front of the pharmacy that always only needs just one dollar?  Or maybe that super friendly public transit bus driver that smiles and winks every day?  These are excellent character starters for your book.  Play with some ideas, flesh out a few and see what you come up with.  For instance, why does Mr. Homeless always need a dollar?  What does he do with the dollars he collects?  Why does he stand there, at the pharmacy, every day?  How did he lose everything?  What's his name?  Where is he from?  Do you see where I'm going here...?

Another method is to think up some crazy, wild or silly scenes.  Flesh them out with nameless male and female characters, and then ask yourself questions, like I did a moment ago with Mr. Homeless.  See if you can build a full story out of the climax of that scene.  The answers to your questions don't have to make sense at first; just write them down.  You can go back later and decide what's worth using.  The point is to get your Muse to descend from the heavens and perch on your shoulder.  Once you've gotten that, you're home free...for the most part.

I have to say, I watch a lot of writers sitting in coffee shops and their local McDonald's or library and pound away on their laptops.  And I've noticed there's one thing writers/authors tend to have in common: we take ourselves way too seriously.  Lighten up!  In my experience, the Muses don't like brooding, and that dark, mysterious author thing is pretty cliche anyway, don't you think?  If you're still pretty stuck, take a step back.  Watch a good movie, enjoy some time with friends and family, and come back to it later.  Your laptop and flash drive will still be there tomorrow.  And maybe--just maybe--your Muse will be waiting there, too.

This video is of a show I found on YouTube called Hiccups.  In this ep, one of the characters decides it's not hard to write a novel...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel

I was always told I had a talent for writing, a natural affinity for words and language.  I won competitions and essay contests.  My prose was frequently published, and I charged my classmates hefty fees to tutor them in English.  I wrote for the school newspaper;  I wrote African-American history plays, for which I won many awards and accolades.

But I didn't quite comprehend how amateurish my efforts were.  Real writing has been undermined by the cavalry of celebrities out here "writing" books for the sake of seeing their name on a cover.  Sure, many of them do have something meaningful to say, but writing a novel comprises so many more elements than just having a story to tell.  The below video, as hilarious as it may be, kind of sheds light on things:

The little brown bear (it is a bear, isn't it?) is right.  No main stream, nationally acclaimed, New York Times best-selling author is going to tell you the road to stardom was simple.  Like any other talent, it requires dedication and discipline to hone your craft.  It's realizing that even when you feel you've learned all you can about the subject, you know there's still more to know, and you're eager to find out.  Remaining teachable is the best way to excel at anything, not just writing.

Most novels will never see the light of day, especially for self-published authors like me.  Self-publishing, while carrying multiple, weighty benefits not offered with traditional publishing, has its own burdens.  Like marketing.  No one will ever hear about your book, or see its flashy cover, without having first been told about it by you.  This poses a particular challenge, because any promotional venue worth having is going to cost you.  And without the funds it takes to invest in yourself and your project, your book is dead in the water, even after its sitting prettily on your living room book shelf.

If that's all you're aiming for, the satisfaction of having accomplished that achievement, then you're all set.  But if you want the world to see your work for the brilliant masterpiece that it is, you're going to have to convince them, and that costs money.  Book agents are hard to find, and even more difficult to secure.  And if you ever have the successful privilege of saying you do have one, please be well aware, they don't come cheap.  So, quite plainly, writing a book is an investment if nothing else.

I certainly don't know all there is to know; The Grim is only my first novel, and I certainly don't count the novice compilation of prose I co-authored as one of my finer moments.  But I can say my experience writing The Grim, publishing it, and now promoting it, has taught me so much about my craft.  So, if you're interested, I'll share it with you, bit by bit, in the next few blogs.  How's this: I won't even charge you.

Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book to Movie Classics 2: The Help

I have to confess that, as a black woman, period pieces don't always come in very satisfying packages for me.  Because of the content, it's hard not to feel anger, resentment, or frustration watching the lives of 20th century African-Americans play out on screen.  The same is true for me of The Help.

Please don't get me wrong; both the book and its movie counterpart were phenomenal.  You must both read the book and see the movie, which premiered on August 10th of this year.  I went to see it as a belated birthday present a few weeks ago, and because I was so moved, both negatively and positively, it has taken me this long to write about it.  Take a look at the trailer below:

The film is a masterpiece, sticking very closely to the original story, although one or two significant aspects were changed.  And I read the book with relish, hardly able to put it down once I started.  I literally had to force myself to say, "Enough.  Now go to bed, it's midnight."  I was absolutely enthralled with the vision of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, as if I were there myself as the events unfolded.

In the book, while the racism described is just as bitter as the movie, I found myself slightly detached.  I knew the things being said were crude, but I was much easier able to say, "Well, it's a period piece."  Watching it play out on film, however, turned out to be a whole other ball game.  Watching these black women having to cater to the whims of white women who thought nothing of them and made crude and hateful comments directly in front of them, pained me in a way I had never experienced.  The racism cuts sharply and deeply, as if I were reliving the moments myself.  It was alarmingly unsettling; I left the theater ready to punch the old white couple who sat in front of me and my friend, just because I knew they were old enough to have been there and probably had said those things at some point in their lives.

It's ridiculous, and downright disrespectful in most senses, to want to hurt an old person simply because you suspect that due to the era in which they were raised, they must be a closet racist.  After all, they were raised by the very black women the book and movie chose to celebrate.  But our history in the African-American culture has so much hate and hurt entwined within it that it's difficult not to feel some surge of anger and disappointment when confronted with its truths.  Not all white people must hate blacks, nor are all Caucasians from that era closet racists, but films like this stir something inside your it should, if it's worth viewing.

What I pray African-American audiences retain from this book/film is awareness and respect: awareness of what the generations before us went through to earn the respect we can command today, and respect for the pains, suffering and disrespect they endured for our sakes, so that we can now sit in a movie theater next to Caucasians without reprisal or shame.  In this country, we have forgotten the struggle those before us suffered through and railed against in the hopes we wouldn't have to experience the same.  That racism should unnerve us, not so that we want to harm all whites, but so that we don't lose sight of what the leaders we lost in the '60s stood and fought for, so that we can have leaders like Barack Obama in the year 2011.

The Help by Kathyrn Stockett can be found at your local bookstores.  Its film should still be in a theater near you.  Enjoy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Halfway Point

First, let me apologize for my absence.  It's been a hectic few weeks.

In those weeks, and the closer we get to August, it dawned on me how quickly time passes in a year.  Here we are, nearly two-thirds of the way through the current year, and I was forced to examine how far I've come in that time.  Many of us make what are called "New Year's resolutions", (which I refuse to make by the way), each year to remind us of what we need to do and where we want to be.  Instead of doing that, I like to set goals for myself.  I write or type them on pretty paper and post the list in places where I'll see them daily.  Seeing my goals projected before me every day keeps me motivated and consistently reminded of what it is I'm striving for.  Some of those things are temporary, short-term goals like "cut back on dessert", and others are long-term goals like "publish The Grim by 2012."  When I see that list, it forces me to do a mental check of my progress; I can see immediately what I've accomplished, what I haven't, and how far off I am from checking off everything on that list.  Each year, I reevaluate my situation.  How many of my goals did I accomplish?  How close am I to each?  Are my goals realistic, and if not, how can I amend them so that what I want becomes tangible? 

It's important to write a plan for your life.  Again, those goals don't have to be immediate, but when you decide there's something you want, you can make that process attainable by setting miniature goals that take you one step at a time to that larger prize.  With each goal you accomplish, you feel more satisfied and pleased with yourself because not only are you doing what you love, but you are embracing your future as well.  Achievement will put a smile on anyone's face.

I'm still determined to smile this year, even though I've hit some major roadblocks along the way.  For a moment there, The Grim was almost dead in the water, and there was talk it would never hit the printed page.  But I'm persevering, and every "no" I received, I re-translated for yes, and I found a way.  Now, we're barrelling full speed ahead, and you'll still have your copy of The Grim in your hands on May 1, 2012.  I won't give up, and looking at that goal every day keeps me wanting it and moving toward it.

Maybe a list isn't a good motivator for you.  So find what motivates you.  Do what you know will keep you moving toward everything you want in life.  And don't give up.  Don't let the naysayers, or haters as they're call now, distract you and convince you that you don't deserve everything you're pressing toward.  Just keep pressing, even if you think you may fail.  When asked about his multiple failures in his invention of the lightbulb, Thomas Edison said, "I didn't fail; I found 2000 ways how not to make a lightbulb."  Keep that inspiration, and let it spark you; let your stumbles and pitfalls serve to encourage you and teach you on your journey.

Then, bask in the rewards.  Each new plateau brings something amazing, even if it's just the satisfaction of knowing you're that much closer to the dream.  Take a look at the last seven months of this year; have you done everything you set out to?  Are there places you still want to go, things you still want to see and do?  It's not too late; set that goal, make a plan to achieve it, then do it.  The only one stopping you.