Thursday, August 29, 2013

Guest author C.L. Swinney: Get on Board the #hashtag Train

C.L. Swinney
C. L. (Chris) Swinney is a narcotics investigator in the San Francisco Bay area. He has investigated hundreds of narcotics, homicide, gang, and Mexico cartel cases along the west coast of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Swinney has been invited to speak at law enforcement conferences throughout the United States and is recognized as an expert in narcotics, homicides, and cell phone forensics. Swinney developed the concept for the first book in his Bill Dix series, Gray Ghost, while fly fishing in the Bahamas. His passion for the outdoors and law enforcement is intertwined throughout his writing. The world of narcotics is dark and mysterious. Swinney pulls the reader into this fascinating world in his debut novel.

When you can get the engineers at Facebook to notice you, you’ve done something special. The widespread use of #hashtags on Twitter, Triberr, Instagram, and other sites forced Facebook to alert its 750 million users that they had hashtags too. If you are trying to promote your brand, or in my case, a novel, you must know about hashtags. You must also know when and how to use them.

So what’s a hashtag? A hashtag is a word or phrase following a “#” sign. In the USA, we call this a pound sign. The rest of the world refers to it as a hashtag. When you use a hashtag, let’s use “#clswinney” as a reference, the data will be grouped in one area on the Internet. When you click on #clswinney, you will be taken to a board on the Internet containing all the messages containing #clswinney. Think of it as a system filing cabinet.

You can also register (FOR FREE) hashtags for specific groups, projects, people, whatever you may like so that others in your group or who want to get to know more about you can find similar people with similar interests. You can use Triberr and Twubs to make this happen. Then on these sites, you can further promote you, your book, your brand, or whatever you wish.

Are they really that important? I’ll give you an example. Last week I was in Las Vegas checking in at The Mirage for a writing conference. While waiting to check in, I noticed eight massive monitors along the wall in the main lobby. The monitors were streaming Internet hashtags. In fact, if you used the hashtag #miragelobbytalk, your message would stream to the monitors so everyone in the lobby at The Mirage could see your message. My family, friends, and I basically took the board over by sending messages about my book while including the #miragelobbytalk hashtag. What does this mean? I was getting FREE advertising at a major Las Vegas Hotel. In addition, the data was on a loop, so for the next five days, anyone strolling through the lobby could see my posts!

Here’s my final blurb about using hashtags.  They’re nothing to be afraid of, and very simple to use.  It’s one of the few things in social media that is not so monotonous and time consuming.  If done right, it’s an effective tool.  You can create new hashtags all the time and have fun doing so.  Where else can you say that about social media promoting?

C. L. Swinney

Find Chris!
Twitter: @clswinney

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kickstarting your career - Tobias Buckell

"Crowd funding" is one of the new buzz words being bandied around these days. If you aren't familiar with the concept, it is basically a system that allows a person who needs funding for a project to raise this money by attracting donations from many small investors. The fund-raiser usually will offer a gift to the investors which would vary depending on the level of the donation. The fund-raiser also does not receive any funds unless all of the target money is raised.

Sci-fi writer (and fellow West Indian) Tobias Buckell used Kickstarter, one of the first platforms for crowd funding to fund the production of his book The Apocalypse Ocean. He wrote a very frank account of his experience with Kickstarter on his blog, and was kind enough to allow us to repost it here.


Born in the Caribbean, Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author. His novels and over 50 short stories have been translated into 17 languages and he has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Ohio.

How I used Kickstarter to reboot a book series, and my career (and maybe my life?) 
Some of you who will read this won’t know me from Adam. But the short version is that I’m a science fiction writer. I write and freelance full time since 2006, the ratio of each to my total income changing based on the uncertainties of both lines of income (some years the fiction income mostly pays the bills, some others freelance). I’ve seen 50+ short stories appear in various venues since 2000. I’ve been translated into 16 different languages.

I’m probably most known for writing a HALO novel that hit the NYT Bestseller list, though I’ve written many other science fiction novels. My entire bibliography is here. I’m 33 years old, and I’ve dreamt of being an SF writer since 14. I sold my first story at 19 and have been working hard at this since.

This is a long post. I don’t know why, it came out this way. I tried to make it short. But I had so much to share, and every time I sliced into something short I cut out all of the nuance, and joy, and information I was trying to share. So I made it long again. And I like it.

Bear with me.

Seriously, this is like 5,000 words long. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.

Welcome to the Xenowealth

My first science fiction novel debuted in 2006. Crystal Rain was flavored with a science fiction stew of Caribbean refugees fled to a lost world, steampunk, a dangerous dreadlocked cyborg in a trench coat, and an ancient evil pressing down on our heroes. The first of my Xenowealth novels, it was followed by Ragamuffin in 2007 (a Nebula nominee), and Sly Mongoose in 2008. I was in my mid to late twenties. I wanted to write more. I wanted to grab the dream I had since I was 14 (and indeed in 2008, after much hustling, most of my money was coming from fiction and I was pretty much living the life I’d been striving toward).

The books didn’t do too well in chain bookstores, each time getting a smaller order. As we know from real estate: location location location. So each book sold less in bookstores. It was quite dramatic with the step between Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin (where a small buy-in from Wal-Mart even buoyed first time reader numbers, but was not repeated for following books). And yet…
…readers of the series compensated for the loss of chain bookstore placement by switching to ordering online off Amazon. Independent stores were still really nice to me (special shout out to Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, which always was responsible for moving the highest number of copies). Library orders still remained okay. Sales didn’t increase, but they weren’t dying. In fact, Sly Mongoose slightly grew in hardcover (it just came out in paperback this year after a 3 year delay, so those numbers are still trickling in). Tor had agreed to buy two more books in the series, giving me my planned 5 book series.

But I am nothing if not a realist. In later 2008, when I met my editor after seeing that Sly Mongoose was barely carried in any bookstores we had an honest discussion about the chances the 4th Xenowealth book would have. It would probably get even less bookstore placement, being harder for readers to stumble on. Based on the core, awesome, dedicated readers I already have, we guessed that it would do okay. Just like Sly Mongoose it would get enough readers to offset the loss in bookstore readers, and indies would help. But overall, I wouldn’t be growing sales much. Just ticking up slightly.

Some have wondered if my publisher killed the series. No. It was a mutual decision hashed out over a business lunch, the topic raised by me. My editor and I thought, hey, let’s change direction. I started working on a novel called Arctic Rising.

In which life sucks for a while and I don’t write much (skip if you don’t want to read depressing shit):
Life being life, I also promptly was hospitalized for a nasty genetic heart defect a couple months or so later, suffered a pulmonary embolism as a side effect of exploratory surgery, and was left with my health, confidence, and stamina shattered. Despite good health insurance, I had been dumb enough to have this happen at the end of the year, and was in hospital both at the end of the year and at the start of the next. Doubling my deductible. My wife was just about to give birth to twins.


Also, I had a few hours of stamina every day, and doctors wouldn’t tell me whether my heard defect meant I could drop dead at any moment or if I had a good chance at living on. So for a year I didn’t work on novel-length work, as I had no decent personal expectation that I would live long enough to finish the damn thing. Also, my savings was wiped out, credit extended, as I could only work a few hours a day (and was thus earning less as I worked less, a horrible cycle). I focused on the highest per-word work I could do. Friends (and boy in situations do you find out who *they* are) helped me find some freelance gigs that helped. I wrote some short fiction where I could.

By September 2009 I’d lived almost a year, and begun to suspect that I might stumble through a bit longer. I began to work a bit on Arctic Rising again as I could. And collapsing in the Canadian health system, where doctors will happily tell you what they think about your chance of living because they’re not worried about lawsuits, really helped me. A heart specialist in Montreal said he’d bet that I died of something else before my heart defect, and said that I had a very survivable version of it (thus, with one sentence and five minutes and some paper towels while I broke down, changing everything for me).

I felt I could risk writing novels again.

Getting slowly back in the ring
For the next two years I worked on Arctic Rising as best I could in between freelance work. I sold my little red sports car to give me breathing room and time to write. I stole hours where I could. I lived lean. I got it done. And by September of 2011 I knew it was scheduled to come out from Tor in February 2012. From August 2008 to February 2012 there would be a giant hole in my novel writing career, but I was finally moving forward.

During this time, people kept asking me a single question: When was I going to write another Xenowealth book? I’d been thinking about this for a while.

From 2008 to 2011 things had been swinging around a lot (hell, since 2000). I’ve always been one to keep my basket diversified. I’d released ebooks of short stories as creative commons to see how they spread, or were read. I’d sold them through Fictionwise. I’d worked with medium sized presses, smaller ones, and one of the largest. I’d written a media tie in novel that hit some bestseller lists.
Lots of people kept suggesting that if I just released another Xenowealth book digitally, I’d suddenly be on my way to riches and gold. But I spent enough time reading through Kindle forums to see people selling single digits worth of books to know there are no guarantees. I’d released a short story collection to test what the lifecycle of an eBook looked like. How covers affected it. My feeling was, there might be some money in doing this. But it was a risky gamble. And I had a family to take care of. It was easy for *other* people to suggest I spend a year’s worth of productivity on a gamble.
But Kickstarter.

Kickstarter makes things interesting
I’d been watching authors and other artistic types use Kickstarter to good affect. And the powerful part of it was the ability to test your potential market. Kickstarter took pledges (or pre-orders) from everyone, and didn’t withdraw the money unless you raised a certain amount. That caught my interest right away, because I knew then that this was a way to try something different. In my view, this was more potentially disruptive than just eBooks. Because sometimes it’s getting seed money to kick that generator, to get it to fire, is sometimes the hardest trick.

I was freelancing to keep from drowning, and snatching writing time while underwater and holding my breath. I’d been doing that since the day I got out of the hospital.
But I started working with my friend Pablo Defendini to create some custom art for what would become the next book. I began working on a video for the project, and I signed up for Kickstarter. I mulled the idea over with friends I trusted. I thought, at the very least, it was a moment that would let me see if there was enough fan support to write another book in the series. We could let it go, if not.

And move on.

So in October 2011, I took a deep breath and went for it.

What I did
I created a Kickstarter page. I created a video with the custom graphics Pablo had made, with me giving a brief synopsis of the novel to be, and a lot of explanation as to how Kickstarter worked (it was a little over a year ago, it was a newer concept).

I researched every similar project I could, and read the Kickstarter (and Kickstarter lesson articles) blog summaries of statistics.

I decided that I would a) keep to as few levels of support (rewards for backers) as I could, as many indicated too much choice creates choice fatigue or confusion and b) focus on the $25 and $50 price levels that Kickstarter indicated are the two most popular.

I set the eBook as the $25 reward, and the printed limited edition hardcover as the $50.

I promised to start the novel January 1st, and finish it sometime in the middle of the year (I kept using July as a target month).

I created a spreadsheet, where I then ‘gamed’ various scenarios based on averages that Kickstarter showed for successful projects (most people support at 25, then 50, and so on).
I took a look at a print on demand publisher, Lulu, and eyeballed out what a per-book cost was going to be. For the hardcover, Lulu estimated ~$20. I added in $5 shipping and handling on my end, I wasn’t sure how much they would charge, so I guessed $30 a book to be a very safe place to be. I gamed out how different levels of support would affect the overall profit of the project, and came up with a final price.

Back in 2006, five years earlier, I sold my first novel for roughly the bog standard minimum wage of genre novel writing. The mythical $5,000 advance. I earned way more than that in royalties once it earned out, and translation sales, audio rights, and the SF Bookclub addition. My advances are higher now, but this was my first attempt. It felt right to compare.

So I figured, I needed to at least beat $5,000 in profit. Printing fees looked like they could be anywhere from $2,000 and on up. I set aside money for design (Pablo does amazing work, man, and deserved to be paid as he does this stuff professionally, as he was doing a cover design, an interior PDF for the print copy, and so on). There was shipping. There was copy editing that would need done. There was the 10% in fees that would be taken out (5% to Kickstarter, 5% to Amazon payments). I looked at it and figured, $10,000. Minimum needed to make it work.
So that was the set up. The Apocalypse Ocean. $10,000 needed to fund it to match the same sort of base scenario as my first novel.

What was I hoping?
I was hoping to squeak over the 10K. The five figures seemed like a barrier, a dangerous one. Some of my friend suggested lowering it, but I know I needed that to do this right.

I was hoping, at the time, to build my portfolio. I had short stories, two collections, all making a little bit of money each month. Not a lot, but a regular flow. The idea was that I’d work on this book in between the freelancing, pushing myself to finish it in between the cracks. I’d taken over two years to write Arctic Rising, I knew the sequel was going to take a long time as well. But this would maybe make me some extra, much needed money. Novels sell better than short stories or collections.
And, I wanted to get closer to giving fans all five books. Really.

When it gets down to it, if I were only in it for nothing but the money, I’d be a stock broker. Not a novelist. There’s love here.

That was where I was. Hoping that it would, down the line, help things out.

And I wanted a win. I’ll be honest.

Hell, I needed a solid win. Yes I’d turned in Arctic Rising, but I had no idea how it was going to do. And my novel writing career had this huge, growing gap in it. I wanted a successful Kickstarter.
After treading water I wanted to just hit a project out of the park, feel enthusiasm, and go for broke without risking hurting anyone.

What makes a successful Kickstarter?
I think there are three things that make for a Kickstarter success:
1) An intriguing product
2) Created by an entity that has proven it can deliver it
3) Created by an entity that has a following (or publicity reach)

Any two of those create an atmosphere where I think success is more likely. Hit all three, you’re likely to see something interesting.

Look over successful Kickstarters, you’ll find a lot of doubles and triples, and very few of the above successful as singles. I’ve seen even famous people stick up a Kickstarter, people who should have a huge following, and fizzle because they had not fulfilled #1 and #2. I’ve seen plenty of #1s, by people who had no following or proof they could deliver it. Fizzle.

I’ve seen lots of projects that hit #1 and #3, and watched them struggle to deliver it. That’s made a lot of news in the last six months. But they still got funded. And I bet still will.
What I had was a little bit of a following. My blog gets two thousand user sessions a day or higher. At the time a few thousand people followed me on twitter. And I knew that there were some fans of the Xenowealth out there, because they asked me about writing another book a lot. So I had to trust the books.

I knew I could prove #2. I’d written a number of novels.

So I had #2 for sure, and some hazy amount of #3 after 11 years of publishing stories and novels and people reading Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose. Those were my two, for sure, strong legs.

I made a case for #1 in the video about the project, and hoped that people would find it intriguing.

And it worked!
A couple of thousand dollars of orders for a new Xenowealth book came in during the first few days. That was when most of the action happens, so it was exciting. But at only 25% of the amount, I was worried. Many successful projects funded in the first couple days. I might, I realized, end up rejected by my own readers in public in front of everyone.

That was the fear, wasn’t it? That had everyone asking me if I really wanted to do this. It’s so public.
But rejection and failure are just business. It means you tried. And you’ll never get a win if you don’t at least swing for one.

I love my blog readers, fans, and twitter followers, so I did my best not to constantly spam them about the Kickstarter after the first few days. I tried to settle into a once a week thing.

I knew from the Kickstarter blog that 90% of all projects that hit the 50% mark get funded. So it took from September 18 to October 1st before that happened. For 13 days, it just kept inching forward as we went through the middle muddle. But on October 1st I celebrated with a beer, knowing that 90% was not a bad coin toss. We spent the next 15 days inching forward from 50% to 75%, increasing the odds.

And then it seemed that people couldn’t stand the tension, because on the 15th a host of pledges came in to kick the project up over the 10K mark. In the end, $11,652 came in, meaning that the little extra covered the Kickstarter and Amazon fees.

There it was. In a month and a half, I’d be starting a new novel in an old, treasured universe I’d started on years ago.

I now owed my readers a book!

How it changed everything…
Here’s the thing. I’d been working three freelance gigs. And right as this Kickstarter happened, one of them folded. I spent December running the figures on my spreadsheet, forecasting cash flow. Thanks to gig #3, I’d set some cash aside. Not a lot, but enough to cover printing costs and then a little extra. Combined with the Kickstarter money, I looked at my cash burn rate, and realized I could do something truly, insanely, crazy:

I could quit gig #2, stick with only gig #1, and I had enough money to make it for nine months.

Maybe ten.

I had a taste, in 2008, of only working one freelance gig and then spending all other time writing. It was the thing I’d worked toward since I was fourteen. I’d always juggled in various amounts, but never down to a single freelance gig on the side while writing furiously.

After talking it over with Emily (my wife), I did it. I jumped.

I came up for breath thanks to the Kickstarter and was writing. Not just moments underwater. Full on. We lived tight, and it wasn’t easy, but I was able to really put some fuel in the furnace.

I wrote The Apocalypse Ocean, I wrote short stories, I wrote novellas, I wrote another novel called The Trove, I wrote a nice chunk of another novel, Hurricane Fever, I completely revised another project. I dreamed words, people. It was good.

Those freelance gigs, I love them. But the writer in me got to stretch some serious wings and soar. And I’d been furled up and caught up in that treading for so long, it was a great feeling. In this last 11 months, I’ve learned a lot about how to do this better, how to harness the energy, and what I can do when unleashed.

I recently accepted an offer from gig #2. I have just two gigs now. I know now I was burned out from juggling 3 freelance gigs and writing. Going to just one gig and writing gave me recovery time. I have the tools to handle two and writing. Ultimately, food goes back on the table. I’m not unhappy in the slightest. I’m ahead. I made it. And I couldn’t have done it without that injection, that nugget that Kickstarter provided when I was really down low.

I’m glad I went for the win. Because I was able to go on an author book tour for Arctic Rising when it came out. To speak at Tools of Change in New York (which was amazing). To write, write, write.
There’s a spark in me, now, that was getting flickery just due to plain exhaustion.

Yes, this year has been stressful. Great goodness has it been. Watching that money leak out slowly over the eleven months while trying to make other deals happen; that’s been crazy tough. I’d been hoping something would strike before I had to go get a freelance gig #2, and I could continue the run. Arctic Rising is doing well, but it takes a while for that money to reach me. There are other things percolating in the distance. Having the time to write nearly full time gave me the time to pitch some ideas, work angles a little harder.

So I wouldn’t trade it the last eleven months. Not for anything.

Why not do another Kickstarter? I was asked this recently, but I explained it thusly:

I am still working on studying The Apocalypse Ocean and how it did. I did Kickstart it, and when all was said and done, with extra sales outside of the Kickstarter, and a pledge from a bookstore for a number of copies, I think I ended up making a $7,000 profit. But that is not a living. So now The Apocalypse Ocean is up for sale through Kindle, B&N, and Kobo, and iTunes. I need to get a sense for how it does for a few months to get a sense of the entire book’s lifecycle. Will the backlist sales be solid? Or very meagre? My guess is that if it does as well as the novella I have up, then this will have been smart.

But also, I didn’t want to ask people to pony up for a Kickstarter until everything I’ve set out to do with current Kickstarters is delivered. That means everyone has their limited editions of The Apocalypse Ocean and are reading them. And I did another Kickstarter, a short story collection called Mitigated Futures. Backers didn’t have their copies yet. I couldn’t ask again. No, I wanted both the data on sales after the projects and for people to have been satisfied and taken care of.
It’s a point of honor.

Hey, how did you print the book?
Well, that’s a pretty cool story, actually. One of the backers who got The Apocalypse Ocean twittered that they were “high quality, I mean, like Subterranean Press quality.” When I first ran the figures I knew it was going to be expensive per book. As I got near time to print them, Pablo and I got copies from Lulu to check out the process. But I was also emailing around asking, and looking, for alternatives. This was part of the learning process!

Lulu wasn’t too bad. It was actually better than I expected. I’d feared what print on demand would be. It’s come very far in just a couple of years.

But Bill at Subterranean was able to recommend me an offset printer he worked with, and the quote, it turned out, was not too bad. It was more expensive, for sure, than the Lulu run. But… for an extra $800 I could finagle a very, very high quality printing.

I couldn’t do this with the short story collection Mitigated Futures that I had Kickstartered later in this year. Too few copies. But I could with the novel.

And in the end, as I mentioned, if this was only about the money, I wouldn’t be here. The chance to print a 200 copy limited edition run of the fourth Xenowealth book in high quality paper stock?
I didn’t even think twice, really. It was an investment in my future, as someone who could deliver on execution. And because it would become properly collectible.

Mistakes, as they say, were made
And now, to the brutal self honesty part I promised would come.

I have made mistakes.

Boy have I ever.

I launched the project at noon. Because I was writing and fixing things that morning. So I set it to go live. Rookie. That meant I missed four hours of first day, the biggest day, of word-of-mouth and fundraising. The momentum was slow from day one. People love piling onto a winning project. Mine did not come out the gate strong for The Apocalypse Ocean. Next time, I set it to go live at 7am.
I set the eBook price too high. $25. It worked, because fans backed the project and jumped aboard. I think I could risk focusing harder on a $10 eBook. Then maybe a $25 trade paper, and then move up.
While I got backers their eBooks as fast as I could, roughly by the deadline, I vastly underestimated how long the project management of creating a print book would take. Physical copies had to be mailed around. Proofed. Schedules had to be lined up. It was all… fiddly. I thought August/September I would have books delivered. Instead, it ended up being early December.
To be fair, part of that was because I switched from going with Lulu to going with a real printer.
I don’t even regret that. Next time around, I know where I’d be bringing a novel if we have preorders.

But I spent a lot of time making first timer mistakes.

Some have asked if this makes me way more interested in going it alone. But the truth is, I really, really like having a team around me that can take stuff out of my brain-worrying area so I can focus. I’ve talked to people who are interested in helping authors run a Kickstarter, it’s something I will ponder in the future.

With the collection of short stories I did, Mitigated Futures, my distractibility ended up costing me a whole print run. I didn’t spot an error. I had to reorder the hardcovers with the fix. I was the one who approved the final, it was on me. Again, a big mistake.

Another mistake was that I really botched the $100 backer level with The Apocalypse Ocean. If you ordered the $50, you got a limited edition hardcover. For $100, you got it signed, and your name in the back of the back as a backer. For $250 you got that plus reading the book *as I wrote it!*

When I was designing the Kickstarter, I overvalued the live read along, which I thought would snag a few more people. Halfway through, I asked the $250 level people for permission to tweak things, and bring the $100 crew into the live read along. I didn’t get enough replies quickly enough to feel confident about shifting everything. It was my first time, I was nervous about breaking trust.

Next time around, I would put the live read along at $100, to see if it would pull some people out of the $50.

Toward the end of the The Apocalypse Ocean’s print run, I felt I’d communicated what was happening not too well, some readers felt compelled to keep asking what was going on. Some people don’t want over-explained or bugged, but I needed to be clearer about timelines. And if I wasn’t, to be okay with bugging people.

Another thing I won’t do: I won’t take orders after the Kickstarter closes. Keeping track of those was… really hard. Those people didn’t get notified at the same time, it added extra stress.

What were the negative sides of using Kickstarter?
There weren’t many negative sides. But there were a few things that stood out.
One was that owing your readers a new project, directly, meant they had a stake and ownership in you in a way that is not normally experienced. So… there was pressure to deliver. However, I’d been living under various sorts of pressure, it only really upset me when I got a weird dizzy spell period that affected my ability to focus on a monitor and use a computer. Falling behind freaked me out.

Two, some people started hitting me up about their Kickstarter. Sure, there were many people doing Kickstarters that I loved, and backed, or raised the word about and loved hearing from. But there were also people I’d never met, never talked to, didn’t know, insinuating that since they spread the word for me (and in these cases I’m not even sure they did) I should do the same for them. I felt it should be about stuff we genuinely loved, not logrolling. But it sometimes got a little passive/aggressive.

Three, a lot of people assumed I was now a fighter against the evil New York corporate publishing system and would be taking it to the man. I’m sorry to report that I’m still a corporate sellout. There were some weird reactions.

Would you do it again?
I get asked a lot, would I do it again?

I have a nuanced reply. I think, for short story collections of mine, Kickstarter has been an obviously solid experiment. With Mitigated Futures, I had already written the stories. A couple of a new ones were commissioned. We did the books with Lulu, which is not as cool as traditional offset print run, but still solid. The big bonus was interior art for the collection and everyone got their eBooks really quickly. Right at the end of the month the Kickstarter happened.

For novels, I still think it is powerful and potentially transformative. It gave me the money I needed to get this off the ground. It came along at just the right moment to help give me a sorely needed boost. But so far I’m not making as much as I do for novels like Arctic Rising.

But I’m doing two things here. I’m playing a long game, hoping that the royalties on a book that I wrote and own directly will help me out. And… I wrote the fourth book of the Xenowealth series!
It got done, and it’s out there. And it’ll find new readers. And things will will build. And, maybe sometime very soon, or maybe a little further out, I’ll come back again to do the final book.

But for now, I’m writing Hurricane Fever. The sequel to Arctic Rising. And, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. That’s my focus. That has to be done.

But I have no doubt the final book, Desolation’s Gap, will be written. If I finish Hurricane Fever very soon, and I see that The Apocalypse Ocean has a solid stream of sales… then it will be sooner. Maybe even over this summer. That would be cool. That would be my dream. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know.

But if it’s really a trickle then I’ll wait until the sales build and give it time. Like a good wine. And the book will come along then, after some aging, while I pursue some other stuff. But the lessons, and the tools that Kickstarter gave me, they’re all still here. There are more possibilities in the air.
As a writer, it’s a good time. I can work with a large publisher, I can work with a medium sized publisher, I can work with smaller publishers. I can put projects directly up as an eBook. I can use Kickstarter.

This is a modern, diversified author, using the tools at their disposal. It’s all good. There is no one True Way, there are, instead, lots of opportunities.

Thank you!
To all of you who backed the book, and made it real. We did it! Pepper lives!

So many of you spread the word, cheerleaded me, and just offered to help. Doing this reminded me that I had a readership that enjoyed what I wrote and was passionate about my stuff. That really made a difference. More than many will ever realize. I live to tell these stories, and seeing them valued in real time like that was surprisingly empowering. So… thank you.

Buy the book! Spread the word!
Seriously, if you’ve read this far, I have poured my little heart out. I got ready to launch on Friday, but yanked everything down. It wasn’t the time. But today, Monday, I’d like to re-launch The Apocalypse Ocean (and will be telling everyone it’s here). And I’d ever so appreciate your help in spreading this little story you read. Or anything about the book.

Here’s the book. Buy it, rate it, spread it around:

The ebook is available [directly from me] on [Amazon Kindle] or [B&N Nook] or [Kobo Books] or [iBooks]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Procastination is the thief of time

“Procrastination is the thief of time” is a statement (or cliché) that I heard my older sister recite numerous times when I was little.  I didn’t know what it meant at that time but every time I put off my homework until the last minute and had to burn the midnight oil or frantically ask for her help she would admonish me, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that saying.  My sister migrated when I was fifteen and now that we’re living on the same continent we’re separated by several hundred miles and four states. I don’t even know if that saying is still a favorite of hers. However a few days ago, after procrastinating on multiple things I heard her voice whisper in my ear, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

In the fall, I am scheduled to teach two courses that I have never taught before.  I also have kids either returning to or beginning school in the fall.  But I was caught up with other things so I put off preparing.  I kept saying, as soon as my summer course was done, I will prepare for the fall courses.  As soon as I have completed my WIP I will get the kids ready for school.  When I’ve finished (fill in the blank here) I’ll shop for school uniforms and supplies.  I procrastinated.

Well school begins next week for the kids and so do my courses. Now I have to burn the midnight oil, or as my mother puts it, “run John Canoe” to get everything up and running.  I  find myself asking, “Where did the summer go?” 

Tonight I finally pulled myself away from course preparation to go shop for school supplies.  I went to Target and Wal-Mart, only to find all the more economical backpacks gone and replaced by the picked over, but more expensive ones.  As for plain white gym shoes specified by their school, I could not find affordable ones in their sizes.  So while going from Kohl’s, to Target to Wal-Mart and lots of places in between I heard the soft whisper of my sister’s voice floating on a breeze far away admonishing, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

I would like to say this is a onetime thing, but alas, it is not.  I find myself doing it a lot in my writing.  I put off, and put off (especially the parts like editing or marketing that I don’t quite enjoy) until the last minute then I have to "run John Canoe" to meet a deadline.  I know I’m not the only writer who procrastinates like this (come on fess up!).  So if you’re a procrastinator like me, remember, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What have you done for your writing lately?

As a writer you're never done learning. This can be daunting, especially when you stumble across a book that blows you away—like The Portrait of Dorian Gray did to me two years ago—and you realize that even given multiple lifetimes you might never attain anything close to the genius of an Oscar Wilde.

But few of us have such lofty aspirations anyway. We just want to write what we enjoy in such a way that readers enjoy it as well. Many readers, preferably. We gain pleasure from the realization that each book we write is better, craft-wise, than the one that went before. And the way we ensure that we get better at what we do is to hone our skills. How do we achieve this?
  • Reading widely should not even be on this list because it's a given: writers of fiction are--or should be--great consumers of fiction. The former state grows out of the latter. I have met too many aspiring writers who say they don't have time to read, or only read the Bible, or only read sci-fi, or romance, or some other narrow slice of the wealth out there. To paraphrase Stephen King: anyone who doesn't have the time to read has neither the time nor the tools to write.
  • Fall in love with words, if you aren't already. I know people, including some editors, who are miffed when they stumble across unfamiliar words in a manuscript. I happen to love authors who challenge my vocabulary and teach me exciting new words. I'm not referring to to those, particularly in the literary arena, whose paragraphs are minefields strewn with obstacles to clarity, or the ones who engage in thesaurus overkill. Expand your vocabulary and use your new tools to telling effect. 
  • Challenge yourself by taking writing courses. I did a fiction writing course last year, and followed up this year with a poetry writing course. I can tell you, that poetry class was a challenge! The class days were the highlight of my week; it was fulfilling to spend three hours reading, critiquing, discussing, learning, and just being in the creative zone with like-minded people. As a consequence, I wrote more, and I wrote better. 
  • Befriend writers on social networks. Most of my online contacts are writers. I have learned much from them about the business of publishing, about writing craft via their favorite books on the subject, about their workspaces, their problems and their solutions to writing and publishing issues. I've learned where to go for cover art and marketing advice. These writers are my lifeline. 
  • Attend writing retreats, residential workshops, conventions. I haven't been to any of those, but from all accounts, the laser focus of a writing retreat and the energy and excitement of conventions are invigorating. In addition to learning new skills, atendees often end up making new friends for life and discovering valuable industry contacts. 
These are just a few ways in which I boost (or plan to boost) my writing. What have you done for your creativity lately?

Liane Spicer

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Misery Trials

One day in high school, I found myself on my motor scooter as chunks of it began to fall away unceremoniously on the street. I was 6’2, broad shouldered, and 190 pounds despite the 4-10 miles I ran daily for the cross country team, a team I was destined to disappoint. I was too big for my clothes, my sport, and the miniature desks at school.

I was too big for the scooter as well -- a vehicle I admitted to myself that had probably been made for a smaller person -- almost certainly for girl -- but it was cheap enough for me to afford. That day as it labored up the long hill that lay between me and my school, it wheezed a little more than it usually did and little bits of its outer shell started to fall off.

I’m not a vain person, never have been, maybe to a fault, and as the wheel cover fell off, I turned to follow it with my eyes, thinking that as long as the scooter kept going, the wheel cover probably wasn’t necessary. Then, a bit off the bottom came off, and I wondered impassively why it was even put there if it had no true function. After all, the scooter kept on going.

Frankly, I felt a little like Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon, a pirate with a swagger with a vehicle that wasn’t pretty but did its job.

It’s not until the side luggage compartment popped open that I felt shock. Inside was the book that I’d been reading lately, the best book I’d picked up in a long long time, Stephen King’s Misery. I turned just in time to see Misery flutter open and spin a couple of times in the air looking for a moment like a splash of white foam in the air.

I hit the brakes and picked it up. It had landed in the gutter and gotten a little wet. The last 100 pages or so would have a crescent moon of ichor darkening the edge.

But it was still readable, and I was grateful. I had no money to buy a new copy, and Annie had just crippled Paul. I couldn’t put it down now.

The discoloration of the pages frustrated me the rest of that morning. My own Millennium Falcon had choked the rest of the way to school, and I’d arrived early enough that I could sit on the lunch benches and keep reading. The pages were slimy and difficult to see, but this was Misery after all. This was Stephen King my favorite novelist.

At least for that day.

The day progressed, and I kept reading whenever I could. At break, I sat at the lunch tables again, alone and focused.

This of course was high school in the 1980s and that meant campus was something like Thunder Dome. An upper classman came by and grabbed my book staring me in the eyes and laughing.

I was a nerd then and still am. Proudly. But what he didn’t understand was that I was a really big nerd. I’d never fought before that day, and I’ve been in only one fight since. But that day, I stood up and snatched the book out of his hand. I was a good foot taller than he was even if he had two years on me and for the first time in my life I glowered. It’s a look I’ve found particularly useful as a teacher.

He backed down.

Some time around fifth period, I was just about done with the novel, and it was building to a crescendo. I sat there in the back row of biology when the bell sounded, and I had only 10 pages left.

I’m not a rule breaker, but I kept going as well as I could over the teacher’s rude insistence that Gregor Mendel added value to our lives. Her voice crept into my brain, ruining King’s amazing story until I heard, “Brantingham, what are you doing?”

She was staring at me as was the class. I held up the book.

“Go to dean’s office.”

Oh thank God, I thought. I stepped out of her classroom and into the relative quiet of the hallway to finish the novel. Finally, some peace. It would be bought with two hours of detention where I’d be picking up trash in the parking lot, but it would be worth it for the ten minutes I needed to finish the novel. Besides, those hours in detention would be spent dreaming of what I’d read.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's All This Guy's Fault

Fifteen years ago this summer, the first story I ever sold to a professional paying market was published. It was for a writing contest, the first ever of its type sponsored by Pocket Books, called Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The contest was soliciting Star Trek short stories from unpublished writers, which in this case meant those who had sold fewer than three stories to markets offering "professional" per-word rates. I never before had written anything for submission to such a market, and it was at the urging of my friend Deb Simpson that I wrote a story and sent it in for consideration.

To the continued disbelief of countless people, friends and family included, my story was one of eighteen selected for that first anthology. Following that first sale, the contest editor, Dean Wesley Smith, bought two more stories of mine, each for the next editions of Strange New Worlds. He launched several writing careers in similar fashion, including another of your regular Novel Spaces contributors.

While I was submitting entries to those contests, I also was writing and submitting other stories, most of them science fiction. All during this period, Dean spent a lot of time on America Online where he talked about the contest, offering up a continuous stream of writing advice for anyone smart enough to read his postings. We’ve corresponded sporadically over the years, and I’m a frequent follower of his blog as well as the one maintained by his wife, writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They both regularly dispense frank, invaluable advice about the craft and business of writing, all of it offered from the perspective of years of hard-won experience. You could do worse than to bookmark both their sites.

Since that first sale of mine oh so long ago, Dean’s continued to be an inspiration. I’ve always considered him—along with Kris—one of the “best friends” any up and coming writer ever could want. One of the first bits of advice he offered to me way back when has stuck with me all these years: “Get out of your own way, and just write. Stop pondering every word and sentence. Stop reworking that same paragraph you wrote an hour ago. Stop editing yourself. Write. Get it all out of your head, warts, rough edges and all, and keep moving forward. Write now. Edit later.

Dean wasn’t just talking a good game, either. He’s a veritable writing machine, possessing what I jokingly refer to as “Fingers of Fury.” Working under his own name and a truckload of aliases, he’s written more than one hundred novels and more than two hundred short stories. In the time it’s taken you to read this far, he’s probably written another novel. Maybe two.

In the fifteen years since my first story’s publication, I’d never met Dean face to face, but I got to cross that item off my Bucket List last week. I was in Las Vegas with my writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, for a convention appearance, and we learned that the scheduling and travel gods had seen fit to deposit Dean and Kris, along with a small group of other friends and fellow writers, in Sin City for a totally unrelated function. A couple of texts and e-Mails later and we all were able to convene at a local bar, where I finally got to shake the hand of the man who gave me my start in the word-slinging biz.

Achievement. Unlocked.

So here we are, fifteen years later, and it’s a simple matter for me to draw a line connecting nearly every story or novel I’ve published over this time back to that first sale. If not for Dean Wesley Smith—and Deb Simpson, who convinced me to submit to that first writing contest back in 1997—my writing career, assuming I had one at all, likely would have taken a much different path.

Yeah. It’s all his fault.

Here’s to you, Dean. I can’t ever thank you enough for the opportunity you gave me. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working in the hopes of showing everyone else that you made a good call.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Are You Reinventing the Wheel?

The ancient Egyptians didn't know what the wheel was until they were invaded by another group. They saw the enemy chariots rolling toward them, rolled their eyes and said, “We need to get some of those wheels.” Pretty soon they were tearing up the desert on chariots of their own. The rest, as they say, is history.

When I started using the Internet for book promotion, before I knew what a blog was, everything was a blank slate. I knew the information highway was out there, but I found myself on country roads and making U-Turns. Some authors seem to have the key to the mysterious process. I needed wheels.

In my prior life, I was secretary to an undercover narcotics team. I sleuthed using sites the public doesn't have access to and following leads to locate drug dealers and their hangouts. I got so good at it that I was contacted by a federal agency to find a felon in our area. All they had was a common last name and info that he drove a motorcycle. I told them to go to his grandmother's house in the town just across the county line and he'd be hiding there. No, I won't tell you how I did it. I'm saving that for a future mystery novel.

What I took away from 17 years of law enforcement was an incredible curiosity and ability to track down leads (and many ideas for novels). I translated what I knew to what I needed to know for promoting myself and my career.

My first thought was to use my search engine and find out where authors were posting. It was a “follow the leader” strategy. Next, I discovered that some authors were generous enough to list their favorite sites on the sidelines of their web page. Easy pickings. I checked out all the leads and started my own collection of links that would be useful to my future. Others were doing all the hard work for me and I was hitchhiking along for the ride.

I subscribed to blogs, mostly from experts in the field like Jane Friedman. I followed Twitterific over at Mystery Writing Is Murder. If you don't tweet (and I don't) Elizabeth Craig lists tweet links she finds worthwhile. I also joined discussion groups such as Murder Must Advertise, Short Mystery Fiction Society and DorothyL.

There is an amazing amount of sharing in the writing community. I don't know of any authors who hoard leads and info. So, it surprises me when authors, both new and seasoned, seem confused as to how to connect up. They spin their wheels in search of answers and overlook the road signs in front of them.

While I don't condone being an enabler, it occurred to me that it was time for me to give back. So, I created “The Posse” and simply told new and aspiring authors “I can fast-track your career path if you just take the time to check out the sites I send you to.”

Okay, I wasn't that nice. I'm bossy. I am the Sheriff of the Posse. I check to see if they are doing what I ask, complimenting the ones who get involved in discussions (which helps them build name recognition), scolding those who don't. It's not a site people sign up for, all anyone has to do is contact me and say “I want to be in the Posse.” A friend even came up with badges.

There are those out there, in the spirit of independence or stubbornness, who probably want to do all the work themselves. Maybe, like the Egyptians, they're going to build their pyramid the hard way by sliding stones up an incline. But, there's nothing wrong with hopping on board and riding along with others until you are ready to take the wheel and guide your own career.    

Monday, August 12, 2013

Stranded in Paradise

First of all, my apologies to my fellow novelnauts for the late submission of this post. I have a really good excuse.

This weekend I was invited to Montserrat to present my latest book, Fury on Soufriere Hills (now on sale on Amazon btw) to the Montserrat Public Library. I was scheduled to return yesterday in time to submit my already prepared post, however, bad weather prevented me from returning until this evening. I wish that I could say that I was terribly upset about the delay, but if I had to be stranded somewhere, Montserrat would be on the top of my list of places to be. So please excuse me if this post sounds more like a travelogue; any writer would find great inspiration on this island.

Spectacular clear view of the Soufriere Hills lava dome that has been growing & collapsing since November 1995.
(Photo Credit: UWI Seismic Research Centre)
Montserrat is home to an active volcano which began erupting 17 years ago and has rendered almost two-thirds of the island inhabitable. This volcano features prominently in Fury on Soufriere Hills hence my invitation to the library. Given that the island is only 102 square kms in area, I could not imagine how any part of it could be considered safe and I must confess that I was a little nervous about the trip. However, a discussion with the director of the Montserrat Volcanic Observatory, Roderick Stewart, allayed my fears. Soufriere Hills is an unusual volcano in many ways and I highly recommend reading up about its special quirks and features.

My visit to the library was wonderful. Writing is a solitary pursuit and for a social animal like me, these connections with my audience always have a significant impact on me and on my future writing. About twenty children turned out for the reading and we discussed, among other things, the differences between the way the Caribs in my book learnt about and responded to the volcanic eruption and the way that the people of Montserrat responded today. The children were very excited about reading 'Fury'. The librarian barely had a chance to put the library's stamp on it before it was borrowed.

Ash-covered Plymouth
My next stop in Montserrat was at Uncle John's restaurant for a bowl of goat water, Montserrat's delicious national dish. From there I went up to the Monsterrat Volcanic Observatory. This visit was very informative and it was great to learn about how the staff used technology to monitor the volcano around the clock, but I secretly wanted to see firsthand the impact that the volcano had on Montserrat's capital city, Plymouth. I got my wish when I was able to cross the Bellam Valley and look at the remains of Plymouth from the top of some nearby hills.

Local lamb at the Olveston House
While on Montserrat I stayed at the Olveston House which I highly recommend for a stress-free vacation spot. It is interesting in that it is owned by Beatles producer, Sir George Martin and his family. For many years, Olveston House hosted renowned artists who came to Montserrat to record at the famous AIR Studios. Among these artists were Sting, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Paul McCartney. Even more alluring for me was the peaceful, casual atmosphere, the charming hostesses and the food which I swear was more delicious each day.

I ended my visit to Montserrat with a sip from the spring waters on my way to the airport. I am told that this guarantees that I will visit again and I sincerely hope so.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Guest Post: author and screenwriter Dan Stuelpnagel

Thanks to Bill Doonan for inviting me to Novel Spaces for a guest spot.  As a screenwriter and visual artist I have an appreciation for the cinemagraphic aspects of fiction and enjoy fast-moving stories.

That said, two favorite authors I have followed for many years are Barbara Kingsolver and TC Boyle, literary fiction writers with a social conscience.  As I delve into creating a platform for my first novel, a thriller titled Help Me Kill, I understand the need to clarify genre distinctions and reach out to tell readers what the book is like.

Which can be frustrating, many of us would love for our genre work to be considered literary, and perhaps some writers of literary fiction wish their books could gain the broad exposure that some popular genre fiction pieces successfully grab.  But we can’t always have it both ways.

Some books come close to successfully breaking out, though.  I just read an amazing spy thriller that I think rivals the best of the genre and crosses the line into literary fiction, Red Sparrow, by career CIA case officer Jason Matthews.

It got a good review in the Times, and I think this writer accomplishes some very intriguing literary feats.

If you think this is some Tom Clancy shlock, get ready for a wake-up call.  Matthews unfolds a great deal of backstory in the first several chapters to acquaint the reader with his characters, it might seem a little slow-moving to thriller readers, but the time shifts are well-handled and effective, I think he is cleverly leaning a bit on the conventional structure and tone of literary fiction.

As the story continues, in a beautifully-orchestrated trajectory of rising action and shifts in tone, Red Sparrow winds us up with superbly-crafted layers of intrigue, but also brings us close to a love story between the strong heroine and her agency handler, subtle tension encourages us to anticipate the outcome.

The twists as you read through the mid-point and into the third act are elegant and simple yet with mammoth consequences for those involved, there is real philosophical weight here.  I think rewarding the reader is a crucial responsibility of the writer, to structure the story so that it just gets better and better and at the end leaves you satisfied but wanting more.

If that sounds like a seduction, yes, there are plenty of erotic elements to the story, and this is something I weave into my first book as well, I think it is the sparks of romance and sex between characters magnetically drawn together that adds the taste of reality, it is a powerful human motivation that deserves to be acknowledged and fully explored.  It’s also a great challenge to write erotic material that feels organic to the story and doesn’t break the spell.

I understand that literary writers perhaps don’t wish to resort to such transparent devices to push readers’ buttons, and I can appreciate an intellectual and spiritual exploration of the human condition as much as the next person, but I think it is a truly worthwhile challenge to try and incorporate the best of both worlds and write a story that tests our emotional boundaries on multiple levels, these changes in tone are part of what makes it fun to read, otherwise the arc is a predictable ride that holds closely to its genre.

Help Me Kill – a novel by Daniel Stuelpnagel:

“Rebellious French party girl Sabrina Dunand and Swiss doctor Erich Kestenholtz conspire to kill wealthy entrepreneur Konrad Albrecht, so that Erich can steal his identity, along with twenty million euros in rare art works.  This taut, suspenseful and poetic story captures the sex, romance, cynicism and violence of a peculiar slice of the European demimonde.”

And even if you don’t necessarily want to take a chance on that, do read Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, it is a tremendous book and in my opinion sets the bar very high.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blog Blunder

We often hear about teens sharing too much on facebook and twitter, writing things which they regret for a lifetime.  Well sometimes adults do that too, sometimes deliberately and sometimes inadvertently.

This week something happened that I thought was rather interesting from the point of view of an author and I blogged about it.    The person saw the post and even though there were no real identifiers that person was livid.  Feeling hurt and betrayed, the person asked, “How could an adult be so irresponsible?”  So I removed that post.

Why?  Even though I didn’t think it was a big deal, it was a big deal to someone else that left them feeling hurt.  I guess I needed the reminder that even though my time spent posting on the internet is limited, what I say is still very important and have an impact on not only myself but on others.   Even something seemingly innocent could have that impact. 

There are some things I learned from this and would like to share with you.   Feel free to add more as you read this post.

 Before you blog, before you tweet, before you post, ask yourself:
1.    If another person posted that article and you read it and knew it was about you, would you be hurt, embarrassed, or proud?
2.    Can any “anonymous” person be identified by another person reading the post?
3.    Is what you are posting true and verifiable by others?  This is especially important if you are posting about information that is readily available and can be back checked. 
4.    If your employer read the post ten years from now would you have to blame it on your youth and claim you’re a different person now?
5.    If any particular group, race, culture, or religion read you post would they be offended?
6.    And finally would people view you in a different light and be turned off after reading your post.               

If you know of any other self checks before posting to any social media, please add it in your comments.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Five Rules for Audiobooks

There are some people in this world who don’t like audiobooks. These people suggest that listening to an audiobook is in someway cheating. It’s a perception that’s disappearing, but it exists.

I had a conversation with someone about this a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about a book, and he knew I’d been putting in a lot of hours driving up and down the state. He asked me when I had the time to read the whole thing, and I told him it was an audiobook. He’s the last one who told me I was cheating when I did that.


It doesn’t make sense. The only way a person could conceive of that as cheating is if he or she thought that reading wasn’t fun to begin with. I enjoy books, and I want to be around them as much as possible. They’re dangerous, however. They need to be taken seriously. I present five rules for reading audio safely.

1. Read the Synopsis and Think about Your Life

You’re probably going to be reading while driving. If you’re driving someplace important, you’d better choose the right book. I listened to The House of Sand and Fog right as I was going into a job interview -- a job that I really wanted and desperately needed. As I sat there in the parking lot waiting for the interview time to come closer, I grew more and more engrossed in the plot until (spoiler alert) my favorite characters, characters I’d grown to love and understand, started killing themselves and each other.

Shock horror. The tragedy. The sturm and drang. The horror, the horror.

Suddenly, nothing seemed as important. Suddenly even the job interview didn’t seem to matter, only the fact that they were dying, people I loved.

Thankfully, the passion I was feeling for the characters I loved turned me into an intense and seemingly complex speaker. I seemed to ooze intense passion. Of course, I did. A couple of my best friends had just died.

2. Do Not Listen to Horror at the Wrong Time.

I became engrossed with Stephen King’s The Stand just as I was going on a camping trip. I couldn’t turn it off, couldn’t stop listening. Neither could anyone else in the trip.

We couldn’t stop thinking about it either, especially out in the woods when the wind would pick up and twigs would snap and leaves would swirl and maybe that was the Walking Dude just outside the tent. One night, sometime around midnight, we gave up and sat in the car, listening to the drama play out until the sun came up.

3. No Faulkner

Actually that rule can be extended to a lot of writers. James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot. Basically anyone who needs a desk reference companion or anyone whose language you need to read slowly to appreciate. After all, it takes a lot of quiet time to appreciate a line like, “A rose is a rose is a rose,” and you want to figure out what it going on and why you’ve forced yourself to endure that kind of poem before you move on.

Don’t get me wrong. I like The Sound and the Fury as much as the next guy, but it’s kind of a slow burning appreciation.

4. Nothing Too Sexy

You do NOT want to be the guy with that look on your face at a stoplight. Keep your D.H. Lawrence at home.

5. Consider the Actor

Some actors are good. Some are too good. I drive the Los Angeles freeway system all the time. Listening to Alex Cross can be a dangerous thing especially during a gun battle when I’m changing lanes. The bad guy is just ahead and the panic in the actor’s voice works its way from my ear to my foot, and now I’m weaving trying to save the woman, that poor, poor woman.

The CHP generally frowns on this kind of listening.

No, it’s not cheating to listening to audiobooks. In fact, it’s one of my great pleasures, but it needs to be done responsibly.

The wrong book can ruin your whole life.