Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Other Side of Self publishing And all the things we don't know.

First, let me apologise for my absence and for not submitting my last scheduled post. I have been dealing with stuff which just didn't allow me the space nor prepared the right state of mind to get something together. But here I am.

As a relatively new published author, who chose the self publishing path, I have been consumed, frustrated and totally confused by all the stuff I don't know ...about the marketing and promoting side of self publishing.  And recently, during my researches on how to make my book available and accessible to libraries and bookstores, I have been bombarded with articles and discussions, which sent me on a Googling rampage, researching and comparing the pros and cons of using both Createspace and Ingram Spark. How those platforms benefit my book. And somewhere along the lines, I discovered - though I cannot vouch for the
credibility, as I am a novice at this whole publishing business - that libraries and bookstores don't like dealing with Createspace nor can I use my free assigned Createspace ISBN with big distributors; that bookstores don't like dealing with Createspace  etc. etc. etc. Each time I read an article, I found something new, something different, something contradictory to what I read before. And it all left me more and more confused and frustrated.

I have now set up my title with Ingram Spark, despite my state of total confusion, because I have been convinced that it is wise to do so for wider distribution and because I am determined to get my book into the book stores.

I love that word "Hope". I keep pushing on, putting one foot in front of the other, like I take one step at a time, with hopes that each step will take Force Ripe nearer to the place I envision it - on the book shelves! Will Ingram Spark help open those doors?


Friday, February 17, 2017

Income Taxes Done and Mailed

by Linda Thorne

I recently finished our taxes and mailed them off to the IRS. Yep, mailed them. Used the good old United Postal Service stamp and all. Much to my chagrin that was the easy part. The process has been more complicated since I started using income and expenses for my writing career, but with expenses outweighing income considerably, it has been well worth the effort.

My dream of becoming a full-time writer started in 2005. I was so far from any success, I did not file expenses. I continued writing, getting some stories published in magazines, an anthology in 2012, but I still did not file taxes as a writer. I do not know much about IRS rules on whether writing is a hobby or a business, but I’ve avoided all that because my whole purpose since 2005 has always been a writing business versus a hobby. I’m not giving tax advice as I’m certainly far from an expert, but I sure didn’t want to mess with the IRS by calling my writing a business in the early years when I hadn't made a penny. I knew someday I’d feel better with some oomph, like having a novel published.

And then it happened. In 2014, my novel, Just Another Termination, was accepted for publication by Black Opal Books for a 2015 publication date. I needed to work quickly to build some sort of platform and I needed a website. With that came all the trappings of a business from business cards to paid advertising. That was the first year I filed Schedule C and claimed expenses for the “start-up” of my writing business. I made some mistakes the first year. One of them was checking the bottom of the first page of Schedule C as “some investment is not at risk.” I didn't know exactly what that meant, but it wasn’t applicable to me as the IRS wanted me to send another form to show why some were not at risk. I changed my form that year to “all investment is at risk” and that’s how I’ve filed since.

Last year I made a mistake on Schedule C and included my royalties there and then again on form 1040 as “other income,” a slight loss to me since my royalties were not big numbers (far from it). The schedule C form, I believe, is for revenue you receive on selling the books you’ve bought against the cost you paid for them along with all the other expenses. It tracks your inventory at the start of the year and then what inventory you end up with. My husband tracks my expenses for promotion, office expenses, gas and driving, entertainment. We’ve learned that food and drink expenses (always at 50%), and gas and parking are not allowed unless you are away overnight. I got to include 50% of my food and drink expenses for a trip to Mobile, Alabama in February 2016 and to Bouchercon in New Orleans in October 2016.

Local mileage and parking and food and drink might be allowed as an expense if you use your home as your office. I tried that this year. The form for that was way too complicated to me and I didn’t bother, but ALAS, I saw there was a Simplified Method Worksheet to use instead. Not simple enough for me. I think, and I could be wrong, that unless you are making a profit, you cannot expense the cost of the office you use at home. There was a place on Schedule C to include the entire square footage of your home and that of your office, which I entered as zero expense since I lost money. If I’m wrong, at least it’s there for the possibility of the IRS catching and giving me a minimal benefit if there is such a thing. They’ve actually caught and changed a few errors in my favor over the past few years.

I have heard that the IRS is skeptical of authors with losses and not a single sale for too many years. My recommendation, and again I’m not the expert, is you don’t start claiming expenses for a writing career until you know you have a sellable publication coming up soon. I’ve offered a little information from my tax experiences as a writer. If any of you have some experiences or advice to share, please do.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Orphan Annie

We  live on a large piece of land, so it is ideal for a dog.  On the other hand, we travel a lot, by airplane, which does not make a dog an idea pet.

So, when we exited our property and saw a small dog sitting beside our gate, we did not stop to pick it up.  And while there are no houses close to our gate, still, it could be someone else's dog - without a collar.

However, when we came home at the end of the day, a light mist was falling and there, sitting right beside our gate was the same small, white dog. I had to stop and my wife had to pick the wet dog up and we took it to our home.

She was what we used to call a Heinz dog, 57 varieties.  And while I said she was a
small dog, she was really a puppy and one with large feet, signaling that she would probably grow into a large dog. Naturally, since she was obviously abandoned and had no family, she was named Orphan Annie.

She soon became right at home on our property and followed up everywhere we  walked - down the roads on our property, around the lake, around the more manicured lawn area. She was  a happy dog, seldom barked. 

But as she grew, we discovered she had a sweet tooth. If there were flowers growing in the yard, she would nip off the blossoms.  As we walked through the trees, should I point to a flower, Annie would race over and devour it.  We finally got in the habit of directing the other to look at a flower, but no pointing.

Annie was not a good traveler in our small paddle boat. So, we would set out to paddle around the lake. Annie would jump into the lake and swim along beside or behind us. Even in the water, if she found a water lily, she would feast on it.

We  had a man who worked for us, helping to keep the place park-like. Trees have a habit of dropping limbs, or dying. So Joe would clean up all the limbs, saw up and dispose of any tree carcasses, mow the grass and tend to those flowers that Annie did not take care of first. He loved Annie, spending much of his time playing with the dog. Joe claimed he had never seen a dog who could run as fast.

Somewhat  later, when we were ready for another long trip, Joe said he would love to take Annie to live with him.  We agreed and when we returned, Joe asked if he could just keep Annie. Joe's wife had died and he really needed a dog to keep him company. We thought Joe would be good to Annie, and he was. We stayed in touch with Annie, taking her to the vet a couple of times each year.

So Orphan Annie really became just Annie as she and Joe hit it off and formed a neat, small family.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How to Not to Write Novel #8

Starting can be hard. It very often takes me a long, long time to edge up sideways to starting an idea. I have to "nerve up" in order to start a book or short story. And usually that means lots and lots of thinking. 

Sometimes it's just finding the right situation for the opening scene. Sometimes it's down to an opening line. Most of the time though I just have to think about it long enough to make starting possible. 

It ends up taking as long as it takes. But once I start the dam breaks and I can get going. But getting that first word on paper can be nerve wracking.

How do you start? With a scene? With an idea? Do you do a lot of pre-writing? 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Talking Heads

An admission: Recently, I read one of my early titles from 2003, and realized that at times, I had a habit of "head-hopping" - switching from one viewpoint character to another in the same scene. In 2005, I took a Point of View writing course and learned a lot about what "not" to do. This past weekend, as I was thinking about what to post for this month's Novel Spaces blog, I remembered a great blog post by fiction editor Beth Hill that addressed the topic of Head Hopping, therefore, I'm sharing the link below from a site called The Editor's Blog.

One thing I will say, that I know most authors are aware of, is that as writers, we need to be mindful of staying in the mind of the narrator or if the chapter is in Character A's POV, stay with that character's audible, internal thoughts, and emotions about what he/she sees, tastes, touches, etc. If Character A is on the phone, and has the receiver to his/her ear, Character B who is sitting across the room cannot hear the person Character A is talking to (unless the phone is on speaker). It's Character A's ears. Character B can perceive the conversation based upon gestures, facial expressions, a feeling, etc., but he/she cannot literally hear the other person. If there's a scene break or chapter break, there can be a switch, but it is best to stay in one character's head at a time. We owe it to our readers to not confuse them or lose them. Ahh, the craft! LOL

Enjoy, and write on!

Head-Hopping Gives Readers Whiplash by fiction editor Beth Hill

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When is it charity?

Image result for classroom managementLast November I did an author presentation at an inner city public school. I was unprepared for what I saw. The arrangement was made earlier in the spring when I met the program coordinator for the school at a STEM workshop that I conducted at a children’s museum. She was impressed with the way I engaged the children and invited me to present at her school for American Education week. We worked out everything beforehand. I waived the speaker’s fee if I was guaranteed a certain amount of sales in books. There was the order. All was set.

When I arrived at the school, the first thing I noticed was the dilapidated infrastructure of the school and the surrounding neighborhood, a clear sign that it was a low income area. There was no one to greet me at the office. The coordinator was at a meeting off campus and the principal wasn't in as yet. There was no assembly of kids as I’d grown accustomed to at other school presentations. Instead I had to go to the different classes, dragging my games and paraphernalia to present to the children. I was not escorted to the classes, but had to find my way to each class (it’s a huge school) lugging around heavy boxes. Worst yet, there was a miscommunication about the classes, so one class I went to the students were at lunch.

I noticed the teachers were not only unprepared for me, but they were unprepared for their own classes. First off, they weren’t informed that they were having a speaker. The first class I went to, the students, equipped with tablets, were playing games while the teacher on her phone used social media. There was absolutely no class control, and my introduction was, “This lady is here to talk to you,” before she stepped out of the room.

 Assuming I was a substitute teacher, a kid promptly threw a paper at me. Of course the teacher in me kicked in. I picked it up, smiled, and read a lovely love letter from it. Poor student turned red. Of course the paper was blank, but the rest of the class didn’t know that. That got their attention and after that I had a pretty engaging interactive author talk.

The next class was also unprepared for me, but the teacher graciously worked with what she could in the way of an introduction. Quite a fulfilling experience as the students were engaged.

The last class I went to was chaos, total chaos. The teacher was screaming at the top of her lungs to call them inside. An teacher's aid in the class was surfing the internet on a computer. He didn’t even bother to look up or acknowledge me. They kids were like chickens without a head, running here and there while the teacher screamed for them to settle down. I noticed immediately the reading level of this class was not up to standard, so omitted the “talk” took out my model of the cell and asked them to guess what it is. Their attention had, I then proceeded to do an entertaining activity with them that tied into the book. Yes they settled down without me having to shout at them. Yes I engaged them. Yes they were asking to stay longer. And yes, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Finally, the day was done. I was shocked at what I experienced, but having taught K-12 for some time, I knew how to handle myself. I went back to the principal’s office to settle on the order of books. The principal of course took the books that she ordered before saying, “Oops, the lady who signs the checks is not here today and she has the only key to the drawer with the checkbook.” She assured me she would send the check by mail.

A month later, not having received the check, I emailed both the principal and the coordinator. No response. To this day I haven’t seen the check. I haven't received one letter or email thanking me coming. Knowing it’s an underfunded school district, I’m torn between pushing for the money owed to me, and counting it as charity. But even underfunded, the reception could have, and should have been better.

What do you think? Should I demand the money for my books, or should I write it off as a charitable donation?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Guest author J.D. Lakey: White Space

Eventually, no matter what kind of writer you are or how experienced you become, every writer gets the dreaded WRITER'S BLOCK. Oh, I am not talking about the little sputters, like when you are writing away, full steam ahead, damn the torpedoes, the juices flowing, amazing words are streaming out of your keyboard filling your empty screen with magic, and then all of a sudden, the fire dies, the juices dry up, the song inside your head goes silent and you stare at your fingers and wonder why they have forgotten how to type. All that white space on your screen glares back at you reproachfully.

Experience says that you need to turn off your computer and walk away for a moment. Usually you realize instantly that you have made your character do or say something that is out of character or you have broken the cardinal rule of fiction – show, don't tell, or worse, you have been editorializing - inserting your own personal opinions into a characters thoughts or dialogue, weighing the story down like a two-ton load of bricks.

So you go for a walk or turn on something mindless on the TV or clean your house, all the while clearing your mind so your subconscious can work out the problem. Sleeping on it always helps. The next day, you start fresh by deleting the offending words. Or paragraphs. Or chapters. In this new world of publishing, you have to wear many hats. So you put on your editor's hat and cut. It was good, that stuff you are now deleting. Maybe you save the old stuff. Shove it down to the bottom of the screen, thinking you will use it somewhere else, a couple chapters on. Trust me. You won't. Out of context, it has no meaning and if it was a dead weight now, it will be doubly so somewhere else. Get rid of it. If it needs to be in your story, you will write it again, only better.

True writers block, the kind where no matter what you write just sorta sputters and dies a pitiful death on screen can stop you cold for weeks on end. I got 50,000 words into book five of the Black Bead Chronicles when this happened. I wrote other things. I binge-watched Netflix. I read. I edited.

A couple short stories later - short stories are how I work out dialogue, or relationships, or plot ideas - I figured it out.

Other authors have written about characters taking on a life of their own. I wanted book five to be the last of the series. I wanted a happy ending – well, not happy, exactly, but an ending that put closure to all the threads of all the lives of all my characters. Apparently my characters did not want closure. They wanted a gods-honest, happily-ever-after-ending.

Well, crap.

I had just lit a figurative bomb and dropped it in the middle of the main character's life at the end of book four, Trade Fair. How the hell was this going to end well? I wrote a final scene for book five and then stopped. Here was the puzzle. How was I going to take the prologue and make a story that flowed like a river to that end?

A half dozen short stories later, I started writing Black Bead Chronicles again. I still didn't know how it was all going to work out, but I had forgotten that it did not matter. I don't so much write as tell stories, stories with twists and turns that always surprise me. I, more than any of my readers, want to know how the story ends. There will be a happily-ever-after ending. I promise, but it will be later, after all the adventures are done.

Can I say anymore than that? Nope. Which is why I keep writing.

J.D. Lakey is the author of The Black Bead Chronicles. Find her on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads and YouTube.