"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ah-hem... tap-tap... is this thing on?

What does a girl have to do to get noticed? Better yet, what would Erma do?

That would be Erma Bombeck, humor writer extraordinaire, who, if she didn't pave the way for slice-of-life humor essayists, at least smoothed the path for those of us who followed. Erma died too young, at 69, due to complications from a kidney transplant. I imagine if she had lived, we'd still be reading her in magazines, seeing her on TV, and looking for her books in the stores.

On a side note, I just read the previous sentence and was struck by how I wrote that we would be "reading her" instead of "reading her stories." That was the heart of Erma Bombeck - we were always reading HER. It was always her voice telling us tales of her life. Whether they were funny or poignant, or even exaggerated to the point of no return, we felt like we knew her by the end of every 500 words.

Not only do I love humor essays, I was born on her birthday: February 21st, which makes me feel very close to her even if I'm not.

So now that I have been a humor essayist for six years, I thought it was time to put out a book of my columns, which I've talked about here. I named the book What Would Erma Do? because it was, and is, a common mantra of mine.

Me: "Should I do x or y?"
Me Again: "I don't know. What would Erma do?"

I realize that you have to advertise and promote and sometimes give free samples in order to build your audience. I gave 5 free autographed copies out at Goodreads, which was fun. I've also offered free e-downloads at Smashwords until March 9th.*

Here's the thing - I've only had TWO people take me up on the free download offer. Really? Really, people? The cool thing about Smashwords is that you can download in any format. Kindle, pdf, rtf, lrf (for Sony e-readers), Nook, html, plain text, you name it, they've got it. And it's free right now. FREE.

Just go to http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/40096, select your format and enter XW39W for the coupon code.

My only request is, if you like it, please either post a review on Amazon, or leave it in the comments on my blog, or email your nice words to me. If you don't like it, I don't mind a bad review if it's 1) a thoughtful analysis of what you didn't like; or 2) funny, although snarky. I don't want to hear that I'm ugly and my mother dresses me funny. Preaching to the choir, kids.

*Why March 9th? Because it's the first day of Lent, so I thought I'd offer the freebie while I was still feeling celebratory.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's a new dawn, it's a new day

Last weekend, I went to the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego. I've been to this conference before - as a matter of fact, I've been going to this conference twice a year since Palm Springs in 2005, I believe. I've sung its virtues before. For people who like to write, it's a working conference. For people who have something written for possible publication, it's a chance to meet agents, editors, and publishers. For people who have questions about where their writing should be going, there are people who've been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

In other words, if you're a writer, any kind of writer, this conference is money well spent.

So this year I went with a head full of questions. My second Peri book is written and where I think it should be for submission. It's out with two agents, who requested it. One agent has had the book for a few months and another for a few weeks. Neither of these is too long for agents, and I could be content to wait for one of them to respond.

And yet, there is a new world out there. Borders' bankruptcy, self-publishing, and the Rise of the E-Book have conspired to set publishing spinning out of the Big Five's orbit. Rumor has it (rumor, people, meaning NOT verified) that Borders owes Penguin books $300 million, of which they might get pennies back on the dollar when the dust has settled. Chances are, Penguin will be able to survive this; however, because their business model was carved in stone during the Jurassic Era, I'm guessing they will cling more tightly to their old, established, revered, inflexible ways of doing business. I foresee them putting more of their money into their established authors and taking less chances on the newbies, or mid-list writers.

And let's talk e-book for a moment. I won't re-hash what Joe Konrath is saying, other than to tell you to go read his blog if you haven't (then come back here). E-books are outselling hard covers. I have a Kindle myself and I love to turn it on and go shopping at 11 o'clock at night. It's impulse buying at its best.

E-books in particular lend themselves to self-publishing, as does Amazon's Createspace, which does a decent job of producing a trade paperback that looks at least as good as my book, Freezer Burn, which was published with a small press.

So I, like many other Writers With Manuscripts, came to the conference wondering which road to go down. Should I wait patiently for the agents' responses? Should I knock at the door of one of the Big Five? Or go with another small press? Is an agent even relevant if I don't want to go to a big house? Or should I just publish the darn thing myself on Createspace/Kindle/Smashwords?

What the conference gave me wasn't answers. What they gave me was a list of things to consider that would help me make the best decision for myself. They assured me that it was no longer One Size Fits All, and that there was no wrong decision.

They also gave me permission to make a choice that might turn out wrong for me. In the old days, if you made one misstep, it was a long road back to redemption. For example, if you self-published ANYTHING in the past, a big publisher would not LOOK at any of your future work. Or, if your first book didn't sell well (even if you were out there hawking it every weekend and twice on Sundays), you'd never get the deal for the second book. If you've heard those rules, ignore them. Nothing's set in stone anymore except one thing:


As the SCWC showed me this weekend, the sky's the limit once you've done that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Emitting waves of crazy

INSANITY: Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

I spend part of every day playing ball in the family room with my dog, Duffy. The routine is, well, routine. I throw the ball down the hallway, he catches it and runs back toward me, then at some point, he starts to chew on the ball. This is a bad sign. I know he will then wedge the ball underneath the coffee table. Having wedged the ball firmly, he paws furiously and whines until I extricate the ball, yell at him about it, and we start the process again.

He knows that pushing the ball under the table will result in not being able to retrieve it. I know that he will push the ball under the table and I'll have to dig it out.

Which one of us is more insane?

I'm only asking these questions because I'm asking myself similar questions about being a writer. What processes do I keep repeating that never worked in the first place?

For example, when I published Freezer Burn, everyone was designing and distributing bookmarks, so I did, too. I handed them out, at signings, book festivals, libraries, you name it. Did they increase my visibility and my sales? I haven't a clue.

And yet, I designed a bookmark for What Would Erma Do. I haven't ordered them yet, because I'm wondering, especially in this digital age, are they worth the paper they're printed on?

Given the fact that there is an estimated 300,000 books being published this year, and not counting the bazillions of books from years past that people are just discovering, I'm wondering how to maximize my exposure without having to post that sex video. (Just joking. REALLY.)

If you're an author, what kinds of things are you doing differently to get people's attention? If you're a reader, what is turning your head in today's market?

Monday, February 7, 2011


Today's blog post is brought to you by the letter "L" for Libraries. Lovely, likeable, learned, limitless libraries - often small buildings, packed with big ideas. The place where anyone can look up information on anything. The quiet zone. A place for children to discover stories, myths, and legends.

I'm on this rant because the Placentia Library Friends Foundation is hosting their annual Author's Luncheon this March. It's a fundraiser for the foundation, which serves the library. So far, the group has outfitted the library with a computer lab, new flooring, children's programs, and more. The luncheon is unashamedly money-conscious: tickets are $50, plus a silent auction, plus a percentage of the author's books, plus more opportunities to give your dollars, all for a good cause. Because the library is a good cause.

In their quest to get corporate donations for this event, the volunteers have been contacting companies in and near Placentia, to ask for a contribution. One of the volunteers reported that many companies have rebuffed her, saying, "Libraries are on their way out. You can get everything you need on the internet."


First, I had to laugh at their naivety. When Dale and I went to Parent Day at Cal State Long Beach, one of the sessions was given by a campus librarian, who told us, "I will spend your student's first year here convincing them that, just because you can't Google it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

Not everything is on the internet. There are presidential papers, theses, doctoral dissertations, that reside in brick-and-mortar buildings, in their original state. Some of them were actually hand-written, some were typed on a typewriter, but they have not been scanned or entered into a computer in any way. And yet, they are still actively used in research, by anyone who is interested in learning.

I could make a snarky comment about the level of intelligence of these company representatives, but I'll restrain myself. Feel free to make fun of them amongst yourselves.

My second rebuttal to their claim will take a brief story to illustrate:

When my son, Marcus, was in elementary school, we had a constant problem with sweatshirts. Marcus would wear them to school, take them off at some point, leave them somewhere, and never see them again. Putting his name on the tag was useless. It was irritating, until I picked him up one day at the on-site daycare. It was winter in southern California and late in the day, so the temperature outside was creeping down through the 60's. A little boy came running through the room, wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, his exposed skin ruddy with cold. The daycare lady told him to get his jacket on.

"I don't have one," he told her. From the way he said it, I knew he meant he didn't own a jacket.

"Take one out of the lost and found," she said. "You can return it before you go home."

I suddenly understood where Marcus' sweatshirts had been going, and my irritation disappeared. I knew our elementary school served a diverse population, both in race and in socio-economic conditions. Now I saw what this meant, in a personal way.

What does this have to do with libraries? Just this: some families in our community cannot provide adequate clothing for their children. Some children get public assistance to pay for their lunches. For some children, this is their only meal of the day. For their families, it is a constant struggle to keep the car running, to get to the minimum-wage job so they can pay the rent. Where would they get the money for a computer, much less internet services?

Without the library, some people would not have access to the same information that we take for granted. People who are on a fixed income, people who are struggling to make ends meet, people who may not have financial need, but who require personal help, would all be set adrift if there were no libraries to help them.

I can afford to buy a book I want to read, however, it's often easier and much cheaper to just check it out of the library. I save paper. I don't clutter my house with one more book that may not get read again. It's a win-win.

I could make a snarky comment about the level of compassion of these company representatives, but I'll restrain myself. I will only leave you with my opinion and my warning: If libraries cease to exist, we will widen the gulf between the already-gaping economic classes. And the belief we have always held as Americans, that we can work hard to better ourselves and provide a better future for our children, will become more of a myth than anything on a library's shelves.

There. I don't know about you, but I feel better.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sorry for the delay

I realize I haven't posted for awhile, and I'm awfully sorry about that. I've tried to post a couple of times, but when my thoughts haven't been too scattered to collect into one place, they've been plain old, day-old stale. Here's where they are scattering:

1. Should I make bookmarks for my new book, What Would Erma Do? I could leave them at the library to drum up business, but other than that, is there any other place who would use them? I've handed them out at book festivals, conferences, etc. but having been a recipient of TONS of bookmarks, I can't say I've ever used any of the ones I was given. Perhaps the day of the advertising bookmark is done. Maybe I should hand out pens… or Kindle covers with my cover on them…

2. I need to push the advertising of the new book. I've been hanging back while it got uploaded for Kindle, but now that it's oh-so-nearly complete, I need to prepare to get busy!

3. I need to edit and update my Peri short story and decide what to do with it. I've got a couple of ideas, but I need to actually DO them.

4. My second Peri book is in the hands of two agents. I was flattered to have them request it. One has had it for a couple of months, however. I've contacted her once to see whether she got it, whether it's a no, but haven't gotten a response. Should I contact her one more time and piss her off? The other agent just received it, so she gets more time.

5. Speaking of the second book and agents, should I even be pursuing a contract with a publisher or should I self-pub?

6. Next week, I'm off to a horse show in Burbank, and the following week I'll be at the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego. Just in those two weekends, there's a lot to think about, as well as some packing to do.

So until I have something meaningful to tell you, I'll leave you with a lady I love to learn from, Marla Miller. She has a great website on how to market your muse. Oh - and if any of YOU have something meaningful to tell ME, go ahead and spill. I may be scattered, but I'm still listening.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.