Friday, December 31, 2010

Cash In The Attic, Oprah, Paul McCartney's girlfriend and the flu

I’ve been in bed with the flu and after three days of continuous sleeping I found myself awake, weak and needing television at 6 in the morning.  Imagine my delight to find an episode of Cash In The Attic just starting.  It was a Christmas week miracle. No, really!  Here was a show I would have gladly watched in prime time available at 6 in the a.m. when only re-runs of Full House or Family Matters were on. It’s like finding an old episode of Antiques Roadshow in the middle of the night.

The host of  C.I.T.A has those eyes that are a little too out there and a little too wide but his enthusiasm is boundless. The premise of the show is to create some needed cash for the homeowner by auctioning  their unwanted tchotchkes.  The family is always deserving:  either the father doesn’t have work  or someone’s been ill or is in Iraq.   Each participant needs a modest sum usually under $2000 to fulfill a decorating dream.  In the episode I watched the mother wants to buy a new bedroom set for her daughter.   The C.I.T.A team begins to scavenge the house room by room. They pick up items, pause, and ask the owner:  Are you sure you want to part with this? The owner, caught up in the moment, nods yes in a stupor.   This would be my dream team.  Are you kidding me?  They come to my house, take all the “stuff” and put it in their truck! What’s wrong with this picture?  NOTHING!

When the house, garage and attic are picked clean, the team estimates what the treasures will yield at the auction.  Secretly the audience (me) is rooting that the figure will grow and the deserving contestant will double or triple the money needed.

Fast forward to the auction.  The C.I.T.A. team and the contestant are in the front row cheering and crying and carrying on. Here’s how the auction went:  Four Louisa May Alcott dolls (Jo was missing) that had been bought from a neighbor for five dollars each sold for $30 each. The husband’s antique six pack metal coke holder went for $30. An old wooden tube radio went for $30. An etched coffee table top with (I think) the map of the U. S. went for $40.  An old Bausch and Lomb microscope went for over $100.  Then they sold off the girl’s old bedroom set that looked perfect - good mahogany with a bowfront dresser and fourposter bed, etc. it brought in a few hundred dollars.

The auctioned items  realized not the $1100 they needed for the new bedroom set but $1180.  I always think that Oprah is watching and will help them in a much better way. And speaking of Oprah, did you see her on the Kennedy Center Honors program? In back of the honorees were all the companions.  Yes, there was Stedman and Gayle in back of Oprah and Sir Paul’s new girlfriend in back of him. At one point while Sir Paul was mouthing the words to one of his songs as Steven Tyler sang it, the girlfriend rested her chin on Sir Paul’s shoulder.  

When Alec Baldwin was introducing Paul’s segment and began the sentence:  “Paul married. . . “ I thought he was going to say Paul married a neurotic gold digger named Heather but instead he said Paul married rock and roll to beauty.

Anyway, I’m better today. and I lost four pounds. 


Saturday, December 25, 2010

If this were the happiest day of my life what would have happened to make it so?

When I woke up this morning, I asked:  If this were the happiest day of my life what would have happened to make it so? The answer came almost immediately.

Nothing.  My life is exactly what and where it should be. Maybe yours is too.
Merry Christmas everybody!           

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CVS: entered innocent, left a pro

I entered CVS early one Tuesday to buy batteries. The circular said the CVS AA batteries were BOGO (buy one get one free). I put two in the basket.  Palmolive liquid was also BOGO. I put two in the basket.  I needed laundry detergent and scent-free All had a one dollar reward.  Bought two ALL  and put in the basket.  Put one regular Clorox in the basket.  Scott t. paper was on sale. Put package of 12 in the basket. 

I passed an innocent looking red machine that said: instant coupons.  I showed it my CVS rewards card and it spit out: $2 any detergent coupon, $2 any CVS brand item coupon, $3 any Scott item coupon.  Added to my $2 reward from my detergent, I now had $9 in cash equivalent plus two BOGO items that totaled about $4.  This is how I worked it:  I used the $3 Scott coupon to buy my “on sale” toilet paper. I used the $2.00 CVS brand coupon to buy one of my two CVS AA batteries, 2.99 (the other was free because of BOGO).  I bought one All with the $2 detergent coupon and used the All $1 reward for the Clorox.  I got back in line and bought the second All and used the $1 reward to buy one of the Palmolive liquid .99 (the second one was free because of BOGO.

This is why I’m not further along.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What People Pray For at 8 a.m. Weekdays

There is a little country church four blocks from my house and occasionally, I attend weekday mass.  Self-help books are always saying that if you practice silence, you’ll get guidance from God.  I would like a big fat message from above. “Hello, there.  I’ve been thinking about you a lot and I have some definite ideas about how you could lead the life that I had in mind when I created you."  The truth?  I don’t have a clue what I want God to say.   Church forces me to slow down and think.   The candlelight is hypnotic. I usually arrive late for mass and wearing my worst shoes because they’re near the door.  Shoes have defined my life because I’m short.  I feel invisible in church although I’ve studied every person at the daily attendance and when I look out on the men and women, tidy and intent, I feel what I can only describe as affection. There are very few people under fifty at daily mass.  Some are so old they have to hang on to the pew as they make their way down the aisle.  One of the women who works in the sacristy stopped me one morning. She kissed my cheek and said,  “I see you praying every day.”  I wonder if I’m praying or just using the church.   I always take communion even though I haven’t been to confession since high school. Perhaps the rule about mortal sin and taking communion has changed along with the Latin.  I liked the Latin. Et in terra pax hominibus, bone voluntatis.  Who wouldn’t like that?
There’s another event during weekday mass.   Between the Gospel and the Offertory people call out what they want from God and the congregation chants: Lord hear my prayer. This is a brilliant enticement on the part of the church because it gives people the idea that a miracle might happen.  It makes church going exciting.  You can just jump in with an entry. 
Most people ask, “for a special intention.”  One man asks for the same thing every day. He says, "for those traveling today, Lord hear my prayer."  Maybe he knew someone who was killed in a crash or derailment.   One woman prays for “our beloved deceased.”  Occasionally someone will mention a real name: “for my son, John, who has a birthday today.” I haven't heard anyone ask for money or fame. 
If it weren’t so crass and unreligious, I would say:  “Lord help me sell a boat load of e-books today.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am not at home

I had to leave my house and go up island and it took me three days to force myself out of the door and on the train. I packed my bag on Friday but I left on Monday. I'm not sure if I made up being agoraphobic or whether I am really agoraphobic.  Or maybe  I made it up and it came true.  I always think the house will blow up when I'm not there because of something I failed to do.  I've only ever heard of three houses blowing up and two of them were blown up on purpose by the government. 
The train station is at the end of my block so I only cross one street to get on the train.  The modernized Long Island Railroad is a very weird customer with many levels of different sizes.  I always sit on the entry level in the nearest seat.  I realize this is for disabled people but no one ever makes me get up.  My branch of the Long Island Railroad is what I perceive purgatory will look and feel like.  It is solitary and cold.  The view out of the window is of desolate tangled flora, deserted industrial buildings or contiguous backyards with abandoned above ground pools and utility sheds.  I try to read on the train but if you don't sit up straight, you tend to slide off the seats.  I tried to read "The girl who played with fire" by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson.  This is noir, noir fiction and perfect for the train.  I've always loved Sweden because they bought foreign rights to my books and kept them in print for a long time.

The good thing about traveling on this train is that it makes you review your life.  Okay that's not the good thing.  I'm writing this blog from my destination.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Diesel, Kobo

 It is the Christmas season and everyone is buying presents.  One of the hottest presents for 2010 (I’ve heard) is the Kindle or a Kindle-like e-reading device. I will tell you everything I know (not even remotely comprehensive or maybe even true) about e-readers, e-reading services and e-bookstores.

When I uploaded my books on Amazon, I formatted them to be read on the Kindle, the most popular and well-known e-reader. I also uploaded all of the books on a site named Smashwords.  Smashwords not only helped me to format my books with their excellent free Guide, but they agreed to convert, distribute and manage sales of my books for other e-readers or e-bookstores. I am the bookstore owner over at Amazon but at Smashwords I only supply content.  Skipping Amazon, Smashwords distributes my books to the following:

Amazon:  Amazon’s Kindle is by far the most prevalent e-reader.  It is sold on Amazon and now (I hear) available elsewhere. It is about $139.
Barnes & Noble:  This big traditional bookstore elbowed in on Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) and created it’s own e-reader:  The Nook.  The Nook takes different formatting than the Kindle.  If I had to rank e-readers, the Nook would be Number 2.  I’ve sold four books on B&N in about eight weeks.  Since they have millions of offerings and many of them free, I consider those four book sales a miracle.  Recently B&N instituted Pubit, an entity that lets authors create and manage their own virtual bookstore just as they do on Amazon.  I haven’t done that yet.  I saw the Nook for sale at Wal-Mart.

Apple:  There is an Apple iBookstore and I’ve sold one book there but I cannot navigate the site and cannot find my books.  Steve Jobs tell me why.  Most digital books can be downloaded on the iPad, the iPhone or the Mac.  I have sold one book over at Apple.  I believe my friend Jeff bought it.

Sony: Sony has it’s own e-reader.  They simply call it a Reader Pocket Edition and they claim it is the thinnest and lightest e-Reader.  It is $179.99.  They also have a Touch Edition and a Daily Edition. (I don’t know why.) All of my books were at the Sony e-bookstore but were drastically reduced.  I’ve sold 4 books at Sony.

Diesel:  Diesel is an eBook Store based in Richmond Virginia but not really.  As they say it “only exists inside your computer.”  They also say: “you may be surprised to hear that we don’t view eBooks as our core business.  Yes, we sell them by the boatload.  That’s the product.  Our real business, however, is to provide a fun, positive, engaging customer experience." They offer an “intuitive way to break your e-Book search down.”  I don’t know what any of that means but good luck.  My sales there: 0.

Kobo:  Kobo is a global e-reading service that delivers content (books, etc.) and allows you to read it on the device of your choice be it e-reader, tablet, smartphone, computer, etc. The e-reading applications are free.  Kobo also offers the Kobo e-reader starting at $149. I looked myself up on Kobo and found my oeuvre sharp, neat and complete.  Sales? 0

In recent weeks, Borders and Google have announced e-book subsidiaries for authors and publishers.  Borders wants to charge authors to put content on their site.  No thank you.  Google, because of its astonishing reach (and it is free) is more interesting but until after the New Year, I don’t have the energy to begin uploading and creating a shop over there.  It looks as if we are going to have an explosion of e-reading.

Please do your own research because it is cold in my house and I may not be thinking clearly.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If you want to write a historical family saga, this is how I did it.

            When I began my historical saga, Daughters, I could just as easily have been about to perform brain surgery.  That is how inexperienced I was at research, never mind integrating world events and data into a smooth flowing narrative.  My major qualification was that my paternal grandparents had grown up in a small village near Jerusalem (where my novel is set) and many relatives were still around to remember how things were done in the old days. I began with an oral history from both men and women.  If there are people who still remember their own stories or stories they heard growing up an oral history helps you get the minutiae of daily life down in an unselfconscious way.   Oral history told me the terrain of the village, when the harvests took place and how the villagers participated.  I found out the kind of food they ate, the rhythm of the seasons and the way they spent their days.  I knew details of how the average boy and girl courted and married.
            Jerusalem has always been a cosmopolitan city because of the pilgrims who flock to the Holy Places for all religions.  There are many travel books and memoirs written about it. Both Mark Twain and Agatha Christie visited Jerusalem. Two of the most helpful books were Jerusalem Walks and the diaries of the Society of Friends. Jerusalem Walks  pinpoints the street and house number of stores, banks, publications, monasteries, churches etc. When you can name a street or a specific spot, the reader feels comfortable and begins to trust the author.
            In this passage, the father in Book One inherits a plot of land and grows some vegetables that he brings on a cart to sell in Jerusalem:
By May he was able to bring his early crop to the Jaffa Gate and sell it alongside those of the other village farmers. The plaza outside Jaffa Gate was the busiest spot in all Jerusalem for here ended the well-traveled road from the ancient port city of Jaffa.  Here, diligences, carriages bringing imported necessities and luxuries, discharged their passengers and goods. Mustafa fashioned a two-tiered cart with long handles to hold his produce and he and Miriam pushed it the ten miles from Tamleh every Wednesday.  The spot they chose was at the foot of Suleiman Street in front of the French Hospital of St. Louis.
It was the thriving hub of the city.  Jaffa Road, though still unpaved, had sidewalks.  In just one small stretch, across from the Russian Compound, there was a branch of Barclay’s Bank, the Hughes Hotel, a specialty cobbler and several elegant shops and cafes.  The Greek Consulate occupied spacious offices stop one building that housed a branch of the Russian Post Office below.”
             Also invaluable were the diaries of the Society of Friends who began building schools in my fictional village in the 1850’s.  With the help of the diaries, I knew precisely what day, the British Protectorate ended and the area was left without a government because the teachers heard the armies marching out at midnight and I could say that with certainty to my readers.
            Toward the end of the First World War, when my fictional family has to leave the village to escape a famine and cholera, they walk across the Jordan to a monastery in En Salt.  I was completely comfortable describing the terrain because I had read descriptions in several memoirs.
It was so hot.  The dust on the road attacked their throats and gagged them and they stopped speaking to conserve their saliva.  Only Esa had energy and he skipped ahead sometimes running back to apprise them of some horny-headed lizard or chameleon he spotted on a rock.  Toward afternoon of the next day, after stopping to rest at dawn, they reached the great depression of the Ghor that provided a bed for the Jordan.  They passed many gorges into which the debris from the hillsides had tumbled creating a desolate wasteland.  Most frightening of all were the narrow defiles with perpendicular sheets of striated cliffs on each side allowing no place to turn should they be attacked.  Nadia crooned softly to herself and stuck her thumb in her mouth, lethargic from the heat and dehydration.  The older boys and Nadeem took turns leading the donkey.  Miriam kept her eye on Esa but her mind wandered and from time to time she became disoriented.
On first view, the Jordan appeared as a meandering ribbon of grass.  There were muleteers who warned them of the muddy bottom but when their donkey began to slip and flounder and was in danger of drowning, the men made no move to help.  Nadeem cut the animal loose from the packages and Miriam saw all of their belongings sink to the bottom.  He saved only the food and although he submerged himself several times searching for the water skin, the men called out that it was useless.  The strong current had already taken their cargo several miles.  Nadeem led the donkey back and forth with each of them atop the animal.  When they were all safely on the other side, he sat by himself, his wet clothes plastered around his thin body and wept into his hands.”
If you can use the name of the boat, the name of the street, the name of anything, it becomes  authentic and valuable.
Samir sailed from the port of Jaffa with twelve other passengers on a coal-burning cargo ship of the Khedevieh Line that was under British control.  He left on September 11, allowing himself three weeks to make the trip and arrive in time for the fall term at the London School of Economics, which had become recognized as part of London University for the BSc degree in Economics.  The ship dropped cargo at Naples and Lisbon and that was the last comfortable climate he was to know. The school was located in Aldwych just off The Strand and about a mile from Bloomsbury, the central University site.  He was assigned a cold and drafty room on Fitzroy Street but it might as well have been off the face of the earth as he knew it.”
I felt very comfortable depicting the first meeting of an arranged marriage because I had heard it straight from my aunt’s mouth.  In this scene the rebellious daughter is alone with the boy her parents have decided would be a good match.  He has just asked a fatal question.
“Why do you want to go to such a rigorous school? My sister goes to Mar Yusef.  It’s a good enough place.”
She looked at the boy as if he had spoken an obscenity.  What made him an authority on what was good enough for her?  It’s the best school in Palestine, “ she said firmly.  “The American Consul says so and the British Consul agrees.  Every visiting scholar makes it his business to stop by and lecture to us.  Anyone who graduates can pass the London University Exam or the National Matriculation Exam.  How can you ask such a question?  If you had a choice between having something that was just so-so and having the best, which would you choose?”
The boy was frowning.  He wasn’t expecting such aggression and it confused him.  She could see he was deciding whether to be aggressive in return or to be polite.  He sighed and shifted so that instead of sitting squarely on the couch, he was angled toward her.  “How do you like to pass your time?  Or perhaps you don’t have any free time in this fancy school.”  He said “fancy” in a sarcastic way so she knew his feelings were hurt.
From out of nowhere she had this sense of freedom to say anything she pleased.  It was wonderful not to care how someone reacted.  “I pass my free time playing tennis.  I’m mad for tennis.”  She was trying for an off-hand brittleness precisely because it would annoy him.
“Tennis?  Where you hit the ball back and forth?”
“Well . . . that’s not all of it.”  To explain the finer points of the game would be useless.  He would scoff.  “How do you pass your free time?”
 “I don’t have much of it,” he said proudly.  “My father and I have the franchise for the Singer machines.  Do you own a Singer?  Do you sew?”
For any major event, I always researched at least two sources, especially for the passages of Bedouin life in the desert. I had to know it well enough to put one of my characters in the thick of it for an entire chapter. One of the main characters in Book Two is sent to become “a man” in the desert.  By making Samir naive, the reader and I can ask a lot of questions:
“Why do you choose to live like this? Samir asked.  It had occurred to him that Marwan’s father was wealthier than many of the villagers, yet this life held relentless hardship.  They slept on the stony ground, chilled to the bone by night and suffocated during the day.  Water was precious and rare for these were the driest days of the year and it would be two months before the rains began to replenish the water holes.  Food was monotonous.  The frothy salty camel milk fresh from the udder was repulsive but there was nothing else and he reluctantly began to tolerate it.  The occasional meat was cooked so rare he couldn’t touch it yet the young men fought for the raw heart of any animal that was slaughtered.  They guzzled the blood believing it gave them strength and virility.  “Don’t you yearn for a different life?”
“Where else would I live?  I was born here as was my father and his father before him.”
“But it’s so difficult.  There’s a much easier way.”  As he said this, anxiety rose in him.  Would his father come back to claim him?  And when?
Marwan laughed.  “Easier for whom?  We welcome the hardships of the desert.  We love them.”
“But why?”
He answered with an innocence that made Samir ashamed for questioning.  “We love the desert life because it is ours.”
But it is not mine, thought Samir with sadness.
One early morning, after the moon had set but while it was still dark, Marwan shook him.  “We must ride into the wilderness,” he said and handed Samir a waterskin and some dried dates.  Each rode a dromedary while two riderless mares cantered at their side and held by lines to the camel girths.  A few miles out of the camp, Marwan, rifle in hand, flung himself from the camel onto the back of his mare, unslipped the line and raced off in a cloud yelling wildly.  Samir made three attempts to do the same but fell twice.  He couldn’t ride bareback and found himself gripping with his thighs for dear life.  He reached Marwan who was casually pitching stones at a pile of bleached animal bones.
“I thought you were in danger,”’ shouted Samir.
“You were supposed to ride as if danger were near,” said Marwan coolly.
“I almost broke my back.  Who ever heard of riding a blasted horse without a saddle!  And jumping on him at that!”
“It’s the way it is done.”
“It’s a good way to kill yourself.”
“It’s the way we ride for the gazu, the raid,” he said stubbornly.  “It is the way we move our camps.  It is the way we protect our grazing areas and our flocks.  In order to survive in the desert you must be ready to move swiftly from the camel to the war mare.  It is the only way to be a man.  We must try it again until it is as easy as walking.”
Samir rubbed his back.  He thought: I’m never going to be in a raid.  I’m not going to move a camp.  One day I will return to my home.  Yet Marwan was already retying his line to try again.  They worked all day on the maneuver and Samir was enticed by the spectacular look of the transfer when it was accomplished properly.  Using the left wrist to launch himself, Marwan lifted both legs up and to the right then swung gracefully between the two animals and landed squarely on the back of the mare, unhitching the line at the same instant he spurred the horse.  Then came the wild yell of freedom.  The thrill of speed atop the most splendid horses in the world, the “drinkers of the wind.”
In the end, after two years of exhausting research and re-writing, I was proud of the book that resulted.  Daughters was translated into fifteen languages and received excellent reviews.  It is available as an e-book in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Monday, December 6, 2010

sales, giveaways, guest blogging, good pitches, reviews and Uncle Charlie

Writers mostly live in their heads and like to move their lives along through magical thinking.  In the e-book world you can’t do that.  If you want sales. you have to get out there like Willie Loman in Death of Salesman and sell.  I come from a family of merchants.  My uncle and father used to own a department store, Jean Matou, La Maison de Trousseau, on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and M Street in Washington, D.C.  Bess Truman and later Jackie Kennedy shopped there.  My father once declined to take Bess Truman’s check.  His exact words after Mrs. Truman said: “But Mr. Saah, I live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” were  “I don’t care where you live, we don’t take checks.”  Uncle Charlie had to pull him aside and knock some sense into him.  Uncle Charlie used to travel to Sarasota, Florida  (the winter home of the circus) and sell trousseaus to the daughters of the Ringlings and the Norths.

Commerce is in my blood and very little gives me more pleasure than seeing that “unit sales” line flip upward after a good block of promoting.  Sales of my ebooks have improved each month since I began selling them in early September but I know sales would wither if I didn’t take advantage of every marketing opportunity.

In November, I guest blogged on three blog sites, revamped my opening pitch on four of the books, entered the Goodreads “giveaway” program, ran a small ad on the Kindleboards, posted my books on every possible thread both at Amazon and Barnes & Noble discussion forums and sent review copies to some reputable reviewers who will post reviews on Amazon. Legitimate reviews help a buyer decide if your book is worth their money.   I continue to comment on news websites.  All of it together moves the brand along and results in increased viewership for this blog.

One of my children pointed out that I am competing for sales with millions of other items. A million is a lot. If a buyer’s eye settles on one of my ebooks AND if those eyes linger there for more than a second AND if that person decides to click on the "buy" button, get the picture.

The most wonderful news of the month was not increased sales.  It was the birth of the beauty, Gwyneth Baehr, who arrived in our lives a little early but perfect in every way.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What’s new? And other chilling greetings.

             If you put in “What’s new?” in the Google search box, Google would answer:  “Did you mean how can you get me to hate you?”
            Most of us slog along every day in a comforting routine.  The minute we have children the adjective “uneventful” is often accompanied with “thank god.”  Why then, do many worship at the altar of new?  The person  who greets us with "what's new?"  is signaling that he/she does not want to contribute any calories to the encounter.  They might as well be saying: “You better have something, buddy because I got nothing and I need some entertainment.  Yes, the whole rationale with “what’s new” is a bid at being entertained.  The question immediately puts the responder on the defensive as he/she scours the memory hole to come up with something astounding that has happened in their life.  If nothing comes up, they are momentarily embarrassed to be so dull.  If you actually related something worthwhile:  “I learned to accept my alcoholic parents,“ the inquisitor would make a hasty retreat and cross you off his invite list.
            There’s a hidden codicil in the  “what’s new” contract.   The answer better not be any of the following:  I had my septic tank emptied. Somebody at work got fired.  We had a blackout yesterday.  It should be something that includes a job with gobs of money, a marriage with gobs of money or some event that promises gobs of money in the future.
            You can count on one hand the events that truly qualify for the “new” roster:  I was born. I died.  I was elected President.  Oprah chose my book for her Book Club. Brad Pitt had a flat tire outside of my house and needed my help.
            The phrase that has been invented to circumvent the embarrassing pause after the “what’s new” question is: “Same old, same old.”  Citizens, when you answer “same old,” shout it with brio and pride.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cash Cab, The Holiday, Legally Blonde and Gone With The Wind

In my new e-book venture, I’m often asked to do a profile page. One of the questions is about favorite film, tv show or book. I should put down, The Brothers Karamazov, Casablanca and Nova. I have read or seen all three.  Why then do I prostrate myself on the altar of self-destruction and put down: Legally Blonde, Cash Cab and Gone With The Wind?
Ben Bailey is the quizmaster and driver of Cash Cab.  Ben looks and dresses like your handyman.  He wears a hoodie that says New York on it.  He’s bald and has a big friendly face. Ben, unlike Wink Martindale, is a philosopher.  When the fares leave the cab, winners or losers, he’ll say something like:  There they go to drink and carouse in the caverns of Soho with their four hundred and fifty dollars.  Or he’ll say.  That was terrible.  That was the worst.   
I always wonder if the smart one who had all the answers resents splitting the money?

Legally Blonde:  I have studied screenwriting and even wrote a screenplay and Legally Blonde is one of the best constructed screenplays that I know of. (Two others are:  Driving Miss Daisy and Fatal Attraction).  The writing chugs to its destination without a false step.  It hits all of our “feel good” spots. The pacing is perfect.  One of the cable channels frequently airs this movie and if I come upon it, I watch it .
The Holiday is not my own favorite but the favorite of many executives in the film business.  Yes, you heard right. 

Gone With The Wind does not need my defense.  It is awesome. I quote Mammy whenever I can:  “It ain’t fittin’.  It just ain’t fittin’” “Miss Scarlett, you done had a baby and your waist ain’t gonna be twenty-two inches ever again.”

We won’t dwell on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune except for two examples. 
1.The hidiosity of Alex over-pronouncing anything French.  
2. Once a contestant on Wheel had about $30,000 at stake and the puzzle showed all of Gettysburg except the G; and all of Address and the contestant said quizzically “Bettysburg Address?”  Who would want to miss that?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Learned to Talk: Part Two

Part One addressed the pitfalls of lazy talking.  Part Two will itemize some helpful rules to point you in a good direction.

Rule One:  Knowing when to be silent. The upper hand can be had in any encounter if you wait to the count of ten before answering a question.  The other person will become nervous and begin chattering at about number six.   If you can master the “count to ten” response, it never disappoints. 

Rule Two: Adapt your language for the recipient:  My neighbor is a retired schoolteacher named Margaret.   Her husband is named Tom. Margaret and Tom Smith.  How do you talk to a solid English teacher like Margaret Smith?  Be conscious of words and syntax . Thankfully, I just read a book titled “Woe is I” and finally know when to use “which” and when to use “that”.  In case you want to know:  “what” is used when it’s important;  “which” is used for extraneous clauses that you could leave out.  With Margaret Smith, I drag out words like “impervious” and “obsequious” and guess what?  She wants me to come over and see her new compost bin.  She says, “Just walk right in.”  I’m telling you, it’s the “impervious” that invites that kind of hospitality.

Rule Three:  Preparation.  You can do this in front of a mirror or in your head.  Before I go to a dinner party, I plan some conversational sequence meant to entertain.  My hosts are feeding me carefully prepared, expensive food.  I have a responsibility to contribute to the ambiance.   When I was going to meet a very modest Englishman who held a high position in the British government, I prepared the following opening remark:  “If you were a Sheridan play, it would be called “A modest man of great importance.”  He walked away with a bemused grin but I caught him looking at me later.

Rule Four:  The third party effect:  When I used to change my infant grandson and knew he might choose that moment to relieve himself, I always said: “Don’t taze me bro,” a phrase I borrowed from a videotaped police confrontation on the evening news.  The baby didn’t care what I say, but I knew it would make his father smile and that’s always rewarding.

Rule Five: Squelch anything colorful at the bank and at the hospital: When you’re asking for a loan and the nameplate on the desk says: Ms. Du Bois, don’t be tempted to blurt out Blanche DuBois’ famous line in Streetcar Named Desire, “I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.” Say: “It’s so hot outside but very pleasant in here.” and the loan officer will say: ”How much of a loan did you want?”

Rule Six:.  It is legitimate to use sarcasm and irony to test the acuity of someone you are vetting for a job or marriage or power of attorney.  These verbal skills are part of our human toolbox and if our brain is healthy, we are wired to respond to them.   Dr. Margaret Rankin, a neuropsychologist says if you don’t recognize sarcasm, it’s because of some damage to your parahippocampal gyrus which is located in the right brain.. People with dementia, or head injuries in that area, often lose the ability to pick up on sarcasm or irony.  This is known as the Forest Gump response.  No, it’s not, I’m just kidding.

The sixth rule of talking (and this is the last but most important rule):  Let’s take all of the talk content you will have in life. You have a chunk of information, a chunk of ideas, a chunk of whining, and a chunk of aimless non-consecutive thoughts to divide between your family and friends and whomever crosses your path.   To avoid senseless time wasting maneuvers like back pedaling, apologizing, rifts and perhaps murder, segregate and be situation appropriate.  Be vigilant and don’t falter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How I Learned to Talk: A blog in two parts.

Part One:
Meredith F. Small, an anthropologist, says our “social intelligence” is what has made humans such a successful species." We recognize and keep track of hundreds of relationships, and we easily distinguish between enemies and friends.”  We run our lives by social calculation and most of it revolves around talking.
 I used to think talking was just opening your mouth and letting sounds come out.  There are unintended consequences to this type of lazy talking and now I take it seriously.  I found it best to segregate the things I talk about with different people. 
Here are a couple of examples:  My friend Meg validates that I am a regular person because I act and talk regular around her. I have my Meg package:  I can talk about trouble but I keep it light.  I park the irony at the door. 
The only things I can say to Hannah are: Do you have a good plumber? or  How do you like your new car?  I stopped telling Hannah anything when I realized that her reaction was going to be out of all proportion to what I was telling her.  If I said I got some freelance work she would scream (yes, scream) what?  What kind of work? And then pepper me with about fifty questions that I didn’t have the answer to and then question my decision.
The woman who checks me out at Waldbaum’s always asks if I’m going back to my country for the Holidays.  I just say yes.
I try not to tell my children anything about my life that doesn’t end with: “it’s great.”

It’s easier to wrap your mind around talking that works if you separate it into five main categories: 

Pleasantries:  (best kept to a sentence or two) Nice day. Nice lawn.  How's the wife.  Cute kid.  If you go beyond the second sentence, you will be embroiled in a pointless conversation that will be hard to end.

Informational talk:  “Mrs. McNaughton you'd better sit down for this.  We hear seven distinct heartbeats.”   When you are receiving information, don’t be tempted to interject irony or humor or even sarcasm.  Just say, “I see.”    

Self-serving talk.    “I had no knowledge of any dummy corporations being set up at Enron to divert money.”  Don’t refute the speaker even if what he/she is saying is blatantly false.  If it is something that alters your finances, just take it to a lawyer.

Inquisitorial talk:  “Jeffrey, what do you mean when you say you like to cut up people?”  If there’s nothing else you learn about talking, learn to answer what is asked with no elaboration.  If someone asks, “Did you eat the last piece of pie?” a yes or no will suffice.

Confidential talk:  If you are hell bent on confiding, become a Catholic and go to confession or talk to your mirror.  This will spare you confessional remorse.

In the next day or two:  How I learned to talk Part II.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boneless center cut pork loin, Sale $1.49 lb.

I separate women into two categories: those who roast and those who only saute.  For no good reason, I think of the former as capable and grown up and the latter as . . . not quite grown up.   I'm in the second group yet yesterday, I bought the pork loin on sale.  It had a sign that said Look! and the o's were made into eyes with long lashes so I decided this must be a real coup.  Right in the meat aisle, there were two middle-aged women chatting and I asked them how to cook the pork loin.   They knew exactly what to do.  In the oven at about 325 well seasoned and surrounded by vegetables. "It's only 1.49,"  I said and they rewarded me with "wow's." Momentarily,  I was absorbed into their safe grown up world.  "I'm going to buy two and freeze them," said one.  More validation.

I love getting advice from my sisters in the supermarket.  I sometimes go to the IGA on Wednesdays, senior discount day, to see all the ladies in a group.  I look at what they buy.  Cheer for dark clothes? Oh, yes, dearie, it's good for the black things. Cornmeal? Canned button mushrooms? Soup greens? Any one of them would tell you exactly what to do with anything you wanted to cook or with any other domestic problem:  how to clean silver, how to get stains out, how to get rid of mice, thumb sucking.  Anything. I think what I really love is the instant intimacy with no strings attached.  It's like drive-by comfort waiting for me any time I need it.

As for my e-book business, here's what happened yesterday:  I wrote a guest blog for a successful writer with a big following. She liked the blog and it will run in early Dec.   I asked her to promote my book, Best Friends, instead of Daughters.  That is progress.  Also, out of the blue, an entity named "Act 3" gave me a four star review for Nothing To Lose and sales for that title improved. All in all, a good day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I went to church this week. It was about time.

For many years,  I went to a convent boarding school so I know a thing or two about the mass, the Bible, miracles, restlessness during a long homily and answered prayers.  This week, I really needed to talk to God and maybe Mary, too.  I was all twitchy and uncomfortable.  During the service, one of the lessons ended with the words:  Do your work quietly and eat your own food.  Although I love simple quirky directions and guidance, I had to wonder who translated that statement.  Church is all different now and hardly offers the solace of the old religion:  incense, beautiful Latin phrases sung in hushed tones, flickering candles on soft worn wood.  The church of my past was a solo deal.  No holding hands, no shaking hands.  For communion, you received the wafer on your tongue, not your hands.

The pastor this Sunday, a soft-spoken wise priest did say something that stuck with me.  He said not to carry on about the economic downturn.  He said (I'm paraphrasing here) just to turn to faith and stick with that.

In church, I prayed for two things.  I prayed for awareness.  Lately, I'm missing that moment where I think carefully before acting. I also prayed for good luck.  I've always believed in good luck or, more appropriately, that the universe knows all about me and what I want and will say:  "Oh, yeah, okay.  You can have that.  No prob."

By the way, sales are better than last month and one of my ads is due to appear next Sunday.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I'm afraid of my age.

What is the cut off point where we blithely put down our age on an application without a  sense of rue  that we may be too old to be considered for something?  Is it twenty-two?  I'm afraid of my age.  I'm afraid of saying it out loud.  It's not as if my age is  my fault. It's not something that I brought on through carelessness. It doesn't matter that I have many young friends or that my legs still look pretty good or that I still have my original hips and knees and teeth (well, one inplant). 
 The Greek philosopher Zeno  contended that time (motion)  isn't a feature of the outer, spatial world, but rather a conception of thought?  Experiments  suggests that Zeno was right.  Scientists demonstrated the quantum equivalent of the adage that "a watched pot doesn't boil." This behavior, the "quantum Zeno effect," turns out to be a function of observation. "It seems,"said physicist Peter Coveney, "that the act of looking at an atom prevents it from changing".   
Oh, Zeno, Zeno, Zeno.  If what you say is true, please look at me.  
On a brighter note, this blog is growing in viewership.  On my "stats" page it shows not only the source of my viewership (what site prompts someone to link to the blog) but also the country of origin.  I have viewers from Malaysia, South Korea, 9 from Thailand, 3 from Singapore and half a dozen other countries.  Google is truly the big brother we were told about.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You shouldn't go home again even if you're the President

I feel sorry for the President going back to visit his childhood home. No matter how far you've come, it's the bad lunch table all over again. I went back to visit St. Mildred's Academy where I was a boarder in elementary school. I almost threw up with apprehension. Suppose Sister Francisca was still alive? My convent boarding school was in Laurel, Maryland, situated between an insane asylum and the Bowie Racetrack. When the nuns took us for a walk we either watched the loonies walking a straight line and counting every step or went the other way and looked for pennies in the racetrack bleachers. The demented were allowed to roam unimpeded and often they walked with us just as they do in New York. Everyone thinks nuns are extra nice but Sister Francisca was petty and vengeful.  One day, our favorite nun fell dead right in front of us on the baseball field. Some devilish thing traveled to her brain and zap.
They told us she had died when we were in the chapel for evening prayers. All that stuff comes back when you visit your childhood places.  Let's be extra nice to the President when he gets back. He needs to know we're all in the same boat.

Apropos of nothing, if you look to the right of this post, you will see that I've put up a section where you can read free samples to any of my books.  This seems to be a popular thing so I say give them what they want.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Read a sample of my book Nothing To Lose

Okay. Stats tell the story.  After several weeks of blogging with growing but very modest pageviews, the stats graph went sky high (well, to the top of the page) when I offered a free sample of one of my books.  This week, I will offer a free sample of Nothing To Lose, a novel I wrote about a wonderful fat girl who works as a copywriter in a department store selling softgoods (a retailing term).
The stats also tell you where your views are coming from.  Some of the views for my blog are coming from the Huffington Post where I occasionally comment.  I love to comment in the Huffington Post because most of their stories are very serious and my comment is more relaxed.  Still they let me in and last week I commented on an academic treatise about the brain attributed to people who are probably nobel laureates. My comment included the following: "I was relieved to find from watching a PBS special that just by jiggling (yes, poking mildly back and forth) on a part of the brain, you can stop circular thinking that makes you obsess on why the bank teller calls you by your first name as if they've known you socially and had you over.  It turns out all you have to do is jiggle that brain spot and say: "This isn't real, just cut it out!"  It makes the brain sound like a toddler that you have to treat with tough love." I also put in the comment that surprisingly (according to a New Yorker article), one of the early signs of Alzheimer's  is the inability to recognize sarcasm. So when I visit my 99 year old mother I will say: "That pink agora top is perfect with the lime green chevron patterned slacks."  When she answers, "the girls dress me," I know everything is okay.   That comment elicited four blog views connected to that article.  Thank you Kelly DeVine for your wonderful marketing tips.
Hope you like Nothing To Lose.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Read a sample of my book: One Hundred Open Houses
I'm trying to be smart and use all technology available to me.  Yes, that bunch of red letters and numbers up above can take you instantly into the inside of one of my books the way an ultrasound takes you into the inside of your body.  There is a man, Harvey, over at the Kindleboards who spends  most of his off-time devising ways to help the authors on his forum sell their books.  I could spend all day chatting and reading on the Kindleboards.  I've entered two contests and come in second in both of them.  The first one was to write a book in 55 words or less.  For a person who spent her youth writing catalogue copy for Macy's that was a snap.  Try writing "Toddlers all cotton girls camisole tops in green, blue, white and pink, small, med. lge.  Lambs, turtle, piggy motifs," in a one inch slot. Those catalogue entries could have been early tweets that's how economical they were.   I came in second in the "55 word novel contest "and also second in the "eulogy of a character in a novel contest."  My eulogy was for the Tin Man in Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz. Tin was a victim of the skyrocketing price of scrap metal.  In both cases I've won small gift certificates to use at Amazon.  I used the money to buy an e-book that was part of a marketing scheme of another indy author to help him run up the Amazon bestseller list.

If I had any discipline or any idea of how fast time is going and how old I am getting, I would spend my time writing my own books and winning the contest of self-esteem instead of trying to win $10 gift certificates. But here's the dirty little secret.  I feel so validated when my fellow authors vote for my anonymous entries.

Next blog I might put up a sample of Best Friends.  I hope you like it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Same Store Sales - Up 50%

That's the way Wall Street reports it.  Yes, I doubled sales of my e-books in October and by far the most popular title was Daughters and that's the title I push.  If my books were children, Social Services would come and take away five of them because whenever I market (and I use that term loosely) it's Daughters, Daughters, Daughters.  Do I love it that much?  I love the others, too.  I love, love, love, One Hundred Open Houses but seldom showcase it.  The book I never talk about is Report From The Heart.  This is a book I wrote as a young wife and mother and it was non-fiction.  It was about my own family and when I read about the woman I was, it makes me want to get in bed and pull the covers over my head and stay there for a month.  Still, the San Francisco Chronicle said: "A book whose aim is so true, it's a bullseye to the heart."
Today there is a thread in the kindle forums that says:  Who has the nerve to report their October sales?
Dozens of authors responded and except for two or three, the sales are outstanding and astounding. I become discouraged when I see how far I have to go but only momentarily. It is still thrilling to have my own virtual bookstore.  When the month begins, Amazon, erases all your previous sales and puts in their place an ugly brown bar that says:  no sales to report this period.  They might as well say: nobody wants to read your books and just stop looking to see if anything has sold.  We call it "the dreaded brown bar of shame."
A more interesting thread in the Book Bazaar, one of the Kindle forums, had an interesting proposition:  post page 99 of your novel without explanation or promotion and a simple link to the book.  This is an exercise to see how the book fares with a serendipitous sample.  I found page 99 of Daughters (what else?) and put it up. If anything results from it, I'll let you know.  Oh, by the way, I had three sales in the U.K. Thanks Brits.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A day when nothing is pending

On Monday I had to go to the dentist to have my inplant tightened, The dentist said it had come loose because my bite was not right. Tuesday was repairman day. Wednesday was return something day. Today, I woke up and nothing was pending.  It's rare to have a day like this because the business of living, no matter how simple your life, takes up so much time.  Even if you pay bills on line and make a big pot of lentil soup that you can eat all week, there are still so many things to do. For instance the baking portion of my new stove is bizarre.  The oven turns on and off by itself during the baking.  I hate that.  My old stove just stayed on and burned everything on the outside while the inside was still raw.  I understood that.  Should I call the Help Line and ask if this is normal?  I've already called and asked how to set the timer and the man had to look it up in the manual.  Another thing,  I could spend the next three weeks just cleaning my house.  I don't live near any industry but my house is full of dust and spiderwebs,
I have a lot of trouble wrecking spider webs.  I think of myself as a big senseless giant coming to wreck the hard work of an industrious small creature. Who am I to decide what is yucky and what is good work to be saved.

If I worked all day on my new book, Tough As Nails, and let the dust and the spider webs alone, I would probably feel elated but I can't seem to settle down.  I'm flitting around the house like the crazy, adult ADD afflicted detective in Tough As Nails.  Maybe that's it.  I'm trying to get into character.  I love my crazy character and I guess, by extension, I'm getting to love those flaws in me.  Toward the end of the day, I googled myself and found that someone had responded to a comment I had made on the Huffington Post. This man, M.E.  had added a link to my books on Amazon.  Can you imagine?  A stranger read my comment, saw that I was self-publishing, went to Amazon,  found the author page and posted the link to it.
Here are Consuelo's books, he said.  I can't get over it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The DeVine Ms. K

I just saw Kelly DeVine at the Hamptons Film Festival.  She is doing for dormant dvd's what Amazon is doing for dormant books - getting them back in the marketplace.  She said she met with the Amazon people and asked them:  what business are you in?  Their answer:  We are in the service business.  We service customers. Good answer.   Kelly Devine gave me a great marketing tip.  She told me that instead of just sitting in my little office on Sherrill Road with the shades down I had to go further afield and post comments on any reasonable site where I could make a contribution. I took Kelly's advice and posted on the website of a couple of films that related to one of my books and here's what happened: Two friend requests showed up.  One is a Yale professor and the other goes by the name of Actionman Jackson.  Both are serious, smart people and committed political activists.  Thank you, Kelly.

Kelly also told me about, a device that instantly relays any responses to your post.    Is it good to know everything instantly, all the time?   The routine now for pregnant women is to look in regularly on the gestating child and see what the baby is doing.  A friend just told me that his gestating baby is sucking his thumb and hiccoughing.  I say, leave those babies in peace.  This is their last chance at privacy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A new range and five unexpected sales

I live in a house that was built about one hundred years ago.  It came with an old Roper gas range that was made at a time when we didn't know about cholesterol, vegans, PETA or how they slaughtered animals for meat supply.  On the inside of the oven door there are instructions on how to cook beef, veal, lamb, ham and poultry.  This oven does not acknowledge carbohydrates as something to avoid.  There are  instructions on how to cook double crusted pies, scalloped dishes, baking powder biscuits,  double layered cakes, etc.  This range has a rounded and clumsy old fashioned look.  It has a big warming compartment next to the oven where I store the lids to all my pots and various ladles and slotted spoons. 
The range stopped working well about five years ago.  One of the burners disintegrated and when you lit it, the flame was uneven and out of control.  Another burner went the next year.  The pilot light on the remaining burners would not stay on and every time someone came to my house they said the same thing:  I smell gas.Still I nursed my range.   There was a news story about a  house that blew up because of a faulty range. I held on to my range.  A repairman who came to my house called the gas company to report my range, fearing for my safety.  The gas company man came and declared my range safe.  Even I was surprised.  The third burner gave out recently and the oven only lights after several tries and sometimes not at all.  It's time.
In thirty-six hours, The Home Depot is bringing me a spanking new GE gas range with sealed burners that are electronically ignitable.  I am emptying the warming oven and throwing away lids that have lost their pots, old wooden spoons, a mesh lid to keep bacon fat from spattering on your face and a broken vegetable steamer. I know that the new range will bring change that has nothing to do with cooking.  I am trying to prepare for that change. I feel, in some ways, the way I felt when the last child left for college.

This has nothing to do with my new range but two days ago for no apparent reason I sold five copies of my ebook Daughters in an afternoon.  My normal sales history is one or none books a day and occasionally two books a day.  You can imagine my astonishment when the sales number next to Daughters kept jumping. I have nothing to say about that except that it made me feel ebullient and that's a word one doesn't use often enough.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I have a follower

I am new to blogging, new to epublishing, new to happiness and now new to delirium.  I have my first  follower.That means that a stranger, having no ties to me whatsoever, is reading my blog.  I got an e-mail about it. It said, "you have a follower."  I had the same reaction as when I hired a private investigator to find my long lost mother and he sent me a letter:  I am happy to report that I have found your mother.  In both instances, my immediate reaction was:  What now?  I will leave my mother story alone for now and concentrate on my follower.  What now?  Now I have a responsibility to be good at blogging and not let my follower have reader's remorse.
There is a wonderful aspect to having a stranger follow your blog.  They don't know you.  They are approaching you simply because of a shared interest or because they like your writing style or because they like the way you empty your mind on the blog.  I didn't know that what I had been yearning for all these years was not money or a kitchen redo or even better hair.  I was yearning for a public spot in which to empty my mind.  That's why I now know what happiness feels like.

My follower is not new to epublishing.  She has been doing it for ten years.  Ten years!! And now, she says, it is beginning to take off. She also says a lot of other things that are true regarding the freedom to publish your work, almost instantaneously.  My follower has also introduced a new dimension to self-publishing.  She mentions pods.  Until I read that, I was pretty satisfied that I had my backlist books and some new books in the Kindle Store.  But NOW I have to investigate pods.  Also, I have to realize - and this is hard - that my follower probably knows a heck of a lot more about ebooks than I do but for some reason, this wonderful stranger wants to hear what I have to say.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Happy Feels Like

A couple of days ago I was heading for the kitchen door to go outside and I had this thought:  Maybe I'm happy.  If you knew me well, you'd know that my preferred state of mind is to be disconcerted - just a trifle perplexed and annoyed and picking the scab over some event I should have let go.  But that day, I was  alert, purposeful and satisfied.  Happy.  What's more, I had been "happy" for several days. Most of us associate being happy with that delirious "i just won the lottery," or "I met the man of my dreams," or "I sold my book," euphoria that soon evaporates and sometimes leaves a numb aftermath.  This was a calm sustainable happiness.

This happiness was more of the slow understanding that perhaps I had finally hit on a combination of activities that made me feel purposeful.   Publishing my writing on all the ebook platforms and learning   good ways to market the books seems to be what I have been wanting to do most of my life.  This sounds dramatic but is not meant to be. In a very simplistic way,  my prayers have been answered.  I like to write, I like to sell things and I like to share the ideas I glean from daily life.  I'm writing my books, selling them and, with this blog, sharing the thoughts I glean from daily life.

We don't always recognize answered prayers because they didn't come in the package we were expecting but keep checking to see if they didn't come in a better package.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I learned to do an RSS feed

Last night at about 11 p.m. I decided the cover of my new Kindle book, Spellcheck Nation, needed more legible lettering.  My son had created a fabulous cover of a tattered flag, tied to a crooked stick, stuck in  desolate craggy terrain.  It reminded me of Eddy Izzards monologue on how England just sticks a flag in any world spot and declares "I now declare this land belongs to England."

We cobbled a more legible cover over the phone.  He e-mailed it to me, I uploaded it to my Smashwords page (what I like about Smashwords, unlike Amazon, is that it instantly plugs in changes without putting the book in "review" again.  I guess they want to be sure you didn't sneak in a picture of Hilary and Barak hugging and kissing.   In less than a minute, we saw the thumbnail of the new cover.  After that I thought I would tackle figuring out how to attach an RSS feed to this blog so it would show up on my Author page at Amazon.  Unlike Goodreads that took my blog with a web address, Amazon wanted a RSS URL.
Last week, I could have figured out how to do a frontal lobotomy before I could find a RSS URL  But now, energized by my adeptness at plugging in a new cover, I tackled the job.  Amazon has met up with the likes of me before and it gave me lots of hints and examples of what that type of url might look like.  After four tries I hit on the magic combination. This will be the first blog that appears on my Amazon Author page.  I don't know how to drive traffic to my Author Page or my books or this blog. There has not been one comment to this blog and I don't have any fans or followers.  Maybe one day when a person lands here by accident they will like it and tell another person.
 I did buy into two small promotions on the Kindleboards that will run in November and January.  I've sold four books in October and that is pretty good for me.Now let's see if this post shows up over at Amazon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An apology

Today, I'm blogging about life, not books.  I had to apologize today and instead of just focusing on the "I'm sorry," I focused on the person who was receiving the apology.  I wanted to search my internal settings and find out what I thought of the person and that would dictate the nature of my apology.  The aggregate of my file on the person was eye-opening.  I respected the person.  I admired the way the person went about his work and life.  I admired the work ethic.  I admired his ability to do hard things without complaint.  I would not have spent this time compiling a dossier if an apology wasn't necessary.  Something good came out of careless and hurtful behavior.

I recommend this procedure whenever an apology is in order.  An apology should be sincere.  It shouldn't just be blurted out as a self-serving "get out of trouble" or "do not go to jail" card.  That's it.  That's what I learned today.

I also have four new sales in my Amazon kindle store.  But here's an interesting aside.  At Smashwords, they have an option when you set your price to have the customer decide how much they want to pay.
I gave that option to my new collection of short stories Spellcheck Nation.  But the customer didn't pay anything.  Does that mean he didn't like what he read?  Hope not.  I liked all those stories.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The dreaded brown bar

Yesterday I went to my reports page in my Kindlebooks account where they show how many books you have sold and there was a dreaded brown bar with this ghastly message "No sales this period."  I knew that I had sold some books and I knew that I had earned about twenty dollars (don't scoff that was my initial two weeks.) Now it seemed it was all a cruel hoax.  I hadn't sold anything.

None of this was true, of course.  It was simply the first day of the month and all reports went back to 0. Later in the day I had a sale of "One Hundred Open  Houses" and it made me very happy to see white instead of brown and that neat little 1 under "units sold."  I am particularly gratified that One Hundred Open Houses is my bestseller.  This was a book suggested by my agent at a time in my life when I had not asked my brain to do anything more than watch repeats of "Deal or No Deal" on the Game Show Channel.
 The idea of writing an entire book was not only beyond my mental ability but also my physical ability because I had developed senior  AADD.  That translates into an inability to sit still for more than three to five minutes before flitting off to do some non-sequential chore that I had not thought of until that moment.  It was fear, pure and simple, that strapped me to the computer until I finished the assignment and One Hundred Open Houses, a book of real estate and life, was born.  My agent promised that the publishing world would snap up this little wonder book.  The publishing world read the manuscript, lauded the concept and writing and ultimately passed on purchasing the book.  NOW that I AM the publisher and can sell my writing without the constraints of traditional publishing, halleluiah, One Hundred Open Houses gets the most sample downloads on Smashwords (more on that later) and has the most sales on Amazon.

So once again OHOH has saved me from despair.  Some wonderful e-reader saw fit to purchase this title  and get rid of the brown bar of shame.  Thank you, stranger.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Short Stories I Forgot About

It takes a while for ebook publishing knowledge to seep through your brain.  I've been visiting "The Writers' Cafe on the Kindleboards and picking up information although I can tell the people there are pros at marketing and getting exposure.  One other trait I didn't expect to find is GENEROSITY.  Ask a question, whine about your sales, beg for help on some tech problem and you get a boatload of helping hands and thorough outlines of how to proceed.  These are some of the things the authors in The Writers' Cafe do:
They do quid pro quo reviews to add to the book listings.  I'm sure they are sincere.  They answer other posts so that their books show up in their signature over and over.  They announce good news and that always gives you hope.  The thing about these seasoned kindle authors is that they know how to do blog links and avatars and writing little reviews under the image of their books.  I haven't yet learned to do any of that although I am trying my best.  I sort of cobble together things and sometimes get the appropriate result.  Here again, though, there's always some wonderful soul who will do it for you.  That's what they say:  Here, let me do it for you.
Many of my fellow ebook authors have suggested I join Goodreads and LibraryThing.  I've gone over to Goodreads who already had an author page for me from my printed books.  I have to tell you it is almost impossible to navigate that site.  A prompt will say:  add new books here.  Then you get a browse button and you browse and choose but nothing shows up.  I try e-mailing but I get a lazy answer. "you have to have the right URL." she says. That's like saying, "my three year old can count to ten."  In other words, not a good answer.
One other suggestion I received for sales activity:  there's nothing better for boosting sales than adding a new title.  I don't know about you but I can't write a novel overnight (although there's a guy on the boards that attempted to do just that).  But in looking through my files I found four perfectly good short stories (one had even received a laudatory hand-written note from Esquire) and now I will get my son, Nicholas to put together a nice cover and put them up for sale at .99.  I can hear the collective gasp.  .99 cents!!!

Calm down.  This is like a loss leader in the grocery store.  Come in for the Barrila Spaghetti Sauce at two for five and stay to buy all the impulse overpriced items.  Not that anything I've got to sell is overpriced.  2.99 is the highest price and recently I reduced some books to 1.99.  This is a recession and if I can sell twenty books at 1.99 and maybe five at 2.99 I'm still making money.  This is all hypothetical, I have not yet sold twenty books.

Today I signed up for a promotion "Book of the Day" wherein your book and link to Amazon store is placed at the head of all kindleboard forums.  This allowed me to initiate my PayPal account. I don't know what day, I will be the featured book but it's exciting to think those sales figures will jump around.  I'll let you know what happens.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

First you have to get off the couch

Two years ago, I tried to get one of my books  "Daughters" reissued.  The subject matter - a family saga set in Jerusalem at the turn of the century - seemed to fit the news.  It was relevant.  It had received fabulous (yes, fabulous) print reviews from the likes of The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune. This book had been translated into 15 languages. There was some interest from a traditional publisher, but then: No!  No room on our list. (Now I know how Mary felt when she was about to give birth.)

Last year I began to notice blogs about ebooks.  My son owned a Kindle.  He loved his Kindle.  I saw blogs about people who published almost anything, their dinner menu, on the Kindle.  But all of them were whining about how hard it was to format the books and make them look good.  No one knew what html was. 

At this time in my life, my brain only worked from 6 to 8:30 every morning. If I missed that window of hard thinking, I had to wait for the next day. One day I got up extra early and read the Smashwords Style Guide and implored my brain to work a little later.   I carefully excised all of the shadow formatting that Word slips into my docs because it wants to save me from my slothful use of the language.  I had to do it several times because Word is stubborn in its self righteousness.  Until that day, I had not been able to absorb and act upon anything harder than a recipe for pizza dough.  So, it was a minor miracle.

With Word docs at the ready (purged of all formatting frills), I implored my daughter to create new covers.  She designed fabulous covers that were better than the print covers.  She sat with me in my little office as we "pulled the trigger" and uploaded those books and covers.  I have not been that elated since the day my first op-ed piece appeared in the New York Times.

All the marketing advice had one common thread.  You have to have a blog.  I'm not adverse to emptying my mind and sharing so now I'm reading "Beginning Google Blogger" and I'm up to this point.