#amblogging: My Best Formatting Tip

selfpub[1]I self-published my first mystery in 1995. In those days, Pagemaker was the formatting program of choice for print books, but it was cumbersome to learn and use. By 2008, when I self-published Fatal Encryption, Word had become a popular means of formatting a book.

After working a traditional publisher for several years, I’m returning to self-publishing for some of my novels, while staying with a traditional publisher for others. Because I’d forgotten so much about formatting a print book, I searched for and found a few how-to blogs, and YouTube videos to help me properly format the book for CreateSpace.

Despite the online help, I wish I had made better notes when I produced Fatal Encryption. The basics are there, but the details about creating the header weren’t written down, so doing it after all this time stumped me. Not all of the blogs addressed headers satisfactorily or offered the types of suggestions that I needed.

Formatting a book is time-consuming and frustrating if you haven’t done it before. So, my best advice for self-publishers is to make notes as you go along. There’s a lot to think about when setting up your basic page layout. Important steps, like remembering to right justify the text, or not indenting the first line of a new chapter, or creating the correct line spacing, are details that are quickly forgotten down the road.

I’m typing up notes as I do all this now because I don’t know when the next self-published novel will appear, but at least I know that I’ll have detailed notes, not to mention the bookmarked how-to blogs, for next time.

#amblogging: From the Other Side of the Table

critiquing-other-writers[1]Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Golden Ears Writing and Reading festival. This brand new event was beautifully organized and well attended. I was happy to volunteer as a blue pencil critiquer. Although I’ve pitched my novels to agents and editors before, this was the first time I sat on the other side of the table, where writers came to see me.

For those who are unfamiliar with the process, a blue pencil session is where a writer sits down with an editor, experienced author, or agent, to have a small sample of their work verbally critiqued. I know firsthand how scary this can be.

My job was to read three double-spaced typewritten pages while the author sat across from me and patiently waited to hear what I had to say. I did this in a room with others, so I had to tune out all conversation while I focused on the pages.

The session required concentration, sharp thinking, and the ability to express myself clearly and in a positive, supportive way. It wasn’t overly daunting because I’ve taken part in verbal critiquing sessions for a local writers group for many years. Despite my experience, suggesting improvements to authors I hadn’t met (with one exception) and for work I’d only just seen, was an interesting challenge, but a rewarding one.

I’ve been writing a long time. The opportunity to help others is one of the most satisfying things about my writing life right now, and I’d happily do it again.

#amblogging: The Competition for Time, Attention, and Dollars

I’ve attended Canada’s annual Word on the Street event (now known as WORD Vancouver) for nearly twenty years. I remember many crowded, sunny days volunteering at the Crime Writers of Canada table. For a number of years, it took three or four of us to attend to the many people stopping by our table. Even on rainy days, there was still a great turnout as many events were held indoors.

Over the past five years, I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of attendees for this free event. This year, it was particularly noticeable. Although we enjoyed a gorgeous sunny day, the crowds I remember simply weren’t there. The construction at the front of the library might have put casual street traffic off, but it could have been something else.

big-event-fundraising[1]You see, what I’ve also noticed over the past decade is a marked increase in the number of events being held in Vancouver, and not just on the last Sunday of September, but on many weekends. Metro Vancouver has become a fundraising mecca for great causes and has also drawn an increasing number of high-profile sports events.

On the local newscast, I realized just how many other big events had taken place on Sunday. One of those was an Alzheimer’s Society of BC fundraiser, which was especially significant for me because my hubby (interviewed on TV) was there representing the Society.

Bark on Global-3

The thing is, all these worthy events have inevitably created a greater competition for much-needed dollars. Individuals only have so many hours in their schedule and dollars to give, while the need for food banks, for example, grows. In the end, some of the longstanding events might not see the crowds they once had. At the end of the day, everyone tries to do what they can, and hopefully lots of people gain a little something from these efforts.

#amblogging: What I’d Forgotten About Book Production

self-publishing[1]I’ve self-published two books, one in 1995, the other in 2008. After that, I spent an interesting few years working with a traditional publisher. So, here I am again happily engaged in the production of my fifth Casey Holland mystery, Knock Knock.

After going through the final edits and initial formatting, I found the occasional typo and started second-guessing myself about whether the book was actually ready to publish. Sure, I hired a great editor and incorporated 99% of her suggestions, but in doing so new typos occurred.

While chatting with colleagues at my writers’ group, it dawned on me that I’d forgotten one important step in the process, which was to proofread from a hard copy, and not just a computer screen. So, I’m currently printing out each chapter and, ruler in hand, am going over every word. I’m also reading those words aloud.

It’s helped quite a bit as I’ve found three more errors, but it’s also slowed the process significantly. Now I’m finding that I don’t like a certain word here and there, so I’m substituting one for another. I’m also giving the book to my hubby who is a meticulous proofreader. It’ll take a little longer to see Knock Knock published, but at least I’ll be certain that I did the best I could. At the end of the day, that’s what matters most. Well, that and my sanity.

#amblogging: Writing in Isolation? Attend an Event!

Those of you who’ve been writing a while know how lonely it can be. You can feel like you’re living in a strange void with no clear end in sight. Even if you’re surrounded with great how-to books and support from friends and/or family, it’s a tough haul at times.

Over thirty years of writing has taught me the value of stepping out of my fictional world to attend events and network with others. Autumn is an incredibly busy time and there are many opportunities for workshops, conferences, festivals, library readings, and book signings, so pick a few and get out there if you can.

For those who live here in the Metro Vancouver area, there are a number of great events happening this fall, but to keep this blog short, I’ll focus on just three of the big ones. First up:

Word LogoWORD Vancouver, Reading & Literacy Festival, from Sep. 19-24. The big day is Sunday, Sept. 24 when magazine editors, publishers, authors, illustrators, organizations, and non-profit groups all gather at, and around, the main library on Georgia Street. There will be plenty of handouts, people to talk to, readings, panel discussions, and so forth. This free event also offers musical entertainment, face painting, and all sorts of fun stuff.

I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion called “Mysteries Set in BC” – Local Authors, Local Settings,  at Perspective Point from 4:10 pm to 5:00 pm on Sunday the 24th. You can find more info about the festival at https://www.wordvancouver.ca

The second is the Surrey International Writers Conference from Oct. 17 – 22 at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel in Surrey, British Columbia. Authors, agents, and editors from all over the world attend this friendly, informal event. This is a writers’ conference rather than a fan-based conference. I’ve attended five times and always learn something new. For more information visit, https://www.siwc.ca/ You don’t need to register for the entire conference, but can do only one day if you live nearby.

Third is the Vancouver Writers Fest from Oct. 16 – 22nd on Granville Island in Vancouver. This event boats over 110 authors and 95 events. They have some really big author names appearing this year, and there is a fee. Check out their website at http://writersfest.bc.ca/ for more information. It’s going to be a fun fall!

The Author Question I Can’t Answer

Author CaptionI’ve been subscribing to mystery writer Hope Clark’s newsletter for quite some time. She often has interesting insights about writing and the writing biz. This week’s topic was about things that writers don’t like to talk about in public. Some of those things included, how many books we authors sell, how much money we make, and how much we spend on promotion?

Plenty of authors don’t like answering those questions because we’re judged by our answers and, trust me, authors face enough judgement. But you know, maybe the questions aren’t that important to begin with.

It’s impossible to know how many books we sell through purchased ads, for instance. For those of us who’ve been traditionally published, royalty statements show that our earnings per book fluctuates a fair bit, depending on the discount our publisher gives the vendor. Let me tell you, 15% royalty on a paperback that’s been heavily discounted doesn’t amount to much per book.

To me, the only question that truly matters and that cannot be answered, is how many people have read and liked your book? I’ve sold a lot of copies to libraries here in Canada. I have no idea how many people have borrowed the book, or even liked it.

When I buy copies of my books from my publisher, I’m paid royalties on those books. For income tax, and therefore recordkeeping purposes, they count as sales. I then sell those books at writing events and craft fairs. On the other side of the spectrum, I might sell one book to a customer who shares it with three or four other people. It’s also possible that my customer might never get around to reading my book at all.

Really, the questions aren’t worth fretting over because my ability to put food on the table doesn’t depend on book sales. I know I’m lucky in this respect, and I’m truly grateful that I can afford to focus on what really matters…joy and commitment toward writing the best book I can.

Authors Who Are Earning Mega Bucks

dollar-signs-money-clip-art-thumb2184272[1]Forbes has released their latest list of the highest earning authors. My income is so far below theirs that it’s laughable. Still, I find inspiration in the fact that many others actually make a great living from their work. Here are the top five, but please check out Forbes’ longer list HERE

J.K. Rowling at a whopping $95 million!

James Patterson, $87 million

Jeff Kinney, $21 million (Author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, he’s the only A-lister I haven’t read)

Dan Brown, $20 million

Stephen King, $15 million (he wrote his 55th novel, End of Watch, last year!)

Needless to say, nearly all of Forbes’ top earners have had movies made from their books, but books are still the major source of their income. So, keep writing folks, and study the pros if you want to join them! The one thing I see in common from the big money earners is that they are born storytellers who give their readers page-turning tales over and over again.

#amblogging: A Disciplined Writer? Well, Kind Of…

Writing Clip Art(2)jpgThe most common thing said to me by writing colleagues is that I’m a disciplined writer. This always takes me by surprise a little because I don’t think of myself as disciplined, just a habitual writer. Someone who does a little bit of writing and editing seven days a week, whenever I can fit it in between the day job, the chores, and family demands. For the most part, it’s been that way since I started writing 35 years ago.

On a really good day—and those are rare—I’ll manage three hours of writing, but never at one sitting. I don’t get up especially early to write. Nor do I sit at the computer for hours on end. Even if I could, I’m not sure I would.

From 2010 to 2013 I had the opportunity to write full time. But even with regular writers’ group sessions, I felt that I was isolating myself too much. So I returned to a part-time day job. Now I have two part-time jobs (one has very few hours per month), and I just took on some volunteer work, again with only a couple of hours per month.

I tend to forget that not everyone can, or even wants to write every day, and that gathering the willpower to finish a novel is a struggle for many. For me, slow and steady gets the job done, eventually.

Sure, I sometimes wish I was a faster, more prolific writer, and more efficient at marketing. But as I grow older I also appreciate how important family is. My ambition isn’t as strong as it once was. Sure, I still have writing goals, plenty of them, and I’m still committed to working on them. Does that make me disciplined? I don’t know.

Often, I get tired, and sometimes I think about quitting writing, publishing, and marketing just to gain a little more relaxation time and peace of mind. This thinking often happens right after Christmas, after an extremely busy fall and holiday season. But I have those goals to complete. More importantly, writing still matters to me. So, I’ll maintain my habit until I realize that it doesn’t matter anymore…should that day ever come.

#amblogging: The Many Reasons For Keeping a Journal

Create_a_Personal_Journal1[1]I believe that everyone has a story. Some of the best ones I’ve read came from members of critique groups who were writing their life stories to pass along to their grandchildren. Those stories were filled with captivating details about times and places long gone. How did they do it? Aside from great memories, most of the writers kept journals. The ability to revisit times and places through old photos and the written word was invaluable.

I’ve kept a journal for most of my adult life. It began with boyfriend and school issues, then slowly progressed to work challenges, and later parenting ups and downs. Lately, I’ve discovered another reason to keep a journal. In fact, I’ve started a second one which has nothing to do with me as a writer, but as a daughter.

I call it the dementia journal. Our family saga began two and a half years ago, when my sister and I realized that our mother’s cognitive skills were diminishing. It seemed like a good idea to record what we were experiencing. I’ve since learned that journal records can give healthcare professionals better insight as to what’s happening.

Journals have many purposes, and not all of them are about writing fiction or memoirs. You don’t need to be a professional or even a passionate writer to note things down. But you can jot down a few lines about a memorable vacation or event. How about keeping a food journal filled with great recipes you’ve experimented with? What about writing down goals, or challenges to help you focus, or put things in perspective?

In his blog, Benjamin P. Hardy outlines several potential benefits when one starts to keep a journal. It’s never too late to start. Here’s the link to his piece: https://medium.com/the-mission/why-keeping-a-daily-journal-could-change-your-life-9a4c11f1a475


#amblogging: The Power and Importance of Reading


From an early age, I’ve loved to read. Books kept me company in a life that involved frequent moves, and were solace when family life was tough. Although I didn’t plan to become a writer, a love for the written word and a good imagination found me delving into the world of fiction.

Reading has many benefits. One study says that readers live longer. An article in Blinklist states that the common link among the world’s high achievers isn’t IQ or luck, it’s a love of reading. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, are all avid readers. I’m not saying that they read fiction, but that they make a point to read daily and often learn something new nearly every day. How cool is that?

I’ve learned a lot about the craft of storytelling by reading thousands of works of fiction and books on writing. I’m turning to other types of nonfiction these days, and I can’t wait to learn many more things.

By the way, for those of you who love to discuss books, I belong to three great groups on Facebook. All are well moderated, so the discussions usually stays friendly.

Bookworms Anonymous, https://www.facebook.com/groups/131878603663093/

Readers Coffee House, https://www.facebook.com/groups/ReadersCoffeehouse/

BookAholic Café, https://www.facebook.com/groups/BookAholicCafe/

Happy reading!