Monday, July 23, 2007

Speaking of self-publishing

Twelve days and counting; will it be terror or triumph? Public speaking is one of those great betes noires of human existence. Which do you fear more, a terrorist attack, or standing in front of a group of strangers and giving a talk? For some people, it's a close call. On the last night of one of my business courses many years ago, I had to present my project in front of class. Every molecule in my body felt like it would shake loose in a separate direction-God, the fear.

On August 4, Southwest Writers will allow me, the world's leading authority on nothing at all, to speak to an estimated assemblage of 100 to 110 of their members in Albuquerque. The topic will be "Publishing Your Pride and Joy," and here's the pitch:

"When should you consider self-publishing, and what does the term mean, anyway? In this talk you will learn about print on demand (POD), self-publishing versus subsidy publishing, and the advantages and pitfalls of the do-it-yourself approach. The speaker will use his own experience with iUniverse as a case study, freely sharing the lessons he has learned."

The schedule says it'll last two hours, though the talk itself will likely be less than half that, with the floor open to questions thereafter. In my nightmares, the first question will be, "Why are you wasting my valuable Saturday morning?"

My scant experience in public speaking is mixed, really. Somewhat unexpectedly, I am comfortable with public readings and answering questions about my book. My tentative conclusion is that a high comfort level with the material is the key to reducing anxiety about public speaking. It is (fingers crossed here) all in the preparation.

So how to prepare? This week I'll be working on an outline and practicing sections of my talk. My wife knows well after lo, our forty-two years together, that I tend to go off and talk to myself, and she will hear lots of that in the next week or so. I'm counting on lots of mini-rehearsals to carry the day.

Ideally, it would be nice to speak without notes, but that might be a tad ambitious. I hope to have some solid handouts - "Don't worry about taking notes, folks, 'cause it's all in the handouts." We'll see.

By the way, they'll not only sell my book for me (for a $1 commission) but they'll pay a small honorarium. How cool!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Remembering Larry

My brother Larry died ten years ago tomorrow, July 21, 1997. I no longer think of him every day, but his birth month of March and death month of July always bring back memories. Every year on March 1, he used to breeze over to Mom's house and recite, "The stormy March is come at last!" He loved to make people laugh, and he did it with ease. He would phone me to chat, and then when we were through talking, he would invariably say, "Hey, thanks for calling." He loved to read but had little use for formal education. Most of his jobs consisted of manual labor, and he did tree work for many years, generally freelance work without the highest regard for safety standards. One time in the 70s he nearly dropped an enormous pine tree on me; if I hadn't dived out of the way at the last second, it would have killed me. On another occasion, one of his co-workers allowed a large tree branch to hit him in the head. It was one of the few times I'd known Larry to wear a safety helmet; I saw him in his hospital bed that evening. His entire head was purple, and he had a hairline fracture in his face.

One of his safer jobs, and probably his favorite, was working as a guard at the county house of correction. I liked asking him, "How's life in the can?" He lost his job once because an inmate accused him of brutality during a scuffle. I never learned what really happened, but the Lowell Sun covered the incident with a banner headline, mentioned Larry by name in the opening graf, and declared him guilty. Months later, the county reinstated him, but he never forgave the newspaper, which he henceforth called the Lowell Scum.

Larry and his wife took on the burden of raising several of their grandchildren. He loved hiking and fishing, and did his best to instill those interests in his grandkids. On the evening before he died, Larry reminded me that he was taking two grandsons, 8 and 10 if I recall correctly, with him to climb the 5,000-foot Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire. They made it to a high ridge a short distance from the summit and and close to an AMC hut. Larry stopped to take in the splendid view while the boys walked on a few yards. When they looked back, he had collapsed.

That evening, the telephone woke me. I had an unlisted number at the time, and the operator was calling to say that someone was trying to reach me and claimed it was an emergency. Trudy had forgotten my number and couldn't get it from the phone company. But when we finally spoke, her sobbing message hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest. Nancy held me for hours after that as I struggled to breathe normally again.

At the wake, I met one of Larry's former supervisors at the jail, a tall, strapping fellow in uniform with lots of dignity and bearing--I wish I could remember his name. He recalled a night shift where he walked in on Larry, who had fallen asleep on the job, his head on his duty desk. "Larry!" the boss said. "What the hell are you doing?" Larry sat right up, opened his eyes, and said, "Oh, I was just praying." That was typical Larry; no one could stay mad at him, and he even caused us to laugh at his wake.

Years later, his eldest daughter Lisa went to work at her job as a department store supervisor. She said she felt ill, went into a back room to rest, and was shortly found on the floor in a coma from which she never recovered. She was 39.

Larry would have been 70 now. Our mom, who outlived him by six years, liked to tell me, "I miss that rascal." So do I.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Self-Publishing - Ten Great Tips to Make Your Book Shine

We self-publishers fight a lonely battle, finding readers for our wit and wisdom. We write alone, and now we sell alone and search for ways to market our work. How do we entice readers to open their wallets?

Those questions are often premature. Before asking how you’re going to cope with all those book orders, you need to make sure you have a quality product. So here are ten tips to make your book, fiction or non-fiction, the best it can be.

#1 Use a spell-checker, but only as a first line of defense. Then you look for misspellings the spell-checker won’t catch, such as then/than, to/too/two, tail/tale, or its/it’s.

#2 Read your manuscript critically, as though you weren’t the author. Some things to check include complete chapters, well-organized paragraphs, complete sentences, and accurate punctuation.

#3 Be consistent. If you capitalize a word once in the text, chances are you always want to capitalize it. Decide whether you want one space or two at the end of a sentence, and stick with it. Never change your font or type size without good reason. If your work consists of more than one file, be sure that every file is formatted identically.

#4 Get honest, competent critiques. Leave your mother and spouse alone; your family has better things to do than fawn over your work. Avoid critiques from anyone who has an emotional stake in making you happy, because that isn’t what you need. The Internet Writing Workshop ( is an excellent source of constructive, informed criticism.

#5 Use your judgment. Even good critiquers may give you conflicting advice. Remember that it’s your project, so the final decision is always yours.

#6 Refer to a style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most widely accepted guide for standard writing.

#7 Make a style sheet. A novel or other large manuscript can involve lots of small stylistic decisions by the author. Keep a pad of paper with a running list things you don’t want to have to keep looking up. For example, a cartoon I liked showed a bank robber writing a note and asking the teller, “Is holdup one word or two?” Think of words you often misspell or don’t know how to capitalize, and write them correctly on the list.

#8 Follow your publisher’s guidelines religiously even if they don’t insist.

#9 Repeat tip #2.

#10 Review the publisher’s proof carefully. When you receive the publisher’s proof isn’t the time to look for typos; you should have done that already. At this stage, the publisher may even charge you if you fix many of your own mistakes at this stage. Instead, look for their errors. Are illustrations in their proper places? Are pages and chapters numbered properly? Look at every page’s overall appearance. Is each one properly aligned? Is any text missing?

If you follow these simple (but not always easy) tips, I can’t guarantee best-sellerdom for your book, but I can promise you this: Your book will be far superior to the vast majority of self-published books. You will have a quality product.

(This article originally appeared in EZineArticles.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back by popular demand...

My fan base, Ruth Douillette, has challenged me to get off my lazy butt and blog again. She and Carter roped me into joining them as admins on the Practice section of the Internet Writing Workshop, which if you are a writer and haven't seen it, you must visit. I've made all the predictable jokes about the pay scale--my pay doubles daily and all that--but it's an honor to join a doughty band of volunteers who help make the list run smoothly, productively, and flame-free.

Ruth asks that I not use my IWW duties as an axcuse for failure to blog. I won't. A bad cold is my alibi du jour, and I am milking the sucker. All my book-marketing tasks I have put off 'til next week, when my telephone voice has been restored--who the hell wants a phone call from a frog?

My laryngeal discomfort did not prevent my appearance at a book fair 0n Saturday, sponsored by the wonderful people of the El Paso Writer's League. My friend Maria Kruse took the photo below of me reading from When Pigs Fly to the assembled throng, which is something of a lie. I was scheduled to read, but it was getting late, the vendors were beginning to pack up, and my voice box wasn't up to the task anyway. So Maria consented to take some photos of what I'd like to have happened: me wowing the literati.

See that lady? She's wondering what I'm doing, talking with the microphone off.

So my natural sloth finally has just cause, and for the next few days I shall take full advantage. I have my wife, our cats, our chaise, and my Robitussin. Life is good, misery notwithstanding.

Here's a photo of George on the chaise with a book I'm reviewing.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Checking in from Indy

We arrived tonight in Indianapolis from Buffalo, having logged around 5,000 miles on our trip so far. Much of what we saw is lovely farm country, like southern Indiana; no pix, since we've been single-minded about covering lots of ground, and our cameras are probably buried under a ton of junk in the car anyway. We're anxious to be home now, and will be there on the 4th if we keep up this pace.

Here's a photo from the other day when I met with Carter Jefferson (the handsome fellow on the right) and Ruth Douillette.