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Simplify Your Life

I started a part-time job recently (in addition to my freelance business) and am feeling a little scattered as I try to keep up with everything I have going on. And financially, we’re still struggling. So I’m on a crusade to simply everything—our finances, my promotion efforts, my online presence, my reading materials, even the amount of mail that pours into my house everyday. Most of these efforts are still in progress, but I feel relieved and less stressed already, so I decided to share what I’m doing in hopes that it helps someone else.

Online Presence:
My plan is to combine my blog and website. It makes no sense to send readers in two directions. Once I get this done, every time I post a new blog, I’ll also be adding new content to my website. And I’ll only have to update/freshen in one file. Most likely it will all end up on WordPress. I’d love to have someone design this for me, but no one wants to work that cheap and who can blame them. I also transferred all my domain names to GoDaddy from Yahoo. I’ll save about $130 a year and not have to think twice about spending $7 to register my new book title.

And I signed up for Ping.fm, which posts updates to all my social networking sites at once (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and more). This saves time and keeps my MySpace and LinkedIn pages updated now; before I was mostly ignoring them. And I’ve vowed not to join any new networks despite the zillions of invitations I get everyday. I don’t have time to do them right, and I don’t need the guilt for letting them languish.

Personal: I’ve eliminated half of my magazine subscriptions—because I only have time to half read half of them anyway. Down the road (when I’ve paid off the website redesign), I’ll cut the rest, buy a Kindle, and download what I want to read, when I have time. The people who lived in the house before us received every catalog you can imagine, and they didn’t forward any of them to their new residence. So now every time I get an unwanted mailing, I contact the company and make them take our house off their list. It takes time to do that, but it’s less crap on my kitchen table and less paper wasted. Long run, it will save time recycling all of it.

I also unsubscribed to many e-newsletters and am resisting the urge to sign up for any more. No matter how great the content, if I don’t have time to read it or follow up, then it’s just another e-mail to process. I also don’t look at e-mail until I’ve hit my word count for the day and/or finished work, so by the time I do, I’m tired and need it to be easy.

I do massive food prep on Sunday and/or Monday, so my lunches are ready to go for each work day and dinners for the next few nights are easy. It helps me hit my word count before work and keeps me from feeling exhausted after dinner.

Finances: We’re refinancing our house and getting enough cash back to pay off our credit card debt. At the same time, we’ll change our payment schedule to every two weeks—and shave seven years off the mortgage. Interest rates are so low now (4.7%) that we’ll end up spending less money on a yearly basis, even taking into account the refi charges and accelerated payments. Long-term, we’ll save a fortune on interest, all our debt will be in one place, and our single payment will be automatic.

In fact, we’re switching every payment that we can to autopay. Which means less mail coming into the house and fewer checks to write. And we’re making many of those payments with the credit card, which builds up flier miles, in case we ever get to go on vacation again. In April, when the option is available, we’ll switch our utility payment to a year-round standard and put it on autopay as well. I’m tired of seeing the winter bills for how much it costs to stay warm. This new way, we’ll pay the same amount every month, and I don’t have to think about it.

I’m still brainstorming ways to simplify (and save money) and if you have great ideas, please share them.

One Crazy Day in the Life of a Novelist

As I looked back on this year, I found this guest blog, which sums up the highs, lows, and strange encounters a novelist can experience in one day.

9:42 am: As I write page 162, I realize that an entire investigative thread in my new novel is not quite logical. And there’s no way to massage it or spin it. So I go back to the beginning and try to pick out and rewrite every reference to this line of inquiry. Did I get them all? Or did I leave a little silver of foreign material that will pop up and irritate readers? Now I have doubts about other plot threads. So I decide to print out all 162 pages and read through them before continuing to write the story. How many trees have I killed in my career as a writer and editor?

12:29 am: Another writer posts on my Facebook page, “Congrats on the review in Mystery Scene. ‘A thrilling, eye-opening read.’” I am excited. I haven’t seen this review, and it will make a great blurb. I search Mystery Scene’s webpage, but I can’t find the review and I don’t have a copy of the magazine. So everyone in mystery world knows what this review says, except me. I worry that the one line I know about may be the only positive thing the reviewer said.

3:10 pm: After months of waiting, my beta reader sends an e-mail with her feedback on the first 50 pages of my new story, Secrets to Die For. After commenting, “This is a very worthy story, a page-turner with great potential,” she says, “Try to SHOW rather than TELL.” Aaaghhhhh! I like to think that I live by this ubiquitous writing rule. But now I wonder: Do I even know what I’m doing?

6:17 pm: After months of waiting, the book trailer for my recently published novel, The Sex Club, arrives via e-mail. I excitedly click open the file, ready to be thrilled and amazed. But no, the trailer is weird and confusing. The girl in the last scene is at least 20, dark-haired, and kind of heavy. She doesn’t even look dead. The victim in my novel is 14 and blond and thin and very dead. I show the trailer to my husband. He hates almost everything about it and cannot stop talking about how much he dislikes it. I am crushed. I spent the last of my promotional money on the trailer, and I counted on it selling a few books. Now I have to compose an e-mail that diplomatically says, “Start over.” It takes an hour that I don’t have. (New and improved trailer is viewable at the bottom of this page.)

9:05 pm: I receive an e-mail from a mystery book club leader named Ruth Greiner, who apparently does have a copy of the Mystery Scene review and says she’ll never read The Sex Club no matter how great all the reviews are. She does not say why, and she does not have to. Just seeing her name horrified me. The antagonist in The Sex Club is a very nasty woman and her name is Ruth Greiner. How was I to know? Now I have to write an e-mail that explains how I chose the name—Ruth is Biblical and strong, Greiner is the name of a street in my old neighborhood. I also try to carefully express my concern for her feelings, without admitting any liability. I offer to send her a free copy of my next novel, then feel lame about it.

10:16 pm: Yet another fun-filled e-mail arrives. This one is from a local author whom I met at a book fair and exchanged novels with. He says he’s quite sure he’ll find a publisher for his new novel and wants to know if I’ll read his book and write a blurb for the front cover. This is the first time anyone has asked me for a blurb, and I’d like to be excited. I’m flattered that he thinks I have any clout. But I didn’t get past the first page of his first novel (which started with a rectal search by a large German woman), and this one, he says, is much more sexually explicit. How do I get so lucky? Oh yeah, I wrote a novel called The Sex Club, so he must think I’m a sex fiend. (It’s a mystery/thriller, really!) I spend 20 minutes composing an e-mail, then delete it, thinking I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Sex Sells—Or Does It?

Sex sells. That’s what marketers always say. And it seems to be true for tight-fitting jeans and toothpaste. But it is true in crime fiction? In my experience—not necessarily.

Some of the best reviews I received for my novel, The Sex Club, started out with a disclaimer like this: “I didn’t think I would like this book, but . . .” The readers/reviewers went on to say that the title (and sometimes the cover) had originally turned them away, but that they’d read it because another reader raved about it. They ended up loving the story, but still, their initial aversion concerned me. So I asked members of Dorothly L (a mystery discussion forum) what they thought about the title. Many said they would never pick up the novel in a bookstore or library because of the title.

So then I wondered: How many bookstores and libraries had decided not to stock my novel because of the title? From the comments of a few, I believe there might be many. After realizing this painful reality, I started adding this footnote to all my communications about the novel: “Despite the title, the story isn’t X-rated.”

It is not a good sign when you have to explain or make excuses for your title.

On the other hand, many writers on the CrimeSpace and Facebook networking sites have posted great comments about The Sex Club’s cover and title. One writer posted, “Judging by the title, that’s a book I HAVE to read RIGHT NOW.” Many others have simply said, “Love the cover!”

During a discussion with writers about the word sex in a crime fiction title, the reaction was also mixed. One writer said, “If sex is in the title, isn’t that a lot of emphasis, leading the buyer to think the book might be in the wrong section of the bookstore?” A quick search of Amazon brought up only one other mystery title with the word sex —Sex and Murder (A Paul Turner Mystery). But at least that author was smart enough to get the word murder in the title too.

My conclusions: 1) If I had it to do all over again, I’d change the name, 2) Bookstores and libraries are critical to sales, and authors can’t afford to alienate them or their patrons, 3) Mystery readers prefer dead bodies to warm ones.

What’s your reaction? Do you shy away from books with sex in the title? Do you mind a little sex in your mysteries or do prefer that the characters stay on task?

Back on Track: aka New Rules

In November, while everyone else was cranking out a 50,000 word novel, I had a pathetically low word count. Why? Shit happens. More specifically, I spent a lot of time trying to drum up freelance work, I spent a lot of time babysitting, and I let myself get into the “I’ll make up the time tomorrow” mode. Wrong! It’s always today, and there’s never enough time to do anything extra.

So here’s my plan to get back on track:

First, I unsubscribed to half the e-mails I was receiving. Who has time to read all those newsletters? Sorry to those of you who put them out, but I just don’t have time.

I stopped opening e-mails first thing in the morning. In fact, it’s now a rule. No e-mail until I’ve worked on the novel for a few hours. (Unless the e-mail is from an editor/publisher!)

Another rule: No Twitter or FaceBook or reading blogs during writing time. They all have to wait until I move on to freelance work. (This will be the hardest rule to keep!)

I’m going to give longer deadlines for the freelance work I take on, then stick to working in the afternoons and evenings (if needed). Mornings are for writing!

And my husband is going to take our niece to school on one of the mornings she’s here, so I’ll only have one morning each week interrupted by that adventure.

And for balance, I’m adopting a new motto: Experience joy every day. Get up and dance! I do not have to be productive every second of every day… As long as I get my three or four hours of writing done, first thing every day.

Networking: Quality Versus Quantity

A year and half ago when I first developed a marketing plan for my novel, I made a list of websites to check out. In time, the sites ended up in categories: places to send my novel for review, places to list my novel in their database, places with general information, and social networking sites.

The social networking sites I put off until last because they take time. I started with MySpace but never got into it. Eventually I created a Facebook page, then let it sit for months until I called in my niece to help me get going on it. Now I have 1200 friends and enjoy the time I spend there. In between those events, I created a CrimeSpace page and spent enough time there to develop a presence and to introduce myself to hundreds of authors. I’ve also been active on Twitter, which doesn’t require a lot of time.

But the networking opportunities keep coming. I’ve since joined LinkedIn, BookPlace, and recently Multiply. And I notice other Twitterers talking about Squidoo and other sites. But my memberships in the last three are just sitting there un-nurtured, and Squidoo is not even on my list. I also belong to six list servs, so the e-mails keep coming too.

I’ve decided that I’m maxed out and will not develop my new memberships. I only have so much time each day to spend on promotion/networking. For me, fewer venues with quality time spent on each one is more productive than a minimum amount of time spent on a multitude of sites. But I may be wrong about this. What do you think is more effective marketing? Quality time in fewer networking sites or a minimal presence in as many sites as possible?

Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!

LATEST REVIEWS

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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