Thursday, 16 February 2017

Falling at the first hurdle

This week I tried to be a pro, and I hit a snag. I followed the 'simple' steps to set up a domain name and a webpage so that I can then do what seems like the thousand steps that follow to be a professional author, you know: the mail list, the popups to join the mail list, the auto-responder when you join the mail list etc.
And I messed it up at step one of ten.
I don’t speak this language and it makes me feel stupid to not be able to work out where I went wrong. Then I get anxious about having to try and explain what is wrong to a helpdesk. Writers are generally introverts and the whole process is scary to me.
Kid extra, who works at a tech helpdesk, just said, “I don’t listen to people when they try to tell me what’s wrong; they don’t know what’s wrong. That’s why they’re calling the helpdesk.”
Oh, yeah.
Sadly, kid extra can't help me with this issue but I’ve done things like this before and I’ve worked it out. I set up this Blogger page and it’s not amazing, but I can change a theme or add in a side bar link.
I’ve got a tumblr page and I can change the theme or add special hotlinks.
I’ve got a Goodreads account where the reviews use HTML to make text bold or italicised, and to add in images and set the size, and I’ve learnt how to do that, too.
I can upload and edit posts in fanfiction.
I’m not stupid. I’m just swimming in unfamiliar waters.
It’s exactly like working out how to make the canva covers I blogged about earlier.
Jeez, AM, stop being so hard on yourself.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Making covers with Canva

I was tooling about on my Pinterest page and realised that my fanfiction list is missing an awful lot of entries. I don’t have Photoshop skills, I failed with Gimp - I needed another degree to work that one - and most of the banner makers I know from ages ago aren't doing it anymore.
But in the spirit of learning things from free videos, I was watching one where the person was making a printable book for Amazon. She’d upload it and if it sold, fine - if it didn’t, it had taken less than one hour of her time to make it. With print on demand, it cost her nothing other than time to produce a journal. And she could get weirdly specific: things like migraine journals and so on. She was selling the way to make these journals in more detail.
She used Canva. I had looked at it before, but needed some more guidance and watching the talk helped me see how to use it. It’s a lot like the old Microsoft publisher - yes, I’m showing my age. 
So I had a go with some of the prompts from the Anon twilight one shot contest from years ago. It took me about an hour to make five of them, using the pre-loaded formats and inserting the picture prompts from the contest. The pre-loaded images are also set to the correct sizes for various formats from Facebook headers to Wattpad cover sizes. Neat.

What do you reckon?
It’s a little dark, but it’s way better than this attempt where I used Word to make a cover.

I mean for heaven’s sake… I am so used to seeing the pilcrow - that backwards P that shows formatting marks - that I didn’t notice it was visible in the cover I uploaded to Pinterest. Facepalms.
Why didn’t you guys tell me?

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Listening to sales podcasts

Today I got up early to listen to a podcast. The eternal curse of living in the southern hemisphere.
I worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t really for me, it was more for non-fiction books, but I left the tab open as the guy talked on - and sniffed too often - ugh.
One of the things he talked about was that writers think they can’t sell things because they aren’t sales people, they’re creatives. He gave some hints about how you can sell things, even if you think you aren’t good at it. One strategy was to show the buyer what failure looked like and then they will be more likely to buy your product.
About fifteen minutes later, he flashed up this scary looking list of all the things people had to do (and the lists below each listing of the smaller tasks required in each individual step) before they could publish a book. He was selling a product that will automatically list all the tasks, and the completion dates for you.
He basically showed us (the buyer) what failure looked like.
He did what he had just talked about to the same audience he had just told that strategy to.
I was checking my emails as he was talking and in the continuing story of the universe throwing stuff at me, there was a blog post from Stephen Barnes talking about how you can educate yourself on sales and marketing by watching these kinds of things and learning from them. There are a lot of people out there making money by selling courses to you on how you can make money.
At that point, I shut it down.
And no, I didn’t buy his product.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Sometimes mistakes add to things, sometimes they don’t make a lick of difference.

This week I made a huge lasagna; 12x16 inches. I confess it was to use up the milk which was close to the use-by date. [Jeez, you people know all my secrets.]
Kid extra took a slab to work and shared it with a friend. She said to tell me that if writing didn’t work out, I could become a cook.
He told me this and I laughed and then said I had a confession to make over this particular lasagna, it had a secret ingredient.
Things are tight financially, so I buy a lot of generic brands and they all look the same; same colour packet, same font, same packaging and often a similar size. Rolled oats are cheap and healthy for breakfast and I usually store them in a big glass jar. The remains of a bag were squished down, clamped closed and left on the bench. Someone thought it was the remains of the bag of grated cheese and put it in the dairy drawer in the fridge.
When I was making the layers I grabbed the bag of ‘grated cheese’, un-clipped it and poured it all over my pan.
I stood there and looked at the rolled oats and had a crisis.
I could scoop it all out but it would take time and waste some of the sauce. The bench was covered in various pots, pans, packets and implements. I’m constructing a lasagna, people. I don’t have time for this!
So I left it. I thought if anyone notices, I will come clean and confess. And of course, nobody did.
I’m not sure what the message is here: rolled oats will bulk up anything? Keep silent until you’re caught? Remember to put in your oats?
Sometimes mistakes add to things, sometimes they don’t make a lick of difference.
Yeah… that’ll do.

Friday, 3 February 2017

What you find when you aren't looking for it

I was cleaning up my internet bookmark folder while listening to a podcast today.
It started when my brain skittered off with some ideas from that talk that should go in some of my writing. I headed off to find that work, couldn’t find it, and ended up making a note in a different program [google keep] with a reminder to pop up later.
Then I saw a lot of my ‘how to use social media’ posts dated from 2012. Seriously out of date when social media changes daily, so I started pruning and tidying up. I made a new heading of ‘writing tools’ and was dragging bookmarks into it. Some I had to click on to see what they were, and why I had bothered to save them.
And I found a plot generator I had totally forgotten about. I LOVE these things. I love a challenge. And it sounds funny, but it is much easier to write within strict boundaries than it is to write with the freedom of choice of the entire world. Too much choice is paralysing.
There are a number of different genres. I picked paranormal romance (my jam) and let it randomise everything. And voila…

Hilarious. I really love the reviews.
But… I reckon I could write that.

The podcast - Jeff Goins
140: Stop Starving and Start Making a Living from Your Art: Interview with Cory Huff

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

What’s it called when the universe keeps throwing stuff at you?

No, not different stuff; the same thing - a name, a process, a song - that keeps popping up when you are sure you have never heard it before. Suddenly it’s everywhere.
Synchronicity? No, that’s not it… *
At any rate, the universe is throwing two things at me: Mata Hari and morning pages.
It seems like every interview or podcast I listen to, people talk about doing their morning pages. Successful people. People who are at the pinnacle.
Fine… I’m doing them, I’m doing them! **
Mata Hari has me confused though. I lived in Indonesia for many years so I had certainly heard of her. I was surprised to find she wasn’t even a tiny bit Indonesian. She was Dutch. Her story is seriously tragic and it is now suspected that she was falsely accused of spying and executed by firing squad.
Tragedy - the death of her child, evil husband, intrigue, world war, younger lover, execution by firing squad. It sounds like an opera libretto. (NO, brain!)
I’m not sure how I can use this but I’ll research some more and have a think about it. Maybe it’s the basic plot line for a different character? Wouldn’t be romance though, eh? No happy endings there.

*Google tells me it is called Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Frowns at google. Uh huh.
** morning pages are a daily ritual/habit from The Artist’s Way. Free-write three pages by hand. Reminders to call your sister, awful things you say to yourself, worries about your life, things that made you laugh… whatever. The idea is that if they are out of your head you can deal with them.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Cruel to be kind

Story seed #244 from 400 StorySeeds to Crush Writer's Block Kindle Edition
by M. Kirin
A $1 wedding dress

Yard sales. They were her kryptonite, or maybe more accurately, her catnip. Irresistible.
Cassie could not drive past a sign without taking a quick photo of it for later, or making a note and if there was one on as she drove past, she was stopping no matter where she had to be.
On today, of all days, she should have been able to resist the lure. She was happy, elated, all of the good things. She didn’t need the high that finding a great bargain gave her, but somehow she headed out early and thought she’d just drop in and check the yard sale she had snapped a shot of recently. It was even on the way to the mall where she was meeting her best friend.
She followed the homemade arrows until she could see the faded sun umbrella set up in the front yard. Card tables, a clothes rack, and boxes of yet to be discovered bargains were scattered about.
Clutching her purse in her hand, she picked carefully though a box of paperbacks. Sadly, the only author she knew was for a title she already owned.
The seller eyed her off and flicked cigarette ash into an ashtray. There wasn’t a price tag on the ashtray.
Sidling over to another box, she dug around in it. Her tiki phase was well and truly over otherwise the hula dancing girl would have been perfect.
The seller made a grunt noise. It might have been a question but if it was she had missed it.
She shifted the hangers on the clothes rack and stopped at a garment bag. She unzipped it and peered inside. “What’s this?”
“Wedding dress.”
“Oh my gosh,” she squeaked before she could stop herself. It was too hard to haggle well if she was too eager and the seller knew she wanted something. “My boyfriend asked me to marry him last night.”
The old woman dragged on her cigarette. “Bully for you.”
“Can I open it?”
A shrug she took as permission.
The dress was champagne, not white, but it was perfect. She couldn’t find a stain or a tear or a missing button. No age marks. It was a figure hugging strapless dress, fitted at the front with a train at the back and a short cropped jacket that matched.
She couldn’t guess at it’s age. The style was timeless classic. She also couldn’t see a tag to tell her the size. There were no labels at all. That made sense if it was handmade for a bride. “What size is it?”
“It’ll fit.”
She frowned, but there was nowhere to try it on unless she went inside the woman’s house, and she wasn’t offering.
She hung it back on the rack, carefully zipping it back into the bag before moving on to look at some other items.
Her eyes strayed back to the dress.
Another young woman arrived and she had a moment’s panic that the new girl would steal her dress. Instead, the new customer bought the hula doll and left.
She sighed with relief.
“Did you want it?” The old woman asked.
“The Hula girl?”
“No, the wedding gown.”
“I don’t know...”
“It’s one dollar.”
She stared at the seller. That just couldn’t be right. The garment bag alone was worth more than a dollar. The buttons, the material, and so on. “A... dollar?”
She hadn’t agreed but she was already moving over to the clothes rack.
“That’s the deal.”
“Deal?” She stopped.
“You can sell it for a dollar when you’re done.”
She wanted to ask, but didn’t. It felt like rudeness to ask what ‘done’ meant. When you’re married of course. Who needs a second wedding dress?
She and Aaron had been talking about it for years. They lived together but it was always ‘when we’re married’ not ‘if’. He had finally asked her formally last night and that was why she was so happy today.
It seemed like a sign to see the dress of her dreams today.
“Is it a deal?” the seller pressed.
“You have to tell me the real price.”
“One dollar.”
“I’ve got a hundred in cash.” First time she’d tried to haggle someone up.
The woman held her hand up to forestall her. “One dollar; no more, no less.”
“Is there something wrong with it?”
“Do you want the dress or not. I’ve got customers.”
She didn’t. “Fine. A dollar.”
She had to dig in the bottom of her purse but eventually she handed over a crumpled note.
The woman made her shake hands on it as if they really had made a deal.
She hurried over to her car, fearful that the seller would change her mind. She waved at the woman as she drove off.
Her dress. The perfect dress.
At the corner she paused. If she went to the mall and left it in the car, it might get stolen. It would take her fifteen minutes to drop it off at home. She messaged her friend to tell her she’d be a couple of minutes late.
It was hard to carry the long bag. She parked on the street rather than use the garage door, and went in through the front door. She heard voices as the door swung open.
“Where’s your bride?” a husky female asked with a bitter laugh.
“Out,” Aaron said. “We’ve got hours.”
A sound like a smack and then a small yelp.
“Can’t we use the bed?” the woman whined.
“She’ll notice. We fuck on everything else and she’s too stupid to know.”
“Boring,” the woman agreed.
By then, her feet had taken her to the end of the hall, almost without her permission. She knew what they were doing. She didn’t want to see it, but she needed to. And she couldn’t stop. She even knew who he was with. His work colleague Jennifer. The woman he went away with on business trips. A whole lot of small things she had ignored clicked together into a larger, clearer mosaic.
She clutched the dress hanger so hard her fingers went white. A strength came to her. She didn’t know where it came from. She stepped into the room. “Get out of my house.” She didn’t shout. She was loud and clear.
“Shit!” Jennifer said.
“Hey, don’t talk to her like that,” Aaron argued.
“I was talking to you. Get out of my house, Aaron.”
“This is our-” he stopped at the look on her face.
“You told me it was your house,” Jennifer said to Aaron. She had collected her clothes and she held them in a bundle in front of her body.
“You two can have this conversation somewhere else.” Pulling her phone out, she starting looking for a local locksmith.
“I can explain,” Aaron started but she gave him the hand.
She explained her issue to the guy who answered. “One hour? Perfect.”
Jennifer tugged Aaron backwards. He was just staring at her. “Come on,” Jennifer encouraged.
“I’ll be back for my stuff.”
Throwing it out on the lawn would have been fun, but it felt too emotional. Something had changed, or broken inside her.
When she heard the door slam she went to the garage to get some moving boxes. He’d be on her land for less time collecting his stuff if she packed it in a few boxes for him.
A few weeks later after a lot of tears, tequila and bitching with her bff, she remembered the dress. It had been carefully hung in her wardrobe.
She put it in her car and drove back to the house where the yard sale had been. The seller wouldn't want the dress back; they’d made a deal but she went anyway.
A car pulled into the drive as she parked at the kerb.
“Hi!” she chirped at the weary looking man as he pulled a suitcase out of the car. “I bought this at your yard sale.”
He just stared at her. “Sorry?”
“Yard sale.”
“Jet lag.”
He said, “I’ve been away for a month.”
They both thought of it at the same time. Had he been robbed? He rushed to check, then unlock the front door
“Nothing’s disturbed,” she said as stood inside the entrance. The house looked neat and tidy.
He darted into the rooms and finally emerged looking confused. “A yard sale?” he repeated.
She showed him the shot of the flyer with the address.
“I don’t get it. I’m sorry, can I offer you a drink? All I’ve got is cold beer.” He smiled sheepishly. “After a trip it’s nice to get home and have a beer.”
The dress hung over the back of a kitchen chair as she told him the story. She apologised for just barging into his home. He made a joke about it being rare.
They opened a second beer.
“So it kind of saved you?” he said.
“I guess. She said, ‘when you’re done’. Is that what she meant? ‘Sell it for a dollar when you’re done.’”
“Was it her dress, do you think?” he asked. “Was she married?”
“I didn’t see anyone with her. If it was her dress, why did she use your house?”
“Maybe it was her house. I’m renting from an agency. Or maybe she lives near here and noticed I was away.” He clinked their beer bottles together. “New promotion means no more travel.”
“Congrats and yay.”
“Is it a nice dress?”
She nodded. “Perfect.”
“Pity.” He reached for the bag but she stopped him.
“It’s bad luck,” she argued.
It was only bad luck for the groom to see the wedding gown, not some random guy she’d just met. But, then again, he wasn’t random. The dress had brought her to him.
“I don’t even know your name,” he complained.
“It’s Cassie.”
They shook hands and it felt like she'd just made another deal; a better one.
She wore the dress for her wedding and then sold it at their first yard sale. The clothes rack was set up almost exactly where she had stacked the boxes of Aaron’s stuff. Neil moving in had changed the house in so many ways.
It was a different dress by then. (No, it really WAS a different dress. Now it had a pencil skirt.) She was oddly unsurprised by the alterations she’d had nothing to do with. She also felt half sorry, half excited for the young woman wearing retro clothes and red pumps who bought it.
For one dollar, as promised.
She bit her lip as the girl carried it off triumphantly.
Neil kissed Cassie’s hair. “You did the right thing.”
“I know, but I’m worried she’ll be hurt.”
“Cruel to be kind. You never know what comes next.”
“Or who comes next,” she added with a kiss.
© AM Gray 2017