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Were the Mayans Off by 2 Years?

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

Snow. Earthquakes. Political upheaval. Missing airplanes.

Do you need any more proof the end is near? I don’t — I just need to find my fireproof umbrella in the back of my coat closet.

My advice? Don’t be part of the screaming hordes. I know you want to be prepared, and there’s a lot of information out there for people who have their priorities straight: survival, and looking badass in a leather motorcycle jacket they tanned in their backyard. But I have a few lesser-known tips that could completely change your quality of life after the world economy collapses and the electrical grids go dark…

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How To Create Fantastic Covers For Your E-Books

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

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Editor’s Note: This supplement to Sarah Hoyt’s Selling Your Writing In 13 Weeks series first ran during January and February of 2014. Independent authors and self-publishing entrepreneurs should also check out Sarah and Charlie Martin’s weekly Book Plug Friday series where they can submit their books for inclusion. 

Part 1: How to Judge Good Covers From Bad

Part 2: How to Create Your Covers Affordably

Part 3: The Tools You Need To Get Started

Why Ed Wood is the Most Discouraging Movie Ever

Friday, February 28th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

ed-wood-movie-poster-1994-1020191959

While it’s not as famous as Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before ChristmasEd Wood is an early film by Tim Burton beloved by many fans. Its quirks abound: it’s shot in black and white, using camera angles and lighting techniques to tip the hat to classic movies; Johnny Depp appears in drag and talks about parachuting into Normandy wearing women’s underclothes; and Bill Murray, Martin Landau, and Vincent D’Onofrio all give memorable performances as Hollywood legends Bunny Breckinridge, Bela Legosi, and Orson Welles.

Ed Wood tells the true story of its eponymous hero, known as one of the worst filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age. Ed Wood’s most famous creation was Plan 9 from Outer Space, which came back into the public consciousness when it was lambasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Burton crafts an entertaining and heartbreaking film in which you find yourself cheering for Ed despite his obvious incompetence and total lack of self-awareness. The final scenes depicting the making of Plan 9 play out triumphantly despite their absurdity — you’re only reminded that the rest of the world isn’t on Ed’s side when the cast and crew arrive at the premiere and get booed out of the theater. That’s when the cold, heavy truth settles on you, as the end titles roll: Ed Wood was irreversibly, passionately devoted to his art, and he completely sucked at it.

A friend and I watched Ed Wood together once when we were in college. Afterward, we laughed nervously and looked at each other and said, “I’m not Ed Wood, am I?”

I was going into the arts; my friend was then a pre-med student, and this spring will graduate from medical school. But we were both haunted by the same fear, after that movie: am I absolutely terrible at the thing I love doing, and everyone around me is just too nice to say so?

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Bring Back the Intermission

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

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Movies are getting longer and longer, especially in two categories: epic sci-fi/fantasy, and Big Serious Films. At the very least, audiences can start to feel like they’re getting their $18′s worth, at least in volume, if not always quality, of material.

This isn’t the first wave of super-long movies, though. The epics of the ’50s and ’60s could put our super-long movies to shame. But there’s a big difference between Avatar and Ben Hur: the latter had an intermission.

I was watching Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) this weekend, and as usual, TCM charmingly played the intermission and entr’acte music with the original title screens, demonstrating their commitment to showing films as close to whole as possible. As I used the intermission for the same purpose that decades of theater goers before me have — to make a quick pit stop — I realized that the intermission wasn’t such a silly anachronism after all. In fact, it was a sign of respect.

People just aren’t comfortable sitting for three or more hours straight (at least, I hope not). We need to get up, stretch our legs, hit the restroom, get another glass of water. Movie intermissions are a win-win: audiences get to take a quick break without missing anything, and theater-owners have an extra opportunity to push more popcorn and soda on them.

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Student Survival Tactic: Think Big

Thursday, February 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Most folks first became aware of Dr. Benjamin Carson when he dared to speak out against Obamacare in front of the architect himself at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. I had the privilege of meeting Ben Carson about 20 years earlier when my mother handed me his book Think Big. At the time, I was an above-average student who struggled in the public school environment. Despite being intellectually acceptable (but economically unqualified) for entrance into a prestigious private school, my own public institution refused to allow me to skip a grade because they felt I’d suffer socially.

As if being the #1 nerd in the room qualified me to be crowned Prom Queen.

An outcast, I’d spend most of my time feigning illness or sick with stress, looking for a reason – any reason – to get out of going to school. I knew my mother was right; I couldn’t run away forever. But, I didn’t have a reason to care enough to face my battles. What I needed then is what so many young people need now: A perspective greater than their own. They need to learn how to Think Big.

And so my mother encouraged me to encounter the story of Ben Carson, a young African American boy from the projects who rose out of the ghetto mindset by seeking a perspective greater than his own:

“I am convinced that knowledge is power – to overcome the past, to change our own situations, to fight new obstacles, to make better decisions.”

Carson’s illiterate mother required her 2 sons to turn into her 2 book reports a week. This practice turned Carson into a habitual reader, classical music listener, and Jeopardy! aficionado. His love of learning and imaginative fascination with science developed into the desire to become a neurosurgeon:

First, we cannot overload the human brain. This divinely created brain has fourteen billion cells. If used to the maximum, this human computer inside our heads could contain all the knowledge of humanity from the beginning of the world to the present and still have room left over. Second, not only can we not overload our brain – we also know that our brain retains everything. I often use saying that “The brain acquires everything that we encounter.”

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How Does One Pick Up Bad Habits?

Friday, February 14th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

"Undesirable traits are acquired through association with the wicked." - #maimonides page 35 of Hoffman's The #wisdom of Maimonides

 

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How To Make Your Book Cover Step-By-Step

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
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This is the cover of my upcoming novel from Goldport Press. The novel is regency fantasy (alternate world.) The background painting is by John Atkinson Grimshaw, a painter who infuses his paintings with an eerie light. The dragon and the man in the foreground (originally a photograph) are both from dreamstime. Both man and dragon were run through Filter Forge’s oil-painting filter, then tweaked to fit in with the colors, etc.

Now, this is a cover that will work for today’s Amazon KDP and frankly, all online sites, and also for Create Space printing.  (Yes, I need to tweak that tag line, and there’s too much white showing around the space under his arm, but that’s blendable.)

However, the standards weren’t always so high, and the covers I (and others) put up when KDP was young are borderline offensive to the eye now.  Which probably explains why so few of my old stories that are up there sell.

So, we’ll take one — The Blood of Dreams — because I’ve never liked it, and also because I happened to see it the other day and find it offensive.

The Blood of Dreams is a vampire short story set in post-Soviet Russia.  It was published in The Secret History of Vampires, where the conceit was you had to use and historic figure.  (I was invited to contribute and had to come up with something.)  The rights have reverted to me.  So I put it out, I think over a year ago.  And this is what the cover looks like:

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Is this the most horrible cover I have out there?  Not even close.  And that’s me, and my covers were never the MOST horrible ones out there.  (They were pretty close, though.)  However, seriously, no one could mistake that for a professional cover, either.  Let me count the ways:

It’s two photoshopped together (not convincingly) photos.  The lettering work is Times New Roman, I think.  It’s not even centered.  And it doesn’t in any way signal genre.

In fact, if you considered this as a traditionally published book, you’d expect it to be “my experiences escaping the East in the eighties” or something.

So, let’s give this much abused story a new look, shall we?

So, first I go to Morguefile and let my fingers do the walking (if I can find something in morgue file I don’t need to pay for it.  So I’d like to at least get the background in morgue file.)  My first search term is Russia.  I’m looking for something (like that background) identifiable as “Russian.”

This is the photo I decided on:

It’s by fmfm166 at morguefile.

While I’m running it by Filter Forge, I’m going to look for a photo of a woman. Last resort, I’ll go to Dreamstime.com but the problem is that this limits how much I can show you.  (I.e. picture of a woman pre-manipulation is right out, and in fact, I shouldn’t show you anything but the finished cover. It’s a license thing.) Look, the story involves a woman and vampires, and Moscow and Lenin and Stalin. I could, I grant you, use a drawing of Lenin or Stalin, but a woman on the cover will sell better.

If I go to dreamstime I won’t be able to put the raw picture here, because dreamstime is a specific license, though.  I will put the transformed picture of the background, and then the full cover.  But meanwhile let me look other places.

Success. Wikimedia commons has a photo of a painting by Ferdinand Keller which, since he died in 1922 is fair game.  It’s a highly dystopic looking painting, so perfect.  (It is by the way, photographed by Hampel Auctions.)

 

Since the image is an oil and in a certain style, it restricts what I can do with the background, too.

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Creating Covers for your Indie Works – The Tool Box Post

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Supplemental Cover Series to Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks — post 3

Start with a cat picture taken from Morguefile, and take it to JASC paintshop and do one step photo correction?  Could you use this as a cover?  probably not.  Most stories that would take a cat on the cover require drawings to signal right genre.  This photo is by SimoneSantos btw.

Start with a cat picture taken from Morguefile, and take it to JASC paintshop and do one step photo correction? Could you use this as a cover? probably not. Most stories that would take a cat on the cover require drawings to signal right genre. This photo is by SimoneSantos btw.

Before we start this, I’d best come clean and explain that I never do things with standard programs or in the standard way.  This is not on purpose.  It’s because my brain seems to be wired backwards and sideways from every other human being on the planet and, if there are aliens, from every other alien too.  No, seriously.  Trying to follow along and do things the exact way I do them is probably a fool’s game.

For instance, for years after everyone was using Microsoft Word for writing, I continued using Corel Wordperfect.  It did what I wanted it to, it was intuitive to me, and I had no intention of changing, much to the despair of my computer-geek husband.

I finally switched to Word only because most conversion programs for ebooks gag at Word Perfect.  I’ve now been using Word for two years, and I’m used to it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore.  BUT the ramp up and changing of my brain’s default settings took me about six months where I couldn’t just concentrate on the writing, because the mechanics of the program kept obtruding.

For me, at least – if not for any sane human being – this is often a reason to stick with outmoded software.  I have very little time and don’t want to spend time retooling my workflow.

Most people doing their own covers use one of two programs: either Photoshop or the free alternative, GIMP.  Me?  Well….

I might be willing to give Photoshop a try, but I’ve seen people use it, and there would be significant retooling.  I’m not willing to invest the time into that retooling.  The fact that the company which makes Photoshop – Adobe – has gone subscription-only and that its website got hacked for subscriber data a few weeks back was just icing on the cake. I don’t see any reason to deal with that.

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Let’s Talk Art: How to Create Affordable Covers for Your Indie Book

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

There is nothing wrong with this cover, if — read the description — what you’re writing is somewhat “literary” (what the academics consider literary) a little highbrow, and appeals to a limited audience. It would, however, be a terrible cover for your bodice ripper, your sword and sorcery fantasy, your commercial urban fantasy, or anything else not “literary and little.” This is also how most cover designers you can get (i.e. not the ones working for major houses) design covers. And this is why it might be best to learn to do it yourself with resources at hand.

No, don’t run away (yet.)  While my family has a tendency to go through the art museum making fun of things and pretending we think the trash can is an installation (it might have been, now that I think about it) and making all the arty people mad (well, guys, we pay our membership.  We enjoy at as we want to.  We’re not shouting.  Stop getting close enough to us so you can seethe at what we say) that is not the sort of talk I want to have (though a stroll through the art museum with a camera followed by a “the Hoyts desecrate art post might be fun.)

I’m talking of art in its right and proper place and not exactly high art, either. (Yes, I know high art.  During one of the worst depressions of my life, a book with reproductions of Leonardo DaVinci’s paintings and sketches pulled me through.)

The art we want to talk about here, is the sort of art that is needed in a certain place and needs to be good enough to pass muster in that place.

It’s sort of like the wallpaper patterns painted on canvas and mounted on cubes that are used on hotel walls.  As “high art” they fall short of the mark, neither elevating nor communicating any other emotion.  As art for your own home, they’d probably get incredibly tiring (unless you’re one of those people who uses his/her apartment as a crash pad.) But as “hotel art” it does break the monotony of what would otherwise be institutionally bland walls, and doesn’t have anything particularly memorable to offend or confuse a fussy guest.

The type of art we’re going to talk about is sort of the same: book cover art.

You must have something on the cover of your books.  I’ve already talked about signaling and how to make sure your book fits with its genre.  Most designers – and for that matter most artists – you can hire will in fact give you “art” and “cover design” that fits only with the “literary and little” set.  This is because until very recently that was who the artists and cover designers who hadn’t quite made it worked.

The other problem with “hiring the professionals” is monetary.  I’m now making around $500 a month from my indie (mostly backlog of reverted novels and short stories) publishing.  But that is after two years and with my having a lot of backlog.  Yes, it’s also on the low side due to these being reverted novels and my only having about a third of them out. I have friends who are making the same from one or two indie-published-from-the-get-go novels.

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Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks, Week 13: Bringing It All Together

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
Take notes.  There will be a quiz... only not by me.

Take notes. There will be a quiz… only not by me.

No, this is not actually the last posting, since I still owe you a post on covers and a – long delayed – post on proposals (to traditional publishing houses.)

I do apologize for the delays on those, but I was doing my very best not to die through what might have been the worst health-season I’ve had in a long time.

But, for now, this is my post trying to bring together everything I tried to cover on selling your book in thirteen weeks.  Sort of a summarized version of the entire thing with easy bullet points.  A “selling your writing in thirteen weeks for people who only discovered the series halfway through and are having trouble finding the previous posts (as I did when I tried to direct someone to them.)

So, as briefly as I can make it, here is your “lessons learned” recap.  Get our your number two pencil and a notebook.  There will be a test.  (Actually there will, but not administered by me, but by the world/publishing.  Though my way isn’t the only way and though things change constantly, this will get you some ways towards actually successfully publishing, in whichever mode you choose.)

First –  Traditional or Indie? How should you publish? (For the purpose of this article, indie refers to self publishing or publishing through a micro company in which you have a controlling interest.)

I know the decision I made for me, but I can’t make it for you. Depending on the field you’re working in, the book you’re working on, and your own personal preference, the answer could vary.

If you are writing the sort of book that will need a big-publisher sendoff to do well, and you’re fairly sure that you can get it, then by all means go with a traditional publisher.

If on the other hand you are writing what the publishers would consider a midlist book – your typical genre book: a romance in the style of those already out, or a cozy mystery, a quest fantasy, or a space opera – and you have the resources to self-promote, and you know or can learn your way around a cover you’re probably better off self-publishing/indie publishing.

The truth is that the traditional publishers have been taking resources away from the midlist for some years now, and now are less inclined than ever to spend promotion dollars on “this is also an enjoyable book.”  Also, some of the contracts being written don’t “guarantee” paper publication.

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Know When to Hold It

Saturday, December 21st, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
You're in it for the long haul.  Time your game.

You’re in it for the long haul. Time your game.

Selling Your Writing In 13 Weeks, Week 11

I’m not recommending any of you give up on indie publishing because you think you hold a bad hand.  This is more a matter of “you’ve got to learn to pace it.”

Look, when I was young, before I got married, I used to run. I was about to say I used to run marathons, but I only ran a few formal ones. Mostly what I did was go for a good run to shake out the stress (as I was going to college, tutoring, writing, and had an active social life, there was a time interning in a newspaper and… well… things got stressful.  Oh, yeah, also I was politically involved.)  But I ran long distances.  I sucked as a sprinter, but I was really good long distance, even in competition, because I knew how to pace myself. I wasn’t that fast over any stretch of road, but I kept going and going and going so that as other people fell (panting) by the wayside, I would be one of the first if not the first across the finish line.

Writing indie is not a sprint – it’s a marathon.

One of my friends who is an indie writer and doing fairly well is accruing her own cluster of “starting out writers looking for advice.”  This is normal. This way of publishing is so new that each of us that goes a little way out of the starting gate will become a “guru” in no time.  It reminds me a lot of computer programing back in the eighties (my husband was a programmer at the time) or even of aviation in World War I or – further back – of “established settlers” in the West.

What all of these have in common is that they are fast-changing landscapes filled with adventure and peril (of a sort.  No.  Really.  No one is going to shoot you for publishing indie.  I hope.  But you can make a fool of yourself very easily.)

And in all of these the space between “newbie” and old man is incredibly short.  If you’ve been around the scene for even a little while, you become one of the “old, trusted ones.”

My friend Cedar Sanderson – two books out, a lot of mistakes made, a lot learned, and her second book selling shockingly well – found herself the guru of a small, starting out group.

Because I’ve been her mentor for about 11 years (during most of which she wasn’t writing, but dealing with life issues – but wanting to write eventually) she comes to me when she doesn’t know QUITE what to do.

One of the problems she brought me was one of her own fledglings, who is just starting out, and who – with a few short stories out – intends to make a living out of this in a couple of years.

She didn’t know how to explain to him that while this can happen, it’s not the most likely way for things to shake out.  (I didn’t either.  I mean, I can say things, but if people aren’t going to believe me…)

So, for those of you who are willing to believe me, before you get the idea that indie publishing (or any publishing) is the fast way to fame and fortune: writing is a business.  More importantly, writing is a craft and a profession.

We all know rich lawyers, rich doctors, rich artists, for that matter (well, I know a few who are very well off.)  However, no one sane has ever made a life plan that consists of the following: week one – graduate law school.  Week two – get a million dollar check.

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6 Warnings I Would Send My Younger Self

Saturday, December 7th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Who has two thumbs and loves Back to the Future? This guy! Replete with such cornball humor, and stimulating the imagination to ponder mysteries of the universe like temporal displacement and women, the ’80s popcorn adventures hold up to this day.

As 2015 nears, boasting a movie release schedule packed with blockbuster franchises – everything from the next Star Wars to Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World – it saddens me to realize we won’t also see a revisiting of the Back to the Future universe. You may recall that 2015 was the year that Doc Brown and Marty McFly traveled to in the second film. That year will also mark the 30th anniversary of the franchise. A second volume of films centering around the disparity between 2015 as we will know it and the one encountered by Marty as a teenager carries a lot of potential. If only screenwriter Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis were reading.

Much of the fun in Back to the Future emerges from a clash of generations, how things change over time — and how they stay the same. The second film in the series addresses what might happen if you went back in time and told your younger self how to be successful. Marty McFly plots to take a sports almanac from 2015 back to 1985 so he can place bets on foreseen outcomes. When the book falls into the hands of an elderly and villainous Biff Tannen, he executes the same plan to disastrous effect.

Sure, sending your younger self stock tips or sports scores may be an underhanded way to achieve your best life now. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t less scandalous messages you could send which might produce a better result. Here are 6 warnings I would send my younger self.

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Should You Eat Lots of Nuts?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 - by Theodore Dalrymple

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Some years ago a medical paper was published that caused a run on Brazil nuts throughout the western world. For a time they disappeared entirely from supermarket shelves; for Brazil nuts contain a high level of selenium and the medical paper had suggested that the high rate of heart attacks in a certain province of China was caused by the exceptionally low level of selenium in the inhabitants’ diet.

But of course for every panacea there is an equal and opposite health scare. Brazil nuts concentrate radium and give off more radiation than any other food; they also often contain relatively high levels of aflatoxin, produced by a fungus of the Aspergillus genus. Aflatoxins are very carcinogenic, leading to cancer of the liver.

So where Brazil nuts are concerned, the question boils down to whether you would prefer to die of heart attack or cancer.

A paper in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that, overall, nuts are very good for you. The authors compared the death rates among female nurses and male health nurses according to their self-reported consumption of nuts. They divided nut consumption into true nuts and peanuts, the latter being legumes rather than nuts.

I never cease to be amazed at the organizational feat of such studies: 76,464 women and 42,498 men were followed up between 1980 and 2010 and 1986 and 2010, respectively. After various statistical manipulations which 99 percent of the readership of the NEJM would not understand it was found that the more nuts people ate (including the false nuts known as peanuts), the lower their all-cause mortality. They didn’t just die less of such illnesses as heart attack, stroke and cancer, but of all illnesses whatsoever. At last, then, the panacea!

People who ate nuts more than seven times a week(!), hunter-gatherer style, had a 20 percent less chance of dying in the period of follow up than those who never ate nuts. This is a very big effect, for me almost too big to be believed.

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10 Beautiful Sunrises from Southern California

Sunday, December 1st, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

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When I set my New Year’s Resolutions 11 months ago – 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal – #4 was:

Start Developing Some New Hobbies Beyond Internet Trolling. Something New Each Season Sounds Like a Good Goal.

I’m not sure when it began but this year I’ve really started getting into photography much more. I think the effectiveness of the iPhone camera and the ease of use of Instagram are the main culprit. It’s now just so quick to snap the image you want, crop and adjust it, throw on a caption and some categories, and send it out to the world moments after it happened.

One of my favorite things both to photograph and see of others is a great sunrise photo. I’ve gotten in the habit of trying to take them every morning when there’s something that seems worth sharing. It seems like Sunrise is usually the best time of day for me to be able to break for a few moments. Taking the photo and thinking about it tends to double as a time to slow down and meditate and mentally prepare for the day. In an ideal world I’d also take photos everyday at Noon and sunset too.

When I can’t or when the weather doesn’t bless Southern California with something worth remembering then others around the world help out.

There’s something kind of strange and comforting about seeing many images of the sun rise or set from different points around the world at the same time. It’s as though for a moment human beings can stop and though they may have nothing else in common at that moment they at least share that common uniting experience of awe at seeing the sun rise.

So I’m going to try and start sharing more of my best sunrise photos here at PJ Lifestyle. I also invite all the PJ Lifestyle and PJ columnist regulars to share their beautiful images of the sun rising, setting, or standing high at noon too. Just a photo and a sentence or paragraph or inspirational quote or something uplifting to accompany the image. If you haven’t started playing around yet with Instagram you should — it’s very easy and can be a helpful tool for blog posts.

I’m also intrigued to experiment with opening this New Media troublemaking up to PJ Lifestyle’s readers. Please send your photos to PJLifestyleSunshine@gmail.com.

I request that you include:

1. The image itself as a JPEG formatted for web. (Not super large or the raw image from your camera. 700 width across maximum.)

2. The time/date and (approximate) place it was taken.

3. A brief, positive statement or sentiment. (This can be as mundane as “I hope everyone has a great day today!”)

4. Your preferred attribution — and if you have a link to a website or twitter account or something then that’s fine to submit too.

You can also send images to me on Twitter and Instagram. Just tweet them at me or tag me on Instagram and I’ll see them.

Here are my 10 favorites from this month, the first three (one up top and two below) are from this morning:

December 1, 2013:

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I was sitting at my computer this morning editing a delightful Rhonda Robinson parenting post for tomorrow morning when I looked up and gasped at the sunrise above.

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Just spending a few minutes each morning focusing on beautiful images like this makes all the difference in the world.

November 29:

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November 28:

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Measuring Up Outlets For Indie Publishing

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks, Week 8

Like a beautiful mirage in the desert of publishing, for decades ebooks were cool, interesting, but never quite there.

Like a beautiful mirage in the desert of publishing, for decades ebooks were cool, interesting, but never quite there.

For a long time ebooks were sort of a mirage.

When I attended my first writers’ conference twenty years ago, the publishing world was abuzz with rumors of ebooks and how great they would be.

There were all sorts of panels which in retrospect seem rather silly about how ebooks would change the reading experience. You’d have these integrated “smart books” with lines you could click on to get more background.

Being a notoriously doubtful kind of person, I remember thinking “Uh… not unless people operate very differently from my household.”

There was no way I could lug my monitor to the bathroom or the kitchen.

Besides the whole idea of books with click through points seemed… odd.  It might be okay, I thought, for non fiction – while reading a book on, say, glass blowing, I could see the clicking on some link for “older techniques” (still, unless those excursions were brief, it would become disruptive.)  However, people were talking about “click through to find the character’s personal history” or “click through for a summary of how they got to this situation” or – more ridiculous – “click through for a map of the land” or schemata of the spaceship or…

I was greener than grass, but I was not so green that I did not know the experience of reading is following the writers’ voice and storytelling ability.  As tempting as it is, in the second and subsequent books in a series to cue in the readers who haven’t read previous books without distracting the others, my guess is that the experience would be lacking.

I must have been right.  For the next fifteen years, at conference, workshop, gathering of writers and editors, this wonderful idea of an ebook future was brought up. But, like rejuvenation or teleporting, it was a scientific development that was always in the future.

Does this mean nothing happened?  Oh, no.  Baen Books had a vibrant ebook store, and, as pagers gave way to personal organizers, people started reading on those and on other portable devices.  (At the time my own dream device was the Irex Iliad.  I was never able to afford it)

However most ebook reading devices were massively expensive, uncomfortable on the eyes, and not used unless you had some special incentive – like traveling a lot.  Baen sold comfortably to a segment of the population who liked ebooks, but most other houses – after a few abortive attempts at an ebook department – more or less ignored the whole thing.

The outlet for indie books I became aware of was Smashwords, and the quality of most books posted there, from the bizarrely off-size covers to the writing, reinforced every stereotype of the self-published author.

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Ensuring Your Book Is All That It Can be

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Selling Your Writing In Thirteen Weeks — Week 7

So you maggots think you're novels!

So you maggots think you’re novels!

This is important whether you’re going the “new, new indie” or the traditionally published route. The level to which you want your manuscript bullet-proofed might be different, but you should still have someone look over your story before sending it in.

Yes, I know, the big houses are supposed to do their own editing, checking and proofreading, just like the big newspapers are supposed to have layers and layers of fact checkers. Don’t count on it.

The quality of the editing you get is proportional to their hopes of your selling really well, which in turn is proportional to the size of your advance.

That means if your advance is under ten thousand dollars (and most advances are) you cannot expect your book to get more than a cursory look by someone who finished college last year, and whose most notable reading – let alone editing – achievement was devouring Fifty Shades of Gray at one sitting.

But the more important thing, if your advance is ten thousand or less, is that copy-editing for punctuation and typos might be the only editing you get.

And this is a problem, because no matter how good you are, how smart you are, or how carefully you researched your subject, in the middle of the book, your brain is going to do something utterly bizarre and you’re going to reverse the name of two towns; you’re going to introduce a technology that didn’t exist at the time, or you’re going to forget the color of your character’s eyes… or remember it wrong.

Now how much you spend depends on what you expect to be paid, whether you’re going indie or traditional, what your expectations are of the book and well… who you know.

It also is important that you know what you’re paying for – and what the person reading is supposed to do for you.

So, let’s take this thing in order –

You’ve finished a novel. Good for you! I suppose if it’s your first novel, I can’t prevent you from letting your mom read it. (Unless you’re like me. I give thanks daily that mom can’t speak/read English.)

That’s fine. Just don’t take it seriously. Your mom, unless your mom is a published author in that genre and notoriously mean (ask my kids) in critique, is not an appropriate judge of marketability or how publishers/the market will react to your story.

The first thing you should do is find what we call in the field “beta readers.” This comes from software, where they have beta testers. Every writer should have beta readers. Yes, I know that this can be a problem. Way back almost thirty years ago, as a young author, I had trouble finding three people who knew enough about the genre I was trying to break in and who were willing to read my book. Which was a pity because I desperately needed a reality check.

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How to Write Queries, Synopsis and Proposals

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Selling you writing in 13 weeks, supplemental post 1, part 1

We will not teach you how to do this!

We will not teach you how to do this!

 

How to pitch and query.

No, we don’t mean we’ll teach you how to propose marriage, though if you need help of that kind, read the first proposal – by Mr. Darcy – in Pride and Prejudice and then make sure you don’t do that.

However, I promised a supplemental post to my 13 weeks series, about how to approach traditional markets, should you decide to do so.

I don’t know if my experience is normal — since I came from so far outside the field that I came from another country, culture and language – but I spent eight years unable to submit any of my stories, because while I knew how to write the stories themselves, I was in the dark on how to write those strange things “queries” and “proposals” and “synopsis.”

Then one day at a writers’ group meeting I asked a published author next to me how one did it, and – after looking at me like I’d taken leave of my senses – she showed me.  On the back of an envelope.  In five minutes.

Which was handy, because a year later, when I met an editor at a workshop, she asked me to send her a proposal.  And I did.  It was the proposal for Ill Met By Moonlight, which sold to that editor three days after I sent it.

If you’re trying to go the traditional route you will come – perhaps you’ve already come – up on these words “query” and “synopsis” and “proposal”.  If you attend conventions you might also have need of a magical thing called “pitch” or “elevator pitch.”

The only two houses – that I know of, though it’s possible there are still some in Romance and/or mystery – that take submissions in the form of a full manuscript are Baen and DAW (though I heard rumors TOR did, or was intending to.) All the others will have either a line saying “No unsolicited submissions” or “send query”  Or “Send proposal”.

So, let’s start with how you magically turn your submission from “unsolicited” to “solicited.”

This usually involves attending a convention or workshop also attended by the editor you wish to work with.

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So What’s Your Problem? Why Aren’t You a Republican Yet?

Sunday, November 10th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

dumbo-17

See the previous installments in this ongoing discussion about American values, Left vs. Right, Biblical morality, and New Media activism:

By Michael Lumish on October 13: Politics Vs Theology: Beginning A Debate With David Swindle. “Why we should not frame political issues as a matter of Good versus Evil.”

By David Swindle on October 20: Secular Political Ideology Vs. Biblical Moral Values: Continuing a Debate with Michael Lumish. “Why I don’t care much about Left vs. Right anymore. And four more points of disagreement.”

By Michael Lumish on October 27: Debating America’s Ideological Origins: Part III in Lumish Vs Swindle. “A disagreement about the founding fathers and classical liberalism.”

By David Swindle on November 3: What To Do When Progressives and Conservatives Can’t Communicate: Part IV of Lumish Vs Swindle. ”Set the straw men on fire.”

By Michael Lumish today, November 10: Why I am Disgusted and Horrified. “We have a President who embraces the Muslim Brotherhood. Part V in Lumish Vs Swindle.” 

Dear Michael,

This dialogue appears to be moving in an unexpected but very welcome direction: you recognizing the errors of your positions and coming to adopt mine instead. Here you agree with me that we need to speak more broadly beyond just our own cultural communities:

My intention, you should know, was never to speak strictly to Jewish people and I very much regret giving you that impression.

And in your encouraging conclusion you state clearly your opposition to both the party and ideology to which you’ve dedicated your life:

What I want, and I hope that you will help me, is simply to alert other American liberals that we need not be enslaved to the Democratic Party and the Progressive-Left movement and that if we wish to promote social justice then we must oppose political Islam.

Where you don’t seem to go far enough yet is in acknowledging what “social justice” actually is and from where it emerged. Among the reasons why you’re so doomed in your efforts to push so-called liberals and activist Democrats to fight for “social justice” in the Muslim world is that the value you are trumpeting is not essential to either ideology or party. “Social justice” is a Jewish concept — tikkun olam, which translated from Hebrew means “to heal the world.” This is not an inherently political idea and its perversion and secularization is mostly a recent development. One can — and should — pursue the biblical concept of healing the world apart from political engagement.

But our political activism can still be motivated by our religious values and we can still use a party to do God’s work. I explained how in the previous installments of this dialogue. I believe the most important thing God wants us to do on this earth is what he called Moses to do — liberate enslaved people. And that’s been the Republican Party’s charge since its founding. Politics is just a means to an end. The ballot box is a hammer to smash chains. My favorite all-American motto, again, and its biblical depiction:

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How to Make Sure your Story Is Publishable

Saturday, November 9th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
You must look for the flaws in your own work, so you can fix them.

You must look for the flaws in your own work so you can fix them.

So you’ve decided to go indie. What is the first thing you should do?

No, you shouldn’t – really, truly, trust me – make space in your basement for all those piles of money you intend to roll around in. Yes there are some people who made quite a lot of money right off the bat. There are also a lot of people (cumulatively) who win the lottery. However, just like your retirement plan shouldn’t be “first, win the lottery” your plan for indie success shouldn’t be “put one book out, make a pile of money.”

Most of the people who buy a lottery ticket do not win the lottery. And most of the people who have a single book out do not immediately and suddenly become bestsellers with millions of dollars flowing in.

If you are one of those people, you’re one of luck’s own children, and you don’t need my humble advice any more than you need an extra arm or a third eye. Go forth and perform magic, or something.

However, let’s suppose you’re a normal human being and you just wrote a short story or a novel, or a novella, which you’ve decided to throw out there for sale to the general public.

First of all let me caution you: the first piece of completed writing you ever do will seem to you like the most amazing and miraculous thing.

Even if you’ve been writing for years, and have been aware that there was something lacking in your efforts, there will be a story you finish that you know is “a real story.” And you’ll think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

The same thing happens with your first “real” heart piece, your first “real” song, your first “real” computer program, and just about any other endeavor that involves both art and craft. The first one that you think is “good enough” will also seem wonderful to you.

Most of the time it will not be.

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Selling Your Writing To The Public

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
setting up shop by the side of the information superhighway can be a daunting endeavor.

setting up shop by the side of the information superhighway can be a daunting endeavor.

Selling your writing in 13 weeks, week 4

So, you’ve decided to eschew traditional publishing.  It takes too long, or there aren’t many choices, or you think that you don’t have a chance, or you’d rather start making money now, even if it will be less, or you want to cut out the middle man and reach the public.  Last but not least, you might have decided that the best chance at breaking into traditional publishing is to be a success at indie.

All right.

First, note that last sentence, above.  You needn’t abandon all hope (of traditional publishing) once you enter here.  No, in fact there is a very good chance this will be your path to traditional publishing.  My colleague Larry Correia did just that.  He published Monster Hunter International, was a success, and is now happily publishing with Baen books.

Is it guaranteed?  Nothing in life is guaranteed, particularly for writers and particularly right now.

But if you’re going to try this Indie thing, there are ways and ways to do it.

Before we set off, always remember “Money Flows To The Writer.”  This is the same as in traditional publishing.  If you remember that and “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” you’ll probably keep off the biggest pitfalls.

Now, let’s start with some decisions you have to make.

So – you’re going indie.  But how?

Are you going to self-publish?  Go in with a group of friends? Go with an established small or micro publisher?

Which is it best to do?

I can’t make that decision for you – it’s all on how you feel about it, how much work you’re willing to do and how much self confidence you have.  In fact, you probably will want to try all three forms.

First, let’s consider small or micro publishers – the same process for submitting to them applies as for submitting to the majors.  They are usually faster, more responsive and willing to give a try to an unknown.  But they aren’t ALWAYS that.  Some of them are just as bad as the traditionals. And some are worse.  For instance, some of them have worse contracts and some of them are very new and have clue zero how to parse out payments.  (This is not as easy as you might think.  The way electronic outlets pay can get maddening.)

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10 Tips for Planning Your Disneyland Trip with Young Kids

Monday, October 28th, 2013 - by Anna Vu

Walt Disney Pic

Every kid dreams of going to Disneyland, and my three year old is no different. After watching a Disney documentary on TV, she has been asking to “go to Cinderella’s house” ever since.

We knew this day would come, and, when looking into her pleading little face, Husband and I decided to take the plunge, scrape together our pennies, and finally commit to the idea. It was a daunting task — bags needed to be packed, tickets purchased and itineraries ironed out.

At a glance, planning a vacation for a destination that is a mere 40 minute drive away may sound like the death of spontaneity, but children (and adults for that matter) need routine and guidelines to make them feel safe and secure. Also, if you live in the Real World of Married Life and Parenting you’ll have realized by now that when you’re married with kids, spontaneity died a long time ago. That’s not to say it’s not fun, but that it’s now just fun based around nap time, potty breaks and administering snacks.

So here are a few tips I gathered from my research that will help anyone planning a Disney vacation with little ones.

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How to Build the World’s Manliest Paper Towel Holder…

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 - by Builder Bob

When I start a new project I often dive in head first and make a big mess in the process. Paint splatters, sawdust, motor oil, spilled glue, calf’s blood, dismembered limbs–you know the usual workshop messes. So after I’m done digging wells and building hospitals for the underprivileged in Africa, I need a bunch of paper towels to clean up the aftermath of my construction destruction.

Sure I could just buy a cheap plastic paper towel holder for my workshop and  be done with it, or I could build an everlasting testament of testosterone for my man cave. Using 3/4″ iron pipe and some rust preventative you can build a beefy bar for your towels that will one day be discovered by future archeologist, inspire them to power down their construction bots, rediscover their masculinity, build something awesome, and stop making babies in the lab and start making them the old fashion way, thus reintroducing genetic diversity to the world and saving the future of mankind.

So for the sake of humanity I need everyone to to build their own beacon of badassery, to ensure they are found for future generations.  Here’s how you do it.

Supplies Needed:

Supplies

Supplies

Instructions:

1. The first step is to secure the fender washers to the end cap and base so the paper towels don’t move around or slide off the bar.  I used a combination of E6000 automotive glue–which works great on metal–on the contact surface of the washer and cap. Then I wrapped a bead of JB weld epoxy putty around the outside. The last step is overkill for the amount of stress put on this project, but hey, if you’re building something to survive the apocalypse why not?  Make sure you clean any glue over run out of the pipe threads before it has a chance to set, otherwise you will have a hard time fitting the pieces together later. Clamp the parts overnight to let the glue and epoxy cure fully.

2. I advise coating the iron pipe with a protective finish to prevent rust. Either a clear acrylic finish or rust-inhibiting spray paint (black is the only acceptable manly color). Tape off the thread areas of the pipe before you spray or it could interfere with joining the pieces.

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Reasons to Brave the Indie Publishing Jungle

Saturday, October 19th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Selling your writing in 13 weeks — week two.

Before you go it alone in publishing, you should consider some things -- and find a cool hat.

Before you go it alone in publishing, you should consider some things — and find a cool hat.

So, you’ve looked at your options, studied your product, and are considering just taking it indie, which for the purpose of this article means either self-published or with a small publisher.

Very well. Last week we examined the potential pros and cons of going traditional, and this week we’ll do the same for indie.

Sometimes, it’s just clear cut that you should go indie.

Some of these cases are, say, when you’re writing a book about something that doesn’t have a ready market in traditional publishing. Very often these are cross-genre things, and your reception at the two or three places you sent it to was “I love this, but I don’t see a market.” Or if there’s only one or two houses you’d consider in the field you’re writing in, and they’re known to take forever to answer or, for whatever reason, you’ve come to the conclusion you have no chance with them.

In most cases, things are not that clear cut. You’re sitting there, with your finished manuscript and considering “Indie or traditional.”

Well, traditional will give you money upfront, but after that you only get at best 8% of cover price. And your book is not fully in your control. Someone could slap an awful cover on, and nine times out of ten you have absolutely no say in it.

On the other hand, in Indie Publishing most of the time you have full control. (At least if you’re self-publishing. If you are publishing with a small press, you might still relinquish some of the control, such as you might have cover consultation, but it’s doubtful you’ll have cover decision.)

That’s good and bad.

Let’s take indie publishing pros and cons.

The most important advantage of indie publishing, at least in my opinion, is that in a market that’s as volatile and unpredictable as the publishing market is just now, you don’t stand at risk of losing the copyrights to your books to someone else’s lawsuit. (This might not be true with small presses, so investigate them carefully and, as always, have an IP attorney read any contract.)

The con in this case is that no one is going to pay you big money for the licensing of that copyright. You’ll put the book up and you might make a few thousand dollars in a year or you might only make a few hundred. There is no telling.

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How To Hang Pegboard To Finally Get Your Garage Organized

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Builder Bob
Hanging Pegboard

Hanging Pegboard

After moving to my new place, I had access to a great studio space. It had cabinets, shelves, and a large counter top work surface. But after my first few projects digging tools out of cabinets, tool cases, and packed boxes I decided it was time to organize my work space more efficiently. Adding Pegboard to your work shop, garage, or garden shed is a cost effective way to organize all your material. It makes your tools easy to find, close at hand, and up out of the way of your work surface.

Special mention to my wonderful co worker Miss Carol Ann for some helpful tips and advice before I started this project.

Materials needed:

Supplies

Pegboard Sheets, 1×3’s or pegboard spacers, High Gloss paint and rollers

Tools

Drill, Stud Finder, laser level and torpedo level, tape measure, straight edge, and a pencil

Hardware

2-1/2” and 1-½” wood screws, flat or finish washers

Accessories

Pegboard hooks, holders, bins, and lock downs. .

  1. The first step is to determine the dimensions and use of your project. Peg board comes in 2 flavors, you can use ⅛” hole board for small areas to hang hand tools, or larger ¼” hole board to cover an entire garage wall and hang heavier lawn equipment, folding chairs, etc. You will want to place your pegboard at a height and location that is easy to access but clear of your horizontal working space. Using your tape measure, laser level, straight edge and pencil mark the outline of where your board will be.

  2. You need about a ½” of space between the pegboard and the wall so the hooks have room to lock in place. There are two methods for spacing. I chose to use lengths of 1×3’s attached to the wall studs to act as a frame, however the lumber will block the peg holes behind it and limit your hanging options. The first step is to find the wall studs using a stud finder then mark the center line using your straight edge. I found my stud spacing to be 16” so after finding the first two studs you can make short work of the rest. Once located you can start hanging your framing using the longer 2 ½” wood screws. After inserting the first screw part way put your bubble level on top to ensure your frame stays straight while securing the rest of the screws.  I alternated full length board with half length  on each stud to maximize the peg holes available, you can also build a full box frame for the most stability but you will lose peg spaces. At this point I painted the wood frame to help hide it once the board is hung.

    • The other method of hanging involves using plastic spacers to offset the pegboard. This frees up a considerable number of pegs available but will require at least two people to accomplish.  While one person holds the pegboard in the position you want it, the other can mark the holes where the spacers will be. If not anchoring to the studs you can place hollow wall anchors to hold the screws. A trick to use is once you have your locations marked and wall anchors installed, use a small dab of superglue to attach the spacer to the wall and let them dry. This will save pinched fingers in the next step. Make sure your spacers are level at this point because you will not be able to adjust them later on.

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