Pen Name Advice for Writers

This was edited and expanded from one of my forum posts.

maskI learned to use pen names starting in the 1980s, when someone read an interview in a magazine, in which my street name was mentioned.

The reader and her husband went door to door along my street, until they found me.  Of course, it was tremendously flattering because they were such enthusiastic fans, but still… that’s the year I started keeping an unlisted phone number, and began using a PO box for all correspondence.

In the years that followed, I gradually moved away from using my real name in my writing. I adopted pen names — one for each niche I wrote about.

By the mid-1990s, when I started my first website, there was never any question in my mind about pen names.  99% of my work, online, is under a pen name… one for each genre/niche.  I have never regretted that, and highly recommend setting up privacy firewalls from the very beginning.  All it takes is one slightly obsessed fan, and your life can become very uncomfortable.  The Internet increased the risks exponentially.

Real-Life Issues

What follows are some unpleasant incidents I usually avoid talking about.

You never know what’s going to dazzle or annoy someone.

In my real (offline) life, overzealous fans have caused most of the awkwardness.

Before I started taking major privacy precautions, one young man kept leaving personal messages — and sometimes recordings he’d made —  in the mailbox outside my house.

Later, another fan — who got a job at my hometown post office — stole one of my book manuscripts, after I’d mailed it to my publisher; he was caught and sent to prison.

A third over-eager fan contacted a friend, got himself invited to a hike she and I were taking, and the guy showed up with a stack of my books (even PDFs from very early in my career) and asked me to autograph all of them.  It was a little creepy.

Then, as he prepared to leave in his car, he “accidentally” hit his accelerator instead of his brake. Fortunately, I moved quickly. To this day, I have no idea if he intended to run me down. I prefer not to think about it.

I think every popular author, and anyone who seems to stand out in the crowd, has to deal with fans that don’t fully understand the importance of boundaries.

However, I’m more alarmed by the angry people who — mostly via comments and email, but sometimes in postal mail —  want to blame me (or something I’ve said) for their unhappy lives.

May 2016 update: These days, I’m very glad I’ve protected my privacy (and my family’s) with pen names. I don’t know if it’s the political scene or what, but anger seems to be boiling over in some areas.

In recent months, I’ve received too many vicious, anonymous emails.

Most are crude one-liners. Many suggest ways I should harm myself. All are unsigned. Their spelling is perfect. So is their grammar… as brief as those emails are, anyway.

Yes, they’re a little unnerving at times. I shrug and say, “It’s the Internet.” This may even be the latest incarnation of spam. I haven’t a clue, but I’m glad I use pen names to protect my privacy and my family’s.

(Of course, I save those ugly emails in case I need the routing information, later. I use PostBox as my email client. That service provides a lot of tracking information, to identify where the emails came from.)

So, I encourage people to plan ahead for privacy issues. Always use a pen name!

Profile Photos

Here’s another tip:  Alter your author profile photo — at Amazon Author Central and your websites — just enough that people can’t recognize you. (Or, that they can’t be sure it’s you, if they see another picture of you, or run into you in real life.)

Another approach: Use a photo taken at an angle that could be… well, almost anyone.  (Don’t look directly at the camera.  I learned that tip from author Francesca De Grandis, whose early promotional photo was lovely… but no one could be sure it was her, if they saw her at the grocery store.)

If you’re using Facebook or similar services, make sure your privacy is set so other people can’t tag you in photos.

For more complete protection, use a completely fake photo. (http://MorphThing.com is great for this purpose.  I’ve used it for several profile photos, and — cleaned up with any graphics software — they’re pretty convincing.)

Of course, the problem with that option is: If you make public appearances — book signings or public speaking — your readers will feel like you lied to them.  So, you may want to morph your own photo with two or three celebrities’, so your profile looks sort of like you do in real life.

(Tips for using your own, real photo with MorphThing:  Use a photo where you’re looking directly at the camera.  If you wear eyeliner in real life, put it on with a trowel for your MorphThing picture, so your eyes are clearly outlined, and wear lipstick.  Sure, MorphThing asks you to indicate a variety of points on your face. It still helps to make it easy for MorphThing to find your eyes and mouth, and merge the photos as accurately as possible.  You’ll have less photo editing to do, later.)

Pen Name Tips

You don’t need to register a pen name.  You just can’t pretend to be a famous person with the same name.  (Even the guy who conned/catfish’d Manti T’e’o wasn’t charged with a criminal offense… not as of this writing, anyway.)

I’m not an attorney, so this isn’t formal legal advice.  However, the following information — just my opinions and others‘ — may help you untangle confusing copyright questions.

IMPORTANT: Copyright laws seem to be changing as fast as I write related articles. So, don’t take this as the final word. Check with someone who, y’know, actually knows what she or he is talking about.

In the U.S., you can legally trademark your pen name.  Usually, that means registering it with your state’s trademark office for a small fee. (In NH, that’s under $100.)

Or, you can register your pen name with the federal government at a considerably larger expense… but greater protection.

Whether you do that or not, your writing is protected (in the USA, anyway) by copyright laws as soon as you write whatever-it-is, even before your name is on it.  Most western nations have similar laws.

Pen Names and Copyright Laws

If you copyright your work under your pen name — meaning that the copyright notice in your book is only in your pen name — it’s protected in the U.S. for 120 years from when it was created, or 95 years from when it was published, whichever is shorter.

If your book’s copyright notice includes your real name, or you formally file copyright protection with the U.S. copyright office (not required), your work is protected for at least 70 years after your death.

(Note:  If you’re interested in U.S. copyright laws, they’re a little difficult to untangle.  Two good resources, especially if you’re working with public domain material:  http://librarycopyright.net/resources/digitalslider/ and and http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm )

The only major problem with using a pen name that’s not registered as a trademark or with a government copyright office is:  Your heirs may have a challenge, proving that they have the rights to your work after you’re gone.

Choosing a Great Pen Name

Marketing tip: If you’re writing for a particular age group, look up baby names that were popular when your readers were born.  (For example, click here for a list of baby names popular in 1977.)  Use a popular given name related to your audience’s age group, and your readers will feel a closer identification with you.

Or, choose an exotic name that sounds interesting to your readers.  That’s especially true if you’re writing sci-fi and fantasy, but it works in other genres and niches, as well.  For example, click here for a list of heroic baby names.  Some of them would suit specialized niches, quite nicely.

If you’re publishing nonfiction in print, aim for a surname that starts with A, B, or C. That way, when your books are in bookstores and the niche is organized by surname, your books will be among the first that shoppers see.

(Also, if your book is mentioned in someone else’s book’s bibliography, listed alphabetically by author, your book will be near the top of the list.  If a reader starts at the top of that list, to see which books might be interesting or worth buying, your book/s will be among those he or she considers, first.)

If you’re writing fiction and your books will be in print, choose a surname very close to your favorite author in that niche.  For example, mystery author Joyce Christmas’ books are almost right next to mysteries by Agatha Christie.

Even More Pen Name Tips

If you need a good pen name, here’s one of my favorite resources: http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/  You can pick a gender, a country, and so on.  Of course, you may want to go to “baby name” sites to select a given name that matches your reader demographic, but if all you need is a generic pen name, the Fake Name Generator makes the process fast & easy.

As author Ryan Leonard pointed out, the additional information provided by that website might be useful.  If you’re writing fiction, it’s a great shortcut to building a character for your book.

For very solid-sounding surnames, I like this website as well: http://www.britishsurnames.co.uk/lists/English+Surnames

Privacy Precautions = Fewer Worries

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to make anyone paranoid, or deter them from publishing wonderful, successful books.

However, you probably keep your front door locked where you live.  You probably lock your car when you park it, too. Today, that’s considered common sense, but your grandmother (or maybe even your mom) will tell you that only paranoid people took those kinds of precautions when she was growing up.

In the modern world, a pen name and a general privacy firewall are very good ideas.

If you set all of that up when you begin your branding in a genre or niche, you’ll never have to think about it again.

I’m kind of a crusader about this, but that’s because it’s so important.  I also think it’s kind of liberating.  By separating those pen names from who I really am, I can craft each profile to more closely match my reader demographics.

And, when people say scathing things about me and my work, I can shrug it off.

After all, it’s not really me.

Content Curation v. RSS Feeds

bright-idea I recently attended a free webinar about content curation. The following are some of my notes.

I’m not mentioning his name because his advice went from good to terrible, quickly.

So, learn from his good advice, and avoid everything else.

  • He talked about using a good keyword structure to design your website.  One main keyword.  Four secondary keywords, with four related keywords for each of them.  Total: 21 keywords per website.  That keeps you focused and helps search engines understand what your website is about.  (That’s a pretty good way to start a nonfiction book outline, too.)
  • He recommended writing website articles that are 800 – 1300 words long.
  • He stressed the use of pictures and videos, to entertain your website visitors, and hold their attention.
  • He pointed to forums as additional resources to identify authorities in your niche.
  • He showed how to use software (like Link Gopher) to identify websites that authority sites (in your niche) are linking to, expanding your list of movers & shakers in your field.
  • He recommended following the top authority sites in your niche, and the personalities related to your niche.

So far, so good.

Wait… watch all the authorities and leading personalities in your field?

Then, he said that you should…

  • Follow the top 50 – 100 blogs related to your niche.  Get (and follow) the RSS feeds from all of them.
  • Also follow all of the top personalities in your niche, via social media.

He followed that by saying you should…

  • Reference those top websites in your own articles.
  • You should talk about the same trending topics.
  • And, you should mention the personalities and what they’re doing.

He said that would get the attention of the authority sites and personalities, so they notice you.  After that, he suggested that — with that kind of attention — you could sell lots of Kindle books in that niche.

I could agree with those concepts, but the scale of what he was describing… that was making me nervous.

At that point, people attending the webinar started asking how they were supposed to follow his advice and still have time to do anything else.

The speaker replied that he outsources all of  that kind of work.

Hmm… That might work if you have some bright, sharp personal assistants to filter (curate) all that content for you.

No, you can’t automate high-quality curation.

And then, he launched into a pitch for an RSS-based product that he described as “content curation.”

bluescreenI clicked to leave that webinar so fast, it was like a security alert had just flashed the blue screen of death.

Anything that uses automation to harvest content from other people’s websites — spun or not — is almost the polar opposite of what real content curation is.

Still, some takeaways worth noting.

Automated content curation can’t be done. Not if your goal is a high-quality website with loyal followers.

However, the speaker’s initial tips — listed at the top of this article — are pretty good.  I also like his ideas about following some of the top blogs, personalities, and websites in your niche.

Business Insider Gets It Right!

Lately, I haven’t had much to say about curation.  Why..?  Automated curation is an oxymoron, but it’s also become the popular image of curation, at least in Internet marketing forums.  (I’ll spare you that rant.  You’ve heard it before.)

However, I’m delighted to see Business Insider sum up one aspect of this issue far more concisely than I can:

“Museums have curators. Libraries have curators. Tweeting links to stuff you find interesting doesn’t make you a curator… or an authority or a guru.” (Read more in their article, “Don’t Use These 16 Terms To Describe Yourself“)

Go ahead and find interesting things, online.

Tweet them, post them at Facebook or Pinterest or wherever.  That’s fun.

But, until you add your own editorial content and explain why that link is interesting — and you have several quotes or links, at least loosely organized as a cohesive body of niche-related news (or information) —  it’s more one-shot blogroll than curation.

That’s my two cents on this chilly January morning, but the Business Insider comment was so good, it was worth mentioning.

Book Marketing – What You Can Outsource, and What You Can’t

chickenWhen you’re marketing your books, you can outsource (or hire freelancers) to do most of the heavy lifting.  However, some things can’t be outsourced effectively.

The difference is logical:  Sometimes, the marketing has to include your voice… the one you wrote the book in.

Your unique voice, your unique viewpoints, your unique humor, and your unique energy are significant parts of why someone buys your book instead of a competitor’s, or some other best-seller near the bookstore’s checkout counter.

Don’t forget that.

You can (and perhaps should, if it’s in your budget) hire someone to write your press releases, your sales page (the outline you’ll tweak to personalize it), your author bio, and descriptions for your Facebook fan page, your Wikipedia-type entries, and so on.  If you’re not comfortable maintaining your author website or your book websites, hire someone for that, as well.

You can’t effectively hire someone else to write your personal (and book-related) blog posts, script your interviews, or create an auto-responder (email) series to intrigue your fans and prospective book buyers.  All of those must sound like you.

Know when your voice matters.  Organize your schedule so you have time for the marketing that you — and only you —  can do best.

 

Steps to Book Marketing – Any Budget and Any Book

Yesterday, someone asked me about book marketing.  He’d been approached by a self-styled “publicist” asking an outrageous fee to promote my friend’s truly amazing (and brilliant) book.

Here’s my book marketing advice, no matter what your budget or your experience as an author.

Simple steps to book marketing – on any budget and with any book

1. Write your book (or hire a ghostwriter).

  • Free option: Write it yourself. This is always my best recommendation. Real authors write their own books. Everyone else is a publisher.
  • DIY option for novelists: Use writing software that offers prompts that tell you what kind of scene to write next.
  • Deeper-pockets option:  Recruit a really good ghostwriter at Odesk, or at a website by and for professional writers.

2. Proofread and edit your book.

  • Free option: Use your spell-checker and grammar-checker, immediately.  Then, put the book aside for a few weeks, and go through it with a more objective eye (and a red pen), later. I like free software like the Hemingway App, too.
  • Deeper-pockets option:  Get a proofreader or editor referral from a fellow author (with at least three books selling well), or hire someone at a site like Odesk, and ask for references.

3. Get a great book cover.

  • Free option:  Use the free CreateSpace or KDP cover designer, especially if you’re planning to publish your book in print format.  (I recommend a print edition and a Kindle edition, for almost every book.)
  • DIY option:  Get a good guide to designing book covers. Follow it.
  • Budget option: Hire someone at Fiverr.com to design your cover for you. (Expect to pay $5 to $20, depending on what you request.  I like designer “vikncharlie.”)
  • Middle-range option: Visit sites linked at AMC’s Pre-Made Covers page, or try a site like 99Designs.com.
  • Deepest-pockets option:  Hire someone like Chip Kidd. (Prices will vary, widely. So will quality… if you can even hire these people. The best are super-busy and sometimes on contract to a single company.)

4a. Publish your book in print and in ebook formats.

  • Free option: Publish using a Word document template and the correct-sized book cover, via CreateSpace.com (for print format) and Kindle Direct Publishing, or go through a distributor like Draft2Digital.com.
  • DIY option: Publish your printed book using your formatted Word document.  (Same as free option.) Format your Kindle book (and other digital formats) with something like Jutoh software or Scrivener. I’m using Scrivener.  There is a learning curve involved, but I love all the features Scrivener offers to authors. (Jutoh also has a steep learning curve, but for finicky control freaks — including me — it produces some of the most professional results I’ve seen.) Look online for discount coupons. Scrivener offers them, regularly.
  • Deeper-pockets option: Hire someone to format the book for you.  You’re looking for someone at Odesk (or elsewhere) who’s a pre-press professional.
  • Do not sign up for a “vanity press” program, where you pay money up-front, maybe give them some rights to your book, and they take a commission (often hefty) based on all future income related to your book.  I’ve heard fees from $125 to $12k or higher, and — after the first year, when the initial glow as worn off — I’ve never heard praise for any service like that.

4b. Later, be sure to create an audio version of your book for Audible, via ACX, etc.  Consider creating an app related to your book, as well.

5. Promote your book.

  • Free options: Create an author website and maybe one for your book.  (Blogger or WordPress.com are both free and easy for this.) Set up social media accounts for yourself as an author and for your book.  Include Facebook (maybe a Facebook fan page, too) and Twitter, plus whatever else your readers may read.  Do a little article marketing.  Become a guest blogger at related websites.  Issue press releases.  Join the HARO list. Get yourself on radio shows and maybe TV shows.  Launch your own podcast, if you like. (Warning: Do not try to do all of these things. Start with just one or two, and expand as your income & reader base do.)
  • DIY option: Use a step-by-step approach taught through any good book marketing resource. For social media on auto-pilot, I recommend Hoot Suite.  Try their freebie and see if it’s useful for you.
  • Deeper-pockets option:  Hire others to handle your marketing for you.  Choose someone mainstream, not someone who also sells get-rich-quick reports and 3+ figure “coaching” programs. Seriously. I don’t care what they guarantee.

6. See what happens, next.  If you’re approached by a mainstream publisher or even a movie producer, run — do not walk — to a good contract attorney who specializes in print and entertainment media.

7. If sales aren’t in the range you’d like, go more in-depth with more extensive marketing plans. Click here to see one writer’s social media experiments; he offers lots of ideas.

And, as your income improves, you can repeat this entire sequence, or improve the quality of individual steps in the process.

Your Own Extraordinary Everyday Illustrations

Extraordinary Everyday PhotographyIf you’re writing books, there’s no reason why you can’t illustrated them yourself, even if your only camera is in your phone.

Extraordinary Everyday Photography by Brenda Tharp is an inspiration.  It’s far from the typical photography book.

If you’re looking for a book about kinds of cameras, lenses, settings, and processing techniques… this isn’t that book.

However, if your best photos are taken when you travel, and you’d like to learn to see your backyard, neighborhood, or hometown in new and magnificent new ways, get this book.

With many of the photographs, the author mentions the kind of lens, setting, and speed used.  If you’re using a SLR camera, that may be useful.

That’s a minor point.  This book is written — with lots of text, plus exercises to challenge you to see (and photograph) your world differently — to inspire those of us whose cameras are point-and-shoot, at best.  The examples in the book share new ways to see things we pass everyday. We rarely realize the beauty hidden in the colors, light and shadow, or isolated areas of everyday images.

If, like me, you’ve bought photography books in the past, but felt overwhelmed with technical information, this is a good book.  If you’ve looked at illustrations and wondered how (and why) the photographer selected those images and angles, this is a great book.  At some point, probably early in its pages, something’s likely to click.  You’ll have an “ah-HA!” moment.

This book covers a wide range of topics including nature scenes, landscapes, pet photos, urban neighborhoods, using shadows in interesting ways, and even how to take great photos of ordinary food in extraordinary ways.  There’s even a section about using your phone camera.

Stop relying on stock photos that people have already seen, over and over again.

Now, you can take your own photos and turn everyday scenes into truly astonishing illustrations that will stand on their own, and impress your readers.

Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a professional photographer, you might discover innate and hidden talents as you follow the simple challenges and exercises in this book.

It really is a breathtaking book, and highly recommended.

Find this book at Amazon.com – or at Amazon.co.uk

Can Curation Be Automated?

Regularly, people ask me about various WordPress plugins, and other tools that are supposed to make curation faster, easier, something you can outsource, or even automate.

Most of the emails come from people who don’t fully understand curation.  They’re looking for shortcuts in a field where, with few exceptions, there are no shortcuts.

Software and plugins can help, but they can’t do the work for you.  Frankly, software — and especially plugins — can’t think for you. 

Do you have a Christmas-related website?  Plugins can’t necessarily discriminate between posts about Santa Claus, the Santa Annas (winds), or Santa Domingo.  Errors will slip in, and if you don’t catch them before your first visitor does… your reputation is toast.

(And, if your happy little Christmas niche website accidentally — and automatically — adds a YouTube video about “bad Santas” or worse… expect comments and emails that will send you back to bed, pulling the covers over your head, hoping your visitors’ rage will go away quickly.)

There are three key elements in successful, authority-style curation:

1. Know what your niche is.

The first thing you absolutely, positively must know is exactly what your niche is.   Narrow your focus as much as you can, without falling off the radar altogether.  Start small… tiny… even miniscule with your focus, and expand from there, gradually.

If you’d like to focus on scrapbooking, that’s too broad for success, at least at the beginning.  Even “scrapbooking papers” is too broad.  You might be able to succeed with “holiday scrapbooking papers,” but I’d recommend starting with Halloween scrapbooking papers, Christmas, or Fourth of July (or summer) scrapbooking papers.  Build from there.

2. Know the history and current (and upcoming) trends in your niche.

tie dyed fabricLet’s say your niche is “hippie” collectibles.  If you spot a fun, tie-dyed tee-shirt on Amazon and want to promote it with affiliate links, you had better know how to describe it.  And, you’ll need to know the difference between “hippie” costumes for Halloween, and what will pass muster at a Phish reunion concert, or — even more difficult — at a Creedence Clearwater Revisited performance.

If the product description for big, round “granny glasses” references John Lennon, you’d better know the exact style of glasses actually popularized by Roger McGuinn, or — if you’re trying to sound like an authority people will bookmark — you’ll lose all credibility if you just repeat what’s said in the Amazon description.

The only way to succeed with content curation, with a true authority site… is to become an authority.  You can’t learn that from an hour or two of following links from Wikipedia… not unless you start with a miniscule niche, like the history of hippie-style glasses.

3. Know the very best content resources, and how to recognize them.

The point of curation is to find popular and obscure articles and other content, relevant and important to your niche audience.

Unless you have a background in that niche — or can outsource to someone who’s already an expert — your “curated” posts risk looking inane.

You know the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about?  That’s what you’re looking for:  A field where you can compete with people who have at least 1,000 hours’ experience in the field, and possibly much more.

The risks with less than that are huge.  If you, just once, tell your readers something inaccurate — it doesn’t have to be truly wrong, just miss the mark slight — and they repeat it as gospel truth… well, they’ll never forgive you if they’re ridiculed in a forum where people really know the niche.

“Curated content” and “related content” are two different things.  Curation is a skill.  It’s one you can acquire, but the bedrock of successful content curation is a deep understanding of your niche, where it’s been, and what’s authentic and important in that niche.

No plugin can deliver that.  Neither can you (or your outsourced researchers/writers), with an hour (or two or even three) of intense study at Wikipedia, eZineArticles, and so on.

Can you curate content?  Yes, if you already have a background in the niche.  I’d guess 1,000 hours, minimum.

Can you outsource your curated articles?  Yes, if your curators already have the requisite background.

You’re looking at hobbies — yours or theirs.  Content curation is a real “follow your bliss” labor of love.  The only way it’s successful and profitable is if it’s authentic.

Don’t waste your time or your readers’, with anything less.

Building a Q&A Book

I’ve almost completed my newest just-for-fun nonfiction book.

This one has taken me close to two weeks. It was a “101 Answers to Questions about…” book.

The current book is about 50 words short of 20k words, and I still need to write the introduction, the closing, and fill in the bibliography. (Btw, I use Noodletools.com for the latter; it’s free.)

Building blocks - a step-by-step approach to a finished book.Here’s what I did:

1. I selected a topic that would be interesting. It’s one I’ve written about before, and I have an eager audience that will buy more of my books in that niche.
2. I chose a couple of very simple keyword phrases related to that topic.
3. Using scraper software (that visits sites like Kindle Answers or Jack Duncan’s system), I collected lots & lots of questions.
4. I copied those to a Notepad file and printed them.
5. I went through the list, crossing out the useless questions and highlighting the best of the rest.
6. Using cut-and-paste, I reorganized the good questions so they are grouped together, logically. (That is, if I were writing a travel book, I’d put all the questions about travel with pets in one section, and all the questions about tours in another, etc.) I deleted the rest.
7. Then, I turned on my voice recognition software and started dictating the book, using the sheets of questions.
8. About ten days later, I had my first draft completed and edited.

Now, I’m filling in the rest of the book, designing the cover, etc.

Also, I’m writing this book under a pen name; one of my related websites gets about 80k unique visitors/month, and I have tremendously loyal fans. So, anything I write for that audience… it has to be very good. I can’t just throw together an easy “tips” book and figure it’s good enough. If I did, they’d be outside my door with pitchforks or at least rotten tomatoes.

My next fun book will probably be either a UFO book (under another pen name) or a cookbook. I’ll want a break from the Q&A format. (I have a low boredom threshold, so I like to mix things up regularly.)

However, I think this is a good model for a fairly easy book. I’ve already researched the questions I’ll need for three more Q&A books.

A few tips if you try this idea, yourself:

1. Don’t number the questions until the book is finished. If you get halfway through and realize there are better ways to organize the questions, renumbering is a royal pain. Trust me on that.

2. When you’re getting ready to edit, do that the old-fashioned way… away from the computer. Before printing your draft, number your pages. Then, if they get mixed up because you dropped them, you’re not staring at a sheaf of disorganized papers with no idea how to reassemble them. Ahem. (If you skip the numbering step and the worst happens, here’s what to do: Go back to the file on your computer. Use what’s on your screen to help you see which page goes where. If you’d manage to drop, oh, about 30 pages, I recommend copious amounts of chocolate to keep your sense of humor afloat.)

3. Print your manuscript, double-spaced, and use a red pen. That combination make the editing easy, and — when you’re typing your corrections into the final manuscript — the red-ink corrections are easy to spot. (You could use blue, green, or purple ink, but those colors are not as easy to notice.)

4. Take at least two days off between dictating and editing. Then, pretend you didn’t write the book. Be ruthless with the red pen. Tighten everything, journalistically.

(Tip: Dramatic music can help keep you in the mood, and provide the gusto to boldly wield that red pen.)

5. After you’ve edited your book so it’s as concise as possible, go back and add the colorful phrases and anecdotes that will charm your readers.

6. Save the scribbled-on draft pages. Consider having them bound at Kinko’s or something, and then offer this (at a suitably high price) as an autographed, one-of-a-kind insight into the creative process of a best-selling author.

My most successful work schedule seems to be:

1. Write (dictate) 3k – 5k words per day, for two days. I usually start out writing about 1,000 – 1,500 words/hour, but things can go downhill pretty rapidly after the first two or three hours. (When you know you’re babbling, or you’re convinced your voice recognition software is misunderstanding you on purpose, it’s time to call it a day.  *grin* )
2. Do something else (research, cover design, or a completely different project) for a couple of days.
3. Edit what you’ve already written.
4. Write for two more days.
5. Rinse, lather, repeat until the first draft is completed.

Kindle Book Formatting – Dividers

The following is a 2012 article I posted at the Kindle Profit Club. (It’s a members-only forum for people writing — or at least producing — Kindle books.)

It’s part of a thread in which the topic was good dividers for cookbooks, but this info applies to almost any Kindle book where you want graphic dividers between sections.

Some of the links may have vanished. It’s the Internet. Everything changes, regularly.

However, the basic ideas are sound and may help you.

Free graphical book dividers

I sometimes find good book dividers searching for “free clipart dividers.”

One fast way to find what you’re looking for is to do an image search at Google, using that keyword phrase. Then, when the images appear, notice which ones have copyright symbols or watermarks on them. Chances are, they’re not free. (They show up because they’re royalty-free clipart dividers… so they’re included in the search results.)

The following website that may be useful, but it’s one of thousands with lots of free clipart dividers you can use: http://www.webweaver.nu/clipart/bar1.shtml

Teachers’ websites — clipart for teachers — can be good resources, too. However, be sure to check their terms of use; many teachers’ sites won’t allow commercial use of their clipart.

Also, if you’re looking for dividers for printed books, be sure you download an image that’s h-u-g-e at 72 dpi (the standard for online images), or already at 300 dpi.

And, don’t forget free, unrestricted fonts that include divider-type dingbats. Increase the font size to 120 points or so, and some of them are great as dividers. I’d start with http://www.dafont.com/

The biggest problem with searching for dividers is finding websites with good, free clipart… that aren’t full of ads (including “dating” ads), pop-ups, pop-unders, and so on.

This is a free clipart divider.

Book divider images you can purchase

Dover Clip Art - Food and Drink
I’ve ordered a copy of this one.

If you have a scanner or a digital camera, see if your public library has Dover clip art books. Dover specializes in public domain images, usually b&w and ideal for use in books of all kinds.

If your library doesn’t have any Dover clip art books, they’re often very inexpensive at Amazon. If you’re working on a cookbook, search at Amazon for “dover clip art cooking.”  There are about half a dozen good books that will have useful, public domain illustrations, starting at one cent for the entire book.

One of the largest is Dover Clip  Art – Food and Drink, which I’ve ordered. (Most of those images will be vintage and old-fashioned. That may not fit your cookbook, but it will definitely fit a couple of mine.  Dover offers several other, similar books, and they have modern clipart images in them.)

When scanning a divider or image in a book, be sure to scan at 300 dpi or higher. Otherwise, it will look “pixelated” if you use it in a printed book. (If it’s just for an ebook, like a Kindle book, I still scan at 150 dpi, to meet Amazon’s changing resolution standards.)

If you’re want something more unique, or with a bit more snap-crackle-and-pop, check sellers at Etsy.com. You can often find very nice divider designs there for very low prices. Here’s a typical divider package: http://www.etsy.com/listing/72948304/text-dividers-page-decoration-clip-art

That seller’s rules prohibit use of the dividers in any project that will be printed more than 5,000 times. However, when you sell 5,000 copies of your book, I think you’d be happy to pay another $7 for use of the graphics in the next 5,000 copies sold.

For a slightly higher price, check http://www.clipartof.com They have a far wider range of dividers, but their prices are around $12 per divider. It all depends on how elegant you want to get.

You’ll also find dividers at the usual photo/image resources: Shutterstock, iStockPhoto, etc.

And, for some extreme images you can use as dividers, don’t forget tattoo artists’ websites. Many of them sell their designs as digital, royalty-free clipart. They’re not inexpensive, but — wow — some of them are gorgeous.

My first choice for dividers and accent art is Dover clip art books. Remember, if your public library keeps them in the reference section (can’t be checked out of the library), you can photocopy or (with a digital camera and the flash turned off) photograph them, and then tweak them in your graphics program.

Using Podcasts to Promote Your Books

On the air - podcastingIf you’ve thought of creating podcasts to promote or support your books, here are some of my best tips:

1. Record with the free program, Audacity. It’s the best software you’ll find, unless you’re willing to spend $100+.  http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/
2. Keep your podcasts under 20 minutes… preferably under 15 minutes.  While some people love 1-hour podcasts, most people want something to listen to on the way to work, in the gym, etc.
3. Search for free, podcast-safe music for your introduction and conclusion.  It helps you sound more professional.  And, if you want less talking and more music, you can have a podcast that’s like a “morning drive” radio show, alternately talking and then playing music.
4. In Audacity, be sure to use Effects > Normalize so your podcast isn’t all over the place, in terms of volume.  This is especially important if you recorded it in a few sections.
5. Get a good microphone as soon as you can, and use a foam cover to prevent pops & whistles (from breathing) when you talk.  However, any microphone is “good enough” when you’re starting.
6. Post your podcasts at free sites like Podbean and PodOMatic.  http://www.podbean.com/ In the show notes, be sure to include links to your website and your Kindle book.
7. If you’re creating a series of podcasts, be sure to stick to a schedule.  Don’t over-commit and find yourself skipping a day or a week or whatever.  It’s better to have a once-a-month podcast that you actually record on time, than a weekly podcast that’s hit or miss.
8. Once you see if podcasts are right for you, consider placing them at LibSyn.  It’s inexpensive. It’s also commercial free and –if you ask the staff — they can help you find (paying) advertisers for your show.  http://libsyn.com/

Some of my favorite free, podcast-safe music sites

Sites like these come & go. By the time you read this, all of these links may be broken. Don’t worry. Other sites will have replaced them. Just use any search engine and look for podcast-safe music.

Tip:  If you’re podcasting to promote your book or income-producing website, even it’s just a short blurb at the end of the podcast, it’s a commercial podcast.  If your podcast is hosted (free) by a site that inserts their own commercials, that’s a commercial podcast, too.

Play nice.  Use music that’s okay for commercial podcasts, and if you’re supposed to credit the source of the music, do so.

Microphone tips

I’ve tried headsets ranging from $10 to around $65.  The big problem was the noise they generated if/when I moved my head as I talked.  Those little pops and crackling noises can sound pretty loud. Weirdly, the cheaper headsets were usually the quietest for recording.

While I was deciding whether or not I liked recording podcasts, I found a few ways to reduce the headset noises:

  • Once you have your headset exactly how you like it — the size of the head clamp, the angle of the microphone —  use hot glue to hold it in place.  That will reduce about 80% of the snaps and crackles in your recording.  Generally, if you decide not to bother with podcasts, the hot glue peels off the headset, so you can make other adjustments for comfort.
  • If you have a lot of pops and whistles in your recording, wrap your microphone with a square of lightweight foam rubber.  It’s easy to find, once you look for scraps of it.  A lot of packaging — especially electronics — comes wrapped with the kind of thin foam I’ve used for my headset mic.  (Worst case, you can ask at most stores that sell china. They probably throw out piles of the foam; their inventory usually arrives with it.)  All I did was cut a piece about twice as long as the microphone (and wide enough to wrap fully around it). Then, I stapled one end closed, pulled the foam over the mic (like a sock), and used a long piece of tape (or twist tie) to hold it snug below the mic.

Updates:

Until 2015, I was using a USB Samson Q1U microphone, and I purchased a foam cover (“windscreen”) for the mic to prevent pops from being interpreted as parts of words.  I used this same mic when I’m working with voice-recognition software, and for promotional Skype interviews.

As of 2016, I’m use a Blue Snowball mic. Amazon’s prices were good when I bought mine, there.

Check reviews online, especially from people recording podcasts and online courses (such as at Udemy), to see what they recomment.