Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Write an Ebook Week

It always happens: I get the idea to write something new but end up putting it off. "I've never written that; I'll only blow it." "Why would people even READ it??" "How am I going to write this?" "How am I going to write this amid all of these OTHER THINGS I have to write??"
And so on.

Then something comes along to give me the kick in the pants to just DO it! Stop wrestling with those doubts, get your butt in the chair and just WRITE it! This time, it was Read an Ebook Week. http://www.thebullybook.com/readebookweek.html

I learned about "Read an Ebook Week" purely by accident. I was checking out this author's site, coincidentally the SAME author who created "Read an Ebook Week," and saw all these "Read an Ebook Week" banners (one of which is now on the dmcwriter site). 'Huh?' I thought. 'What's that?'

I did some checking. First I learned about other "Read an Ebook Week" offers and specials, then I started seeing those banners EVERYWHERE. Mainly because the next "Read an Ebook Week" is in March. Finally, I learned about the brainchild behind this annual read-a-thon and I immediately contacted her, hoping to score an interview about "Read an Ebook Week" for the next issue of my E-zine, which will focus on Ebooks in honor of the event.

I also did something else: I FINALLY wrote an Ebook. Sweet! Nothing like "Read an Ebook Week" to get writers asking themselves if they have anything to bring to the party. Despite my earlier efforts and despite the fact that I already put together an ebook of the first 12 issues of my E-zine, I wanted to make sure I would have something to show. After all, I'd likely end up offering it in the "book giveaway" in my E-zine.

I racked my brain over what kind of Ebook to do. Should I throw together a bunch of unsold parenting and health articles into a "this-and-that" Ebook? Nah. I wanted something focused on ONE topic. Okay: What if I put a bunch of my DA poems into one Ebook? Hm, didn't like that idea, either.

Maybe I could try an Ebook on freelance writing. I may no longer make it a "job" anymore but I DO have some tips on successful freelancing. Maybe someone could find them useful.

I started to work, writing the outline. That wasn't so hard since this idea was based on an article I wrote a long time ago using that same theme. Problem was, and this frustrated me terribly, I couldn't find my notes. I literally ended up turning my apartment upside down trying to find the notebook with that article in it. That same article had every subject I planned to cover written out. And I couldn't FIND it! And time was running out!

I ended up abandoning that idea. Maybe I could write it later ... if I EVER find that notebook. It's probably in my closet somewhere.... (And, yes, I can hear writers EVERYWHERE reminding me to keep ALL of my writing stuff in one place.)

So what would I write now?

Then it hit me: This title for an article I've been knocking around would make a GREAT Ebook title. And since it involved being a writing parent, I knew EXACTLY what to do with it: Make it a SHORT collection of essays focused on "survival strategies" for writing parents. It's basically the sum of what I've learned during the over 4 years I've been "surviving" as a writing parent.

I liked that idea better.

I immediately set to work, writing up the outline for THIS Ebook and narrowing that long list of essays down to just five. I wanted this Ebook to be short. I wanted it to offer new material in addition to the oft-reprinted and commented favorite (one reader e-mailed me saying she had that essay on her wall). I wanted it to be something any frazzled, time-pressured writing parent could enjoy in one sitting. Or two.

As I selected the essays to include, I asked myself a ton of questions. What do I want this Ebook to offer readers? What do I hope they will feel after reading it? Should I include some personal experiences to back up my advice? Just how personal do I want this Ebook to get? What sort of fresh and original approach could I take with the essays? What kind of writing parent is it for: One with young children or older children? (Well, since I've only had experience with young children, I opted for the former.) Those are just a few of the questions I asked myself in selecting what essays to include.

My next task was finding the time to WRITE this Ebook. I only had four essays to write, ones that would be original and that would contribute to the whole "strategy" theme. How would I finish it in time?

I gave myself 3 days to do it. Yes, I am merciless like that. I don't know WHY I always try to go the harder route. But, in some way, it's like the writer who can't write unless there is a deadline.

I soon found it wasn't that difficult to meet the deadline, though. The funny thing is, once I started writing those essays, I couldn't stop! It's like a faucet was turned on and EVERYTHING I wanted to say about surviving as a writing parent came pouring out.

A lot of other writing-related tasks got put off during this writing spree, though. My next Shadowlands article remained unrevised, a book review I wanted to get done got neglected and a novel WIP became forgotten. I also neglected to work on novel revisions per an editor's request. (Shh!) Still, I was on a roll, furiously typing up the essays for this Ebook. I ran into a revision rut with the fourth one, though. I just couldn't stop editing it. In between chatting with two editors and fielding my daughter's requests, I sat staring at the screen, analyzing each word. I swear I got to a point where I started mumbling as I read. My daughter's question of if she could have some candy was answered with, "Curiously examined is better than puzzledly stared at." And, yes, I did get a puzzled look from her. Haha.

I learned, though, that I just couldn't PLAN how to write the Ebook. I just had to sit down and WRITE it. I just had to go for it and write up the first drafts of the essays, going from one to another without thinking about editing or putting off the next after one was complete. I made it my priority. The time I normally spent doing research on my books, taking care of article stuff, answering emails, chatting with people and reading articles online went to working on that Ebook. (I didn’t worry about the e-mails too much, though; my friends KNOW once they stop hearing from me or if I take forever to get back to them, it means I’m hip-deep in a project.) I still continued to jump out of my chair every so often to take care of my child's needs (parenting doesn't stop with writing!) but the housework fell a little behind. Laundry piled up, dishes became forgotten and the dinners started being meals thrown together at the last minute. (You always hear about writers who serve crappy meals when they are deep in their projects. I often recall this quote from an author's daughter, who said, "You always know Mom is buried in her next book when the dinners start to suck.")

The good news: I finished the Ebook. Yay! I ACTUALLY wrote a 22-page Ebook with four original essays in 3 days. I rewarded myself by buying a new skirt the next day. Hey, gotta reward yourself for certain efforts you manage to pull off!

Of course, after it was done, I started up on the self-doubts again. What if people hate it? What if it's too short? Am I really the right person to have my name on that Ebook? The doubts cleared away, though, after a good friend of mine edited the Ebook for me. (I NEVER trust my own editing before I take something through a finalizing stage like self-publishing an Ebook!) She wrote back to tell me how much she enjoyed the Ebook, how it inspired her and how it reminded her of how everything we do to write AND parent is worth all the effort in the end. And her editing suggestions were the icing on the cake: Once I fixed the manuscript, it would be READY.

It's made me think, though, about all the time I spent agonizing over the task of writing an Ebook. Just like with EVERY feature article I've got on my plate, I wring my hands over it while procrastinating then, when it's done, wonder why in the world I thought it'd be like climbing Mt. Everest. I guess this kind of thing is normal. And I guess you'd have to wonder about the writer who approaches every new or big task with the same confidence as a card-counter in Vegas. I guess this kind of worrying, self-doubt and hesitation can be a good thing ... as long as the job gets done at SOME point.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Got time to read the news?

One thing I notice happening a lot: A newspaper article I submit gets cut. It's not that I mind my precious words getting snipped; it's that I notice it's been happening quite often. And as I page through the paper I send these articles in for, I notice a lot of other stories are brief, as well. I read some and think "well, the writer could've gone into more detail” here or "why wasn't some background on this group included" there, and I can only wonder if these missing pieces were either chopped from the story or simply overlooked.

One of my favorite newspapers, The Los Angeles Times, rarely leaves me unsatisfied. I read the articles in that paper knowing every aspect of that story will be covered, and it almost always is. It's the reason I preferred this paper over my old local one; the stories were covered better. Another reason is that the Los Angeles Times covered more world news, something my local paper relied on A.P. newsfeeds for. (I'm not trying to bash them here; not a lot of local papers competing with the biggies have a comfortable budget.) Funny thing is, I'm in that situation again. Which is why I've switched back to reading The New York Times (funny how I choose a major Northeast newspaper over a major Northwest one).

But, thinking about it, not only are we talking about reading the news that is in-depth, but also news that covers a broader piece of the planet.

But I digress.

With some newspaper stories, it's understandable if it's brief. Take, for example, the Calendar items. You won't be reading anything that long there; mostly it's your standard "who, what, where, when and why." Sometimes maybe even a "how." (Depending on the event??) But the thing is, my articles aren't your average "in brief" pieces. Actually, a good deal of them can be compared to a magazine's feature article. This is how I handle them, anyway, especially if it concerns a major issue. This is why it's usually long. Heck, one recent article I sent in ran at 5 pages! Then there's the 6-page one. (And, yes, I've done longer, but not for the newspaper.) And almost always, I'm asked "can you trim it in half?" or I'm told "I condensed it."

Sometimes this happens for an understandable reason: Money. Sometimes they can't afford an extra jump or sometimes they've just got to make room.

It actually happened that I uncovered the reason why my editor prefers short articles. I brought up the length issue in a recent chat and she let me know that it was, indeed, a matter of finances that limited how much of an article could go into each issue. Sad that newspapers such as SIGNews, which can be helpful to a group in the world considered to be a minority, must endure financial constraints. I count my lucky stars the paper is still in business, and if shortening the articles means it’s the only way for it to STAY in business, I’m not going to whine.

I just wonder, though, if people would rather read a shorter newspaper article. I'm reminded of how people are reading the news on their way to work or skimming stories during their lunch break and think, perhaps, a short article to read might entice them a little more. I know there were many times I've scanned newspaper AND magazine articles, opting to read through a short one during the breaks I get while my daughter is watching Little Bear, eating or playing in the tub. (Sometimes I'll even stay at the table after I've eaten just so I can read something real quick.) So it would make sense if the article was shorter. After all, the editor can always ask for a longer piece if she feels a part of the story should be elaborated on, and certain items can go into a resource box or sidebar.

The important thing is that a story gets covered in a way readers will be satisfied. After all, if they've got the extra time to read more on a subject, they can either find me after doing a Google search or do their own research online.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Questions to ask yourself about your business card

I'm one of those people who collect business cards. Maybe it's something that just happened to develop after I wrote an article about creative business cards (http://www.writergazette.com/articles/article465.shtml) or maybe I get a little nervous about needing THAT particular company's contact info on hand when I least expect it. Whatever the reason, every business and office I visit doesn't see me leaving without their card in tow and I'm often chastised over stray business cards showing up around the apartment.

Still, it's something I don't think I'll be stopping anytime soon. It’s not just a little quirk of mine; it's also a great way to research the many different ways of creating your own business card.

But despite this passion, I must admit one thing: I don't have my own business card. Sure, I tried to get one before, using a popular "get 200 free cards" service, but they didn't send me the card I created; just advertising samples of the different types of cards. That was a big turn-off. Next I tried creating the business cards myself but, like my attempts to create promotional bookmarks, it just looked too unprofessional to even tolerate.

Now after reading Linda Hollander's great article "7 Pet Peeves About Business Cards," I'm starting to revisit the idea of creating my own. After all, I have a small, hardly-heard-of self-publishing venture going on, which I'm hoping to expand into something bigger in the near future. Why not have a business card for that? Oh, but I write deaf articles, too. Shouldn’t that info go onto my card?

This dilemma has made me realize that, just like every word a writer uses, a business card must serve a purpose. You don't see a contractor listing that he is also a "Little League Coach" on his business card, do you? Of course not. So I'm thinking I should take ONE area of what I do and make a business card for that. Or maybe two areas: The author card and self-publishing card.

This gave me the idea of questions to ask when it comes to creating your own business card:

1. Do I NEED a business card?

Not all people need them. If writing is just your hobby or if your writing job involves inside work, then you don't really need a business card. A business card may be a promotional tool for you, yes, but it's also a promotional tool for your writing. If you work at an ad agency or if you're doing top secret work, for example, you don't need to create a business card (unless it’s a card for the company you work for!).

An author can create an “author card” to promote books or highlight a recently-awarded title, complete with all contact information on the back. A freelance writer sure needs a business card; that next assignment could be right around the corner. And a business writer will definitely want to have one.

2. What do I want the business card to say about me?

Do you want your card to make you stand out as a freelance writer? Do you want to show your skill with words by using crisp, active writing on your card? Do you want your card to show you've got everything together by including your Web site URL, business or mailing address, license number, Email contact and cell phone number? You want to keep a close eye on EXACTLY what your business card is saying. If it's sloppy or careless, that reflects badly on you. It says YOU are sloppy or careless. The same goes if it's something like yellow font on a green background; that's like saying "I don't really care how my card looks, just throw the thing together and be done with it." Think about what you put on your card and HOW you put it on there.

3. What sort of information will I feel comfortable giving out on my card?

A lot of people don't feel good about giving out their cell phone number on their card. And a lot of people with home-based businesses don't feel comfortable giving out their residential address. Nothing wrong with that but you DO need a mailing address to put on your card. Get a P.O. Box if you don't have a business address and try securing a toll free 800 number to be redirected to your home phone number or home office phone. Another option is to list your pager number instead.

After deciding on all of this, the next step is to figure out where to get your business cards made. Most office stores like Kinko's offer services for you to create your own business cards and online vendors like MagicPrints
http://www.magicprints.com/index can help you out, as well. Certain graphic designers and artists will also offer to create a business card for a fee.

Some I found:

Grant George Design:

Will-Harris House:

Mark Art Productions:

Once you decide on a business card and get your first batch in hand, take advantage of this extra promotional tool and use them. Send them in the mail when you pay your bills, keep a bunch with you to hand out at seminars and conventions, slip a couple into books you sell or give away, keep a card on your dashboard for any passersby to see and tack one on public bulletin boards or message boards.

And now that I've helped you figure out this business card thing, it's time for me to help myself and start creating my own.