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Monday, June 29, 2015

Promo Tips and Tricks

Authors and freelancers, this post is for you. Do you have a plan for promotion? More importantly, do you have a budget? What's your strategy for getting on people's radar?

There's no magic formula for knowing what to spend, but there are guidelines to keep from sinking in quicksand. 

This is what I keep in my budgeting arsenal.

Have clear goals on what you need and what you can afford.
I can't stress this enough. If you need an editor, get some quotes. If you need an artist, know what you're getting for the money. If you buy advertising, swag, or promotional events, create a budget ahead of time so you know not to go over your limit.

It's very easy to overspend when opportunities come up for little chunks of money. A blog tour might cost you $50. An ad on a prominent web site might cost you $100. An ad here, a postcard there, and a conference or two down the road can add up to big bucks before the year is over.

A pre-arranged blog tour can take a lot of stress off you, but you can also do it yourself if you're willing to put in the time to contact potential reviewers and blogs to host you. The same goes for doing your own formatting, editing, or cover. These last three require some level of expertise so if you know it's not your strong suit, budget for that expense.

Jot down the things you'd like to do for your upcoming book. Get some quotes on what each of these prospects will cost, then whittle it down to those things you can do yourself and those you'll have to hire out.

Make a deal.
Many times I've given authors discounts when they hire me for several design jobs at once. It's much easier for me to create a postcard, bookmark, and cover all at once than piecemeal. For one thing, I'll be working with most of the same elements in the same resolution and color profile. I can also design with these various venues in mind so the whole project looks like one cohesive unit.

Even if the artist or editor doesn't offer discounts publicly, it never hurts to ask.

Invest, but save for the future.
On the very first book (and sometimes the second or third), you have no choice but to invest in its promotion to get that book on the radar. Pace yourself. You don't have to be everywhere at once or buy into every promotion. 

No matter where you invest, look into your rate of return. For blog tours, choose blogs that have a big readership, or at the least a lot of comment traffic. If you buy an ad in a magazine, ask for their subscriber numbers. Does it have a big enough audience (for your type of book) and for the money they're asking? If you go to a book conference, can you sit in on panels, get  a book signing, or run a discounted ad in their program?

Time is money too.
This is a biggie. If it takes you weeks to figure out where the best blogs are for hosting your blog tour, you might be better off hiring a company to set it up for you. Those weeks you spent trying to come up with a great cover, or the migraine you earned trying to format your book could be better spent writing. 

You can't get your time back, so spend your time as wisely as your money.

Be a copycat. 
I often follow successful authors on their blog tours as a silent witness. Some of the good ones will keep a list of their appearances. I make a note of where they appeared, what they talked about, what kind of response they got, and whether I thought they were interesting. 

The ones I found most interesting often talked about themselves. As a reader, it made me feel more connected with the author. It made him/her more human, more approachable. A relatable author leaves me with a good feeling. By extension, his book also leaves a good impression, all without forcing the sale.

My favorite no-cost marketing tip. 
For me, the best thing I ever did to get on people's radar is to interact. It's time consuming, but it is free. Comment. Reply to tweets and Facebook posts. Then repeat. In time, people will recognize your name on blogs, forums, and social media. People love an interesting person. Learn to be that person.

Back to you. Do you budget for your marketing? Do you value your time as much as your money?

What's been your favorite promotional tool so far?

Monday, June 22, 2015

State of the Homestead

It's been a busy couple of months despite nearly dying of blood poisoning and having a retired husband underfoot. Don't ask me which was harder. LOL!

We've had more rain at one time than I had ever seen in north Texas. This was great for the garden but a little hard for outdoor projects on the homestead. 

We're into full blown summer now so we have to pace ourselves. No outside work after 10am. After then the sun beats you senseless.

Garden: Beautiful harvests! Beans, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and kale. The only disappointment this year was my lettuce. Overnight, tiny lettuce loopers devoured my entire bed of lettuce. It's too hot now to replant so I might try again later in the year.

My fruit trees continue to disappoint. I do great with small fruits like strawberries and blackberries, but tree fruit success continues to evade me. I honestly don't know what I'm doing wrong. The trees look great. Beautiful and bushy, but no fruit. (Yes, I have pollinators.)

I intend to persevere and try again in 2016.  

 My herbs did well this year too, but once again, the cilantro bolted as soon as it warmed up. I'm going to try growing it indoors to see if I can get it to produce during the summer. We eat too much of it to have it in such limited supply.

The most successful (and delicious) crop this year were the red potatoes. Man, they are good! You almost don't need butter. 

The snow peas were also delicious. Even though I planted a lot, it wasn't near enough to freeze. Must plant again in the fall.

I got a lot of French beans, but honestly, I didn't care for them. I guess I expected a more delicate flavor. I might try a different variety next time.

Chickens: A failed experiment with the Australorps. I have a broody hen so I decided to give her a chance to sit on a few eggs. 

Alas, she had the best intentions, but poor technique. She accidentally destroyed four of her eggs. Four we removed by mistake. (Greg didn't know I had marked them.) The last two look like duds. 

In this picture, she cracked one of the eggs. What was sad is that the little guy would've been born in two days.

I love the Australorps. They're excellent layers and calm birds. The Marans lay prettier dark brown eggs, but the Australorps are more dependable. 

Goats: We're serious about downsizing this year. If we want to travel, we'll have to get down to just a couple of goats. Last week we sold our "No-Name" buck. 

He is a beauty. Originally, we were going to keep him and put Ray Charles in the freezer, but almost overnight, Ray Charles came into his own. He isn't as big as his cousin, but he's sweet and easy to handle having had so much attention as a baby. He'll still go in the freezer later on, but for now he's received a reprieve. 

The goat we sold went to a man who wanted new blood for his herd. 

Is it strange for me to say that I hated to part with "No-Name"? I hope he likes his new home and I hope they're good to him. 

Greg reminds me that the man paid top dollar for him so I shouldn't worry so much. 

Still, I don't want my goats to go to bad homes. I want their new owners to treat them well and give them regular worming and hoof trimming.

Life goes on at the homestead. The past few weeks have been especially hard on Greg since he's had to do so much of the work himself while I was injured. I've regained some use of my hand, but I bandage it if I have to do any outside work because it's still tender and easy to re-injure.

Photoshop magic. He could lift it, but he wouldn't be smiling.
I did buy him an anvil though. He's been asking for one for years and one finally came up that we could afford. Those things are tremendously expensive! 

There's a class in blacksmithing in the big city. Maybe I can get him enrolled in that once he stops driving to Casa South.

Is anyone gardening this year? What were your winners and losers? Anything you'd like to recommend?

Have you ever sold something with misgivings? Or am I being too sentimental?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Carpe That Diem

I was talking with a good friend about life choices. What makes someone choose a writing life...or walk away from it?

Why do we turn left instead of right?

She had said that even when I walk away from something it's with the intent of walking toward something else.

That's very much true, especially now.

I'm not willing to do things I dislike anymore. Now that I'm retired from Corporate America, I'm entitled to do the things I love, the things I want to do, and to work with people who appreciate me.

Becoming seriously ill recently kind of cemented that for me too. 

The other day we watched "Mary Poppins". I always look up the history of the players from old films. I like to see what had become of them. I was shocked to learn the little boy from the film, Matthew Garber died of pancreatitis at twenty-one. Twenty-One. That's so incredibly sad.

Some of us never get a chance to realize our dreams. Others never get started.

Not that there aren't good reasons and obstacles before you start your journey. For myself, some detours and roadblocks were made by my own 'border collie' mentality. "Never start something new until you've finished the old" is my motto.

Sometimes it's responsibility to family, or earning a living, or getting enough education before you can begin to follow your dreams. The important thing is to eek out a little happiness for yourself along the way.

As John Carter of Mars said...
Take up a cause, fall in love, write a book.

If you died one hour from now, what would you regret most?

PS  I've regained some use of my hand but I still can't make a fist. Little steps, right?


Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today. ~James Dean  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

If you're going through hell, keep going. Winston Churchill, Part 2

For the first three days we stayed focused on Maggie. Although she was eating and acting normally, her breathing turned erratic if she took too many steps. 

By this time though my hand was really hurting. As soon as I pried it free from killer's teeth, Greg tended to Maggie and I rushed to the bathroom to drench it in hydrogen peroxide.

To no avail. By Tuesday, I was in dire straits and had to see a doctor. I had actually considered going to the ER on Saturday when it happened, but I felt I could tough it out. 

Big mistake. 

Waiting gave the infection time to spread. 

At first the doc gave me a couple of antibiotics and pain meds, then told me to come back in a couple of days to make sure the meds were working. To her shock, the infection got worse. A strange red line spread across my arm like something out of a cheesy scifi movie.

My doc changed my meds, did a consult with another physician, and added a shot of another antibiotic for good measure. This time she also cut off some of the excess tissue that had bloomed like a milky rose. 

Can I say for the record that I am pretty tough when it comes to pain. I think the doc grimaced more than I did, but there was an awful lot of heavy breathing through my teeth.

I returned a third time for a recheck and the infection seemed to have stopped spreading but it still hadn't dissipated, so once again I was re-dosed with something else. 

Me and drugs have never gotten along. I've stayed sick to my stomach since I started these meds. 

Apparently, I'm not out of the woods though. I thought I was getting better but now a lymph node behind my neck has become swollen and painful. Not good.

I went back to the doctor, not for the lymph node but to see if they could open the finger up again and relieve some of the pressure. Only then did I casually mention the painful lymph node.

You guessed it. I'm on MORE antibiotics.

Every time I think I'm over the worst something else comes up.

For now, I'm hanging in there. If I can get off some of these drugs I'm sure I'll start to feel better. I don't mind telling you the lymph node thing kind of scares me. I want my life back.

Have you ever been seriously injured? Do you handle medication well?

PS  Nana, the source of all my pain and misery hasn't left my side since the incident. She would never knowingly bite me, so this infraction has filled her with remorse.

Monday, June 8, 2015

If you're going through hell, keep going. Winston Churchill, Part 1

That quote has been ingrained upon me for the past two weeks. It's been an awful time.

If you follow me on Facebook, (and you should) I announced there that after much struggle we had to put poor Maggie to sleep. Maggie was the white labrador who adopted us three years ago when someone dumped her on our property.

Nana and Maggie as friends
She and Nana (the border collie) had an altercation. Maggie got bit but not nearly as badly as me when I intervened. Nana only got loose skin on Maggie. With me, she struck bone (but more on that later).

At first, we thought everything was going to be all right. Maggie was panting but that had been normal for her for over a month. If you recall reading about it on this blog, the vet had diagnosed her with Horner's syndrome and said she should recover in about 3 months.

We got her breathing normalized and she ate and seemed happy for the next three days. That's when things went downhill. Once again she went into labored breathing. 

We got her to a vet (a different vet) and she felt there was more going on than Horner's syndrome. She felt Maggie's heart had been damaged and probably enlarged for a long time. It's possible (though she didn't say it in so many words) that the other vet might've missed the larger picture.

This buried me in guilt because I had suspected the same thing. Since the first vet told me to be patient because Maggie's recuperation would be slow, I was afraid to come across as reactionary when I didn't see what I felt should be more progress.

The second vet (now our permanent vet) felt that at Maggie's advanced age, any intervention (the next step was sedation for X-rays) could possibly kill her. She felt at best Maggie had only a few days. We didn't want her to suffer any more than she had to so we did the only kindness we could and put her to sleep.

I'm angry and I'm sad. All I ever wanted was the best for my dogs. They trust me to make the right decisions and I in turn have to trust the vet when my limited expertise runs out. It didn't help that Nana stressed Maggie out too, so I'm not letting her off the hook either.

If nothing else, I'm glad I took the brunt of Nana's attack. When she bit me, it was enough time for Greg to arrive and separate her teeth from my hand.

The fight was over before it began. It took longer to tell you this story than the actual incident. Little did I know, it was just the beginning of my suffering.

We buried Maggie next to our other guys. She might've come to us a stray, but she left this world as family.

More tomorrow.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Those Wild Dreams

I have had two recurring dreams in the past year.

One is a common one for a lot of people. I dream that I'm back in school because I'm missing one credit hour to graduate. I've already got my diploma, but for some reason I feel compelled to take this class anyway. 

I'm always frustrated because the administrators and teachers keep wasting my time with paperwork, or they send me to the wrong class.

My other dream is about snakes. I dream about snakes a LOT. For some reason I also run into snakes all the time in real life. 

Greg has accused me of being a Parselmouth. For the life of me, I can't understand why I keep running into snakes. It's like we travel in the same social circles. 

I've stepped on them. I've found them in my office, my bedroom, my back yard, and the chicken coop. That last one is understandable. Snakes love eggs.

I've run into rat snakes, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and a few exotic snakes that I've never identified. Knock on wood, I have NEVER been hurt. 

To my exasperation, even though they scare the crap out of me, I don't run away either. I'm so afraid they'll hurt one of the dogs that I go out of my way to relocate them, or kill them if there's no other choice.

It's the same way in my dreams. I'm never hurt, but I'm always frantic to move them out of the house because I don't want them hurting or scaring anyone.

I blame my father. When we were little, we visited his mother's grave. To keep us kids in line, he told us that if we wandered from the stone path in the cemetery, snakes and alligators would swallow us whole.

Yeah. Good times. LOL! I suppose that's bad parenting to modern eyes, but by golly, it worked. We were the quietest and best behaved heathens you've ever seen.

Supposedly, there are five different reasons why people dream about snakes. Most of them are good signs, or at least not malevolent.

I can't pin down why I keep dreaming about snakes. It's always in different settings. It aggravates me that I'm always the one who has to remove them. Just once, I'd like someone else to rescue me. LOL!

Do you have a recurring dream? Have you ever tried to figure out what it meant?

PS  I'm taking a couple of weeks off from my blog. I got hurt recently (not by snakes) and I need time to recuperate. 

I'll live. Just a mangled finger. Seeing the doc today in case I need x-rays. Looks bad. Feels worse.

You'll probably see me on Facebook later in the week. Less typing. :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mini Movie Reviews and Some Introspection

It's been so rainy lately, there's been talk of building an ark. I won't complain. We were under drought conditions for four years. This year our lakes are back to normal.

With the weather so bad and my allergies holding me hostage, we opted for a marathon of movies.  

We went out to see the Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Good flick, but a little long. I was thrilled to see James Spader and Paul Bettany in the cast. Those two never disappoint. I'd read that while they were filming, the cast was so impressed with Spader's performance they applauded him after his first take. How's that for peer validation?

Lots of back story in this one. Normally, I like back story, but with so many characters, it got unwieldy. I won't say more so as not to spill spoilers, but if you like the franchise, don't miss it.

At home, we finally watched Battleship with Taylor Kitsch. I was shocked at how many people panned this movie. Some hated it with a passion citing that it was a confusing mess. We must've watched a different movie because other than the slow lead up to the action, it was a classic popcorn movie.

Aliens come to Earth with bad intentions. The aliens create an impenetrable force field bubble between a piece of Oahu, Hawaii and the ocean where three of our warships are separated from the rest of the fleet on Naval exercises. The aliens are trying to create a communications base and it's a race to stop them before it's too late.

Both sides have vulnerabilities and that's where it becomes interesting. Why so many reviewers said they couldn't follow along is beyond me. I'm generally very easy to confuse but even I could figure out what was going on. 

Supposedly, it's based on the old board game, Battleship. Maybe it's generational. I've never played the game, but I understand the concept. My favorite part is that they included real wounded soldiers and WWII veterans in the movie as valuable assets to the story. 

Definitely a popcorn movie. Watch it for the fun, and leave the nitpicking for something else.

We also saw Lone Survivor with Mark Walhberg. All I can say is that it was intense and pretty depressing. Not my kind of movie. They say it's based on a true story which only makes it sadder. I don't recommend this movie unless you're a diehard military film lover.

Finally, we re-watched Meet Joe Black with Brad Pitt. This is another movie where reviewers either loved it or hated it. The haters called it boring. Disagree entirely. Maybe they were looking for a lot of action and car chases. This movie is very cerebral in a metaphysical context. 

There's a scene between Joe Black and an old Jamaican lady that brought up an odd, old memory, something my mother mentioned once.

She said when her brother died, she'd had a vision of him. He told her he was all right and not to worry. Behind him were two other brothers and two sisters who had died before him. All of them were smiling. Behind all of them was her mother. She couldn't help thinking her mother looked sad.

This troubled me. I love my grandmother. I didn't see her often but she was one of those people who had a profound influence on me. I don't like to think of her as sad for any reason. 

I inherited my love of gardening and homesteading from her. Born at the turn of 1900, she was a true pioneer and one tough lady. I'm hoping what my mother saw as sadness was instead introspection. My grandma was like that--always thinking.


At least ten more days of rain. Looks like we'll be watching a lot more movies.

Have you seen anything good lately? Anything you'd like to recommend?

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Garage Sale Report

No matter how much time you spend preparing, it’s utter chaos once you open your doors to garage sale hounds.

I was thorough, pricing (almost) everything, sorting, grouping, and even staging certain pieces together so people could see how they could be used.

Despite living in the middle of nowhere, we were mobbed. Some people returned several times a day and even the following weekend. 

It was just as well, even though we moved the overflow outside, there was still stuff in the back that we didn’t bring out until we had more room.

The photos can't do it justice. By the time I had a chance to take a few pics, half the stuff was already gone and disheveled once again.

There were two comments people kept making throughout the sale.
  1.  Our prices were incredibly low.
  2.  We had the most unique assortment of things they’d ever seen.
What can I say? We’re eccentric eclectic collectors. 

Eventually, we did have a few book buyers, but most of them went for nonfiction. (Is that a hint for me?) The other popular subject was military historical novels. That’s what Greg reads. Only one person picked up a romance novel.

What went first?

Almost all of Greg’s stuff. Chain saws. Mowers. His mountain bike. All our camping gear. The other big sellers were housewares, gadgets, small appliances, and plastic storage containers.

Some of you might remember when I did a post about changing out most of my plastic containers for glass.  

I finally got my chance to get rid of the excess. I sold stuff by the box load: Christmas, overused canning jars, and plastic. Then I marked the whole box for a dollar. Those things literally ran out the door.

D├ęcor moved the slowest which surprised me because everything was pristine. The kitschy pieces went first and then the more traditional stuff.

We had a few pieces of antique furniture that sold to the same person. We still have two sideboards and two dining tables in the house I need to sell, but I’ll put them up on Craigslist.

What didn’t sell? Two glass and iron end tables. I thought they’d be great indoors or out, but no one wanted them. 

…and just as I’m writing this, I got a text from a lady who took our number. She wants them. Huzzah! 

Nobody wants me!
Still, the lone albatross was an exercise machine, priced at a steal. As Mike Keyton rightly pointed out on Facebook: Why do I even own an exercise machine?  

Good question, Mike. Good question.
Loved this. Wish I had a spot for it.

Anyway, it all went well, though that hard-earned money might have to be donated to the vet today. Iko hasn’t been feeling well. We've had some severe storms lately, and he chews when he’s nervous.

This time he chewed up his dog bed and ate a lot of the stuffing. I’ve been treating him at home, but I’m considering taking him to the vet just to make sure he’s okay. Impaction can kill a dog, and I like my Iko alive. 

Have you ever had a garage sale? What was your experience like?

By the way, I wrote an ebook on garage sales if you're interested in getting an insider's secrets. It covers both shopping a sale and holding one. It's called Garage Sale Bible.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Descendent of Job

I'm beginning to think I might be related to Job.

Every time I think I've got a handle on things and we get some forward momentum, something disastrous, costly, or dire knocks at my door.

We had our garage sale to great success. That's the good news. We didn't sell the furniture because most of it was too big to move and we were so busy I didn't have time to make a sign in case anyone was interested. I think it'll be better if we sell it on Craigslist or a Facebook group.

We did sell tons of stuff though. Before we opened, I couldn't even make a path between rows of tables--we were that full. I had to move the overflow outside. Now with what's left I can keep everything inside and easily walk around the tables. 

There's a neighborhood sale this week. If the weather is decent we'll open our doors for a few hours to see if we can sell what's left, otherwise, it gets boxed and shipped to Goodwill. 

People kept commenting on our low prices. I wanted that stuff gone. The bigger it was, the cheaper it was. It wasn't coming back in the house. I'll try to write a separate post on the garage sale later.

the twins

During the sale, my other two does had their babies. That's when my troubles began. First, it was Heidi's twins. They're still scrawny but they'll eat if she lets them. 

Lucy is the one I'm really worried about. She has a blown teat, which means one of her teats has ballooned. Her udder is terribly full. We try to milk her a couple of times a day but she hates being milked and it's always a struggle. She only had one baby and it is finicky! She nurses when SHE wants to nurse. Leading her to the teat is futile. 

Lucy meanwhile is hurting with all that milk. I haven't had time to sterilize jars so I've resorted to using any old bucket and feeding the milk to the chickens. They think they've gone to heaven. I've since ordered a milking machine in the hopes it'll be faster than me and less painful for her. Poor girl.

Lucy with her baby

So the final score is two males and two females. Prince Albert is looking quite magnificent. I'm hoping his cousins will catch up soon.

The owls and hawks have been cruising by their pen in shifts. I need those babies to grow big soon before those predators get wise.

In other news, we had to rush to Casa South (the house we're selling). We've had a LOT of rain down there. The grass was nearly knee high and I had to give the ground enough time to dry off. This was my only window of opportunity to mow the property.

Meanwhile, the top half of a tree had fallen on our power line. Fortunately, it didn't knock it down, but we had to pull that tree off and that was a job and a half. 

Then we walked inside and found the parquet floor in the front room had buckled. During periods of high humidity, (it's semi tropical there) you must keep the AC on. The power had gone out at some point and the AC was off when we got there. That had created enough moisture for the wood floor to expand and buckle. 


We're alleviating that problem by removing most of the wood floor and having carpeting installed. At least if the wood expands again, what's left can move freely against the carpet.

There's more, but I'm trying not to sound like a soap opera. That's just the highlights.

It's a juggling act, but I'm trying to look on the bright side. The house still looks nice and will look nicer still when we install the carpeting.  The babies are all alive. The mama goats look better than they did a few days before.

In time everything will work itself out, but I'm exhausted. I'd kill for a solid day off with no worries.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a cute picture of Prince Albert sticking his tongue out. It's a little blurry but it was too cute not to include.

A big hug for Greg. Through it all, he's been a real help to me, helping to wrangle goats, nurse babies, and milk Lucy.  It would've been so much harder without him.