Winning fans is more than just hooking readers

As a senior in college I bombed out of my first journalism job interview on the question, "What is the most important thing in a newspaper story?" posed by a small-town newspaper editor.

I had given up on figuring out the "right" answers because the editor had already told me he didn't think a legally blind person (or even just anyone who couldn't drive) could be a newspaper reporter. He only asked this question to confirm his biases, so I told him my actual opinion.

"Good research and real facts." 

And arguably for many readers that is the most important focus of a newspaper story. But of course, I was wrong in journalism orthodoxy.

Creative Commons image by Glenn Strong

Creative Commons image by Glenn Strong

The standard answer to that question is "the hook." The hook is technically part of the lead, the first paragraph. The hook is often, though not always, the last sentence or phrase in the lead, something surprising, snappy, intriguing or shocking enough to force a good portion of readers to keep reading for at least a few more paragraphs. 

Journalism theory has it that it doesn't really matter if readers finish the article. The important thing is that they read enough of it and other articles in the paper to A. see the ads that fund the paper and B. decide they actually need the paper and subscribe. At least that was the theory, back when print newspapers were the primary form of journalism. 

There is a similar theory in the book industry today. The cover art, the blurb on the back of the book and the first few paragraphs of chapter one play much the same role as the hook in the days of old. And we still talk about "hooking readers." 

The idea is to give the reader a little thrill of recognition—"Ah! This is a book I'll like"—a sense of tribe. You play into the desires of the given genre and provide enough momentum and adrenaline to keep them reading. If you want to catch today's readers, swimming around in a bookstore or at an onlilne shop, you need something with some punch because there are a lot of distractions. 

Both the old journalism version and the modern book-selling version are true as far as they go. The journalism lead and hook got readers who were just casually perusing a paper to actually read it. I did eventually go on to learn to write a pretty good hook as an international newspaper stringer. Thank you very much, Mr. Small-Town Editor. 

But there is something that the doctrine of the hook does not take into account—a crucial factor that is the deal breaker in today’s book industry.

Let me illustrate with another story from the trenches. In 2007, I landed a prestigious Manhattan agent for a memoir. The agent loved my book but didn’t love my hook. She insisted that I rewrite it to put the most suspenseful and violent scene first and then handle the rest of the book as one giant flashback. This is done a lot and it isn’t actually as bad as it sounds, if it is done well.

Most of my memoir was about being a blind kid from the back of beyond who got scholarships and somehow ended up in the high-pressure world of international journalism. I started it at a crucial point of no return, while the agent wanted me to start it almost at the end of the chronological story because there was an incident that involved me running from a machine-gun toting mob in the midst of an interethnic skirmish in the Balkans, which is sadly a good part of my journalistic claim to fame.

I love to read memoirs in general. It’s probably the genre I read most and I am not the kind of reader who looks for shock and awe in the hook. I look for character and an engaging narrative voice. But I’m probably not the norm. So my opening, which focused on drawing the reader in through character and voice, made the agent nervous.

I rewrote the hook and made the agent happy. But the book still isn’t published.

It was well written as far as it went, but it was a journalistic memoir by a journalist who was never famous. It should have been a memoir of self-discovery by a blind person with too much to prove, because that would have at least stood a chance in today’s book industry.

But that would have required a different kind of opening, less the traditional hook and more voice and character.

What the editors of 42 publishing houses told the agent, which both of us should have known from the beginning, was that as good as the book was, no one cares if they don’t know the author. If it’s a book about a journalist, that is even more true.

In newspaper journalism “back in the day,” you were assuming the reader already had the paper in their hands. And many readers had no real choice about which paper they were going to read. They read the local paper and possibly one national paper. They could choose among the national papers but they weren't likely to switch just because of less than snazzy hooks. They were much more likely to switch if a paper proved to be either boring overall or full of shoddy research. 

No, the purpose of the hook was first and foremost about the ads around the article. Get eyes on the article and you had eyes on the ads. That’s what advertisers wanted and because they funded the paper, their interests were paramount.

Reporters also wanted to hook readers into their particular story, so their interests coincided with those of the advertisers when it came to writing a good hook. It was more important to a writer that a reader start reading their article than that readers would love them specifically. Bylines were small and usually unnoticed.

Today writers have to contend with a very different landscape. Audiences are much less captive. The hook may get a reader to start reading but if they stop reading immediately afterward because the writing is bad, the content is non-existent or the voice is boring, nothing is gained.

No matter how good your hook is, readers can and do pick up ebooks and stop reading them within a few pages. In some ebook systems, this even means that they don't have to pay for the book. Similarly blogs are only really helpful to the writer if readers come back again and again to the same blog. Hooks are still part of the equation but they are no longer the defining skill of a writer. 

Some ad-dependent bloggers will still use hooks in much the way old-school newspaper reporters did. There are snazzy, intriguing hooks and often a sad lack of any substance or resolution of the mysteries raised.

That isn’t my blogging strategy. The reason for that--beyond the fact that I'd rather work my day job as an ESL teacher than write boring copy--is that things have changed. Today the focus is on readers rather than on advertisers, and that's a good thing for writers. Frankly, writing to the taste of readers is much more fun than writing to the taste of advertisers.

Today a writer's job is not so much to hook readers for a few seconds but to win fans for years to come. We want readers to finish the post or the book and then reach for another one and another one by the same author. That is what keeps the lights on so that writers can keep writing. 

Don't get me wrong. There are still gimmicks out there and people making money off of gimmicks but ultimately readers will figure out when something is a gimmick. There are people cranking out "ebooks" which consist of just a few pages of new material, while the majority of the pages in the book are stuffed with the author’s old material, old blog posts, promos of other work and so forth. The writing, even what new material there is, in these "books" is also not great. For some strange reason, the Amazon algorithms favor lots of releases by the same author in a short period of time, so there are people making some money that way until readers catch on. 

But what is it that will win real fans? What will grab the people who will remember an author's name and seek out the author's work or recommend it to their friends? 

Three things:

  1. Good writing craft,

  2. Consistent delivery of what a specific group of readers wants. 

  3. And a distinct and addictive author voice.

Readers become fans when the book or other material they are reading holds them in a kind of spell that feels very comfortable and which calls to them enticingly when they are doing something else. The elements that go into this spell are voice, character and story, usually in that order.

It can be argued that grammar, punctuation and spelling, the nuts and bolts of writing are an inherent part of voice. If your work is littered with typos, it is like your voice is squeaking. It isn't pleasant and it breaks the spell, no matter how lovely your characters or story are. But of course there is much more to voice than nuts and bolts.

Essentially, "voice" refers to the tone, humor, cadence, dialect and closeness of your narration. People read for a kind of human contact. It's like being friends and as such winning a fan is like being a good friend.

I don't say It's like "making a friend" because it isn't. Writers aren't friends with every reader. But readers feel a bond of friendship with favorite authors nonetheless. And if you, as a writer, can provide the kind of voice that your readers need to hear from a friend, then you're halfway home.

Naturally not every reader needs the same kind of friend or even the same kind of friend at all times. I sometimes read straight forward thrillers, sometimes epic fantasy and sometimes humorous YA, even though I'm over forty. Each of these genres plays a different role, much like different kinds of friends. Sometimes I need a more humorous friend, sometimes a serious one who gets the heavy despair I'm feeling in the world right now and has resilient grit.

So the first thing to remember about voice is that you can't please them all and you shouldn't try. The worst thing you can do to your writing--other than litter it with typos and convoluted grammar--is try to make it for "everyone." Something that is for everyone is necessarily bland. And while some authors may get away with bland, you'll notice that they are already famous. Not-famous writers like me and you will have to stand out and that means deciding who we're talking to (our target audience) and what kind of friend we're going to be (wry, dark, gritty, whimsical, etc.). 

Beyond that, voice is about making the reader comfortable. You don't want to be too long-winded but neither is this a contest to see who can use the least number of words, the way it often was in newspaper journalism. Readers today read to relax more than anything else. So your voice should be one that matches what your specific readers need and makes them feel good.

You want to have a clear and identifiable voice, so that a reader can pick up an unlabeled page of your writing and be able to name the author. That would be the ideal.

Just as the nuts and bolts of writing are a prerequisite in voice, understanding the specific needs and expectations of readers in your genre is crucial. It is possible to write in the gray areas between genres, though finding your readership will take longer. Genres need not be restrictive boundaries, but be aware that readers will latch onto you for something specific and the more you can consistently provide their the fix they need, the longer you’ll keep readers and the more they’ll turn into actual fans.

An old axiom says beginnings hook readers and endings create fans. My last post told you my low opinion of endings. I don't agree with the axiom anyway. It's a cliche that may have been true in another would where reading had a different position in our entertainment industry. Today, when you can access just about anything, anywhere, right this second, you need quite a lot of good stuff between the beginning and the ending.

On the bright side, what is hard for you is also hard for other writers. You don’t need all the fans, you just need your own tribe.

Writer-to-writer critique: the boot camp of the craft

The simple technique that will teach you to write better than any other method, class or book

For as long as there have been story-tellers, we have commented on one another's work. Writers, poets and bards alike--we are a mouthy bunch.

Sometimes these comments have taken the form of criticism, ridicule, jealousy or insult. And many writers and story-tellers have been greatly harmed by the comments of others, suffering blows to confidence and motivation. 

Creative Commons image by Robert Couse-Baker

Creative Commons image by Robert Couse-Baker

And yet, the comments of fellow writers can contain gold. I know of no other way to learn the craft of writing faster or better than through the sincere cooperation between two or more writers. And based on the comments of some of my favorite famous authors, it seems clear that no writer is ever "beyond critique" or at a level where the comments of colleagues can no longer help. 

Critique--the term used to differentiate constructive criticism from tearing down another writer--isn't just useful. If done correctly it can also provide great motivation and pleasure. It is very rare that anyone, other than another writer, wants to discuss in detail the ins and outs of your writing project.

Even your most avid readers (and your immediate family) are likely to grow weary of your writerly obsessions. This isn't that different from any other profession. My husband and his buddies can bore me to tears with endless technical discussions about surveying and cartography. (Just measure it and draw a line already! What is the big deal?)

My husband assures me that even though I think my profession is creative, vastly more fun and endlessly interesting, he finds long conversations on the finer points of writing just as boring. And this is why we need fellow writers. 

While the practical method of writer-to-writer critique may be well-known and may in fact seem intuitive to many, I have found that parts of it strike fear in new writers or lead others to abuse the trust and claim authority they don't have. Beyond that readers often don't understand the tenants of the system through which their favorite books, movies and TV shows are made. 

It is worth setting down the rules for critique. This is a starting point for writers' groups as well as useful information for everyone involved in the process.

1. There are skills that can be learned in writing. Experience is to be respected.

2. At the same time, a writer of any level can usefully critique the writing of a writer of any other level. The critique may have different uses, but even the critique of a novice can be helpful to an open-minded master. It is at the very least the honest impression of a reader. No such critique should be dismissed out of hand or ridiculed. 

3. Critique may be done for compensation, in trade or simply in good faith. Critique does not have to be reciprocal but the terms should be agreed upon in advance. Critique is always of value, even if it is not compensated in which case it is a valuable gift of time and attention.

4. On average, about seventy percent of comments in any given critique will be useful or pertinent to the writer. No writer is obligated to agree with or to use suggestions made by a critique partner. 

5. Rules of grammar and style vary geographically, culturally and between genres. Arguments about the absolute correctness of a change have limited use. It is worth stating clear reasons for one's belief. Style and grammar guidebooks are useful sources. However, in the end the final decision of rightness in the given context is the prerogative of the entity taking responsibility for publication--be that a publisher or a self-publishing author. 

6. Differences of opinion are inevitable. There is no single best POV, tense, voice, distance or style. Intentional grammatical errors are not illegal and have their uses. Questions over dialogue tags are a matter of continued debate. It is worth listening to writers of long experience, but in the end each must form one's own path. Insults do not become us. 

7. Keep in mind that, as in any creative profession, a minimum experience of ten thousand hours of active writing is considered the initiation level for a professional. However, this line is arbitrary and denotes only a level of experience, not the rightness of one's arguments or the marketability of one's work.

8. By the same token, what is correct and most seemly in writing is not always what is most marketable. Each writer has his or her own goals for writing and it is not the place of a critique partner to judge, only to give the most honest advice that individual can give.

9. We all have biases. I love first person narratives. I recently met a fellow author who hates first person. It's just personal taste. We can't help but have such biases and when we read the work of other writers those biases will get in the way. The more aware you are of your own biases the more useful your critique will be. When unable to entirely get past biases it is worth stating that you are biased on a particular issue, so that the writer can keep that in mind. That said, completely avoiding critique partners with biases against your POV or stylistic choices can weaken your writing. Remember that readers have biases too and our goal is hone our craft in every way possible.

10. Critique means honest advice to improve a piece of writing. Pure and simple. That can mean spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, voice, plot or description advice and more. It does not ever mean judgment upon the abilities or prospects of the writer. That is beyond the bounds and is never an appropriate topic for comment. 

How to market on-line... from someone NOT selling a book on the subject

I’ve got to be honest here. This is unlikely to be the most popular blog post about social media and on-line marketing. That’s because I am not going to tell you this is the best time to be an author, entrepreneur or creative artist and there is a ton of money just waiting for you once you buy my book on marketing and use my simple five-step plan. That’s what a lot of sites say and it’s a more palatable message than the truth.

Creative Commons image by Moyan Brenn

Creative Commons image by Moyan Brenn

I’ve spent the last three years busting my butt looking for answers in this field, trying out quite a few things myself and watching many of my fellows crash and burn. I have no intention of writing or selling a book about how to market on-line. So I don’t need to make things sound better than they are in order to sell you something.

And yet I want to tell what I have learned. 

“Why?” I can hear you asking. “If you know so much about it, why don’t you just write your own book on marketing?”

I’m not writing my own book on marketing because I don’t see any quick or easy ways to do it. The whole rigmarole around selling such books by promising unrealistic fantasies of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps makes me physically ill and tempted to violence against innocent pieces of computer hardware (because the authors of said drivel are out of my reach). 

The real impetus behind me wanting to blog about how to market on-line is that I get spammed every day by dozens of new entrepreneurs and authors tagging me in their posts about their new cover, their new jewelry line, their new Amazon discount deal or some such as well as new the same people force-adding me to their fan groups and fan events, thus dumping dozens more emails in my inbox before I have a chance to opt out of these spammy groups and events. I mostly just delete these spammers, sometimes unfriending them if I have time. Occasionally I vent my frustration with irate messages asking them to stop spamming me and suggesting that this is an unwise marketing strategy for books or anything else. 

But the other day I took a different tact. I was in an especially good mood, so instead of ranting and deleting or even ignoring, I simply sent the spammer a concerned note, explaining their tagging tactic was going to backfire and make people hate them. And instead of an irate response back, which is usually what you get for your trouble, this one thanked me, said he was very new to marketing and asked for advice. 

He was the author of an erotic thriller—something I would read AFTER I finished all the technical manuals and pukey romances, if I were stranded on Mars for years without access to any other reading material. In case you can’t tell, I find erotic books excruciatingly boring. I know. I’m weird, but all readers are weird in one way or another and this guy seriously had the wrong reader demographic going. I had to tell him.

So in the interests of reducing spam and of having a blog post to send future newbies, here is what I know about on-line marketing.

What doesn’t work

Spamming doesn’t work. I know you’ve probably read marketing things that say a person has to see your book or product X number of times before they’ll be likely to buy it and so you’re trying to fill that number by making sure people see it on social media. 

Here are the problems with that concept:

  • “Likes” not the number of posts determine what people get to see. When you start out you post about your new book or product a few times and your enthusiastic friends and family “like” the post. That gets you an initial boost but after awhile not even your friends and family are going to “like” or actually enjoy your repeated marketing posts.
  • So if you continue posting about your book or product the algorithms determining what your “friends” on social media see in their news feed will almost never choose you. 
  • There is way too much noise. Those marketing books were written about an era when advertising meant billboards and TV commercials, possibly direct mail leaflets. At that time, people were presented with one advertisement at a time and if there was a snappy logo involved, it would eventually sink in after several exposures and they would have the general feeling that this is a known (and thus inherently somewhat trustworthy) brand. That’s the whole rationale behind the X-number-of-views theory.
  • In 2016, you can toss it out, right along with your old TV. Today the on-line environment means multiple ads coming at us all the time from the top, bottom, sides and often the center of our screens. People’s brains get used to skimming and jumping.
  • Add to that the fact that there are billions of on-line products and logos being marketed and the chance that anyone is going to subconsciously get the sense that your logo is trustworthy simply by encountering advertising is minuscule, even if you have a fairly large budget. 

That’s why many on-line marketers turn to tactics that cause potential customers to remember them with hate rather than trust. These tactics primarily involve ensuring that your message gets specially delivered to the individual.

These marketers use whatever Facebook or Twitter or other social media happen to be directly delivering to people at the moment. Right now on Facebook this means adding people to groups and events without permission and tagging people in posts. Both of these tactics are legal on Facebook and they result in the person added or tagged getting a special message about it—a message that always gets delivered rather than just sitting in the news feed que and possibly not being seen at all like regular posts.

Some marketers feel that they have somehow “earned” the attention because they have to input each name to be added or tagged individually and it is actually quite a bit of work. But whatever the marketers think, the result is still the same. They are forcing the random people they target to deal with yet one more message in their already swamped on-line environment. This either results in the person swiftly dismissing the spam or in the person taking a moment to notice and hate the product presented.

Don’t do these things.

Don’t post tons of posts about your book or product, don’t in fact try to get random people to see your message X number of times and don’t send random people special messages about your book or product, so that they have to take the small action of deleting your message and/or opting out of your spamming group or event.

These tactics don’t work. If they worked for someone else it was before 2011 or they are a celebrity of some kind already.

What does work… sort of

There are no quick fixes. The book market is completely saturated--over-saturated by orders of magnitude. Many other on-line markets are similarly flooded. It is very unlikely for a new author, artist or innovator to break in without several years of work, unless you have some prior celebrity and a big publisher or distributor (and even then it isn't a done deal). But from three years of hard full-time work, a ton of reading and discussions with more experienced marketers, I have observed a couple of strategies that provide some returns:

Creative Commons image by 401(K) 2012 of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by 401(K) 2012 of Flickr.com

Strategy 1: Find a clear-cut genre and write A LOT of books in that genre (more than ten, twenty books is better) following genre standards to the letter and write snappy, easily read prose.

This is not about writing “well.” It is about writing what the largest group of readers wants and that is not actually in line with good prose. It is instead about keeping everything ultra simple, both plot and prose. Characters must fit popular beauty standards and the problems and solutions in the books must pander to the current trends of the age group of the your ideal readers. Avoid controversial subjects or main characters representing minority groups. 

Then give away a few books for free, sell the rest cheap and blog about your genre incessantly. The same might be applied to music, I suppose, but with physical products this mainly requires producing the cheapest and least environmentally-responsible product you can. I’m not saying this is a good tactic. It’s a soul-destroying tactic for either writers, artists or other businesses, but I have observed that it has some merits as a marketing strategy. It can make someone a living.

Strategy 2: Choose an underrepresented non-fic topic and write a book or two about that. Alternatively specifically include characters representing minority groups or other demographic niches (not genre so much as demographics). Sell those but blog incessantly about your topic, minority or nich and advertise your books in each blog post.

This can be applied to physical products as well. Simply choose to sell something that is unavailable or not widely available on-line but needed by a specific group of people (even they are only 0.2 percent of the population) and then blog the hell out of it. It takes several years to break in and you need some luck. First, you had better be right that your product or book niche is both underrepresented and needed. And you have to hope that several other businesses don’t come up with the same idea at the same moment or slightly earlier than you.

I recently found exactly the product I needed for my hyperactive child who legitimately needs to chew on something in order to focus. I found one on-line company that could demonstrate a track record and had nice-looking chewies designed for older kids (not babies) made from materials that don’t pose a health risk. I had never heard of the company before but they got my business right then, because I searched and they had a blog and it demonstrated knowledge and a track record. I bought $50 worth of products from them immediately. No X number of views. Just a niche need met. This is a much better strategy than the first but it does require you to have a niche and to blog for free for months, probably years before you ever see payday. 

Strategy 3: Finally, you can write or make only what you are passionate about, blog incessantly about the topics and themes connected to those books or products, advertise the books or products beside each related blog post, offer a free book or sample for subscribers to your blog, blog at least once a week, post your blog posts on social media where people may actually really want to read them, such as matching-topic Facebook groups or Twitter tags.

Thus I write fantasy and blog about herbs because fantasy readers often like herbs and there are herbs in my books. I write dystopia and I blog about social exclusion and social justice issues related to the themes. This has gained me a mailing list of five hundred truly interested people in one year and favorable Facebook and Google algorithm ratings. Some people now come to my site by searching Google for some of my keywords. I don't have to rely on having a huge number of Facebook friends or on manually inputting their names into spam methods, because I can reach people who aren't friends with me at all by putting interesting posts into Facebook herbalist groups that will actually enjoy them.

Creative Commons image by Pictures of Money of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Pictures of Money of Flickr.com

One reason I actually encourage you to indulge your own passions and write about what you love is that you won't have to do nearly as much research and the research you do have to do will give you added energy. I could have blogged about the history of the fantasy genre to support my books, but then I would have had to do a lot of extra research. I know medicinal herbs already, so I can blog about that. I want to avoid doing a ton of research, not because I'm lazy but because you never get paid to blog and you have to be able to keep it up for YEARS in order for it to matter. So pick a topic you don't have to research too hard.

This isn’t a hugely effective strategy, but it does get you a mailing list of actually interested people. It is most lucrative when combined with a niche market (see strategy 2) with very little competition. But it is also something you can do to feed your soul, while paying the bills with another job and having the hope that with consistent effort over many years, you may be able to make your living doing what you love. Honestly, only one in several thousand people will ever succeed with Strategy 3, but that is also the strategy that has produced some of the most remembered writers of history, who were often unknown in their lifetimes but were eventually discovered and recognized for their intense passion. 

All of these strategies have one thing in common—the specific desire of the potential customer. In Strategy, 1 you cater to the largest known customer base, giving them what they want for as little as possible at all cost to quality and your own creativity--banking on the fact that although you will never be great you can make a living by simply having so many trickles of income that it adds up. In Strategy 2, you find a niche market in need of something and then fill that need. Here you have to price your products a bit higher (sometimes very high) because the market is small. In Strategy 3, you focus on your own passions and work on connecting with people who share the same passions and thus the desire for what you have to offer. 

Contrast this with the author of the erotic thriller who dumped his video trailer in my inbox. No attempt was made to determine if I or anyone else tagged by his dozens of posts was at all interested in his topic. He simply fired his shotgun and let the random pellets spray. Pounding the average person with random ads will only get them to block you, delete your Facebook "friendship" and cut off all contact if they can. Thus it isn't good marketing. Blog about the themes of your books or possibly your genre if you are aiming for the mass market.

All three of these strategies share one more thing and that is a stand-alone webpage. I know there are Facebook business pages and I have asked experts about them, but I have not been able to determine whether or not they are good for anything. There was once a time (back in the dinosaur days of 2012) when Facebook business pages were considered "social credit," meaning a potential customer could go to your business page and see that you had a ton of "likes" and thus believe that yours is a moderately trustworthy brand. Facebook business pages and Twitter accounts show how many people have been persuaded one way or another to “like” your page, although bundles of “likes” are also for sale, so the credibility this affords is ever decreasing. However, these pages don’t really do much to get your message out to the people who want what you have to offer. The best base for any of the reasonably functional strategies is a stand alone website. 

So, here’s what I told the erotic thriller guy: 

"If you write thrillers with a macho, gun-porn sort of aesthetic and you know a lot about guns, blog about guns. (Just an example. I have no idea what your thrillers are like.) And then you get on Twitter and FB and post the link to your blog with hashtags and in "Facebook groups" that like posts about guns—such as hunter's groups, NRA people, Republicans, survivalists, ranchers and men’s groups with that particular atmosphere. And then people who actually like guns will click on your link, go to your page, read your post, sign up for your mailing list to get more such posts and... eventually some of them buy your books, if you were actually right that people who like guns might also like your books. It's tricky and a hell of a lot of work, several times more work than writing a good book, but it actually allows you to post on social media in a way people will applaud rather than hate and thus they will like you rather than hate you. No one really has ever sold anything by annoying people. It only seems like they must have because annoying random people is the most common (and the most unsuccessful) marketing tactic."

I wish everyone out there good luck in finding those who want what you are selling. They very likely do exist even if you’re selling a thneed.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

The big lie about writing and getting rich

There's a modern obsession about a mythical connection between writing and making tons of money on the internet. At every turn, I encounter some version of this question recently asked on Quora, "Through what ways can I become wealthy if I am an extremely talented writer?"

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creation (public domain image)

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creation (public domain image)

It brings me back to a wonderful moment when I got to meet one of my personal heroines as a teenager. I read a book called The Cloud while I was an exchange student in Germany. It still hasn't been translated into English, so this was a challenge, but it was so well-written and the story was so gripping that I was hooked. The author, Gudrung Pausewang, was a very well-known author in Germany at the time and I read several of her other books and loved them all.  English speakers may not know her but Germans certainly did in the 1990s.

A few months after I read that first book, a foreign friend of mine had to visit a sweet German lady who was a friend of his father's to deliver something. He asked if I would like to go along because he'd heard that the old woman was a writer. Ironically, he was from Czechoslovakia (Pausewang's birthplace) and he didn't know her name. 

I went with him that day. And yes, the woman was my newly discovered favorite German author. I was blown away to meet such a staggering figure. 

But I was also a little disappointed. I assumed that being a famous, best selling author during her lifetime meant that she would be wealthy. Instead she lived in a humble cottage amid flowering shrubs with little more than the essentials and her bookcases. She was far from wealthy, although otherwise she lived up to my expectations in wit, wisdom and sheer presence. 

Gudrun Pausewang, author portrait

Gudrun Pausewang, author portrait

This was one of the hard lessons of my youth. Fabulously talented writers don't become wealthy by writing. Period.

If they become wealthy, which is rare, they do it by having a relative in the publishing business, by being a celebrity in some other capacity (actor, well-known psychologist, president, etc.), by developing excellent marketing skills, by investing inherited or previously acquired financial assets (in marketing), by utilizing interpersonal manipulation and similar pursuits. 

Writing is an adjunct skill. It is helpful to many other careers or conditions, but it isn't the primary vehicle.

When I was an up-and-coming journalism intern in 1999, one of my mentors gave me some good perspective:  "Writers who are good enough to write for a top newspaper are a dime a dozen. But not many make it. The real deciding factors are connections and bull-headed persistence." 

It's as true today as it was in the 1990s--probably more so.

The vast majority of people who make a living writing actually make a living through using (rather than wasting) some degree of prior celebrity, through skillfully working social or family connections and through intelligently investing money in marketing. Despite the fact that these sorts of careers are out of reach for most people, they still require motivation and hard work even for those born into privilege.

Here's the cold hard facts about publishing today.

  • There are many poorly written, moderately successful books. These books are successful based purely on other skills or preconditions. There are a few wildly successful, well-written books. These combine other skills/conditions with excellent writing.
  • There are thousands upon thousands of fantastic, rock-your-world books that are languishing in obscurity. They had the benefit of good writing but the writer lacked other conditions or skills necessary to make them successful.
  • Obviously, there are also millions upon millions of crappy, boring books also languishing in obscurity (camouflaging the relatively few good ones) written by authors who lacked both the conditions and skills to make money and the ability too write well. That's true but it, unfortunately, doesn't mean that just because your book is great, you will find success.

So, when I'm asked about what a talented writer should do, I have my own set of advice based on today's conditions:

  • First, determine if you really can write well. Get some independent, very critical opinions from professionals who don't know you. Insist that you want a real assessment.
  • If it turns out that you can write "extremely well" AND you have one of the prized pre-conditions (some celebrity in a field, a lot of inherited money and/or social and family connections in media, publishing and/or entertainment industries), I would suggest you spend the next ten years perfecting your writing skills, writing a minimum of 2,000 focused words per day. And if you stick with it, you have a reasonable chance of at least making some money from "writing," even though you will actually be making money from capitalizing on your pre-existing conditions and there may be a lot of other ways you could do that that would be more lucrative.
  • If you don't have the preconditions but you are assured that your writing is spectacular, decide if you love writing beyond anything else. If so, spend the next ten years developing your writing further as described, while working a marketing or media job as hard as you possibly can. With a large dose of luck, you might be moderately successful. though you will have to accept that those born into better preconditions will always outpace you.
  • However, if you are assured that your writing is excellent and you have a job or a life you can tolerate, just write. Forget about becoming wealthy and write. Pity the poor fools who think wealth is important when they already have the joy of writing.

I have made a living writing in one way or another most of my adult life. However, most of that time was spent writing what an editor told me to write in the style that a boss wanted. For me "getting rich writing" would mean having the financial independence to write the stories I have always wanted to read without having to worry about the next paycheck.

What does getting rich mean to you? Do you have a passion that you'd love to make your living at? How much marketing and networking can you do before that becomes your primary occupation? What are you willing to do to follow your passion? I love to hear from you. Comment using the comment's button on the lower left and share this post with your friends using the button on the lower right. 

The Self Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guide is less than ultimate

I received a review copy of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide in an exchange for an honest review.

This is essentially a master list of some of the top service providers and resources for authors. Some of them are relevant for new traditionally published authors as well. The lists are good and helpful as a very basic starting place for research. The sections are reasonably chosen and organized.

There are two reasons that this book doesn’t get an enthusiastic review from me. First, the descriptions of the services are vague and uninformative. Often the listing simply states the claims of the provider without giving any independent confirmation of quality and bang-for-buck.  As a self-publisher who has already published several books, I can see how the early sections of the book sum up information that I already know. I had to learn all this on my own through simple research but what I know from my research is far more than is contained in this book. But when I picture a newbie coming to these lists, I don’t see how the lists would save more than a little time.  

Because the listings are vague, the newbie will still have to do exhaustive hours of research to determine which of the providers is makes sense for their circumstances. I found the information on these lists within an hour or two as a newbie. I spent months researching which providers to use. If the experienced authors of this book had provided some more detailed information about the various providers, including things that many of us know simply because we have enough experience to have learned the difference between Smashwords and Draft2Digital, the guide would be much more useful to the newbie.

 That alone would have knocked this book down a bit in my rating. It gets knocked down further because of the price. I’m sorry but with the going prices of ebooks these days, charging $7.99 for a “book” of lists that is only 180 pages borders on exploitation of the new and inexperienced. I gave the book three stars on Amazon. give three stars to books I buy that I don’t find entirely useless but wish I hadn’t spent that amount of money on. Had I paid $7.99 for this book I would have been disappointed and disgruntled.  

That said, if you have the money this book would save a little time if you are still in the very early stages of research. It is a handy summary for those who are more experienced and simply want easy links to everything all in one place. 

Writer's Toolbox: Screwdrivers and pliers - Writing and publishing terminology

Every profession has it's secret language and writing is no exception.

I'm putting together a collection of tools and inspiration for writers here on my blog site. And one of the first things that goes in that toolbox are the terms that writers use to talk about writing. I'm not talking about things like "grammar" or even what kind of keyboard one should use. I'm talking about the professional terms that are crucial to development of the craft and surviving in the world of authors. 

I have been writing since... I don't even know when. Maybe since I was seven and my family took a trip to Mexico and I wrote bits and pieces about it in a scrapbook. When I was a teenager I dabbled in fiction and then I turned to what I thought of as serious writing, i.e. newspaper journalism. While working as an international correspondent in places like Kosovo, the Ukraine, Ecuador and Bangladesh, I also took writing classes and joined writer's groups.

And from all those years of experience, I know for certain that writers get better. I haven't slid off the fence yet in the argument over talent versus experience. I think there are some assets that are handy to get genetically to be a writer. But I definitely know that no amount of inborn "talent" will make up for lack of practice and knowledge.

And the most basic knowledge, as with any profession, is knowing the professional lingo. That's not just so that you can talk to other writers and sound like you know what you're talking about. Each of the terms I will list here packs a key concept that writers use as surely as a carpenter uses an electric screwdriver or a sander. 

There are probably too many words I could list, so I'm going to just start with those terms and concepts that I have seen writers struggle with. I'm going to be teaching writing workshops this fall, so I am likely to add to the list as I go.

Genre woes

I'm not going to cover everything to do with genres. That's a huge topic but here are the terms that I have seen cause misunderstandings.

Genre-blending and genre-mixing: 

Genres were made up by the publishing and bookselling industry. It was an attempt to get people to buy more books and it worked. If a type of story was successful, publishers put out more of that kind of book and booksellers put them on a shelf next to the successful books of similar type.

But these categories are essentially arbitrary. Someone somewhere decided that all stories that hinge on a character trying to find out a secret (such as who done it or where is it?) should be put on a shelf together. And then someone else decided that stories where a romantic relationship is the central point should be on another shelf. Thus the mystery and romance genres were born.

That may be simple enough but then came science fiction, fantasy, chick lit... And now we have steampunk, new adult and dystopia. Each of these "genres" has a description but they are often indistinct and not mutually exclusive. For the publishing and bookselling industries this is a problem.

When a writer (I'm looking at you Morgan Daimler) writes what at first sounds like a mystery but puts it into a fantasy world with a romantic relationship as central to the action and aims it at a specific cultural or religious group of readers, your local bookstore is in trouble. They don't know where to shelf it and if Daimler had shelved hers in mystery, where it seems to belong on first inspection, I never would have read it, because mystery is one of the few things I almost never read.

Enter the age of Amazon and similar retailers. Thanks to complex algorithms, we can now categorize books much more precisely and readers can find what they want to read based on a lot of factors - the reader's age, culture, gender and interests as well as the the type of story or what is central to the plot. This means that writers and readers no longer have to stick to these arbitrary and ultimately claustrophobic categories known as genres. 

The result is a lot of genre-blending and genre-mixing in which writers take interesting facets of various genres and come up with something fresh and new that would have been "impossible to publish" ten years ago.

Dystopia:

I would like to define one particular genre because I have seen several online forums where significant confusion over the definition reigned. Thanks to the popularity of books like The Hunger Games and Divergent, writers love to claim that they are writing dystopia these days.

The problem is that the virtual shelves of dystopia have been inundated with piles of books about zombies, vampires and apocalyptic disasters. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this fiction, most of it isn't dystopia.

The quick and dirty definition of dystopia is as easy to formulate as that for the romance genre. It is said that it isn't a romance if you can take the love part out and still have a plot. Similarly, it isn't dystopia if you can take the socio-political problems out and still have a plot.

Dystopia is the counter to utopia. It is society gone wrong in some crucial way. George Orwell is often held up as the father of the dystopian genre and a lot of dystopia is like Orwell's work, overt social commentary set in a totalitarian society that exaggerates certain elements of our own world to show what could happen if we continue in some unwise direction. Some dystopia is more subtle, showing an outwardly ideal society, often set in the future but showing how an individual can be harmed even within an ostensibly perfect system. More rare is dystopia set in our times and essentially in our world but highlighting particular aspects of contemporary society as dysfunctional.

Steampunk:

Steampunk is a relatively new genre that includes stories that take place in a society that is not high tech but includes some technological advances. Some of the technology tends to be a bit fantastic, such as flying machines with flappable wings that run on steam engines. But it isn't all silly. Some steampunk is set in a future world where much of the high technoogy has broken down for one reason or another. Some of it is set in a fantasy world that is neither entirely modern nor entirely medieval.

New Adult:

New adult is sort of like a genre that occupies the crack between Young Adult and general adult-level genre fiction. I like the theory of a genre that appeals to twenty-somethings but alas New Adult has been largely taken over by stories set on or around college campuses that involve romance. It should legitimately be called New Adult Romance now, but for the time being the going term is New Adult. 

Narrative nonfiction:

Narrative nonfiction is a writing style as well as a genre. I have again seen a lot of confusion about it in the online world. Just about any sort of nonfiction can be written in narrative form, meaning written as if it were fiction... as a story. A lot of the best history books are being written this way as well as memoirs, self-help and inspirational books. There are also some pretty good technical how-to books written with at least elements of narrative style. 

Style and writing terms

This is not a comprehensive list, just the things that I have run into in discussions with writing students, writers or editors in the past year. 

First person

I am now writing in first person. I personally prefer first person narratives, even when I'm reading fiction and the author isn't really the character talking in the book. I like first person because it brings the reader right into the story intimately. I know there are disadvantages to it though. For one thing, the reader has to take my word for it. If I had written this paragraph in third person, I could have made the advantages of first person sound much more universal and authoritative. This way you just know that I like it.

Second person

You may be reading this either to stock your writer's toolbox or simply to be entertained. Whatever your reason, you are now reading a paragraph written in second person. Second person is what happens whenever you the reader are the primary character in the narrative. You can try it in fiction if you want but you'll find that it is exceedingly difficult to pull off well.

Third person

Most writers choose to write in third person. It's probably the most versatile point of view in terms of the types of voice and tone that the writer can employ. Third person simply means that the story is about a character who is named and referred to as he, she or it. The reader isn't addressed directly and the narrator remains in the background, never speaking directly about him- or herself. Arie Farnam wrote this paragraph in third person, which creates some minor problems when it comes to avoiding the passive voice.

Passive voice

Passive voice is often misunderstood. I am amazed at the number of writers and editors who are confused by what is passive and what isn't passive voice. The phrases above with "misunderstood," "amazed" and "confused" are all written in passive voice, as is this sentence.

Here, let met me fix that. (Because passive voice is evil, right?) Many people misunderstand passive voice. I see a lot of writers and editors who confuse awkward sentences and passive voice. I wrote the last three sentences in active voice.

If you go to a high school composition class, you will be told to avoid passive voice like the plague. And it is a good thing to do at the beginning. Beginning writers almost always overuse passive voice and it is very helpful to try to avoid it. The vast majority of sentences will be more concise and interesting in active voice.

The easiest way to avoid passive voice is to go through your writing and look for passive adjectives (adjectives that describe something that has happened to the noun, like "written", "flown" and "misunderstood.") Try turning these sentences into active sentences and see if they're better that way. Usually they will be.

Biut there will be times when they aren't. Passive voice isn't bad to the bone. There are reasons to use it. Laziness is, however, the most common reason it is used and that isn't a good reason. When I said "Passive voice is often misunderstood," I was avoiding having to say who misunderstands passive voice. I could have been doing that as a way of being diplomatic, which is sometimes a good idea, but I was surely also doing it partly because it is easier to hint that some mysterious "them" out there misunderstands passive voice than to do the hard work of thinking about exactly who does. 

I've recently had editors tell me things are passive voice when they aren't. Past perfect and present perfect sentences like "She had read all of my books" and "I've been working at the store" are not passive. The are easy to confuse with passive because the form of the verb used in those tenses in English (Fun fact: and in Russian!) is the same as the passive adjective used in passive voice. The linguistic term for this type of word is "the past passive participle." You really wanted to know that, didn't you?

Writing for a living

There is a lot of hype about writing as an entrepreneur lately. I get it. Writers need to think like business people in order to succeed. But the terminology can be scary. When you get right down to it "an author entrepreneur" is a person who makes a living from writing books.  

Self-publisher or indie-publisher:

These two terms get used interchangeably most of the time. Indie implies a bit more rebellion and a desire to keep independence even from retailers and other services. There are self-publishers who would gladly sign up with someone who would do a chunk of the business side of their work at the drop of a hat, in order to have more time to write, and independence be damned. But in general, both self-publishers and indie-publishers are writers out there trying to do serious writing and publishing, often as a business. Their primary goal is usually not fame and fortune or the kick of seeing their name on a book. And many never do see their name on a "book" because they stick to ebooks. It reminds me a bit of the culture of international freelance journalists of the 1980s and 1990s, minus the worn out shoes. It is chaotic and only the hardiest survive for long. 

Traditional publisher:

A traditional publisher is a company that makes a profit from actually acquiring rights to publish books, publishing them, selling them and paying authors a royalty. There will always be some overlap in these descriptions but a self-publisher doesn't become a traditional publisher just by giving their publishing "company" a name that is different from their author name. Neither does a vanity publisher become a traditional publisher by accidentally selling a few books and actually paying a royalty once in a blue moon. A traditional publisher has to turn a profit in the traditional way.

Vanity publisher:

A vanity publisher is a company that makes a profit by charging authors for publishing services. This isn't to say that a vanity published book has never sold a copy or made the author a cent. Some probably have but the difference between a traditional publisher and a vanity publisher is that a vanity publisher charges for things that a publisher traditionally covers. Vanity publishers don't pay advances and they don't have very high standards (if any) about what they publish, so they'll publish just about anything. They also don't promote books or help in selling them in any way. But traditional publishers often don't do that last very much either.

Proof copy:

This refers to a printed book that is sent to you buy the printer (or publisher possibly) for you to check for mistakes before the book is approved as final. Proof copies usually have a page or a stamp that says "proof" on it, so they can't be sold as "regular books." Printers often charge less for them and so they don't want you just ordering a bunch of proof copies and selling them as if they were the final book. Proof copies can be sent to reviewers to get early reviews.

Ebook formats:

When I first got into indie publishing I was a bit worried by all the talk of formatting headaches and woes. I thought this meant that formatting was going to be as hard as learning webdesign had been. It wasn't.

Maybe it's just me but I don't find formatting to be that terrible. Okay, some of the work can be tedious. If like me, you started writing in MS Word without a care in the world and just typed, you might well have used tabs to indent your paragraphs and then after a few paragraphs Word picked up on that and started automatically indenting. But when you started a new chapter, you had to go back to pressing the tab button. This is the dumb way to do things, Arie... Yes, I know but I didn't even know I was writing something serious at first.  So, anyway, if you foolishly did that, like me, then when you're finalizing your work, you have to go back and weed out all the tabs. Tabs are a big no no in ebook formatting. Put on some good music, get into a meditative mood and skim down the left-hand side of your screen and delete all tabs. Not hard, just tedious.

There are more complex parts of ebook formatting and I"m not going to cover them all here, but the essential thing to know is that, if you can organize a kitchen cabinet, you can format an ebook. Know the most important format names.

Mobi is the standard Kindle format. 

Epub is the format for Android-based systems.

Ibooks is the Apple format.

I use Scrivener to organize large projects and Scrivener converts to Mobi and Epub formats easily. You can also now use Smashwords to automatically convert and they'll do Ibooks too. But in either case, you have to start with a very cleanly formatted manuscript. Do not try to insert extra lines anywhere. Learn to use page breaks. You can run into trouble with graphic elements and things like drop caps. So, it is best to avoid those until you are used to formatting.

Cover design:

It used to be that writers wrote. Not so much any more. Today, if you want to make a living as a writer you need to at the very least also be a marketer. Think of it as going back to the medieval days of traveling bards. Back then, storytellers had to market their work as well. That makes it sound a lot more romantic at least. But I digress...

The other thing you have to do if you are publishing independently is worry about the design of your cover. There are hundreds of designers out there on Fiverr who will supposedly do it for $5  but if you look at their portfolios they are distinctly uninspired and you will have to provide all photos or artwork and tell them exactly how to do it. Ideas are not part of what they do. There are dozens of designers with webpages offering to design a more legitimate cover for anywhere from $100 to $1000. The average is around $200 to $300 at this point. Depending on your genre and your tastes, you can find a cover designer in that price range. 

Call me picky but I couldn't find a designer portfollio for less than $500 that I liked even slightly and $500 is out of my price range for a single cover. So, I downloaded a free Photoshop equivalent called Gimp and spent three months learning how to run it. Many experts warn authors away from doing this and I may be a fool. I'm also an artist and a photographer, so maybe I'm not. I don't entirely recommend that everyone try to design their own covers. There are way too many badly designed self-published covers out there. If you do want to try it, expect it to take at least a few months to learn and study book covers and graphic design principles. Consider it every bit as important as any of the writing of the inside of the book. Technically it is actually more important in terms of initially reaching readers.

You can buy the rights to photos to use on a cover from sites like istock.com and shutterstock.com. There is a lot of talk of creative commons photos and there are lists of servers where you can supposedly find free photos. I have spent hours searching these frree sites and not only did I not find many good photos on them, I did not find one single photo that was not marked as copyright protected.  These supposedly free site shave been taken over by photographers trying to sell their work. Be very careful about using photos from sites that claim to be showing creative commons images because many of the photos on these sites are copyrighted and downloading them from a site that says the photos listed should be creative commons is no protection. Read the small print. And that will take hours. The paid sites are not that expensive (less than $40 for 5 very large, very high quality photos of my choice from Shutterstock) and they are a sure bet.

In the end, I hired a model (i.e. a student friend) shot my own main photographs and then paid for a few more pictures from Shutterstock. I"ve very happy with the results so far. 

Kerning: 

If you are going to try designing your own cover, look up kerning and study it until you get it. Kerning is the technique of changing the distance between letters. It is a funny thing but you can take a perfectly professional photo and artfully arrange a title and an author's name on it and it will still not look like a real book cover, until you add kerning. Even the non-professional eye will know the difference if allowed to compare.

The overall explanation is that kerning is supposed to make it look as though the letters in a word are equally separated when actually it pulls some letters closer together or pushes others further apart. This is because some letters fit together nicely and others have bits that stick out and if such an awkward letter happens to be right next to another awkward letter they don't fit together easily.

Say in this font, "rt" tend to run into each other. You can't put them closer together and have them look nice, but "To" looks much better if the "o" is tucked protectively under the top line of the "T". You have to do this by hand on book cover titles and other large text. You need a solid graphic design program to do it and you have to know when and where to do it. That's kerning and it's one of the things you have to study if you want to try designing your own covers.

Coopetition: 

This is a term coined by self-publishing trail blazer Joanna Penn. It refers to the mixture of cooperation and competition that has become the professional standard among independent and small-press authors.

The theory behind coopetition is that readers tend to read a lot of books and often in the same genre. Traditionally, readers were stuck following those authors most heavily promoted by the publishing industry and that is still where the bulk of the market is. Today, however, readers who discover one independent author usually discover other independent and small-press authors, particularly those in similar genres. This creates an interesting dynamic among author-entrepreneurs.

We have been brought up to believe that business as primarily a competitive proposition but that mindset doesn't serve well in the current circumstances. The pool of readers is infinite because readers read many books and they read more books if they like what they read. The result is that it is in the interests of the individual author-entrepreneur to help and promote their fellow independent and small-press authors as much as possible.

In fact, the closer the competition may seem, the more it is in my interest to support and promote another author. That may seem counter intuitive but it makes good economics. The fact is that if a reader discovers a book that is similar to mine (contemporary dystopia or fantasy thriller) written by an independent author, they are much much more likely to discover mine than is the average person on the street. And readers who have already discovered my books are more likely to stick around and be satisfied readers, if they can read something similar that recommended to them, while waiting for my next book to come out.

This concept wasn't entirely foreign to me when I started on this adventure, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it works. A side benefit is that the more you post on your blog and website, the more readers you attract in general. So, I post about interesting indie authors on this blog both because I want to give my readers something to chew on while I prepare the next book for publication and because that boosts my site in general. I also post everywhere else I can about these interesting indie authors because if a reader sees their work and likes it, they are halfway to finding my work.

Key abbreviations: 

WIP

Work In Progress: This refers to whatever a writer is currently working on and has not yet completed or published.

POD

Print On Demand: This is a way of publishing a book in print format without having to pay for boxes of printed books that may or may not ever be sold before they gather too much dust and moisture and become undesirable. POD used to be fairly expensive and inferior in quality to comerically available paperbacks but today there are several companies offering POD services that make affordable books that are virtually indistinguishable from their mass-printed peers.

POV

Point Of View: This refers to which character's mind and senses the reader shares in a given section of writing. A lot of classic literature uses a distant or omniscient POV where the reader can see the story from many points of view but often not in great emotional detail from any one character. Recently, close third person and first person POVs have become more popular with stories that allow the reader to identify closely with the characters and their emotions. 

R4R

Read for Review: This refers to the practice of authors giving out free review copies of their book either before publication or early on when they have few reviews. Authors may give R4R copies to bloggers or other professional reviewers but they will often also give out free copies to random readers on sites such as Goodreads or LibraryThing.  There is an "honor system" involved. In exchange for a free book, the reader/reviewer agrees to post honest reviews, usually on Amazon at the very least and sometimes other sites.

It is key to note that there is no agreement about what kind of review gets posted. It may be hard to write a critical review when one got the book for free but the whole point is to help readers find books that they will like, so a modicum of honesty is an important part of the equation. R4R agreements are usually informal and made online between the author and the reader/reviewer. Sometimes the agreement calls for the review to be posted within a certain time period, usually two weeks from receipt of a free book, but authors will often wait longer for reviews from well-known reviewers.

If you have made it this far in this post, you are a serious reader and possibly a serious writer. So, if you would like to try out R4R yourself, drop me an email on this page and ask for a free Read for Review copy of my book.

Good luck in your writing adventures!

What makes the book nerd tick?

What makes the book nerd tick?

When people ask me what my "hobbies" are I am always a bit puzzled. Hobbies? I don't have time for hobbies. I have two kids. I teach classes, write novels, write blogs, cook and clean. I theoretically publish said novels. I grow some essential food and herbs because you can't buy much that's good locally. Then I chase said kids around and break up fights. I occasionally talk to my husband... You get the picture. I don't 

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