Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kindling an interest in ebooks

In the midst of a disappointing holiday season for the publishing industry, this article appeared in the New York Times: Turning Page, E-Books Start to Take Hold.

I think this is interesting for several reasons. For one, it's hard to believe that ebooks have been around for as long as they have — my awareness of ebooks has developed mostly in the last five years or so, and I have to admit I am a fan, though I don't often sit at my computer and read.

I have never seen Amazon's Kindle in person, though at one time I really wanted one. I have seen Sony's Reader, though, and I have to say if I were going to spend that kind of money on an ebook reader, the Sony would be the way I'd go — partly because I want the one I've had a chance to handle and play with, and partly because I think Amazon is turning into an evil corporation. Just look how many times in this article the author notes that Amazon won't report the Kindle's sales data!

I also was interested to learn that you can download ebook readers for the iPhone. Since eventually I want one, I will have to look into that some more. I might be able to have my phone, music, and my digital library all in one place!

As you may know, I self-published my own short ebook, How to Restring a Strung Doll, for collectors of vintage dolls. I've sold well over 200 copies now, and thinking back to when I first started selling, I think I have definitely seen an increase in sales — although, considering the nature of my ebook, that is probably due to more successful marketing rather than ebook readers gaining in popularity.

As much as I love ebooks, though, I can't say that I think they will ever overtake regular books in popularity — at least not those of us who really love to read. There is just something so comforting about the feel of a book in one's hand!

What about you? What are your experiences with the ebook industry, either as a reader or a writer? What do you think the future holds for ebooks?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Judy Blume on writing, puberty, and turning 70

I've probably mentioned it before, but Judy Blume is one of my writing heroes. I love her books — both her juvenile and young adult books, and her adult novels — and I have tons of respect for her courage in addressing subjects that were rather taboo back then (and still are sometimes today).

I was excited to see in the headlines yesterday Judy Blume's interview on NPR. She talks about what got her into writing — and surprisingly, she didn't always want to be a writer, but started out doing wall hangings for children's rooms at first. She also discusses what it was that drew her to write so much about the 9-12 age group, and laughs about finding out from NPR that she was turning 70.

I had no idea Judy Blume was 70, but her enthusiasm at that age only makes me look up to her more. I hope I still love writing that much at age 70!

Monday, December 29, 2008

In review: 2008 New Year's resolutions

I've been doing everything a bit late this holiday season, so I'm just now reviewing my 2008 New Year's resolutions and deciding what to put on my list for 2009.

(For the record, I don't really take this too seriously — obviously, because of how many resolutions I promptly forget about and neglect to meet each year — but it's still a fun New Year's tradition.)

My resolutions for 2008 were as follows:

1. Spend the first hour of every workday on my own projects
2. Finish and launch my website updates
3. Increase my annual income by a third
4. Pay off 75 percent of my credit card debt
5. Keep in touch with my friends better
6. Get pregnant

And here are the results:

1. Sometimes
2. Nope
3. No way
4. Not even close
5. Nope
6. No

Hmmm. Maybe I should make different sorts of resolutions for 2009...

Christmas with our families

We had a pretty good Christmas here. We ended up busier than expected, so I didn't get as much of my work done as I'd hoped, but we had fun.

Since Michael's family moved to Denver earlier this year, we decided to split the holidays between our families: Christmas Eve with my folks, and Christmas Day with Michael's parents, his brother, and his brother's family (who all share a house — yikes!).

We were expecting not to be at my parents' house very late Christmas Eve, which was why I thought I would have time to work. However, my mom got tipsy and didn't kick us out at 9:30 after all, and we ended up getting home around 11:30 instead.

Michael was feeling tired and a little ill (probably from too much food), so we laid down and fell asleep by accident. At 3:30 am we both found ourselves wide awake, so we watched episodes of The Office (more on that later) until 7:30 am. Then we went back to bed for three more hours.

On Christmas Day we stopped by the barn around mid-afternoon to drop off stockings and treats for the horses. Then we continued on to Michael's family's house, bearing gifts for the kids. I was especially proud of the big present we had for my two younger nephews: a used kids table that I sanded, repainted, and decorated with the boys' handprints and names. I had a little help from Michael and my mom, but it still took the better part of four days to finish!

Crafty Christmas gifts

We spent most of Christmas Day with Michael's family, finally arriving home around midnight that night — and once again, I was way too tired to work!

How was your Christmas? If you've posted on your blog about your own holiday celebrations, please feel free to include a link in the comments!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A freelance writer's Christmas

First of all, Merry Christmas to all of the freelance writers, clients, lurkers, and everyone else who reads my blog.

And now for the twenty-five million dollar question: How many of my fellow freelancers are planning to work around the holiday festivities?

I certainly do. Not that I'll be foregoing family and friends to work (well, unless they get on my nerves), but I'll most likely be doing some work late tonight (Christmas Eve) and tomorrow night.

I suppose that is probably the second biggest drawback to freelancing (after the income rollercoaster): How hard it is to take a break. It seems like every time I think I'll be able to take a few days off, a client produces a rush project, or I procrastinate on a deadline, or something of the sort.

Not that I'm complaining. I like being able to work a flexible schedule — and if the price I pay for it is having to put in some extra hours after everyone else goes to sleep Christmas Eve, that's fine with me!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wrist pain: A writer's worst nightmare

Yesterday I blogged about this year's unprecedented Christmas crafts. Unfortunately, my projects had a side effect that I could not have predicted, and that ultimately scared me quite a bit.

About three years ago, shortly after I first started freelancing, I had some difficulties with what I believe was repetitive strain injury (RSI): I started developing pain in my wrists, which would often shoot up into my upper arms and shoulders, particularly in my right arm (i.e., from using the mouse).

After a lot of heating pad applications, Motrin, and taking it easy, the pain went away. I've had a couple of flare-ups since then, but nothing serious.

Until last weekend.

Over the weekend, I suddenly developed pain in my hands, wrists, and forearms. The pain was moderate when typing, but could be quite bad when I flexed my hands and fingers, particularly if I hadn't done so in a while. It was pretty much the same in both my right and left arms.

I was pretty worried for several days, as it showed no signs of improving, and I had no idea what had caused it. I even tried to limit my typing over the weekend, but typing didn't seem to aggravate it — it hurt about the same amount as anything else.

Finally, Sunday night it occurred to me what had caused the pain: spray painting my nephews' Christmas present. Unfortunately, I wasn't finished yet, but at least I had learned that I had to be more careful. After that, I took breaks and stretched my hands out frequently while painting, and that seemed to help quite a bit.

It's a good reminder for freelancers that anything, even things that have nothing to do with writing, can cause injuries that interfere with your work!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A very crafty Christmas

I've long considered writing my only serious creative bent. I liked to draw when I was a kid, but found that my skill did not grow to keep pace with my age... Or maybe it was my ability to recognize my own skill that grew up. In any case, I've never been the crafty type.

Until this Christmas. I'm making all kinds of things for the holidays this year:

* Stocking for the horses
* Homemade horse treats
* A big present for my nephews (it's a surprise, so more on that later)
* Props for doll photography including a really cute quilt I made out of old flannel pajama pants

I'm having a lot of fun making these things, but I'm discovering how much time and effort crafts take. I guess that's why a lot of people don't bother. I've also discovered one other (slightly scary) side effect, which I'll blog about more in a future post.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday book giveaway on Pony Tales Blog

I'm doing two holiday drawings for horse books on one of my other blogs, Pony Tales Blog. If you are interested, or know of someone who might be, click here to read the full details about my holiday book giveaway.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Great quote for writers

I want to share with my readers my new favorite quote about writing.

The quote appears in Henrietta Twycross-Martin's preface to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. (The book is witty and hilarious, and I highly recommend it. The movie is also beautifully done.) Twycross-Martin was lucky enough to be able to interview Watson while writing the preface, and when they were discussing why Watson stopped writing abruptly in the mid 1940s, Watson said, "You can't write if you are never alone."

This quote holds much meaning for me, as I'm sure it does for my fellow freelancers — particularly since I know many are also stay-at-home parents. I have enough trouble writing when my husband is home, particularly on the weekends, so I can only imagine (though I'm sure I will someday experience) what it is like to juggle parenthood with freelance writing!

I have often found that late at night, after Michael has gone to bed and no one is calling or emailing me, is the best time to be alone and work. We also often go to Barnes and Noble or Tattered Cover, where I can work in the café while he browses or reads. And when I get really desperate, a trip by myself to a coffee shop or the library serves to ensure I get my "alone time."

What about you? Do you relate to this quote, and if you do, how do you ensure you have enough alone time to write?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good news for freelance writers and telecommuters

As a freelance writer, 99 percent of my business is done via email and the Internet, from finding new clients to researching, writing, and delivering completed projects.

When my husband and I were talking about moving to Missouri a couple of years ago (something that never happened, obviously), one of our main concerns was ensuring that I would have reliable Internet access. Unfortunately, the house we wanted to buy was located in a small rural town, so it wasn't looking good. Of course, it turned out Michael's company wouldn't let him telecommute, so nothing ever came of it anyway.

However, that experience demonstrated that Internet access is something I've learned to take for granted, living in a large metropolitan area. So imagine my excitement when I read that Obama is encouraging companies offering high-speed Internet access to expand their networks to rural areas.

Hooray for progress!

Freelance writers: Surviving slow periods

The come-and-go of work is one of the most difficult things about freelancing for many writers. It's often referred to as "feast or famine," and although I've never experienced it quite to that extreme, there's definitely some truth to that cliché.

I typically find that my busiest period is during the summer, and my slowest period is in December and January. Unfortunately, that feels opposite of what you would want: It would make sense to me to have less work during the summer, when the weather lures me outside, and more work around the holidays to provide extra money for gifts and other celebratory expenses.

Part of surviving slow periods is being able to lessen the impact, either by planning ahead or by having an alternate source of income. I'm admittedly not very good at reserving money for slower periods, but luckily I do have an alternate source of income: babysitting.

I have a long history of working with children: I worked as a preschool and after school program teacher for about six years during high school, college, and the years I took off in between. Midway through college I switched over to self-employement (though I wasn't savvy enough to call it that then) and worked as a part-time nanny and babysitter until graduation. After I graduated, I immediately got a full time job as a technical writer, but I maintained relationships with one or two of the families I had been babysitting for, which also helped to ease the transition when I quit work to freelance full time in 2005.

Fortunately for me, I get the most demand for my services as a babysitter right when I have the least demand for my services as a writer: around the holidays, when there are lots of parties to go to. It's perhaps not as esteemed as my other job, but it helps to smooth out the unpredictable income — not to mention it's pretty special to watch these kids grow up!

How do you deal with the "feast or famine" phenomenon of being a freelance writer?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mini netbook reviews for writers

I've blogged before about my little Averatec 1000 series laptop, which I bought more than three years ago now, just before quitting my job to freelance full time. I love this little laptop, which weighs only a little over three pounds without sacrificing any of the features of a full-size computer.

Lately, however, it has started having little problems here and there. Recently my dad bought one of those little mini computers for about $350, and I've been wondering if I should get one too as a backup or a second computer.

I've done a little browsing at local stores, and here is what I think so far:

Asus Eee with the Intel Atom Processor N270 — $279. This is my least favorite of the mini computers so far. The processor speed is decent — 1.6 GHz — but the keys are tiny and difficult to type on... And that's coming from someone who is types on a smaller-sized keyboard all the time!

Someone I met during NaNoWriMo this year had one of these, and her complaint was the lack of memory: The hard drive is just 4 GB. She said that by the time you load the software you need, there's not much space for anything else!

HP Mini Netbook with Intel Atom Processor N270 — $399. I wasn't very impressed by the HP version, either. It has the same processor as the Eee listed above, but with a 10.2 inch widescreen, so it's a little bigger — the same size as my Averatec, actually, just without the CD/DVD drive. The hard drive is 16 GB — bigger than the Eee, but still not big enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Unfortunately, someone at HP had the bright idea to make the keys larger, flatter, and more ergonomic. The result is a keyboard where nothing is where it should be. When I tried it out at Best Buy, my typo rate was about 25 percent. I'd never get anything done, at that rate!

Asus Eee Netbook with Intel Celeron Processor 353 — $379. Like the HP, this mini computer has a 10 inch widescreen and a larger keyboard, so it's about the same size and weight as my Averatec (except that my Averatec has a CD/DVD drive and these don't). And unlike the HP, this keyboard is normal enough to type on it comfortably.

Another advantage to this machine is its large hard drive: 120 GB, which is much more generous than the 80 GB drive on my Averatec. However, my complaint was how slow the machine seemed. It was a 900 MHz processer, which is only a little slower than my Averatec, but felt ridiculously slow when I was playing with the machine in the store.

Acer Aspire with Intel Atom Processor N270 — $349. This little computer impressed me the most. The screen is a small 8.9 inch widescreen, the same as the smaller Asus, and it has the same 1.6 GHz processor. However, it also has the 120 GB hard drive and a workable keyboard. It weighs 2.2 pounds, a pound less than my Averatec and the two larger minis (the larger Asus and the HP).

I didn't get to try out Dell's version of the mini, and if there are other brands I haven't heard of them.

I think if I decide to get one of these mini laptops, or netbooks as they seem to be called, I will probably prefer the Acer — I like the keyboard the best (which is important since I'd be typing on it a lot), the faster processor, the large hard drive, and the small size. I'm not sure yet whether I can fully justify having a second laptop for work, but it's hard to say no when it's that cheap — not to mention when this is pretty much the only way to get a small laptop (my preference) these days!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Books make great gifts

Every year I buy books (or bookstore gift cards) for the majority of the people on my holiday shopping list, so the message in this marketing campaign isn't new to me.

My hero and favorite YA author, Judy Blume, was featured in this video. She said, "Books make great gifts because you can never have too many." I think I liked her clip the best.

If I were cool enough to be a published novelist and be featured in this video, I would have said, "Books make great gifts because they will never be replaced with newer technology." Books are probably the only source of entertainment in our culture that isn't affected by new breakthroughs in technology. I can buy a 100-year-old book and it still works just fine, but I can't buy a 50-year-old album or a 20-year-old movie (or even a 10-year-old computer game) unless I have the right technology to play it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Alone for the Weekend

This morning, Michael left town with his mom and his brother. They are helping his dad move to Colorado, which leaves me alone at least until Sunday night.

This is the first time I've been alone since Michael went on his business trip a year and a half ago. I really miss him when he is gone, even though technically this should be an excellent time to get some work done.

I want to use this time (when I'm not moping about, missing Michael) to get caught up on work and hobby-related stuff. Here are a few things I am planning to do this weekend:

* Spend some time with my horse. Lately, I don't get to spend much time with my horse on the weekends, because we already have so much else to do. And it probably doesn't help that Michael doesn't really like doing horse the whole horse thing. We like to do stuff together on the weekends, which usually translates into NOT going to the barn.

* Work on my novel. This seems to me like a perfect chance to spend some uninterrupted quality time with my characters.

* Work. Yes, I have plenty of work to do too — and since Michael is taking Monday and Tuesday off so that we have some time together after he gets back, I want to work ahead as much as possible this weekend.

* Go to the doll show. My mom and I are selling at a doll show this weekend, which is going to take up the better part of one day.

* "Play" with my dolls. I have a lot to do in preparation for the show. In addition, I recently got a new cabinet as an early Christmas gift from Michael, and I need to finish arranging my new display. I also have some project dolls to work on and some dolls that need to be photographed for my doll blog, Doll Stringing Extravaganza, so I have plenty to keep me busy!

You know, it occurs to me that I might actually have too much to do in one weekend. Especially if missing Michael slows me down as much as it did when he went on his business trip!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

17,551 words

Tonight saw some more difficult writing: Although I spent two hours working on my novel, I added less than 1,500 words. I'm not sure I liked where tonight's writing was going, but it's nothing that can't be cleared up easily with revisions later on, so I forced myself to keep going. Sometimes pushing on is the best thing to do, I've found; it's almost like you have to experiment with the plot before you can make a decision on what you really want to do with it.

As an added challenge, it seems I may have my noveling time interrupted sooner than I thought: My biggest client contacted me with a new project this afternoon, one that needs to be completed in just under a week. Although I am definitely glad to be getting a jump start on the month's billable work, I'm also a bit anxious to see how I am able to maintain my novel-writing time as the client work picks up again.

We'll see, I guess. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Do you click on ads?

As someone who knows firsthand how disappointing pay-per-click ad revenue can be sometimes, when I read a blog post I like, I tend to click on a couple of ads to, er, show my appreciation. However, the other day I read something that will change how I do things.

I saw an article online that discussed Google AdSense and problems with bloggers faking clicks. Apparently many AdSense clients track visits that comes from those ads, so if someone just clicks the ad and backs out immediately, they know. And if that happens from the same website or blog too many times, it's a pretty good guess that the owner of that site has people clicking ads for him in order to artificially inflate his ad revenue.

Keep this in mind if you like to click on ads to help bloggers. It's a good idea to read through the landing page, and maybe even click through to another page on the website, to give the ad a fair chance (read: so that it doesn't look like you're faking clicks). I also like to scroll through the ads and only click the ones that might actually interest me.

Interesting, on freelance writers' blogs, how many of those ads lead to sites like Associated Content and Helium...

16,060 words: First post-NaNoWriMo installment

Tonight I worked on my novel for the first time in over two weeks. I'm happy to say that I got really into it, and added more than 2,000 words. See? I totally could have finished NaNoWriMo this year. I don't know why I didn't.

Oh yeah... Because of paying work. Gotta pay those bills...

Whenever I come back to writing fiction after some time away, I'm always surprised at how easily it comes to me. I do like writing for a living, regardless of whether it is fiction or nonfiction, but working on a short story or a novel always reminds me that fiction was my first love.

Since it's the beginning of the month, and my biggest client keeps me busiest in the middle and end of the month, I have the flexibility right now to continue working on my novel. I am going to try to get into the habit of working on it every day, and hopefully when I do get busier later in the month, I will be able to continue setting aside an hour or so to work on it every day.

Monday, December 01, 2008

No surprises here

Remember my deadbeat client, Bill Cameron, the owner of Cameron Ink and METROMODE Magazine? Well, I'm sorry — but not at all surprised — to report that he did not pay us by the end of November, as he had promised.

In fact, this morning he sent emails to all of us who are owed money that said he is planning to pursue bankruptcy reorganization. He's trying to paint it as this wonderful opportunity for us to get paid, but I am concerned he may be just trying to buy more time, probably in the hopes that eventually we will give up and go away.

I can't help but be skeptical. After all, he has claimed he's going to do numerous things, and so far the only thing he actually followed through on was making each of us a small payment of $50 in October. Two other times he claimed he was going to pay us by a certain date, and failed to do so: Once when the payment for our work was originally due, and again when he failed to pay us by the end of November. The rest of the time we've just gotten one excuse after another.

The kicker is that the man is still advertising for writers on his website. Doesn't that fall under the definition of fraud, to be hiring writers when you know — because you still owe other writers money — that you can't afford to pay them?

Don't write for Bill Cameron, Metromode Magazine, or Cameron Ink — he has a track record of not paying his writers, and still owes his last staff more than $2,000 combined!

The end of NaNoWriMo 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008 is over, and I'm sad to say I didn't finish — I never got above 14,000 words. However, I have every intention of continuing to work on my novel. I will be aiming for 100,000 words total, and I will use a non-NaNo word count widget for my sidebar.

I also plan to continue blogging about my progress, even though NaNoWriMo 2008 is technically over, so stay tuned!


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