March 3, 2012

Writing a Book: It’s a Family Affair

My husband is a very creative guy. He gets paid to write code and design web application interfaces, but in real life he’s a carpenter, artist, tinkerer, fix-everything guy … a hands-on Renaissance man. (Or, if you prefer, Mr. Enigma.) He also writes stories, mostly in his head. Over the years, he’s actually put fingers to keyboard and written a few down, but we’ve never done anything with them. It’s time-consuming to polish a piece of fiction for anyone other than your spouse to read. Ideally, would have loved seeing the stories published, but we knew how hard it is to find an agent who can then find a publisher. The investment of time, energy, and money never seemed worth it.

We could have also gone the vanity-press route, but that was unappealing for a variety of reasons. Or we could have self-published. We know a few people who have done that, and I edit self-published books as part of my freelance work, but print is expensive, and there’s always the risk that we’d be stuck with a basement full of books and an empty bank account. The risk/reward ratio just didn’t seem appealing.

Enter the e-book. It’s changed everything. You can self-publish at a fraction of the cost of print. It’s certainly not free, but when we look at reducing the time to publish, skipping the middle men (agent and publisher), and publishing in digital format only (at least at first), the risk/reward ratio seems a heck of a lot better. We’ll still have spend an enormous chunk of time getting the book ready and then promoting it — no publisher, no marketing help — but that’s the price of going indie.

But will anyone buy it? Maybe. Look what’s happening in the world of e-books and indie authors: people are making money! Writers who previously couldn’t find an agent or publisher are selling their books and turning a profit. Some are even making millions, MILLIONS, I say. You HEAR me? MWAHAHAHAHA!

Sorry.

We don’t expect Steve to be the next John Locke, Amanda Hocking, or JA Konrath (who makes about $100K per month selling his self-published e-books). What these three indie authors illustrate is that a lot of people will buy e-books if the price is right and the stories are good. So there’s hope for us. Hey, if lightning strikes, we won’t complain, but realistically, we’re just hoping that Steve’s stories get read, that we can recoup our costs. A small income stream would be the cherry on top.

So, we’re off! Steve has begun writing a novel he’s had rattling around in his head for about a year. It’s tentatively titled Becky Bright & Dark, and it’s about, um, Becky, a freshman at Franz Kafka Memorial High School (at least that what she calls it) and who stumbles into a hidden world of illusions, deception, and double meaning. She meets the Furniture Man (What’s his deal?) and finds her calling at Kafka’s underground newspaper. At some point, of course, chaos ensues.

Word count thermometer

Word count thermometer.
Still lots of white space!

The rest of the family has mobilized. We’re in support-staff mode now. The kids understand that Steve will be at the computer a bit more than normal, particularly on weekends. Luckily, they sleep late (love that homeschooling!), so Steve can write before they even wake up most days. To help us all stay on target, the kids are tracking Steve’s writing progress with this handy-dandy word-count “thermometer.” (Look at the pro-fessional graphics!)

While Steve and I will enjoy the thrill of just finally publishing a novel, the kids are excited about a more tangible reward. They desperately want to go to Disney World, but we need to save for the trip. If we’re lucky, we won’t spend more money publishing the book than we make from it the next 1.5 years. We’re not crazy enough to think one book by a new, indie author could sell enough copies in a year to pay for a Disney vacation, but if puts a few dollars in the vacation piggy bank, then it’s a win/win.

So far, the writing is going well. Steve wrote ~3700 words last weekend. By yesterday, he was at 9800. This morning, he brought the total up to 11,000. And by tomorrow night, we hope for ~13,000. Of course, I, the in-house editor, haven’t gotten my red-pen-happy hands on it yet, but still, 13,000 unedited words in 9 days: not. too. shabby.

Aside from serving as the editor (we may farm the book out to another editor, as well), I, as usual, am the engine that powers this family endeavor. Want a vacation? Get planning, Lori. Need a new car? Get Consumer Reports, Lori. Want to self-publish a Young Adult novel, get researching and Tweeting, Lori. I have learned a ton about author platforms, e-book formatting, the importance of professionally designed book cover, the pros/cons of the Kindle DRM, and oh, so much more, in the past two weeks.

Steve and I have a lot of work to do because we’re effectively starting a new business. I’m handling the behind-the-scenes work so that he can focus on writing. We make a good team.

The next few months should be very interesting around here. Wish us luck!

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August 2, 2009

Turning Off the “Automatic No” Switch

Here’s today’s Zits comic strip. It pretty much sums up how to crush your child’s dreams: just say no.

zits comic - crushing kids' dreams

[Click here for a larger image.]

I would hate it if I turned out to be the mother in this strip, the one who just gives an automatic no. No thinking, no sharing of the child’s excitement, only flat-out no. I’m not thrilled that mothers take the blame — don’t dads ever put the kibosh on things? — but it still speaks the truth about parenting in general. So I see the strip as an example of what not to do: Don’t just say no. Turn off the “automatic no” switch and instead support my kids’ dreams. Over the past two years or so, I’ve come to see myself as my children’s partner in dream fulfillment. We’ve still got to get through the day-to-day realities of life, but I’ve learned to say yes more and more, and it makes all the difference.

So instead of saying no to some of their wackier-sounding (to me) ideas, Mr. Enigma and I say yes a lot. And then we try to figure out how we can make whatever they’re asking for happen. Maybe we can do it right then and there. Often, we have to work together on a plan to make it happen down the road. Sometimes we tweak the details. But the answer is still, “Yes, we can. Let’s figure out how.” Our kids still think we say no too often, but I know that we’ve made a shift and that we’ll continue to work on saying yes more.

In May, a 13-year-old friend of ours was telling us about a trip to Paris she’s planning with friends for when they’re 18. My daughter, age 10, immediately asked if she could go too. I said, “Sure!” She can go, even though she’ll be younger than the other kids. We might have to delay the trip until she’s 16 and the others are 19. And we’ll have to plan very carefully to make sure we can ensure her safety. If we can figure out how to make the trip safe (within reason), she can go. Maybe I’ll fly over there with them to get them situated. Maybe my brother, who lived in Paris for 10 years, can hook the kids up with some local friends to help make sure they’re safe and have a decent meal once or twice. He might even be living in Paris again by then. Who knows? The specifics are irrelevant right now. The key is that I wasn’t going to say no to that trip. Why would I crush the dream?

Within a couple of days, my daughter and I started to figure out we could make the trip happen. To estimate the cost, we researched current airfares, Eurorail, and youth hostel rates, as well as what other young, cash-strapped travelers have said about food and related travel expenses. We calculated what a 2-week trip would cost in today’s money. And then we figured out how much she’d have to earn and save each year for the next 5.5 years. It came to a few hundred dollars per year. To her, the money seems almost impossible. We’re talking about a young kid with very few opportunities to earn significant amounts of cash. But I explained to my daughter that as she gets older, she’ll have more opportunities to earn money. She also has a savings account she can tap into for the trip. Financially, it’s very doable, and I want her to believe that it’s doable. If she wants it, she can do it.

Will my daughter ever take that trip? I don’t have a crystal ball. Five+ years is a long time. But if she doesn’t, it won’t be because her father and I just gave her an automatic no. We’re not going crush her hopes and dreams.

Link: Zits, 08/02/09

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August 1, 2009

What Happens When Big Boys Jump on the Bed

If only our insurance company would allow us to have a trampoline. Then the boy would have a place to jump, a place actually designed for jumping. Since he was a toddler, he has loved to jump on his bed. First we put our full size guest bed in his room. He jumped, and jumped, and jumped on that thing. But the bed was too big for his room, and when he was four, we bought him a twin size platform bed with drawers underneath. Naturally, the very first thing he did was climb up there and jump on it, only to find that we had replaced his big bouncy bed with a small stiff bed.

He was not pleased. He did not ask for this new bed, and he did not want this new bed.

But that didn’t stop him from jumping. Jump, jump, jump. For the past five years, that bed has taken a beating. He’s big for his age and a wee bit enthusiastic, so it was inevitable that at some point he was going to crash through the platform. And a couple of months ago, he did.

big hole in the bed

Mr. Enigma, my husband, had patched the hole with some 1/4-inch plywood, but he was afraid it wouldn’t hold forever. So last weekend, he swapped in the platform piece from our daughter’s old bed. (She doesn’t need it anymore because she built her own bed last year.) But before he did, I made him illustrate just how big the hole was. Look how horrified he was to assist.

big enough for a man

Of course, uncovering the bed meant unearthing some major dust bunnies. I swear, they’re alive.

big dust bunnies

Mr. Enigma has all the right tools for just about any job. He has a staple-puller-outer-thingie to pull crazy-long staples out, and a staple gun to shoot crazy-long staples in, among other handy devices.

the bed is as good as new

The bed’s fixed, good as new, but it’s still rotten for jumping. So now the Duke jumps on my bed. There’s no platform to break, unless you consider the second-story floor a platform.

Um….

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July 30, 2009

Protected: Lowell Folk Festival

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July 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

Something in this house has the stench of cleanliness!

–The Duke of Hazard, 8.5 years

This is what happens when you clean so rarely that your kids find the smell of lemony fresh household cleaners to be offensive.

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June 2, 2009

Book I Edited Won an Award

How very cool! I spent most of last summer editing a book, Campus Calm University, by Maria Pascucci, who self-published it in the fall. About a week ago, Maria learned that the book won a Gold Gold Medal in 13th Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards!

If you have a child in college or know someone who has a child in college, I highly recommend Maria’s book. Not only is it superbly edited (heh, heh), but the subject is one near and dear to my heart. Maria wrote the book (and started her company, Campus Calm) to help students relax and live emotionally healthier lives while in college so that they set themselves on a lifelong path of fulfillment and success (which each person defines for herself). The book includes chapters on learning again how to love learning, being creative, focusing inward, thinking big, and just plain having fun. Pascucci doesn’t advocate being irresponsible and/or partying for four years; she advocates embracing the college experience by slowing down enough to figure out what you really love to learn and to do and then pursuing those things.

As you might imagine, the book’s stop-and-smell-the-roses theme resonated with me. Many of the things Maria writes about, from anxiety-ridden, over-scheduled students, to kids who take courses only to check off graduation requirements, to students who care only about their GPA and not what they’re learning, reflect perfectly what Mr. Enigma and I hope our children can avoid by being homeschoolers. They have the time to follow their interests and the environment in which to truly know themselves. We don’t ever want to hear them ask, literally or figuratively, “Will this be on the test?”

Seriously, I know I’m biased, but Campus Calm University is a great book and a great read for anyone — even us old folks out in the so-called real world — who has found him- or herself caught in the rat race and who feels stressed out and stuck. If you need some calm, on campus or off, check out Campus Calm University.

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May 28, 2009

Some Disassembly Required

What do you get when you cross a kid with a broken lawnmower? A take-apart project, of course. (That was too easy.) We’ve had the lawnmower since last fall when a neighbor put it out on trash day. My son, who likes to pick stuff out of other people’s trash, saw it through our bay window, and I knew what had to be done. We knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked if it was really trash. Yes, it is. Chip down the street tried to fix it but couldn’t, so it’s just best to get rid of it, she said.

Can we have it so the kids can take it apart? “Sure, have at it!”

Mr. Enigma spent some time late last fall emptying the gas and oil tanks and removing the engine from the chassis. He covered it up and left it near our shed, where snow promptly buried it for a couple of months. Over the long winter, the kids forgot about it. Then I mentioned it a couple of nights ago. My daughter wasn’t terribly interested, but there was no holding The Duke back.

The next morning, we peeled back the tarp and unveiled the hardware. As I lifted the engine to move it to the grass, The Duke said, “Hey, that’s a spark plug!” It was — I didn’t know he knew what a spark plug was! When, exactly, did he acquire that knowledge?

behind the curtain

[What’s behind curtain number one?]

Before any project, it’s important to gather the right tools. The Duke has his own toolbox, complete with several screwdrivers of differing sizes and heads, an adjustable wrench, a hat, and measuring tape, which he apparently thought he’d need but didn’t. I also brought out my toolbox in case I had some tools he was missing. (I’m not sure which we have more of in this house, tools or books.)

you gotta choose the right tools

[Carefully choosing the right tools.]

The Duke patiently examined the engine from all angles, planning his attack. We agreed that he should remove the plastic engine cover first since it was covering so much. It took us a while to get the sockets on the handle, but once I figured out we needed a pesky little adapter, the Duke was all set.

first piece

[The first piece came off easily.]

The socket set was our friend today. The Duke removed a lot of bolts surprisingly easily. Others required a little more oomph and some better leverage. My inner (and outer) feminist was not going to be happy if neither of us could budge any bolts and I had to ask big, strong, manly Mr. Enigma to loosen them for us.

standing gives you leverage

[Gaining some leverage.]

Occasionally, a less, um, refined tool was needed. Did you know that when a part is really stuck, you can sometimes smash it off?

sometimes you need a hammer

[Descendant of Thor swings his mighty hammer.]

Overall, I was impressed with The Duke’s careful attention to detail, his patience, and his use of different tools to do different jobs. He even grabbed a very small, thin flathead screwdriver and used it as a lever to bend some metal flashing that was blocking two bolts.

After about an hour, which included a couple of short breaks on the swings and zip line, The Duke announced, “That’s enough for today.”

hour of work

[A day’s work.]

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