Recharged and ready to go!

DdfpPEkU0AATruuSo I’m back from a three-day weekend in Lancaster, Pa., for the 31st annual Pennwriters Conference. Once again, this conference did not disappoint.

I went looking for some tips to better marketing myself, and I found plenty of that. One session was called “School Visits 101” with Donna Galanti. I went looking for advice for how to get talks in schools. She delivered on that, but she also had information about preparing a presentation and publicizing it. I will be going over my notes from that session more than a few times to try and glean everything that I can from it.

Another session that I really liked was “Writing for New Technologies” with Katie Ernst. This session introduced me to some new possibilities for new markets using new technologies to sell your writing. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by it since I am not an early adopter of new technology. However, I will try these new things out (slowly).

I had two classes and a luncheon talk that were all well attended. I thought I had flubbed the luncheon talk, but I got a lot of good feedback on it afterward.

I got to sit down 20 minutes with agent Louise Fury and talk about indie writing, marketing, and being a hybrid author. VERY INFORMATIVE! I loved it. She was very friendly and I’ve got more information from her that I need to follow up on. This was a new thing Pennwriters offered this year, and I hope they continue it.

I also pitched a couple agents projects I had done as J. R. Rada. This my pen name for YA, fantasy, and horror. I have been thinking about trying to get an agent for my work as J. R. Rada and continuing the indie route with my own name. Both agents asked to see different novels, so we’ll see how this all works out.

A great weekend for recharging the writing batteries!

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Writers write, but how much?

thI write a lot. I know I write a lot, but when I actually count the words I’m writing, it doesn’t seem like a lot.

I write 16-20 newspaper columns and magazine articles a month and probably average two books a year. That seems like a lot to me, but there’s so much more that I want to do, I wonder if I couldn’t push myself more to help clear that logjam of ideas that I have.

I tell my students that writers write so despite everything else that they may need to do as a freelance writer or independent author, they need to write each day. That’s easier said than done. For instance, yesterday I didn’t do any writing. I did a lot of research, interviewing, transcribing older interviews and marketing, but I didn’t do any writing.

That was discouraging, especially when I listened to a podcast interview in the evening and the author being interviewed was saying how at a minimum he writes about 500 words an hour and usually it’s closer to 2,000 words.

Wow. I shoot for 1,500 words a day. At that guy’s pace, I could have my daily writing done in 45 minutes.

One way that I’ve tried to combat this day-to-day variation in my schedule is to set a weekly total rather than a daily total. So my goal is to do 9,000 words a week (six days a week with Sundays off). I was making strong progress in meeting this and then October came along. Into my normal daily writing work, I had to add six classes I had to teach, four presentations, two festivals, and a weekend of required Boy Scout training. That much extra stuff sends my weekly totals tumbling.

So I’m trying to build back up again. I’m doing well today. I’ve written about 1800-1900 words, but I’ve still got to make up for doing nothing yesterday. I should be able to, though. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Do you set writing goals for yourself? What are they? How well do you do at keeping them? Does having a goal give you something to strive for or something to feel guilty about if you miss it?

Yes, I do feel guilty when I miss a target, but that doesn’t stop me from trying again. I know that having a goal makes me push myself a bit more. Maybe not enough sometimes, but I do know there have been times, where I’ve felt like stopping my writing and then looked at how close my goal was. “Just a few hundred more words!”

So get writing! Put your butt in your chair and start typing whether it’s an article or short story, first draft or final edit, get something on paper that wasn’t there yesterday. You’re a writer!

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My Q&A with Pennwriters

Pennwriters is the statewide writers’ association in Pennsylvania. I’ll be presenting three sessions at their annual writers’ conference later this month. As part of their promotion for the conference, they conduct a Q&A with their presenters. Here is the one that I did.

  1. What do you think is special about the genre you write in?

I write in a variety of genres, although most frequently, in non-fiction history. The thing that I find most interesting about this genre is that the stories I tell are true, and if I find the right one, they are just as interesting as fiction.

  1. What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing? Did you ever encounter a serious roadblock and how did you overcome it?

The most difficult part of writing is dealing with mean-spirited criticism. I’ve been a professional writer since 1988. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin, but that kind of criticism still bothers me for days.

As for serious roadblock, I busted through one earlier this year. I had a novel idea that I had been working at on and off for years, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I had outlined the book, written a few chapters, and even done research. Something was missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. I kept starting and getting nowhere. In January, I decided to make one change with my main character, and that broke the logjam. I had ideas pouring out of my imagination. One book has now become three, and I am using almost nothing from my earlier efforts.

This particular book is also coming together in a very disjointed way. I am writing scenes from all over the book rather than the typical beginning-to-end process. This has probably kept me from getting stuck on the project again.

  1. What’s individual or unique about your writing space? Do you have a memento or good luck charm on your desk?

My office is my space and filled with things that make me comfortable. On my walls, I have old movie posters, a triceratops head, historical photos, historical newspapers, family pictures, and even a piece of comic-book art. One my shelves (which cover two walls), I have books – lots of books, of course – but I also have fossils, interesting rocks, robots made from scrap metal, Lego creations my son made, and the California Raisins. If I’m really stressed, I have a tank of fake jellyfish that look real. I turn that on and watch them swim around to destress.

  1. What has been the most satisfying or significant project of your literary career?

It’s a tie between two projects. The first would be a biography I wrote about a WWII veteran I met. This man has a fascinating life story. I tell people he has led a “Forrest Gump life” where he has participated in historical events or met famous people almost accidentally.

The other project is a book a couple years back called The Last to Fall. It’s a true story about a virtually unknown 1922 event in Gettysburg that helped saved the Marine Corps. When the book was released, the local chapter of the Marine Corps League started an effort to put up a waymarker near the site where a plane crashed during the event killing two Marines. This Memorial Day weekend, that waymarker will be dedicated with hundreds of Marines attending the ceremony. It’s very satisfying to see the two Marines who died in the crash finally get remembers.

  1. What is your favorite tip or advice for writers?

Don’t sit around waiting to hear back about an article or book you sent out. Get started on the next project. Keep writing.

  1. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?

A motorboat, gasoline, and a satellite phone. That way, I wouldn’t be stranded for long.

  1. If you had a time machine, where and when would you be right now? 

That’s a hard one. Doctor Who has been around for 50 years exploring that topic, although he winds up in London more often than not. I think the first stop I would make would be to Nazareth to meet Jesus Christ. Then, I think I’d like to visit the Old West. Finally, I’d visit the Jurassic period because I’d love to see real dinosaurs.

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A life-long publishing learner

18077251_10155179628818290_9156547952808988124_oI participated in the Kensington Day of the Book, my first outdoor festival of the season, this past weekend. It can be an iffy time for an outdoor festival, but the weather was perfect this year. I always enjoy book festivals because not only do I get to meet people who like to read books, I get to meet other authors.

I’m always interested to see what other authors are producing. I expect mainstream published books to look great, but I feel a bit sorry for the author if they only have one or two titles to sell. Knowing how little mainstream publishers pay in royalties and how much the booth space costs, I know those authors need to sell a lot of books to break even.

For this festival, my guess is that they had to sell between 25-30 books to break even. I only had to sell four books to cover my booth costs. I also had a lot more titles to offer. With this combination, I can make back my booth costs with one sale, and I did.

I’m more curious to see what the indie authors are doing, especially if they have multiple titles. This means they have been writing for some time, and hopefully, have learned some useful things about publishing and marketing. These are the authors who I try to talk to. I want to pick their brains for things that I might try.

It’s always interesting what I learn. Some authors don’t believe in doing e-book giveaways. Others have seen its benefit in boosting sales. Some authors only work in a single series while others write stand-alone books or in a variety of genres. Some publish hardbacks, and others only publish softcovers.

If I see a great cover on a book, I question the author about who designed it, and I get contact information.

I ask about other shows the authors attend and things they have done to promote their books.

I have been a published novelist since 1996 and an indie author since 2001, and I am still learning new things about the process. I hope that I always continue to do so.

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Publishing a book in the public domain

I’ve been thinking about venturing into new writing waters lately as if I haven’t been doing enough of that already with doing my first biography, my first co-authored book, editing someone’s memoirs, and doing work under a pseudonym. Anyway, now I am thinking about publishing a book in the public domain.

I came across an interesting historical character and had considered doing a biography about him. When I did some preliminary research, I discovered that he had written his own autobiography in the early 1800’s. The book has seen limited circulation and is in the public domain. So I thought, “Why re-invent the wheel? Maybe I should just reprint this book.”

I do have some issues with the original book. I would want to give it a nice cover and a better title. I would also want to do some light editing and add some illustrations.

I’ve seen some reprinted public domain book out there that have a plain cover and the interior pages are scans of the original book pages. You can see that the publisher didn’t put much effort into them so is it any surprise that they probably don’t sell? The only ones I’ve ever purchased are the ones that I have specifically been searching for research.

Having never published a public domain book before, I wasn’t sure if there was anything I needed to do to reprint this type of book. I put the word out on some forums that I’m part of to see what people had to say. Boy! I got answers all over the place!

Some did recommend this web page, which I found immensely helpful. You should definitely read it if you are considering going this route.

I also found out that by making the alterations I wanted to do, I would be making the book able to be copyrighted because I would be making it my unique version of the book. In the future, someone could certainly reprint the book, but they wouldn’t be able to reprint my version.

So this project looks like it will move ahead. Of course, finding the time to get it ready for publication will be the real trick.

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Firing off a note about the Gettysburg Writers Brigade

This post is going to be e-mailed to all of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade members, but it’s certainly open for anyone to chime in.

I started this blog to help get the word out about our great group. [For those of you who are reading and aren’t members, we meet Wednesdays 7 p.m. on the second floor of O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg to “Talk about writerly things” as the meeting reminder e-mail always states.] Some of us even eat (I love their pretzel sticks) or partake in an adult beverage or two (It will take the edge off on reading night).

I’ve had a mix of posts … quotes, articles, video, posts based on meetings, posts based on articles I’ve read, etc. What I haven’t gotten yet is a lot of other voices. This is a blog that encourages guests posts.

  • What are your feelings about writing?
  • Have a question you want answered?
  • Want feedback on a short piece? [BTW, our group stresses positive critiques not harsh ones.]
  • Want to let our members know about a writing or book event?

Also, if you have a website, you can list it on our Members Website page.

Most of the members in the group are indie authors or unpublished writers. We know how hard it is to get published and get noticed. That’s why we try to help each other. We celebrate in each other successes as we fellowship at the weekly meetings. You not only learn something new, but we have a lot of fun doing it.

For non-member readers, if you’re interested in coming to one of our meetings, O’Rorke’s is at 44 Steinwehr Ave. in Gettysburg. We don’t take attendance or expect you to be at every meeting (although we’d love to see you).

You can be notified of upcoming meetings and topics by signing up for the group on Just type in “Gettysburg Writers Brigade” to join the group.

Hope to see you soon!


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Pilot, fireman, cop, daredevil…I’m all of those, I’m a writer!

14581322_10211183424601694_9157358947983750693_nNot all research is going through old books in a dark library and sneezing every time you turn the page because you’re stirring up dust. No, research can be fun and it makes the job even more fun.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was talking to a business owner about an article I was writing and he asked if I was interested in writing about a new product line he was going to be carrying…dune buggies. I said, yes, it would make a nice business story for one of the newspapers I freelance for. He told me that I could come out next month and test drive one for a couple hours…yes…pictures to come.

That incident made me think of some other interesting research experiences I’ve had over the years.

  • Researching an article on Western Maryland ghost towns: I’ve explored old mining ghost towns and had to claw my way up to the top of a slag heap, hoping I wouldn’t fall off hundreds of feet into the river below.
  • Researching an article on a WWII aircraft show: I’ve flown in a restored B-17 that had to make a forced landing because of ice on the wings.
  • Researching an article about advances in aviation: I’ve flown and landed an airplane to test out a new radar system.
  • Researching an article about a county fair:  I drove in a demolition derby and watched the car next to me catch on fire while I was stuck in my own car.
  • Researching an article on a big police drug bust: I following police into the home an alleged drug dealer as they forced their way in and made an arrest.
  • Researching an article about firefighter training: I participating with a group of trainees putting out a fire as a 1200-degree fireball rolled across the top of our water line only a foot or so above our heads.

Boy, writing can be a lot of fun!

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