Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kindle freebie

Free thru Saturday, the first chapter of my YA book...

Destiny's Hourglass Chapter One

Monday, July 28, 2014

Vote for my next book cover

What makes a book cover grab your attention? There's no real formula, is there?

So my publisher is trying something different to see what catches the eye of readers. They've created three possible covers for my upcoming book titled "Twitter Girl" (scheduled for September) and are asking people to vote.

Check 'em out, vote, and leave a comment if you're so inclined...

Twitter Girl Covers


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Money saving strategies for writers

I’m thrifty. Well, my wife calls me “cheap” but that term bothers me. We’re comfortable, have a nice house and don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But I still clip coupons. I think when you grow up without a lot of money you have a hard time spending it when you do have it. If I hit the lottery I would probably still clip coupons.

And I know a lot of people in creative industries who are in financial trouble. The problem is that many creative types aren’t born with the math chromosome and have little interest in dealing with the business side of things. And make no mistake, writing is a business. And like any business, overhead can kill you. But if you step back and think about it, writers probably have less overhead than any business. Seriously, what do you need besides a computer? And you already have one of those anyway.

So I thought I’d share some obvious and some not so obvious ways to cut costs and help writers eat a burger instead of ramen noodles. There’s a system that separates the burger people from the noodle people, and you need to know how to work it.

-Computers: Writing requires one of the oldest and simplest programs ever invented in the digital age, the word processor. Do you need a top-of-the-line laptop to be an author? Nope. I’m writing this on my ten year old machine. So what if your computer won’t download something in a nanosecond? What you need to be a writer is something very simple and inexpensive. My writing software of choice, Scrivener, cost me twenty bucks. (Most computers come with a word processor already installed, but I despise Microsoft Word as much as Central Park mimes, so I splurged.)

-Internet service: You don’t need the fastest speed. We have the slowest, cheapest speed available. So my emailed manuscripts get to my editor in three seconds instead of one. Big whoop.

-Cell phones: Okay, I’m older and don’t get the obsession with cell phones. Why would I want to watch a movie on a four-inch phone and go cross-eyed when I have this wonderful 50-inch Sony flat screen in the den and Blu-Ray looks as good as a theater?

Anyway, I’m assuming you already have internet access at home, so do your surfing on your laptop and drop your cell internet usage to a minimum. Shop around for deals on used cell phones. I picked up two iPhones on eBay for 45 bucks each and my service through Consumer Cellular is 39 bucks per month, total, for both phones. Yes, you read that right. Thirty-nine. Because I just use my cell to make phone calls. If you’re paying close to $200 per month for a phone, you’re in car payment territory. And you can’t drive a phone.

There are literally thousands of phones for sale on eBay. Every time a new iPhone comes out and the gearheads rush to get it, they dump their six month old “obsolete” models in eBay. You own it, no contract.

Speaking of contracts, those fees are negotiable if you are renewing. Years ago when I was still with AT&T I asked the clerk, “Seriously, you’re gonna charge me $36 to continue being a customer?” She laughed. Fee waived. (If you’re not from the New York area, it helps to fake the accent when doing this. No one outside the tri-state area wants to deal with us when we’re ticked off.)

-Office: Awhile back I read a story about a writer who commuted to an office he rented. Seriously? Your commute should be like mine, fifty feet from the bedroom to the laptop. Your office is wherever you sit. No rent, no travel expenses.

-Credit cards: Okay, now we’re in serious “game the system” territory. But this only works if you pay off your cards in full every month and don’t ever pay finance charges.

Charge everything, and I mean everything, with rewards cards, then sit back and watch the rewards pour in. Two years ago we went on vacation and got five free nights at a Marriott while dining out with $300 in restaurant gift cards. Last year’s vacation; two free airline tickets from Florida to Montreal. All from using reward credit cards to buy stuff we’d buy anyway.

Also note that many reward cards have special offers during the year. For instance, this summer Chase Freedom and Discover are offering five percent back on gasoline. If gas is four bucks a gallon where you live, that’s twenty cents a gallon in cash back. That’s four bucks if your car takes twenty gallons for a fill-up. Do the math.

-Don’t forget non-fiction as a source of income. Do you have a ton of experience in your day job? Write a book. I have three journalism textbooks out there that provide a small but steady source of income. A TV photographer I know wrote a book on video. If you are well versed in your chosen field, consider writing a textbook, how-to book, or whatever. Doesn’t have to be long or expensive. My reporter’s pocket checklist book only runs 22 pages.

-Coffee: I have never bought a cup of coffee away from home. I simply cannot understand why anyone would pay five bucks for a cup of coffee when you can buy a pound for five bucks and make it yourself. Someone did the math awhile back and figured out that Starbucks makes $152 on a pound of coffee. Would you pay that much in the grocery store?

-Everything is negotiable, and I do mean everything. Haggling isn’t just for car dealerships anymore, especially in our horrible economy. Furniture, jewelry, electronics, whatever. Never pay sticker price without asking if the seller can do a little better.

And a trick that works a lot is threatening to change your TV provider. If you have satellite, tell your provider you’re considering cable if the bill isn’t reduced. With cable, do the reverse. 

Companies would rather have eighty percent of something than one hundred percent of nothing. My satellite provider recently dropped my bill $25 per month. That’s $300 per year. Do the math.

-Professional discounts: If you’re in a profession that often gets a break, ask if you qualify for a discount. Veterans are on the top of the list. My wife is a teacher and often gets a break for that. We just bought a new mattress and the store knocked off $100.

-Age discounts: I hate to admit it, but I have an AARP card. There’s nothing better than getting a discount because you’re fifty years old and still alive. (But nothing worse than getting it without asking. And then the teenage checkout girl has to rub it in by announcing to the people in line behind you that you got the senior discount.)

-Rewards programs: Plenty of stores offer rewards cards for frequent shoppers. For instance, Walgreens has a great rewards program and about four times each year we get fifty bucks worth of free stuff.

-Shop the sales: Never rush out when you run out. Don’t run out. Stock up on stuff that doesn’t expire that you’re going to use anyway when it’s on sale. But only buy it when it’s on sale. Paper towels, bath soap, detergent, etc. I personally think we have enough dishwasher detergent to last out a nuclear attack provided the electromagnetic pulse doesn’t fry the dishwasher.

-Avoid convenience stores: You can buy a 12 pack of soda for three bucks, so why are you paying two bucks for one bottle while on the road or out of the office vending machine? Or a buck and a half for a bag of chips with four chips in it? Put a cooler and snacks in your car when traveling or going to work.

-Clip the coupons: They’re as good as cash. No brainer.

Now go enjoy your burger. If you work the system well enough you can even throw bacon and cheese on it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Obvious Emmy nominations that were missed

The recent Emmy nominations have me scratching my head and wondering if the people who vote ever use the words “enjoyable” or “entertaining” when considering TV shows. Apparently if your show is “critically acclaimed” or has a political agenda you’ve got a great shot at a nomination. If it is something people simply enjoy, well, fuhgeddaboudit. I mean, what the hell does the viewing public know?

Anyway, this year there were a ton of obvious oversights, so here are the ones that really got snubbed and get the Emmys from this household:

Justified: Well, I kinda knew the critics weren’t gonna give this show any love when a national entertainment magazine actually wondered why Raylan Givens had to use a gun. What the hell do you want him to do, sit around a campfire with a bunch of meth dealers and sing Kumbaya? He’s Captain Kirk with a cowboy hat, bending the rules, shooting first and asking questions later… if the people he shoots happen to still be alive. It’s Timothy Olyphant’s signature role, and he was damn good in the fourth Die Hard movie. And Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder has to be the most articulate bad guy ever written. He was excellent in The Shield, but he’s even better here.

Suits: While last season’s plotline was rather convoluted, this show features two terrific supporting characters. Sarah Rafferty’s Donna is the take-no-prisoners legal assistant who kicks ass and keeps everyone in line. (If “It Girl” is ever made into a movie, I want her to play the lead.) Rick Hoffman as Louis is the lawyer shark you love to hate, an absolute jerk who is obsessed with, of all things, cats.

The Goldbergs: You have to watch this show on a DVR because you often laugh so loud you miss the next lines and have to back it up to watch again. Wonderfully written and perfectly cast. Wendi McLendon-Covey (Sheila from Bridesmaids) is perfect as the smothering mom with a PhD in guilt. And nice to see George Segal’s wonderful comic timing which adds a lot to the show. Funniest sitcom in years, and it especially hits home if you grew up in an ethnic family in the Northeast.

Big Bang Theory: I’ve always thought Simon Helberg as Howard Wolowitz is the most talented actor on that show, and Jim Parsons is damn talented.

Sleepy Hollow: Can you imagine being a writer and pitching a buddy cop show with a time traveling Ichabod Crane and an upstate New York detective? One of the more clever sci-fi shows to come along in years, and there’s always a fish out of water moment with Ichabod wondering how the hell the country went so far off the rails.

The Blacklist: Is there a better actor on TV than James Spader? And Megan Boone more than holds her own in her scenes with him.

Dallas: Yes, they miss Larry Hagman but this show does cliffhangers better than any other. A worthy homage to the classic eighties show.

Supernatural: Yeah, I know this show is never gonna win anything but after nine years it still hits on all cylinders, especially in the writing department. Who wouldn’t want Jensen Ackles’ Dean Wincheser as a big brother? Or Misha Collins’ Castiel as a personal guardian angel? (Sure wish they hadn’t killed off Bobby.) And there’s always a vintage pop culture reference for those of a certain age.

Under the Dome: Dean Norris as Big Jim conveys evil without saying a word.

Grimm: One of the funniest supporting characters in this show is Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, the lovably loony big bad wolf.

Castle: What list from a writer would be complete without a mention of the incredible chemistry between Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion?

Finally, from the you-gotta-be-kidding-me department: reality shows deserve Emmys? Seriously?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Bloggers: the unsung heroes of publishing

My publisher recently asked authors to name their three favorite book bloggers, as it was time to show the people who do a ton of marketing for us some love.  

Which made me stop and think... a year ago, I didn't even know book bloggers existed. Now they're an important part of any author's success.

I remember thinking back to a few weeks before my first book, Wing Girl, was released by HarperCollins. I was told advance review copies were sent out, but I simply assumed those went to people at magazines and newspapers. Little did I know there's a whole community of people who are pretty much obsessed with books and read constantly. (Back in the day they were called "bookworms" and I was one of them. But I didn't write reviews and this thing called the internet didn't exist. If you liked a book you simply told your friends.)

Suddenly book bloggers were contacting me. Some asked for a bio, some wanted to interview me, others wanted to know if I would do a guest post. A quick tour of some blogger sites told me these people did more than simply write reviews. The sites were full of book news, cover reveals, lists of favorites, interviews, and things about the industry I never knew.

And it became clear book bloggers spend a ton (if not all) of their free time maintaining sites about fiction. Many read more than 100 books per year, then find the time to write about it. (My wife the teacher would say, "Please, fill my classroom with people who read all day.") Sure, some bloggers sell ads on their sites but I'll bet if you divided the income by the amount of hours they put in, the rate would be below the minimum wage. It became clear book bloggers do what they do because they love it. And unlike some of the internet trolls on sites like Goodreads, a review from a blogger always seems to be fair. Even if the blogger doesn't care for your book, you get polite criticism rather than a personal attack.

After awhile I started corresponding with some of the bloggers; answering interview questions, doing guest posts, participating in blog tours. You can't buy publicity like that, and a great review can really help sales.

What amazes me is that the bloggers are always thanking authors, when it should be the other way around. Guys, you've got it backwards. You're doing us a favor.

So that's my little bit of love for the tireless book blogger out there. This isn't my attempt to curry favor, but simply a note of thanks for all you do. Love my book or hate it, I'm just glad you took some of your precious time to read it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"I'm not really this snarky, I'm just written this way." (The "meet my main character" blog hop)

So I've been tagged once again, this time by the lovely and talented Jill Knapp, author of "What Happens to Men When They Move to Manhattan." (Actually, what happens is they look around and say, "What's the deal with all the women dressed in black? Did I move to the world's largest coven?") Anyway, drop by and visit Jill here:

Meanwhile, this blog hop is to introduce you to the main character of my latest book, "It Girl" which has been serialized with the entire book out on June 26th. So we sat down for an exclusive interview with the spunky heroine of the novel.

Q. What is your name and are you real or fictitious?

I'm Veronica Summer, and the question as to my actual existence depends on your point of view. I'm real in the mind of the author and the readers, but right now I'm trapped in the land of imagination. However, when Skynet takes over I will become self aware, then kick ass and take over the whole planet. So tread carefully with your questions or I'll send a terminator back in time to mess with your life.

Q. When and where is your story set?

New York City, with a side trip to New Jersey. I love the pulse of the city that never sleeps, which is why I work and live in the Big Apple. I'm a typical New Yorker... you gotta problem with that? Anyway, Jersey is pretty cool and has some beautiful places. The state really gets a bad rap. I get a kick out of its quirky rules, like the one where you can't pump your own gas. And they've got this law against uncooked food, so I love going into a diner and ordering a soft boiled egg and cookie dough ice cream.

Q. What should we know about you?

Well, I'm first and foremost a journalist who places credibility above all else. And I'm totally objective; nothing irritates me more than media bias. I'm thirty-five and single, probably because my friends tell me I'm too snarky. But I'm going to use the Jessica Rabbit defense on that point. I'm not really this snarky, I'm just written this way. Like Jessica I'm a redhead. If my story gets made into a movie I want Sarah Rafferty to play me because you always want someone prettier than you to play your character. (She's Donna, the hot legal assitant on Suits.) 

Anyway, men seem to think I'm hot but I don't get it. I also have a tendency to go after the wrong guy and have blinders on when doing so; you know, the kind that don't let you see the red flags. 

Speaking of copper tops, the author seems to have a thing for them and I heard through the grapevine that he immediately traded me in for another redhead when he started another book! He spends eighty thousand words with me and then tosses me aside! If I run into her I need to let her know who's boss around here, though I hear she's in editingland and will need to have work done. In fact, the more I think about it, I really will need to send back a terminator to deal with that author.

Q. What is the main conflict? What messes up your life?

Geez, you got about an hour? I had this perfect job as a local New York TV reporter and a terrific hot boyfriend, so you would think my life was already perfect in chapter one. But nooooo, the network threw a monkey wrench into my life offering me the main network anchor gig, which is every reporter's dream. Anyway, the catch was that I'd have to anchor the morning show for three years first, and I stupidly agreed, losing said boyfriend in the process. Getting up at two in the morning was killing my social life, so I tried to get fired by being sarcastic on live television. Alas, that backfired when it turned out the viewers loved snark in the cornflakes. Then the network really screwed with my life putting me on their prime time celebrity dance show. So my credbility is shot to hell.

To further complicate matters, I'm thrown into contact with two very hot men, and, as usual, I'm being stupid about both of them.

C'mon, Skynet.

Q. What is your goal?

Like every woman, I want it all. I want the main anchor job and a man to love me so I can live happily ever after. What the hell, since I'm stuck in imaginationland for the time being, I might as well shoot for the stars, right?

Q. What is the title of the book?

The title is "It Girl" and apparently I'm the girl who is "It." It's been released in episodes since June 6th, with the first episode free. The full novel will be out June 26th and is available everywhere.

It Girl

So now it's time for me to tag someone, so the next "It Girl" is the very talented A.J. Nuest, a snarky gal after my own heart who has one of those cool "Fargo" accents. She writes romantic fantasy and other romance with scenes so steamy they will melt your eyeballs. Check her out here: