Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Spring Snow

When I was quite young, I had a vivid, colorful dream. (Yes, many of us do dream in color.)  I stepped into the backyard, which was exactly as our yard was at the time, and it was covered in snow. Growing up in Central Illinois, that doesn't seem like a rare thing to dream. However, this snow was warm. And it was colorful, all different colors. It was deep, as well, enough to create nice warm caves or snowmen. But warm. I was absolutely in heaven. I always loved playing in the snow, except that I hated to be cold. I still hate to be cold, and I'm cold very easily. It felt like a magnificent gift.

That dream, more than any other, stayed with me through the years. It meant something. I couldn't tell what it might mean, but it meant something, down deep within my soul.

Fast forward through years of finishing school, marriage, moving, kids, more moving... and then eleven years ago, we chose a place to "retire" (retiring to us meant to stop moving every few years and creating an actual home base). We randomly chose western Pennsylvania. I say randomly because we had no family or friends here. We'd driven through a few times in our travels, but there was not real connection that could be quantified. I was set, though, on this area. It called out to me.

Yes, some of my ancestors did come from PA. A great aunt lived in another part of the state and I remember that visit with all of the gorgeous trees and the green everywhere you looked. There are those memories. But something deeper called me here.

I'll say now that spring is my favorite season. Despite the fact I'm allergic to everything that comes to life in spring, I still love seeing it come to life. I love the spring color: forsythias, daffodils, tulips, azaleas, red buds, dogwoods... every color under the sun everywhere you look. All mixed together. And, of course, the magnolias.

We moved here in the fall as my youngest was starting high school, after my oldest had just graduated. So, many of the plantings in the large yard of the house we bought were dormant. That next spring, to my delight, the small tree I could see from my office window turned out to be a magnolia, just like the one outside my grandma's front window that I always loved, for its artistry and its magnificent big blooms that appeared before the leaves filled in and joined the painting.

It felt like a message from Grandma, an I'm still with you sign. By the time we moved here, we'd already lost her to dementia. That was a hard blow. I was Grandma's Girl, always had been. I didn't see her often in those last years since I was always out and away, but she wrote letters, with little drawings for my daughter -- she was always drawing cute little animals and such, and did some painting, as well -- and I sent photos of my babies and where we were, telling her about our temporary homes. (Never underestimate the power of a hand-written and mailed letter!)

Almost exactly a month after we settled here, Grandma moved on up over the rainbow (one of her favorite songs). The kids and I drove back to IL to say our goodbyes. To me, there was a certain peacefulness about it, because I felt she was finally free from the body that had shut her down and pulled her spirit down. She was too vibrant to be held back.

She was born in May, 101 years ago.

Every year when the magnolia blooms, I say hello to her again. I feel like she led me here, to this place, this house, with its magnolia and lilacs.

And then there's the spring snow. Never, anywhere else I've lived, have I seen dandelion snow. Every May, our yard is absolutely filled with dandelion/thistle seeds that looks exactly like big, warm snowflakes. It even gathers along the edge of the driveway like small snowdrifts. My daughter, who has just moved back here after her own wandering years, says they're not getting much of it in town. So, a few miles down the road, and I would miss it.

There's a reason I'm here. Not only here as a general being alive thing, but here in the place we "randomly" chose. I don't need to know why. I feel it.

Now to get my brand new magnolia planted, a yellow one for my favorite color, close enough to the other that I can welcome their blooms together every spring.





Monday, May 13, 2019

Can Your Child Fail Kindergarten Screening?

Sadly, the answer to that is a resounding, "Yes!" At least according to the national board of whoever determines ridiculous school policies, they can. How do I know? My very smart barely 5-year-old granddaughter failed her screening two months ago. They are quite concerned about her lack of progress and want her to go to summer school.

Already.

She hasn't STARTED school yet, and already she needs summer school.

Does she really?

First of all, they're comparing her progress to that of a lot of kids who are nearly six and will be six within a month or so of starting school. She had been 5 for all of a few days when they tested her. That's a huge amount of difference at that age.

Second, the results are wrong. She can do more than she showed them. I know. I work with her, when she wants to. I don't push. I don't want learning to be a hated chore. I want it to be exciting so she WANTS to learn. I want her to realize how much she can do with what she learns. I've been reading to her since before she could sit up by herself. She loves books. She's starting to ask what things say. She's now starting to ask how to spell words. Of her own free will. Because she wants it.

That is something no tests measure. They don't check interest level. They don't take the whole child into consideration. It's only about statistics and the school's grade.

This is the actual form they gave us to show her progress, or lack of:


Now, honestly, should we be expecting this of little ones who haven't even started school? Some of it, maybe. Actually, I was surprised she did some of these as well as she did, since we haven't "worked" on it. She has been learning the value of learning since she was tiny, however. We keep electronics very limited, books in plentiful supply, and a plethora of toys on hand she uses very adeptly at very imaginative play (where is the check for that?). We also have been doing art together since she was two years old to fuel her creativity -- not only crafts, but actual art.

Where are the boxes for creativity?

Where did they mark the way she mixes colors to find out what they make, or that she asks what two colors make when mixed?

Where did they mark the fact she is already learning some piano and guitar? (Learning music is a huge step toward good literacy and overall school success.)

Where did they mark the way she was looking out for the baby in the room, protecting her from bigger kids, such as herself, to be sure she didn't pick up what might hurt her or get knocked into and hurt? It wasn't even a baby she knew, only a sibling of another child getting screened.

Where did they mark how polite and friendly she was the whole time, including how excited she was to meet a teacher?

Where is the 'grade' for doing the tasks she was asked to do rather than refusing?

What about the way every other child there was treated as a friend?

How about the way she makes up stories on her own and colors pictures to go with them?

And then there's the way she stepped up to comfort/help another child who was feeling rather shy about the whole thing. Where is her credit for that?

How about her memory? She has a ridiculously good memory. They don't know that, either. She picks stuff up just by seeing and hearing it and we're constantly surprised by what she knows.

Yes, I realize this was a cursory screening, but since they're using it to predict overall school success, it's severely lacking, and therefore, it honestly means nothing at all.

No, this little girl doesn't need summer school. No, she is not behind. No, she won't need "massive intervention" based on getting 22/100 on what they tested. Her "skill to print" her letters will be absolutely fine, since she's an artist and spends plenty of time drawing things much more complicated than letters. She will be the one at the forefront helping any other child she sees needing help, mainly with social issues. She's the one I could have used when I was young, that one who will take them by the hand and say "it's okay" when school is hard, no matter how much they know already or how smart they are because it's a big social scene.

It's how well a child deals with social/interpersonal issues that is the real factor in how well they succeed in school. Why is there no screening for that?

Granted, I do have concerns with her going to school. She is an extremely high energy child who MUST move around a lot, and her lack of focus on anything she doesn't want to do will be an issue. I'm quite sure the "see a doctor" conversation [suggesting meds to make it easier on the teachers] will come up (and get promptly dismissed). I know there will be issues. I'm ready for it. However, all the summer schools in the world will not take that out of her. She is who she is, and she's an incredible, sweet, loving child with a wonderful heart and tons of potential and I'm prepared to fight anything that threatens to take that away.

A caveat: I do not, in any way, blame any teacher for what they are required to do for the curriculum in order to try to stay "on standards." I understand they are governed by the school board and the board is governed by state and state somewhat by feds. This is not anti-school or anti-teacher. This is simply saying that we maybe need to evaluate the evaluations and protest what is expected of our children by those making the laws. We don't have to just give in. We have the power of voice and vote. Our children need education. Absolutely. But they also need to be children. They need to play. They need free time. They need understanding and flexibility.

And selfishly, I'm just not willing to give up half the summer and all of that precious time with my precious grandbabies sooner than absolutely necessary. That together time matters. We're doing the library preschool hour once a week, together. We're playing T-ball. We're running errands together. We're doing art together. And now and then, we work on letters and numbers together. And, the cousins are absolutely loving all of their together play time. It's precious time that will too soon be taken away by "the curriculum." Why start earlier than necessary? They'll learn well and willingly if they're taught to love to learn. They won't if they are only doing it on demand.

By all means, parents/grandparents should be encouraged to read to and with their children, to talk with and not at their children, to include them in daily events and talk about what's going on and what they're doing. Do activities together. Let them play and create and be sure they have writing tools available. Grab quick teaching moments whenever possible. Absolutely. Give them your time and attention. That's what will give them the best start without overwhelming them.

Yes, summer programs are wonderful for some children. But know your child and react to his/her best interest, not to those who do not know your child. 💓

Caveat #2: There are bigger successes than school curriculum success. I prefer to focus on the bigger picture and the whole child.



Monday, May 06, 2019

Lessons from Ladybug: Friendship


Image result for winnie the pooh friendship quotes

Since I haven't talked about our Ladybug here recently (or anything else, either!), a brief re-introduction. Our 5-year-old granddaughter has lived with us since she was born. I don't use the kids' names publicly, so I use the nicknames I give them. Ladybug is three months younger than her cousin and best buddy, Punkindoodle 🎃, who has a 2-year-old sister, Honeybee 🐝. They just moved back here from out west so the cousins are spending some nice quality time together. 😁 She also recently became big sister to (soon-to-be) step-brother AttiRex 👦, and our newest little Butterfly. 🦋

We just finished her second year of dance. More on how that went in another post.

Throughout the first half of the class year, one of the girls who is taller and built sturdier was constantly in Ladybug's face, telling her where she was supposed to be and otherwise bossing her around, now and then with a shove added. I suggested she stay away from that little one. When she wouldn't do that, I suggested she should tell the girl to stop shoving and keep her hands to herself, hoping the teacher would hear it and step in. (And while she was at it, to keep her own hands to herself since she loves to hug her classmates and they don't always care for that.)

That didn't work, either. So, since the teacher always flies in and out before and after class with no chance to talk to her personally, I sent her a message saying the constant shoving has to stop. She hadn't noticed, so she said. In a class of about 12 when it was happening most every week? (We are now switching studios, as an aside.)

Anyway, after the next class ended, Ladybug pulled the other little one, the one who had been bullying her for weeks, out of class by the hand and, with the biggest smile, said "She likes me now! She's my friend!" Since then, they get along great.

And then there is this... from dress rehearsal. Yes, this is our friendly little Ladybug pulling her new friend from the back row out to the front of the stage to dance with her.


We could all learn something from this, myself included. Instead of doing as I suggested and staying away or fussing at her, she took the opportunity, when the other little one was told to stop shoving, to shrug off earlier bullying and extend the hand of friendship. Maybe she knew that little one could use someone to take her hand and say, "Be my friend." Maybe she saw a side that was yelling out for acceptance. Like her father, she's always the first to jump in when she sees someone who might possibly need help, and offer it.

She didn't do much of her dance during rehearsal or the two following shows over the weekend, but it doesn't matter. This is what matters. This moment. You can't top this, even with a perfect dance routine.


💗

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Words Mean Things


 Yesterday, an author acquaintance posted about her "clean romance" novel and another author took a good deal of umbrage with the term, although it's been used for a lot of years to describe romance with no cursing or sex scenes.

Her claim, restating an article she read, said that calling a romance "clean" inferred other romances were "dirty."

Honestly, I think that's a huge stretch, but if it's true, so what? Why the negative connotation of "dirty"?



Not an endorsement.
I haven't read it, but Simon &
Schuster apparently think
dirty is a good thing.
As I replied, getting dirty is a good thing. (It worked well for Baby, after all). We should all get dirty more often, or at least a lot of us should get dirty more often. Being dirty is physically and mentally healthy. Honestly, it is. You can find articles all over the place stating the same, with more research than I'm going to look up for this little blog post.

Spring is a great time to get dirty and I'm looking forward to the resurgence of activity that comes along with warmer weather and sunnier skies. I'm even starting early to work up to it. Getting dirty just makes you feel better.

Granted, getting clean after getting dirty is also a good idea. Still, you have to do the dirty work first to get the best results of getting clean again.

Dirty is so popular, there are a plethora of restaurants with dirty in their names, which is maybe a little iffy on some level. You'll see it on a lot of book covers, song titles, even various products and services. It's everywhere. And it sells.


Some of my favorite people are the dirtiest people. Their productivity shows all over their hands and often their clothes, faces, even their shoes and hair. They're movers and shakers and have to shower before getting into someone else's vehicle so they don't leave traces of their personal dirt behind, but they're getting stuff done.

Right? Of course right. (Which musical is that from? I'm drawing a blank..."


 ----------------
"the earth has healing power! ...A recent study by Northeastern University revealed an antibiotic strain in a sample of soil that shows potential in the fight against "superbugs" (infections that are resistant to current antibiotic treatments) and even tuberculosis. Scientists are certain that we've only identified a fraction of the natural healing properties of the earth."
---------------


Wait. What kind of dirty did you think I meant?

Words mean things. Of course right. But words mean different things in different contexts and to different people. So, clean fiction is something readers understand. So is dirty books. But why is one of those automatically a positive thing while the other is a negative thing?

Whichever way you take it, dirty can be healthy. Clean can be healthy. As long as readers understand well enough to find what they're looking for and can avoid what they don't want, it's all good. Call it clean, sweet, wholesome, family, even Christian, or call it dirty, spicy, sensual, gritty. We get it. Calling some books "Christian fiction" doesn't at all infer that there is no Christianity in other books, and it doesn't infer the religion or lack thereof of the author. It's a genre. Readers understand it.

Let's not get our hopefully clean undies in a bunch. Really, I think a lot of us could use far less "clean" tech time and far more "dirty" outdoor play time.


Me? I have veggies and herbs started in peat pots getting ready for my favorite dirty time. It is good to get some dirt on your hands.

And it's good to sweat. Ask Mike Rowe.
S.W.E.A.T pledge


Happy Spring!

As you can tell, I'm a bit worked up about it finally being spring, at least in my part of the world. But, I'm in good company. Do you realize how many poems have been written about spring? No, I'm not researching that, either. I'll just leave this here from one of my favorite poets:




Friday, February 15, 2019

The Sweet Sale after Valentine's Day


As a romance/love story author, you'd think I'd jump all over Valentine's Day marketing. It never seems to work that way. I'm a push-it-to-the-last-minute type who tends to think the best thing about V Day is the chocolate markdowns the following day. I'm a bit of a chocolate fan.

If you feel the same and you're looking for a sweet bargain today, jump over and buy this sweet romantic story about two soldiers and those they leave behind. The eBook version is even on sale: $2.15 (with on-site coupon) until the end of February, only from Smashwords.

If you'd like it in print, personally signed, I have a limited number available and ready to mail (US only due to postal rates). $8 includes media mail postage, through the end of February. Email loraine at lkhunsaker and add the .com at the end. By sure to add the name you want inscribed!



PROTECT THE HEART

Abraham and Cameron leave their Snake River Valley homes to join the war effort while Maura, Cameron's near-betrothed, is left at home holding the pieces together. Over time and letters, she ponders her relationship with Cameron and is drawn to Abraham's artistic and poetic nature. A twist as unpredictable as the Snake itself brings Maura an unexpected ally and swift change of course.


Reviews

"Protect the Heart is a sweet, old fashioned love story... Even though the ending is fairly expected, the journey is such a pleasant one, full of enough drama and surprise to make this a story well worth reading."  from Smashwords

"Protect the Heart offers a sweet, endearing look at life, love, and heartbreak during war time. Set between Idaho and a war zone, four young adults exchange a series of letters which are raw, full of longing, hope, and gives glimpses into their complex lives. ...a story about hardship, endurance, and the power of love."  from Smashwords

"The characters feel very real, and sympathetic, with an old-fashioned style that I found completely refreshing. I found myself gasping at certain points in the story, and always concerned about how things would turn out for the heroine, working on the homefront, helping returning soldiers and their families whom they'd left behind. 'Protect the Heart' is a lovely tribute to our armed forces, and their loved ones who wait for their return." from BN.com 






 

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Watch Out For The Helpers


Every time there is a tragedy, I see at least one person post Mr. Rogers' advice to look for the helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Fred Rogers

Yes, this was a wonderful thing to teach a child because no matter how many people there are who intend to cause harm, there are more of us willing to jump in and lend a hand to perfect strangers simply because they are human beings in need of help. We are a helpful nation. If you're laughing now, I'm sorry for you because your vision has been blurred by the hateful. We are a helpful nation, a helpful people, who truly care about others, our own and not our own. We gladly send aid to individuals we don't know, including to countries where we've never been, and we believe it's right to do this, to the extent it's still helpful rather than creating dependency, which is no good for anyone.

Our innate survival genes automatically realize we're all in this together, that we need each other.

Children need to understand that the world is a balance; there is good and bad and in between, there is joy and pain, courage and fear. It's all there, as it must be.

It often feels very one-sided. Sometimes it is one-sided in certain situations. Sometimes that side is for the good, sometimes not. The important thing is to understand there are two sides and the pendulum swings for everyone.

There is another side of this entry title, however. Don't only look for the helpers, watch out for them.

Helpers are often everyday people who simply jump in here and there as they feel the need, but more often helper becomes a permanent label for those who are always watching for others in need, those who always jump in to help, regardless of how tired or stressed they are themselves, who are always the go-to person either in their home or in their community. Usually, that's because 1) they're willing, and 2) they're strong enough to put others first even when they could seriously use the help they're giving.

I'm sure we all know people like this. Some of you reading this are people like this. Hugs to you, if you are. It's a beautiful thing, but it's exhausting, so be careful.

It's easy for others to think: well, they should say no if they aren't up to it. The problem is: no, they can't just say no. Either they were taught it's their role in life to put everyone else above them (sadly), or something inside refuses to let anyone down. Often that's because they've been let down too often or too hard and they can't stand the thought of others going through the same. They are sweet, sensitive, caring souls who have often been hurt and instead of turning it around to hurt others (as many will), they turn it to helping others and will hurt themselves doing so.

Watch for these people.

~ Watch for that always-together person who often volunteers to bake cookies for a fundraiser, or to work at a fundraiser, with a smile. Behind that smile could be a bedraggled grimace they don't let you see, covering the fact they're both glad to be able to help, again, and wondering when even one person is going to step in and help them at some point. Maybe there's a lawn that needs to be cut that they can't get to, and their neighbors complain while not understanding how many things need to be done and it just keeps piling up while not one person steps in to lend a return hand.

~ Watch for the Mom taking care of everything for her family even when she's overwhelmed and behind, who always puts everyone else's needs first, who bends over backward to make sure the family is thriving. That mom, even with a smile on her face, could easily be at a breaking point no one else can see. She's strong. She's smart. She can do it. Go ask Mom. Mom knows this or that. Mom can figure it out. Be careful. Mom is a person. Even a very strong person's shoulders get tired and begin to collapse with enough weight. Still, she helps.

~ Watch for the Dad who puts in his 40 hours and sometimes more at a physically exhausting job and when the neighbor's phone rings needing help, he drags up onto his tired feet to go help with a smile and a no problem anytime he's called. He may be dealing with a child he can't control, an illness in the family, a boss who gives him grief all day until he feels cut to the core. Still, he helps.

~ Watch for those always in the community taking on volunteer coaching, scouting, and other roles for the good of the community. They may have been guilted into it. They may be wondering when someone else is going to take their turn. They may be dealing with rudeness from parents who don't like how they're doing what they're doing. They may be dealing with all of that after a day of dealing with a gruff boss or issues at home or not feeling well and showing up anyway. How often in your community is it always the same few people who stand up to help? What are you doing to help them in return?

~Watch out for those always trying to make others laugh, always trying to make sure others are okay. That is often a sign of hurting and not wanting others to feel the same. Their own pain is covered up and shoved aside, in lieu of watching out for anyone in need. Keep an eye on these people. Ask them if they need anything. Often, it's the most depressed among us who look the happiest and the strongest.

~Watch out for that friend who is always there for you, always putting aside what s/he is doing if you call for a crying shoulder, always playing the role of the strong one because s/he is strong and wants to help, always. Friendship needs to be a two-way street, not clingy, not overly needy, but mutually supportive. Too much on one side will lead to ruin.

Watch out to be sure you're not one of those relying on someone else more than is good for them. Don't be one of those people. No matter how strong someone is, no matter how often they smile and say everything's fine, they could be at the breaking point no one bothers to see. They could be collapsing in exhaustion, physically or mentally, at night when no one is paying attention. Watch out for them. Turn the tables and give them a hand. Helping others can help you feel better. Realize they may be thinking NO and may never say it; they need you to pay attention.

Pushing helpers past the healthy point is not only bad for them; it's bad for you. Lean when you need to lean and then stand up again and offer a hand.

Watch out for those around you, especially those who seem to need no help. No one doesn't need help at times. No one.

Wishing you all a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful and watchful new year ahead. 💝


Monday, September 03, 2018

Working Men in Fiction

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/1266706130643755/
Dio, the Farmer

I'm a bit of an oddball when it comes to my romance novels under my pen name Ella M. Kaye. Okay, hermit writer and oddball might go together naturally. Still...

The current romance trend is to feature men in suits, not necessarily black suits, but suits and ties, the gorgeous business exec with money and power who still tends to woo women to the point they can't resist even if they try. Or, they're modern men who care about their trendy casual appearance, on which they spend a good bit of time making sure is just right, while acting like they don't care how they look.

Of course those heroes work well in romance. It's a good fairy tale story. :)

Me? I like working men with dirt on their hands and faded, stained, even torn clothes they might even wear to town because ... well, why not? They're in the middle of working and looks are just a thing, a second-hand thought, if that. At least when it comes to their own looks. That does not mean they don't notice a woman's looks. Of course they do.
Eli, the Construction Worker

Labor Day is a day to celebrate these working-with-their-hands people. It's about the roughnecks, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind everyday workers who keep us running, moving, driving, growing, with generally no recognition. These are the people I feature. Yes, plenty of women work roughneck jobs, as well, and trust me, they make an appearance, as well, such as Caroline from Pier Lights who takes a gritty job after her more lofty job ends. I also have cameo business execs as heroes and minor characters. Yes. It takes all of us together to be strong and fruitful.

Fillan, the Fisherman
The men featured here are from the Dancers & Lighthouses series: Pier Lights (Dio, the farmer/swordsman), Shadowed Lights (Eli, the high-rise construction worker), and Pieces of Light (Fillan, the fisherman/dance instructor).

The Artists & Cottages series so far features a road construction crew boss (Shadows of Greens & Memories), a big-time exec turned naturalist (Shadows of Blues & Echoes), and a welder (Shadows of Rust & Reels).

Overall, EMK heroes are hard physical workers who are also smart, sometimes charming, sometimes annoying, savvy but at times a bit insecure, and always very real while coping with their daily struggles.


Please feel free to honor your everyday working hero in the comments or by sharing the post.



You can find the first chapters of my books at EllaMKaye.com. The Dancers & Lighthouses series has been revamped and are now in print as well as eBook, available at ANY book retailer nationwide, as well as internationally via participating retailers.

The Artists & Cottages series is in the middle of a makeover and will soon be available in print and new edition eBooks.

More books to come in both series, plus the new Songwriters & Cities series that will be out soon.

~~ ~~ ~~

Would you like a promo postcard mailed to your library or local indie bookseller? They are available through Ingram and Overdrive. Send me a note at staff (at) elucidatepublishing.net with the address and I'll send one along with your name as a request. (You can also request them directly at your local library.)



Friday, July 27, 2018

Authors Dropping Out Like Flies

I run a small local book festival. Its original purpose was to help promote all of our local literary talent because there are a lot of us. It grew into that, plus promoting overall literacy and supporting community in all of four years. This month was year four for the West PA Book Festival.

Any idea how much planning time, detail, funds, and stress it takes to bring in 20-some authors, do all of the promo for it to include newspaper press releases and radio ads, plus road signs (by hand to save costs)? A lot. Months. We even had a food truck, hoagies from the Legion Auxiliary, and music was planned (cancelled on us last minute). Set up and tear down, since it's outdoor and we use tents and a pavilion where we have to move tables out and back in, takes nearly two hours before and after the 6 hour event.

Our first year, turnout was wonderful. This year... Let's just say it was disappointing, with as well advertised as we were. People knew about it. They simply didn't bother to even walk around and see who was there and what kinds of books they might be interested in.

Over the next couple of days, my biggest thought was wondering what wasn't done well enough. And then I found another author's post on Facebook saying she was possibly throwing in the writing towel. Why? Because the money has disappeared. I commented about the low festival turnout, and this author who has done many of these events around the country said book signing turnouts everywhere have dropped to nothing. Along with that, online sales have dropped to almost nothing. She's hardly the first author I've seen say the same.

So, it's not a planning issue. It's a supply and demand issue.

The problem: Amazon is absolutely flooded with free and $0.99 cent novels. Not excerpts. Not short stories. Full novels, given away by the thousands from many, many authors in the name of promotion and with hopes that readers will love the "first of series" and go back and buy the rest at regular price (generally between $2.99 and $4.99 of which the author gets either 30% or 70%, and if they choose 70%, they have no option to keep it from being loaned out for no further compensation). Sometimes that does happen. Yes. A few years ago, some authors were making decent money this way.

By now that has crashed. Why? 

Readers have hundreds of free books downloaded, many of which they'll never even bother to read, or they pay for that monthly service to download as many as they wish without paying for any individual book. There's also the issue of returns. Yes, readers are allowed to read and return, taking ALL compensation away from the author. 

Why buy a book when every day more are being posted free? Why go out and buy a paperback, even a signed paperback, when you can sit at home and download more books than you'll ever have time to read at no cost, or almost no cost?

Who can blame readers? I certainly don't. We authors have done this to ourselves.

For years, I've urged authors to please not give their work away free or next to free. We're undervaluing ourselves, teaching readers that our work is just for fun and we don't need to be paid for it.

So now authors are quitting. Writing a novel is not play. It's work. It's a whole heck of a lot of work for those of us spending months or years on a story that's a part of us. It costs a lot of time, energy, emotional stress, advertising costs, production costs (not all authors pay production costs, but some of us do), not to mention the things we have to put aside to be able to find the time to do this. It's not spare time. It's valuable personal and business time. Just like with any career, it matters.

Yes, big author names will still sell paperbacks and hardbacks, and even e-books at $10-15 while indies are nearly giving them away at $3-5 (or worse). Big pubs don't give books away, more than a handful of prints for select reviewers. They know better than to kill their own market.

It's time we indies take a hint. Supply and demand. Stop flooding the market with undervalued books. We must start respecting our work if we want readers to respect our work and our time. At this point, it's going to take some doing to undo what's been done, but at this point, it's either change tactics, quit, or write as a hobby and not expect to make anything.

Readers, I fully understand appreciating free books. I do. I peruse bargain bins for lit fic by authors I haven't read. When I find what I like, though, I buy other books as they come out, at regular price, because I want them to keep writing. I don't want them to quit. A good book is worth far more than a fast food meal (equivalent cost of a paperback) or expensive cup of coffee (equivalent cost of an e-book). Or even request their books from your library. Most of us are available in print, e-book, and through the library. It's still free to you if you go through the library, but it helps us.

If you value books and good stories, please, consider bypassing some of the freebies and support authors you enjoy. Go to book signings and festivals. Even if you don't buy, pick up their promo and check them out online. But let them know they matter. Before they stop bothering.

There will be a 5th Annual West PA Book Festival because I don't give up easily. I believe in books, print books in particular (there is a difference in your brain between reading electronically and reading in print), and in supporting authors. I believe in trying to teach kids that books matter, literacy matters. They do far better in every school subject when they read regularly than when they don't. Obviously, reading matters.

Variety matters, also. Indies lead the way in providing a wide variety of genres and genre mixes, so by now, you can find anything you're looking for, not only the "in" books big pubs put out. (For example: My LK books are a mix of lit fic, romance, and family drama. It's lit fic but lighter, romance but deeper, and family issues are always involved. My EMK books are romance due to the relationship emphasis, structure, and HEA, but also somewhat mainstream psychological, focusing on mental health issues, with none of the romance "catch words" you often find.)

Myself, I'm not about to quit because the money's not there. That's not why I started writing and I've never depended on it to pay bills (luckily!). I do find it sad to see so many authors throwing up their hands even when they have a lot of followers. There's something just wrong about that.

It's time to seriously rethink the book business and acknowledge books and authors as the value they are to society. Unless plumbers and carpenters and lawyers are going to start working for free, we shouldn't be doing that, either.


LK Hunsaker (mainstream/relationship/family/art): LKHunsaker.com
Ella M. Kaye (contemporary romance/psychology/family): EllaMKaye.com
West PA Book Festival: WestPABookFestival.com
Write The Light In: ElucidatePublishing.net


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Read, Kid, Read!


Time to fess up: Who else was a Hardy Boys fanatic back in the 70s?

Okay, we're showing our age, but that's fine, since we apparently grew up knowing the value of a good book and losing ourselves in a good story.

I just picked these books up the other day from someone local who posted them on a sales page to add to my small collection that does include a handful of first editions (like the gray one in the upper corner). Not that I need more stuff in my house, but books don't count as "stuff" and ... Hardy Boys, the editions that I spent so many trips walking to the library (yes, walking) as a kid to read every one they had. They had quite a few, but this collection I just nabbed has some I don't recognize. They're the 40s and 50s in line. I'm not sure if our little hometown library stopped buying them after they had so many or if these came out after I'd moved on to more literary reads.

I know, most girls opted for Nancy Drew instead. I never got into Nancy Drew. I've always been more drawn to male writers for some reason. There are exceptions, but most of my go-to authors are male. Maybe it's the different perspective that I don't have personally. Maybe it's the grittier feel they tend to have. Either way, the Hardy Boys were my book obsession way back when.
[Side note: I do realize the HB/ND books were written by many authors using one name, but it was the characters and stories I loved, not the author I was following.]

I still love a good mystery, as long as it's tame rather than graphic, fun rather than dark. Cozy mysteries are great for a quick escape in between my grittier literary reads, which I was not reading as a child.

Personally, I find it a bit alarming that most book series obsessions for young people these days are rather dark and intense. No, I am not saying they shouldn't read those things. I believe in avid reading in a wide range. But whatever kids focus on the most is what seeps most deeply into their minds and their souls. We used to have, along with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Judy Blume and Madeline D'Engle... and then came the Babysitter's Club and such.

Today's young people have far different reading material. I won't list names because it could be taken as slanderous and I do not mean it that way. All books have their place and kids need to select what they enjoy to make reading as enjoyable as possible. Still, when what's being promoted as "everyone must read this" is all dark and post-apocalyptic and violent and kids think they have to read it because everyone is (yes, that's the way we work), what is that doing to their psyches?

Where are the fun, upbeat YA books and series and why are they not being pushed by the "everyone must read this" people who are supporting books with big money in order to make more big money? It's money that sells books. It's huge advertising pushes that make people think they must read whatever is currently being pushed. Don't fool yourself into thinking we are choosing what gets published and read. The industry doesn't work that way. It follows the money. Yes, when a sensation has begun and people start clamoring for it, then more of that genre is published. Still, it starts somewhere, and that always leads back to big promotion.

It might be time to take a better look at current reading lists, especially the required reading in our schools. Have you seen your child read a classic lately, or something fun and upbeat? Or are they all deep social issues and societal injustice books? Yes, those matter, also, but so does fun and upbeat with kids just being kids and having fun routing out the bad guys and romping around with siblings and your family.

Of course, most important is that kids should be reading at least as much as they're on screens of some kind in order to help balance and strengthen the brain synapses. Too cold or wet to be outside? Take them to the library. Walk if it's close enough. I guarantee those memories will be far more pleasant when they get older than will any of their time-killing on some screen.

And... reading makes us more empathetic. It does. From what I see, we could use a whole lot more real empathy rather than more social justice warriors only following the crowd.

Jump out of the crowd. Read what others aren't reading. Think your own thoughts formed by wide exposure to many other thoughts instead of only what you're being told on some screen or within your own house. Skip the must-read lists and browse. I've found some of the most wonderful books on the clearance tables of local bookstores.

I may have to go back and read the rest of the Hardy Boys books, also.


[Did anyone get the title of this post and where it came from?]

Monday, January 22, 2018

For Authors - Formatting Your Print Books

[I wrote most of this post a few years ago, but since it's been a few years, I decided it's time for an update.]

As part of my quest to help indie authors, I'm often answering questions about formatting books. I also read a lot of books by local authors, who are mainly indies doing or paying for their own book setups. Too often, I can tell they did. That's not an insult. This self-publishing thing isn't easy and advice runs rampant, including advice that isn't always ... let's say: the acceptable way to do things. When I say acceptable, I mean what readers expect, and there are certain things they do expect. Yes, you can go rogue as an indie. I've done plenty of that myself. However, when it comes to formatting your book, you want to be sure it fits readers' expectations so they're focusing on your words, your story, and not the visual mishaps.

This post is aimed at print books, specifically for novels. Non-fic tends to follow a few different rules. Electronic books are completely different things and 
they must be formatted differently. 

A note: I am not an industry publishing professional. I have, however, been doing everything, to include formatting, for my own books for a lot of years. I learned by studying big-pub prints and doing plenty of research, and sometimes by making mistakes with my own books. All rules can be debated, of course, but I’m a big believer in first knowing the rules before you decide which not to follow. 


Let’s start with the cover. 

1) Please, if you decide to design your own cover, do your research first. Look at books in libraries and bookstores or online (although many ebook covers differ than print covers, so be aware of that). First, do any of them state “by Author Name”? Only a few children’s books do that and it’s to differentiate between the author and the illustrator, since illustrations are as big a part of children’s picture books as the story. Even then, in most cases, the author is simply listed and the illustrator gets an “illustrated by” tag. If you don’t write picture books, do not put “by” in front of your name. 

2) Be careful about throwing a photo on the cover and adding some text. Text font matters. Different fonts tell the readers different things. What would you expect from the following titles?




Play with effects and collages if you'd like, but be sure it doesn’t look like you grabbed a few stock photos and just threw them all together. Too often, I look at a cover and see "Photoshopped" instead of whatever the writer was trying to portray. Some readers won't mind; others will. Sticking a person in front of a scene without making sure the perspective is right and blending it well enough it looks like an actual photo screams amateur. On the other side of the coin, putting the title, an image, and your name all in center-alignment over a plain-colored background screams amateur (or vanity published). If your cover screams amateur, it won’t matter much how professional your writing may be. Look at the big pub books in your genre and try to follow their technique (without copyright violations, of course).

Note: If you want to save yourself a lot of heartache, you're not going to want to put a border around your book. Books are not always printed the same. There's the trim to consider and you can't know how much trimming there will be, exactly, so your border is very likely going to be bigger on one side than another. Just let your image run into the bleed area, keeping important elements far enough inside, and don't drive yourself crazy wondering how it will print.


3) The spine and back are part of the overall look with a print book. Don’t spend all of your focus on the front and then throw the rest together with some text over a plain color background. Make it a full picture, not necessarily one picture wrapping all the way around, but an entire work of art combined carefully to package your precious book. 


Book Size

I was in a minor debate about this one recently. Currently, industry standard for fiction trade paperbacks run 5 x 8 or more technically 5.5 x 8.5 (that can depend on which printing/distributing company you use). You can go with 6 x 9 and I know some authors do this to try to keep page count lower (pages = $), but reader preference tends to be 5 x 8. You can go with a mini size, and I've experimented with short runs on that, to try to simulate commercial pocket books. They're cute and with smaller novels, that can work. Be aware, they will cost more to produce. From what I've seen at signings where I've had my 5 x 8 books displayed next to my mini size books (under my pen name), the smaller ones get less attention. Now, it could be different cover art, but I tend to think they are seen as of less value. Readers do look at norms. They do tend to want what they already expect, so your safe bet is 5 x 8.

Whichever you choose, make your books all the same size (under the same name, that is). Making the longer ones 6 x 9 to cut page numbers down and the shorter ones 5 x 8 to look longer only throws the reader. If some books are longer than others, readers should be able to see that. I've had a lot of browsing buyers flip through my books to see if they've been padded and received figurative thumbs up for their non-padded professional look. Just as readers who buy books in series want every book in the series to look related and relatively the same, those who see you have several books will prefer they all look congruous (should I say: professional).


The inside 


1) Again, look at professionally printed novels. They all include a cover page, a copyright page, sometimes a second cover page with publisher info. Pay attention to whether these things are on the left or right side (odd or even pages) and do it the same. 

2) Most novels do not have or need a table of contents. For ebooks, yes. Not for prints. Take that out unless you have a very long, complex story divided into sections other than only chapters. If you feel it is necessary, look at how it’s done in professionally formatted books. A long row of 

1. chapter 1 
2. chapter 2 
3. chapter 3…

looks unprofessional, especially when it’s left-aligned like the text. 


I am adding a TOC to the revised versions of my Rehearsal books because it is a series/serial of 6 books that run an average of 300K words and spans more than 10 years, with several subplots. I have each one divided into sections with separate headings, and so I'm providing a TOC to help readers navigate, in case they want to refer back to something in previous books. It looks like this:


Note the center alignment (not good for covers, but good for front matter other than the copyright page) and differing font sizes for clarity. In this case, the TOC is adding extra information, not only listing chapters.
3) Your front matter, everything before the first page of chapter one, should not have page numbers. Most novels don’t include the page number on page one of a chapter, either, but that’s at least acceptable. Your front matter doesn’t count as “pages” and should not pretend to count. Page 1 is page one of chapter 1. Sometimes they are given Roman numerals instead to differentiate, but that's unnecessary.

Different software handles this formatting issue differently. I use Word to write and format, which isn’t the easiest program to use for that, so I’ve heard, but I use section breaks to accomplish cutting out the page numbers in the front matter and not having page numbers on the first page of each chapter. It is a learning curve, but there are online tutorials to help you accomplish this. 

4) Use serif fonts, not non-serif fonts. Please use serif fonts for novels. Why? It’s easier on the reader’s eyes and better for flow. What’s the difference? A serif is the little line at the end of a stroke. This blog is typed in a serif font called Georgia. See the little extra marks on the bottom of the letters? That creates flow. This, on the other hand, is Arial, the most common non-serif font. It looks far more staccato (sharp and detached). Cambria is a common printed book text. So is Garamond, and it might be the most used among professional self-publishers. Georgia works, also. You can use Times New Roman, but I would stick with something prettier and less all-purpose for print books. It works well for e-books, though. If you use a non-serif font, use it purposely for effect, but be aware it might be a bit off-putting to your reader. Novels should flow.

Keep your font relatively small, also (unless you are creating a large print edition or a picture book) without making it too small. Print a page and compare it to a professionally formatted novel. Slight differences are fine. Big fonts look unprofessional, as though you're trying to pad the book length to make it look more substantial. Even that little difference in fonts makes a difference in overall reading experience, and print book readers are all about the experience!


5) Do not double space. Double spacing is for submissions and term papers, not for print novels. Use your word processor to add some extra space between your lines. Multiple at 1.1 is a nice professional look and easy on the readers' eyes.  


Also, do not leave extra wide margins, since that gives the same impression. There are plenty of resources online to help determine how big your margins should be. For my 5.5 x 8.5 books, I have the top margin at .6 to allow space for my header that includes the page number, and the rest are at .4 with a .25 gutter with mirror margins so the gutter stays on the correct side. 

6) Paragraphs should not be double spaced, either. Keep it the same as the rest of the text and indent. This is different than for eBooks where it’s common practice to double space between paragraphs. That’s fine, although there is some debate about that practice, as well, and it has flowed over somewhat into print books to leave space between paragraphs rather than indenting, but look at big pub books. How many are doing so? Again, readers expect flowing text, not a bunch of extra space.

7) Do not add two spaces after periods. Just don't. In the "old days" when we were using typewriters, it was necessary. With computer processors, it only adds extra white space and makes you look like you're not up-to-date on technology and formatting rules.


8) Left-align or justify? This can go either way. It’s becoming more acceptable to left-align books. If you do this, you’ll want to use hyphens so you don’t have huge gaps at the ends of lines, but you want to hyphenate sparsely. Your word processor should give you the choice. Most of my books are justified (which could make a good joke), but for my very long Rehearsal books, I decided to left-align instead because I wanted that extra flow. After printing the first one I did myself (book 3, since the 1st two were formatted and printed through a company I’m no longer using), I noticed too many gaps at the end because of no hyphenation. I don’t like every other sentence to hyphenate, so I took them out, but that was too extreme. I’ll be reformatting that book to include adding sparse hyphens. (You live and you learn!)

9) Header info: Your name goes on the top of even pages and your book title goes on the top of odd pages. Page numbers can go on the outside corner of the top or bottom or centered on the bottom. I put it all together on the top with page numbers on the outside corners and my name and book title centered. It takes less playing with the formatting (no bothering with a footer) and keeps all non story text in one place mostly out of the way. Make this text a different font from your story font, generally smaller is better, for better clarity/separation, and be sure your header is large enough this info is not too close to the regular text.)


10) At the end of your book, start with your acknowledgements and then a bibliography if needed (most novels do not need a bibliography). At the very end, add your About The Author info. Use third person, not first, and keep it brief. You can add your whole life story to your website if you wish, but this is not the place for that.  You might want to start each end section (acknowledgements, bibliography, about the author) on an odd page. This is very flexible rule, more like a suggestion, really. Under your Author info, include your website if you have a permanent website link. Do not add links to social media, specific book sites, etc., as these can change, and a few years down the road, your info will be outdated. [If you don't have a website, get one. Honestly. Make it YourName.com, since your author name is your biggest author brand, and gather all of your books under that site. Some authors do make separate sites for separate books/series, but I think that's a huge waste of time/money, unless of course you only plan to put out that one book, then by all means, create a MyBook.com website.]


In the End...

 

This is your book. If you have specific reasons for going against the standard practice, it's your right to do so. Be careful, though. You need to balance artist creativity with reader expectations and know that going too far out of the lines will push some readers away.

I may be forgetting a few things. Do you have any tips or annoyances to share related to formatting? If it’s something of which I’m guilty, I’d rather know than to blindly keep doing it wrong or annoying the reader. I may annoy them now and then with a character’s opinions or actions, but that’s just part of the job. ;-) 


 This blog post is ©LK Hunsaker. Share only by linking to this post. You can copy and share a very brief bit of info from the text if you include the link with it.