Is Writing a Memoir a Good Idea?

writinghandWriting memoirs has become a popular trend, and I’ve had plenty of inquiries from prospective authors wanting to publish their memoirs. And while I won’t turn an author away, I do suggest that you give a lot of thought before putting in the time to write your memoir.

Our life’s journey is certainly interesting to us, but it interesting enough to capture another person’s interest? There’s the rub, and it’s the question you have to answer, honestly, before you publish your memoir.

If you’re a celebrity it’s a no brainer. Our society is obsessed with celebrities and can’t get enough. However, most of us are not celebrities, so that takes care of that. Then again, you don’t have to be a rock star to be famous. Most of us will get our, “fifteen minutes” sometime, and, for some, it may be worthy of a memoir. For example, Daniel Hernandez, the young intern who saved Gabby Giffords’ life the morning she was shot, would certainly be a good candidate for writing a memoir.

Okay, so you’re not a celebrity, and you’re not tied to a major news event. Have you overcome an obstacle in your life that’s beyond the ordinary? For example, are you someone who survived a violent crime? Did you survive a horrible disease that would be fatal to most people?  Have you traveled to some faraway, exotic destination, such as Antarctica, that most people will never see?  Have you had some other extraordinary life experience? Most importantly, would your story be an inspiration to others? If your answer to any of these questions is, “yes,” then perhaps you should give some serious thought to writing a memoir. However, if you answered, “no,” then you may want to reconsider.

Most people read books because they want to be entertained, inspired, or because they want to learn something new. In other words, there has to be something in it for the reader. And unless you’ve had some out of the ordinary life event, then, I’m sorry to say, most readers just won’t be interested reading in your memoir. It has to be a story that inspires others, and perhaps changes people’s lives for the better.

My tip for the day.

GM

 

Business Cards–an Overlooked Book Marketing Tool

sample bcardThe lowly business card. It has to be one of the most overlooked, and underused, tool in an author’s promotional arsenal.

Back in college, where I studied graphic design, one of my instructors taught us to think of a business card as a billboard in miniature. It’s an advertisement for the product or service that you represent. Sadly, too many people don’t see it that way. It seems most of the business cards people hand to me are so poorly done that I immediately dump them in the recycling bin. It’s really not that hard to design a good, effective business card that promotes your book. (Or your product or service.) Here are a few tips to create a more effective business card.

Use Easy to Read Serif Fonts

If you want your message to be quickly and easily understood then it needs to be easily read. I suggest using serif fonts, like Times New Roman, Baskerville, Century Schoolbook or Garamond. They all work well, and I highly recommend using them for your most important information, such as your name, your phone number and your email address. If a fancy, decorative font makes this information too hard to read your card will end up in the trash.

If Using a Dark Background Use a Light Colored Text

Someone once handed a business card with a dark brown background and red text. Both colors had the same value, which meant there was no contrast whatsoever between the two colors. This made her phone number and email address impossible for me to read. Her card went straight to the recycling bin.

Keep the Font Size at Least 9 Points

I have been frustrated to no end trying to decipher phone numbers and email addresses printed with a 6 point, or smaller, font size. Even with reading glasses, the type is too small for me to see clearly. My graphic design instructors taught me that anything smaller than 9 points is very difficult to read. If I can’t read it, the card goes into the recycling bin.

Don’t Look Cheap

I understand money is an issue for many of us, but you want to avoid cutting costs on your business card. A cheap card is like a cheap suit, and it makes you look, well, cheap. No one wants to do business with someone who looks like they don’t have any money.

Nothing turns me off faster than to look at a business card, turn it over, and see vistaprint.com stamped on the back. That tells me they were too cheap, or too broke, to spend $50 to get some decent cards printed. At that point I’m done. The other problem with using on-line business card templates is that other people use them too. I have, on occasion, ended up with virtually identical business cards from different people who used the same template, making too easy to pull the wrong person’s card out of the Rolodex.

Another big no-no is printing out your cards at home on your printer. (Something I was once guilty of doing myself.) Again, it looks cheap. The paper stock is flimsy at best, and dot matrix printers do not have the clarity of a real press.

For you authors out there, I recommend a simple card, with your book cover, your name and contact info, including your website, or a website where your book can be purchased. You don’t need to use the artsy-fartsy Vista Print background template that everyone else is using. A plain white, ivory, or pastel background should work just fine. If your budget is small there are plenty of on-line printers, such as PrintingForLess.com, who can print 500 4-color cards for about $50, including shipping. Now how hard is that?

My tip for the day.

GM

 

So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part One

bookwglassesOne comment I often hear from first time authors is, “I don’t need an editor.  I can do my own editing.

Really?

Okay, before I go off on my tangent, I’ll admit I resemble that remark. When I wrote my very first book, Anna’s Kitchen, I too naively thought I didn’t need an editor. In fact, I was such a smart aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything, never mind the fact that I had never written a book before in my life. As far as I was concerned, the spell checker in my word processing software was all I needed. So how did I do?  Well, you may want to refer to my post titled, Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate. Sure, I can laugh about it now, but it’s a splendid example of why all authors, and especially new authors, simply must have an editor.

An editor is a fresh pair of eyes to go over your manuscript and give it the added polish it needs to turn it into a great book. They are not as much concerned about the content of your work as they are the structure. They look for things such as misspelled words, typos, comma spliced sentences, dangling participles, incorrect homonyms, redundancy, and all the other gaffes that you, as the writer, may have overlooked. The reason why you’re not seeing them is because you’re too involved with your own work to see it objectively. That’s normal, and it’s very human. It’s the same reason why doctors don’t treat themselves or members of their own families.

Some of you reading this may still be skeptical, or you may even think your writing skills are so superior that you simply don’t need an editor. If that’s the case then all I can tell you is that writing can be a very humbling experience. There is nothing quite like having your readers point out all your errors for you and post them on the Internet for the entire world to see. Once that happens your credibility as an author is pretty much shot, and you can kiss your writing career goodbye.

What do Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Dean Koontz all have in common? They all have an editor. And if these authors all have editors, then what makes you think you don’t need one?

My thought for the day.

GM

 

When to Use a Pen Name

Pen

Another question I’m sometimes asked is whether or not I write under my real name, or a pen name.  I actually write under both.

There are many reasons why authors sometimes choose to write under pen names.  These would include:

  • The author wishes to keep his or her privacy.
  • The author writes controversial or sensitive subject matter, such as erotica.
  • There is, by coincidence, another author who happens to have the same name, or a similar name.
  • The author as a name that is confusing, hard to pronounce, or has an unusual spelling.
  • The author writes in more than one genre, and wishes to build a separate brand for each.

The latter two were applicable to me.

When I wrote my first book, Anna’s Kitchen, I naively thought my legal name, Gayle Martin, was perhaps too common, so I included my maiden name, Homes, to make it unique. However, before I was married to Mr. Martin, I spent my life with both a first and a last name with unusual spellings. Gayle Homes. People were always getting my name wrong, thinking I was, “Gail Holmes,” and no, it didn’t exactly do wonders for my self-esteem, but I digress. Once Anna’s Kitchen was published, I soon realized that the troubles of the past were coming back to haunt me. The name, “Gayle Homes,” with or without the name, “Martin,” simply left too big of a margin for error for a keyword search, and had I not picked up the name, “Martin,” along my life’s journey, I would have used a pen name from the get-go. That said, we learn from our mistakes, so when I published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first book in my Luke and Jenny series, I dropped the name, “Homes,” since I wasn’t using it anymore, and published it under the name, “Gayle Martin.” It worked, and I successfully built my brand as a children’s book author. Then came the next problem.

As much as I love my Luke and Jenny books, I’ve wanted to write more adult material, and to branch out into the romance genre. And while I’m not writing erotica, readers in this genre do expect some steamy, if not somewhat graphic, love scenes. This would present a real problem if, by chance, a youngster, or a parent, who was a Luke and Jenny fan, came along and bought my latest book, thinking it too was written for younger readers. So I created a pen name, Marina Martindale, which is simply a play on my middle name and my last name, and I’ll have to create a whole new brand. It’s fun, yet challenging at the same time, since “Marina” cannot ride on the coattails of Luke and Jenny. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

Ultimately, it’s up to each author to decide whether or not to write under a pen name, and if you should opt to do so, I highly recommend coming up with one that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.

My tip for the day.

GM

or is it

MM

 

Tax Tips for Writers and Authors

Spring is in the air, and that means it’s tax season once again. I’m not a tax expert, so I’m not purporting to be giving any kind of legal advice, but the one thing I have learned, through trial and error, is to save those receipts. Come April 15, it’s far better to have your tax preparer tell you that you can throw a receipt away because you don’t need it, instead of having him or her tell you that you won’t be able to claim a deduction you would otherwise be entitled to because you don’t have your receipt.

Generally speaking, if it’s an expense incurred in writing, publishing or promoting your books, you can deduct it. Your tax preparer will ultimately determine what deductions you will be able to take, but they will probably want to see your documentation first. Therefore, you should keep your receipts for:

  • advertising expenses
  • book design services
  • book reviewers, (if you had to pay for a review)
  • editing services
  • photographers and illustrators
  • publishing services
  • research materials

Does your publisher charge you for your copies of your books? If so, hang on to the receipts.

Other expenses that may be deductible would include:

  • Book signing materials, including tables and chairs, tablecloths, display materials and signage
  • Cellphones, (if purchased for business use)
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Office supplies
  • Postage and shipping services, such as UPS

Do you work out of your home? If so, a portion of your rent or mortgage, and utility bills, may be deductible. Keep the receipts.

Some authors, including yours truly, write genre books that sometimes require special attire for book signings. For example, I write Old West historical fiction, and some of the Old West venues where I sign my books require me to wear period clothing. Again, whenever I buy any period outfit or accessory, I keep the receipts, because it may be tax deductible.

Many authors also have book related travel expenses. Whether it’s across town or across the country, you need to keep track of your travel expenses, as they too may be deductible. These expenses would include:

  • Air fare
  • Gasoline
  • Hotels and lodging
  • Meals
  • Rental cars
  • Taxi fare

Business mileage is anther potential tax deduction that many us of tend to forget about. You can document your mileage by either keeping a log book in your car, or via websites like Google Maps or Yahoo Maps. Simply enter your address and the address of your destination, and the exact mileage will display at the top of the page. Print out the page and put it in your tax files.

Remember too that authors and writers are not immune to tax audits. You should keep your final return, as well as all of your documentation, including receipts, on file for six years. Rest assured, if you’re ever audited, you will most certainly have to have your receipts. If you don’t the IRS will, more than likely, not only disallow the deduction, they may also hit you with a big penalty as well. It’s far better to have those receipts and not need them then the other way around.

My tip for the day.

GM

 

Is It One or Two Spaces After a Period?

Hands at KeyboardSome people get their undies all in knot over the silliest things, like how many spaces do you put between sentences.

Traditionally, it’s two spaces after a period, as I was taught in my college typing class. Back then, if you didn’t have two spaces between your sentences in your term papers, some professors would ding you on your grade because your paper wasn’t properly formatted. Even today, most secretaries will tell you two spaces between sentences is the standard, and many teachers still teach students to put two spaces after a period or a colon. It’s been done that way for so long it’s become the norm.

The practice of having two spaces between sentences originated with typewriters, and typewriters placed letters on paper differently than Microsoft Word. Each number and letter key on a typewriter keyboard was connected to a metal type bar, which had the two corresponding letters, one a capital letter, the other a lower case, centered on it. The capital letter was on the top, with the lower case being centered about a quarter inch or so beneath it. The type bars were all the same width, regardless of the width of the individual letters. This caused the kerning, or the spacing between individual letters, to be unequal, which is probably why the practice of putting two spaces between sentences got started.

I’m not going to argue with a secretary about proper etiquette in business letter writing. If that’s what she does for a living then she certainly has more expertise on the matter than I do. However, when it comes to writing manuscripts, the rules change. One space between sentences is all that is required, and two spaces after a period is considered a big no-no.

Typesetting software automatically handles the kerning, or adjusting the spacing between individual letters, so the practice of putting two spaces after periods creates rivers or gaps of white space that weave back and forth across the printed page. This can make the page look visually unappealing, and it’s even more of a nuisance when justifying, or having perfectly even margins on both sides of the page.

Unless you’re an author, the space between sentences probably isn’t anything to be all that concerned about. But if by chance you’re an author, and you’re sending a copy of your manuscript to an agent or publisher for consideration, make sure you have a single space after your periods and colons. Just like my old college professors, they will ding you for not having your work formatted properly, and why give them another reason to reject you.
GM

 

The Spirit of the Old West Alive Award

Spirit of the West AwardOne of the perks of being an author is that from time to time people give you awards. And contrary to what you might think, it’s really a humbling experience.

Two of my Luke and Jenny books have won awards. That’s always something because book awards, like any other artistic award, are so very subjective. One judging panel may simply love your book, and another panel may not. This is why I encourage you to keep entering book competitions. You never know when your work will hit the right chord with the right judge, and try not to get too discouraged when you don’t win.

A few months ago I received word that I had been selected for a very special honor — The Spirit of the Old West Alive Award. This was not a competition I had entered, rather I was being honored for my overall work in keeping the history and the culture of the American West alive and well. Talk about an “awe shucks” kind of moment. Then to discover that other recipients of this award included Bob Boze Bell, publisher of True West Magazine, Marshall Trimble, the Official Arizona State Historian, and actors Peter Brown, Hugh O’Brian, and Bruce Dern. Well, that really took my breath away.

I received my award this past August, and my co-recipient was a man by the name of Joe Bethancourt. Joe is a musician and entertainer here in Arizona, and he’s best known for his appearances on the old Wallace & Ladmo television show. Wallace and Ladmo had the longest running local TV show in Arizona history — 35 years.  So to be honored with Joe was a big deal.  And did I mention I’d met Joe once or twice before, and he’s a heck of a nice guy.

So the evening was fun, and humbling, at the same time.  Here I thought of myself as doing my thing, and I didn’t think anyone had really noticed.

So the lesson here today is to do the things that you are passionate about.  Whether it’s cooking, writing, art or music. If you stay at it long enough someone just may take notice.

My thought for the day.

GM