Book Sales Slow at Frog Jump

Shoes Full of Sand, the book, came out Friday. Marketing is intense, taking lots of time  and energy. When I picked up my books, I told my printer, “It looks like I can either be a publisher or a writer.” She laughed, but it’s true. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, consider how much of yourself you want to give to the process of preparing and marketing the book. I love most of it, but I’m still working on balancing my various jobs.

Don’t do what I did Saturday afternoon. Although it was fun in some ways, making a four-hour round trip to sit at a table with my books at the Jefferson Mint Festival and Frog Jump (so Oregon!) was not profitable. The rain did not help, but people were there to play with frogs, ride rides, eat humongous elephant ears and corn dogs, and flirt with the opposite sex. They showed little interest in books.

It wasn’t all a loss. It turns out my boothmate and I both  worked for the same newspaper chain in San Jose and knew some of the same people. This writer, Elizabeth Fournier, has published a delightful book called All Men Are Cremated Equal. Don’t let the title put you off. She’s a mortician, among other things, but the book is about going on 77 blind dates in one year, and it’s funny. I started reading it at the festival and had to bring a copy home.

My second event of the day, the Nye Beach Writers Series, yielded far more book sales. I recently rejoined the board of directors, and I read at the open mic after poet/songwriter Moe Bowstern entertained us. People liked what they heard and bought my books. The moral: If you want to sell books, go where people are interested in buying books.

You can find out more about mine at


Enough advertising.  Have you visited Erika Dreifus’ Practicing Writing blog? She has good advice advice there. Every Monday, she offers a list of opportunities for writers. Check it out.

Happy writing!

Self-publishing can be a challenge

Well, I held my new baby in my hands last week, and then I had to send it back because it was flawed. The baby, of course, is a book. Shoes Full of Sand was printed and bound and delivered, along with a substantial bill. We loaded up my Honda, and I drove home with a carload of pride and possibility.

Then I opened the boxes. It’s not a big thing. The glossy cover is wrinkled along the spine. But considering what I paid and considering that readers are expecting perfect, unwrinkled books, it is not acceptable. I already had orders, which I filled with the least wrinkly copies, then took the rest back to be re-bound. Now we’re waiting until next Friday. Phooey.

At that point, I no longer wanted to be a publisher. If someone else were publishing this book, I wouldn’t have to deal with wrinkly covers. This book has been eating my writing time for weeks, but I do enjoy most of the process. When the unwrinkled copies arrive, I’ll be delighted to sell them far and wide. I know I was born to make books. In elementary school, I put together little books made of cardboard and typing paper, lettered by hand and illustrated with crayons. This is just a grownup variation.

Working as Blue Hydrangea Productions, I previously published two booklets and another book, Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. I have almost sold out the second printing. It can work, but if you’re considering self-publishing, think about whether you’re ready to take on a whole new job.

Unless you have a strong desire to be a publisher, always try traditional publishing first. Send out those queries, synopses and proposals to agents and editors. You may strike gold.


Formatting Your Book Manuscript

I stayed up late last night reading the Smashwords Style Guide for formatting e-books. It’s not your grandma’s book formatting.

In the olden days (last week), book manuscripts were formatted like any other manuscript: double-spaced, indented first paragraphs, italics and other special fonts either marked for the typesetter or put in on the computer. Editing could be done online or on paper, no problem.

But now we have e-books, and they come in various formats, so we have various ways to format our manuscripts. In my role as publisher at Blue Hydrangea Productions, I recently formatted my Shoes Full of Sand manuscript for Kindle and for production as a paperback (out July 8!) The differences were maddening.

The paperback was pretty straightforward, except that it was single-spaced. I added a giant capital letter at the beginning of each section, and inserted headers and footers. I justified the whole thing with even margins on both the left and right sides. I produced it in Microsoft Word (2003 preferred by my production team) in the usual formatting.

Kindle,’s e-book reader, was a different story. All of the first-paragraph indentations had to be eliminated, along with the big capital letters, plus the footers and headers. This changed the spacing and page numbers. I went crazy redoing the table of contents, only to discover that on an e-book, page numbers are meaningless. They change according to what type of reader you’re using. It took several tries before I got it right.

Now I’m getting ready to reformat for Smashwords, a company that produces e-books in various  formats, such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony reader, and various smartphone apps. They want the most stripped-down manuscript possible. Tabs are taboo. Instead of indenting or typing spaces in for paragraphs, they want you to go into your MS word styles and set paragraph indentations and spacing between paragraphs so that they happen automatically when you type. Double-justified margins are out. Flush left is best, the guide advises.

What this means is that I will spend some hours redoing the manuscript in yet another format so that everyone can read it. Is it worth it? Do I want everyone to read my book?

In reading the Smashwords Guide, a free e-book I read on my Kindle, I learned a lot about book formatting and also about Microsoft Word. I’ve been using that program for years, but found out several things I didn’t know before. You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books. You can download the free program onto your computer.

It seems that we writers can’t just write anymore. We have to be computer experts as well–or we can find someone else to do it for us. If all this formatting talk stresses you out, just write. Worry about the rest later.

Is your idea “actionable?”

When I heard the word, everything just clicked into place in my mind. Nikki Price, editor of Oregon Coast Today, a local weekly newspaper and webzine, was speaking to our chaper of Willamette Writers. It was a Tuesday night, so she was in the middle of her deadline, and she roped us into working on headlines and cutlines for this week’s issue. But she also talked about her history of newspapering and what’s she’s looking for in stories for her paper.

They don’t take much freelance, Price says. One reason is money. They can’t afford to pay much. But the other–and this is the one that hit home–is that too many writers don’t understand their mission. Every story must be “actionable,” meaning it gives the reader information which enables them to take action, whether it’s to attend a show, visit an interesting site, check out a new business, take a class or whatever. News you can use, I often call it.

That doesn’t allow much room for creative writing, but that’s the reality of her newspaper and of many others. So, next time you get an article idea, think about whether it’s actionable. What can the reader do with it?


Continuing our series of sites where you can find writing work, have you been to Publisher C. Hope Clark offers two versions, plain old Funds, which is free, and Total Funds for Writers, which has more information and costs $15 a year. In addition to jobs, she lists freelance markets, publishers and agents, contests and grant opportunities. Give it a look at


My new book, Shoes Full of Sand, is available on Kindle right now and can be ordered at or directly from me at

While you’re buying books, have you gotten your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers? It’s  loaded with useful information for all kinds of writing.

Wi-Fi Beats the Good Old Days

I was talking with Jeffery, the cover designer for my new book yesterday, about how great it was that we could communicate online while I was in California last week. He kept sending me proofs. I would reply with my comments, and then I’d receive the next version until we got a cover we both loved. I did it all on my laptop, working  at desks or tables in various Best Western motels.

It was so easy to get online. In two keystrokes, I was hooked to the Best Western WI-fi system. The connection never faltered, and I was able to compare cover versions simultaneously on my screen in exactly the colors they’re going to be.

“Thank God for WI-fi,” I told Jeffery when we finally met in person.

“What would we do without it?” he responded.

I quickly flashed on what it used to be like to travel with the laptop. I would carry phone cords and spend a lot of time crawling on the floor looking for places to plug in the phone and the power cord. I often had to sit on the bed with the computer in my lap. I would spend up to an hour seeking AOL phone numbers in the area. I’d get a list, and out of that list maybe one would work. Often the 800 number, for which I was charged by the minute, was the only one that connected– after long periods of static and multiple redials. The connection could end at any second. Wi-fi slowly crept in, but it has only become universal in recent times. Now you can log on almost anywhere, even the Pig and Pancake restaurant here in Newport, Oregon.

Of course, people worked away from home before the Internet and before cell phones. When you were gone, you were out of touch unless you could get to a hard-wired telephone to make a long-distance call. It’s much easier to work on the road now. However, there  is a down side.  Without WI-fi, I might actually have left my work behind for a while. But is a writer ever off duty? I came back armed with several article ideas. I can’t help myself.


I haven’t forgotten our listings of online sites where we can find writing work. While I was gone, I checked and, which someone had recommended. I honestly didn’t find them helpful for writers. Feel free to look for yourself.


The new book is Shoes Full of Sand, available now on Kindle, coming out in paperback July 5.

Thinking about self-publishing?

Ready to publish a book? In the old days, you had two choices, the acceptable route of securing an agent and a publisher via queries, proposals and synopses, hoping your manuscript would stand out among the thousands and earn you a contract, OR the not so acceptable route of paying a “vanity publisher” to produce copies of your book. Today, major publishers will not take on a book unless they’re confident it will earn them millions of dollars. Most books don’t fit into that category, even if they are wonderful books. Therefore, authors are taking their futures into their own hands. Thanks to modern technology, we can publish our own books affordably in print and/or digitally, and they can earn the respect they deserve.

Of my six books, four have been published traditionally. Publishers have paid me advances and royalties and handled all the distribution. One, a novel called Azorean Dreams, was produced by as a print on demand book. I paid them a minimal fee to create a book for which copies are printed only when someone orders them. Frankly, I haven’t made any money on that book, but I’m glad it’s out there. I knew there was a market among my Portuguese-American fans, and they bought it.

When the original publishers of Stories Grandma Never Told decided after nine years and three printings that it didn’t “pencil out” anymore, I published a new edition myself with a local printer. Four years later, it’s still selling. I mailed out 14 copies this week.  I’m about to go for a third printing.

I have just published my latest book, Shoes full of Sand, as a Kindle book through’s self-publishing program. The cost? Only my time. It’s already selling, and royalties will be coming each month. Meanwhile, I plan to produce a paperback with my local printer and also to get it into other e-formats via Is this the best route for this book? We’ll see. At least people have a chance to read it. It won’t make me rich, but I will make some money.

There’s not just one way to publish a book anymore. Getting a traditional publisher to handle your book is still the best way to go. You will earn more money, have better distribution, and be reviewed in important publications. But if you’re not having any success at that, want to have more control over your work, or know that an audience is waiting to read your book, you can do it yourself.  However, and this is very important, authors who want to publish their own books have two huge responsibilities:

First, they must produce the best book they possibly can. Vanity publishing and every other kind of self-publishing have gotten bad raps in the past (and some folks in the industry still won’t consider a self-published book as a real book) because some of the books people put out are terrible. Even the most experienced authors need professional editing. It’s not optional. We cannot see our own mistakes. I edit manuscripts for other people, but I still need someone else to look at my books. The average reader doesn’t really care how a book gets published, but she does care if it’s not well done. The quality is up to us.

Second, the author has to not only write and publish the book but sell it. That means marketing through every possible avenue, including websites, blogging, blog tours, speaking engagements, mailings, and whatever else it takes to let people know the book exists and convince them to buy it. If you have never done this before, it can be overwhelming. And if you can’t identify a market for your book, you’re not ready to publish it.

I still have a lot of work to do for this new book and for the ones published earlier. Meanwhile, here’s the commercial. You can buy Shoes Full of Sand for the Kindle at for a mere $2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download the free Kindle program on your PC or Mac. For information on the print version, visit

You can also go to the site to find out how to produce your own Kindle book.

I welcome your comments and questions. Let’s talk about this. I’ll be providing some resources for self-publishers in future blogs.