7 Ways to Help the Homeless You Haven’t Thought About

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Black and white photo of a pair of shins leading into dirty white tennis shoes, laying down on a concrete street.
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” -Princess Diana

We all want to help. By nature, humankind are social creatures who experience empathy for others. It’s present when we watch the news, when someone in our office or school is sick or injured, and also when we walk by that disheveled person on the corner with the beat up cardboard sign that reads Anything helps.

There are a myriad of ways to help our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Some of them readily spring to mind: volunteerism and donations are probably the first two we think about. And they are important so we will touch on them briefly but they won’t really count toward our five. But, while they are important, there are other ways to get involved.

Volunteer. Let’s face it, time is precious in today’s insanely hectic world. Volunteering at the local shelter or kitchen isn’t always feasible. I do highly recommend trying to volunteer a few hours a year every year, however, to simply meet the people you want to help, have a minute to talk with them, learn their names. And I urge people to not just volunteer on holidays like Easter and Christmas. While those are great times to volunteer, many many many people dedicate their holidays to providing holidays for others. Most shelters and kitchens need help year round to keep things running smoothly, so volunteer during non-holiday times too.

Donation. We all dread Spring Cleaning, but love how we feel after. Donating the items you are no longer using is a great way to help those folks living without permanent roofs. Don’t just consider food and clothing, however, consider hygiene products, blankets, and housewares. Many shelters have re-homing projects (the act of transitioning a person into a permanent housing situation). Those new apartments need microwaves, knife sets, couches and chairs, even televisions to make them feel like a basic home. Consider donating some of those items instead of just food and clothing.

One other thing to consider donating is a pre-paid card to a grocery store. Many newly re-homed folks need to stock their pantries and refrigerators too. You’d be surprised how far $25 can go toward canned goods or fresh produce in some areas. For most of us, a measly twenty-five bucks won’t hurt us each month but can really help those trying to get settled back into the roof life.

Now onto the stuff you maybe hadn’t thought about before.

Educate. Let’s face it there are all sorts of negative stereotypes around being homeless. That makes it hard for people to sympathize with those who do need help. Education can be simple or big. Maybe all you do is correct a friend or coworker, or a random stranger on the bus, when they express a homeless stereotype. Maybe you make a phone call to a local city or county or state politician about the problems homeless people face. If you have children, start there with education. Take them with you if you do volunteer. Let them see first hand the hardships many people experiencing homelessness face.

Inform. The best effort is mass communication with small time efforts (because the better spent time would be volunteering at a shelter with actual homeless people).

Did you know that many people don’t really think about how many people are in homeless shelters or living on the streets in their communities? Unless they’ve had a specific run in with a person living without a roof, they just don’t think about it. Contact your local news source, maybe your faith-based or non-faith-based organization, editors of civic newsletters. See if any would be interested in running a weekly or even monthly listing of local services available to the homeless. Even if a person isn’t homeless, we’ve all know someone just down on their luck who needs the help of an extra food box now and again, or just can’t afford new school clothes for their kids this year. You never know who you’ll be helping out by just making information available.

Advocate. Write letters to the editor of your local news source to promote awareness and understanding. Heck, why you’re at it, just write to national publications too. Share information about the number of homeless people in your area (or country, if you’re writing to the national publication). Explain the different reasons why people become homeless. Wrap it up with suggesting ways that people in your area or even nationally can help people experiencing homelessness.

Support. Shelters, low-cost or free clinics, mental health services, low-cost housing initiatives, and even public libraries are all resources and services the homeless rely on for basic needs and care. You can show your support for these programs an initiatives in your city by voting for officials who back the programs and also writing and speaking to other politicians who have not backed the programs in the past.

Oppose. While many cities and towns don’t make being homeless a crime, they do enact laws that prohibit things associated with being homeless, such as: sleeping in public, urinating in public, loitering on public platforms, even possessing a blanket outdoors can be illegal. Many cities and towns have also outlawed private citizens from making homemade foods and giving it away to others in public spaces like parks and parking lots. Stand up against crimes that propose to protect people but unfairly hurt those in the most need.

Create. If you’re in a position where you can give a homeless person a job or a day’s worth of work, do it! Maybe you can just offer to train somebody with a job skill like filing or let them mow your lawn or paint the fence. The thing is that small acts like this can make a huge difference to a person experiencing homelessness. Just don’t take advantage of them. Pay a homeless person who works for you a reasonable and fair amount of money, just like you would anyone else.

Lastly, Smile. Many people avert their eyes and hustle by when they see a homeless person on the street, whether panhandling or not. If you don’t have money or food or just don’t want to give it, that’s fine. At least smile and say hello to the person. If you have the time, maybe talk with them for a minute or two. Seriously, you’d be surprised how much a little human contact and kindness is appreciated by people experiencing homelessness.

The fact is, there are literally dozens of ways to get involved with helping those in need outside of the traditional donation and volunteering. What it takes is for people to stop solely talking about the issue and to start helping. Since the person we can radically change/affect the most is ourselves, we’re a pretty good place to start with one of these seven ways.

Do you know of or have seen homeless people in your community? Do you volunteer or donate on a regular basis? What about other tips for people who want to get involved that I haven’t mentioned here? Chime in! Remember that there is never such a thing as too much information or too much kindness.

 

Image of a redheaded woman in a black leather jacket. She has her hands held up in the American Sign Language sign for 'I love you.'BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

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7 Ways to Get More Exposure on Social Media Daily

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Picture of two teenage girls smiling and making funny faces while sitting on a couch.
“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.” – Seth Godin

 

“I don’t know how to get people to see my [fill in the product] on social media.”

Nope. Sorry. I cut off anyone who starts a lament to social media with this phrase. Especially authors. There are dozens of ways daily to gain exposure on social media. Not just from fellow writers (although don’t discount them entirely, they read too) but from honest-Abe readers. Take Twitter.

To tweet or not to tweet

The question really is: To Twitter Chat or Not to Twitter Chat. And it is absolutely to Twitter Chat.

A quick exercise. Open another tab in your browser (don’t do this in this one or else you will lose all my beautiful pearls of wisdom and have to back click and that just sucks). Go to Google. Type in “book chats Twitter.” I don’t know about you but about six Twitter accounts revolving around ‘book chats’ or ‘book marketing’ or ‘book readers’ came up. To top it off, a link dedicated to List of Regularly Occurring Bookish Twitter Chats by Book.Blog.Bake. came up. Hint: those would be good places to start.

Seriously. Click in and follow those accounts. Scroll through their feed. See if they host or participate in a Twitter chat that seems to be somewhat stable, regularly occurring, and something you’re into.

On average, I know of and participate in at least four Twitter chats a week. I’m not always the most regular at participation since, well, life. But I make it an effort to pop in sometimes and be seen, build relationships, learn stuff.

The bottom line is there are Twitter chats being held every day of the week, multiple times a day. Hence the title of this article. There are seven ways to get more exposure on social media daily because there are seven days in a week. And that’s just Twitter. Facebook has groups for readers; even Google+ does.

If knowing there are seven days in a week isn’t enough for you, here is my list of seven ways to get more exposure on social media daily:

  1. Know your demographic. Do some research. Know who you want, and “readers” is too generic. Do better.
  2. Decide where to spend your effort. You can’t be every at once unless you decide to quit working, never write again, and just be online in your jimjams. And then nobody wants to talk to you anyway.
  3. Commit to it. Engaging on social media takes commitment. If you have issues with that, you might want to rethink a profession that requires engagement and consistency and social ability.
  4. Engage. And I’m not just talking Picard here. You have to actually want to talk to people, not just hock your product. Be real. Be authenticate. Don’t be a douche.
  5. Karma Reach-Arounds. Give props to the chat organizer, and not just during the chat. Don’t get all stalker-y or anything, but make sure to thank them for organizing/moderating the event. Chats take time and patience and dedication. Thank them for that, and while you’re at it give ’em a little reach around no and again when you aren’t getting somethin-somethin out of it.
  6. Know when to take a break. It’s the ‘you’ show. If you don’t know anything about a topic and really don’t have an interest in the topic, don’t participate in the chat that week. Doesn’t mean you can promote it a little and say “Hey, this is some good stuff over here.” But know when to take some time off.
  7. Don’t be a hog. Are there literally dozens of chats on Twitter alone seven days a week? Duh. I already said this. Point of reiteration is to mention that while you can participate in every single one of them all the time, you shouldn’t necessarily. This goes back to #6. It isn’t the ‘you’ show. Give your audience a break sometimes. Remember putting yourself out there on social media to engage readers and hopefully get them to like you well enough to care to read your book/blog/song lyrics/whatever. You won’t endear nobodies if you are the annoying song on the radio that plays on every channel non-stop (we’re looking at you Titanic Celine).

“Why, BC, what Twitter chats do you like?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. I like these following people:

  • #K8chat – Publishing-related chat for readers and authors. Every Thursday from 9-10pm Eastern. Host: @K8Tilton
  • #StoryDam – Come talk about writing stories! Held every Thursday from 8-9pm Eastern. Host: @StoryDam
  • #litchat – LitChat is for book lovers. All books. All the time. Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-5pm Eastern. Host: @LitChat
  • #indiechat – Indiechat is a Twitter chat designed for indie and self-published authors. Every Tuesday from 4-5pm Eastern. Host: @BiblioCrunch
  • #NextLitChat – If you are a new adult author, reader, or curious as to what new adult is, this is the chat for you! Held every Thursday from 9-10pm Eastern. Host: @NextLitChat

Image of a redheaded woman in a black leather jacket. She has her hands held up in the American Sign Language sign for 'I love you.'BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

 

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How To Find the Right Critique Group

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notebooks and laptops around a table with hands and drinks scattered around
“The best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want.” -Deepak Chopra

Finding the right critique or writing group to click with is a helluva lot like dating. Partners are seemingly everywhere with all the potential for match perfection. Think about it. Much like finding just the right person to share your heart and personal space with, you have to find the right writing group that you can trust to open your heart to and have good enough hearts themselves to be gentle with yours. They’re people who need not only be decent writers who can help guide you and teach you, they need to be people you want to spend time with and who you genuinely enjoy their company.

The beauty of today’s modern world is that options for finding the right group abound, no matter what your schedule is like or where you live. Large or small, in person or online, the possibilities are abundant. But also kind of elusive because you’re looking for a group that gives you the right feels.

What to look for.

Lots of factors can make people click or not with a critique group or partner. We’re going to talk about the two I consider to be the most important.

1. Reason and level

It helps if the group you seek out has the same, or similar, goals- like writing for publication or socialization-so they know what to expect from each other. One of the key reasons for seeking out a writing group (other than improvement) is to act as an impetus for your writing. If you’re just a casual, write-when-the-mood-takes-you writer then you (and your group) might get frustrated, even discouraged if everyone else is on the path to publication.

Similar goals aren’t the only important factor to consider. Ask: What level of writing experience do the members of this group have? If you have years of experience writing and you’re surrounded by newbies constantly, you might be a little frustrated. Unless, of course, you’re looking to be everyone else’s mentor. Look for a good mix of writers at all different stages: a few newer writers, maybe they’ve never been published, those who have been with it for a few years and might have some publications under their belt, and writers who are old pros or technical experts (like former literature or English teachers or professional editors).

 

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your writing experience?
  • Do you have material to share right now? Or are you looking for a group that will help motivate you through the finish, or help motivate you to get started?
  • Do you have a consistent writing practice or schedule?
  • Where do you want to go as a writer? Why are you interested in the group?
  • What else do you do to meet your writing goals? Do you read blogs (well, clearly you’re here but others) or books on craft? Do you take classes or attend workshops?

Assessing where you are today is important. But knowing what you want and where you want to go, also how you will get there, is more important to finding a good match in the long run.

2. It’s all about the pace, about the pace, no trouble.

Pacing is tricky. I mean, it seems to easy: how often do group members meet up or submit material for review? What’s tricky about it is balancing another time demand as a writer. Not only a time demand  but energy too. The pace of the group should move quick enough that you make progress in your writing and goals. Then again too fast a pace can overwhelm you, too slow can be boring or like others aren’t on your same level. Either one can lead to you, or others, quitting.

When evaluating yourself, don’t get cocky about how much you can realistically produce. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of new people and new input. But it’s not only worrying about how much you can produce, you have to consider how much time it will take you to read others’ work and to give appropriate feedback. To be safe, remember to cut your own estimate of self in half and double your estimate of feedback needs.

Here are a few good questions to consider about production:

  • Consider accurately how much writing you produced this month. Then think about how much you produced the month before that.
  • Settle on spending a minimum of 30 minutes reading on commenting on others’ submissions – possibly more for longer pieces. Don’t forget that you need to consider all of the group members.
  • In-person groups are a little different, pace depends on how often members meet. While you might not have a say in how often the group meets, you do have a say in your schedule and how often you engage with the group.

There should be a balance when working with a writing group. Some people produce more regularly than others, and some people go through brief spurts of creativity. Let’s not forget that life, in it’s infinite screw-with-us, intervenes too. The balance comes in making sure members feel like they are both critiquing and writing equally.

 

So, where are all these groups?

Chances are there are several different writing associations in your area. Many host meet-and-greets, educational workshops, or you can volunteer. Let your chapter know you are looking for a writing group and they will probably know of a few and be able to give you some contacts.

Most associations have online boards where you can look for groups that have listed with the associations.

There is nothing quite like a writing conference or retreat. The energy of the community, no many word nerds in one place, is invigorating. Talk with people, mingle, and chances are you will run across others who are in or wanting to form a writing group.

You can find a thorough list of writing conferences from Shaw Guides. Facebook groups are also good places to find groups. If all else eludes you, Google it.

Meetup is a good option, depending on your genre and area, for finding groups. These groups typically meet in person and are organized by one or more individuals in your area. As a matter of fact I found my local group through Meetup. Just remember to read through the group’s history and expectations. Some groups are social, some are quiet and organized production in a social setting, some have a level of writing production that you might not be able to meet.

Thern there are online critique sites. Don’t worry, most are private so that you are willy nilly haring your work. Online groups most often run on a credits or points system, where credits are used to submit work and earned for giving critiques. A lot of times the credit-based systems also work hand in hand with a queue system where you will have to wait for your work to be critiqued.

 

That’s the down and dirty about how to find a writing or critique group or partner. Tell me, do you use a writing group? Is it online or in person? How did you find the group that fits you?

 

Image of a redheaded woman in a black leather jacket. She has her hands held up in the American Sign Language sign for 'I love you.'BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of DarknessA Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short FrictionQuixotic: Not Everyday Love StoriesA Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

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Why You Should Update Your Blog Content

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Change is the only constant. – Heraclitus

Let’s face it, today content is money. Blogs are content engines for most writers. They’re integral parts of our branding and marketing. (And if they aren’t, you’re doing this wrong.) But so many field experts simply puke their content onto the digital page, promote the crap out of it, and then never look back – an act that is almost as bad as not producing content at all.

Here are 5 reasons why you should refresh old content on a semi regular basis.

  1. Google loves a shiny new thing.

That Google prefers regularly updated content is proven. There are dozens of studies to back up the validity of my statement. Here’s one. Everyone know that if Google’s affection with your blog decreases, it can be damned hard for you to win it over again.

Why does Google get giggly over new/updated content?

  • Updated content is longer. You know the old adage: size matters. Well, for Google, size does matter. Lengthier content regularly published indicts to Google little bots that you are a substantive and knowledgeable field expert.
  • Because, as we’ve pointed out, content is king, content is cash, and if Google likes anything it likes to be king of the cash.

Changing, adding or removing parts of your blog posts are ways to effectively implement your content marketing strategy.  Google notices your savvy ways and bumps your ranking. Pretty good deal to get immediate rewards for just giving your content a tune-up.

  1. New stuff, am I right?

A lifetime promotional deal is not really a deal when you get right down to it.You are a business. Your content is often a large part of that business. And when your business introduces new promotions like an ebook or a video course or a new blog post, you must link to it in the old content. It’s called working smarter, not harder to reach your readers.

Not being timely with your updates can equal losing moolah, and sometimes it isn’t chump change.

But it isn’t just new stuff you need to be concerned with. You also need to go back and eliminate old information, products, or posts. For instance, one of my books went out of print a couple of years ago. It didn’t make sense to have broken links to a book that no longer exists. So I needed to go back through my content and make sure to remove those links and clean up any promotions of the product from my site.

  1. Readers’ time is valuable.

Don’t waste your reader’s time by talking about something that no longer exists. You’ve been a reader; you’ve been to a site that all the information is old, links are broken, and nothing is updated, right? Bet you were frustrated. Bottom line: it’s never good to frustrate your audience (a.k.a. your buyers).

Making old content go poof is the easiest way to show your readers your care about them and their time. While it’s true people remember negative impressions more than positive ones, never giving them a negative impression certainly makes it easier for them to remember a good one, right?

  1. Constant evolution.

Content, information, is constantly changing. Forget a better user experience…who wants to be the person with the old information?

We all write dated material. There’s nothing wrong with that (although you should try to keep dated material at a minimum and balanced with evergreen material). Writing a brilliant article about “The Best SEO Techniques in 2016” is all well and good except, before you know it, it’s suddenly 2017 and that article is old news.

Change it up. update it by replacing 2016 with 2017 through little tweaks in content (like new links and research material) and the different images. One, using updated and different images should be a staple to marketing any product or content. You never know what will catch different peoples’ attention. Two, you may find a better image than the one you originally used. There is nothing wrong with going “Oh hey, yeah, that works so much better!”

And what happens if your whole brand underwent a change? If you had old screen shots or logos in your content, you will definitely need to update those.

  1. In with the new readers.

Q&A time: How often do you personally scroll back through a blog’s content just to find what that field expert may have posted 5 years ago when they started their blog? Okay, I don’t know about you but I rarely go back more than a few months to a year to see what I might have missed. Unless that business posts their old material (which you should be doing btw) regularly, it just isn’t prudent for me to waste my time. But think about this: what if half of all your new readers really really need to see some of that content? You know, it’s just perfect for them; just what they are looking for.

The whole point of generating content is to build your expertise with readers. If they don’t know you’re an expert simply because they don’t have time to dedicate to stalking you and your product, how are you supposed to be considered an expert?

 

Look, it’s important to update your old content regularly. Secondly, it’s really not that difficult to do. And, third, you’ve put this much work in making yourself more viable to your audience (you know, like reading up on how to be more viable to your audience in this blog post) so why aren’t you?

 

Image of a redheaded woman in a black leather jacket. She has her hands held up in the American Sign Language sign for 'I love you.'BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of DarknessA Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short FrictionQuixotic: Not Everyday Love StoriesA Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

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What Consistency in Social Media Marketing Really Means

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Black and white image of a woman holding her ears and smiling.
“Don’t build links, build relationships.” -Rand Fishkin

Consistency. It’s the $65,000 word when it comes to social media marketing. Readers/fans anticipate that once they start hearing from you, they will keep hearing from you. And it’s your job to continue to deliver.

At a recent book marketing lunch, several authors bemoaned the necessity for social media marketing. They had tried it; it didn’t work. They would rather invest their time in actually writing instead. Getting into the discussion further however proved why the authors had such dismal results.

Boring consistency

Yes, it’s necessary to be consistent when interacting with readers/fans on social media, but consistency doesn’t mean the same ol’ same ol’ all the time. When poked, the authors admitted they shared the same thing every day, never fail. A blog post shared every day, a promotional item after that, a picture about their lunch or a place they visited followed that…rinse and repeat and repeat and repeat.

I got bored just listening to their social media marketing. Consistency isn’t about the same schedule held daily. It isn’t about the exact same post shared regularly. It’s about interaction. A good social media marketing campaign has variety. There are sometimes weeks where I don’t share a single blog post or a note about my books. There are some weeks where all I share are Star Trek memes and pictures of my animals. Sometimes I share them on the same schedule I usually do, and other times I decrease frequency. What is important is that I don’t disappear; I still have a presence. On top of that, I make sure to interact with others, participate.

Consistency in social media marketing isn’t just about what an author puts out in the world, it’s more about how well they play with others. That includes dialogue and discussion, sharing.

Patience is a virtue

The next item discovered at the book marketing lunch was how quickly authors abandoned their social media marketing. One author shared that she consistently posted to social media for 3 whole months before she called it quits. Another mentioned how he tried it for about two months and saw zero results so he quit.

A common misperception with social media marketing is that it is either quick or easy. It is neither. A good social media marketing campaign requires a minimum of 6 months of careful planning and study, adjustments and interactions to be successful. Even 6 months would be expectant. The fact is, social media marketing can take a while to bear any fruit, and then it may not be what most authors expect.

Another man’s treasure

Social media marketing isn’t about sales. That’s right, you heard me – it isn’t about sales. It isn’t even about followers or clicks. Although followers and clicks are helpful – but not in the way you might think. Followers interact with you; clicks mean you’re offering those followers valuable information. Basically, it’s about the relationship you build with others. It’s making friends. Friends aren’t sales. They can equal sales, but that’s not the real reason for it. And if it is the reason you’re doing it, well then you aren’t being very genuine anyway.

After a little more discussion, the importance of social media marketing seemed to become apparent to, at least, a few members of the group who previously wanted nothing more to do with it. With a little added guidance, many have started reconsidering their social media campaigns. A few have even started small in re-engaging with people through SM. What’s most promising is seeing the inconsistent consistency they’re posting with and starting to see some results from…I mean, who wouldn’t thought?

 

A woman with red hair styled into a sleeked back pompadour. She sits, leaning her face on her left hand near the temple. She is wearing a silver, antique choker chain with an antique locked of Celtic design. She has on a black and white Houndstooth vest. There is bright sunlight streaming in through a glass door behind her. She smiles faintly, and has green eyes.BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

 

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How to Read One Whole Book Every Week

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Image: Black and white; an open book on a plain surface
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain

Having time to read isn’t something precious to be put on a pedestal and admired. Reading a book every single week is not as difficult as many people make it seem.

I’m not special. I don’t read hundreds of books each year. But I do manage to consume one to two books a week, not counting comic books and graphic novels (which can be several per week). Am I bragging a little? Yeah, okay I am. But the key to my bragging rights is that anyone can make the time to read. One of the most common utterances of busy adults everywhere is “I wish I read more.” But the secret is to take the act of reading itself off the pedestal. Reading isn’t something that needs special pomp and circumstance. If you think you can only pull out a book when you have an afternoon off and a snuggly blanket, and the rain pitter-pattering off the roof outside…chances are you will only ever read when you have the afternoon off, a snuggly blanket, and it’s raining.

Reading isn’t a luxury; it’s something you make a part of your daily life, a habit, a necessity. Like creating any new habit, or breaking an old bad habit, it’s making a conscious effort. And it isn’t hard to do. When creating a new habit, it just takes a little bit of hard work and willpower. Oh yeah, and a little bit of self trickery.


Don’t read before bed, read before work

It’s common practice for most people to keep their reading on their nightstand. If you read at night, you probably only get through a few pages before you relax and get sleepy. Remember, you’ve already logged a full day’s worth of work and activity, and your brain has already been set to ‘sleep mode,’ not learning mode. Instead, make reading a morning habit. If you’re like me, you’re not an early riser. Instead of spending each morning checking Instagram or surfing Facebook in bed, try replaced it with reading a couple chapters. (I promise not much has happened since you opened the app at midnight.) Make tea or coffee and ease your way into the day. (If you’re like me, I read two or three blogs in the morning, reserving my lengthier chapter reading for throughout the day. Of course, that’s mostly because I’m not much of a human being first thing upon waking.)


Take advantage of your commute

Changing up my morning commute was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you take the bus or the train to work, use that time to your advantage: read. Instead of listening idly to music or a podcast, actively read. The average commute is around 30 minutes one way. In 30 minutes, you can read a couple of chapters (depending on the book and its average chapter length).


Read on your phone

I love the smell of real books. I love the feel and weight of real books. That said, I read (on average) half of all my books on either my android’s Kindle app or my iPad’s Kindle app. Chances are you have your phone on you pretty much at all times. Most people never let it out of their sight for more than a few minutes, and it’s conveniently right there in your pocket when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or at the coffee shop. Even if you only read a page or two for a few minutes, those minutes add up over the course of a day.


Stop reading books that…suck

Nothing will make you quit your new reading habit faster than feeling like you’re trapped in junior high school and forced to read, just because you paid money for it or someone said you should read it. There are literally millions upon millions of books out there. Books you will love to spend minutes, even hours, on. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. Pick up a different one. Even if you’re broke after spending money on that last book, there is…


The library!

If there is a universal constant in this world, it’s: free shit rules! The library is probably one of the best bastions on that constant. If you were using “Hey, I paid money for that last book so I have to read it!” then consider instead the fact that library books come with due dates! It’s built in incentive. Also, there is something infinitely gratifying about the treasure hunt that is finding a truly awesome book among stacks and stacks of books.


Multitask, baby

We’re kings and queens of the multitask. It’s a staple of modern life: needing to be able to process and do a lot of different crap all at in one day. Picking multiple books to read at once is just smart planning. You never know what your taste will be at any given point in the day. Usually I go for a fiction book, something epic and escapist; a nonfiction, improve thyself yaddah yaddah; and at least one comic book (or comic series). There are days your brain will be fried after work during your commute home; grab the comic instead of the dense fantasy novel with a million characters and plots and subplots to follow.


Read while you watch

Most of us aren’t so uppity that we don’t watch some form of live TV. You can still use that time to read. I mean, what can be more gratifying than saying you read hundreds of hours or thousands of books during Geico ads? Also, even if you don’t watch live TV, many streaming services still have 30-45 seconds worth of ads periodically throughout the program; keep a book right beside you for those “down times.” An avid moviegoer? Read during the previews or while waiting in the concession line.


Keep track of what you read

We’re competitive, gratification-seeking mammals. We like to feel a sense of accomplishment. Reading is no different. Keep track of what you read. One, it will help you keep from accidentally picking up and wasting time (possibly spending money on) books you read a year, two years, or even three years ago. There are sites like Shelfari and Goodreads, which are fun and will let you do a bit of social bragging, or you can just keep a quick note in your phone or on your tablet. However you do it, the point is to remember to give yourself a little pat on the book for every book you complete (even the ones you don’t complete – you don’t want to accidentally waste time on those again). Doing so will reinforce the good reading habit you’ve worked so hard on.

 

So, there you have it. Increase how often you read; do the thing you say you always want to do: read more. All you have to do is tweak a few little things in your life and get over yourself. There is time.

 

@BCBrownBooksBC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of DarknessA Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short FrictionQuixotic: Not Everyday Love StoriesA Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

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A World of Silence: How ‘Deaf’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

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Photo is from The Princess Bride movie. The character is Inigo Montoya, a swarthy man of Spanish heritage with chin-length brown hair, brown eyes, and a brown mustache. The caption reads: You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

 

I am Deaf. But I can hear. At least, I can hear some frequencies, slightly muted, about 50% of the time with my Lyric implants (inner ear canal implants that are inserted by a doctor quarterly) and about 30% of the time, muted and choppy, without my implants.

Technically, under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) I am profoundly hard of hearing. My condition is degenerative however, so in a few short years I will be legally deaf under the ADA definition.

Why am I telling you this? For understanding and to clear the air about a few common misconceptions as to what being deaf means – for realsies. ‘Deaf’ is a two-fold word implying both a state of different ability (like Michael Jordan is differently-abled than, say, your average high school basketballer) and a culture and community identification (think about nationality or ethnic heritage pride).

My differently-abled definition is profoundly hard of hearing, as I retain some hearing capacity. My culture and community identification is Deaf.

I interact with the speaking/hearing world a great deal of the time. It’s hard to lecture a room of speaking-inclined authors using only American Sign Language (ASL). Well, I could but what would be the point? Also I commute via bus and bicycle often. While hearing is not a requirement at all for doing that, it does make the commutes a smidgen easier (asking questions if you’re in an unfamiliar place and need directions for example) and safer (hearing a car horn blaring behind you because they’re about to careen into the bicycling lane for example).

Since I grew up speaking and hearing (my degenerative disorder didn’t start being noticeable until my teenage years), my speech is fine, I still enjoy music (based in large part more on my remembering what the music sounds like than what is being translated by my implants), and interacting frequently and largely with the speaking/hearing world. Living in both worlds doesn’t bother me. Until…someone makes one of the asinine comments that make me have to take two slow breaths and then launch into instruction mode.

 

You’re deaf? But you speak so well.

There is nothing a Deaf person can’t do that anyone else can do, except hear within “normative” ranges. Those of us who choose to interact with the speaking/hearing world and choose to speak take great pains to make sure we do effectively communication. In my case, I didn’t have to learn how to make recognizable sounds; I just have to maintain them. That means, like many Deaf people, speech lessons.

 

You’re deaf? You act like you can hear!

Can someone explain to me how a person acts like they can hear? Does my head perk up or my ears twitch like an animal? This one frustrates me quite a bit, but I try to remember that not everyone can tell when they’ve encountered a Deaf person. What I try to remind people is that I have implants that give me some range of hearing. Although in a few years I won’t even have that luxury. I try to remind them that being and identifying Deaf is not dependent on a total lack of sound.

 

You’re deaf? Can you teach me sign?

Yes but probably not. Do I teach my friends some ASL? Some of them. The ones who seem genuinely interested in communicating with me more effectively and who are compassionate enough to realize that sometimes hearing communication is hard on me. But they have to show a real commitment to it. I’m not a “cool new trick” or a free class at the Y. Sign is a very real part of my life, and like any language it (and those of us who use it) deserves to be respected.

 

Basically those are the top three statements that I find frustrating. I know it’s a simple matter of people not understanding or being aware of what it means to be Deaf. It’s a matter of limited perception. It doesn’t make it any less annoying, but it does cut down on the sarcastic or biting responses I give.

A woman with red hair styled into a sleeked back pompadour. She sits, leaning her face on her left hand near the temple. She is wearing a silver, antique choker chain with an antique locked of Celtic design. She has on a black and white Houndstooth vest. There is bright sunlight streaming in through a glass door behind her. She smiles faintly, and has green eyes.BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed A woman with red hair styled into a sleeked back pompadour. She sits, leaning her face on her left hand near the temple. She is wearing a silver, antique choker chain with an antique locked of Celtic design. She has on a black and white Houndstooth vest. There is bright sunlight streaming in through a glass door behind her. She smiles faintly, and has green eyes.almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

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From The Writer’s Pack: Meet My Inspiration

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I am an animal lover. It’s true. The first “people” I meet when I visit someone’s house or go to a party are the animals. I spend a good deal of time with each, learning their names, greeting them slowly and gently. It actually distresses me when an animal doesn’t seem to like me, while I couldn’t care less when most humans don’t like me.

So, even though there is nothing “writerly educational” in this post, I want everyone to meet my constant inspirations: the Cat, the Old Lady, and the Shepherd, my writer’s pack.

Very dark grey cat with big, round green eyes. The cat is still young, a kitten, with medium long fur. It is crouched on a black table edge. The cat is looking up, as if hunting. It wears a bright purple harness. A tiny dog with reddish fur, a face full of white fur from years of age, and big brown eyes lays on a cool linoleum floor next to a black carpet. The dog's head is laid down with its chin on the floor. Although it appears drowsy, its ears are big and pointed straight up, like it hears everything. A German Shepherd mixed dog lays down on a cool lineolium floor. The animal is black and brown with a white neck and chest, belly and legs. Its head is held high, alert, with its ears perked, eyes scanning. It pants lightly, its tongue out.

 

My animals write with me, they hike with me, they are there for me every bit as much as the stories are there for me. When I don’t want to get out of bed and stare at the screen, my pack is there with gentle nudges, cold noses, and warm hearts (and sometimes a much-needed claw for added incentive).

So, like I said, nothing writerly or educational in this post. Just my sharing my animals with the world.

 

BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed A woman with red hair styled into a sleeked back pompadour. She sits, leaning her face on her left hand near the temple. She is wearing a silver, antique choker chain with an antique locked of Celtic design. She has on a black and white Houndstooth vest. There is bright sunlight streaming in through a glass door behind her. She smiles faintly, and has green eyes.almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

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Author’s Book Marketing Guide: Month 1 Pre-Release

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One month to go. You are almost there with comprehensive pre-release strategy that will have your book come out of the proverbial gates a-swingin’! To date we have broken down what to do each month leading up to your book’s launch date, including media kits and contact procedures, arranging for public speaking events, internet presence with social media, organizational methods, graphic design and branding, and interpersonal relationships.

There is no easy way to say this, even with all the hard work you’ve put in so far, the months right before, during, and immediately after your launch are absolutely critical for your book success. History has shown in the traditional publishing industry that book sales are strongest in the first 90 days after release. It will be your measuring stick; and it has also proven to be the time when most books reach bestseller status. Even if that isn’t your goal, it certainly can’t hurt and, when dealing with traditional publishers, can show a strong presence enough to get your book on limited shelf space in stores.

In this section, to make sure you have as strong a start with your book release as possible, we will cover the following:

  • The media blitz
  • Tour scheduling
  • Street teams

The media blitz

You have a strong media list curated if you’ve followed Parts XXXXXXX on my blog. You have the press release polished and snazzy. You have your one-two punch media pitch. Now it’s time to put it all into action. Pitches and press releases should be sent out approximately four to six weeks before your launch date. While we know the world works in lightspeed paces, it takes real time for a reporter to cover a story, including working with their and your available schedules. If you start at the six week window, I recommend follow up reminders and additional releases weekly to keep on their radar.

Radio/Podcasts

Hosts often plan their guest appearances a few weeks in advance. This includes podcasts. They’re busy people, and they have their own marketing pre-release they have to account for. You will most likely need a combination effort with emails and phone calls to get a guest spot. I’ve found it often takes six or more contacts before you get the host’s attention without being too annoying.

The prep work for radio and podcasts is easy. Make sure your voice is well modulated; if you’re a heavy breather or throat-clearer, make sure to avoid doing so. It’s okay to have someone record you in advance like a mini-interview and then listen to yourself so you don’t sound awkward. Since I’m profoundly hearing impaired, I’ve had friends record me and listen to the recording on my behalf to make sure I don’t do things I might be missing. The same feedback can be helpful for normative hearing people too. Every little bit helps. The best audio tip to give about doing a radio/podcast interview is to remember to smile. It will make your host more comfortable with you (if you are in studio) and will make your voice sound open and friendly. The best preparation tip I can give is to have your top two or three points written down in front of you. Radio (and often podcasts) aren’t long, and they often have multiple guests. You may not get a lot of time to talk so make sure you get the most out of your time with the most important information.

TV

Television can seem daunting. The camera is terrifying to many. Especially writers who are often introverted by nature. But you can use the fact that television is visual to your advantage, even if you don’t like the spotlight.

Find visuals that relate to your book. Depending on your book’s nature, you might be able to do some sort of “show and tell,” have photos or illustrations. For instance, if I was to write and promote a book around my blog posts 8 Tips for Shopping Thrift Stores and 5 More Tips for Shopping Thrift Stores, I could have models demonstrate the “do’s” and “don’ts” of thrift store-found fashion. Just ensure that you clear everything in advance with the production team and host who will need prep time to set the stage and react.

Even if you don’t have anything more to go along with your book, being an engaged and enthusiastic guest is good TV. Read a little on how best to dress for the program (or ask the stage manager), and then just do what you do – tell a story, only the story is how entertaining or impactful to others’ lives you and your work will be.

Tour scheduling

Again, you’ve done the work: media lists and scheduled interviews, set book signings, and planned for live events – now it’s time to promote them! Check with radio stations/podcasts about advance promotion of events; many will. Most bookstores promote who is going to be there well in advance with in-store signage; maybe you can even get them to put you on their marquee out front along the roadside. In addition, many bookstores air or publish their own press releases, send newsletters, and do special promotion to VIP members. Conferences and conventions always promote on their websites, even if you’re not a big name celebrity, in the program, and on advance PR.

Let’s face it, like authors, some venues promote better than others. Some do virtual zero promotion. You must remember to ask what promotion efforts they have planned. If they don’t have press releases planned, offer one you’ve written. Tell them they’re welcome to use it on their website and social media as well. Do you have a blog following? Promote there. Keep your signing and speaking schedule posted on your website’s homepage, put it on social media, send it to relevant websites before, during, and after your events. Get your street team (that we’ll be discussing shortly) to get involved however they can.

Keep media releases of different lengths. You want one that covers your whole engagement schedule. You also want short announcements for each event. The media isn’t likely to pick up every event, unless you’ve made some sort of impression on them, but overall odds are good that many releases will get some level of coverage.

Friends who blog? Ask them to mention your upcoming events if their readers are in your target audience. Keep the upcoming events in front of your own readers by making them part of your regular newsletter. Keep it relevant on social media by updating frequently. Post it at places like Shelfari and Goodreads on your profile. Certainly have it available on your Amazon or Barnes and Noble profiles.

At every interview, mention where you’re going to be next. I always mention my next event and the one following that, especially if the first date is close to the interview air date. That way people have two chances, and someone who goes “Darn. I’m not available on such short notice” will have a second option that is further down the road to attend. Keep those interviews linked on social media, website, and blog. Helping to drive continual traffic to the host’s or reporter’s site by posting your interview links is an easy and good way to thank them.

Remember to set up Google Alerts to let you know when your name and book title are posted anywhere on the web. It will be important to know how your information is getting out there and beneficial to see who is the most effective at distributing it. Doing so will allow you to streamline your communications going into the future. That’s not to say to cut out traffickers that weren’t the best, but you can reach out to them later and prioritize your go-to promoters first.

Street teams

This is an older term that stems from radio. Radio stations used to have interns flood the market with flyers and promotional items. Don’t we just wish we had that kind of manpower and budgeting? Well, in part, you do. At least the manpower.

Do you have a handful of good friends and supportive family members that can be counted on? Who had read your manuscript before it was published? Often times an author can count on their beta readers as the basis for their street team. From there, you can build outward. But first you have to take a little bit of time to train your street team on what it means and how they can help you.

Establish willingness

“You must always ask; never assume.” Just because a beta reader had time to read and critique your manuscript prior to publication doesn’t mean they will have time to join your street team. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. To incentivize street team members you can always offer something: a signed, advance-review copy of the book is often appreciated, a small gift that relates to your book, even tee shirts. Sometimes the team members just likes be the “first to know.” Every team is different.

Establish tasks

This is what you need. Typically, it’s best to ask street teams to complete easy, inexpensive tasks like:

  1. Ask local stores to carry your book and contact you for a signing;
  2. Request their local library branches purchase your book;
  3. Write early, positive reviews of your book on Amazon or favorite online seller, submit reviews to relevant blogs, and post to social media;
  4. Put up advanced flyers and posters about upcoming events at coffee shops, universities, or other popular hangout places;
  5. Attend your events, often acting as a “plant” to ask questions, start conversations;
  6. Invite people, especially their friends, to your events;
  7. Call in during radio or podcasts with questions;
  8. Suggest your book to local book clubs;
  9. Provide a gift of your book (maybe one that you provide to them) to influential people they know;
  10. Talk your book up with people they know!

Some people balk at the concept of “plants” in an event’s audience, but there is nothing unethical about having people who genuinely enjoyed your book in the audience at events. Thinking of it from the big marketing point of view. Companies give out free samples and trial sizes all the time in hopes people will talk up and also buy more of their product. That is all a good street team does in essence: they talk up your product and get people buying!

 

Okay. So we have covered what to do in the month prior to your book launch. If you’ve followed the steps each month then you should have a comprehensive book marketing strategy that will blow the roof off your book release.

 

BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.
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Step-By-Step Self Publishing on Kindle: Book Formatting

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BC Brown Books Kindle Self Publishing Book Formatting

We’ve covered how to establish a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account and how to set your product pricing and royalties in the Getting Started post and we’ve talked in more detail about the individual product details in the Book Basics post. With all that great information, you’re ready to go, right? Except…wait, what is your product?

If you’re reading this I’m to assume you’ve written a book.The question remains: have you formatted it for upload? Book formatting isn’t as simple as uploading a Word document. Don’t despair however. It isn’t hard either. With a few easy steps you can make sure your book is professional quality when your reader opens their Kindle and sees your work.

Preparation for publication

Many writers choose to write in chapters which affords editing ease and also reorganization. Like many other authors, I don’t write in a linear fashion, instead relying on a mixture of plotting and scene “stitching” that often has me jumping from place to place in a novel. Doing so would be impossible to keep in one text document, no matter the format, so I keep each scene or chapter in separate documents that can be readily accessed.

When it comes to prepping your novel formatting, you need to put your edited document in a single file from start to finish, front cover to back cover. A lot of writers find that the successful conversion format is a Word document that has been saved as an HTML document. You can do that using the “Save As” command in Word. Doing this will keep any embedded files in the document fixed in their proper spot. No one wants a weird chapter heading illustration jumping about in the final document upload. In this same regard considering any columns or tables in the document formatted as text or graphic images. (Be advised: if you are unfamiliar with graphics programs, stick with the text format or work with someone who has design knowledge.)

Kindle books following their own page formatting, especially as readers come in different shapes and sizes, so be sure to remove any page numbers or references to page numbers. Footnotes (if necessary) should be replaced with hyperlinks that navigate readers to another section of your document like an End Notes page. If writing non-fiction, hyperlinks embedded directly in your text is very useful since Kindle includes basic web function. If you use this feature however I’d warn readers somewhere at the book’s front matter that navigating away to the websites may slow their device.

Acceptable formats

KDP accepts the following file formats for upload:

  • Microsoft Word (.doc)
  • Adobe (.pdf)
  • HTML (.htm or .html)
  • Plain text (.txt)
  • Zipped HTML (.zip) – useful for HTML documents with images
  • Mobi (.mobi or .prc) – Mobipocket file

Word and Adobe seem to be the most commonly used file formats, although Mac Pages is up and coming. Plain text (.txt) once uploaded allows you to preview the document before saving. Amazon does recommend you upload the work in a single HTML file. If unfamiliar with that process, you can use the “Save As” function and choose the HTML format. When using Plain Text, remember that Kindle will automatically re-size and re-order the text. Amazon recommends using little formatting in text files and even using as few hard returns, or hard line breaks, as possible. In my experience, I shy away from using PDF. Amazon does not guarantee the conversion quality of PDFs.

Graphics and images

For most writers this will primarily concern cover art and back cover art. However there are a number of authors who choose to include graphics within the book itself. Fantasy is a prime example. Many authors will upload a chapter heading graphic, such as a House coat of arms or a themed graphic.

Kindle will allow the following graphic formats:

  • Joint Photographic Experts Group or JPEG
  • Bitmap or BMP
  • Graphic Interchange Format or GIF
  • Portable Networks Graphic or PNG

Cover images however can only be in TIFF or JPEG format.

Always remember rights when selecting art and illustrations for your book. Some authors will use images found on the internet, but I caution against that. Unless you have downloaded the content with a full rights release from a reliable source, stick to images you’ve created or purchased (again examining the usage rights you are entitled to). Remember that just because you’ve purchased artwork does not mean you have full use of it.

Basic image formatting guidelines
  • Imagines larger than 450 by 550 pixels will be resized
  • Image files must be 64kb or smaller with aspect ratio of 9 to 11
  • Increase an image’s sharpness slightly but not too much
  • For a full-page image on Kindle, resize it to 450px by 550px

Book covers

Well, what is there to say about this except…your book needs one. Unless you have some considerable skill in graphic design, you should hire a professional cover designer. I know many of you are thinking But I can’t afford that! No fear, there are dozens of professional cover art sites with stock cover arts you can use. I particularly enjoy SelfPub Book Covers. Inexpensive, a large portfolio you can select by genre or surf by artist, and they pull the cover art out of rotation once it is purchased, guaranteeing you a unique cover.

Upload and preview

With these few tips you are well on your way to formatting your book properly and uploading it into Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). All that is left is to try the upload and preview the document, from start to finish, to make sure there aren’t any discernible issues. If there are, identify them and go back to your document to double check. Then simply repeat. Do this as many times as possible ensure your upload is a professional quality as possible. Keep in mind that people will not only judge you on your writing and marketing abilities, they will also judge your work on its quality of appearance.

BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.
Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
 

Upcoming: Karaoke Jane                           

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