Friday, December 23, 2011

A Bit of Christmas Humor--With Apologies to the USAF

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lessons From the Pros: Ernest Cline

If anyone can be considered a 'Pro' after one sale, it is Ernest Cline. Cline worked for ten years on his first novel, READY PLAYER ONE, and it was, as they say, an instant classic. Here's what I learned along the way.

Cline wrote a dystopic story set in the future where everyone loses themselves in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) that doubles as online school and digital economy. The game is OASIS, and before he died, the game's developer left instructions to award ownership of the game and its massive wealth and influence to whoever uncovers and solves a series of progressively difficult 80s-influence pop culture easter eggs. READY PLAYER ONE is a first novel, and it shows in places, but it is also a passionate love letter to our collective youth, specificially focused on pop culture from the 80s and 90s.
  1. It's a fiction writing cliche, but write what you know.
    Cline was enamored of all things 80s pop culture; video games (like Pac-Man and JOUST, which were played on big consoles in places like Aladdin's Castle in the Mall), music (Ladyhawke), movies (recreating a scene from War Games from memory and having to get every quote exactly correct), anime (big fighting robots!), and role playing games.

  2. Go ahead - wear your passion on your sleeve.
    Passion overcomes a multitude of evils. Check out these quotes from serious genre fiction authors:
    “A nerdgasm…imagine Dungeons and Dragons and an 80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth.”—John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author of Old Man’s War
    “Completely fricking awesome...This book pleased every geeky bone in my geeky body.  I felt like it was written just for me.”—Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wise Man’s Fear 
    The praise goes on in that vein for quite some time. The point is, if you're passionate for something, there is a very good chance someone else may be as passionate. Instead of setting that passion aside, mine it, exploit it, throw it carelessly on the floor and roll around in it while giggling like a maniac. You may find you're not alone in the rolling and the giggling. Use that shared passion to your advantage.

  3. Write your Big Idea right out of the gate.
    In Cline's case, he took ten years to hone and rewrite his idea, and there are places where the writing could use a little extra editing. And you know what? Nobody cared. His ideas were so big and his approach so audacious that people overlooked the little nits here and there and just settled in an went along with the ride. True, it's a calculated risk, but fortune favors the bold.

If you like science fiction and anything remotely related to the 80s, read this book. If you've never tried science fiction, read this book. USA Today called READY PLAYER ONE “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets the Matrix. This novel undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now. [But] you don't have to be a geek to get it.”

I finished this book in two days (two /work/ days). I immediately proclaimed it the best Sci-Fi book I've read in 20 years. Will Lavender wrote: “I was blown away by this book…A book of ideas, a potboiler, a game-within-a-novel, a serious science-fiction epic, a comic pop culture mash-up–call this novel what you will, but READY PLAYER ONE will defy every label you try to put on it. Here, finally, is this generation’s Neuromancer.”

I had a rollicking good time reading READY PLAYER ONE. Learning something more about the art and craft of writing was just icing on the cake.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview with Marketing Wiz Jo-Anne Vandermeulen

I'm super-excited to introduce special guest Jo-Anne Vandermeulen, who has recently helped me with a couple of marketing projects, and did so successfully! She's such an accomplished and inspiring entrepreneur, I thought our readers should meet her.

AC: You’re a writer, promoter, radio talk show host. Out of all the hats you wear, do you have a favorite?

JAV: No. To me, the different "hats" are like my choice of a favorite color…depending on the day, one may be more a favorite then the other. I call the three different roles my balance in life.

AC: How did you get into helping others promote their books?

JAV: When I was writing my first novel, I had read that marketing needs to happen even before publication date. Gosh, I was so scared to take this foreign path. In 2007, I began studying promotion and surprisingly, hit a passion in my life I had never imagined. The marketing content was so so cool that I just couldn’t keep it bottled . . . so, I began sharing the wealth of knowledge with others. With no expectations and completely unconditional in my "wants," the feedback began rolling in and I mean by the thousands! The responses fed my innate desire to help others (being a teacher for twenty years and a mother of two daughters) promote their books.

AC: What is the best, most effective marketing tool you have found?

JAV: My followers or fans are my most effective marketing tools. By myself, I could never bring so much exposure to my books. Actually, quite a rewarding and effective promotional tactic, "I’ll scratch your back, and it would be great if you could scratch mine." Simple and effective.

AC: How do you acquire these helpful friends?

JAV: It’s a toss-up between blogging and social networking. Blogging takes commitment to post regularly. The articles must supply content that is both valuable and unique, and written in a voice that rings true. The end goal is to attract huge targeted traffic or numbers of followers interested in your books.

Social Networking (my favorite social media site right now is Facebook). Again, having followers on Facebook takes a genuine and authentic voice—to gain trust in growing relationships.

AC: What is the primary mistake you see newbie authors making while marketing their books?

JAV: Hey, I can answer this one from experience…lol…The number one mistake newbies make when promoting their book is spending time bringing exposure to the wrong audience. Marketing is very time consuming so if the newbie is "barking up the wrong tree," not only are they wasting time where they could be pitching it to the "right" or targeted audience, but also they will not gain sales because no one is interested in their book.

I remember spending so much time with other writers, it just felt comfortable that I forgot to introduce myself to suspense/romance readers. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a waste of time as I learned a lot, but I did not get the sales I had hoped.

AC: Tell us about your first radio interview. Nervous?

JAV: To be honest, I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. I really missed teaching and professional speaking, so after researching blogtalkradio to death, I knew I was prepared and roaring to go.

AC: You’re changing the name of your show. What to, and why?

“Authors Articulating with Jo-Anne Vandermeulen” is now going to be called “Talk Radio Network." Change is seldom a bad move. I have been producing and hosting radio for two and a half years, seeing seventy-five archived shows, and I have over 12,000 active listeners with over 250,000 followers. I had done the show as gratis to authors and those in the writing field. It is time for me to expand my audience to include anyone who is selling products through the Internet. It matches the theme to my upcoming release Internet Marketing Made Easy (January 2nd, 2012), and it is time I receive payment for my time, effort, and experience.

AC: Internet Marketing Made Easy is coming out soon. What can we hope to find between the covers?

JAV: Lots of user-friendly and valuable tips about marketing on the Internet.
Here’s my pitch:

Now you will be able to make a difference to your sales and *conquer all obstacles* "INTERNET MARKETING MADE EASY” will give you the knowledge to make the profits you deserve.
Packed with tips that are proven to work
User-friendly for the beginner, average, and advanced marketer
Up-to-date attainable tips you can use right now,
Flexible in that you can use these tips for ANY product you wish to sell online, and…
Quick read - (although a costly publishing and printing costs for her, she PERSONALLY REQUESTED THIS ADDITIONAL TECHNIQUE so you will be able to flow through the entire book quickly and with complete understanding – instead of just a glossary at the back, each technical or marketing term is highlighted with a definition and/or example RIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SAME PAGE! BRILLIANT!!!)

Getting Started: Creating a Following
Establishing a Voice (BLOGGING)
Advancing in the Search Engines
Jo-Anne’s Favorite Tips
Guaranteeing Massive Exposure (SOCIAL NETWORKING)
Creating a Platform (ATTRACTING CLIENTS)
Targeting your Audience (SAVING ENERGY)
Balancing Online Activities (MANAGING TIME)
Reaching Your Goal (SUCCESS HERE I COME!)

AC: What else is in the works for you?

JAV: I try and live my life as one day at a time. I strive for balance—work, play, and rest (and not always in that order), feeding myself: spiritually, intellectually, mentally, and physically. I listen to my needs or inner instincts and walk through doors that are open—doing the footwork of sudden and unplanned opportunities (kinda like this interview which will provide more exposure. I’m so grateful for this opportunity). I heed to obstacles that interfere with my chosen path and abruptly turn around and go down another road. So what is next for me is a question that can change answers on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. For example, today my agenda included this interview, a workout at the pool, a walk in the park with my mini-daschound—Oscar, answering emails while hanging out at an Internet Café, and I’m looking forward to a movie tonight while curled up in front of my fireplace. I’ve dedicated the month of December to "self"—a clean-up month of websites, computer hard-drives, and year-end income tax. Oh ya, and the launching of Internet Marketing Made Easy. To be honest, I haven’t got a clue what is in store for January or the 2012 year. If it is anything like the previous, I’ll just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

AC: Where can our readers reach you?

JAV: The simple answer is to Google my name. I’m all over the place and love to interact with my readers.

AC: What services do you offer?

JAV: “Premium Promotional Services” *You Create – We Promote* offers these services:
Book Promo
Promo Deal 
Twitter Promo
Facebook Business Page
Talk Radio Network

Jo-Anne Vandermeulen is a Canadian author, expert blogger (offering free Internet marketing tips), producer and hostess of “Authors Articulating” on Blogtalkradio, founder and marketer of the online marketing business—“Premium Promotional Services”, appears on many major social media sites (Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.) a professional support network for writers, and donates to the registered charity 'Spirit Pet Sanctuary'. With two books out (including a suspense/romance novel) called “CONQUER ALL OBSTACLES”, Jo-Anne has overcome her own obstacles to follow her dreams. An English major, graduated from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), in 2006 she had to give up teaching when she was diagnosed with an illness that forced her to get out of the classroom. Now, with the novel “Conquer All Obstacles”, and the non-fiction resource books “Premium Promotional Tips for Writers” and Internet Marketing Made Easy”, Jo-Anne Vandermeulen is an inspiration for many.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: darn fine eatin'

Children, today's topic is food. And not just any food, either. I'm talking about bad food.

First, we all know the (supposed) benefits of a healthy diet, a diet that's high in fiber, low in cholesterol, and with a paucity of polyunsaturated (why does that put me in mind of a parrot beneath an umbrella?) fats. I'm told such a diet will make one virile and handsome and able to lift a Chrysler one-handed. Yippee. Let us leave such people to their grazing.

No, what I'm talking about is a bit more ... elemental. Earthy. Sensual. In a word, tasty. Specifically, junk food.

What constitutes junk food? Is it food that's by definition terrible for your health? Sure, that helps, but not necessarily. For instance, I grew up in the South. For years I daily ate such fare as country ham (containing salt content on par with the Dead Sea), green beans with fatback, cathead biscuits, fried corn, spoonbread, chocolate pie, iced tea so strong and sweet a guy could chop a cord of wood after just a glass ... all manner of things that I'm sure would cause Richard Simmons to roll over in his grave (he is dead, isn't he?).

In my college days my standard favorite dish, owing to extreme poverty (not to mention congenital bad taste) was cheap Winn-Dixie chili mounded on top of cooked Minute Rice, all heated in a Mirro popcorn popper, and washed down with grape Tang. Even now, my mouth waters.

Today my favorites include such varied fare as chili dogs, Vienna sausage out of a can (don't wipe the jelly off; it's good), bags of beef jerky (or if I'm flush, kippered beef strips), salted peanuts in the shell, boiled eggs, and Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Yowza. As the thread title says, darn fine eatin'.

So what say you all? Anybody like to tell what your secret ba-a-a-d foods are? Come on, spill. We're all friends here.

Far be it from me to tell your wife.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of Alchemy With Words

Good reference guides for fantasy writers are few and far between. I know, because I’ve pawed through most of the options. I took a shot in the dark in purchasing Alchemy With Words, volume one of The Complete GuideTM to Writing Fantasy. Published by a small press and written by a collection of fantasy authors who haven’t much collective experience or acclaim among them, the book has much to recommend it—and much not to.

On the plus side, this is one of the most varied and complete offerings I’ve seen on the subject (and this is just volume one). Subjects include Roots of Fantasy, Characterization, Race Creation, World Building, Clichés, Plot, Medieval Clothing and Food, Health and Medicine, Magic, Mythology, Religion, and Arms and Armor. Although a few chapters skim by with only basic info, many of them include insightful and detailed explanations of aspects of the genre that every author would be wise to heed. Of course, with only a chapter devoted to each subject, the book can’t be considered definitive. But it offers an excellent jumping-off point into further research.

Based on the quality of information alone, I consider the book worth reading. However, the production values offer some serious drawbacks. Aside from general poor editing and typesetting, the lack of professionalism displayed by the various authors—some to the point of out-and-out self-indulgence, in which the authors ramble about their own unpublished fantasy manuscripts or state their subjective pet peeves as if they were rules of the genre—is annoying at best and downright frustrating at worst. If you can get past the writing to access the information, you may find this book a useful primer on the world of writing fantasy.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Link Between Memory and Imagination

My mind used to be a steel trap. I could remember details of past events that left other people standing slack-jawed. But about six years ago, I wrecked an ATV, cracked my skull against a fence post, and—whammy!—my steel trap rusted shut. Nowadays, my memory seems to have a mind of its own, coming and going. Mostly going. If you and I have an important meeting at three, I better write it down, or you’ll be waiting at the café, wondering why I stood you up. At first glance, this is kinda sad. In a sense, life is memory. But, after another glance, there are actually some interesting benefits in the organic, ever-changing relationship between memory (or the lack thereof) and the writer’s best tool in trade: his imagination.

Memory and imagination are inherently linked: everything we build in our imagination is the product of the raw materials supplied to us by our previous life experience—i.e., our memory. Because all of our memories are faulty, to one degree or another, empty spaces open up in our minds, which our imaginations can then take advantage of and fill. In his article “Let your imagination play” (The Writer, February 2011), Bob Blaisdell expounds on South American author Jorge Luis Borges’ thoughts on memory and imagination:
Image by peet-astn

When our everyday memory dissolves, as it will, it leaves a blank canvas for us to fill with imagination. “Although reality is exact,” Borges reflected, “memory is not.” … Compared to an inability to imagine, the tangible effects of imagining (producing artwork, books, music) are scarcely important. We can imagine, whatever our artistic limitations…. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.
In a sense, authors have to forget in order to imagine. As Polish literary critic and Pulitzer nominee Francine du Plessix Gray puts it:

Purify your mind of toxins of memory. … Writers have to have this kind of digestive process for the psyche.
If we’re writing strictly from memory—whether that be in the construction of fact-based non-fiction, or the reconstruction of real-life settings for our novels—we’re not imagining. We’re not creating. We’re just recording. Nothing wrong with this, of course. The facts are the vital ingredient in convincing readers to suspend their disbelief. But few of us will argue that the true joy of writing comes in the raw, primal act of creation. When we forget the facts, deliberately or not, a vast, unpainted plane opens up in front of us, like an artist’s blank canvas, just begging to be filled with wild splashes and combinations of color.

So, although my wonky memory forces me to buy day planners and filing systems and expend extra energy on research and fact checking, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be released from the confines of memory’s exactitude—if only for those hours of beautiful, unchained creativity while I sit at my desk creating new realities.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Attack of the Horrible Holiday Specials

If you saw the original Star Wars in theaters, you remember the absolute furor about the film, which would grow into a furor for the franchise. (Until the prequels, but that's another post.). But who among us could have predicted that the same cast and elements that made the original film so good could collaborate on a one-off TV variety show that was so bad that it ranked as "the worst two hours of television ever." The Star Wars Holiday Special is the stuff of legend. Carrie Fisher wrangled a copy of the special that she shows at parties, "mainly at the end of the night when she wants people to leave." George Lucas (who had nothing to do with the special) has said his fondest wish is to have the time and a sledgehammer to track down and smash every copy. (Thank God we have the internet.)

John Scalzi has he's imagined a number of similarly terrifying holiday traditions. Here's a taste.
An Iron Man Christmas CarolYes, Tony Stark is a superhero -- but he's also part of the 1%. This Christmas Eve, his cynical side has gotten the better of him and his view of the world, and all the little people in it. Seeing him wallow in his own bitterness, three of his fellow Avengers take it upon themselves to help Stark reconnect with the joy of the holiday season. Captain America is the Superhero of Christmas Past, the Black Widow is the Superhero of Christmas Present, and the Hulk is the Superhero of Christmas Smash. Paul Bettany makes a cameo as Jarvis Cratchett, Stark's impoverished computer technician. Samuel L. Jackson shows up at the end, because, well, that's what he does, isn't it. 
It's a Wonderful Life, George LucasThe year is 1986, and George Lucas, despondent at the failure of Howard the Duck, considers throwing himself off the Golden Gate Bridge. But then an angel, played by Bill Moyers, shows him what life would be like if he never lived at all. Lucas, horrified at a world in which Han always shot first, throws himself back into life and plans the prequel trilogy. Meanwhile, the angel is revealed to be the devil himself. His dark, maniacal laughter goes on endlessly as the screen fades to black. 
I am almost certain I am not the first to suggest that last one.
If you aren't reading Scalzi's column at, John Scalzi on SciFi, I highly recommend it. It's a weekly column that covers some of my favorite things; SciFi, film, and geek culture. Also, this week the internet discovered the fantastic Cello Wars: The Phantom Cellist by ThePianoGuys, which is also highly recommended.

Update: It could be worse. At least George Lucas didn't have his knighthood revoked...

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Labeling Fiction ~ Just How Would That Work and Should it be Done?

So I was on Amazon the other day and happened upon a thread in their forums. The original poster was complaining that they'd been "duped" too many times into downloading a novel onto their Kindle from the free list only to later discover that the book was Christian. They were lobbying for books to be clearly labeled as Christian by Amazon.

I had several thoughts about this, not the least of which was; there are only a few Christian fiction publishers -  learn who they are and don't download their books if they are so offensive to you. My second thought was about how many of the books being complained about have been tagged multiple times as "Christian." So I disagreed with the original poster who seemed to think this was something along the lines of spam that was being sneakily foisted on them by Christian publishers.

Still there is that little concept of not casting pearls, mentioned in the Bible. If people are not ready to hear a message, it does no good to speak to them about it because they will just stop up their ears. On the other hand, someone who is ready to hear might read a Christian story and be blessed, even changed, by it. Would labeling books mean that everyone who didn't want to read that particular book would be prevented from reading it? Doubtful. Would labeling books mean that someone who might be blessed by a book, wouldn't purchase it because of the label? Perhaps.

While I can see both sides of this issue, if Amazon does start labeling books, at what genre-differentiation do they stop? What if a Catholic wants Christian books but only those with a Catholic slant? Or what if a Baptist doesn't want any books that mention speaking in tongues? What of Muslim literature? Or Buddhist? Or republican or democratic?

It is a muddle... So I thought I would ask you all. What do you think?
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Free Marketing Tools, by Michael Wong

FREE Marketing Tools

Here are 9 FREE marketing tools used by thousands of visitors every month. The free internet marketing tools include: Search Engine Rankings, AdWords Wrapper, Top 500 Keywords, PageRank Checker, Instant Domain Name Search, Keyword Tool, Link Popularity Checker, Marketing Forum Watch and Ecommerce Forum Watch. All free marketing tools were developed inhouse, and are exclusive to Mike’s Marketing Tools.

Feel free to share with your friends.

Search Engine Rankings

Search Engine Rankings offers FREE, instant, online reports of web site rankings in the top 4 search engines: Google, Yahoo! Search, Bing (MSN) and AOL.

AdWords Wrapper

The Google AdWords Wrapper is a FREE time saving tool that wraps keyword phrases in “quotation marks” (phrase match) and [square brackets] (exact match) for use in Google AdWords campaigns.

Keyword Tool

The FREE Keyword Tool offers 70+ 1-click keyword editing functions that help you edit and clean hundreds, even thousands of keywords, quickly and easily. You may enter 1, 10, 100, or 1000+ keywords – 1 keyword per line.

Top 500 Keywords

Top 500 Keywords offer FREE, top 500 searched internet keywords, compiled from a database of over 330 million search terms, which are extracted from popular metacrawlers: Metacrawler and Dogpile. The keyword reports are updated daily and kindly provided by Wordtracker.

PageRank Checker

PageRank Checker is a FREE PageRank tool that offers instant online Google PageRank reports of any domain or webpage. There are no CAPTCHA requirements to use the PageRank Checker.

Link Popularity Checker

Link Popularity Checker offers FREE, instant, online reports of a webpage’s link popularity or backlink rating by 3 top search engines; Google, Yahoo! Search and Bing (MSN). Link Popularity refers to the number of backlinks pointing to a webpage.

Instant Domain Name Search

Instant Domain Name Search is a FREE domain tool that instantly checks in real-time, as you type, whether a domain name (any domain extension) is available for registration.

Marketing Forum Watch

Marketing Forum Watch offers searchable headlines from 31 of your favorite internet marketing and search engine discussion forums and message boards, updated every 5 minutes.

Ecommerce Forum Watch

Ecommerce Forum Watch offers searchable headlines from 16 of your favorite ecommerce and web design discussion forums and message boards, updated every 5 minutes.

Michael Wong is the editor of Mike’s Marketing Tools, which offers the original AdWords Wrapper and the new Keyword Tool. Michael has over a decade of experience in the internet industry, during which he founded two companies, sold a website to a SoftBank funded start-up, wrote one of the first ebooks on SEO, and generated millions of dollars in affiliate sales.

Publishing Rights: You may republish this article in your web site, blog, newsletter, or ebook, on the condition that you agree to leave the article, author’s bio, and all links completely intact.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: How Not to Save Your Reader's Life

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