Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Year in Review

This year had a very light travel schedule compared to previous years, being home in Hutto more than I'm used to, partly because of the economics of the times and partly because the uncertainty of my mother's health made planning too much unwise. In fact, of the "Days Elsewhere" a sizable chunk was spent up in Amarillo on visits with her, and then during her funeral. In spite of that, a quick look at the map shows that we covered quite a bit of ground on our limited schedule. As usual, the map only shows locations where I spent the night in 2008, and only if the town was large enough to make the list of the top 10,000 cities of the world that's included in the OSXPlanet application. Small towns like Meadows of Dan and Cherokee aren't listed even though they deserved it.

I can hardly complain. My days were filled this year with important events for me.

In February we went to a NANPA event at San Destin in Florida and took the opportunity to drive the coastline, seeing the Katrina damage and recovery efforts, ending that trip near Galveston where Mary Ann took photos of birds and alligators. It was a lucky thing we did that, considering what happened later.

My attempt to have a dealer table at Aggiecon was changed at the last moment when I found that I had a chance to win the Darrell Award in Memphis on the identical weekend. I chose to attend there, and had the most memorable experience accepting the award for Best Novel for Emperor Dad. It was a great feeling and a great help in selling the books afterwards. I changed the book cover to reflect the award.

After Roswell or Bust came out, I hit the road for a tour of New Mexico, visiting book stores and hand-selling the book to various places. I need to do more of that! Even when a store doesn't buy, I meet so many nice people that way.

A second NANPA event gave us a few weeks in Colorado.

Extreme Makeover was published, but with family events and a low budget, my hopes of making a trip to northern California to sell the book was delayed for this year. Maybe soon.

And then Hurricane Ike arrived, and we were there. It was a crazy few days, but with memories for a lifetime. I learned just how great twitter was for reporting news events. As we go places and do things, I'm constantly considering how to put the color and events into 140 character tweets.

I published Lighter Than Air, and the Archon trip to St. Louis became just the first stop on an extended fall trip to Michigan and the East in search of Fall Colors. I visited Upper Peninsula bookstores telling them about this novel based in their area and made a few sales. The trip continued south to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains, returning back to Texas via the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Publishing took most of my time this year, and I'm learning so much about what has to be done and how to let people know about my books. Highlights are:

I can already tell 2009 is going to be crazy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hiding Your Prize

Mary Ann is selling a calendar this year featuring the orphans she bonded with at Namwianga in Zambia, with the money going to help them. The problem is one I have as well--getting the product put there so people can buy it. With great timidity, she finally approached the church elders with the request to advertise her calendar in the bulletin. Of course, they were happy to do it.

So this morning she was at church with a bundle of calendars in a tote bag. And she almost left without even pulling them out. I took her aside and demanded that she hold a calendar IN HER HAND as she walked through the crowd.

There were many people in that milling crowd who had heard about the calendar and would be happy to buy one, but their minds were on a dozen other things. Just catching a glimpse of the images might make a difference.

A few seconds later, a friend asked, "Oh, is that your calendar?"

Go to to see the pictures.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Email Sigs and Deuteronomy

My mind wanders sometimes during the Sunday morning church, but I think that's how it's supposed to work.  I started thinking about my email signature.

There was a scripture quote this morning: Deuteronomy 6:4-9  and it occurred to me that what it was talking about – the wearing of scriptures as jewelry or marking your house with quotes – was very much like what everyone does with their email signatures.  We put little quotes and sayings in our email programs so that our beliefs and such are automatically added to everything we send out.  

In fact, I've had Phil 4:8 tacked onto my email sig for years now.  It's hardly the more famous John 3:16, but it's a saying I have taken to heart for years.  It's one of my core beliefs and it affects everything I write.  

But as the service moved on, it occurred to me that probably no one ever bothers to look up my little favorite scripture.  I have other things in my sig, like URL's for my website and blog, but every email program automatically converts those things into clickable links.  They are easy.  Looking up a Bible scripture these days is harder.  Hardly anyone has a Bible handy at their keyboard.

But, Google to the rescue.  Google a scripture and it'll give you a long list of sites that will give you the full text in any number of versions.  All I had to do was make that Phil 4:8 into a clickable link.  Once I got home. I fired up and went to my Preferences to change the signature.  I highlighted the verse and Edit-Link-Add... to paste in the Google search link for it:

While I was at it, I cleaned up the looks of my sig and made sure it would be attached to all outgoing emails correctly.  It was easier than I'd thought and something I would have done ages ago if I'd thought of it.  Like I say, my mind wanders during church, but maybe that's how it's supposed to work.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

InDesign vs Word for Book Layout

For the past few days, I've been learning InDesign by diving in and laying out my next book, due out probably March 2009.  This post is a first impression, considering I'm just learning with less than a week's exposure to it.

Five previous full size books were laid out using Mac Microsoft Word 10, so I had developed some experience on how to make the job less painful.  In fact, I'd written up a step by step procedure for converting a manuscript format novel into the format needed for a published book.  I did so partly to share the learning curve with other self-publishing writers, but I needed it myself, since there were a number of steps that I had to re-learn each time I converted a manuscript.  

This past year, as I've learned more and more of the publishing business, I realized that InDesign was the tool that the other guys were using.  It's not cheap, but since I needed to upgrade Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat Pro, I could bite the bullet and buy the upgrade to Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium and get InDesign, as well as a few other tools I'd likely need before too long as well.

So, new software loaded, I grabbed one of the next books in the queue and bought Book Design and Production by Pete Masterson, a recommended guide and started work.

My first look at InDesign was daunting.  If you've ever used Photoshop, you know what I mean, a zillion menu's and pulldowns and a dozen flavors of toolbars.  I didn't know where to start, and that's where Book Design came in handy.  There's a chapter about setting up a book's margins and master pages and how to drop in the text of the manuscript.  I puzzled through it, made my own decisions about fonts and understood enough of his example to correct a math error.  After a couple of false starts, I suddenly had a crude layout.  The learning curve was steep, but I started to get comfortable after two days.

And by then, I knew I'd never do layout with Word again unless I had to.  The conversion from my manuscript styles to my chosen book layout styles was so painless it was scary.  EVERY time I did a book layout with Word, I spend ages getting the headers and footers correct, with the chapter names showing up correctly.  With InDesign, using master pages with text variables made that effortless.

Reading Book Design and Production also showed me aspects of book layout that just couldn't be handled with Word, and although I had to learn some new jargon, these were things I had to learn to produce good quality books.

Then, yesterday, I made my near-final layout and after a proofing cycle, I realized I was ready to print advanced reader copies.  With Word, I would print to the Acrobat Pro printer driver and produce a PDF to send to the printer.  InDesign had that built in, with a much cleaner interface.  I made the PDF, uploaded it to the printer and ordered the ARC's.  I'm a little shocked that starting from scratch and learning InDesign from a dead start, I have a final layout PDF in less time than I'd have taken using Word for the same task, with less chance of the big oops problems that had plagued me with Word.

It may not be worth it for small publishers only worried about one book, but for what I'm doing, I couldn't be happier that I made the switch.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ghost Street over the Hill

I was playing with Google Earth, wondering if there was a way to get from one neighborhood to a newer one, without going out to the main highway. I was looking for a hike and bike route to Hutto. I was startled to see a set of new houses that appeared to have no entrance road. Looking closer, there was a whole block of Ghost Houses next to them.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Twitter Reply Contest

I just finished running the program to determine the winner of November's Twitter contest. You didn't know there was a contest? Yes, indeed there was, although I hadn't told anyone. And there'll be another one for December, and for a few more months as well. It's really easy.

At the end of each month, I'll pull all the twitter replies I've received over the course of the month and use a custom Perl program to choose one twitter id as winner. Multiple replies count as one, so don't deluge me. Each winner and family members are excluded from subsequent contests.

Each month's winner gets a free Wire Rim Book. Just go to my webstore and email or direct message me your selection and mailing address.

And the winner is: