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The site is http://www.howtomakeabooksafe.com/ and it’s self-explanatory. Go and check it out. It has very clear instructions with great illustrations and tips for avoiding common mistakes.

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2013 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 100,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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FoxTrot Comic Strip for June 9th, 2013

FoxTrot is my favorite comic strip. It covers all the topics I enjoy–education, technology, writing, and family living.

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On a recent podcast of Writing Excuses, specifically Season 8 Episode 17: Microcasting, Mary Kowal explained her process for using Alpha and Beta readers. There are many, many ways to do this but I found her method very instructive. Here are my notes:

  • Alpha readers receive chapters one at a time, and stay about two chapters behind where Mary is currently writing her work-in-progress (WIP).
  • Beta readers receive her WIP all in one chunk. They focus on the work as a whole. Mary asks them to essentially flag problems by identifying:
    • areas that Bore them,
    • areas that Confuse them,
    • things they don’t Understand,
    • things they don’t Believe, and
    • things that are Cool (so she doesn’t change them and remove the coolness factor).
  • Editors, Agents, and other Industry Professionals see Mary’s WIPs only after going through this process so they can be in as final a state as possible.

In the podcast Mary promised to share a link to an external source and she did: Alpha-Reading by Laura A. Christensen. This excellent post details the things a writer needs to know from their readers:

  1. Clarity.  Do you understand what is going on? Can you picture the setting and the characters in your head? Can you see where everyone is in relationship to each other?  Was the fight scene confusing? Is my word choice obscure?
  2. Impact.  Was this part funny or did it fall flat?  Do you like these characters at this moment? Are you frustrated with them? Do you love them? Are you afraid? Is this intense? Are you bored? Do you wish you could stop reading? Do you feel like you’re there with the characters?  Was this part a tear-jerker or were you annoyed?  Was the ending satisfying or did I drop the ball?
  3. Believability.  How are my characters’ reactions? Does this feel plausible to you?  Is this the way you handle a gun in your experience?  Do I need to do further research about xyz?  Does my fight scene feel real? Does this fit together and make sense?
  4. Interest.  Does this fascinate you the way it fascinates me?  Are you hooked?  Is this too much detail or not enough?

All in all, this seems like sage advice. Thanks to both for sharing.

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Disney Princess Lineup

Disney Princess Lineup

I had a revelation tonight. I was thinking about the structure of my WIP and my thoughts drifted to my previous efforts at adapting the story of Esther. You see, Esther is a queen. My daughters love princess stories and Disney in particular has made billions on such stories.

So why hasn’t Disney released a princess movie about Esther? Ignoring the fact that she is a queen and not a princess, couldn’t the story be adapted to make it work?

And the answer…is no.

No. NO! It cannot be adapted! Neither Disney nor any other company will ever be able to use the story of Esther for their own purposes. It has always been and will remain a bible story.

But the intriguing part is why. And don’t be fooled. Disney has certainly tried. They were seeking adaptations for Rapunzel a decade or more before Tangled ever came out. And they finally did come out with a version of Rapunzel but Esther continues to elude them.

And here is the revelation. Esther can’t be adapted because the foundations of the story are built on Jewish culture and devotion to God. Neither component of the story can be removed or replaced without the whole story becoming a crashing house of cards.

This revelation in turn lead to a new understanding of what it means for a story to be labeled as ‘Christian’. I’ve blogged on this topic before but I’m not completely satisfied with my conclusions. Indeed, I never really came to any until tonight: If a story can have it’s Christian message removed or replaced then it isn’t really a Christian story. At least, not a strong one. We should all be writing strong Christian stories. We should all be crafting our stories in such a way as to make the biblical principles foundational, required for the story to be told.

And Esther is a fascinating story. Commentators have attempted to plumb the depths or the story for ages. But have any studied Esther as a model story? It’s plot-perfect in my opinion and has all the components to make it irresistible to readers: Kings, Queens, politics, opposing factions, dinner parties, deception, revenge, the threat of genocide, reversals, and even an Act III twist when the evil Haman is hung on his own gallows. The characters show a full range of emotions, gather information, and make life-altering decisions in an effort to escape the trap. Try reading it yourself for analysis and see if you don’t get sucked in.

The final point is that we should study Esther as a model for great biblical stories.

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We’ve all been there. Do you include the punctuation inside the quotes or outside? Where does the question mark go? Do I really need to use a dialogue tag?

So many suggestions and rules from very talented people. Some I’ve followed, but some I’ve ignored. The following are my rules and they work in every situation.

First, avoid using dialogue tags as much as possible because it’s true that you don’t need them. Second, I restrict myself to only three dialogue tags: said, asked, and the occasional exclaimed. Third, always structure the sentence so that the dialogue tag is on the inside, between the quote and the speaker regardless of which comes first.

With those restrictions, only nine combinations are possible. With help from the cast of the 1976 television series Alice, let’s explore them.

Pictured from the left: Flo, Alice, Mel, Tommy, and Vera

A. Dialogue Tag then QUESTION

  • In a gravely voice Mel asked, “Alice, did you charge that guy for soup?”
  • “Not yet.”
  • “You make sure you do. This is a diner, not a soup kitchen.”
Use the dialogue tag ‘asked’ with a comma before the quote. Use a question mark before the closing quote.

B. QUESTION then Dialogue Tag

  • “Alice, did you charge that guy for soup,”  asked Mel in a gravely voice.
  • “Not yet.”
  • “You make sure you do. This is a diner, not a soup kitchen.”
Use a comma before the closing quote then ‘asked’ as the dialogue tag. End with a period.


  • Flo interrupted. “Hey Mel?”
  • “Yeah?”
  • “Kiss my grits,” exclaimed Flo.
Use a question mark before the closing quote.

D. Dialogue Tag then STATEMENT

  • Alice said, “I want Tommy to have a future.”
  • “Doesn’t he like Phoenix,” asked Vera.
  • “There aren’t a lot of opportunities besides driving a truck.”
Use the dialogue tag ‘said’ with a comma before the quote. End with a period inside the quote.

E. STATEMENT then Dialogue Tag

  • “I want Tommy to have a future,” said Alice.
  • “Doesn’t he like Phoenix,” asked Vera.
  • “There aren’t a lot of opportunities besides driving a truck.”
Use a comma before the closing quote and ‘said’ as the dialogue tag. End with a period.


  • In a gravely voice Mel asked, “Alice, did you charge that guy for soup?”
  • “Not yet.”
  • “You make sure you do. This is a diner, not a soup kitchen.”
Use a period inside the closing quote.

G. Dialogue Tag then EXCLAMATION

  • Flo interrupted. “Hey Mel?”
  • “Yeah?”
  • She said, “Kiss my grits!”
Use the dialogue tag ‘said’ with a comma before the quote. Use an exclamation point before the closing quote.

H. EXCLAMATION then Dialogue Tag

  • Flo interrupted. “Hey Mel?”
  • “Yeah?”
  • “Kiss my grits,” exclaimed Flo.
Use a comma before the closing quote and ‘exclaimed’ as the dialogue tag. End with a period.


  • “Well, Sugar, I’d let you have the sandwich for free but…” said Flo gesturing behind her toward Mel.
  • “You stow it!”
Use an exclamation point inside the closing quote.

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2011 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Insightful advice that I think can be applied to cover art and more. It’s geared for picture books but there are lessons to be learned by all writers and illustrators.

What makes one picture book a bestseller and another a flop? While there's no way to predict a bestseller, many of the most successful picture books have some (or all) of these factors: 1.) Illustrations that are colorful, varied and full of movement. Successful picture books surprise the reader by the art on the next page — whether it's by using an unexpected image for humor, or using a different perspective (looking at something from above rat … Read More

via Tracy Marchini

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Source: A tale of two envies and what sells iPhones and Blackberries | SciGuy | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle.

Who knew there were two types of Envy? These researchers describe two distinct types – supportive and competitive. They call the supportive variant “benign” and the competitive “malicious”.

The researchers found that benignly envious people were willing to pay more for products a deserving friend had that they coveted, as in $110 more for an iPhone. That’s a good chunk of change.

However, people who were maliciously envious of iPhone owners were more likely to pay more for related but different products, such as a Blackberry.

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Web Sites You Need To Know


Smashwords is an ebook publishing and distribution platform for ebook authors, publishers and readers. They offer multi-format, DRM-free ebooks, ready for immediate sampling and purchase, and readable on any e-reading device. It’s free to publish and distribute with Smashwords. – http://www.smashwords.com/about

Visit http://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords. Read the free Smashwords Style Guide for instructions on formatting Microsoft Word manuscripts for best performance.

Amazon.com: Digital Text Platform (Kindle Publishing)

With Digital Text Platform (DTP) you can publish your books on the Amazon Kindle Store. It’s free, fast, and easy. Books published through DTP can participate in the 70% royalty program and are available for purchase on Kindle devices and Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android-based devices. With DTP, you can publish books in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian and specify pricing in US Dollars and Pounds Sterling. – https://dtp.amazon.com/

Additional Items Of Note

  • Book Rights: You will have to consult your contract for each book you want to upload. Just because it’s no longer in print doesn’t mean the ebook rights have returned to you. Older contracts may not mention ebook rights at all so unless there is all-inclusive language, you never gave them away. For those contracts that do include ebook rights, you will have to follow the contract specifications to get those rights returned and this may involve a lengthy request process. Rights are not necessarily returned automatically once the conditions for them have been met. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer so have a real one review the contracts and explain this to you so you can move forward.
  • Manuscripts: Hopefully, you still have copies of the final manuscript for each book you want to upload. Your authors should always keep copies of these things post editing. That said, if you do not there are other options including sending a copy of the physical book off to have it turned into an electronic document. Refer to the Smashwords guide for formatting.
  • Cover Art: Remember that cover art is copyrighted too. You may have to design new covers or get the rights to your old covers. To participate in the premium Smashwords catalog which is delivered to all the electronic retailers, you will need a cover. Refer to the Smashwords guide for acceptable sizes.
  • Markets: Amazon is by far the biggest publishing platform. Smashwords will convert your manuscript to many formats available to basically every other market. So you will still have to publish to Amazon to get on Kindle. I recommend using both to maximize your exposure to the online market.
  • Pricing: Apple requires a price ending in $.99 and Amazon has their 70% royalty program. Essentially, amazon will pay authors a 70% royalty rate so long as they price their books between $2.99 and $9.99. There is also an option for $.99. Read up on the program for details. That said, the sweet spot for novels (60,000+ words) seems to be $2.99. There is an author named Joe Konrath (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/) who has been sharing his sales numbers and breaking those down for his blog readers. Essentially, he has found that pricing books higher as the publishers tend to do is too high and will sell far fewer copies. Pricing lower sells more copies and authors actually make more money by pricing lower. You can read all about this on his blog. Bottom line: Pricing at $2.99 meets the Apple requirement, the Amazon 70% royalty program (which, again, is by far the market leader), and maximizes both exposure and profit. If this prices seems too low to you read Joe’s blog. He explains where the price for a hardback comes from and why $2.99 is quite reasonable given the digital nature of publishing which eliminates the need for many, many middle jobs in the process.
  • Royalties: Traditional publishing pays an author every 6 months. At least with amazon, you can be paid monthly I believe.

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