Indispensable Tool: Online Character Counter

I want to share with you an indispensable tool for anyone who uses Twitter or who needs to create a Product Description or other text with a character limit.

Character Count Online is a webpage you'll want on your Bookmarks Toolbar.

Visit the Character Count Online webpage and you'll see that it counts:

Characters, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, and Whitespace.

Counting the Whitespace is especially valuable because some webpages like Twitter limit you to a certain number of characters that include the whitespace.

I use this free web tool to create spreadsheets of Tweets that I upload to Twittimer each month.

All I have to do is make a tweet that I know is 140 characters or less (actually, I make one that is 137 characters), paste it into my spreadsheet, then it's easy to see if any succeeding tweet I paste in is too long.

Takeaway Truth

The Internet offers all sorts of free apps and webpages that can save you a lot of time. Try Character Count Online, and you'll find it just as useful as I.

Why Book Trends Come and Go

Many authors constantly try to outguess what book publishers want to acquire. In the indie self-publishing world, we try to outguess what readers want to buy.

Both of these actions are doomed because the book industry isn't static. It's always changing. What publishers or readers wanted last year won't be what they want next year.

With both traditional publishing, you must stay attune to trends because what publishers bought last year when a trend was hot won't even be on the shelves until next year or the year after.

With indie self-publishing, authors also must stay attune to trends. It's easier to catch a wave if you indie-publish than with traditional publishing, which has less flexibility in responding to the marketplace.

Publishers Gamble

Every time a publisher buys a manuscript, he's gambling that the subject matter of that manuscript will still be of interest in a year or two when the book rolls off the presses. Sometimes that gamble pays off in a big way. Usually this happens when the publisher has been building an author so that the author is who readers buy, not necessarily a particular book. The author has grown an audience so that readers anticipate the book because of previous books.

For indie self-publishers, this is also an important fact. Grow your audience book by book. 

Sometimes the trad publisher loses the gamble, and the losses can be huge for the publisher and for many of the other contracted authors.

Sometimes, an author in whom the publisher has invested time and money hits a roadblock. Either the book or the author's personal life becomes an issue that turns people off. Often, it's because the author has unwittingly written about something that in the interim period has been linked to tragedy or an infamous event.

I remember many years ago a romance author had a book come out that featured an astronaut as heroine. The book hit the shelves in the weeks after the Challenger disaster. No one wanted to read about a woman astronaut after Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnick died so tragically despite Sally Ride's previous success. The book couldn't find an audience.

The Market Changes

Book publishing also changes because culture is always changing--because people are always changing.

Basic human nature doesn't change, but how people want to be entertained does. It changes in response to societal changes. Our culture is less inhibited than our parents' generation. We grew up on R-rated movies so many of us want a reading experience that matches the movies--sexually explicit, violence in action, realistic language, etc.

What was new and innovative last decade is old and passe this year. Ten years ago there was little demand from publishers for erotica. Now that market is huge.

Years ago, paranormal was a limited genre with more offerings on TV i.e. Buffy, Angel, and the SciFi Channel than in book publishing. Now, that genre has saturated publishing. Editors and agents say they'll croak if they see another vampire book. Yet the genre seems to be chugging along. Will it crater this year? Will zombies finally die off? You'll just have to wait and see.

Change Or Die

The only constant is change. I'm looking at other genres and sub-genres with the thought of expanding my reach. I'm exploring change. As the market changes, you must change with it or die. In the writing business, to die means you don't get published. For indie authors, that means you publish but your books don't find an audience.

Sometimes, you have to explore new genres if you want to keep writing and selling. I don't mean sell out and write something that's not you.

Instead, find an element in an existing market or the trending market that has resonance for you. Embrace that and write for the popular culture in which you live.

Adapting to popular culture while remaining true to yourself is a fine line to tread, but successful authors do it every day. Read widely and find authors you like and respect. Use them as role models for what you wish to achieve.

Takeaway Truth

Carpe diem!

3 Simple Rules About Contracts

I've read many discussions over the years about authors who discover a publishing contract doesn't mean what he/she thought it meant.

I heard another example of this recently then I happened to watch a Judge Judy episode with a case determined by what the contract said because in most cases--I hesitate to say all because there may be an exception--what the contract says determines the outcome.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to give 3 simple rules about contracts, and this applies to any contract from a book publishing contract to a contract to buy a car or to join a gym.

3 Simple Contract Rules

1. If it's not in the contract, then it means nothing.

2. You must read the entire contract.

3. You must understand the entire contract.

If you haven't followed these 3 rules, do NOT sign the contract.

What's In the Contract

If you and an editor or a car salesman discussed any benefit if you sign on the dotted line, and that is not stated in the contract, it doesn't count. Only what is in the contract is legal. If there's something you've been promised, then don't sign until the contract has been revised to represent that.

Read the Entire Contract

Read the entire contract? Yes!! Every sentence. Yes, it takes time, and the gym rep is rushing you, but take the time--no matter how long--to read the contract before you sign.

If you're signing a contract with a literary agent, the same holds true. This way you can ask questions about elements you may not understand.

Understand the Entire Contract

If you don't understand something, ask questions. I'm amazed how many people see doctors and never ask questions. The same holds true for contracts. It's as if people who aren't lawyers are embarrassed to ask questions about what happens to any funds due you if the agent dies suddenly. Or, what happens to your royalties and your book if the publisher shuts down. Or any number of other things with which you should be concerned.

Ask questions unless you're an attorney who knows about intellectual property law. You need to remember, you are protecting yourself and your assets. If you get hassled about asking questions, then that's a red flag. Walk away.

Some traditional publishing contracts are long and can be hard to understand. If you belong to any group that offers contract advice like Authors Guild or even RWA, contact them with your questions.

There are many books out there (check Writers Digest Books) on understanding contracts. Educate yourself even if you eventually plan to get an agent to work for you.

Takeaway Truth

An informed writer is a writer who is less likely to be taken advantage of.

If Only I'd Known: Writing Lesson by Caroline Clemmons

Caroline Clemmons, one of my friends from the Smart Girls Read Romance group blog, is an Amazon bestselling and award winning author of 39 historical and contemporary Western Romance novels and novellas.

A frequent speaker at conferences and seminars, she has taught workshops on characterization, point of view, and layering a novel.

Caroline and her husband live in the heart of Texas cowboy country with their menagerie of rescued pets.

When she’s not indulging her passion for writing, Caroline enjoys family, reading, travel, antiquing, genealogy, and getting together with friends.

And other Web Pages
Find Caroline

Blog * Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Google+ * WattPad * Shelfari * Pinterest.

Click on Caroline's Amazon Author Page for a complete list of her books and follow her there.

Subscribe to Caroline’s newsletter to receive a free novella, Happy Is The Bride, a humorous historical wedding disaster that ends happily—but you knew it would, didn’t you? Caroline loves to hear from her readers so email her: caroline at carolineclemmons dot com.

If Only I'd Known: The Value of Networking
by Caroline Clemmons

One of my mom’s frequent phrases was “If only,” and I believe if she’d won the lottery, she would have said, “If only it was one of the larger amounts.”

We still joke about her glass-half-empty (with a crack down the side and a chip on the rim) attitude. Yet, each of us probably has a long list of things we wish we’d done or known years ago about which we say “If only.”

When Joan invited several of us to submit a post for her new feature, I had trouble choosing which of the many things I wish I’d known at the beginning of my writing career.

One day, my very supportive husband (whom I call Hero) told me he’d learned there was a group of romance writers that met not too far away on one Saturday a month. Over the years, I had been in garden clubs, book clubs, Bible study groups, women’s church groups, bridge groups, and home extension clubs.

I’d worked for a newspaper, and thought I knew how to write, and I already had plenty of friends. Why, I asked Hero, would I want to sit around with a group of women just because they also wrote romance?

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Picture me banging my head against the desk as I recall that foolish remark.

One of the most valuable aids to my writing was joining a local chapter of Romance Writers of America. At the local RWA chapter meeting, women didn’t just sit around talking, although they did network before and afterward.

Monthly programs were presented on a segment of writing. I soon realized I knew nothing about writing a romance—at least not if I ever wanted to sell one. We heard about point of view, pacing, internal and external motivation, conflict, character flaws, dialogue, editing, character arc, and much more.

I drank in every presentation, went to conferences, and formed a critique group. How did I publish my first book? One of the members of that RWA chapter told me the name of an editor who was buying for a new line and suggested I submit my book.

Amazingly, the editor offered me a contract—and major edits.

If only I’d know to join a local RWA chapter before writing my first book! 


Lorraine, Bride Brigade Series, Book 6 by Caroline Clemmons

How to escape marriage to an odious man? Leave the state.

Lorraine Stuart joins a group of women traveling to Tarnation, Texas, a town with numerous bachelors but no marriage-aged single women.

She longs to meet a man who will admire her and the writing ability that has her published in several publications, by a pseudonym of course.

Just her luck, out of all those in Tarnation, she falls for the most stubborn man she’s ever met. But, the handsome newspaper owner is the only one who makes her heart flutter.

Grant Pettigrew has worked hard to establish the Tarnation Gazette. He is intrigued by Lorraine but he won’t let a woman write for his newspaper. Besides, he can’t afford to hire anyone yet. But the redhead is gorgeous and ignites dreams of family, even though he’s never met a more obstinate woman.

Will two immovable forces join to form a forever love?

Click to add Lorraine, Bride Brigade Series, Book 6 to your Romance Library.

Takeaway Truth

Writers, don't isolate yourself. Writing friends and writing organizations have a lot to offer whether you're a beginner or a multi-published pro.

How Many Words Make You Salable

Have you written enough words to make your work salable? I bet you've never heard that question before.

I was thinking about this as I was sitting on the porch this evening and scribbling in a notebook.

Darling Hubby and I left Houston this afternoon, thinking we'd get away before the forecasted torrential rains from Tropical Storm Cindy.

We arrived at our house in the country and enjoyed an unseasonably cool evening courtesy of the approaching storm. So I took advantage of the cool evening to sit on the porch and write.

Writing Routine

Most of us who write a lot get in the habit of writing on a computer of some sort. We get in such a habit that we think we can't write unless we're at the computer.

The truth is that most of us have lives outside of writing. If we write only at the computer, we lose a lot of time when we could be getting more words in the can.

How Many Words Is Enough

Most commercially successful writers adhere to the theory that you must write thousands of words before you ever write anything salable.

Dean Koontz said this very thing in Writing Popular Fiction, published in 1972. (I think that was the first of his books on the subject in which I read that.)

Anyway, Mr. Koontz said: "A writer must write X thousand words before anything can be written worthy of publication. What that X is varies from writer to writer."

Self-Analysis

How many words have you written? Estimate your thousands of words. Are you happy with that? Maybe you need to write more by taking advantage of the short blocks of time you find during the day and evening.

Perhaps you should also try different media to take advantage of those minutes. It's easy to keep a notebook and pen nearby or tucked in your purse or in the car console. Try writing that way as well as with a note app on a tablet, voice dictation on your Smartphone, or an old AlphaSmart if you have one, as I do. (I'm going to hold a funeral when my AlphaSmart dies.)

It's really amazing how many words you can write just with pen and paper. Sometimes, because you're writing slower than when keyboarding, the words are more thoughtful and may need less editing.

Takeaway Truth

You'll get more words cranked out if you use your time effectively. It just requires a little advance planning.

Review: Zoo for Frights and Thrills

I've been binge watching Zoo, a CBS series, now on Netflix. (Both seasons are also on Amazon.)

What attracted me to the series is the premise that's at the heart of the dramatic: a widely-used chemical in products all over the world is altering the DNA in the animal kingdom, resulting in the animals viewing humans as prey no where near the top of the food chain.

I'd just finished reading up on the Monsanto/Round Up situation and had also watched some documentaries about this chemical.

Round Up (glycophosphate), widely-used on the planet, has affected the way wheat is grown and has found its way into our food supply. Scientific studies have linked glycophosphate to autism and also to the huge jump in auto-immune diseases.

Backstory

Zoo is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. This scary drama series stars:

James Wolk as Jackson Oz, a zoologist
Kristen Connolly as Jamie Campbell, a journalist
Nonso Anozie as Abraham Kenyatta, a safari guide
Nora Arnezeder as Chloe Tousignant, a French intelligence investigator
Billy Burke as Dr. Mitch Morgan, a veterinary pathologist

In Season 2, these cast members were added:

Alyssa Diaz as Dariela Marzan
Josh Salatin as Logan Jones/Edward Collins
Gracie Dzienny as adult Clementine Lewis

Premise

A group of people from various fields investigate the violent animals attacks upon humans begin occurring all over the world.

Some of the animal scenes are really frightening. I wouldn't let impressionable children watch this, or they may become scared of cats and dogs.

The series is well-acted, and each episode is imaginative in the way it escalates the threat from the animals--including fish, birds, insects, etc.

Along with the increased threat, the team seeking to alert the public to this menace as well as a way to reverse the genetic changes in the animal kingdom find themselves imperiled.

Like all evil corporations, the officer's companies have influence with the politicians. Thus the team finds themselves labeled criminals.

The evil corporation of course has a plan to cover their tracks and hide their culpability while at the same time fattening their wallets by offering their own solution to the growing problem.

Takeaway Truth

For chills and frights, watch Zoo. The series returns to CBS on June 29 for its 3rd season. Watch Season 1 and 2 now so you'll be ready for this summer thrill ride.

The Joy--and Pain--of Gardening

The way it looked before. Now it's a weed patch.
I spent the day working on Phase 1 of Yard Renovation at our house in the country.

I Hate Armadillos

The reno was necessitated by an armadillo in 2013 that completely destroyed the yard that summer by digging  under the house in every shrub and flower bed we had worked so hard to create.

You see, in the country there aren't a lot of landscape crews to do the hard work for you. In fact, it's hard to find anyone who wants to do landscaping work.

The end result? Dead plants, mulch that ended up everywhere but in the beds where it was to keep the weeds from growing, and massive holes all around the house. In the morning, I would fill the holes, only to have darn animal make new ones each night.

Backstory

The yard never got repaired. By the time the armadillo probably ended up as roadkill, we had started renovating the townhouse in Houston we'd bought and moving. The next year was taken up by reno, moving, and going through treatment for the trapezius muscle I had damaged doing all of the above.

Then in 2015, too many life challenges landed in our lap. We rarely came to our little house in the country. When we did, it was only to mow and go back to Houston.

Another Armadillo

I thought last year I'd finally have the time to devote to what was an overgrown weed patch--everywhere.

You couldn't even see the landscape rocks that had once edged the shrubbery. But Life had other plans--and another armadillo.

Eventually it must have met its fate on a country road. According to research I did, there's really no way to deter an armadillo. The only thing that makes it go away is death.

Fields of wildflowers
2017: I Have A Plan

I think I can be here every weekend for a few months. So I  decided to work on 1 area each weekend. Make it a blank slate by removing all landscape rock, pull all the weeds, put down new weed block cloth, dump a ton of mulch over that, and place the rock borders back.

I'm inspired. I'm pumped. I'm...tired!

I worked all morning on the lantana bed at the corner where the driveway and sidewalk meet. It's a blank slate now.

I finished that shortly after noon. Now I'm waiting for the sun to start going down so I can finish that one area with the weed block, mulch, and rock.

One thing about gardening in Texas in the summer. You must pace yourself and work before noon and after the sun starts going down. The heat is just too great otherwise.

Takeaway Truth

Phase 1 is almost completed. Now, I have only--gulp--14 more phases to go. Oh, dear. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.