Safe Online Banking Tips

I read a lot this past weekend about online banking because a friend had been hacked. I thought I'd pass along a few tips about how to be safe and secure when online banking.

Of course, if you're older than a gnat, you know that nothing is ever 100% safe. There's just no way you can achieve that. However, it is possible to manage the inherent risk in online banking.

You won't be surprised to know that most financial institutions invest a great deal to make their websites secure. That's why hackers and scammers usually don't attack the bank's website. They go to the less secure customer who uses the website.

Cybercrime Growing

Cybercriminals try every way possible to gain access to the customer's bank account by using malware or by tricking the customer into providing confidential information in a phishing scheme. In 2009, in the UK, more than 59 million pounds were defrauded through online banking scams, and that was a 14% increase over the previous year.

Here in the U.S., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reported scams resulted in $150 million loss for bank customers, small to midsize businesses, and that happened in the fall of 2009. Just the fall!

Don't Get Phished

A typical phishing scheme is to send an email that says your bank needs some of your account information updated. If you click on the enclosed link, you arrive at what looks like an official page, but it's really a website put up by the crooks. Any information you enter, i.e., login name, password, PIN, etc. will then be used to empty your account and then used for identity theft crimes like obtaining credit cards.

Then there are the Trojans that install keylogging software on your computer just because you opened a bad email or visited a rogue website from clicking a link that was in the bad email.

Everything you keyboard gets logged by the bad guys, and that means your bank info, credit card numbers if you go online to make a purchase, logins and passwords for everyplace you visit and so on.

Secure Practices

1. When accessing your bank account online, purchasing anything online, or entering private information, always make sure "https" precedes the URL in the address bar. A lock icon should also be shown.

2. Always remember that banks, credit card companies, and the Social Security administration will never email you to confirm or update information. If you get such an email and you think that it's really legit, call them or go in person to verify. Do NOT click any kind of email link.

3. Regularly scan your computer with a good security software that you keep updated with the latest virus definitions.

4. Keep your software and browsers updated when notified of patches available.

5. As I wrote in 3 EZ Security Steps, do not use the same password for all your accounts.

Takeaway Truth

You can't achieve absolute safety, but you can minimize your risk by taking these steps.


Shirley Jackson, author of The Haunting of Hill House (1959) which is regarded by many as one of the important horror novels of the 20th century, wrote: “February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer.”

Shirley Jackson died in 1965. Today's readers probably don't know her, but, in her time, her writing was different and could probably be considered groundbreaking. She is said to have inspired Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Poppy Z. Brite, among others.

Perhaps best-known for "The Lottery," a short story published in 1948 in The New Yorker, she created a furor among readers with the story that suggested a sinister, secret underbelly existed in small-town America. Sounds as if her writing was ahead of her time.

Ms. Jackson's husband was literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman who wrote in a preface to a posthumous anthology of her work: "she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years."

Mr. Hyman went on to refute the critics' claims that the dark aspect of her writing was not a product of her "personal, even neurotic, fantasies." Rather, her writings were meant to be "a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb."

Remember, this was the post WWII Cold War years. It should come as no surprise that The Lottery was banned in many places. Ms. Jackson took those prohibitions as a badge of honor.

Takeaway Truth

Bleak February. Take heart; spring is nigh.

From Photo To Text Art

Isn't it amazing how easy it is to edit photos with image editing software? With ASCII, offered by Sourceforge for free, Windows XP and Vista systems, you can do more than touch-ups and repairs. You can create art. (I read this tip on a Kim Komando newsletter and checked it out for myself.)

You can take a photograph and convert it into text known as ASCII art. The resulting image is composed completely of text, but you can still read what it says.

You just download the app, then load a photo into the program, and it is transformed automatically into text. Then you can save the image as an image file or a text file.

There are settings that allow you to adjust contrast, brightness, etc. plus you can colorize it for a special effect.

Takeaway Truth

Free is good. Always.

Killing Time On Planet Earth

Welcome to Random Friday!

I warn you in advance, this post is about something highly addictive that will be a huge time suck – but, it's so much fun. Especially since I suck at most video games, but this is one I get 100% at all the time.

No Geeks – Only Typists

Typing Defense is a fun typing game. You type the words that appear, and if you do it correctly, a missile shoots the asteroids heading on a path that will destroy the planet.

Your mission? Destroy all the asteroids before they hit Earth. By the way, it starts easy, but it does get harder.

Takeaway Truth

Hurray for a contest writers can excel at!

3 EZ Security Steps

I wanted to pass along some security tips I read in the recent newsletter from Sunbelt Security's VIPRE which I use. I first blogged about this on my other blog, but I think it's crucial information so I'm posting it here as well.

1. Always install software updates.

These would be: (1) security updates sent to you by the makers of your operating system (Windows, Apple, Linux), (2) productivity software updates sent to you by manufacturers like Microsoft Office, WordPerfect, Adobe, (3) updates to software used to connect to the Internet (browsers, email clients, iTunes, Quicktime, Java, etc.).

2. Always use a password different from your email password for a social networking site (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn).

You may not know this, but most of the social networking sites don't have SSL encrypted login for users. Hackers know that most people use the same password for email, social network sites, and other login situations.

Since most social networking sites require your email as your user name, hackers immediately know your email addy. If he can get that, then he has a good chance of your intercepted logon password being the same as your email addy. Instant access to send spam & spread viruses using your email account.

If you've had your email hacked, and you get hacked again even after changing your email password, and, to complicate the issue, your anti-virus can't find anything, what's happened is that your email addy and password get captured anew because you still maintain the practice of using the same email address & password to access the non-SSL-encrypted social network sites.

Drop that habit like a, well, bad habit.

3. Use a different password for each social network site, and always different from your email password.

Takeaway Truth

Yes, it's a pain, but it's crucial to protect you online.

Writers Digest Annual Contest

For 8 decades, the Annual Writer’s Digest Competition has inspired and rewarded writers. This year is no exception, and the more than $30,000 in cash and prizes is proof!

Grand Prize: $3,000 cash and a trip to New York City to meet editors or agents.

The Grand Prize manuscript, the First Place manuscript in each category, and the names of the top 100 winners in each category will be printed in a special competition collection.

Deadline: May 2, 2011.

10 Categories:

1. Inspirational Writing (Spiritual/Religious)
2. Memoirs/Personal Essay
3. Magazine Feature Article
4. Genre Short Story (Mystery, Romance, etc.)
5. Mainstream/Literary Short Story
6. Rhyming Poetry
7. Non-Rhyming Poetry
8. Stage Play
9. Television/Movie Script
10. Children's/Young Adult Fiction

Visit Writer’s Digest Competition for information and entry form.

Takeaway Truth

Someone will win. Why not you?

Binge Reading

Hi! My name is Joan, and . . . I'm a binge reader.

I went to Corpus Christi last weekend. My DH drove, and I read books on my Kindle.One book led to another until I was struck by this thought: I'm a binge reader! Oh, dear. Are you a binge reader too? Unsure? Here's a questionnaire that will help you discover whether you too suffer from this addiction too.

Binge Reader Questionnaire

1. Are you unable to place a bookmark and close a book once you've started reading?

2. When you finish a book, do you immediately start reading another one?

3. In the rare event that you have no other books to read, do you find yourself in an online bookstore and don't know how you got there?

4. Would you rather read than watch TV?

5. Do you sneak a read when you're supposed to be doing something else like laundry, a spreadsheet that's due, or your writing quota for the day?

6. Do you stay up late at night reading when you should be sleeping?

7. Do you have stacks of books to read but you can't resist buying another one?

8. Have you ever made the remark: "I can quit any time I want."

If you answered yes to at least half of these questions, you have a problem. If you answered yes to all of them, you're a binge reader, and you probably have a cluttered home and piles of work awaiting you.

Takeaway Truth

Who cares? There are worse addictions than reading. Look on the bright side. You're well-read. You can converse on many different subjects. Your kids are probably readers too, and that's helped them develop critical thinking skills. And, you're happy. If you're happy, chances are, your family is happy too. Keep reading!

Body By Computer

Did you read the study a few months ago about the fitness level of computer gamers? The university study, done in the UK, conducted a series of tests — physical and psychological — to determine whether computer game playing could be defined as a sport. So what's a gamer's body like?

I'm talking serious gamers here. The kind who actually earn thousands in prize money and sponsorship each year.

They found that professional computer gamers have the instant reactions of fighter pilots. Unfortunately, they also discovered that these gamers have physical bodies akin to 60-year-old chain smokers.

A sport? Uh, make that a big no if you're trying to say these guys are like athletes.

Of course, this started me wondering how we writers would stack up in a similar study. I mean, if you're like me, you spend most of your day in front of a computer, pecking furiously on a keyboard.

Heck! I can't even brag that I've got the reactions of a fighter pilot.

Takeaway Truth

I hereby resolve to get more exercise this year.


Today, for writers, I paraphrase Henry Ward Beecher who said: Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first day of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.

My Offering

Every writer should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up your quest one more time, or let go of an old ambition, according to circumstances; but, in January, let writers gird themselves once more, with faces to the future, and take no interest in the failures of the past.

There are 342 days left of this year. Every evening of every day ask yourself this question: What did I do today to achieve my primary goal?

Takeaway Truth

Make each day count.

Design Your Own Gravatar

Gravatar is an acronym for Globally Recognized Avatar. It is the image that follows you all over the Internet. You've seen it as the little picture that shows up next to your name if you make a comment on a blog site or forum.

In too many cases, the image that appears next to your name when you hop around the Internet is some generic graphic. You can change that gray block or weird little pic to an image that personally identifies you, and only you.

An example is the image that illustrates this post -- the JR logo I created -- that is linked to me. Any time I make a comment, that image is posted next to my identity. It's easy to create your own gravatar.

Follow me as I tell you how to create your own gravatar so you can use it to help in branding your name or product.

Get Your Own Gravatar

Visit and sign up for a free account. All you need is your email address. Once you've done this, read the image size requirements. Create the image you want to use based on those parameters, and then upload the image. In mere moments, you have your Globally Recognized Avatar or Gravatar – your personal avatar.

Then register any email address you use so it will be linked to the Gravatar you created. You'll have to click the email confirmations they send for each email account, but that's all there is to the process.


You can link any number of email accounts to your gravatar. If you want to set up your sites to display gravatars when someone comments on your site, it's easy because there are plugins available for the leading blog softwares and content management systems. You can view the tutorials on if you need some help along with more information about the subject.

By the way, all gravatars are rated with an MPAA style rating so you can restrict your site to show only the gravatars whose content you are comfortable with. That way you won't have any naked body parts or anything else popping up on your site that your other visitors might find offensive.

Takeaway Truth

Creating and displaying your own gravatar is just another way to brand your identity and Internet presence.

3 Ways to Play Private Eye

Want to play Sam Spade and check out your daughter's new boyfriend or the woman you're thinking of hiring as an assistant?

There's a wealth of information in public records if you know how to access them. Public records contain everything from property tax records to criminal history. Courts and other governmental agencies post public records online, but the data is usually contained on user-unfriendly websites.

3 Ways To Play Private Eye

If you suspect the applicant for the nanny position might have a criminal history, Criminal Searches is your tool. All you need is a name and state, but you can add other details to refine the search. Their records contain crime descriptions, past addresses and known aliases.

If you want to access the public records on people and businesses, with a name and state, Dirt Search can help. Just remember, there's a lot of public record sites in any state so you'll have to dig through the data to find what you want. The states don't have to conform to any guidelines in what they release, so you'll find different kinds of data from state to state.

You can search using Google, but, as you well know, you get thousands of hits. CVgadget is an app that categorizes the results.

Takeaway Truth

The Internet makes it possible to be your own reference librarian.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Get ready for the 4th Annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award that begins 01/24/2011.

Between that date and 02/06/2011, entries can be sent. The contest closes on 02/06/2011 or when the first 5,000 entries have been received in each category, whichever comes first.

This contest is sponsored by Amazon and the Penguin Group (USA), and has NO entry fee. Self-published novels are eligible for submission.

For more information about this international competition that's looking for fresh new writing voices, check it out today.

CreateSpace, an Amazon company, will again host the submission platform for the contest.

Take Action Now

Prepare your entry by reviewing the submission guidelines, tutorials, and official contest rules.

2. At CreateSpace, sign up to receive contest notifications with helpful tools and tips for preparing your entry.

3. Network and discuss the contest by connecting with other authors.


2 Grand Prize winners, 1 in each of the 2 categories, receive a full publishing contract with Penguin including a $15,000 advance.


General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction


Unpublished novel manuscripts and Self-published novels

Entry Package Requirements

Pitch: 300 words or less

Excerpt: First 3,000 - 5,000 words of the novel

Final manuscript: 50,000 to 150,000 words

Information about your book

Personal contact information

Takeaway Truth

Someone has to win. Why not you?

Sticky Websites

Websites should have the same attributes as a beautiful woman or handsome hunk: they should be desirable and charismatic as well as possessing the kind of magnetism that makes you stick around.

Would you describe your website that way? Sounds kind of like a mission impossible, doesn't it?

Easier Than You Think

Achieving a website that's desirable is probably easier than transforming oneself into a raving beauty when you weren't born one. The desirability of a website, its stickiness, to use a term coined by Thomas H. Davenport, Professor of Management Systems at Boston University, in an article he wrote for CIO Magazine, is “a measure of how much attention a website gets over time.”

Measurement Details

This “stickiness” is measured by either or both of these ways: how long a visitor stays on a website and/or how often that visitor returns to that site. The longer a visitor stays, the stickier the website is considered. The more often the visitor returns to that site, the stickier the website.

Why Bother?

I'll answer this from two viewpoints.

If you're a writer, you want to entice people to your website in order to promote yourself and your writing. You want them to stay on your site because you want them to get to know you, to like you, and to think maybe I'd enjoy reading what they write. Of course, you hope that they will buy your book or request it from the library (that results in one or more sales) and to tell others about your books or articles and website thus increasing the visitors to your website.

If you're in business, it's a no-brainer why you want to make your site sticky. The more people who come to your site, the more the chances that they will buy something. The longer they stay on your site, again, the more the chances that they will buy. Sure, you want them to tell others about your site and products also.

So, whether you're a writer or a business selling thingamajigs, you want your site to be sticky. Check back to learn the techniques you can use to make that happen.

Takeaway Truth

Website desirability or stickiness can be created using the right techniques.

Free Stuff From Freecycle

I have a tip for you today about how to get free stuff.

My friend Frank is always sending me emails that show the latest, greatest thing he's got from Freecycle. Just recently he attached a jpg showing this great gas grill he got -- absolutely free.

Why Free

People have things they won't to get rid of. Maybe they got an upgraded item and won't to dispose of the old one except it's in perfect working order so they don't want to throw it away. Maybe someone doesn't want the hassle of running an ad and trying to sell the old thingamajig. Maybe they don't even want to haul it to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army donation center.

Freecycle Recycles

Whatever the reason, people post their used items on sites like Freecycle. All you have to do is contact the owner and make arrangements to pick up the merchandise.

People want to pass on their belongings to someone who needs or wants them. That keeps the stuff out of landfills. People give away all kinds of goods: children's clothes and toys, furniture, books, TVs and so much more. We gave away 2 perfectly good big TV's last year. Why? Because we got new flat panel ones.

If you're into getting free stuff, then make a point to visit Freecycle. They're a network made up of 4,897 groups with 8,049,285 members around the world.

Way It Works

Each local group is moderated by volunteers. Membership is free. Sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box or click Browse Groups. Once you find a local group, start checking the postings.

Takeaway Truth

Recycle. Reuse. Pass it on.

Book Reviews

Yesterday I published on my other blog a review of a book I'd recently read.

I struggled in writing the review because I couldn't give it the accolades that I know every author wants. There was a lot of interest in the book, but it really needed editing so I sweated blood in trying to give an honest opinion without sitting on the baked cake.

Baked Cake?

That's from something I read a long time ago that was attributed to Danielle Steel. The famous author said: "A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it."

I never want to demolish anyone's best effort so I carefully compose each book review I publish.

Authors pour their heart and soul into books. They never set out to write a bad book. Sometimes, the end result just doesn't match the vision within.

Takeaway Truth

I hope if you publish book reviews that you'll remember writers are real people with real feelings. Choose your words carefully.

Break Out the Bubbly

A few months ago at the Texas Mushroom Festival in Madisonville, Texas, we bought all-day tickets to the wine tasting. For a mere $10, we got to sample wine all day long and received a commemorative wine glass to boot.

I took a card from each vineyard that participated, and on the back I made notes about the wines I liked best. I'd like to tell you about one of the wines that my daughter and I, and even my husband, found utterly delicious. It's Bubbly from Lone Hen Winery.

Note: Unfortunately, I discovered that their website is navigable only with Internet Explorer. Since I use Mozilla, I had to make an extra effort to visit their site and was disappointed that the website offered no way to buy the wine.

So my darling husband trekked over to the winery a couple of weeks ago to buy some wine for me. Unfortunately, he found out that their fabulous Bubbly is all gone, but there'll be a new vintage in the spring. He did get a nice impromptu tour and was quite impressed with their operation.

Lone Hen Winery

Steve and Vicki Kirkpatrick are the guiding forces behind Lone Hen Winery. The vineyard itself is next to their home so they can give the wine "the loving attention it deserves."

Lone Hen is not a huge operation. It's a small, artisanal winery with the land kept organically for the last 17 years. It's in the College Station-Bryan area of Texas and just a stone's throw from the Brazos River.

Their mission, according to the website is: "to produce wold-class wines with a local personality." I fell in love with their Bubbly, a sparkling wine made in the French champagne style from their estate pears, or so Vicki told me when I chatted with her at the Mushroom Festival.

They actually have 3 wines right now: Bubbly, a Sparkling Pear Wine; Juicy, a Sparkling Berry Wine, and Pink, a Grape & Pear Blend. We were excited to hear that they will have a Blanc du Bois, one of our favorite white wines, next year.

Takeaway Truth

I'll let you readers who love your sunshine in a glass know as soon as Lone Hen has some more wine.

Shadowfever Soon

I wanted to tell you that I'm eagerly anticipating the release of the last of the books in the Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning.

Shadowfever is set for release next Tuesday, January 18, and I can hardly wait. I'm clearing my schedule so I can spend time reading since I've been waiting, along with several thousand other fans, for this book.

From Shadowfever's Amazon Webpage

"The Fever Series is all about seeing the truths beneath the illusions and figuring out how to deal with them—or die. While investigating her sister’s murder in Dublin, MacKayla Lane discovers that beneath the beautiful surfaces of nearly everyone and everything she encounters, there’s something else entirely. From the Fae with their deadly glamour, to the siren-call of the Unseelie king’s all-powerful book of dark magic, to Mac herself who starts out young, lovely and innocent only to end up—well, you’ll have to read Shadowfever to find that out—nothing is as it seems."

Takeaway Truth

I'm not a big fantasy fan, but this series totally captured my imagination. I have to say that the Fever books transcend genre lines.

3 Marketing Habits To Adopt

1. Think Long Term.

You need to develop a marketing strategy that focuses on long term goals. Becoming a "name" isn't going to happen overnight. Selling 10K books this month isn't just going to happen either unless you do something different. Be patient and begin by writing some achievable goals designed to help you increase your name recognition and public awareness of your brand.

2. Know your brand.

Yeah, you there. What is your brand? What kind of writing are you known for or want to be known for? You need to give a lot of thought to this because it's virtually impossible to market yourself and/or your work unless you know what your product is.

3. Increase your visibility.

You must be noticed. No one will want to find your books if you sit quietly in a corner. Investigate low cost ways that make a big impact. Write articles, book reviews, blog, comment, speak up, Tweet, Facebook, attend writers club meetings, network. There are thousands of ways to get noticed online. Figure out what you can do that's just a step out of your comfort zone. You see, you have to step out of your comfort zone to grow.

Takeaway Truth

If you're not satisfied with your sales numbers or your career growth, you must do something different because if you keep doing the same old thing, you'll keep getting the same old results.

Judge a Book By Its Cover

Leslie Marshman of Houston Bay Area Romance Writers of America wants me to remind all of you authors – print and digitally published; royalty and indie published – that there's still time to enter the 2010 Judge A Book By Its Cover Contest.

They've had a flurry of entries this week, but they still have room for your lovely cover. Don't delay. The Deadline: Midnight CDT, January 15th. There's just a few days left so don't miss this opportunity.

What Popular Authors Think

Best-selling author Christie Craig was the 2008 JABBIC First Place Winner in the Single Title Category. Christie said: "Winning the JABBIC was not only a huge honor, it gave me a boost in sales. I actually got emails from booksellers letting me know they reordered my book after seeing the ad in the RWR. Another big perk of winning was the opportunity to honor my publisher, who does a fabulous job on covers. Thank you, Houston Bay Area RWA."

Romantic thriller author Colleen Thompson, 2007 First Place Winner in Romantic Suspense said: "After my book, Head On, won the JABBIC's romantic suspense category, I was pleasantly surprised by a renewed surge in interest in the novel. I'll definitely be entering again in the future."

PJ Mellor who had one of her book covers featured in a segment on Geraldo about erotica romance was the 2006 1st Place Winner in Single Title/Mainstream. She said: "Winning the 2006 JABBIC for The Cowboy was a thrill! I think the prize of being featured on the back cover of Romance Writers Report definitely helped sales, which resulted in my editor asking me to participate in another cowboy anthology."

USA Today best-selling author Robin T. Popp, 2005 JABBIC First Place Winner for Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal said: "I want to thank you and the chapter for the terrific ad in Romance Writers Report for the contest winners. Your one ad is probably doing more in the way of promoting my book than all my other efforts combined."

So there you have it. Truth right from the horses', uh, make that authors' mouths.

Entry Fee: $15.

Eligibility: Published in 2010.

Entry Format: Electronic files only: JPG or GIF.

Categories: Contemporary Series, Single Title/Mainstream, Historical, Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal, Sexiest Cover.

Judges: Booksellers in North America, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.

Top Prize: Winners will be featured in a full-page color ad on the inside front cover of the April Romance Writers Report.

Visit Houston Bay Area Romance Writers of America or contact Leslie Marshman at: judgeabook at hbarwa dot com.

Takeaway Truth

Don't delay. Take advantage of the opportunity to get some solid exposure for your book and your name. Enter today.

Freelance Writers Resource

I published this post on Joan Slings Words, my other blog, earlier in the week. This is something this blog's readers might want to know too so I decided to post it here also.

Today's post is a resource listing for any of you who may be interested in hanging out her or his writing shingle.

Just remember to investigate any job listing or project site thoroughly so you know what you're getting involved in.

These are just a few of the places where you can find listings of writing jobs. Watch out for ads placed by content mills like Demand which is having its own set of legal problems connected with its IPO quest. Perhaps there is justice if only of the poetic variety since the IPO stalled because of "questionable" accounting practices. Unfortunately, this won't put dollars in the pockets of the many writers who created Demand's touted content inventory numbering in the millions I think.

Freelance BBS

Freelance Switch

Freelance Writing

Freelance Writing Gigs

Online Writing Jobs

Performancings Jobs

Sun Oasis Jobs

Telecommuting Jobs

Work At Home

Writer Find

Write Jobs

Writer Jobz

Writers Weekly

These are legitimate job sites, but the listed jobs range from ridiculously low pay to average wages, albeit on the low side. The truth is that if you want to make a living wage in freelance writing that you need to develop your own list of clients.

Takeaway Truth

Everyone has to start somewhere. Use your early writing successes as stepping stones to where you want to be.

Promotion With BookMovement

Do you know about They were founded in 2001 with the objective of becoming a resource for book clubs to recommend books to each other.

The Preview & Review

This program introduces new titles to their members by giving free copies of books to 10-15 members (or one book club) to read and review for their peers.

Essential Book Club Planner

This tracks what book clubs are reading and enables member book clubs to share and distribute book information to their members. Clubs create their own private web page on which they post selections and send notices to members.

The Planner creates a reading guide for the selection, and emails the guide and other info details including a Google map of the meeting location, the Amazon price with a buy link etc. to the club members. It also sends a follow-up email to club members asking them to evaluate their book selection for their peers.

Much More

There are many other utilities to make reading and sharing more fun and to spread the word on good books. In the last 5 years, book club population 25% so there are now more than 5.2 million adults as book club members with the average member reading 36 books a year. (Only 12 of these are book club selections. By contrast, the average American reads only 5 books a year.

So if you want 22,000 book clubs to find your book, register at the site and discover the promotional opportunities at

Takeaway Truth

Look for good opportunities to promote your book and your name so check this site out and see if they can help you with those goals.

The Flu

We had a New Year's visitor who was thoroughly unwanted: the flu.

My DH came down with it on Wednesday. By Friday, I had him at the doctor who prescribed Tamiflu to try to shortcut the malady.

I crawled to the computer tonight to put fingers to keyboard and say something profound about the joys of nursing others with the flu. Uh, I got nothing.

Samuel Butler in The Way of the Flesh, 1903, wrote: "I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better."

Unfortunately, I've never been able to shirk work because of illness, whether it was my illness or another's. Instead, I keep on plugging along, waiting on the sick until they are well and back in the thick of things. That's when I succumb to what they had.

Takeaway Truth

Note to family: Get well soon.

Book Cover Bragging Rights

Think you have a gorgeous book cover? Want some bragging rights for your book?

Get recognition for your great book cover. Enter 2010 JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER CONTEST by January 15.

I don't know of another contest like this one, sponsored by Houston Bay Area Romance Writers of America, because it's open to books and novellas published by a traditional print publisher, ePublisher, POD, or self-published.

Entry Deadline: Received by January 15, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Eligibility: Book published in 2010

Enter: The cover of your book or novella published by a traditional house, ePublisher, POD or self-published during 2010

Entry Format: Electronic files: JPG or GIF only

Categories: Contemporary Series, Single Title/Mainstream, Historical, Romantic Suspense, SF/Fantasy/ Paranormal, and Sexiest Cover

Judges: Booksellers in North America, the United Kingdom, NZ and Australia.

Top Prize: Winners will be featured in a full-page color ad on the inside front cover of the April Romance Writers Report, the official publication of Romance Writers of America.

Need more info? Visit Houston Bay Area RWA for an entry form and rules. You can also email Leslie Marshman: judgeabook at hbarwa dot com.

Takeaway Truth

Time is short. Take action on this today and gain some recognition for your book.

Hard Drive Maintenance

Everyone bandies the term "Hard Drive" around, but do you really know much about this piece of hard equipment that operates your PC? Do you know how to keep it healthy?

A hard drive, aka hard disk drive, is the device that writes data, that is, stores data on rotating plates with magnetic surfaces. When you issue a command to your computer, the data is retrieved and viewable.


One of the routine tasks you should do to keep your hard drive healthy is to defrag it on a regular schedule. This is another of those tasks you should make a habit. It's easy to do since you can schedule the task to run at the same time on a frequency you select.

Why defrag? Fragmentation occurs when your operating system breaks a file into pieces because there is not enough space on the storage device where the file was originally saved.

Your computer system keeps a record of where the different pieces of the file are stored. This is done by using a FAT or File Allocation Table. A similar file system is NTFS.

When you retrieve the file again, the operating system queries the file system (FAT, NTFS, or other) to locate all the different pieces of the file.

Defragmentation, or defrag for short, is the process of scanning the file system and rejoining the split files. It's rather like gathering all the pieces together and lining them up next to each other.

Your computer system tools has the defrag app. Use it because it's one of the easiest ways to increase your PC's performance.

Takeaway Truth

A stitch in time saves nine, and a little time spent taking care of your computer saves a lot of bucks down the road.


David Brown (I tried to discover which David Brown said today's wisdom, but there are so many David Browns on the Internet that it was an impossible task.) said: "Never be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home and never, never be both."

Now that the holidays are over, I think I'll take a deep breath and remember all the fun we had last month.

We had quite a few parties to attend this year. They were fun, and, for me, educational because they're a great resource for people watching. It's interesting to see someone across a room and form an opinion of them based on their appearance and then see whether that opinion is warranted as the night wears on.

Of course, all the parties this year were sedate with no outrageous drunken or ill-conceived behavior. I'm sure the hosts were delighted in their guests' good behavior, but, as a writer, I like to observe the quirky and ridiculous. Outrageous, when it occurs, is a big bonus. Bits and pieces of outrageous are a jumping off point for my imagination. Something ignited by this behavioral flotsam and jetsam eventually finds its way into what I write.

Takeaway Truth

You can always spot a writer at a party because he or she is the guest who's having way too much fun just listening and watching.

Origin of New Year Resolutions

Today, I offer a very short history of New Year’s Resolutions.

Some people write resolutions. Some don’t. Some like the idea of setting down goals for the New Year, and others feel doomed to failure before they start. Comediennes joke that a list of resolutions is a list of things you’ll never do.

Whatever you may think about New Year’s Resolutions, you probably wonder who started the tradition. Actually, there’s little history to explain an almost universal ritual. We do know that New Year’s is the oldest celebrated holiday. It dates back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians who feasted and otherwise celebrated for 11 straight days.

When In Rome...

Just about all of the history on New Year Resolutions attribute the practice to the Romans though. Supposedly, in 153 BC, they placed an image of Janus, the god of beginnings and the guard of doorways or entrances, at the head of the calendar. Yes, that’s why the first month of the Julian calendar is called January.

Janus was a two-faced god who could look back on the past events and forward to the future all at the same time so he became the symbol for the new year. Romans celebrated Janus and looked for forgiveness from their enemies of the past and looked forward to the future by exchanging gifts before the beginning of each new year, and, one supposes, made resolutions for new beginnings.

When Does New Year Begin?

Of course, two thousand years ago, the New Year didn’t begin on January 1. Even in our modern world, not every country marks January 1 as the first day of the new year. In 46 B.C., January 1 became the beginning of the New Year because Julius Caesar developed a calendar that more accurately reflected the seasons than previous calendars had.

As you probably can guess, the most popular resolutions in the western world are: stop smoking, stop excessive drinking of alcohol, lose weight, save more money, and get physically fit. In a recent study on resolutions, more than 50% of the participants were confident they could achieve their goals. However, only 12% actually achieved success.

Resolution Achievement

Interestingly enough, men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, a system of small measurable goals i.e. lose a pound a week, rather than just writing a resolution to lose weight. This didn’t work for women, but women succeeded 10% more often when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

Whether you’re for or against the practice of writing resolutions at the beginning of the year, I encourage you to set goals. I always think of goals as a road map. Without a map, you’ll travel a road, but who knows where it may go.

Takeaway Truth

Happy New Year!

(Also published as New Year Resolutions Are Universal on Joan Slings Words, my other blog.)