Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holiday Gift Ideas for Flat Broke Writers

You’re a writer, the holidays are creeping up and your bank account is so empty, it echoes. Being a participant in involuntary simplicity doesn’t mean your friends and family go gift-free. You have the skills and savvy to make their holidays brighter without setting your stocking on fire.

For everyone
Throw down some words. We’ve all had non-writing friends and relatives ask what we do for a living, and when we say “Write,” they always ask “Did you write a book? Have you met Stephen King yet?” Ha ha, Grandma.  But actually seeing something you’ve written gets the message across, and it’s a gift from the heart. Pen a lovely poem, sarcastic haiku or even a bit of flash fiction starring your father and that Dodge Charger he gave up when you were born. It could be the nudge he needs to forgive you for existing, and if that doesn’t express the holiday sentiment, nothing else does. Extra points if you print something out and frame it. People love frames.

For readers and writers
When you write, your first go-to move for gifts usually involves books. It's easy to drop fifty bucks (if you have the cash) on a couple of hardcovers at the bookstore, but you can trump that with the wonder of the Internet. We live in a glorious world of free ebooks, digital entertainment as far as the eye can see. We’re not talking piracy, either, because that’s wrong and an erudite grizzly bear will smack you in the face with a rolled-up newspaper filled with bologna if you do it. Every major book selling site offers freebies, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, All Romance, etc., and don’t forget classic sites like OpenCulture and Project Gutenberg.

It works best if the giftee shares a home with you, so you can download books to a reader on a shared computer or their personal ereader. If they know how to manage data transfers, you can save the goodies to a flash drive and wrap it in some snazzy paper to make your gift look even cooler. When giving free ebooks, don’t focus on scoring their favorite authors, although you’ll occasionally find one or two offering freebies. You’ll have better luck matching them up with new reads and fresh voices in the same style or genre they already enjoy. You may introduce them to a new favorite author or two, and they’ll buy more books. Yay! Everyone wins!

For writers

Don’t worry about the taxidermied rabbits dressed like Pride & Prejudice characters that you just spied on eBay; the best thing you can give writers is attention. Designate a “Pimp Day” for each of your writer friends and publicize their work. Give them a lovely Amazon review, tweet their book links, splash their book covers on Pinterest, talk them up on Goodreads and Facebook. If some of your friends don’t have books, pimp out what they do have! Comment on their blogs, share their articles, and let the world know how talented they are. Your gift will distract them from obsessing over their inboxes and drinking wine in the morning. Helpful hint: tell them about their Pimp Day first, so they have something for you to promote, and only do one Pimp Day a week on all your social media outlets so you don’t overwhelm your own readers. We all crave attention, but no one wants to be the spammy coal in the bottom of the stocking.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shanking and Other Book Sale Rules

Library and community book sales are practically sacred holidays for book nerds, although they can look more like a geeked-out Black Friday.  I’ve been through dozens of sales over the years, and I think there should be some ground rules:

  1. No chatting with long lost friends in front of the shelves. Standing between me and a row of books while talking about your ferret’s colon troubles will get you shanked. Usually I’m not packing anything sharp, but I am tempted to beat you down with my tote bags while I politely say “Excuse me” and reach past your gabbing head.
  2. No humming while browsing. At best, I don’t need to hear your personal soundtrack. At worst, you come off looking and sounding like a serial killer. It makes me want to look over your shoulder at the books you’re perusing in case the authorities need a heads-up, and I have my own book lust to fulfill. Your creepiness is slowing me down, dude.
  3. If you’re only buying books to resell, you should be required to read every single one of them before you slap them on eBay or your store shelf. I understand wanting to make a buck, but you deprive people of wonderful, affordable finds by filling boxes with first editions or hogging a shelf while you look up resale prices on your phone. If you’re only there to flip $1 books into a profit and you have 50 or more stacked up at the counter, at least find out what’s between the covers first. If you rush past me to grab a book I’m reaching for, you owe me a book report. Or I get to smack you around with the tote bags.
  4. No farting or belching in the book sale room. There’s usually far too many book nerds crammed into a tiny space, so have some common courtesy, and don’t sneeze or cough on the books, either.  If you’re going to explode in some gross way, go over by the box of free religious pamphlets and dietary booklets from the 1960s. That’s usually clear territory.
  5. Find a great book? Wonderful! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T STAND IN FRONT OF THE STACKS AND READ IT.  Either step out of the way or do like the rest of us; shove it in your bag and move on. It’s like being in shark-infested waters, keep moving or you’re going down.
  6. Learn to scan titles. If you watch experienced book sale shoppers, their eyes move back and forth like the red vision sensors of vintage Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. It’s a practiced skill, but one that will serve you well, especially when you spot a 1908 edition of Hawthorne’s “Twice-told Tales.” (Score!)
Sound a little harsh? Maybe, but you've never survived a book sale with a gang of competitive book club seniors or rogue librarians. Follow these rules and you'll live to read another day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity

Fed up with your day job and ready to let your pet support you? Check out the latest from Quirk Books, HOW TO MAKE YOUR CAT AN INTERNET CELEBRITY by Patricia Carlin. This book is funny, entertaining and frighteningly subversive. Occasionally while reading, I’d say to myself, “Yeah, I could do that.” It’s a tip of the hat to Carlin, who makes this not only funny, but close enough to a Weird Success for Dummies book to sound totally plausible.

The Internet has conditioned us to take in information with cat pictures, and Carlin has taken advantage of that with lots of adorable kitty pictures (by apparent cat whisperer Dustin Fenstermacher) and fake profiles liberally sprinkled throughout the book. It covers everything from getting the best performance from your cat to what to do when your feline becomes a diva and wants to fire you. By the end, I was mentally ticking off my cat’s assets to see if she was Internet material. Uno the Inappropriate Cat already has a title (one of the recommended branding tips in the book) although filming her constantly is more effort than I can muster. But when Carlin suggested where to buy kitty props and costumes, I mumbled “That’s brilliant!” I suspect I’m smack in the middle of her target humor demographic or dangerously close to letting my cat host a pawdcast.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR CAT AN INTERNET CELEBRITY is a fun read, especially if you love cats, the Internet and don't have a 401K for your retirement. If this whole writing thing doesn’t pan out, I’ll probably end up buying a good camera and some tiny funny hats. Uno, show me your best side! Um, Uno, that's a little close. Can you back up...wait...oh, forget it.