Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The numbers game

Two years ago, this site got 326 hits in the month of April. This month just past? It got 3261 hits -- the most ever and a ten-fold increase. What changed in those two years?

First off, I started the writing workshops and, by April 2011, they were gaining traction. My Tuesday hits rose dramatically with each passing month, and still do (so although you're quiet, I know you're out there!).

Second, I dropped my regular, static webpage (pretty though it was) so that the addy www.dianahunter.net points here. What was supposed to be a temporary fix, however, as I searched for a new host and debated new designs, has become a permanent change. I like the tabs at the top to make it easy to find my books, no matter what nom de plume they're written under. I like the ease of updating everyone and I like the overall look (although I wouldn't mind feedback. I do tend to get bored with static pages and it might be getting close to time for a template change).

Third, I started up my Google AdWords campaign again, this time doubling the money. With AdWords, you create the ad, then determine a dollar amount you want to spend each day. Google places the ad on the sidebar of hundreds of sites until your click-through amount is spent. Sometimes that means I get only a few dozen placements, other times it means thousands. I only pay if the viewer clicks on the ad. Every time they click, they come to the front page here and that counts as a visit.

So visits to this site have increased by a factor of ten in two years. Each month is better than the month before (those 3261 hits for the last 30 days is a new record for me!) and I don't see the trend falling off anytime soon.

Now some of you are probably saying, "What? Only 3251 hits for an entire month??? Poor thing!"

I don't see it that way at all. I see it as a huge growth - one that is still going strong. My book sales are up, and while I have no proof that's related to the rise in the number of website hits, I'm pretty sure its a factor. So this glass-half-full kinda gal is elated and celebrating!

Thanks to all who visit. Be sure to join my newsletter (sign-up is in the top right corner of this page) for special surprises and deals on my books. And, as always,

Play safe!

Throw some spaghetti!

Some prompts this week to get you going if you need it, get some practice if you want it, get down, get funky, get real!

LOL Okay, whimsical is the word for the week. Don't know about you, but after a week like the one just past, we can all use some whimsy in our lives.

And so....

Choose a prompt below and, using what you learned before, have at it!


1) Using the word "whimsical" or "whimsy" as your base, write a scene that expresses that feeling.

2) It's the first warm day of the new season; protagonist has had a long day at work and is on his/her way home. An ice cream stand, capitalistic to the core, is open to take advantage of the beautiful day. Describe the scene and decide: does your protagonist give in to the call of the ice cream, simply watch from the sidelines, or pass by without noticing?

3) Write the scene: You're the ice cream man but only have one flavor. People don't care, they buy it anyway. Smiles abound.

4) First person point of view: you pass a group of kids, ages range from about 10 to 15. They're flying kites in the very strong wind. What do you do?

Have fun, play a little, write a lot!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Writing what I know

 An event happened this week that shook me up a little. Not a lot. I’m pretty level-headed when it comes to emergencies. Actually, I’m a lot level-headed. I don’t panic, I don’t look around for someone else to do something. I just do what needs to be done and let the shaking come later.

It will come as no surprise to faithful readers that I deal with my emotions through writing. When all was said and done, I sat at my computer in an empty room and vented. I tried to capture not only the events that had just occurred, but the play of emotions – both the ones I felt and the ones I observed in others.

And then I compartmentalized it. I set the event aside and went on with life as if nothing had changed. Because really, nothing had. The sun still rises, everyone came out of the event alive and well and life moves on.

Yet it was still in the back of my mind, coming to the front at odd times. What might I have done better? Would there have been a way for me to act faster?

So it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that, having read an entire book yesterday that’s in the police-procedural genre, I sat down this morning and wrote my experience into a scene using a character who is an old friend. I didn’t know she had another story in her when I started, but half-way through she poked her head in and claimed the scene for her own.

One of the interview questions I get often is, “How much of your writing is based on experience?” In fact, you can hear my usual answer here. But with the story that got started today, I can honestly say the emotions in the scene I wrote today are real, although in the interest of full disclosure, Callie’s dealing with a gunshot wound and I dealt with something MUCH less traumatic.

Still, writers write what we know. And what we don’t know, we learn. Sometimes through experiences we just as soon wouldn’t rather have.

Play safe,

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Interview with Curvy's

If you didn't get a chance to hear it last night, here's a link to my interview on Curvy's Muses: Sex Talk with Curvy. Talking to her was a ton of fun! I read an excerpt from Tied to Home that isn't available on the web and gave a shoutout to my Sizzling Scribes partners-in-crime.

Use this link to visit the interview on Curvy's blog or you can use this one to go directly to the podcast. Listen in and join the fun!

And, as always, Play safe!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Will!

Today is William Shakespeare's birthday - or the day we universally accept as his birthday, anyway. The man who added over 2000 words to the language, who poked and prodded words until they bent his way, the man some felt couldn't write well because he ignored Aristotle's Unities of Time, Place and Action...

Happy 449th Birthday!

In honor of the master of iambic pentameter, today I set down a challenge:

Write fourteen lines of iambic pentameter.

That's it! You can choose the sonnet form, if you're feeling especially adventurous, but I'd be happy with fourteen lines of blank verse (that means it doesn't even have to rhyme!).

So say a happy birthday to the Bard
and use iambic syllables to start.
That's five of them, remember, in each line;
the stressed and unstressed side-by-side, you see?

The form is easy, sounds like spoken speech;
Start off the beat, then hit it hard to make
the words important bear the heavy load.
Come on and do it, I have faith in you!

You still are here? A' reading on this blog
when you should be writing on your own?
Hop to! Hop to! Away! Away! Get on
With you. Go write your opus, write your rhymes!
The day's a'wastin', the sun'll set too soon!
Go write your lines before the rise of moon.

Ha! I did it! Whee!!!! :)  Your turn now! Put 'em in the comments if'n you will. Too much fun not to!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting over a rough patch

Today's post title has two meanings, both literal. Rough patches in life can often derail your writing, or at least temporarily send it off on a different track. Rough patches in writing can often stop a writer in his/her proverbial tracks and prevent creativity from moving the story forward.

The second meaning is the focus of today's workshop.

What got me started on this was an exercise I gave myself this week concerning an old(er) story - a fantasy as yet unpublished. The second chapter has the protagonist reading a letter, later in the same section he sets it down, then picks it up again. I used the singular form "page" and then got to thinking - just how much space would what was written in that letter actually take up? Would it be a single page? Or would there need to be more than one sheet?

While some might say this is obsessing over a detail, I'm pretty sure there are readers out there who would pick up on such a thing immediately. It's kind of like checking the math when there are numbers in a story. Yes, I double-check author's answers and mentally make pictures in my head to see if the number of people in the party could actually fit into a room the size of the one described.

So I got out a sheet of lined paper and started hand-writing the note, word-for-word, from my manuscript. I could tell within the first paragraph the plural form of the word would be needed, but kept going because I discovered something really, really cool.

As I copied the letter, I rewrote it.

I made it better. Found better words, parallel structures, all sorts of cool stuff I'd missed. I'd written that section nearly two decades ago and re-read it dozens of times over the intervening years.

And yet, the act of writing it out, of using a different set of muscles and a different part of my brain, made the words flow smoother and the writing better.

And so I leave you with this tip for getting over a rough patch when the writing is stuck or you can't make it sound the way you want: pull out lined notebook paper and start copying. You might get through one paragraph, maybe even two before the internal editor kicks in, but soon you'll find yourself merrily rewriting yourself past the section that stumped you and beyond.

Trust me. It works.

And as for the second meaning of today's post title: please consider giving to the Red Cross. It is precisely when such disasters such as yesterday's bombing in Boston occur when they are needed most. Thank you.

PS. Any donations made to me via the PayPal link below will, for the rest of the month, go directly to the Red Cross for their relief efforts, not only in Boston, but all around the globe.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

random thoughts on character

Saturday morning routines are pretty set for me. I get up, use the bathroom and brush my teeth, go to my study and run through my email accounts, play my daily games and, in general, wake up. This takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours, depending on what sucks me in.

This morning, for example, I found a set of interview questions in my inbox for an upcoming article in the Sizzling Scoop Magazine. By the time I finished, I’d been up for nearly three hours...and was still in my nightgown.

But I’m not going anywhere today, or at least, not this morning. My husband is deep in a painting and I’m planning to add to a current work in progress. I did, however, change my clothes.

And it was then I realized I have two ways of describing that action. On a day like today, a day where nothing is planned besides staying inside, I “put on some clothes.” On a workday, however, or a day when I’m going out, even if its just to the grocery store, I “dress”. Verb form, not noun.

That thought then led me to think about my characters. How many of them “dress” vs. “put on clothes” –and do I make a distinction in my stories? Those word choices say a lot about the character’s approach to the day.

Something to keep in mind as I sit with them today...

Play safe!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Keeping track of your sales

By now, some of you are selling books. Lots of books, I hope. Today’s post is on how to keep track of those sales when you have more than one publisher.

A few weeks ago, I showed you one way to keep track of your business expenses. Today we're going to talk about how to figure out how individual titles are selling.

The chart at the left shows the start of a very large spreadsheet that lists all of my books for sale at Ellora's Cave, how many books were sold in a given month and how much each book made me in that month.

The blue numbers are sales for the year and the black bold numbers below that are the total numbers to date. 

This is a great way to keep track of sales when you have a single publisher. If you get paid quarterly, you would simply have fewer entries per year, but the set-up could be the same.

What you can't see from this small snapshot is the column over to the far right (very far right; I have a lot of titles out with EC), the column marked "total books" and the one beside it marked "total royalty". That adds up all books (and $) across all books for the month. If I've done my math right, the monetary number matches the one on my monthly check!

That database works great – if you have only one publisher. Those of you who self-publish, however, often have many publishers – and how do you keep track of several titles over several platforms?

Below is a pic of the top and bottom of one of my Excel files. Each venue has it’s own page; the set-up of every page is exactly the same. The months are listed vertically down the side and the book titles at that venue are listed across the top. On the right is a column for monthly sales for each title (the last column got cut off - it records the total royalty in $), just like I have for my EC sales sheet.

Every month I gather up the data from each of the major venues and plop it into the database. Believe it or not, Barnes & Noble is the best at providing real-time information that easily accessible. Even though the statements are stored on their servers “in the cloud,” I still download and keep a digital copy of each month’s report. Why? Because I’m paranoid something will get lost and I believe in having backups of my backups.

Smashwords pays every quarter, but you can get a monthly list of books sold very easily. Because they deal with so many affiliate sites, however, selling books through Kobo and Apple for instance, it might be several weeks, perhaps months, before Smashwords is paid for that sale. And the author doesn’t get paid until the publisher is paid.

You can either keep track of books sold by the month in which they were sold, not the month in which you were paid for it, OR you can enter a book into your database only once you’ve gotten your royalty in hand.

Either way works, but I prefer the former over the latter. It’s much easier for me to list the book as “sold” when Smashwords (or any site, for that matter) lists it as such and mark it off when the payment comes in, especially if you’re dealing with international sales—and currency exchanges.

Amazon is the slowest at getting out a decent monthly report. Their website states the formal report will be ready by the 15th of the following month and I’ve found that to be generally true. They have an option that goes back six weeks, but it isn’t always accurate, in my experience. I find it best to wait until the final report comes in and then transfer those numbers to my database.

A1 is short for A1Adultebooks, an imprint of Fiction4All. Not all my books are listed there (yet), but I keep a page for those that are. They’re very good at providing a daily report of books sold through their site and it’s easy to print out the report at the end of the month in order to grab the numbers I want.

And what numbers do I want? For these pages, I’m interested in only two numbers: The number of books sold and the total royalty paid out. The rest of the identifying info in the individual reports isn’t needed here (like author name, ISBN, time of day, for example).

You’ll notice the last page listed is one for the totals. That’s taking all the information on EACH of these venue pages and coming up with a single number for the month. How many copies of TIED TO HOME, for example, did I sell in March and how much money did it bring in? That answer is on that last page of the report.

I also get the total royalty I made in self-publishing for the month on that page when all the individual numbers are added together in the final column.

Such a format permits me to learn all sorts of interesting things. For example, my collection of short stories (Timeless Love) didn’t sell a single copy for the entirety of 2012. That tells me there’s a problem. Bad cover? No one likes short story anthologies? Bad stories? That takes further analysis. But it was this way of collecting data that first alerted me that a problem existed.

Another recent discovery is that, in February, I sold more ebooks via self-publishing than I did in January through Ellora’s Cave. First time I’ve seen a self-pubbed royalty report higher than that of my EC sales!

So now you have two ways of keeping track of your royalties: one for a single publisher and one for multiple publishers. Three guesses what your assignment is?


Set up a database of your books. If you haven't published yet, that's okay. Set it up anyway because you're going to sell soon and you might as well be ready. Use the above models as a guide and feel free to adjust to your own desires as you wish. I use formulas to do the math for me; if you need help with those, email me or check out the Microsoft Office site for help on the program.

As always, if you find this useful, please leave a tip!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Word count update

You may remember, I set my writing goal at 250,000 words for the year. That means I need to write nearly 21,000 words each month.

I started out great, writing 22,931 words in January. February wasn't awful, although I only hit the 11,860 mark, half of what I needed.

March has been terrible. I should know better - March and November are my worst months for writing because my day job gets in the way those months. Normally I can write around the requirements of teaching, but, in those months, grades are due and there are major papers that need reading before I can turn them in.

My March totals don't even make the 10K mark, coming in at 7486. :(

That puts me at 42,277 when I should be nearer to 63,000 - or about 20K off from where I want to be.

Am I worried? Not really. I knew March would tank. So far in April, I have just over 1900 words written (although I threw out nearly 400 of them yesterday in several failed attempts to get a short story written. Don't care. Am counting them anyway. I still wrote them, even if they weren't any good).

Today I worked on a poem for a collection I have coming out in a few months, so not really *new* words, just wordsmithing old ones. Won't count those.

This month will be a good month, though. I feel it in my bones!

Play safe,

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On Acting and Writing

Okay, I'm going to 'fess up to something I've shared with very few people over the years: When I was in my early teens, I decided I wanted to be an actress so I could go to Hollywood and act on TV with Bobby Sherman. I had such a major crush on him that I based my dreams on it--to the extent where I went to college and got a degree in Theatre Arts.

At that same college I also discovered the man who would become my husband and true love took over my childish one. I also re-found my love of writing after a long hiatus. To this day, I've never made it to Hollywood, although it's still on my (very) informal bucket list.

I have, however, gone on to get two further college degrees, one in Education and one in Educational Administration, and crossed several other items off my (very) informal bucket list, so there are no complaints here-only some advice:

As a writer, it will do you well if you take an acting class or two.

Because of that Bachelor's in Theatre, I understand character. Motivation, character arc, changes of heart -- all these are ingrained in my psyche. Years of teaching English literature doesn't hurt, but really? It's all the courses I took in acting and play analysis that make me the writer I am today.

As an actor, you get deep into a character's life, you go beyond the page and figure out his/her backstory and what makes them tick. In bringing that character to life, you determine how the character reacts to others on the stage, what their mannerisms are, what inflection that word or this one should have.

As a writer, you do the same. In your head dance all the characters at once, each one with his/her own agenda, each one with thoughts, feelings, reactions that need detailing so precisely that everyone who reads the story feels what they feel - what you feel.

Actors use their bodies, writers use their pens. Both create people out of whole cloth. Getting to understand the approaches of one profession helps the creation of another.

All of this probably explains to you why, when I write, I see the scene as it unfolds before me. My theatre background presents the scenes to my imagination and  "all" I have to do, is write it down as it unfolds. My acting background fills in the character details.

So, today's advice for writers? If you have a local studio or college where you can take an acting course, I urge you to do so. You won't be sorry and your writing might be better for it.

If you have nothing close by, then consider the following books. Warning: these are not lightweight reading. Acting deals with the psychology of the human mind and the feelings of the human heart. Think of them as practical guides to how we do what we do. Aside from the first, they are listed in no particular order.

An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski. The book that started the realistic approach to acting. A must for ever actor (and writer!). Note: This book is in the public domain, but has been reprinted by many publishers. You can pay as little as $3.00 or over a hundred. The link takes you to a site with options.

Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky. Originally written in Russian, the translation I have is a little clunky but still effective. He uses an interesting device in presenting his lessons, that of the teacher (himself) and The Creature (his student -- you).

The Art of Acting by Stella Adler. Ms. Adler was one of the people responsible for bringing The Method to America. Method acting is a practice of total immersion into character. Several well-known actors use this approach to acting (Sean Penn, for one)

Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen (with Haskel Frankel). Newer editions have a foreward by David Hyde Pierce. The chapter on characterization is of particular interest to writers.

There are dozens more books out there, but these four form a foundation for the writer looking to understand character.

Remember, taking time to understand the craft of writing is sometimes as important as the writing itself. Set aside some of the time you usually spend reading fiction this week and pick up something heavier, a book on acting. You won't be sorry.