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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

July 2011

Kindle Free Books: The New Public Library

Someone asked me recently about the first book I ever published.  How big a thrill was it?  Honestly, I remember a bit of disappointment. Maybe I had been expecting too much – trumpets and fanfares would have been nice.  Instead, the delivery guy dumped a box on my office floor, mumbling about how hard my office was to find. (Yeah, well, I admit it was in the basement of the Physics building, not where one would expect to find a “published” professor of medieval history.)  

Gamely I unpacked that box and trotted off to the dean’s office to present him with the first copy. He looked at the cover, didn’t bother to open it, and said, “That’s nice, Carolyn.  But what have you written lately?” I was crushed.  Little did I realize that that phrase –- what have you written lately -- would be the recurring chorus of the rest of my life. 

When did the thrill come?  Not until a couple of years later.  I was in Washington, DC, working on a project for the NEH.  On the weekend, my husband and I went to the actual Library of Congress, where I headed straight for the card catalogue (no electronic searches in those days) and hunted for my name.  And there it was, among those millions of other cards: The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux, by Carolyn Poling Schriber. Gasp.  I was a real author.  In a real library.

  I tend to forget that feeling these days, with several books to my credit and little need to visit a library, thanks to the Internet.  But libraries, whether they are stately edifices or dingy back rooms or computer screens, have always been an important – maybe the ONLY important – link between an author and a reader.  And it’s that connection that matters – the moment when an author says something important and a reader gets it.

I needed to remember that fact yesterday.  I was at a meeting among friends and colleagues.  The other attendees were all good people, dedicated to serving their communities and helping those in need.  In a casual conversation, someone mentioned that my book, Beyond All Price, had become the number-one bestseller among Amazon’s free Kindle editions of historical fiction.  What did the other listeners hear? “Free.” One fellow shook his head in pity: “That’s nice, Carolyn, but those are all copies you just gave away.  They’re worthless.  You didn’t make a cent on them.” I don’t remember what I mumbled in response.  But here’s what I SHOULD have said: 

“Worthless?  More than thirty thousand people now have my book in their hands. It didn’t cost them anything, but they asked for it because they wanted to read it.  How is that different than a patron going into the town library and asking to borrow an interesting book? A library buys one book and passes it around until the cover falls off. The author may earn a few cents (although I never earned a dime from The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux), but the readers get it for free.  Money doesn’t bestow any value on a book.  The only thing that gives a book value is the moment when a reader picks it up and “gets” what the author has to offer – whether that’s new knowledge, an emotional experience, inspiration, understanding, or just pure entertainment.” 

So, in answer to all the critics of electronic books, as well as to all those who judge an item’s worth by dollar signs, I suggest that Kindle’s free book offerings are the equivalent of a great public library. Both provide free books to readers. Sure, you still have to pick and choose among the offerings.  Some books will be wonderful and some will be trash. But it matters that they are free and accessible to millions of people who would not otherwise be able to read them. 

My own moment in the sun, here, is about over.  Amazon seldom leaves a book on the free list for more than a week, so within a day or so, the price of my book will jump to $2.99, and sales will plummet. Beyond All Price will fall off the bestseller lists, although the label will stick, at least for a while. What will last the longest?  The readers who connect with me, if only for a moment, make the writing process worthwhile.  I will remember them longer than those who paid for the book to be polite and left it unopened on a shelf.  

How To Help Your Favorite Author

The following post from another author resonated with me this week.  As many of you know, Amazon added the Kindle edition of Beyond All Price to its free list this week. (Note: I did not ask them to do this, and it will last only for this week.) Almost immediately the downloads began.  Now, on Friday morning, the total is somewhere over 22,000 copies, which puts the book at #1 on the Historical Fiction list, and #6 on the store-wide list.  I'm thrilled,  of course, with the reception.  That's 22,000 readers, and I couldn't be happier, even though I have not made one cent on those transactions. But will it ever help me sell more books? That depends on those 22,000 readers passing the word.

Ironically, I received a check this morning from Kindle, paying me the royalties on the month's sales BEFORE this promotion started -- a blazing $19.00 in the bank. If that sounds just a bit unbalanced to you, you CAN help. Read the suggestions below and then go to Amazon  (either the trade paper edition or the Kindle edition) to leave a couple of sentences under the reviews section. If you just can't think of anything to say, at least click the "like" button.  It WILL make a difference!

As authors, we spend a lot of time trying to promote our books. Our biggest obstacle is obscurity because there are a lot of books out there. No, really. A lot. We like to think that good stories are all it takes to make it (in author terms “make it” usually means “become well known enough and sell enough books that I can quit my day job and write for a living”), but you can doubtlessly think of mediocre books that are selling bazillions of copies and authors you love who never make it out of the “mid-list” category. 

Sometimes it’s just the author (or publishing house) with the biggest marketing budget who wins, but you, as a reader, have amazing power. Don’t believe for a second that you don’t have anything to do with whether an author makes it, because you do. A lot. No, really. A lot. Why does this matter to you? Well, authors who get to quit their day jobs can write faster and put more books out for you! The following are some little things you can do that can make a big difference. Some of them only take a few seconds. Your favorite authors will appreciate the effort. Trust me. 

Helping out on Amazon 

Amazon is the big kahuna of book sellers, especially when it comes to ebooks, so helping an author “get found” on there can give them a big boost. You can certainly do these things on other bookstore sites as well (nothing against copying and pasting a review, for example), but Amazon tends to have more cool features to help an author get found. Here’s the list (any one of these things can help):
  • If you do nothing else, consider writing a review on Amazon, even if the book already has quite a few and/or you’ve reviewed it elsewhere. There’s evidence that ratings and reviews factor into the Amazon algorithms that decide which books are promoted on the site (i.e. certain books are recommended to customers who bought books in similar genres). If reviewing isn’t your bag, don’t worry about writing paragraphs-long in-depth studies of the book; maybe you could just pen a few sentences with a couple of specifics about why you liked the book.
  • “Tag” the book with genre-appropriate labels (i.e. thriller, steampunk, paranormal romance). You don’t have to leave a review to do this; you just need an account at Amazon. A combination of the right tags and a good sales ranking can make a book come up when customers search for that type of story on Amazon.
  • Give the book a thumb’s up. This takes less than a second and probably doesn’t do much, but it may play into Amazon’s algorithms to a lesser extent than reviews/ratings.
  • Make a “Listmania” List and add your favorite authors’ books to it. This creates another avenue for new readers to find books. It’s better to create lists around similar types of books (i.e. genres or sub-genres) than to do a smorgasbord, and consider titling it something description so folks will be more inclined to check it out, ie. “Fun heroic fantasy ebooks for $5 or less”
  • If you have a Kindle, highlight some wise or fun quotations from the book and share them publicly (if enough people share their highlights, they’ll show up at the bottom of a book’s page)

Helping out with Social Media 

If you’re involved with Twitter, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc., you can give your favorite authors a shout-out when they release new books. If they blog, you can follow their site (through Google Reader or other RSS readers) and share the link when they post something that may be interesting to your friends. If they’re on Twitter, you can follow them and retweet their links now and then. Authors don’t expect you to follow them 24/7 and repeat everything they say (that might actually alarm some folks…), but a little promotional help now and then is greatly appreciated.

If you like to be social about books, you can join sites such as Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. You can help your favorite authors by posting reviews and talking about their books on those sites, or you can just use those places to find online reading buddies with common interests.

Helping out with Your Blog

Do you ever talk about books or what you’re reading on your blog? You might consider reviewing your favorite authors on your site (you could even make a few dollars if you signed up as an Amazon affiliate). Also, if most of your favorites maintain websites, you could add an “author blogroll” list in your menu with links to those sites.

And Lastly…

These days, most authors have websites and contact forms so you can get in touch. If you enjoyed their work, consider sending them a short note to let them know. While it won’t help them sell more books, it’ll make their day. Thanks for reading (this post and books in general!)

 --Originally by Lindsay Buroker, and copied with permission.

A Few More Problematic Pairs

Here are some pairs (and one triplet) that are a bit more complicated than yesterday's list.

ACCEPT and EXCEPT may, depending on where you are, may sound identical, but they are quite different words.  Accept is a verb that means agree with or receive. Except is a preposition that means apart from.
  • We accept all major credit cards.
  • I accept your explanation of these differences
  • Men are idiots . . . present company excepted.
  • I like all vegetables except turnips.

ACUTE and CHRONIC: Acute means sharp as in an angle, or describes a disease that rapidly develops and gets worse. Chronic illness or problem may also be severe, but it is long-lasting and lingering.
  • She developed acute appendicitis.
  • She has chronic hay fever.

ADVERSE and AVERSE: Adverse means unfavorable or hostile. Averse means having a strong feeling of repugnance or opposition.
  • This summer we face adverse weather conditions.
  • He is not averse to buying a lottery ticket now and then.

AFFECT and EFFECT: Affect is a verb that means to influence something. Effect is a noun that means the result of something. (Just to complicate matters, these two words have speicalized academic meanings, but for most of us, this distinction doesn't matter.) Remember, if something affects you, it has an effect on you.
  • The movie affected me so deeply that I cried all the way through it.
  • Hot temperatures have an adverse effect on our ability to think clearly.

CONTIGUOUS, CONTINUAL, and CONTINUOUS: Contiguous means touching or adjoining in space.  Continual means repeated frequently. Continuous means uninterrupted in time or space.
  • Alaska is not one of the forty-eight contiguous states because it does not share a border with any other state.
  • His continual disruptions disturb those who attend our meetings.
  • The continuous murmur of the stream outside my window puts me to sleep.

DISCREET and DISCRETE: Discreet means circumspect. Discrete means having separate and distinct parts.
  • Congressmen are expected to be discreet about information they learn as part of their duties.
  • Our three branches of government should remain discrete.

DISINTERESTED and UNINTERESTED: Disinterested means not having a bias or personal stake in an issue. Uninterested means to have no interest in something.
  • The argument should be settled by a disinterested person.
  • I am uninterested in celebrity gossip.

EMIGRATION and IMMIGRATION: Emigration is leaving a country, while immigration is arriving into a new country.  It all depends on where you stand in relation to the act.
  • His parents were hurt by his emigration from the old country.
  • The newly-settled west welcomed his immigration because he brought much need skills with him.

FLOUT and FLAUNT: You flout a rule by flagrantly ignoring it. You flaunt something by showing it off.
  • He flouts traffic signs by speeding right through them.
  • He enjoys flaunting his fancy new car.

PAST and PASSED: Past, the adjective, refers to something that has previously occurred. Passed, the verb, is the past tense of pass.
  • Please forget about my past failures.
  • This time I passed my driver's test.

Yes, I Used To Be an English Teacher

When you are editing y our manuscript, keep a sharp lookout for the following words.  They differ by only one letter but have different uses and meanings.

ADVICE is a noun similar to recommendation.
    I didn’t ask for Samantha’s advice, but she gave it to me anyway.

ADVISE is a verb similar to recommend.

     The doctor advised me to drink more water when I exercise.

ALTAR is a raised structure in a church.
     The congregation stood and faced the altar.

ALTAR means to change.
     The book is great; don't alter a word of it. (HAH!)

CAPITAL is a noun referring to a city or money, as well as an adjective that means main or precedes the word punishment

     Our capital goal is to raise the capital needed to fund the new project.

CAPITOL is a government building

     Which architectural styles were popular when this capitol was built?

CAVALRY is a horse-mounted military unit.
     During the Civil War, cavalry units still ranked as elite troops.

CALVARY is a hill mentioned in the Bible.
     The crucifixion took place at Calvary.

CITE is a verb meaning mention

     Be sure you cite at least five sources in your next research paper.

SITE is a noun referring to location (whether physical or on the Internet)

     There are mixed opinions about the best site for the new residence hall.

COMPLEMENT is a noun or verb that refers to completeness
. Note that “comple” begins both complement and complete.
     Bethany always wears a scarf to complement her outfit.

COMPLIMENT is a noun or verb similar to praise

     Although his stage persona is extroverted, Boswell gets embarrassed every time someone compliments his acting abilities.

DESERT is a noun referring to a dry place or climate and a verb meaning leave
    love water too much to live in a desert. 
Although Mary went to the party with Jon, she deserted him as soon as she found her other friends.

DESSERT  is a noun referring to a sweet food. The extra “s” in this word comes from the sweetness.

     My favorite dessert is warm chocolate cake with coconut ice cream.

FARTHER is the preferred word when describing physical distance

     If I lived farther from campus, perhaps I would get more exercise.

FURTHER generally refers to figurative distance or distance in time. 

     Housing is an important topic; let’s discuss it further tomorrow.

ITS is the possessive form of the pronoun IT.
     The cow jumped over its fence.

IT"S is a contraction of IT IS.
     it's time to build a higher fence.

PRINCIPAL is an adjective meaning main or most important and a noun identifying a sum of money or the head of a school. Remember the saying, “The principal of your school is your pal”?

     The principal reason we hired Mr. Jones as the new principal is that he is extremely creative. [And I admit that sentence is too wordy!]

PRINCIPLE is a noun similar to rule or belief.

     Maxine adhered to three basic principles when she wrote her novels: revise, revise, revise.

STATIONARY means not moving.
     Although the scenery was dull, Jules enjoyed exercising on the stationary bicycle in his basement.

STATIONERY is a noun referring to paper and other writing .  Notice the “er” in both stationery and pper.

Mikaila writes so many letters that she buys new stationery every month.

5 More Ways to Improve Your Writing

1. Look for words that are redundant or indefinite. 

    •    BACK - He turned back… He turned…
She eased back into her chair, letting out a sigh that hissed exasperation.
    •    UP (when the direction is obvious) - He jumped up onto the porch. Better: He jumped onto the porch.
    •    DOWN (when the direction is obvious) - He looked down at this feet. Better: He looked at his feet. 
    •    Don't fly (over, across, up, down, north, south, east, west) to Atlanta.  Simply fly to Atlanta.  You usually can't tell which direction you're going in an airplane, anyhow.

2. Define indefinite words.

    •    Reconsider your use of  IT, THEY, SOME, MANY, FEW
    •    Name the object. Who are they? Quantify some, many and few.
    •    If you mention an animal, don’t refer to the creature as a cat, dog, horse, etc. Give the specific breed, sex, color, etc.
    •    If you mention a car, give the make, model, color, etc.
    •    If you mention time, define the duration--ten minutes or whatever.

3. Check for those words that occur frequently throughout the manuscript and substitute another similar word.

    •    WALKED – try strode, ambled, sauntered, strolled, shuffled, staggered, etc.
    •    RAN – try jogged, scurried, scampered, hurried, dashed, rushed, loped, etc.
    •    CRIED --  whimpered, sobbed, sniveled, bawled, wailed, blubbered, howled, etc.

4. Consider your adjectives.

    •    Are they bland? Why? Choose adjectives that will and play on the senses and add sparkle to the text.
    •    COLD – How cold? Icy, bone-chilling, numbing, frosty, artic.
    •    HOT – How hot? Blistering, broiling, sizzling, scalding.
5. Tighten the manuscript further.

    •    Check for words such as FELT, FIGURED, and HEARD. Omit these words by explaining how the character felt and what he heard or saw. You don’t need to indicate a character looked at someone before speaking. That’s assumed. However, if the character looked away, this might indicate the character’s receptiveness.
    •    Search for these words: STARTED,  BEGAN, KNEW, REALIZED, APPEARED. You don’t need these words to introduce an action.
    •    She knew John lied. Better to say: John lied. POV tells us she knew.
    •    She started to cross the room. Better to say: She crossed the room
    •    She knew he hated her. Better to say: He hated her.