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Second Mouse
Short Stories
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South Carolina
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Taking a Break
Thank You
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

June 2017

Second Mouse -- A Few Writing Tips

Along with the technical publishing stuff, you'll find sections of this book that are designed to improve your writing.  Here are just a few of them.

1. Before you fall in love with an idea for your next book, be sure you know where it's headed. You may have to kill off your favorite parts for the sake of the book as a whole. As we discussed last week, it often becomes necessary to "kill your darlings" by removing them from the story line to clear the way for topics that are more important.  The danger of that is greater for pantsers--those who just sit down and write by the seat of their pants, not knowing where the story is going until it gets there. Planners--those who work out all the stages of a plot -- are more successful in ending up with a story that works. So keep asking yourself who the hero is -- what his goal is -- what or who is keeping him from reaching the goal -- and how he will resolve the problem. And there you have it--a basic plot.

2. Don't forget to do your homework. Besides, research is fun. You never know what you are going to find. If you want to create realistic characters, try exploring genealogy. Nothing is too bizarre to appear somewhere in a family history. I've come up with some great story lines by poking around in old cemeteries.  I still don't know, for example, why two of my husband's ancestors were buried in the same plot, one obove the other. But what a story that would make!

3.Know the difference between fact and fiction. You may have a lot of facts at your disposal, but if you include all of them in your novel, the reader may end up with a stomach ache.  Writers of historical fiction are especially prone to overdoing the factual, even when it gets in the way of the story.  You have to know what happened, of course, and you need to check dates carefully so that you don't have a character driving a Model T before the invention of the automobile. But resist the temptation to show off everything you know. Bigger isn't always better, and word counts don't matter. Tell your story without padding. Quality is more important than quantity.  

4. One final consideration. Once you've written a book, you have to sell it, so never think you are finished just because the book is in print.  A book is still a book, but an author also needs an online profile. Don't ignore the power of imagery, movie trailers, and music to enhance your words. That's where Pinterest can become really useful. If the characters eat something interesting, provide the recipe--not in the book itself, but on a Pinterest board or a blog post. If you know someone who can create a short video, uses it as a trailer, a "Coming Attractions" announcement. If you can find an audio clip (not pirated but something out of copyright), use it on your website. 

Friday is the last day to get your free copy of "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese." Don't miss out.


Second Mouse -- An Excerpt

Here's the story of my own decision to become a self-publisher. It is taken directly from the book.

As I negotiated the paths of writing and publishing for a general audience rather than an academic one, I learned a lot. I knew I could no longer rely on a professional identity to pave my way, and that I had only made a start at building a viable platform as an author. I recognized the warning signs as publishers reacted to a faltering economy by restricting their publications to authors they could count on to generate huge sales. And I had identified my niche among potential readers.

My real breakthrough, however, came as a result of some random questions from a casual acquaintance. “I’m betting that you write exactly the kinds of books you most enjoy reading,” he said. “So how do you choose? When you walk into a bookstore, do you browse or head straight to pick up what you want? Do you buy best sellers or look for hidden gems? Do you buy hardbacks or paperbacks? Do you want a quick read, or a hefty volume to fill long hours? What kind of cover makes you pick up a book and examine it? If you know what kind of book you buy, you’ll understand what your readers want from you.”

His point was well taken, but my answers brought me up short. You see, I am a dedicated Kindle owner. Gadgets fascinate me, and I’m frequently the first to adopt new technology. I bought my Kindle in 2008, and since then my book purchases have dwindled to a trickle. I’ve purchased a couple of used editions of books that are out of print, but I don’t buy new books unless I can get them in an electronic edition.

That surprises even me. I was intrigued by the idea of a Kindle. But I’ve always loved the feel and heft and smell of books. They fill my office, every end table, and overflow the living room book case. I thought reading on a Kindle would be a novelty, but I didn’t expect the device to become transparent, leaving only me and the printed word—just the way a book does. I found the Kindle much easier to carry around than a stack of books, and my hands didn’t get tired holding a heavy book. The cat quit stealing my bookmarks because they no longer dangled out of the book.

I knew I had come to depend on my Kindle in ways I never expected. Kindle provides immediate and inexpensive gratification. If I hear about a book I want to read, I can buy it and start reading in less than a minute. I upload research documents that I want to have instantly available. I now have an application that allows me to read Kindle texts on my desk computer, my iPhone, or my iPad. All those devices sync themselves, so that I never lose my place or misplace a text when I move from one device to another. What kind of a book do I choose for myself? Obviously, the answer is one that comes in an electronic version.

And there was the answer to all my publishing dilemmas. Kindle editions (and the other versions that are now coming out) don’t require a traditional publisher. In fact, in some cases, having a traditional publishing contract limits or squelches an author’s ability to jump into the e-book market. I learned how serious that problem is when I tried to talk the publisher of A Scratch with the Rebels into doing a Kindle edition. Eventually they tried, but they did a really poor job of it and refused to advertise that the e-book was available because it cut into their profits.

I was about to become a self-published author. I have to admit that the idea made me slightly uncomfortable in the beginning, because I was still carrying around some leftover baggage from my days as an academic. Most professors have run into one or two folks who use a vanity press to publish their books because no one else will touch them. Within the university, publishing with a vanity press—in effect paying somebody to publish your book—was a career killer. My first hurdle was recognizing the difference between a vanity press (which charges a hefty sum to produce a book) and a self-publishing company (which allows an author to contract for services only when production assistance is necessary).

My production company of choice was CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. If they accept a book for publication, they do not charge for the privilege. They will provide guidance on how to prepare a manuscript for Kindle, and they will carry the Kindle edition in the Amazon catalog. The author pays nothing up front; the company takes a small cut of any sales for its handling and delivery of the e-book.

 They offer more elaborate services, of course. I wanted my Beyond All Price to be available in trade paper, so I contracted for their printing services. That also meant that they would sell my books on Amazon, thus releasing me from the need to distribute all my books myself. Because I wanted the book to look as professional as possible, I also paid a layout person to handle things like interior appearance, margins, and pagination. Those were services I could not do myself.

Traditional publishers, of course, do more than print a book, but I felt fairly confident of my ability to provide those other services. I already knew exactly how I wanted my cover to look, and I owned the photograph I wanted to use. All I had to do was prepare the cover art and submit it to the printer. All manuscripts need editing; traditional publishers have their own editors to proofread, catch stupid errors, and clean up grammar and punctuation. In my case, I had years of editing experience of my own, and a couple of talented friends who were willing to comb through the manuscript to catch any errors I missed. I did not think I needed to pay an editor. Publishers also assume some responsibility for marketing a book, although in recent years they have demanded that authors do more and more of their own marketing. Since I already had an Internet presence, as well as a small but loyal base of followers, and since I was writing for an electronic audience, it was easy to do my own marketing.

Was it the right decision? So far, I have to believe it was. In the current market, bookstores are closing and e-book sales are leaping ahead. Within the first three months, I had sold more copies of Beyond All Price on Amazon and Kindle than the total three-year sales of my last traditionally published book. Plus, Kindle pays 70% royalties, while my traditional publishing contracts offered 5% to 12%. Oh, I’m not going to get rich from the sales I generate. But I have paid off all my publishing costs, and I am in complete control of future sales. I’m my own publisher, and I love it.

Get the rests of the story here:

Second Mouse -- Before You Start

Here are some quick tips to think about before you decide that self-publishing is for you.

1. Run like the wind away from anyone who promises that you can "get-rich-quick." There are possibly more scammers out there than there are would-be writers. And they are all after your money.  I've spend  a lot of time over the past two years, reviewing books for the Military Writers' Society of America, and the variety of books coming to me has made me aware of problems I didn't even think about before.  I can often tell that a writer has fallen for a get-rich-scheme without ever reading a word. Paper editions are tacky--no margins; odd, sometimes unreadable fonts; unlabeled illustrations; no publication metadata. And electronic versions have gaps in spacing or overlapping text. no navigation aids, typos, or inappropriate content.  I've also heard all too many stories of authors who have been conned into purchasing thousands of books with no possible hope of ever selling enough copies to cover the costs. So the first step, if you decide to self-publish, is to look at lots of books and pay attention to who has produced them. Reputable assistance for a self-publisher is out there, but you have to know where to look.  Don't guess. Ask!

2. Sample new software choices. Shop around until you find what works for you. Developers are always coming up with ways to make the writer's task simpler. Take advantage of idea-mappers, note organizers, and word processors that also do electronic formatting.  There really is life after Microsoft Word. I have to admit that "The Second Mouse" is about five years out of date when it comes to new programs that are available.  Since the book came out, I have learned to use Scrapple (to map out plots and family relationships; Grammarly (to do a quick editing pass), and Vellum (to format tests for both print and electronic editions). Add those functions to the other recommendations the Mouse gives you, and you should be well on your way to producing a workable manuscript.

3. You can't do it all yourself. Concentrate on writing, and leave tasks like editing to a professional. It's expensive to hire an editor or cover designer, but it pays dividends down the road. The trick here to be completely honest with yourself about your talents and shortcomings. Hate grammar and spelling? Don't edit your own work. Don't know anything about photography? Find a professional. Colorblind? Don't try to design your own cover. But if you are a computer whiz with experience in publishing your company's newsletter, maybe you won't need to find a skilled layout designer, 

4. Finally, no matter what else you decide, don't take that first step until you are ready to treat your writing as a business. You're going to be dealing with contracts, invoices, order-fulfillment, income tax implications, advertising and marketing, and customer satisfaction. Writing your first book is an exhilerating experience, and a demanding one. Don't treat it as a hobby.

Want to know more? Get your free Kindle copy here: 


Second Mouse - Inspiration

Here is one (updated) explanation of why I wrote this book.  Yes, it dates me, but, hey, I admit I'm old. What's important here is the whole idea of change--how rapidly it can occur, and how differently we must respond to new ideas.

In 1981, I had finished typing my master’s thesis. I had used an electric typewriter, but had still struggled with the need to produce three letter-perfect carbon copies. Do you remember what a pain that was? No strikeovers allowed, and erasures needed to be invisible. All footnotes went at the bottom of the page, not the end, and, believe me, a thesis in medieval history has a lot of footnotes. We had an elaborate system of typing a list of all footnotes first, so that we could tell how many lines each one would take. Then, armed with the knowledge of how many lines were available within the margins of a page, we stopped every time a footnote number appeared in the text. We counted the separating line, the space before the note, and the number of lines in the note itself—then subtracted that number from the number of lines available for text. Type another footnote number on the same page? Stop and recalculate. When a fellow student told me about a new-fangled invention called a word processor that would allow text changes and copy making without erasers and carbon paper, it sounded like another impossible dream.

In 1985, I was ready to start working on my doctoral dissertation. My supportive and understanding husband bought me a brand new IBM desk computer. It had a memory of only 256K, used 5-inch floppy disks, and sported a black screen with glowing green letters, but it was beautiful. Out went the electric typewriter, in came the computer, and I never looked back. But within the university, and particularly in the English department, I heard discussions about the damage computers were going to do to research. “How will we know what an author really wrote,” scholars were asking, “if we can’t see the handwritten manuscripts and the changes the author made?”

 In 1991, I was a full-fledged assistant professor of medieval history at a small liberal arts college. I was excited that year to be helping to sponsor a traveling exhibit of 10th and 11th century manuscripts from the Monastery of St. Gall. A friend and I were co-lecturing in a class on monasticism to go along with the exhibit. A student brought me a cartoon showing several monks standing around a copy machine, with a caption reading, “It’s a miracle.” The cartoon was an obvious takeoff on the current ad campaign being run by the Xerox company, but I kept it taped to the door of my office until the tape cracked and the edges of the paper curled up and started to flake away. Life seemed to be getting simpler all the time, and fewer and fewer of us were questioning what was being lost in the process. I certainly wasn’t.

Then it was the year 2000—the turn of a century—and people were worried about the consequences of changing from the 19s to the 20s. What would happen to all those printed checkbooks, invoices, order forms, and account statements with a blank space for the date that looked like this: _____________, 19___? There was near panic over the possibility that on January 1, 2000, computers would crash and lose all their records because they had not been programmed to handle the dates of the 21st century. We adapted, of course, but a bit of nostalgia began to creep in. One contest asked, “What was the most important invention of the past 1000 years?” The run away winner? Gutenberg’s printing press, which made books available to ordinary people.

But by  2012, we were witnessing the decline of bookstores, publishers, and paper-based publications of all sorts. Bookstore chains like Borders were closing, newspapers were folding (not meant as a pun!), magazines were shrinking, and electronic editions of books were outselling printed versions by a wide margin. Earlier that  year, I attended a writers' conference, where authors were asking if it was worth it any longer to publish bound versions of our books. I confess, I didn’t know. I had a carton of unsold trade paper books sitting in my closet, while checks from Kindle kept rolling in every month.

I couldn’t claim to have a crystal ball to tell me what the future held for writers. I didn’t even know what it held for me as a writer. But for whatever the voice of experience is worth, this small book offered some suggestions on finding one's way through the thickets of the publishing world. I was only a small mouse among the hordes of new authors, but I had found a little piece of cheese, called an Amazon bestseller ranking, and II wanted to share some of the methods I used to get there. The chapters were, for the most part, culled from the blog posts I had left along the way.  I was  happy to scatter the crumbs of my experience and leave a trail that might help other writers find their path through the traps that lay ahead.

By the way, you won't find a food recipe among this week's blog posts. Mice don't cook. But  you will find  several "recipes" for producing your own best-selling book.

And be susre to pick up your free copy of the Kindle version of this book at: 


Second Mouse--Synopsis and Reviews

Book of the Week
June 19 - 23, 2017

You've heard the expression, "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." Which would you prefer? You are probably not terribly fond of worms. You don't even want to think about what the first mouse gets.

What does that have to do with self-publishing? Quite a lot, actually. The publishing industry has undergone something of a seismic shift in the past few years. If you follow internet discussions about traditional publishing, you'll find authors being urged to make the shift to e-books and self-publishing, because that's where the "cheese" is.

Perhaps so, but the shift is not an easy one. The self-publishing option is full of traps for unwary little mice who jump into the fray without the necessary understanding of what all is involved. Carolyn Schriber’s first self-published historical novel, Beyond All Price, was on life-support for nearly a year. Then it made a spectacular recovery, winning two book awards and remaining on some of Amazon Kindle's "Top 100 Bestseller " lists for nearly two months. That was her piece of the cheese.

Now she is willing to share her story. She blogged about her experiences, starting with the first decision about self-publication. She kept track of her success and failures. She offered snippets of advice to other would-be writers. Now all those crumbs of information come together in an anecdotal account of what she learned and what you, too, need to know in order to get your piece of the cheese.

Here's what readers had to say:

" I had always thought that all I need to do is write my book and hope for the best in finding a agent to help me publish. As I read Carolyn's writings, I have come to understand the importance of starting now to market my book. I am still not sure if I will self publish or not, but either way thanks to this book I am more aware of what I need to do and am now armed to make my work better overall."
Ed Hall on Amazon

"I'm not even sure where to begin! This book is so informative and fun to read that I probably learned more than I am aware of. Carolyn Schriber's easy writing style made me feel as if we were discussing these topics over coffee. She tapped her own experiences as a guide for other writers to learn from. Whether it is research, editing, grammar or self-publishing, Carolyn walks the reader through the the grit of it to get to the other, smarter side."
M.L. Olen  on Amazon

"Carolyn Schriber is a retired academic and an excellent writer. As you might expect from a respectable scholar, her book is thorough and professional. Unfortunately, her businesslike approach makes the process of becoming an indie author seem quite complicated and intimidating. Nevertheless, her advice is so sensible and downright realistic, I do not think you can afford to ignore her book"
Thomas Coterill on Goodreads


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