Reader Friday: Favorite Summertime Treat

The nice weather has finally hit New England. Yay!

As soon as the sun’s warmth spawns new life, the grass greening, trees filling in with leaves, flowers blossoming, it triggers me to crave seafood, ice cream, and burgers on the grill.

What’s your favorite summertime food, beverage, or treat?

Bonus points if you include a recipe. 🙂 

What Writers Can Learn from Animal Communication

Zoosemiotics is the study of animal communication, and it’s played an important role in the development of ethology, sociobiology, and the study of animal cognition. Writers can also learn from zoosemiotics. Think characterization and scene enhancement.

In the animal kingdom, the sender and receiver of communication may be part of the same species or from different species. Crows, for example, warn the chippies, squirrels, and numerous small birds when dangerous predators are in the area. They do this with a vocal alarm, and every animal pays attention. When crows are around good people and animals they’re comfortable with, they blink several times per minute and have a relaxed, roaming gaze. If a predator prowls or coasts into their domain, their unblinking, hard stare at the threat warns other wildlife in the area.

Warning Coloration

In species such as wasps that are capable of harming potential predators, they’re often brightly colored, and this modifies the behavior of the predator who either instinctively knows to be wary or has learned to use caution through past experiences. Some forms of mimicry fall in the same category. For example, hoverflies have similar coloring to wasps. Although they’re unable to sting, wasps avoid them.

Coloration changes in characters include reddening or flushed neck and/or face (anger or embarrassment) or the lack of color i.e., pale (fear, anxiety, or nervousness).

Behavioral Changes

Canines such as wolves and coyotes may adopt an aggressive posture, such as growling, head leveling, or baring teeth to warn a potential predator to stay back, that if they approach, the canine is ready and able to fight. Rattlesnakes use their telltale rattle—it means, if you come near me, I will strike. Certain amphibians with a bright colored belly and a back that blends into the environment, flash their belly when confronted by a potential threat, indicating they are poisonous in some way.

Behavioral changes in characters include a snarled lip, clenched fists, pitching forward, or lunging at the threat (anger), mouth dryness, licking lips, avoiding eye contact, clenched hands/arms, jerky steps, fidgeting, defensive posture (fear, anxiety, or nervousness), slumped shoulders, tears, flat speech (sadness), raised eyebrows, eyes widening, slacked jaw (surprise), open body language, smiling (happiness) etc.…

Stotting

An example of prey to predator communication is stotting, a highly noticeable form of running shown by some antelopes such as a Thomson’s gazelle. Stotting indicates the animal is healthy and fit, thus not worth pursuing.

Stotting behavior in characters: Think about the difference between jogging and running for your life. The feet may be sloppy or the character zigzags, trips, or falls (fear).

Predator to Prey

Some predators communicate to prey in ways that change their behavior. The deception makes them easier to catch. Take, for example, the angler fish. Fleshy growth protruding from its forehead dangles in front of its jaws. Smaller fish try to take the lure, thereby positioning themselves directly in front of the angler fish’s mouth.

Describing deceptiveness in characters would take an entire post, but you get the picture. 😉

Human & Animal Communication

We are all part of the Natural World. Various ways in which humans interpret the behavior of domestic animals and/or wildlife fit the definition of interspecific communication. Although dogs can use vocal communication, they mainly display nonverbal communication through the use of body language, such as tail carriage and motion, ear and eye position, body position and movement, and facial expressions. Recognizing the correct nonverbal cue will help decipher what the dog is telling us.

More character nonverbal cues include sweating, trembling, damp eyes, muscles tensing, crossed arms or the drawing in of limbs, the body recoiling (fear, anxiety, nervousness), sudden backward movement (surprise), relaxation of muscles (happiness), etc….

While observing a dog’s body language it’s crucial to observe the entire dog, as well as the situation or context. For example, a dog’s wagging tail does not always mean Fido’s happy. A tail in motion is often noticed first, but the rest of the dog is board-stiff, and the ears are back and the dog’s in a couched position, the full picture tells you Fido’s not happy with the situation.

5 Common Groups of Canine Signals

Keep in mind, a dog could use more than one response at a time. Hence why it’s important to analyze the entire dog, not just one body cue (the same applies to characters).

Fido may start with a display of excitement, then decide the stimuli is a threat and switch to aggressive posturing, or send fear signals, or both.

As we review each group, notice the similarities to us (characters).

Fearful Communication

When a dog is frightened, he’s likely to react with his whole body. He may lick his lips, yawn, keep his mouth tightly closed, cower or lower his body, lower or tuck his tail, or flatten his ears. He may also tremble or shake, avoid eye contact, or lean back to avoid the frightening stimulus.

The body language may be a combination of several signals and/or may appear as a progression through these signals as the dog’s response intensifies. Sometimes, the complete absence of active signals can speak volumes. A dog that won’t eat food or treats, is avoiding people when they approach, or freezes when someone reaches for him—a “shut down” appearance—is demonstrating fear. Sadly, we often see this behavior in shelters if the dog doesn’t get adopted. Shelter dogs also may display high arousal or excitement.

Arousal Communication

The arousal in shelter dogs could be due to many factors, including age, confinement, lack of physical and/or mental outlets, and personality. An arousal/excitement response could indicate joy directed at a certain person, another dog, or toy. If the context is a favorable one, the dog should have soft, relaxed body and eyes and mouth, along with a wagging tail that jumps for attention. He may also play-bow—rear end in the air, front end lowered—to demonstrate excitement. Other cues are jumping, mounting, and mouthing. Mouthing should be soft (no teeth).

Arousal behaviors can also be directed at unfavorable stimuli, such as an unwanted human, animal, or situation. Arousal signals in this context may be coupled with fear signals, such as trembling or a low/tucked tail. Or the arousal signals are paired with aggression—barking, lunging, anxious pacing or spinning, or biting of leash, clothing, or the unfavorable stimuli. The dog’s fur can pilo-erect (hackle), his ears bent forward or at attention, his stance upward and erect. The tail is often up and wagging stiffly, and the eyes are wide-open and focused on the target. He could also bark, growl, and/or lunge.

Anxious Communication

If a dog becomes stressed, he may exhibit excessive panting, pacing, and lack of focus. Similar body language to a fearful dog, when in reality, he’s filled with anxiety. Which is why context is key. A dog that jumps at the kennel door as a person approaches is displaying arousal/excitement. Whereas a dog bounding off the side walls of the kennel displays anxious communication signals.

Aggressive Communication

Aggression is a normal and natural behavior in animals, triggered by a perceived threat. Aggressive vocalizations and body posturing are warning signals.

In dogs, we understand aggression through body language that includes stiffening or freezing, eyes wide with the whites visible (called whale eye), tense mouth or curled lips, wrinkled nose, bared teeth, barking, growling, and air snapping.

Relaxed Communication

We all love dogs in a relaxed position, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Mouth relaxed, lips slightly parted. A smiling appearance. Head and ears relaxed in a neutral position, body loose, eyes soft. His tail may be swishing back and forth, or even wagging in a circular motion. My favorite is when a dog’s lying in the frog-leg position. Those froggy legs are hard to resist!

Over to you, TKZers! You may be using animal communication and not realize it, because many behaviors are similar to our own body language. If you’d like to give an example from your WIP, go for it. Otherwise, please include different animals and how they communicate.

 

 

MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

Whether you’re working today, grillin’, or hanging poolside, Happy Memorial Day! For those outside the U.S. a belated but heartfelt Happy Remembrance Day!

I hope the following shortcuts will help save you productivity time when you return to the keyboard. I’ve broken the keystrokes into two sections — Windows and Mac — to act as a quick and easy reference guide.

Please note: Today is all about MS Word. For other shortcuts, such as inserting advanced symbols/characters, WordPress, or YouTube, see Writing Hacks: Keyboard Shortcuts. Please ignore my wonky columns. 😉

COMPOSING & EDITING                          WINDOWS                MAC

 

Create a new document                              Ctrl-N                          ⌘-N

Open document                                          Ctrl-O                         ⌘-O

Save document                                           Ctrl-S                         ⌘-S

Open “Save As”                                           F12                            ⌘-Shift-S

Close document                                          Ctrl-W                        ⌘-W

Print document                                            Ctrl-P                         ⌘-P

Select All                                                     Ctrl-A                         ⌘-A

Copy to clipboard                                        Ctrl-C                         ⌘-C or F3

Paste from clipboard                                    Ctrl-V                          ⌘-V or F4

Delete selection & copy to clipboard             Ctrl-X                          ⌘-X or F2

Undo last action                                           Ctrl-Z                         ⌘-Z or F1

Redo last action                                           Ctrl-Y                         ⌘-Y

Add comment                                             Ctrl-Alt-M                    ⌘-Option-A

Turn revision tracking on/off                          Ctrl-Shift-E                  ⌘-Shift-E

Run spelling/grammar check                        F7                              ⌘-Option-L or F7

 

TEXT FORMATTING

 

Bold                                                         Ctrl-B                         ⌘-B

Italics                                                        Ctrl-I                           ⌘-I

Underline                                                  Ctrl-U                         ⌘-U

Double underline                                       Ctrl-Shift-D                 ⌘-Shift-D

Underline words, not spaces                     Ctrl-Shift-W                ⌘-Shift-W

Strikethrough text                                       Alt-H, 4                     ⌘-Shift-X

All caps                                                     Ctrl-Shift-A                ⌘-Shift-A

Superscript text                                         Ctrl-Shift-+                 ⌘-Shift-+

Subscript text                                             Ctrl-=                        ⌘-=

Increase font size                                        Ctrl-Shift->                ⌘-Shift->

Decrease font size                                      Ctrl-Shift-<                ⌘-Shift-<

Insert hyperlink                                           Ctrl-K                        ⌘-K

Open font dialog box                                  Ctrl-D                        ⌘-D

or Ctrl-Shift-F

PARAGRAPH FORMATTING

Left-align text                                              Ctrl-L                          ⌘-L

Right-align text                                            Ctrl-R                         ⌘-R

Center-align text                                         Ctrl-E                          ⌘-E

Justify text                                                  Ctrl-J                          ⌘-J

Indent paragraph                                        Ctrl-M                         Ctrl-Shift-M

Remove indentation                                   Ctrl-Shift-M                 ⌘-Shift-M

Change to single spaced                           Ctrl-1                          ⌘-1

Change to double spaced                          Ctrl-2                          ⌘-2

Change to 1.5 spaced                               Ctrl-5                          ⌘-5

Remove paragraph formatting                     Ctrl-Q

Open Apply Styles task pane                     Ctrl-Shift-S

Open Styles pane                                     Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S              ⌘-Option-Shift-S

DOCUMENT NAVIGATION & VIEWS

Move up one paragraph                           Ctrl-Up arrow            ⌘-Up arrow

Move down one paragraph                       Ctrl-Down arrow       ⌘-Down arrow

Move right one word                                 Ctrl-Right arrow        ⌘-Right arrow

Move left one word                                   Ctrl-Left arrow          ⌘-Left arrow

Move to top of document                          Ctrl-Home                ⌘-Home or ⌘-Fn-Left arrow

Move to bottom of document                    Ctrl-End                    ⌘-End or ⌘-Fn-Right arrow

Go to dialog box                                       Ctrl-G or F5              ⌘-Option-G or F5

Switch among last four places in doc        Ctrl-Alt-Z

Switch to Print Layout                               Ctrl-Alt-P

Switch to Outline View                              Ctrl-Alt-O

Switch to Draft View                                  Ctrl-Alt-N

Switch to Read Mode View                        Alt-W,F

Split document window/remove split          Ctrl-Alt-S

Display Help                                                 F1

FIND AND REPLACE

Find                                                           Ctrl-F                          ⌘-F

Find and Replace                                       Ctrl-H or Alt-H-R          ⌘-H-R

Find tab (inside Find and Replace)              Alt-D

 

SPECIAL CHARACTERS RECOGNIZED BY FIND AND REPLACE

Type these special characters into the Find box to search document:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Em space
  • En space
  • Copyright symbol
  • Registered symbol
  • Trademark
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol
  • Ellipsis
  • Double opening quote
  • Double closing quote

SPECIAL CHARACTERS IN DROP-DOWN MENU

Within the Find and Replace dialog box, choose one of the following special characters:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Nonbreaking hyphen
  • Optional hyphen
  • Nonbreaking space
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol

I find it easier to create my own shortcuts for special characters and symbols I use on a regular basis. For example, if you want to create a shortcut for the em dash, go to Insert > Advanced Symbol > Special Characters. At the bottom of the dialog box click Keyboard Shortcut and a new dialog pops up. In the Press New Keyboard Shortcut box, type Ctrl-E or whatever is easy to remember. Click OK and you’re done. Easy peasy. The same applies to symbols, only you’ll choose Symbols instead of Special Characters.

FORMATTING IN FIND AND REPLACE

Click Replace, then More to expand dialog box

Click Format and a list of different formatting types appear. Search by font, paragraph, tab, language, frame, style, or highlight.

Select the type of formatting you want replaced. A dialog box opens, showing all the formatting options available to search for in that category.

For example, the Find Font dialog box is a copy of the Font Formatting dialog box, with all the same formatting options.

Specify formatting type. Then click OK

Repeat these steps to find additional types of formatting. You can even search for text with both specific font formatting and paragraph formatting at the same time.

Click Replace With

Click Format

Select formatting type (font, paragraph, tabs, language, frame, style, highlight)

This is especially helpful if you need to highlight italicized words for the publisher. In my career, I’ve worked with five different publishers and every house required it be done during final edits.

Click OK

Select replacement option: Replace, Replace All, Replace Next

Click OK

Click Close

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I’m curious if highlighting italics is an industry standard.

Where are my Indie authors who do their own formatting? Do you highlight italics? What program do you use for formatting? Is highlighting italics a requirement for that program?

Traditional authors, does your publisher ask you to highlight italics during final edits?

 

A BUT Means Complications and Obstacles

As an animal lover, wildlife documentaries are my jam. My husband and I often joke about one particular aspect that is true in the natural world—there’s always a “but.”

Wolves are fierce hunters, but they need to take their prey on the run i.e., predate.

 

Bears can kill with one strategically placed swat of the paw, but they have terrible eyesight.

Unrelated fun fact: If an ant is decapitated during a battle, the disembodied head can continue to fight for hours.

Penguins live in huge colonies—there’s safety in numbers—but they have to swim past their greatest enemy (sea lions) to reach the open ocean to feed.

 

A giraffe’s long neck helps them reach leaves at the top of trees, but that same neck that aids them in gathering food also causes the highest blood pressure of any animal.

 

 

A rhino’s horn is their greatest asset in a fight, but that same horn makes them targets for poachers.

 

Mongooses are carnivores, but their favorite prey is venomous snakes, including cobras, adders, and vipers, and one good strike could kill them.

Boreal Owls are usually monogamous, but when prey numbers peak, males cheat with up to three females and female boreal owls often have at least one beau on the side. So much for monogamy, right?

Using sharp claws on their fore-flippers, seals punch out 10-15 breathing holes in the ice and maintain the openings all winter but using these holes can mean sudden death if a hungry polar bear is nearby.

Fun fact: Sea ice is as important to the Arctic as soil is to the forest. It supports the entire Arctic food chain. When ocean water freezes, it expels salts, causing channels to form inside the ice. As sunlight filters through the ice, algae grow within these channels, creating an underwater garden that forms the foundation of the food chain.

Mudskippers are fish who live in the ocean, but they need to walk on land and dig mud burrows to mate.

Skunks use an overpowering odor for defense and can spray six times in succession, but once their foul-smelling liquid runs out it takes up to 10-14 days to refill the glands.

Roadrunners can sprint at 40 mph, plenty fast to outrun prey, but food is scarce in their dry, desert environment, so they hunt venomous snakes—like rattlers who feed on roadrunners—and risk death.

Fun fact: A rattlesnake can shake its rattle twice as fast as hummingbird wings flutter.

Wildebeests need to migrate to find food once resources dry up, but to make it to the promise land they need to cross croc-infested water.

Corvids are some of the world’s most intelligent animals, but that same intelligence is what attracts ignorant people to hunt them for sport. (Yes, I’m bias. #BlackFeatheredLivesMatter)

Cuttlefish can change shape, color, and texture—20 million pigment cells create a magnificent light show—but they can only mate once in a lifetime.

Gray whales can submerge for 15 minutes at a time, but a mother’s calf can only hold its breath for 5 minutes, so when under attack by orcas the mother will flip onto her back to create a platform for her baby to lay on, but Momma can’t breathe upside down.

See where I’m going with this? All these complications and obstacles make the natural world even more interesting.

The same is true for writing.

So, while crafting your storyline—plotted or pantsed—keep “but” in mind. Because without complications and obstacles, you risk boring the reader.

Over to you, TKZers. In your WIP or recent book you’ve read, give us an example of a “but.” Or share a “but” found in nature.

 

Reader Friday: What Are You Reading?

It’s always fun to catch up, and we haven’t done one of these for a while, so…

What are you reading?

Fiction or nonfiction?

Genre?

What are you enjoying most about the book?

I’m deep into HOLLOW KINGDOM by Kira Jane Buxton. Normally, I steer clear from Apocalypse type novels. I’ve never even watched an episode of the Walking Dead. What attracted me to this funny, off-beat, heartwarming story was not the cover, or blurb, or industry praise. It’s narrated by a crow. Brilliant!

Macro-Level Jump Cut Scene

Full Disclosure: Jump cut may not be the correct term for the advice that follows. Years ago, the late great John Yeoman, beloved writing coach and friend, called the cinematic technique a jump cut during one of our lengthy craft discussions. Thus, it’s the term I’ve always used. Then I reread JSB’s 2018 article to prepare for this post. Jim’s correct use of the term is more widely known. Nowhere could I find the description of what I call a jump cut. Nonetheless, the two techniques are basically the same. When I use the term, I’m referring to the macro-level. Jim’s post focused on the micro-level.

Clear as mud? Okie doke, moving on…

The macro-level jump cut is a technique where the writer drops the reader into a harrowing situation—in media res—conflict builds, tensions rise, all without the reader knowing what proceeded this scene (aside from a few hints). The scene ends at a pivotal moment. Next scene rewinds the clock to the days or hours leading up to the opener. We’ve all seen this play out in movies and net-streaming series. Novelists use it to ensure readers will stick around to find out how the protagonist wound up there. Inducing curiosity and/or fear in the opener strangleholds the reader, forcing them to keep flipping pages.

The payoff that follows must live up to the hook. All my Grafton County Series novels (except the first book) open with the first half of the jump cut scene. Chapter One rewinds the story. It isn’t necessary to label this scene as a prologue. I do, but it could also be the first chapter. If you choose to include it as a prologue, Chapter One still needs its own hook.

Remember the pivotal moment where we left the reader? No matter where the payoff is—first plot point, midpoint, or climax—continue the jump cut scene from there. Newer writers may be tempted to copy/paste the first half of the scene. Resist that urge. Trust the reader to connect the dots. They’ll recognize the setting and situation.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Prologue of Pressure Points by Larry Brooks opens like this…

It was the echo of gunfire that kept him running. His body had long ago abandoned hope, pushing on faith alone through a fog of pain and fatigue. Logic screamed that this was pointless, while another voice whispered it was all a lie. Both were old friends that had served him well, and like Jesus on his fortieth desert night, he was tempted.

But neither voice was real. The gunshot had been real. The echo of it was real.

And so he ran. For his very life, and for those left behind. He knew that precious little time remained, and what was left was as critical as it was dwindling. Everything he had ever learned or believed or dreamed was at stake. He was out of options, down to a final chance that, win or lose, would be his statement to the universe.

It was his time. He had come full circle.

It is not paranoia when they are really out to get you. When they are right on your ass, downwind of the scent of your blood, closing fast.

Whoever the hell they are.

He ran all through the night’s relentless downpour. Low branches whipped his forehead and cheeks until they bled. He could feel his heart pounding in every extremity of his body, his vision clouded by sweat and rain. Both elbows were bloodied from a fall when his foot caught an exposed root, sending him skating wildly across a patch of decaying leaves. Leaping over a rotting log, he felt his right ankle turn impossibly inward, and the ensuing bolt of pain seized his leg like a pair of gigantic hands twisting with the enthusiasm of a gleeful sadist. But he had no time for this or any other distraction, not on this night, when, one way or the other, his past would finally and conclusively catch up with him.

Chapter One rewinds to 41 days earlier. I can’t show you the payoff scene without ruining the ending. Trust me, it’s amazing.

Please excuse my using an excerpt from one of my books. I searched my Kindle for other examples but couldn’t find any that jumped out at me.

The Prologue of RACKED opens with…

In the vast openness of the snowmobile trails, solar-powered Christmas lights danced across pine needles on the branches I separated while the lanky silhouette of the Serial Predator tossed shovelfuls of dirty snow on a mound. Was he digging a fresh grave? My calf muscles jumping-jacked beneath my skin, begging me to run. But I couldn’t. Not yet.

A row of thin birch trees bowed over the makeshift grave, thin branches curled like the skeletal fingers of a demon protecting its prey. The overcast sky blurred the hazy moon into non-compliance, its glow hastened by gathering storm clouds.

Who did he plan to bury here? My gloved hand clawed at my throat.

Please tell me Noah’s still with Mrs. Falanga. All the saliva in my mouth dried, my insides squirming, screaming for release. What if Childs left his post long enough for the Serial Predator to sneak past him? What if he murdered everyone in the house? What if he abducted my son after Mrs. Falanga tucked him in bed? She might not realize he’s missing till dawn.

Beyond the tree a flashlight balanced on its end, a smoldering yellow glow pointed toward the heavens. Cigarette smoke billowed through the haze. Hot ash tumbled into the darkness when he flicked the filter into the arctic December air.

I backed away from the tree.

Crunch.

My right heel froze on the pinecone.

The Serial Predator slung his portable spade over one shoulder and stalked toward me. “Hello?”

Male voice. Almost familiar. Where had I heard it before?

Holding my breath, cramps squeezed my calf muscles as I crouched behind the conifer, flames tunneling down my sciatic nerve to my partially raised foot, bent at such an angle mind-numbing pain riddled the whole right side of my leg.

The Serial Predator hustled back to the shallow grave, and I lowered my wet boot to the snow. The moment he turned his back, I nosedived toward the base of the tree trunk, slithering beneath the branches like a frightened garter snake. Snow piled around the bottom helped shield the top half of my body. I pulled my legs out of view. A glacial breeze swept across my wet hair, and I could not stop shivering, the icy snow soaking through my jeans and wool coat.

With one smooth motion, he swiped his flashlight off the snow and aimed the beam toward the pine tree. “Hello?”

After the blinding light struck my eyes, I would never be able to describe his face or any distinguishable features, the black hoodie masking his identity. He could be anyone. Or no one.

With both gloved hands covering my nose and mouth, I held back icy breath that threatened to reveal my hiding spot.

“Is someone there?”

A cylindrical sphere lasered through the pine needles, and I ducked, my bare cheek trembling against a clustered mass of icicles. Snow boots clomped around the tree, then stopped—inches from my face.

Dear God, don’t let him find me.

Chapter One rewinds to 26 hours earlier.

Have you used this technique in one of your novels? There’s nothing wrong with writing a linear storyline. This is just another option. Let’s discuss.

Top 10 Social Media Mistakes for Writers

I’ve spent 12 years on social media. *cringe* In that time I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two. That’s not to say my social media presence is 100% perfect. Far from it. I am a flawed human. The trick is knowing where and how you went wrong, so you don’t repeat the mistake and destroy your social media platform.

Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay, and writers are expected to have an online presence. To help you navigate these turbulent waters, I’ve compiled the top 10 mistakes I’ve seen writers make over the years.

#1: Don’t talk at your audience. Chat with them.

Social media is about making connections, engaging in conversation. It is not a soapbox, nor are you the most important person in the room. People will have opinions that don’t align with yours. And that’s okay. Talk it out. Get to know them.

#2: Don’t try to be something you’re not.

I see this all the time. If you’re not passionate about a subject, don’t try to fake it because it’s trendy. This isn’t high school. Share something that excites you, and your passion will shine through. Folks want to know the real you, not some made up version.

Which brings me to…

 

#3: Chill out, dude.

You cannot hop on social media for five or ten minutes and expect to see instant results.

Building a community takes time. If you rush it, your “buy my book” activities will reek of desperation.

 

#4: Don’t copy a famous author’s social media style.

What works for a thriller or noir writer might not translate well to cozy, HEA romance, or sci-fi fans. If you write in a similar genre, you can emulate that author, but add your own special flair.

#5: Don’t spout orders.

We’re told to have a clear call to action in social media marketing, that’s true, but less is more. Don’t ask for multiple favors at once.

Buy the book.

Rate the book.

Review the book.

Repost the review on Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc. etc. etc.

Tell all your friends to buy the book.

Choose one. Once you build trust, move on from there.

Otherwise, it feels a lot like this:

Read everything I’ve ever written. Don’t think about time. I’m more important.

When you’re done with that, rate and review all my books, but don’t say anything negative. I will only accept four or five stars. Don’t forget to repost the review everywhere books are sold. And I mean everywhere.

Oh, btw, I need a few things at the grocery story. Grab a pen and write this down. You’ve got time, right? ’Course you do. After all, I’m the almighty author.

Clean my house.

Walk my dog.

Feed my wildlife.

Check in on my elderly parent.

Can you cook? Great. I’m far too busy writing my next masterpiece to waste time in the kitchen.

Come to me when you’re done, and I’ll give you the next task. You’re welcome.

#5: Don’t take before you give.

We’ve talked about the 80/20 rule before. I think 90/10 works better, but you’re safe with 80/20. For those who don’t know, it means 80% of what you share should be about life, pets, passion (not writing), or goofing around, 20% book news. Sounds easy enough, right? Yet some authors can’t seem to wrap their head around it. Every post is a version of “Buy my book!”

To the writers who struggle with the 80/20 rule, let me rephrase in simpler terms. I know you’re excited—we all do—but you are not the first person to write a novel, nor will you be the last. What if an Avon lady knocked at your door day after day after day to buy her products, would you be more or less likely to whip out your credit card? Don’t act like the Avon lady.

#6: Don’t be nasty, argumentative, or spread hate.

Self-explanatory. If you see something that angers you, keep scrolling. It’s simple. If you wouldn’t be nasty or spread hate in person, don’t do it online. If you would, please seek help.

#7: Mind your manners.

Please and thank you go a long way in life and on social media.

#8: Don’t try to be everywhere.

Learned this lesson the hard way. Back when writers were expected to be everywhere, I built a following on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, StumbleUpon, Google+, Reddit, Triberr, Alignable, etc. etc. etc. Lost hundreds of thousands of followers when some of these sites went dark, too.

Learn from my mistakes. Focus your downtime (not writing time!) on one or two sites you enjoy. Social media should be fun.

#9: Use Social Media Management Tools

Shortly after I wrote a post about Hootsuite, they changed their plans. I switched to Buffer. For $15 per month, you can schedule up to 100 posts across several sites. Money well spent. It takes time to schedule posts in advance. Save it for the end of the day (don’t use writing time!).

#10: Know Your Audience

All sites are not created equal. What works on one site, won’t work on another.

For example:

On Twitter, my blog articles drive a lot of traffic back to my site. But Instagram doesn’t allow active links in a post, so those same articles crash & burn.

My FB audience loves to laugh. I share murder memes, dark humor, and my love of crows, animals, and wildlife. Some things can be reposted to Instagram, some can’t.

On Twitter, I can’t share my Facebook posts or they might trigger my audience to attack.

One time, I caused an uprising by sharing a group promotion for novels featuring strong female lead characters. The image showed silhouettes of women in dresses. I did not create the image. The girl who formed the group did.

Nonetheless, it triggered massive outrage. “Your tweet degrades women!”

Are you talking to me? I’m a woman and don’t feel degraded by a dress or skirt.

“Why can’t strong women wear pants?”

They can. I do.

“Delete that sexist tweet now!”

Sexist? 

“Shame on you!”

via GIPHY

You can’t argue with crazy. So, I created a new image for Twitter. It was either that or stop sharing the group promo. See what I’m sayin’? The original image on Instagram didn’t garner one negative response.

Bonus Tip

Automated private messages are never a good idea. Never. Pretend it doesn’t exist. In fact, you should never message a stranger. Are there exceptions? Yes, but it’s less intrusive to send an email. And please, for the love of God, don’t add followers to your newsletter list. It’s tacky and unprofessional.

Okie doke. Any tips to add, TKZers? Do you struggle with social media? Now’s the time to ask for help.

 

 

A Disturbing New Trend

There’s a disturbing new trend on social media that could bankrupt authors. I first learned about it on Facebook, but it’s since traveled throughout all social media.

Some readers feel it’s fine to buy a Kindle book on Amazon, read it, enjoy it, and then return it for a full refund. After all, who’s it hurting? Authors, that’s who.

Did you know if authors rack up too many returns Amazon can send them a bill? I didn’t realize this, either, but it’s happening as we speak. I’ve heard from more than a few Indie authors who, along with royalty payments they received a bill for returns. And these are professional authors who sell 200-500 books per week.

Before you dismiss this post because you think it doesn’t apply to you, this trend affects all authors regardless of how they choose to publish.

A massive influx of returns might result in a publishing house dropping the author. At the very least, they may be hesitant to buy the author’s next book. Why? Because too many returns give the impression that readers are not enjoying the series, when in fact these habitual returners do it to save money. For some reason they’re under the misguided impression that all authors are rolling in dough. They also don’t take into consideration how hard we work. Most authors I know work six days per week, sometimes seven if they fall behind.

Is it fair for these habitual returners to prevent us from earning a livable wage?

Look. I’m not sayin’ if the book sucks due to a lack of editing or poor formatting you shouldn’t be able to return it. That’s different. But to read the entire book and then return it is just plain wrong. Would you go to a theatre, watch the movie, and then ask for your money back because you didn’t like the ending? Of course not. So, why do habitual returners think the same rules don’t apply to ebooks?

Amazon makes it easy to return digital products within a seven-day period. Here’s the kicker. If these habitual returners continue to game the system, Amazon can stop them from buying more Kindle books for at least a year. Nowhere could I find the parameters of what’s considered abuse, but there’s at least one habitual returner who publicly apologized for her behavior after getting banned from Amazon.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen an increase in returns, but this new trend worries me. Some authors are even habitual returners — and they’re bragging about it on social media! I will never understand what goes through some people’s mind. Be reckless all you want with your own life, but don’t let your crazy loose on the rest of us.

I have never returned a Kindle book in my life, and I’ve slogged through more than my share of crappy reads. Now, I download the sample first. If I like it, I buy it. If I don’t, no harm done. That’s why Amazon has the sample feature.

The return feature is available for readers who one-click by mistake.

SUBSCRIPTION ALTERNATIVES THAT DON’T HARM AUTHORS

Join Kindle Unlimited

For $9.99 a month, you can read an unlimited number of Kindle books. You will only have access to books within the KU library, but for voracious readers it’s a good option. Amazon offers a free 30-day trial period or a two-month deal for $4.99.

FREE ALTERNATIVES THAT DON’T HARM AUTHORS

Prime Reading

Yes, you need a Prime account, but most households have one to save shipping costs. If you don’t, you will need a subscription ($99/yr.). Otherwise, a Prime account automatically gives you access to FREE Prime Reading books. I’ve found some amazing new-to-me authors this way. If I love the author’s writing, I usually buy all their books, but that’s me. You could stay within the Prime Reading lending library and never buy another ebook.

Local Libraries Offer FREE Ebooks Through Libby.

Download Libby from the App Store or Google Play. The welcome page will ask if you have a library card.

If you do, click YES.
Then click ADD LIBRARY.
Enter your zip code.
Select your local library from the list.
Enter your library card details.

If you don’t have a library card, click NOT YET.
Libby will walk you through requesting a library card through the app.

Once you’re inside Libby, you can browse through the books or search for a specific title, author, or genre. Libby adds new titles all the time.

If you read on a Kindle device, click READ ON KINDLE and Libby will open an Amazon account log-in window.
Enter Amazon username and password, and the ebook will automatically download to your Kindle.

Never worry about late fees. At the end of the loan period (time varies among local libraries), the book vanishes from your device.

Libby also provides audiobooks, as Jim mentioned in this post. If you live outside the U.S., you can access Libby through Overdrive.

Become a Reviewer on NetGalley

Use NetGalley for free to request, read, and recommend books before they are published — and provide essential reviews and feedback to publishers and other readers.

Contact Your Favorite Author

Tell the author how much you love their work and ask to join their ARC team. If you keep up your end of the bargain by posting honest reviews, the authors will continue to send you FREE ARCs. Plus, you’ll be the first to read new releases!

With all these free options, why return Kindle books? Unless you one-click by mistake or the book is riddled with typos or formatting errors, please, please, please stop returning ebooks to save money. Think about your favorite authors. Do we deserve to feed our family? Do we deserve a roof over our head? Do we deserve heat in the winter and cool air in the summer? Then let us earn a living. We’re not asking for donations. We’re simply asking habitual returners to stop stealing our work.

If you want to help prevent this trend from continuing, sign the Change.org petition.

TKZers, have you heard of this disturbing new trend? Have you been affected by it yet?

Easy Prey Dies First

A crash startles you awake. Is it real? Are you dreaming?

Glass shatters.

Bolting upright in bed, all the muscles in your back and neck stiffen at once.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. Footsteps through broken glass.

Darkness swallows the bedroom. Even the moon doesn’t dare shine.

A little voice inside your head screams, “Run! Hide!” But you freeze, unsure of what to do or even if this is real. Your neck snaps toward the bedside table.

Through the blackness cherry-red digits blaze 2:00 a.m.

You slide your palm across the silk sheets. A lump. Your spouse is still beside you. You start to exhale but breath catches in your throat. If your spouse in bed, then who—

The bottom tread creaks, echoes off the walls. You reach to shake your spouse awake, but your hand never makes contact. Leaden footsteps grow closer…closer…

A gazillion questions careen through your mind. Why is this happening? You’ve always been so careful to lock the doors and windows at night. How did he get in? What does he want? To kill you? Rob you? Rape you? Or all the above?

Under the covers you kick your spouse, hush, “Wake up. Somebody’s in the house.”

Still groggy and out of it, s/he grapples to understand the situation.

Footfalls strike the hardwood. The stranger—probably armed, murderous—is in the hall with bad intentions. In a few more strides you’ll be face-to-face with this maniac.

An icy tongue licks up your spine. Move. Now!

Your toes sink into the carpet. A coolness prickles your bare legs. You take one step, praying to all that’s holy that you don’t step on the squeaky floorboard. A godawful stench wafts into the bedroom, and churns your stomach acids. Stale booze and cigarettes—like the serial predator who abducted you at five years old. Is he still in prison? Now’s not the time.

You summon your mind to clear. Concentrate. Focus.

The bedside clock flashes 2:01 a.m.

Another creak. This time closer, too close.

What do you do next? Jot down your answer before reading the rest of this post.

In my last post I mentioned I’d put a plan into a motion in case of a home invasion. Kay and Jeanne asked me to share that plan. While it’s not the best idea to share details of my personal plan (bad guys do read), I have no problem offering a few tips for you to create your own plan.

If a killer wants in your home, there isn’t much you can do about it. Nonetheless, there are ways to make your home safer.

According to FBI statistics, a burglar strikes every 30 seconds in the U.S., with almost 29% occurring with someone in the home. Technically, that would be a robbery, not a burglary.

If your house is broken into when no one’s home, it’s a burglary.

If your house is broken into while you’re there, it’s a robbery or home invasion.

Criminology reports don’t yet consider the most unique time in recent history.

Due to voluntary quarantines and more people working from home, the risk of coming face-to-face with a home invader has never been higher. Although burglaries can and do happen at any time, they’re most common during daytime hours. Those numbers spike during the summer months.

By learning how to properly secure and protect your home against invasions or burglaries at any time of the day or night, you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim. Evaluate your home, change your routine when you do leave, and implement other home security measures.

“Safeguarding your home is all about protecting the human asset which is why ensuring it is done efficiently is paramount. Remember, cheap is expensive so don’t gamble with your physical well-being.”

— Paul V. Viollis, Viollis Group International

It’s estimated 34% of all criminals enter a home through the front door. Shocking, right? Knowing this, all exterior doors should be solid core, not hollow. Consider reinforcing your door frames and hinges by installing dead bolts, three-inch screws in door jambs, and secure the sliders.

I watched an interview with an inmate who burglarized over 5,000 homes.

Guess which houses he targeted? The ones with sliding glass doors. Why? It’s one of the easiest entry points. That dowel rod or bar you put in the track is not enough. Nor is the flimsy lock on the handle. With a screwdriver pried under the door, a home invader can pop it open without any harm to the glass. Even with the security bar, a home invader can jerk the door right off the track—a slick move I used in my latest thriller. Thank you, Mr. Inmate. 😉

House alarms only secure the frame of the sliders, not the glass.

Let’s say the home invader has no burglary skills. He’s not interested in robbing you. He’s there to kill you, like in the scenario that began this post. By law, most sliders are made of tempered glass. Sounds like a good thing, right?

Yes and no.

If struck with a tire iron, tempered glass doesn’t shatter into a million pieces. All the shards stay intact as one big sheet. It’s a great safety feature to prevent injury to a child or an unsteady adult. But that same safety feature also protects the home invader.

“Once that glass shatters, I walk right through. Safety glass is not gonna cut you.” — Mr. Inmate

This video will show you how to secure your sliders, where to drill in the screws to prevent a home invader or burglar from lifting the door off the track, and demonstrates Glass Break sensors (more on that in a minute).

Another easy entry point for a robber, burglar, rapist, or killer is a garage door left wide-open. Remember, the majority of home invasions/burglaries occur during the day. How easy is it to pull out of the driveway and forget to lower the garage door? After all, you’re only running a quick errand.

The next time you drive away without lowering the garage door, remember this…

A home invader sneaks in while you’re out—hides—and waits for you to return. How safe are you now?

Believe it or not, residents of gated communities are often prime targets. Why? Because the front gates and/or guards offer them a false sense of security. Same is true for homeowners with an alarm system. Does that mean you shouldn’t install an alarm? No. Just don’t blindly trust that alarm without other safety measures in place.

If you let your guard down and forget to lock a window…

“If you leave one thing open, then leave it all open. Because the thief [or home invader] will find that one thing open.”

— Mr. Inmate

When asked how to safeguard one’s family, Mr. Inmate shared more wisdom.

“The only way to stop somebody is to deter ’em. Keep your doors locked. Keep your windows from opening up more than six inches. Glass Break sensors [are] the only way to deter somebody. Because when they see that Glass Break attached to that window [or sliding door] they know this is a well-secured home.”

Most alarm companies sell Glass Break sensors or detectors. They’re also available at online retailers. Incidentally, the anonymous Mr. Inmate didn’t go to jail for burglary. Police picked him up for loitering and prowling. Which means, he’ll be back on the streets.

Other safety measures…

  • Upgrade the locks on exterior doors and windows with high security locks.
  • Install a wide-angled peephole, cover when not in use.
  • Consider adding protective film to first-floor windows. For those who live in coastal communities, you’re all set. High-impact, high-wind hurricane glass is near impossible to break.
  • Install high intensity LED motion sensor lighting on all sides of your home.
  • Trim trees and shrubbery away from your windows—perfect hiding spots for home invaders. If you must have bushes, make sure they have thorny branches.
  • Add window stops to double hung windows.
  • Cement bases add stability to fencing. Although less attractive, open metal or chain link fences are the safest, as solid walls provide an easier foothold and privacy for the home invader.
  • Draw curtains and blinds in unoccupied rooms.
  • Try not to leave valuables in plain sight near windows.
  • Install smart locks. Many systems allow you to remotely check and lock your doors and windows.
  • Keep your keys and cell phone on the bedside table at night.

If you’ve taken every precaution and a home invader still gets inside, be sure to have a plan in place. Practice, like a fire drill.

The safest option is to flee.

Let a home invader take your valuables, not your life. Grab your cell phone and keys and climb out the nearest window, onto the roof. If you don’t have time to escape, hide and text 911. Text messages receive the same priority as phone calls. Even if the home invader finds you, you’ve already notified the authorities, which gives you a much better chance of survival.

Unless you have training, a weapon can and will be used against you. If you grab a gun, you better be able to pull the trigger without hesitation. A home invasion can turn deadly quick. Whose life is more important, yours or the scumbag who broke in?

Calculate. Every. Move.

How high is the roof? Will the fall kill you? If so, don’t jump. Stay put and wait for the police to arrive. Unless you’re dealing with a psychopath hellbent on murder, most home invaders won’t crawl on the roof to drag you back inside.

Easy prey dies first in the animal kingdom. Don’t be easy prey.

Think like a criminal—you’re a writer! Just because the bad guy broke into your home doesn’t mean you automatically play the victim role. Flip the script. He’ll wish he chose a different house. 🙂

Back to my original scenario. What did you jot down? Has your answer changed? How? Feel free to share any other home safety tips.