Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review by Jennifer Shaw at Book Noise

Tranquillity Initiative Review

By: Joan Meijer


The United States is at war in endless war in Astrakhan. It is an election year. In order to extricate itself from the war President Charles Anderson authorizes the Tranquillity Initiative - use of American Anthrax weaponry in Astrakhan.

Two of the bombs are stolen from the American base in Turkey and smuggled into New York. One bomb is opened accidentally - which puts the city on notice of the threat. Dr. Cassandra Williams of the CDC and Senator Richland Powell must use every ounce of intelligence to find the terrorists and stop them. Unbeknown to then, a secret White House cell - trying to prevent knowledge of Anderson's use of American weapons is trying to stop Cassandra from stopping the terrorists and identifying the origins of the anthrax.

My Take:

Tranquillity Initiative is a thriller loaded with realistic weaponry and intense action. With elections around the corner two soldiers are given an order to drop a bomb ending the war with Astrakhan. Terrorist cells have infiltrated the White House. To make matters worse a few bombs have been stolen and are making their way to N.Y.

If you are looking for an action packed thrilling read them Meijer's Tranquility Initiative is the book for you. Meijer keeps you on the edge of your seat as Cassandra delves deeper into a conspiracy that is so realistic it's scary as hell.

I have to admit that this is not a book I would have read if I saw it on the bookstore. The cover didn't speak to me and left a lot to be desired in my opinion but once you start reading you are enthralled by the conspiracy and can't wait to see what happens in the end. This is a fabulous read that I would recommend to anyone that enjoys a really good thriller. Tranquillity Initiative is fantastic. Meijer tells a superb story that will have you wanting more.

Jennifer Shaw
Book Noise (

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

To Get A Publisher Or To Self-Publish That Is The Question

This particular question is for people who are looking to publish books for back of the room sales, but it actually has a wider application. If you want to be a writer in today's market, you have to look at whether it is advantageous to self-publish. If you do self-publish what are the venues available to you.

Most writers aren’t candidates for big publishers. They may be candidates for small niche publishers but, in the day of self-publishing, getting published by other people isn’t all that necessary, since the authors are going to have to do the bulk of self-promotion anyway. I repeat that - you are going to have to do your own self-promotion.

Big name publishers, like Doubleday or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which all used to be separate companies, are becoming fewer and fewer. Yes, they give advances, which you pay back out of the sale of your book, but you have to pay back in full if it turns out they don’t like your final product. Yes, they sometimes put money into a national tour, and they take care of all the little problems like lay out and copy editing. But, there’s just one major problem – if your book isn’t a hit in a few weeks, it goes off the shelves, out of the book stores, gets remaindered and you get to buy whatever copies are left. Also, with the advent of the big discounts at the super stores which are in competition to see who can sell the most by lowering the price of your book, you get less profit from your books.

Finally, there’s the issue of who gets the profits. If you get 5% of the sale of your book with a big publisher you’re lucky – and that’s not entirely unfair. They take the risk, make the advance, have the book edited, copy edited, printed, distributed and, if they do happen to publicize it, keep the huge staff to do that on their payroll. They have big buildings for which they pay maintenance and taxes, big staffs, international representation and a lot of overhead. So you take your couple of bucks profit and keep your day job.

Since you’re going to have to store a bunch of your books anyway for back of the room sales you might as well do it yourself and keep the profit. Profits for self-published books are 85% as against 5%. Books that have been published by big publishers usually don’t usually have a long life – although that’s somewhat less true with the advent of Heads up, my experience with Amazon has been dreadful. I know dozens of people personally who have bought my books from Amazon and I haven't realized a penny from that company. If you are using your book in your seminars and workshops for back of the room sales, you need to have copies for the duration of your career (which you buy at half price from the big publishers as long as they’re in print and then you self-publish). Unless you have a big name and a large following, it’s probably best to self-publish from the outset.

With the advent of the Internet and the e-book the whole scene is changing. More than 50% of all books sold by Amazon are now sold on Kindle (where I have my books and still haven't received a penny). There are companies that convert your books to eBooks - I've just loaded my books onto Smashwords and my account is still so young there I don't know if they pay better than Amazon but they certainly communicate better than Amazon. Every time a transaction happens around a book of mine I am notified by Smashwords. I never get a word from Amazon. In addition, several of my books are co-authored and Amazon refuses to list sales by individual book sold so I don't know how to split profits if I ever see any.

What Smashwords does is convert your book to all the different formats that are used by all the different epub opportunities - Nook, Kindle, I-pad and so forth. They also sell your book on Smashwords. And, as I have mentioned, they communicate with you. I don't yet know if they pay.

You can use a publisher (see my list in my book "How To Write A Book That Positions You As an Expert In your Field") available on Kindle, on my website - Soon to be available on Smashwords. You can use or - to print on demand one at a time books so that people can order on line. But if you use them, you can't really sell hard cover or even paperback on Amazon or the other on-line bookstores because the books are too expensive for them to make a profit. I have used CafePress and never made a nickel - same problem with Amazon they don't communicate anything with the authors. You gather I'm not happy with these companies.

NOTE: Even if you are going to submit your project to a publisher, it’s a good idea to have a copy editor look it over before you send it in. Editors don’t like misspellings, awkward English and typos. You're going to need a copy editor if you self-publish. If you go with companies that do on-demand you are going to have to pay for your own copy editor or their copy editor. Copy editing is one of their profit centers. I have a good copy editor listed in "How To Write A Book That Positions You As An Expert In Your Field."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Green Hornet - minus 5 stars with an R rating for inapproprite language

As a movie that eight and nine year olds might be dumb enough to enjoy this movie passes for a kiddie flick until the eight year old turns to you and says, "What's an orgasm?" Why it would be necessary for a child's movie to describe French Kissing someone's ass hole I don't know. It certainly wasn't good enough as a movie for adults to do anything other than look at their watches every few minutes to monitor time crawl.... but it was disgusting for children to watch. I give it a minus five stars and hope parents will be warned not to take their children to it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Write An Autobiography That Sells

I lecture about writing to non-writers – hypnotists, numerologists, psychics, housewives, businessmen and women and people who often tell me that I should write about them because “they have had very interesting lives.” I start my talks with a question. The first question I always ask is, “Who wants to write their autobiography?” About three-quarters of all audiences raise their hands. My next question is, “Can you tell me who will buy your autobiography?” Generally, most of the hands go down, the audience looks uncomfortable and shoulders begin to shrug. That second question is the first question you should ask when considering writing in the area of (auto) biography.

People who get to write autobiographies, or have others write their biographies for them, are men and women who have done something really special in their lives. They were famous movie stars. They were national or international politicians. They were presidents and first ladies. They were incredible fashion designers. They built great dams and bridges. They were successful generals.

Even reaching a high status does not guarantee a biography. William Henry Harrison was only president for 31 days. He did nothing more as president than catch pneumonia at his inauguration and die. So even being president does not guarantee a biography. There are a kazillion generals in history but most of us can count the few we ever heard about without running out of digits. If you want to test that theory Google “Civil War Generals” and see how many there were and how many names you recognize. Even Custer probably would have been an ‘also served’ had he not had a last stand.

The first rule of (auto) biography is, “An (auto) biography is not about a person, it is about what a person did.” Very often, even if they have had a big career that's not enough. If Audrey Hepburn had been a housewife she would not have generated a biography no matter how gorgeous she was. It is possible that Katharine Hepburn would not have generated a biography without Spencer Tracy.

The second rule of biography addresses the question, “What did the subject of the biography do that would interest an identifiable market that is willing to spend money buying the book?” Books are easier to sell to identified markets than they are to general markets. Even if you have not done something huge in your life, if you have done something small that several thousand people could be expected to want to read about, you can probably get a book published – or sell a self-published book.

Occasionally someone related to a famous person will generate a biography for the famous person, which is really their autobiography that has a large market because of the fame of the parent – particularly if there is a twist to the fame. A case in point was Christina Crawford who wrote “Mommy Dearest.” Her mother Joan Crawford was a horrendously abusive mother. In this case the answer to the question “who will buy your book?” is people interested in nasty gossip that will make a relatively famous movie star look really bad. Joan Crawford became less well known for her successful Hollywood career than she was for the harm she did to her daughter. It is quite probable that Joan Crawford would never have been the subject a biography without that abuse. It is an absolute given that Christina Crawford would not have merited a biography without the abuse by a relatively famous mother.

For years I thought that books were about writing. They are not. They are about selling. 80% of your time as a writer is spent selling your book; selling your book to an agent, selling your book to a publisher, and then selling your book to an identified market. If you don’t sell your book, you don’t get to quit your day job. It is essential that you identify the people you think you can sell to and allow the interest of your market to inform your writing. Your book comes out of what you know that people like you need or want to know.

The easiest way to sell your autobiography is to identify a market that wants to read about what you have done, write specifically for that market and find organizations that are interested in that subject that you can use as a venue to sell books to their membership. For example, if your child survived a rare form of cancer you can write about what you did to help that child survive. Write about all the information that you learned during your child’s battle against cancer that would be interesting and useful to other families facing a similar battle. The parents of children with cancer, and particularly that form of cancer, are your market. The organizations built around fighting cancer, and particularly that form of cancer, are your marketing venues – the people you talk to, the people you sell your book to. All the things that other parents should know about battling that disease, the way you felt and how you handled your feelings, any techniques that you used to help your child cope with chemo and needles and hospital stays, what you did to help your other children deal with feelings of jealousy and neglect, all that is grist for your mill. What you did, not who you are, is the stuff of (auto) biography.

You can also slide your (auto) biography into “How To” books as part of the introduction that establishes you as an expert in your field. 20 or so pages, about what you learned and how you got to your level of expertise, that inform the reader about why they should read what you have written is your bio-introduction. These biographical chapters often encapsulate the highest and most exciting parts of your life which solves a problem about (auto) biography. Most of us live fairly boring lives with occasional spikes of excitement and activity. Most of us could write an article about the high points of our lives rather than a book. If you turn what you’ve learned into a “How To” book and talk more about what you can teach and less about yourself and your life, biography is easier to write.

Fictionalizing your biography is another way to write about yourself, interesting episodes in your life and what interests you. In fiction, I generally write in the area of medical thriller or medical rescue. I am a former New York City Paramedic which is a job that can be surprisingly tedious. It is a ‘hurry up and wait’ profession with a great deal of very dull transport in between a few extremely exciting rescues. In my books I slide in high points from the ambulance. I describe people that I found interesting, situations that fascinated me, amazing accidents and rescues that I participated in or heard about from other Paramedics, techniques that we used in the field, things that we studied that I imagined using in the field. It’s not exactly an autobiography, but it pulls from my life, my interests and the lives of those around me. Turning what interests you into fiction increases the amount of material available to you.

Since you may be writing about a field of interest rather than about yourself, you may want to research what has already been written on the subject. Simply because there are other books in your area of expertise does not mean that you should not write in a given area. Think of how many cookbooks there are. What you want to do is read everything that has been written in your area of interest or expertise and figure out what is missing or how you would handle the issue differently. At the very least, you bring yourself and your personal experiences to the table. I wrote a small book called “Date Rape: It’s Not Your Fault” which was inspired by my own rape. Are there other books about date rape? Of course there are. But those books did not include my story and how I handled my recovery and they did not reach the same market that I can reach.

To begin the process of writing (auto) biography start by answering the following questions:

* What have you done that other people would be interested in reading about?
* Who would be interested in what you want to write about? - be specific.
* How big is that potential market?
* How do you reach that potential market?
* Check out Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Buzz, Yahoo and MySpace to see if there are existing groups that are interested in that subject.
* Are there organizations that might be interested in your subject? If yes, contact them. Become active in them. Become known within them.
* What questions would people who are interested in your subject need or want to know? Make a list of those questions.
* Are there other books on your subject? If there are other books, how would you treat the subject differently? What information did other authors leave out that you consider important?
* How can you organize your book to stress the differences in what you bring to the table?

These questions should get you started and should lead to other questions that will help you write and organize books about you that will turn you into a successful writer.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When Characters Argue Back - an Excerpt from my novel "Provenance"

My writer friends agree that once you start writing a novel the characters take on a life of their own. In Provenance I actually had an argument with a character. I needed Fiona to be a bit once sided. She needed to be a nasty drunk and she didn't want to be quite as nasty as I needed her to be. As she came through I would find her saying things that were out of character for what she needed to be. It is quite possible that she would have been a better character if I had made her more well rounded, but she would utterly have failed in what I needed her to be. I would let her have her say and then I would edit out the nice bits.

What interested me in developing this character is that she is very much like the mother that a teenager might describe if they truly dislike a parent. Very one sided. There was a discussion about that over "Mommy Dearest" the truly nasty biography of Joan Crawford written by her daughter Christina. When Faye Dunaway developed the role in the movie she brought some understanding of the difficulties Crawford herself was facing and softened the character making her much more human than her daughter saw her.

Provenance has a single focus on Fiona. It does not go into the struggles she has in communicating with her daughter. She is bitter and mean and filled with superstition that obviously must have come down through the generations. It was interesting to experience her wrestling with me to make her nicer and to explain some of her behaviors.

Excerpt from Provenance:

Fiona was raging drunk.

"God gave me a hard life," she slurred at Danielle. "Brought me nothin' but pain and sorrow. Brought me a mealy mouth little, goodie girl, lost me the son I wanted. God killed my man..."

"It's okay, Mommy," Danielle comforted, stroking her mother's head.

"Be good and careful of your man, Danielle. After you're twenty, men don't look at you any more. You only get one chance to be young and beautiful. Look at me. All my beauty gone, like my man."

"You're beautiful, Mommy," Danielle knew the risk of talking, but being quiet held equal risk if Fiona was fishing for a compliment.

"Shut up, stupid little bitch. What do you know?" Fiona marched to the refrigerator and rummaged for the beer.

Danielle was afraid. She knew what came next. Next came the beatings. But sooner or later Mommy would fall asleep. Then it would be safe for Danielle to take care of her.

Fiona bellowed with rage and moved to slap her daughter, the slender child moved out of the way and Fiona fell striking her head on the corner of a table. She didn't get up. Urine fouled her dress. Danielle got a towel from the bathroom, removed her mother's underwear and wiped her clean. Urine burned the skin. Even the skin of an adult would show signs of diaper rash if it wasn't cleaned soon enough. Danielle had learned that the hard way.

Next Danielle cleaned the floor. She got a pillow and a blanket from the hall linen closet and made her mother comfortable. Finally, she moved around the living room straightening the furniture and Fiona's knickknacks. Fiona would be sick in the morning. She didn't need to wake up to a mess.

Her duties done, Danielle went to her own room. The room was spotlessly clean and ordered. Everything had a place and everything was in its place. She took out her schoolbooks. It was late, but Fiona had been awake until now and her condition had required Danielle's uninterrupted vigilance.

Sighing, Danielle began her studies, losing herself in the numbers on the page. Mathematics was such an orderly, disciplined subject. Mathematics brought her peace. She was tired, but it wouldn't do to come to school with homework unfinished. What would she say as an explanation? "So sorry, my mother was falling down drunk again last night and I couldn't study?” No, no one must know what went on with Fiona.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Editing Lesson - Using Smashwords

I had a question. How do I post by new novel "Tranquillity Initiative" as an ebook for ipad and nook? I Googled the question and discovered Smashwords. Smashwords is a free program that allows writers to put their books up on ipad, nook, Sony and many other epub sites - not on Kindle as of this minute.

Smashwords has directions for preparing your document in Micrsoft Word. For me, this has been a lesson that has set the standard for all future submissions - whether to a book publisher or an e-publisher. I learned a great deal about working with Word that I had not known before.

The step that was so important to me was to turn on the show/hide button. I generally never have it on because it's annoying. However, for making certain you have a clean manuscript, it's invaluable. The other step that was essential was to turn off all the AutoCorrect Options under Tools so that Word wouldn't be second guessing what I actually wanted. Once I got my manuscript uploaded to Smashwords turned most of the AutoCorrect Options back on, but for this project they have to stay off.

Since I did not know about the automatic indent feature that Word offers under Format - Paragraph - Special - First Line Indent - I had tabbed every single paragraph. I couldn't figure out how to globally remove all the tabs so I had to do it manually which was not a bad thing as it turned out. Moving that slowly through my manuscript showed me that occasionally there were half a dozen irrelevant tabs at the end of my paragraphs (epublications don't like tabs) and occasionally there were returns for no reason. More than that, there were strange boxes with in the manuscript, that word had thrown in for no reason, that I had no idea about (epubs don't like things in boxes which is why you remove your page number inserts which come in boxes). There are special instructions for handling pictures but I don't have pictures in my book so I didn't learn that step.

When I was proofing my print edition, I wondered why the publisher had thrown in a few strange returns. Now I know that those returns were in my manuscript and that I had not known enough to look for them since the manuscript fit well on my page.

Smashwords Style Guide is really a primer on many word features that affect epublishing. It is an excellent read even if you don't want to epub. This exercise has taught me how to prepare a really clean manuscript not simply for epub use but for submitting to my publisher. There will be differences of course between the hard copy and epub editions, particularly in the title and copyright pages and between chapters, but the manuscript itself will be completely clean and easy for the publisher to reproduce.