Another Year.

Another birthday come and gone. And it was…um…there are no words, actually. I received a few shocks that, frankly, I could have lived without.

But at least I got my pen.

pen-type-a-doodle

I’m quite excited about it, and I think I have an unhealthy obsession with taking the pen out of its holder just so I can watch it slowly slide back down into it–it really is that cool—and I’m grateful to the fine folks at CW&T for making it all possible.

When my life calms to relative normal and after some renovations of my stationery addiction site, I’ll post a proper and full review of the pen.

Getting Crafty the Puffy Pouch Way

Since this blog hasn’t seen any love in a while and I’ve been spending a bunch of time crafting—I’m putting a new sewing machine through its paces (or that’s the excuse since I’m really just procrastinating…there’s a book I need to finish editing)—I figure this might be a good time to show the world what I’ve been up to.

puffy-pouch-closed

I found the tutorial for the puffy pouch at Pink Penguin, but as you can probably tell from my version…I’ve made some slight modifications.

I wanted a wristlet, so I added the applicable loop. And I decided that I didn’t want to use Velcro or hunt down a flex frame, but had plenty of zippers, so I figured I’d just use that. Also, because I was using a zipper, I decided I had to make it bigger.

But sometimes my brain can’t keep up with me and I neglected to add the proper seam allowance, although I thought I did, so I ended up with a stubbier zipper area than I wanted. Luckily the 7” zipper fit the 6.5” opening. It just looks a little…off. Ah well, it still works.

puffy-pouch-open

The pouch is upcycled from an old pair of jean shorts and a Hannah Montana sheet. I’m planning to make another one, with a few more modifications, since I still have some material left over. For now, I just need to figure out what I’m going to do with this one. Hmm.

How to Get Your Book Read & Reviewed (or, at least, increase your chances)

One day, I woke up and discovered that I was an Amazon Top Reviewer. This isn’t that big of a deal, not to me anyway, but it seems to be for prospective authors looking to get some respectable reviews (I surmise from the increased number of review requests I receive). Since I enjoy reading, I’m inclined to oblige…if certain basic conditions are met first.

This morning, I received a review request which made me think, I should write a blog entry to help other prospective (especially indie) authors not make the same mistakes.

(Email is as-is; edits noted within brackets.)

From: Amazon Author <[REMOVED]@gmail.com>
To: <undisclosed-recipients>
Bcc: reviews@mildinsanity.com
Date: Sun, Dec 11, 2011 at 4:53 AM
Subject: Can you please Review my new Romance Novel

Hi,

I got your Email address from the list of Amazon Top Reviewers.

I hope you will accept my new release on Amazon titled as
“[REMOVED]” which comes under Fiction » Romance » General.

If you think you might be interested in checking out my e-book
and posting an honest review of it on Amazon.

I’ll gladly send you link to complimentary copy of my e-book.

Best Regards,

At first glance, you might wonder: What’s wrong with that? He seems earnest and polite.

But, if you look closely, you’ll notice the flaws:

  • The author used a dummy email account and didn’t sign his name;
  • The author  sent a mass mailing likely to all the email addresses he scraped from the Amazon website (the big tip-off was the “undisclosed recipients” with my email as a Bcc)–this is basically SPAM;
  • The author didn’t take the time to browse through even a few of my book reviews because he would have learned I rarely review general romance;
  • The author can barely craft a proper sentence.

Ultimately, by sending this email, he’s wasted his time because 99% of the reviewers won’t even respond, and the ones who do will probably decline. How do I know this? Reviewers chat, and a few pet peeves often come up.

If you’re an author looking to get your book reviewed by any reviewer, here are a few things that might endear her to your cause:

  • Make sure your book jives with her interests: Browse through her review history to make sure she even reads and reviews in your genre. If not, move on to the next reviewer. (Proselytizing rarely works.)
  • If she has a review policy, read it and abide by it: Some reviewers will tell you in which format they prefer their books, or whether they’ll accept review requests at all. If you can’t (or won’t) meet the posted requirements, move on to the next reviewer.
  • Include a brief synopsis of the story: Reviewers are people, too. They have lives filled with obligations likely to include a huge stack of other books to read. They don’t have time to read several pages of story overview. As a rule of thumb, the reviewer should have a complete idea of your book in 500 words or less.
  • Don’t bash your book in an effort to appear self-deprecating: If you don’t think your book is worth the read, how can you expect a reviewer to? Make sure your book is as polished as it can be before releasing it into the wild.
  • Have a sample chapter or two ready: Assuming your overview hooked the reviewer, rather than have her track down a sample of your book, include a link to it somewhere in your email. Make sure it’s an ample sample (1-2 full chapters) and that it’s not in some weird proprietary format (eh hem, .mobi or .lit, etc.)–PDF or HTML are generally good options.
  • Exclude the author bio unless it’s relevant or useful: I don’t care how old an author is or where she’s from unless it’s relevant or can open a dialogue (i.e. a CIA operative that went rogue to pen the world’s best novel; or we attended school together; &c.), otherwise, it’s just more cruft to read in an otherwise busy life.
  • Go the extra mile: Anyone who reads my Amazon profile can learn my first name, and that I’m not a “Mr.” , in about 10 seconds if they truly cared to find out. I’m more receptive to the authors who go that extra mile and address me by name, or at least, a proper salutation. Maybe include a personal detail or compliment (I enjoyed your review of XYZ because of ABC). It’s small, but can get your foot in the door.
  • And, of course, proofread your email: This one should be rather obvious.

I’m not saying that if you do everything on this list that every reviewer you contact will read and review your work, but it might just improve your chances overall.

Issues with Amazon

In the last three months I’ve had more problems with my Amazon experience than the past three years combined.

The first blip on my radar was with the shipping of some milk powder I’d ordered (BTW, great in shakes or if you prefer to use milk instead of water when making oatmeal). The package, marked as “Ready to Ship”, arrived with no protection; when I opened it there was milk powder everywhere. Their customer service was excellent and quick to send out a replacement (in much better packaging), so I let it go.

Then less than a month later I ordered my netbook and had a similar experience. Except instead of milk powder everywhere I had a damaged computer. Although the computer was secure in its own box, Amazon neglected to add any protection to serve as shock absorption. Sure, getting it replaced was easy enough, but I still had to go through the hassle of repacking the old computer and shipping it back. (The new computer arrived in the same packaging conditions, so it was only by miracle it didn’t end up damaged in transit.)

And less than a month after that, I ordered a product and paid the extra $3.99 to have overnight shipping (I’ve been a Prime member for some years and enjoy the luxury of free 2nd day shipping on certain products or $3.99 for overnight). It was scheduled to ship out and arrive by Saturday, but I was informed on Monday via shipping update email that there was a delay and my package would arrive on Wednesday. (No offer to refund the $3.99 though.)

Unfortunately, I’d selected the shipping address based on where I was going to be at the time and wasn’t going to be there on Wednesday. Unfortunately when I logged into my account it wouldn’t allow me to change the order in any way or even cancel it. Yet another call to customer service. By the end I was so frustrated that I just had her cancel the order altogether and bought what I needed from Best Buy.

Now (and this is a relatively minor quibble), recently Amazon extended their Prime shipping to include Saturday delivery if the product is ordered by a certain time on Thursday. Just decided to test this theory out this past Thursday only to find that my package didn’t arrive as scheduled on Saturday, it arrived on Monday. No big deal, just annoying.

There’s more, but I don’t feel like getting into all of it. Had these incidents been spaced out over years I probably wouldn’t have noticed. But since they all occurred within such a short period of time I wonder what’s going on…growing pains while they try to make improvements?

(I still ♥ Amazon.com and will continue to shop there—assuming things don’t get much worse, this blog post is mainly to vent some frustration.)

When Criminals Waste Your Time and Disrupt Your Family Ties

Well, I showed up at the courthouse on Thursday only to find out the sentencing was delayed and when we finally did get in to see the judge one of the defendants decided to reevaluate his guilty plea. In Plain English, it means that the criminals who broke into my home are also hell bent on wasting my time as well.

Luckily the judge didn’t care too much for it either, and it was written all over his face, so he declared that when it was time to reschedule their sentencing (if, and when, the moronic burglar decides that a jury trial would not be in his best interest considering I saw his face only moments before he and his friends, who will testify against him, broke into my home) it will be rescheduled at our convenience (mine and the neighbour’s who was also burglarized).

When I think back to that day, it just seems like a comedy of errors to me. Each of the two defendants had separate lawyers. One of them was ready to have himself sentenced; he even had his lawyer come and talk to us about what they would ask from the judge. Then, there was the other lawyer, who was put into a sticky situation by the other defendant’s family. Apparently, someone in the family was a lawyer and decided—that morning—to cause a stir.

I was sitting on the waiting bench next to them so I could overhear everything they were saying. Mind you, I tried not to listen, but it was difficult. All I can say is, I’m not a lawyer, but even I know what they were thinking was idiotic. Then when that poor lawyer had to go in front of the judge and say, Sorry, but we need to postpone again (I’m paraphrasing), the other lawyer made sure to get in there and mention his client had nothing to do with it and was ready to take his lumps.

Long story less long, I’ll be going back to court some time in Sept.

To make this whole situation more unnerving, my daddy yelled at me. He told me I shouldn’t be going to court over any of this. I told him that they were mandatory subpoenas and that I would get in trouble for not going. He told me to pay the fine. What it came down to was my daddy being worried about my conscience. Although I did nothing wrong—they were the ones to break into my home—I would still feel guilty when the judge sentences them to prison. And I’ll admit that with the first one, I did feel somewhat guilty.

I mean, a year and a half of this kid’s life is going to be spent in a place where men will most likely be treating him like their bitch, and that is due in part to what I said to the judge although I only spoke the truth. It’s like these kids didn’t just take stuff from me, they put me in the worst possible position when it came to their own lives.

Still, I eventually got over it. After talking to multiple people, each telling me that while I can mourn for them and their families, I shouldn’t feel guilty because they made stupid choices. I told this to my daddy, but he wasn’t buying it. So, now my daddy’s mad at me, too. All because three boys decided to break into my home and steal my stuff over a year ago.

Another Day in Court

It’s the night before I have to go to court, again. And I’m nervous.

I’m not sure why though.

The last time it was an interesting experience. We sat in a courtroom (um…looks nothing like on T.V.) and waited for a few hours while the judge worked through all the other people who were up for sentencing. Then, when it was my turn, I went up and told the judge how I felt and what I thought the punishment should be.

When I left the courthouse I was in a mild state of shock. The kid seemed so contrite (but I have to wonder if he would have been that contrite if he’d not gotten caught) and he was in tears when the judge handed down the sentence: 18 months in prison. That’s a year and a half of his life that can’t be spent dropping the SOAP in the shower. All because he and his friends were stupid and broke into my house.

Still, I must remind myself that he did, after all, commit the crime and should be willing to do the time. Another part of me is still frightened that he might retaliate.

And I get to go through it all again tomorrow morning.

The other two boys deferred as long as they could and it will be their turn to stand in front of the judge, beg for leniency, and then get shipped away to the big house.

And again I will feel the same incongruous feelings. It’s such a shame that these boys wasted their lives on what? A couple computers, a sword, some jewelry, DVDs, and a few other knickknacks and bric-a-bracs. Unfortunately, that wasn’t all they took: They took my sense of security and for that, I feel they deserve whatever they get.

*sigh*

Sundays with the Sibling (and the Nieceling)

Let me start with: I’m typing this with one hand.

While her grandparents are away, I’m playing nanny to me niece so my sister who is an emergency room night nurse can get some actual sleep this weekend. But oh the wonders you’ll see taking care of a three and a half year old.

This morning I awoke to a soggy behind and a baby half strewn across me. I decided to move her to a dry spot and let her sleep. An hour later she woke up, tapped my shoulder and said in her best big girl voice, “Auntie Teli, I wet mommy’s bed.”

I smiled and said, “I know.”

We got up, got her cleaned up, then went to wash the sheets. Another hour and a half later, my sister came home from work and my niece met her at the staircase and said, “Mommy, I peed in your bed.”

Funny thing, though, because I agreed to keep it our little secret if she was a good girl and quietly watched Blue’s Clues while I cleaned up (which she did).

Then for another hour she terrorized her (very tired) mom. And then we were terrorized by a large flying black demon insect from the depths of Hell itself. My sister couldn’t find the bug spray so she tried to Windex it to death. That didn’t work, but it started cleaning its legs.

After the insect incident we all went upstairs, and mommy twirled and laughed with baby. It truly was a lovely moment (made infinitely more comical because mom had just taken NyQuil for her cold). Finally baby let mom go to sleep and came back downstairs with me, begged me to make her a burrito, then climbed into my lap and promptly fell asleep–burrito uneaten.

Which brings us to now.

It occurred to me that the last time I updated about my niece, she was still in diapers. Now she’s a “big girl” who is 98.6% potty trained, but still cute as a button (even when she’s being bad).

Dreams, Nightmares, Same Difference

I wonder what it says about me when I have a dream that by normal definitions would be considered a nightmare, yet I think it would make one freakishly fantastic story. (And rather than frighten me, said dream only made me slightly tense.)

I Write Like…Part 2

Since I didn’t include the nifty badge last time, here it is:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Inspiration from Mr. Hines

I Write Like…

David Foster Wallace, according to I Write Like, a relatively new online tool which compares your writing to a pool of well known and accomplished authors.

That was my result when I tried two short stories and the prologue to a novel. Then I tried an Amazon review and it told me I write like Dan Brown. (Not my review of Twilight, though. For that, I apparently channeled Meyer herself.)

Then I put in another novel’s prologue and it told me I write like David Foster Wallace again.

Oh, and Cormac McCarthy writes like Ursula K. Le Guin.