Friday, September 25, 2015

My Kindle Scout Diary: Final Day!

Tomorrow is the final day of my Kindle Scout campaign. That means only one more night of waking up at 3:00 AM, wondering if I'm in Hot & Trending. Now I can look forward to dreaming about whether or not Kindle Press will actually publish The Standout. From what I hear, most authors get emailed the verdict pretty quickly, much sooner than the fifteen days that's allotted. Still, I expect the wait to be excruciating. No, no. Waterboarding is excruciating. This is just angst-inducing.

I was talking to a good friend, telling her how nervous I am, how devastating it will be if I don't get picked.

"It doesn't have to be devastating," she said. "You'll just do what you always do. You'll pick yourself up, self-publish, and move on."

She's right, and that was good to hear. But I still find myself wondering (obsessing) about who gets picked and why. Since my campaign started, three books have been chosen for publication. What do they have in common?

Their most recent pick is Blood of the Forgotten Coast, by William Shelly Gwynn:
Before that came Five Spot, by Cindy Blackburn:
And then there's There is a Land: a Novel of Haiti, by Ted Oswald:
They all have very professional looking covers, they were all in Hot and Trending for most, if not all, of the time, and they are each authored by someone with writing experience. None of the authors are new to publishing. All three of the books are classified as a mystery or thriller. I read the opening pages of each, and they were all well-written.

But that's just three out of seventy-seven books. Of all the published books, there seems to be a pretty even distribution of male to female authors. It would be useless to look at the genre breakdown, since until recently, the only genres allowed were Mystery & Thriller, Romance, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Now they also allow Literature & Fiction, and Young Adult.

But how many books have been turned down by Kindle Press?

I'm not going to count how many books are currently up for nomination. But a brief glance over the categories tells me there are around 260 listings. Since many books are listed in more than one category, I'll estimate there are over 100 books up now, and at any given time. Of course, every day new books are added while other campaigns ends. It seems to me that Kindle Press averages slightly fewer than one book a week to choose for publication. Mathematicians, feel free to dispute me on this because I'm terrible at math, but I'm guessing about 95% or more of the books up for nomination DO NOT get picked. So if The Standout isn't chosen, I'll be in good company.

However, I have to say, my chances are still better here than with the normal route to publication - you know, finding an agent to pitch my manuscript to one of the big name publishers so I can be famous for having written the next Gone Girl. Is Amazon perfect? NO! Do I appreciate the opportunity, no matter what the outcome, HELL, YES!

And now, my final plea: I will REALLY, REALLY appreciate your nomination. If you haven't already, please click here right now to nominate The Standout.

Thank you! I will be back, once the verdict is in, with a run-down of my stats and my final thoughts on what worked, or what didn't work. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kindle Scout Diary - Five Days Left & My Five Favorite Comfort Foods

I've reached the final countdown. It will be great to be done, but I'm sure I'll be a mess during that waiting time, looking at my inbox every five minutes for the verdict from Kindle Press. I keep telling myself that I'll be fine whether they publish it or not. Self-publishing The Standout, like I have with my other books, is not the end of the world.

And win or lose, I'm happy I tried. I had no idea how supportive everyone would be. So many people have posted for me, encouraging their friends and family to nominate my book.(This actually works well and has put me in Hot & Trending more than once.) I've always been terrible at self-promotion, but one benefit to doing this campaign is I've forced myself to toot my own horn. (Oh, BTW, if you have nominated The Standout yet, please click here right now and do so! Please & thank you!) Anyway, the enthusiasm and encouragement I've received has been extremely gratifying.

And I'm all about gratification, instant and otherwise. That's why today, in honor of "five days left," I'm going to list my five favorite comfort foods.

#5: Mac & Cheese

I'm talking about the homemade kind, with melted cheddar, cream, dry mustard, and garlic breadcrumbs on top. Once or twice a year I'll make a batch and freeze most of it, and then defrost small portions to enjoy throughout the winter. It's especially good accompanying seafood.

#4: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

I learned to make it from my mom. She told me to use a grocery store rotisserie chicken, cut it up and season it, and layer it with corn tortillas, cheese, green chile sauce, onion, and cilantro. I'm not above making this every month or so.

#3: Tuna Melt

The Uptown Diner (now closed) in Minneapolis made the best tuna melt ever. I can't replicate what they did, probably because I don't keep that much butter in my refrigerator. So again, I make them like how my mom does, which is also really good. They're open faced, on English muffin halves. Served with tomato soup, they remind me of childhood: Tuesday evening dinner, after I got home from dance class.

#2: Chocolate Cake

Every year for my birthday I make my own chocolate cake. My husband always offers to either make or buy me a cake, but I always refuse. I like to experiment with recipes from my Chocolate Cake Doctor cook book. Maybe by the time I turn 70 I'll have tried them all, but I doubt it. The chocolate midnight cake is so good I've made it multiple times.

#1: Spaghetti

It's my favorite Sunday night meal! I make it often, so I often skip the garlic bread, and lately I've started mixing in bean sprouts with the noodles, which is actually really good. I also love spicy meatballs. The only concession I can make there is reduced fat pork sausage. What else can I do?

Honorable Mention: Sriracha Sauce

I would put it at number one, but it's a sauce, not a food. I use it like little kids use ketchup. I put it on everything I mentioned above, except the chocolate cake. But does anyone know of a good Sriracha/chocolate cake recipe? Let me know!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kindle Scout: Nine Days Left (and my nine favorite movies)

So my days are down to the single digits on Kindle Scout. I have to say, it's gone better than I ever imagined. I still doubt I'll get picked, but it won't be for a lack of trying. I was in Hot & Trending for over a week (thanks again, Candace's Book Blog), but yesterday morning I fell out of that desired category.
Looking at my stats, I discovered that over half of my page views came from people who were already on the Kindle Scout site. For this, I need to thank Christa Holland at Paper and Sage. She designed my cover, and I have received so many compliments on it.  I can't stress the importance of a good cover. If it doesn't look professional and compelling, people won't click on it, and most likely, Kindle Press won't publish it. Christa has designed four covers for me now, and I love her work. Authors, I strongly recommend her. Her covers are fabulous, her rates are extremely reasonable, and she's super-professional.

Before I launch into my nine favorite films (in honor of my nine days left on Kindle Scout), I'll make my usual plea: PLEASE NOMINATE The Standout. It's super-quick & easy, and you'll get a free copy if it's chosen. Don't miss this Black Swan meets Project Runway thriller! Click here right now to nominate The Standout!

#9 - Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life
I'm sort of cheating here, by having a tie, but I just couldn't choose between these two equally cheesy yet wonderful Christmas movies:
Miracle on 34th Street is such a classic, and I love the court case where they prove that Santa Claus exists. In addition, it has probably my favorite line delivery of all time, when the drunk wife Mrs. Shellhammer says, "I would love to have Santa Claus come stay with us. I think it would SIMPLY charming!" (see video above)

I've seen It's a Wonderful Life literally dozens of time, and I still always cry when Harry Bailey says, "To George - the richest man in town."

#8: Babe
I recently watched Babe for the first time in years, this time with my children. It stood the test of time.  I'm a sucker for a strong ending. "That will do, Pig, That will do." I can't go into more detail without giving spoilers, but heck. I actually get choked up, thinking about it. I guess that make me a hypocrite, because I also love bacon!

#7: Dead Poet's Society
I was young when this movie came out and it inspired me. And, speaking of strong endings, Dead Poet's Society has my second-favorite ending of any movie, ever. I wanted to jump into the screen and scream, "Oh Captain, my Captain!"

#6: Terms of Endearment
There's some undefinable element about this movie that I love, but other parts are easier to name. Shirley MacLaine's scene where she demands that her daughter get pain medication? Debra Winger's scene where she tells her son that she knows he loves her? PURE GOLD.

#5: Citizen Kane

Call me pretentious, but I have to name Citizen Kane as one of the best, because I used to teach Film Studies, and this film is like a complex puzzle. Every time I showed it (around 40 times) I noticed something new, yet I could never remember the order of the scenes. It's amazing, to not be able to predict something that you are so incredibly familiar with.

#4: The Graduate
This is another one that I showed in Film Studies. It's rare that a movie can be so funny, deep, and complex, all at the same time.

#3: Tootsie
Dustin Hoffman is my favorite actor and the entire movie is hilarious, but the montage that ends with Bill Murray's line, "That is one crazy hospital!" is the most brilliantly orchestrated segment of a film that I can think of.

#2: Broadcast News
I admit to being a James Brooks fan (he also did Terms of Endearment.) This movie has some of the most quotable lines ever: "I can read, while I sing, I am singing and reading, BOTH!" The love triangle drew me, but the issues about media responsibility still resonate nearly thirty years after the film's been made.

#1: On the Waterfront

"I coulda been a contender!" The movie is campy by today's standards, but Marlon Brando's acting is unforgettable, the cinematography incredibly innovative, and the politics underneath the film are fascinating. Plus, this movie has my FAVORITE ending, ever. It's even better than Babe and Dead's Poet's Society, which says a lot. 

Now please, give me my amazing ending, and nominate The Standout on Kindle Scout. Here's the link again.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Halfway Through My Kindle Scout Campaign and Teaching Ninth Graders

On the first day of school I told my ninth graders a story.
There is a jealous baron who must travel, but before he leaves he tells his wife, "Do not leave the castle. If you do, I will punish you severely when I return."
Well, the baroness decides it's worth the risk to go see her boyfriend, so she crosses the river, has a good time, and leaves to go home before her husband finds out. But once she gets to the river, she encounters a madman who says, "If you try to cross the river, I'll kill you." 
The baroness goes for help, first to her boyfriend, who says, "I don't want to get involved, so I'm not helping you." 
Then she goes to a boatman, who will only take her across the river if she can pay him, but the baroness has no money. Finally she goes to a friend and begs her for help. 
But the friend says,"Sorry, you got yourself into this situation. I'm not helping you."
The baroness goes back to the river and tries to cross anyway, but the madman finds her and kills her. 
The End.
I ask the kids: who is the most responsible for the murder of the baroness? Overwhelmingly, they say the baroness herself.
This blows my mind. "What about the madman?" I ask. "He's the one who actually killed her!"
"But he's crazy," they say. "And besides, he warned her that he'd kill her if she tried to cross."
"The baroness is a twat," more than one student remarked. (And yes, I then lectured them about using appropriate language and about my opinions on misogyny.) "Her husband told her not to go. She deserves what she got."
I pointed out that the her husband was most likely abusive, since he threatened to "severely punish her." Didn't matter.
One kid said, "If you're one the South Side of Chicago and your mama tells you not to go outside and you stand out on the sidewalk for a smoke and get shot, then it's your fault."
I congratulated him for his ability to apply fiction to a real-life situation.
A lot of my students lead very difficult lives, so in a way it doesn't surprise me that see the baroness as responsible. Doing so probably helps them believe that making the right choices will keep them safe. I hope that it does.
The point of the exercise is to practice class discussion and to use a story as means of exploring personal beliefs and opinions. In that sense, I think it was a success.
I am now HALFWAY through my Kindle Scout campaign. It is going well, especially since Candace from Candace's Book Blog is helping me out. Authors, I strongly recommend doing some sort of promotion like I've done. She put together a book blog campaign for me, and to pique reader's interest there's a giveaway for an Amazon gift card. It's definitely helped me get noticed.
But I still have a long way to go. Please, if you haven't nominated The Standout on Kindle Scout yet, click here right now and help me out! If my book gets published you'll get a free copy!

Monday, September 7, 2015

My Kindle Scout Diary Day 11 and The State Fair

Today is Labor Day and tomorrow will be the first day of my sixteenth year teaching high school English. Oh, and it's day 11 of my Kindle Scout campaign.

Lately when I wake up in the middle of the night my mind is racing. Have I done my seating charts? Will my lesson plans work? How will I drive people to my Kindle Scout page? What am I going to have for breakfast tomorrow?

Some answers are easier than others. I'm glad to be a third of the way through my campaign, though I can't say I've found any sure-fire techniques for getting nominations, other than asking people on Facebook. That's been the most effective thing so far, especially when other people post for me. On Friday my husband, Rich, posted. It was his first time Facebook in months and the response was awesome! It's amazing how many people genuinely want to encourage other people's success.

Anyway, I needed a break, so yesterday I took Eli to the Minnesota State Fair and we had a really good time.
We started the day at the Miracle of Birth center, where we got to pet a baby pig.

After that we went to the pickle stand. "Ah, sweet pickle flesh!" (Those were Eli's words, not mine.) I've never liked pickles but Eli LOVES them!

It rained for a while, but that didn't stop us from trying out the paddle board simulator. Now I want to paddle board for real!
When we were looking for lunch options, Eli was horrified by the elephant ear stand. "But they're endangered!" Always the animal lover, he was relieved to find out that elephant ears are actually cookies. With all the exotic food choices, like alligator, I don't blame him for jumping to conclusions.
Once the sun came out we went on the river raft ride, and we got much wetter than we did from the rain.
We couldn't skip the giant slide. (The lone slider in the pic is Eli.)

Then it was time for my yearly state fair tradition. I love to eat mini-donuts while sitting directly underneath the bungee ride. You couldn't pay me to go on the thing. Nope. I get my thrills vicariously, while eating donuts, of course.

But Eli was inspired by the bungee ride, so our last stop of the day was the for him to do the kid's version. I kind of wish that they have this tame-downed version for adults!

So that's it. Wish me luck teaching ninth graders tomorrow, and if you haven't already, please click here right now and nominate The Standout on Kindle Scout.

Thank you!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Kindle Scout Day 8 and The Mystery of the 8 PM Whistle!

We have a mystery at our house.

Every evening at eight o’clock, a whistle goes off. It’s neither particularly loud nor long, but even still, it’s a whistle. When a whistle goes off, you take notice. But that’s not the issue. We don’t know where this whistle is coming from, or why it’s happening in the first place.

Our house is small so we should be able to figure it out. For the last few evenings, at around 7:58, Rich, Eli, and I take different posts, trying to pinpoint the whistle’s source. For example, last night Rich was upstairs, Eli was in the hallway, and I was in the living room, by the game drawer. (Pauline was in her bedroom with the door shut, because the mysterious whistle scares her.)

No matter where we stand, the whistle is never incredible close. I’m not sure how this is possible, because our house is more cozy and cottage-like than it is cavernous. And we’ve dug through every area where we might have put a tool or device with an alarm. We’ve checked our computers, phones, Ipads, etc.


As Rich said, eventually the battery of whatever it is will run out. I guess that’s good, because it means the whistle will eventually stop blowing. But it’s also bad, because we might never know what's causing the mysterious 8 PM whistle, and I hate not knowing.

It doesn’t feel like a stretch to compare our whistle to my Kindle Scout campaign, even though I discovered that I can access a stats page that tells me how many page views I’ve gotten and where my traffic is coming from. It's all still a mystery though, because I don’t know is how many actual nominations I’ve gotten, and I certainly don’t know what Amazon is looking for when they make their final decision. Is it my book’s number of hours in Hot and Trending? The professionalism of my author page? The quality and/or marketability of my novel? It’s probably a combination of the three, but those last two are incredibly subjective, and the possibility of getting published feels so impossibly close, yet entirely intangible. What’s more,  I have to know that I might never know what makes a Kindle Scout nominee successful.

Yet I’ll keep searching. That whistle is calling me. I have to try.

If you haven't yet nominated The Standout on Kindle Scout, please help this struggling writer out, and click here right now! It's easy, free, you won't get SPAM, and if my book gets published by Kindle Press you'll get a free copy.

And I'll be sooooo grateful!

Plus, The Holdout is FREE today! Read Robin Bricker's story from the beginning! And watch out, because The Next Breath goes on sale on Sunday.
To get your free Kindle download of The Holdout, click here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Kindle Scout Diary days 4 thru 5: Magic Kitten

Before I launch into how my Kindle Scout campaign is going, let me digress a little.

A few weeks ago I took my daughter, Pauline, to Barnes & Noble, with the promise of buying her first chapter book. When we got there, Pauline ran excitedly to the section for five to seven-year-olds, and her enthusiasm only grew as she looked around. There were books about fairies, and ballerinas, and horses. But when we found the Magic Kitten series by Sue Bentley, all bets were off.
I mean, it pained her to leave the other books behind, but Pauline HAD TO HAVE that Magic Kitten book.
On our way out the store, Pauline cried, "Oh Mommy, isn't it EXCITING that there are so many good books to read!"
It was a proud-mother moment for me. Because yes, I think the fact that there are SO MANY good books to read is as about as exciting as the world gets; I really, really do. It's why I'm an English teacher, it's why I have dozens of books of my Kindle yet I still buy more, it's why I love going to the library, and it's why I'm a writer.
But the volume of good books is also intimidating, because as an author, I know the competition is fierce.
But this Sue Bentley is a genius. We've read several Magic Kitten books by now (we also found her shelf at the library) and they're well-written and full of little-girl ingredients, like dance competitions, friendship conflicts, and of course, a magic kitten. I wish I'd written them.
Which leads me back to the fierce competition thing. I've looked at Kindle Scout quite a bit in the last few days, having been weaker than I'd hoped when it comes to checking on my Hot and Trending status. I've also joined a Kindle Scout group on both Facebook and Goodreads. So I'm very aware of all the excellent, competent authors who are pursuing the same dream as me. I also know that we won't all get what we want, not this time, anyway.
All you can do is keep plugging along, hoping that the next book you write will be your Magic Kitten, and the world will finally sit up and take notice.

So, if you haven't nominated The Standout yet on Kindle Scout, please click here, right now! Help me get my magic kitten!