Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Top 10 posts for 2013

We’re at the end of another year and, as I did last year, I’d like to share my Top 10 blog posts for the year.  While I’d like to think the most popular posts might give me a better idea of what readers are most interested in, I have to say it seems to be quite a variation if these posts have anything to say about it. 
Here are the Top 10 posts:
10.  A week to test my patience.  This post was written after dealing with a difficult week and I assume I must have struck a chord with others who could feel my pain.

9.  Can creative chaos be organized?  Whether you are creative, organized, creative about organizing or buried by creative chaos, if you’re like me you feel the need to get totally organized at some point or another.
8.  My Mother’s Day weekend.  I like to share about time spent with family and it would appear others enjoyed reading what I had to share.

7.  Tenino as Jorja sees it.  This post was great for those who needed to see a map of my fictional version of Tenino.
6.  My recipe for a happy marriage.  This was offered from the heart after celebrating 22 years of marriage with my soul mate.

5.  Judging by Looks?  It’s just a human trait.  I wrote this post after coming up with a cover design for Best Kept Secrets.  The cover is the first impression and very important when it comes to attracting the interest of new readers.  No matter how many years I continue to write, I believe I will never learn to stop biting my nails as I anticipate how readers will respond to the newest book cover.
4.  Why America’s Got Talent makes me cry.  Because I’m a softie and I love to see people work hard at achieving their dreams.  I believe many of you must feel the same way…or maybe you were just interested in my post because you happened to also like the show.

3.  Who made the quarter-finalist cut?  This was an extremely exciting contest for me to take part in and I was thrilled when I made the top 400 out of 10,000 entries in the mystery/thriller genre and even more thrilled when I earned my spot as a quarter-finalist as one of the top 100 in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. 
2.  Pitch Perfect.  This had the second highest amount of views and I wonder if it was because at the time there was a movie titled Pitch Perfect.  My post wasn’t about the movie but about the pitch I had to come up with to enter my book in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest and how nervous I was about the whole thing. 

1.  What would we do without distractions?  This was my number one post for 2013.  I guess many of you relate to the fact that we all live with distractions in many areas of our lives and the trick is how we deal with them. 
So there’s my list of the top ten posts which seemed to draw the most interest, for one reason or another.  My top 10 for 2012 also saw a variation so I’m curious to see what readers respond to in 2014.  While I’ve only been blogging for two short years, it seems so long ago that I finally came out as a writer on December 31, 2011.  Since then I’ve published just over 200 posts on this blog, published two books, finished a short story (which was a gift for others this Christmas but will likely be on sale soon) and began writing my third novel.  Maybe it feels longer than two years because I’ve been able to do so much.  Having said that, I look forward to the coming year and I truly appreciate everyone who continues to follow me on my journey as an author.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 and a Year in Photos

So how did 2013 treat you?  As I look back on my year, I have to admit it has been quite busy and full of many ups but also a few downs:  three books signings, taking part in Lakefair, my oldest graduated from college, my youngest turned 16, trips to the beach, to Portland, to Seattle, a road trip to Idaho, I made it as a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, published my second book, lost a wonderful aunt, welcomed an adorable niece and ended the year focusing more on my  health after surgery.  Overall, 2013 has been a good year and I truly look forward to what 2014 has in store for me. 
Throughout the year, I’ve taken many, many photographs.  This is not unusual for me as I carry my camera with me just about every time I step out of the house; partly because I love to take photographs and partly because, as an investigator, I need to be prepared should it be necessary to take photographs on short notice.  As one of my final posts for 2013, I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos for each month out of the year. 

JANUARY:  Piper – she is the only character in my books who gets to keep her true name.

FEBRUARY:  From a trip to Portland, at the Pittock Mansion – I loved this staircase.

MARCH:  Spring is probably my favorite time of year and it’s when I get excited about planning my garden – there is a moment in time when the blossoms on my plum trees are just beautiful and I know we’re heading towards much nicer weather.

APRIL:  My favorite month and I had a hard time picking my favorite photo but I finally stuck with this guy – he came to visit me when I was eating my lunch at a park in Olympia and I thought he was beautiful.

MAY:  A walk around Tumwater Falls never fails to produce some nice photos – again, had a hard time to choose a favorite photo.

JUNE:  I adore anything moose - so it's not a surprise to learn this is one of my favorite garden decorations.  
JULY:  I took a ton of photos during the month of July but I just love this boathouse we spotted during our road trip to Idaho.

AUGUST:  On board the Lotus on a beautiful day during Harbor Days in Olympia – if a boat can be called adorable, this one would be it.

SEPTEMBER:  A shot of the valley from my driveway and some of my neighbor's cows.

OCTOBER:  An absolutely beautiful sunrise I was thrilled to get a shot of on my way out one morning.

NOVEMBER:  I see Mt. Rainier every day, if the weather permits it, and I never hesitate to take snapshots whenever I get the chance on a beautiful fall day.

DECEMBER:  I took this photo last week when I decided to visit the marina in Olympia during lunch – it was such a gorgeous day and I was surprised when only a few days later we woke up to snow.

So there's my year-at-a-glance with some of my favorite photos.  I can’t wait to see what photo opportunities I get during 2014!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What’s all the hubbub, bub?

How are your holiday spirits now that we’re only a week away from Christmas?  Do you have all your shopping done and your gifts wrapped and under the tree?  Or are you about ready to pull your hair out as you scan the full parking lot for just one empty space or stand in a long line waiting patiently as the cashiers take their time ringing up purchases while trying to get customers to sign up for a card or fork over their e-mail addresses? 
When everyone is trying to do the same thing at the same time, it’s definitely the season when we might need the most reason to have patience, be kind and try our best at going with the flow.  But that’s easier said than done.

I’ve had to remember to be patient as I try to move around town during my lunch hour, doing my best to fit in as many errands as I can so I won’t have to do them after work or on the weekend.  It’s definitely harder when the area I work in is close to the mall and near many large retail stores.  Traffic and long lines at the register are just par for the course this time of year and it means I have to prepare myself mentally so that I don’t add to the noise of frustration many store employees must hear every day.
What’s funny about this time of year is that it really doesn’t have to be all that frustrating when it comes to shopping for gifts.  If I just planned ahead of time, I wouldn’t be scrambling to find last minute gifts or cursing myself when I’ve discovered that one special item is now out of stock.  How hard is it to keep my eye out for just the right gift whenever I’m away on vacation, or visiting Seattle or Portland (especially when there’s no sales tax!) or during the many hours I’m on the computer and can watch for deals available all throughout the year?

Again, that’s easier said than done.  I’m not thinking about Christmas in the spring or summer…although to be honest there were a few years when I did start shopping in August or during one of our long road trips in July (Christmas in July?).  I’d find a few gift ideas and store them away but then school would begin in September and we’d get busy with school functions and sports, then Halloween and Thanksgiving and I’d completely forget about making any further attempts at shopping for gifts until December.
Well, it’s a never-ending cycle.  If I don’t like it, I can change it.  If I don’t change it, I have to deal with it. 

And that’s what I’m doing.  I’m not going to beat myself up if I can’t find everything I’m looking for.  One thing I learned just this afternoon is that if you do go with the flow, something might come to you when you least expect.  I was trying to run a simple errand to pick up an item I needed at the craft store and my plan was to get in and get out.  As I glanced at the long line of customers in apprehension at the amount of waiting I’d be dealing with, I decided to take a look around after I found what I needed and I was thrilled when I spotted something that would be perfect for someone I hadn’t finished shopping for.  With holiday glee I headed towards that long line, which no longer bothered me as it did when I first entered the store.

Through all the hustle and bustle, the noise and confusion, the last-minute prepping and the holiday hype, the last week before Christmas will hopefully mean more than that to most.  To me it means looking forward to smiles on the kids’ faces when they open their gifts, it means enjoying the festivities this season brings with the many holiday parties, bazaars and gatherings galore and it means looking forward to time spent with family where another year of memories will be made.
Even though one side of me would like to ‘freak out’ at the fact that Christmas is only a week away, the other side of me says…‘what’s all the hubbub, bub?’

How about you?  Are you ready to freak out or are you going with the holiday flow?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Where will Jorja be shopping for the holidays?

Okay, Jorja is a fictional character but if she was a real person, where would she shop for the holidays?  While she would have many options available to her in the ‘fictional’ version of Tenino, she’d have many options available in the real town of Tenino, as well. 
Avoiding big crowds and traffic this time of year is a huge asset when trying to find just the right gift.  Jorja would agree that the best way to avoid those hassles is to shop local where she can walk from store to store before finally heading the short distance home.  Not only will she feel better about shopping local, she’ll be minus the headache she’d likely get from the constant traffic jams she’d find herself in if she were to head further north to shop at the retail stores or the mall.

First, before the Christmas shopping is to begin, Jorja and Ryan would take Nicholas out to Riverbend Ranch to choose and cut a tree to decorate.  Some might like artificial trees but Jorja loves the smell of the fresh pine aroma coming from the Douglas fir in her living room.  While visiting Riverbend Ranch, Jorja might also find some cute gift ideas or decorations in the newly built gift shop on site at the tree farm.
For holiday shopping, there are plenty of shops right in town where Jorja, Taylor, Ryan and the rest of the bunch can find great gift ideas.  Here are just a few examples:
While Jorja might still shop in the larger retail stores for some items, especially for toys and games Nicholas might have on his wish list, she’ll find more than a few ideas for her friends and family right in her own hometown. 

I hope you are enjoying your holiday shopping minus the headaches it can bring.  If you do find yourself near the town of Tenino, make sure to check out the local shops in town.  Decked out in their holiday finest, they’ll bring a smile to our face and some holiday cheer to your heart.  They might also surprise you with what they have to offer when it comes to finding just the right gift.
Happy gifting!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Perseverance has no age limit

There are many reasons why we don’t move ahead with whatever might fulfill our dreams:  time, money, the kids, our job, fear of failing, even a fear of succeeding.  Some might actually believe they are too young or too old.
But there shouldn’t ever be an age limit where perseverance is concerned.  Whether you’re in your teens, middle-aged or can’t remember how many grandchildren you have, age is never a good reason to give up on yourself.

I bring this up after reading an article about a couple of local ladies who tried again and again to start businesses together and wouldn’t you know it?  Where one or more businesses weren’t exactly what they were hoping for, they finally found their niche and are successes and local celebrities in their own right.
Meet Bev Vines-Haines and Charlotte Clary, both from a small local town and the co-owners of Ice Chips, a delicious sugar-free hard candy available in multiple flavors.  The women are 72 and 58 years old and have more than three dozen grandchildren between the two of them (wow!).  Friends for many years, the two have tried their hands at various sorts of businesses over the years but it was their most recent endeavor, launched with the goal to create sugar-free candy for their grandchildren and provide relief from grueling construction jobs for their husbands, which helped them earn the label as one of the most successful business startups in the county.  Here’s a recent article in a local paper about the two and their business (I'll apologize ahead of time for the pop-up ads) – from the sound of this article, the future for these women and this business is looking very bright.

Why am I sharing this information with you? 
Well, for one, it’s a great story about local people.  That’s never a bad thing.  However, I don’t know either of these women and I have no interest in their business other than the fact that I do hope they continue to succeed after all the hard work they’ve put into it.  The other reason I’m sharing their story is because I believe they are both great examples of why no one should ever give up on themselves, no matter what their age may be or how many times they’ve tried to succeed at something in the past.  If I were to look up the word ‘perseverance’ in the dictionary, I believe I might actually find a photograph of both Bev and Charlotte.  Perseverance is what these ladies are all about.

Rather than looking at past startups or unsuccessful goals as failures, it’s best to look at them as stepping stones towards what we’re really meant for in life.  What’s the saying?  When one door closes, another door opens?  Perseverance is what will help us walk through the open door rather than stay behind to gaze longingly at the closed door.  That trait along with our desire to achieve, our ability to believe and our willingness to move forward with the knowledge we have learned from the past can only move us ahead towards success.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Author Rank…irregular heartbeat or panic attack?

I’ve read a few posts these past few months offering pieces of advice relating to an author’s rank and for the most part, I believe the consensus is this:  stop checking it on a regular basis. 
For some, I bet that’s easier said than done.

When Amazon offers such a fun device charting your high’s and low’s as they relate to your sales or your reviews or however it is Amazon comes up with those numbers (because they don’t always match what you’d believe them to mean), it really can be hard to ignore them.
From a writer’s standpoint, I agree that the author ranking should not be the main focus.  The idea is to write books and make them available.  The more books you have, the easier it will be to push sales of previous books, which will help drive your author rank higher.  However, from a marketing standpoint, I think it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your author rank, on a semi-regular basis anyway.  Why?  Because it helps to determine when a marketing approach works and when it doesn’t; or rather, what might push your rank up and what doesn’t.

Not that it’s an exact science, since the author ranking can be difficult to completely decipher, but I decided to take a look at my rankings for the past year in order to compare them to events I’ve taken part in with regard to marketing.  Here’s what Amazon provided to me from December 4, 2012 through December 3, 2013:

It looks like one of those monitors you watch closely when you’re hooked up to wires as the doctor scrutinizes your heart rate.  From that viewpoint, mine appears to have a steady beat for awhile, except for about a five-month period when it looks more like an irregular heartbeat or maybe an extreme panic attack.  At least my chart hasn’t flat lined.
The chart above shows my ranking compared to ALL books over the past year, not just mystery, which is why my rank is currently at 88,874, coming down from 47,741 (not that my Amazon author page ever seems to reflect an accurate rating…something I don’t particularly like or understand).  An author ranking in the 88,000-range is okay with me when you consider the millions of books being ranked daily on Amazon.  My actual author rank for mystery books is currently somewhere in the 3,000’s, which is still good when it’s being compared to a quarter of a million mystery books.
So what works?  What doesn’t work?  What sort of information causes the rank to spike more than 50,000 or even 300,000 spots at a time?
This is what I’ve figured out so far: 

When No Mother of Mine was first released the author rank was up and down on a semi-regular basis.  I was still learning the ropes and had just begun this blog and my Facebook author page, so the fact that my rank kept going up right after going down is a good thing.  From January through April 2013, the rank had a fairly steady up and down beat and was probably due to a book signing in January, my entry into the Amazon Breakthrough Contest which lasted from January through April and another book signing in March.  But then from April through September…wow.  There’s lots of white space between the lower and the higher rankings.  To be clear, high numbers are a low rank and low numbers are a high rank…everyone wants to be #1.  I can’t figure out what made the rank spike in mid-May, the beginning of June or the end of June but the spikes in July would have been due to the book promotion at Lakefair.  Considering how much work Lakefair was, it really didn’t do much more for my author rank than the half-day signings or on-line marketing attempts.  Go figure.
From there things get real quiet for awhile.  My rank slips and slips from the end of July until the end of September.  I didn’t hold any signings, take part in any other marketing ideas and I didn’t enter any contests…I was pretty quiet as I worked on my second book.  But I was writing and writing is what I have to do to get more books out there in order to make more sales in order to push that rank even higher.

Spike in Mystery category
during Kindle Countdown Deal
Once I was able to make Best Kept Secrets available for sale, there was a huge spike in my author ranking (which had slipped to over 400,000 before finally rising to 90,000-something) and it’s been a steady beep, beep, beep ever since along with a book signing in October and offering the eBooks for a special price just recently.  I haven’t made it to the top 10, top 100 or even the top 1,000 but I did get close with the eBook recently ranking at 1,402 during the Kindle Countdown Deal.  
But should I really care? 
I agree with other bloggers who tell writers not to let their ranking consume them.  I believe using it to figure out what might work with regard to marketing is useful but letting it determine how you write or what you write is not productive.  Writers need to write what they feel and feel what they write.  The validation for work completed comes from how readers respond to what you’ve created.  And as a writer continues to create, they’ll reach more readers and gain more ground as their author rank grows organically through hard work and determination (plus a dash of patience).

At least, that’s what I believe.  With only two published books, I’ll admit I’m still learning but that’s okay.  I’ll continue to periodically watch my author rank as I continue to create more books and, as the saying goes, only time will tell.