Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Making Promotional Bookmarks--from Postcards!-- on VistaPrint

[Note: I'm currently away from my laptop, taking a class trip around the country of Ghana. I've scheduled this post to keep my blog active, and hope the information may be helpful to fellow writers thinking of using bookmarks to promote their work.]

Before visiting WisCon last year, I printed a set of 400 bookmarks to distribute promoting my work (including my ebook Aqua Vitae). The bookmarks were designed by a friend, the multitalented Matthew Luckow, and printed using VistaPrint.

Side A shows a crop of Aqua Vitae's cover, with a narrow cream-colored border that isn't revealed in this image. The back side has a logline/description, reviewer quote, and link to the book's page on WolfSinger's site. In the end I think we may have adapted this version of the copy to use more negative space and add a second reviewer quote.

Although I don't recall ever seeing a straightforward bookmark option, there are several ways to print bookmarks through VistaPrint, including using the business card option to make slightly smaller-than-usual ones. I've seen many lovely examples, and can say from long experience that they work perfectly well to mark your place in a book. However, I decided to follow the advice of this article and created my bookmarks as postcards.

Basically, when uploaded, the images were oriented thus (front side on the left of the screen, back side on the right).

 I ordered 200 of them, which, sliced in half with the use of a library guillotine (that is, a large bladed paper cutter I have access to through my college library. If guillotine is not the proper word for that implement, I do not care to use the proper word) produced 400 bookmarks that I still have not been able to entirely use up, despite passing them out at multiple conventions and including them with paperback review copies. As I'm very satisfied with the finished design, I don't mind having so many, but if I had expected to need updated information more frequently--for example, to link to this new blogspot site--I would have chosen a smaller print run (with a caveat I'll get to soon).

Additional advice from my experience:

Be sure to get a VistaPrint discount code. This can be done by subscribing to their mailing list, joining other groups that distribute coupons, or by borrowing a code from a friend who has one. But until you have a discount to use, beware, VistaPrint prices add up very quickly. They charge, from what I can tell, for each subset of a service. Printing my gorgeous bookmarks in color on both sides added at least a dozen dollars to my order. Also, because elaborating on each aspect of the card becomes an added charge, I'd suggest looking for coupons that deduct from the price of your complete order rather than giving individual services for free or at a reduced price--you'd still have to pay for the other services.
While the RedRoom article suggests the finished cards will be about a penny each, mine were closer to four cents. Not a bank-breaker, although if you pay tax (self-employment included) for your writing income I suggest you keep the receipt to deduct from your 1099-MISC royalty profits.

Be careful to orient the images on the postcard the way the article shows you! Matthew and I followed the instructions carefully (re-uploading the files to make sure) and our bookmarks turned out fine. Otherwise, they'd have been printed with one side upside down relative to the other. Still usable as bookmarks, but awkward. This would be a difficulty, considering there are hundreds of them.

Also, take care in how you cut the postcards. You get two to four bookmarks per card, depending on the orientation, and that becomes a lot of cutting. It's tempting to chop through several at one time to lessen how long you'll take at the guillotine--my 200 postcards took nearly a half hour. However, the best results come from cutting one card at a time, as the glossy paper stock doesn't slice easily in a thick stack. I lost several bookmarks in trying. They do slice better with the glossiest side facing down, at least with the old blade I was using. Sharper ones may manage more, but be conservative until you're sure.

For that matter, when designing the image to upload on VistaPrint, add very generous margins. You'll need them when cutting the finished product. VistaPrint's printing sometimes leaves blank slivers on the edges of cards. You can decide whether they're worth trimming off if they occur. I left them for the most part because they were minor and I didn't want to risk slicing a card lopsided.

The price per card drops drastically as you make larger and larger orders. However, if you may be updating your author information anytime soon, you won't want many more cards than you can distribute. The best thing is probably to be consistent so you don't need the updates--I figure this blogspot site is here to stay, so the next time I print a batch of bookmarks, I'll order more of them.

And I will order more and continue to use them. I don't think bookmarks are the most effective way to promote a book (reviews & reader chatter/word of mouth are best, along with sound writing that's worth chattering about). I did see small upswings in sales after the convention, although given I was talking to people and attending readings I can't attribute that for certain to the bookmarks. Yet, like business cards, they're a good way to leave someone your information for follow-up. You wouldn't want somebody to ask if you have a card and not have one to offer them. Not to mention they're just plain fun to make and give away!

For more tips on formatting for people who are writers, not designers, see my post about Print-On-Demand (CreateSpace, Lulu, etc) Formatting for Better Royalties. Lots of information from this post--plus much more--can be found in The Starter Guide for Professional Writers, my book introducing new and hopeful writers to the world of revising, marketing, and publishing your work.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Farewell, I'm off to Ghana!

Tomorrow morning I meet with the rest of my class for a last-minute orientation and packing of certain supplies, and then in the afternoon we head to Baltimore Washington International Airport, from there to JFK in New York, and from thence to Accra, where we'll arrive early Thursday. Making this my last blog post for some time.

I hasten to point out that they do have internet access in Ghana. The country as a whole is completely into the 21st century, and they have more cell phones than people. That said, I will not be bringing any electronics along (except my iPod, which I could not brave a 16+ hour flight without). They would be too much weight, trouble, and risk for a first-time study abroad trip. So this is the last you'll hear from me for a while. I have a post or two scheduled to go live while I'm gone, but the last time I tried scheduling posts on Blogger it didn't work.

Until April 8th, then.

I hope to have lots of interesting pictures and stories--including some from Capacity Rural International, for which my student group did a fundraising project to support microloans for rural women and scholarships for qualifying youth-- to share with you all when I return.

In the meantime, here are some cool sites to check out:
FreeRice.com uses advertising revenue, generated as you play simple games testing vocabulary, math, and art history, to fund food programs around the world. It's a great way to pass the time with a little bit of brain activity and a little bit of good.

Anthologybuilder.com allows you to select short stories (including genre & classics) from a database to build your own collection. Their cover art selection is stellar as well, and I'm not just saying that as I won their 2009 Match-That-Artwork story contest in the youth division, although that did happen.

Thuum.org, a community dedicated to constructing the language of the Dragons from Skyrim. It's run by my friend, a talented programer, blossoming conlanger, and major Skyrim fan--while I don't play myself, I had some fun times sitting at his shoulder watching him run through the beautifully designed world. I've seen movies less gorgeous. Speaking of gorgeous, that website design! Anyway, it's a site you might want to check out if you're also a fan of the Elder Scrolls, conlangs, or crowdsourced projects in action.

Until April, then!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Heads-up to my email contacts

This morning I logged into my Yahoo! account to see 45 autoreplies and failure notices...for emails I hadn't sent.

Yes, I've been hacked. I think I recognize the particular method of hacking, as I've been receiving those spam email messages (titled, as it happens "message" in the subject bar) for a week or so now from another friend's account. I thought I'd taken care to avoid clicking anything inside them, but, well. I've changed my password and tightened account security, which I hope will be enough to clean the problem up. In the meantime, I apologize, and please, please do not click any links "I" send you!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spring Break

I've returned home to Wisconsin for one last visit with my family and to get ready for the trip to Ghana!

My mother and I spent yesterday running errands and picking up supplies. The above isn't everything we've got, but it's a good start. I'm especially pleased with the knee-length, flowing & cool, olive-colored skirt. It's modest for any events and speakers we'll be visiting in more conservative communities, but also rather pretty and it feels very nice! Of course, it'll be matched with a pair of old sneakers, as sandals are not a wise choice of footwear when traveling over rough terrain inhabited by the occasional venomous snake. 

Not shown: the copy of Les Miserables I walked down to Politics & Prose to buy on Saturday, in preparation for airplane reading. When I arrived in Milwaukee Sunday, my sister greeted me...with a copy of Les Miserables she'd bought at Renaissance Books. They're 2 different translations, but in the meantime we'll both be able to enjoy an unabridged copy. A few years ago she was really disappointed by an abridged version that cut out her favorite bits, so I thought I'd have to be a generous sister and loan her the copy I bought, but happily that won't be the case. There's enough of Victor Hugo's words to go around (collectively something like 2400 pages). 

The Doctor and I want to make sure my family makes good food choices, although my sister was very sad to hear Orange Roughy is on the 'red list' of fish that are harvested unsustainably. At least a cute face broke the news to her? 

My class flies out from JFK to Accra a week from tomorrow! 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Progress Update and How To Write A Lot

One of the sweetest perks of my internship is waivers for classes at the Writers Center of Bethesda. Today I attended the evocatively titled "How to Write A Lot". The gist of the advice was simple--set deadlines, outline first, do not revise or reread on your first draft, write every day, keep your fingers moving (no staring blankly at an equally blank page or screen)--and there were some nifty tips I hadn't heard before, like using Pavlovian conditioning to make your story soundtrack put you in the ever-evasive "mood". I always knew I wrote better when I had my iPod with me; I hadn't considered how or why that was.

At the end of the class, we were given worksheets to write out our own "game plan" to finish a novel within the next 8-10 weeks. Using the advice we were given, I'm certain it is quite possible (if you can write 1500-2000 words in 90 minutes, and you write 5-6 days a week, you can finish a novel within 8-10 weeks). But my problem is: which novel would I want to finish?

First, I'm setting aside from consideration One Hundred Days, because it's not a first draft, it's revision (I swear, revising makes first drafts look easy to me). This semester I've tried to keep track of my novel pagecount week-by-week. Today I checked that worksheet and discovered with dismay that the progress bar for One Hundred Days hasn't budged since I began tracking. To be fair, this is because the worksheet tracks manuscript pages from my flash drive; the Word doc hasn't been opened since February, but I have finished making initial red-pen notes to myself in the margins of a paper copy.

The problem is that I have so many other things I do with my writing time (even when I manage to dedicate 25 or 30 or 60 minutes a day). At last count I have something like 15 WIPs--that is, stories I have actually done work on, be it outlining, drafting, editing, or revision at an editor's request, within the past two months or so. Most are short stories, but I have, besides One Hundred Days, some ideas for sequels (finish it first! I hear you cry. You're absolutely right...but the temptation to outline is real. And then to draft some of the sweet opening & closing scenes I've outlined. And then...) and also one or two sci fi/fantasy/genrebending novel ideas. Then there are the short stories and novelettes meant to round out my series'.

How do you prioritize these? I know, intellectually and more deeply, that the only way to finish a story is to sit down and work on it--and only it--every day for as long as it takes. But if I dedicate myself wholly to one story, what will happen to the others? Will I lose track of them?

And which story needs finishing first?

Currently, my answer is that I should complete revisions of One Hundred Days, then work on the short stories for my series' (I can work on up to 3 short stories at a time so this won't be a problem), and in the meantime if I have ideas for other work I shall just take notes. All this only after I return from Ghana, because my first international trip is not a time to start heavy wordage (furthermore I'm not sure I'll even be taking a laptop of my own with me, given how far we're traveling off the grid, plus converter problems and the risk of energy surges and brownouts). 

The important thing, I suppose, is to keep moving forward. And if the incremental increases of progress on my pagecount worksheet are to be believed, I have been doing that.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Challenge Accepted: The RPG-style To-Do List

A few weeks ago, a friend pointed me to GetYeDone.com, an interactive, fantasy game style online to-do list. You start by signing up and preparing a character sheet, complete with race, class, and skills/attributes. Then you launch your quest: whether it's schoolwork, housekeeping, finding a job or managing the workload you already have, now you can get your daily dose of accomplishment!

In each quest you can list a gathering of tasks (quests themselves can be grouped in meta 'odysseys'), and as you check off a task you receive XP based on the difficulty. Since I joined Challenge Accepted about a week ago, I've gotten to level 2 and am nearly at 3. The most XP I got for a single task was 50 points, from a 'mini-boss' setting manuscript edit. Smaller tasks, like submitting a short story or sending an email, earn me 5 points each.

Challenge Accepted is useful for a number of reasons. First, it takes advantage of the effect that makes RPGs so addictive: the buzz of accomplishment you get as you check of boxes and watch numbers rack up, whether those numbers symbolize imaginary gold coins or XP. So far, it's only XP you can earn through Challenge Accepted, which brings up some aspects of it I'll critique in a minute. In its favor, it's fun, the website is easily accessible whenever you go online (I log into it first thing in a tab beside my email and check off what I've finished since last time) and is much more fun than a list in a Google Doc. By keeping a record of completed quests, it also enables you to look back on what you've accomplished--which can be useful when, say, adding an internship experience to one's resume. The hierarchy of odysseys, quests, and tasks makes for easy organization. You can keep track of long-term goals ("Therese's Writing Career" is one of my Odysseys) while breaking them up into small, simple steps ("One Hundred Days" is a quest, and "complete red-ink comments on the paper manuscript" is a particular task).

For some (*ahem*) this may lead to the temptation to tinker, and to waste potentially productive time  in giving cutesey names to Quests and adding or deleting tasks. Probably less time is wasted than would be with an actual role-playing-game, however, as there's not all that much to do in Challenge Accepted except create tasks and tick them off when they're finished. I've had some random encounters of sorts, but they're just flavor text that haven't affected my...gameplay, I suppose it's called. One of the options to tinker with is the abilities and attributes used to perform each task. I'm not sure what selecting these does for me. Am I gaining ranks in skills? Are these meant to reflect my real-life progress? Perhaps when I hit level 10 in the game I'll start to feel like a level 10 in real life, too, whatever that means. The fact that I usually choose 'persevering' as my ability may say something about me.

It's disappointing that the rewards of Challenge Accepted aren't more solid. Then again, compared to a traditional to-do list, at least there are the bells and whistles and happy gaming/winning associations. And of course, the real reward in completing tasks is the real-life productivity and accomplishments you enjoy.

If you want to check out the site, do note that the game is called "Challenge Accepted" but the URL is GetYeDone.com. Happy questing!

Edit: Challenge Accepted is a work in development, but you can keep track of new additions and further improvements at their Coming Soon page. I'm looking forward to the email due date alerts!

Another edit: As of July 2013, I am still using GetYeDone, which says something for its usefulness. A few more updates to the site have been done as well.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Last weekend for Ghanaian Microloans Campaign!

Our IndieGoGo Campaign to raise funding for a project providing microloans to women in 5 rural villages in Ghana, for which I've pledge & provided a free short story, is in its final days. It closes to contributions at midnight, March 4th. My student group will continue to accept funds for this project through PayPal, but this is your last chance to give and earn mementos of the trip and the impact of your contribution in exchange! If you can afford to give any amount at this time, it would really make a difference and be much appreciated!

Is Malaria really that bad?

Today I visited Capitol Travel Medicine of Arlington, Virginia to get my immunizations ready for the trip to Ghana. I'm giving the full name because you can consider this post a wholehearted endorsement; they were very pleasant and extremely helpful. Yellow Fever shots aren't the most painful thing in the world--mine ended with small welt and a lingering medicinal sting, the kind that reassuringly reminds you that you've just had a weakened but potentially deadly virus injected into your body. For your own good, of course.

But when it came to anti-malaria medications, I had a nasty shock. I'd already gotten a prescription through my doctor for what I thought, more fool me, was Malarone (the only antimalarial I was familiar with). Instead it turned out to be the cheaper option, Mefloquine/Lariam, taken once weekly. I'd heard that Malarone, when taken for a long time, gives you strange dreams. Nobody seemed very concerned, though, so when my mother read my prescription's side effects and seemed worried about them, I dismissed it as overprotective mom syndrome.

Even though the list--headache, dizziness, vivid dreams (by which they mean nightmares), insomnia (in conjunction with the nightmares?), central nervous system disturbances including not least anxiety and, my least favorite of all possible symptoms, psychosis; with the frankly unsurprising by this point conclusion of suicidal thoughts--was disturbing enough to make my sister ask, per the title of this post, "Is malaria really that bad?"

To ease everyone's minds, I asked the nurse practitioner at the clinic about the side effects. Minds were not eased. I'd figured the side effects were very rare, but the information sheet she had on malaria medication states that 20% of people taking lariam experience them. Now, 1 out of 5 is not a particularly desirable statistic even for dizziness and unpleasant dreams, but insomnia would completely ruin my trip and, God forbid, experiencing psychosis (or even living under the perceived threat of it) while on my first international trip, one for which I'm already preparing to be tested to my physical and mental limits...

Nope, never mind!

The cincher was when she told me that she would not recommend for her own family members that they risk any of those side effects while on their first trip abroad, especially since we'll be going to some remote areas. So she wrote up a prescription for the generic version of Malarone, which I'll be happily taking daily. Side effects are much rarer with it--she told me the placebo group tends to experience more symptoms than the group on the drug. A reassuring statistic but also head-tiltingly strange. If true, what does this imply? The placebo group experiences side effects through the power of suggestion, because they're expecting to experience some. However, wouldn't the group on the drug go in with those same expectations? Would this imply that Malarone has a dampening effect on the power of suggestion?

Perhaps there was a only a problem with the double-blind experiment's methodology. In any event, I'll be taking this miracle drug for a month or less, in contrast to the 9 weeks I'd be on the potential-psychosis meds. Easy choice, though I wince at the added cost, and also I'm not sure what to do with the malaria pills I will now not be taking. A part of me that I will surely suppress wonders how much I could make fencing them to a classmate with more a benevolent personal history with psychological side effects.