Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where Do You Stand on the Battle of the eReaders?

Two years ago I swore I'd never buy an e-reader. Now I want to add it to my Christmas list. Obviously, one should "never say never!" But a lot has changed in the publishing industry in the last two years making this decision seem less shocking. As a self-published author, I've embraced ebooks. They are gaining marketshare at an exponential rate, they are easy to download in multiple formats and the price is right.

I have a list of books I'd like to read that have been self-published by other authors, many of which are only available as ebooks. Having an e-reader would make it much easier for me to purchase and read these (I've found I don't enjoy reading on my desktop or laptop). Does this mean I think printed books are going to become obsolete? No, I don't.

I think the publishing industry will follow the same path as the movie industry. Theaters have not gone away despite the rise in movies on demand. Sure, I watch a lot of movies via Netflix. Movies on demand has made it easier for me to watch more films. But I also still go see movies in the theater because I love the experience. Now it's a treat to watch a movie on the big screen and I'm willing to pay the $10/ticket to do it. Books are the same way. I will actually be able to read more books using an e-reader. If there's one I love and want it for my bookshelf, or one I want to have the full "experience" reading, then absolutely I will still purchase a printed version from my local independent book store. Printed books and ebooks will coexist.

But that doesn't mean I want to skimp on my e-reading experience. There are so many choices of e-reading devices, I'm having a hard time deciding which way to go. I recently posted the question of e-reader vs. tablet on my facebook page, and everyone who responded said to go tablet, and specifically iPad. I understand the appeal--iPads are sleek, colorful, easy to use and the most versatile gadget on the market. Unfortunately, they're also expensive. (Admittedly, prices will have to come down now that Kindle and a dozen others have slightly smaller, cheaper versions).

I prefer the 6 or 7-inch size device, and I like the "touch" functionality. I've looked at the Nook Touch and am anxiously waiting for the Kindle Touch to come out Nov. 15th (that's when Best Buy will have it in store, and the Kindle Fire will be in stores Nov. 21st--just in time for a Black Friday sale, perhaps?) The e-ink devices are very easy to read and incredibly light weight. But I also find them a tad boring being in black and white.

The Nook Color and Kindle Fire both function like tablets, with full-color LCD screens. But reading on those isn't much different than reading on my computer screen. The backlit lighting can be harsh and overhead lights can give off glare. They are also a tad larger in size and weigh a little more. However, they do have more versatility than straight e-readers.

There is a great review on CNET that compares all the popular e-readers and tablets. The conclusion is to wait and see how the new Kindles operate and what other manufactures come out with in return. All I really want is to read books easily and have a friendly experience doing so. I don't need email, apps and other fancy add-ons. But wait, isn't that what I said about needing an e-reader two years ago?

What are your thoughts on e-readers?

--KSR Writer

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meet Desmond LaVelle, Author of "Thirteen Cats Lavelle"

Today I'm excited for all of you to meet Desmond LaVelle, author of "Thirteen Cats LaVelle." This is a humorous, witty memoir in which Desmond uses the tales of the demise of his family's 13 cats over the years to share the tales of his own family.

Desmond will be giving away a free printed copy of his book to one lucky person who leaves a comment!

1.) Tell us a little about your background and something interesting about yourself.

Growing up, I wasn’t that great of a student, particularly when it came to English classes. Writing and reading didn’t interest me at all. And then college happened and somehow I landed a job as a writer at an advertising agency right after graduation. Being an advertising writer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a talented writer. Writer is the default title for people who come up with ideas for commercials, like me. And because commercials are very short stories, I became interested in storytelling in other forms: sketch comedy, screenplay, short stories and memoir.

2.) What is one of your favorite books and why?

I have two favorite books. The Great Gatsby and whatever I just finished reading. Right now, that would be Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

Without getting too deep, I like The Great Gatsby for two reasons. In high school, it was the first book of any significant length that I actually enjoyed reading. That alone makes it special. But now I have a different appreciation for the story. I can relate to Jay Gatsby and his desire to revisit the past. It’s a good cautionary tale for people who tend to be overly nostalgic.

3.) Why did you decide to write this book?

Nostalgia. Writing this book was a nostalgic exorcism of sorts. In recent years, my family and I started telling the stories of the many cats we had over the years and how they died. It became a weird tradition for us. Over holidays, usually after a few bottles of wine, we would challenge each other to remember the details about each cat and manner in which it passed away. I figured somebody had better capture these stories before they disappeared forever or were embellished to the point of becoming fiction. One day I just woke up and started writing. In doing so, I discovered that I wasn’t writing a story about cats at all. I was using the lives (and deaths) of the cats as a framework with which to tell the story of our family. That nostalgic twist is what motivated me to finish the project.

4.) What was your experience like with self-publishing?

I tried to go the traditional route and made a serious attempt at getting representation. In all, I must have sent out 60 or 70 query letters and only had about a dozen or so responses. The reaction was consistent – though interesting, my concept wasn’t marketable and they didn’t think they could sell it to a publisher. I get that. These agents’ livelihood is tied directly their ability to sell a book to a publisher and publisher’s ability to sell that book to readers. They use subjectivity to screen queries because that’s the only method they have. But stories have the right to be told to as many people who want to listen. That’s why I decided to self-publish. That, and I was anxious to move on to the next project.

I decided to go the Publish On Demand route with Their customer service is average, but the quality of their product is very good. Distribution is across the board with the exception of the iBookstore. There’s a weird relationship between Apple and Lulu. It was a long process but everything worked out in the end.

5.) How have you marketed your book?

Rarely will self-published authors have an advertising budget. So having a digital presence is key. First thing’s first – spend the $20 to buy the domain name for the title of your book. Then link it to a blog hosted by either tumblr or Wordpress. I used Wordpress because it behaves more like a website and less like a blog. Social networking is key. Start a facebook page (link it to a twitter account) and recommend that all your friends “like” it. If you don’t know how to do all this, have someone help you set it up. Once the ecosystem is in place it’s fairly easy to manage. If you don’t have many followers at first, don’t worry. Be consistent with your updates, but don’t be annoying, and write in the voice that you created for the book. And have a direct link to your book on amazon wherever possible. I’m always surprised at how many people ask me where they can find my book. Either they think I sell them out of the trunk of my car or I don’t have enough of a direct digital path to retail.

Something I’d really like to try (but haven’t yet) is Pay with a Tweet ( You can either give away a digital version of your book, or a digital preview of your book, to someone who tweets about it. Their tweet will unlock a screen to download the file. The goal is amplification – people share it with their followers and followers of followers and so on. This isn’t a profitable way to distribute your book, after all, people are just paying with a tweet, but certain people’s opinions are much more valuable than a $2.34 check from Amazon.

6.) What advice would you give to other authors interested in self-publishing?

Practice quality control. You are your own agent, publisher and, obviously, author. It’s worth it to pay to have your manuscript edited by freelance editor. If you feel like you should employ the services of a designer to help you with your cover, do it. And find some critics to share your story with. Your mother will love anything you write. Look outside your nuclear family for someone you trust to tell you the truth.

7.) Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.

Let’s start from the beginning. Here’s an excerpt from “Thirteen Cats LaVelle: An Introduction”:

“There comes a time in the life of every cat when it must die. Our family cats were no different. They just happened to meet their inescapable fates with extreme frequency and in the most peculiar ways. Why? There are a number of theories.

The explanation could be as simple as our family’s being irresponsible pet owners. But we weren’t. Our cats never went unfed and almost always enjoyed clean litter boxes. Beyond that, we did everything we thought responsible people should do. And when one of us willfully took the life of one of our cats it was almost always out of mercy rather than anger.

Some people might offer up an explanation that’s more complex in nature. For example, it could be that our animals behaved in dangerous ways because of the grating, deep vibrations of my father’s voice. Or perhaps it was my mother’s anxiety that triggered a suicidal switch in these cats’ telepathic brains. Or maybe it was the general intolerability of my little sisters, which makes most rational creatures want to stop living.

I like to think the reason is more mystical, like the cursed idol that caused the Bradys to experience bad luck on their trip to Hawaii in season four of The Brady Bunch. Curses do happen. But was each of these cats the victim of a “LaVelle Curse,” a curse that caused car doors to close when they shouldn’t and dogs to attack when they normally wouldn’t? Was it a curse that caused our cats to be euthanized by my parents or frozen alive? Probably. It has been my belief for some time that most things happen because of magic.

Occam’s razor is a scientific principle that, in the most basic terms, can be summarized as “the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is most likely the correct explanation.” Of all the possible reasons for my family to use up cats at an average of one for every 2.3 years, the answer is undeniable. It wasn’t because of my father’s voice, my mother’s anxiety, or my sisters’ intolerability. And it most certainly wasn’t because we were irresponsible pet owners. The simplest explanation is magic. After all, who am I to argue with scientific principle?

Good or bad, magical things tend to happen to families who have interesting dynamics or who are basically screwed up. If your family only functions through dysfunction then you know exactly what I’m talking about. And chances are, you wouldn’t want to trade the experience of being in such a family for anything in the world. Besides, people like us make for better stories. Charlie Bucket’s inheriting the Chocolate Factory wouldn’t have been nearly as remarkable had he not been living in squalor with his parents and both sets of grandparents. E.T. could have found a family with a father, but then Elliott wouldn’t have had any pain that needed healing.”

8.) Where can readers find you and your book?

On Amazon. There are both paper and kindle versions available (the Kindle version is on sale for $.99). Otherwise, the easiest way to follow the goings on is to “like” Thirteen Cats LaVelle at If you’re on twitter, I invite you to give me a follow at @desmondlavelle. My tweets major in writing and advertising and minor in all things stupid.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Meet C.K. Volnek, Author of "Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island"

I'm really excited today to host C.K. Volnek, author of "Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island," a wonderully-written middle grade book that turns an unknown piece of history into a thrilling work of fiction.

C.K. is offering a FREE copy of her e-book, Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island, to one lucky visitor. Please leave her a comment and you just might be a winner!

C.K. Volnek grew up in Nebraska, enjoying life in small town USA; riding horses in summer and sledding the ginormous hills in winter. Married to her best friend, they have three children and four Papillon fur-kids. Yes…four. She laughs and says she’s the ‘official dog-woman in town’ as she parades them all down the street of her home town. She is proud to announce her first two tween novels, Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island and A Horse Called Trouble will be released in 2011 and a third, The Secret of the Stones, will be released in 2012, all through MuseItUp Publishing.

Tagged the story-teller at a young age, she would sit around the campfire and spin her latest spine-tingling ghost stories, sharing them with family and friends. C.K. enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She loves to travel, hiking and long walks with her fur-kids. She loves pasta and tulips, drawing, gardening, jewelry making, reading and of course...writing.

 About "Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island"

~ In 1587,117 colonists disappeared without a trace from Roanoke Island , North Carolina, leaving behind not only unanswered questions, but a terrifying evil. ~

Twelve year-old Jack Dahlgren hates his new home on Roanoke Island. Not only does Dad treat him like a baby, but now Dad blames him for his little sister’s accident as well. And no one at school wants to get to know the kid who lives in the ‘haunted house.’ Could things get any worse?

Jack is about to find out it can. Inside a mysterious cave on the bluff next to Jack’s new home, a terrifying evil awaits—the same malevolent curse surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the Lost Colony. Now, it’s up to Jack to unravel the four-hundred year-old mystery and save his family from the demon that haunts his island. With the help of an elusive Giant Mastiff and new-found friend, Manny, a Native American shaman, Jack must discover what this devil is and find a way to put an end to its eternal hatred. But can he defeat it, before it destroys him?

As a special treat, we are going to speak with the book's main character!

Hello. Would you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you?

Me? My name is Jack…Jack Dahlgren. I’m the main character from C.K. Volnek’s Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island, a ghost story for tweens. I’m almost 13 years-old. I like to remind my dad of that because he treats me like such a baby.

Where are you from Jack?

I’m from Ohio but my dad moved us to this beach house on Roanoke Island about two months ago. I wasn’t too happy about leaving the only place I’d ever lived. But Dad had been laid off for over a year there. So when my Great-grandma Ellis left us this house on Roanoke Island, Dad went to scope it out. He found a job in nearby Manteo and that was all she wrote. He up and moved us, not even asking if it was okay by me.

What grade are you in school?

I just started 7th Grade. The teacher here is pretty cool, but I wish Tyler would quit being such a jerk. He’s the one that keeps everyone stirred up and making fun of my house, telling everyone it’s haunted.

Do you have a job?

No. What with being new to the island and not living in town, I can’t even get a paper route.

Tell us about Roanoke Island.

It’s an island off the coast of North Carolina. Dad kept making stupid comments, like he thought I’d love to live on an Island. Like that’s the cool thing to do or something. I can’t say I like it. None of the kids at school want to have much to do with me, always teasing me about our creepy house. They say it’s haunted. It’s a beach house and it is pretty run down, but how can it be haunted? Dad is so busy. He’s either at work or working on the house. Never has any time for me. He won’t even let me go exploring the woods or the bluff ... not since Kimmy’s accident.

Who is Kimmy and what happened to her?

Kimmy’s my little sister. She’s six. She fell of the bluff next to our house three weeks ago and is in the hospital. Hit her head and has been unconscious ever since. Dad blames me for her accident. I’d do anything to take it back. I didn’t know she’d followed me up there! But Dad blames me for it. Guess he’s right, because I wasn’t supposed to be up there either.

Mom has been with Kimmy since she fell. I wish she would come home. Seems like I’m always in trouble with Dad. He’s so mad at me. He promised I could get a dog when we moved to the island. But he hasn’t mentioned it since the accident. But I’ve got to find a way to make him let me keep that big Mastiff I seen on the bluff. That Mastiff must need a good home and he’ll be a great dog to have around. He’s already saved me from whatever that thing was I came across in the cave.

What did you find in the cave?

I didn’t know what it was at first. It’s wicked big and ugly and smelly! Pretty scary. I met this guy named Manny. He’s really cool even if he is an adult. He’s a Native American Shaman and is going to teach me how to whittle. He also seems to know what this thing in the cave is and said he’ll help me figure out how to stop it.

Manny says it’s an evil creature conjured up a long time ago…1587 to be exact, from when the first colonists landed on Roanoke Island. 117 colonists disappeared back then...disappeared without a trace. I think this creature has something to do with it.

Manny says that I am the only one who can stop it. I have to find out why. But first I have to figure out what it is and why it’s here. It’s pretty scary but if I don’t stop it, it will continue to haunt the island and maybe kill people.

Maybe if I can stop it, Dad won’t be so mad at me about Kimmy’s accident anymore. It could show him I’m responsible and he’ll let me keep the dog. But first, I’ve got to stop it...before it stops me.

Who do you think will like to read Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island?

Anyone who likes action, adventure and mystery with some Indian folklore and history thrown in, will love Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island. C.K. got the idea to write the story when she read an article about the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. A lot of people think the colony that came over on the Mayflower to Plymouth was the first, but they weren’t. Roanoke Island was the very first colony.

In 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh dispatched  a group of colonists to Roanoke Island to set up a colony in the new world. A few short months later the colonists sent their Governor, John White, back to England for supplies and help. With the start of the Spanish war, White was not able to return right away. And when he did return to Roanoke Island three years later, the colonists were gone. Completely vanished.  No one knows what happened to them. Did they die of starvation or disease? Were they killed? There weren’t any bodies. Did they get blown away by a hurricane? If they had, then why weren’t the buildings destroyed? Many questions surround this never-solved mystery. And so C.K. decided to come up with her own explanation. You’ll have to read it and see what she did.

When can readers buy your book and read your story?

My e-book, Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island, just came out, published by MuseItUp Publishing

You can read about me and the others in my book at our web page:

Does your Creator have a website or blog that might have more information about you or your story?

C.K. Volnek’s website is
Her e-mail is
Twitter: CKVolnek

Is this a one-time story or will others be following – like a series?

My story ends with this book. But C.K. Volnek has a lot of other stories coming soon. The Secret of the Stones is now under contract with MuseItUp Publishing as well and will be available in April 2012. It’s the first book in a series called The Lost Diaries of Northumberland.

Remember, C.K. is offering a FREE copy of her e-book, Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island, to one lucky visitor. Please leave her a comment and you just might be a winner!

 Thank you to C.K. and Jack for being here!

Thanks for hosting me today!
C.K. Volnek

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Should Authors Attend Writing Conferences?

Authors attend writing conferences for a number of reasons. Some want that coveted one-on-one critique with an editor or agent. Others want to meet their favorite authors. And some simply love to network. But let's face it, conferences can be long, tiring and expensive. So are they really worth attending?

In my experience, yes, they are. This past weekend I attended the regional SCBWI annual conference in Kansas City. I signed up for an agent critique, had my business cards in hand to network, and planned which writing workshops to attend. But the greatest thing about the conference wasn't the expected--it was the unexpected.

The agent critique went how I anticipated. Networking with other authors was good. I even had the privilege of chatting with this year's Newberry Award winner, Clare Vanderpool. I also attended some of the agent/editor workshops. But what really impressed me were the author presentations. This isn't the first time I've been surprised by this. Who knew writers could be such good public speakers? But they are. Maybe it's because they've been in our shoes and know what we need and want to learn.

One presentation was by middle grade author ChrisEboch. She talked about plotting techniques, and had some great strategies that could be implemented into an author's work-in-progress. She has a new book out called "Advanced Plotting," and also covers many of these topics on her blog.

The other author presentation that really impressed me was on novel structure and world building with award-winning author LindaSue Park. She explained her personal method for writing, a lot of which can be easily translated into any genre. She has a brief outline posted on her website. Park also gave the keynote address that served as a great motivator to all the authors in attendance (another good reason to go to writing conferences!)

Even if you take away just one helpful writing technique or make one meaningful contact, then attending a writing conference is worth it. Who knows, maybe someday you'll be an author presenter inspiring other writers (so brush up on your public speaking skills!)

Leave a comment and tell us what you think about attending writing conferences!

--KSR Writer