Thursday, July 14, 2016

If You Watch These Films You Can Change the World (At Least You'll Want To)

I’m a writer. Not the best, not the worst. I always wanted to have the influence of a Thomas Paine, a Harriet Beecher Stowe, or maybe a George Orwell or an Ayn Rand. I wanted to “leave my mark” and somehow make the world a better place. Alas, I am a gray-haired retiree in small town Oklahoma. I wrote a novel three years ago that has helped a few people, or so they have told me. The second book, a follow-up, is still under construction. I didn’t realize it would be such a struggle. But I have a lot to say; a message bigger than one book can contain.
I may be writing this because of the death of several of my writer friends in recent months. My heart ached because they left unfinished manuscripts. And, recently my own health has faced a few challenges. So, as I lay my anemic self on my sofa I feel like I am circling the drain. I have been contemplating my life and the “marks” I have made. My personal review has left me feeling wanting---even though I've achieved a couple of things.
I found myself offering up a prayer---to God, the Universe, to whatever Higher Power is out there—I know there is one, I’ve had so many prayers answered—"Show me how I can make a positive difference in the world before I am out of here.”
Well stocked with Sonic ice and air-popped popcorn, I snuggled deeper on the sofa in a marathon switch-off between Candy Crush and Netflix. I also made the decision not to take one of my prescribed “medications for life” that I suspected might be contributing to my demise.

I plugged my tablet in to recharge and turned on Netflix. I needed to watch something, anything, that didn’t seem like a waste. I needed something to challenge my thinking; something to distract me from my exhaustion and pain. Something to motivate me to get off my ass and back to writing.

Over the course of two days these movies and documentaries changed my perspective of the world. Some made me laugh, others made me angry, but together they gave me renewed hope. I wondered if these films would have the same impact on others. There was only one way to find out: I could write about it and offer my discovery to the world and see if others would feel the birth of hope that I do. That would be an answer to my prayer and a real miracle.
(Note: Netflix offers one month free to new subscribers. I receive no compensation from Netflix. If, on the other hand, this article goes viral and results in a massive unexplained new member sign-up and they track me down and they would like to bless me with compensation, I would not turn it down. You might want to search these shows in advance and put them on your Watch List.)

I did take some breaks. Friends and family dropped by, I had to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, let the dogs out, re-supply ice and popcorn. I also did some tidying-up around the house. I didn’t want my family to find me dead in a messy house.
I will do my best to list these films in the order I watched them, but other than the first show, I’m not sure it really matters.

1.      Requiem for the American Dream (1 hr. 13 min) If you don’t know who Noam Chomsky is, think brilliant college professor. A linguist, writer, and anti-war dissident of the 1960’s and 1970’s. He appeals to logical thinkers and will have conspiracy theorists nodding their heads with approval.

2.      The Big Short (2 hr 10 min) Academy Award Nominee.  Makes a boring subject (to many), big banking, interesting. And politicians complain about the government (taxpayers) footing the cost for food stamp recipients?

3.      PlantPure Nation (1hr 35 min) One of those, “We’re going to tell you this for your own good” documentaries.  However, this one has actual video footage showing how state government (in this case Kentucky) can hijack information the general public needs to know. After watching PlantPure, I re-watched the Noam Chomsky film to make sure I wasn’t dreaming about what his documentary explained. There is info at the end of the movie if you want more information.

4.      The Widowmaker (1 hr 36 min) This film may have saved my life. I watched this prior to my marathon session. I put it on this list because it needs to be seen by EVERY adult in the U.S. who feels like crap as well as those who don't. My family doctor pooh-poohed the info it gives. I paid $99 cash for the medical test (not covered by Medicare without doctor’s order) suggested in this film. Based on the results, a cardiologist who was going to place a stent in one of my legs decided we needed to address the blockages in my heart first. After the stents were placed in my heart and aorta I could walk more than one-hundred feet without pain for the first time in five years. (I can walk over a mile now and the pounds I gained due to immobility are melting like an ice cube on a summer day in Oklahoma.)

5.      The Great Invisible (1 hr 32 min) I already said I live in Oklahoma, land of cattle and big oil. This film provides information about the BP oil spill not shared in mainstream news reports. Big oil is big oil.

6.       GMO OMG (1 hr 30 min) I had no idea. Well, maybe a little. But this? Why? On my list of send an email to my senator and representative.

7.      Rolling Papers (1 hr 19 min) The Denver Post became the first major media outlet to appoint a marijuana editor. This film covers the challenges of the emerging cannabis industry and addresses national political impacts. In my youth I was an outraged young Republican secretly envious of the hippie life-style. Burning my bra seemed like it would be so liberating, but I decided that without the padding my gender might be questioned. And as far as cannabis is concerned, the only regret I have is that Oklahoma isn’t as progressive as Colorado. Maybe I would feel better if I took a vacation.

8.      Dirty Wars (1 hr 27 min) I almost didn’t watch this one. See, ignorance can be bliss. But low on my Google newsfeed this last week was a blip of an article about NATO extending support for the Afghanistan war through 2020. Investigative reporter, Jeremy Scahill, discloses where the borders end. Really? Time for another group of emails. I might have to walk. How far IS Washington? How many billion is the U.S. kicking in? And they want to cut Social Security?

9.      Gore Vidal -- The United States of Amnesia (l hr 23 min) My parents used to love his debates with William F. Buckley. My parents were close to my age when they died. I now understand why they liked the guy. Heavens, he knew the inside scoop on D.C. and must have been considered outrageous in his time. This led me to watch Requiem of the American Dream a third time. And then in quick succession— 

10.    Money for Nothing: A Look Inside the Federal Reserve (1 hr 44 min) I listened to these people and thought of Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. There’s a name to look up on Wikipedia.

11.    Cartel Land (1 hr 40 min) I am thankful I don’t live in a border state.

12.    Wal-Mart The High Cost of the Low Price (1hr 37 min.) If you have missed this one, now is the time to watch it.

As I close this article, I want to thank a friend for bringing me prenatal vitamins (they contain some iron). Between those and stopping my “for the rest of your life” medicine, I feel much better today. My doctor’s office called saying they phoned a different prescription in to the local Wal-Mart Pharmacy. I ask them to transfer all my prescriptions to my neighborhood drugstore. (The WalMart brand glucose test strips an monitors are still the cheapest to be had in the U.S. If everyone with diabetes that is on Medicare used them it would save the government millions a month. And since we are the ones footing the bill, it would be the logical thing to do.)

I'd love to receive feedback, to learn if after you watch these films you have a renewed sense of hope. Grassroots activism in this day and age is at the tip of your fingers via a phone call, or email. If that doesn’t work there is always the voting booth, or we could all join together and go for a walk.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Heads-up Report on GoodReads Book Give-Away

I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb in the box.

When I was setting up my book give-away on GoodReads I never gave much consideration to the cost factor of sending a book to someone in another country. If anything, I was smitten with the idea of having people in other English speaking nations read my novel. After all, the egotistical dreamer in me imagined the label “international best-seller,” to precede the book’s title one day in the future. (I like to practice positive thinking.)

So, after noting that give-away books were to be actual physical copies and not an e-book version, the next choice I had to make was, to which countries other than the U.S. was I willing to ship? With a confident smile on my face I chose Canada and United Kingdom.

My give-away was for three books and lasted a month. Seven hundred fifty-eight people signed up to win. Hopefully, a good percentage of those people read the back blurb and want to read my book. That’s advertising in my opinion. I purchase my books at wholesale cost. How much could postage possibly be, anyway?

The right size bubble pack mailers from the post office cost $1.39 each. Not bad for the convenience.  One book went to North Dakota. Even though it is the beginning of summer, I envisioned the recipient snuggling down in a comfy chair with my book, sipping from a mug of hot cocoa and occasionally looking out their window as a blanket of snow covered the pastoral country-side.

My mind evoked much the same image, but with the addition of huge cedar trees looming nearby when I discovered the second book recipient lived in Alberta, Canada. The third vision differed slightly; a heavy fog rising from the ground in the midst of a cold steady rain and sheep huddled together on the patchwork of rolling hills because the third winner was from Great Britain. (I'm a James Herriot fan.)

My book (just shy of 400 pages) would be shipping from Oklahoma.

The cost to ship to North Dakota was $3.17. Postage to Canada, $13.75, caused my eyes to open wide.  I swallowed hard when I discovered that to mail the small package “across the pond” was a staggering $20.45. The latter two packages also had to have customs forms filled out.  Grand total $40.55. 

Hmm. So how can I best word this? A Community of Butterflies: Chrysalis, Barbara Shoff’s breakout novel, a stalker-thriller, is now received by international audiences. 

Sounds good to me.

Considering my budget, I think I will limit future contest give-aways to the continental U.S. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

In Pursuit of the Elusive Amazon and GoodReads Review

 adjective \ē-ˈlü-siv, -ˈlü-ziv\
: hard to find or capture

A few weeks ago I decided to be more consistent with my blog posts. Blog consistency, I am told by the “experts,” helps build your “platform” and your “brand.”

My brand is me. A no frills, tell it like I experience it, no candy coating, we are all in this together, root for the underdog perspective person.

The “experts” say one’s platform and brand are essential to becoming a “successful” writer. With that comment I suggest we eat a smidgen of salt.

I am further told by those with varying degrees of “success” that one’s platform must consist, at the very least, of various interconnected social media applications, such as:  a private website, a blog, pages on GoodReads, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked-in, Tumblr and Twitter. Don’t forget AboutMe and Instagram. These various parts of your platform should work together in harmony (which I understand means having a button that links to the other sites with a single mouse click) and, when available, transports newly created material added to one site to all the others simultaneously, and includes timed released scheduled materials so one can achieve a broad reach in shouting to the world about new products of your personal brand, and, most importantly, a way to collect the names and emails of all those who hear your shouts because you need to prove you have a customer base and have a way to let customers know when your next product (book) is released so you can achieve more sales, which means greater success. The creation of more books gives you more products to offer. Take a breath.

If you are over a certain age, think about all of this as advertising on ABC, CBS, and NBC, with spots airing during the evening and morning news, Sunday ads in local newspapers, billboard displays on the busiest streets and radio ads on the most popular stations.  

Of course, as I have expressed in the past, this all depends on one’s definition of success. In this particular blog article I am addressing financial success.

To be honest, instead of consistency, I will write articles that are of importance to me and address issues other writers may be pondering and struggling with, rather than simply spewing up anything for the sake of filling a page on a daily or weekly basis.  I prefer to spend more time writing my next book. So, know this - if you subscribe to what I write, I won’t be frequently clogging up your email unless I discover or question something important to you and me as writers. Or, if I have a new release. (Not something I do on a weekly basis.)

According to the dictionary, and expert is defined as a person having a high degree of skill or knowledge of a certain subject.

So, for the sake of this article, it would make sense that an expert is a person who has made a ton of money writing and selling her or his book. This means s/he has obtained hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of reviews. OR has really studied the subject matter.
BECAUSE, as all would-be-successful-writers know, lots of good REVIEWS DRIVE SALES. We know this because we have heard it from the “experts.”

This subject must be important. Consider my search on Google researching for this article. Using the search words “how to get reviews on Amazon” returned “about 941,000,000 results in 0.49 seconds.”

So, I would say I am not the only person pondering the issue of the elusive review.

I have read many of these articles (no, not all of them, goose) and discovered that, of the 941,000,000 results, a large percentage of articles are willing to share the “secret” for the price of becoming a member of a successful writers club, or a writer is selling a book with detailed information answering this question.  Other links offer to sell you reviews, the cost of which breaks down on one popular site to a few pennies shy of $35 per review.

Give me a break.

At that rate, if you are selling books on Amazon in the “sweet spot” (again, identified by experts) of between $2.99 and $3.99 for an e-book, as a writer you are going to be making between $2.50 and $3.25/book. An indie writer without an agent receives 70% of the sales price. So, a writer would need to sell about 10 books for every review s/he receives.

This is not exactly cost effective if it is true that most books don’t sell with speed or consistency until there are at least 100 reviews in the first place.

This is enough to make any writer feel like a dog chasing its own tail.

One answer that I am told works well is to give your book away for a brief period.  Yes, I was sucked in to this way of thinking. I come from the “try it and see what happens” school. I learn by experience. I am sharing my experiences for free through this blog. One day when I am rich and famous I will charge for my lecture and secret sharing abilities.

One writer told me she received a plethora of reviews following such a promotion.

I recently read that an author receives about 1 review per 1000 free downloads. My friend’s freebie promotion last year over Mother’s Day resulted in about 35,000 downloads, after she sent announcements a week in advance to 25 different places that promote free downloads. (Mother’s Day is one of the biggest sale times for e-readers and, according to some, makes the perfect time to offer the free book promotion.)

I banked on getting the word out about my free book offer via a 35 count blog tour that started on Mother’s Day and the two days following. The cost of such a tour is less than $50.

For the three days, I gave away a whopping, or in the eyes of some, a paltry 1057 free downloads.  Hmm. If the ratio of numbers are right on downloads to reviews, I’ll get ONE.

As self-justification, I didn’t know about getting the word out to the freebie promotional sites until I was in the middle of packing for a convention and booking future author sales/signing opportunities.

At the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. convention I attended I received mixed messages from the experts.

One successful author told us never to solicit or promote our books via Facebook and GoodReads. It is not considered proper author etiquette.  Another highly successful author explains she does announce her new books on Facebook, but mostly she engages with her fans.

But, darn it, I need fans. To get fans I need reviews. I have been very clear to those who follow me on any social media that I appreciate reviews. Not exactly the same as asking, right? More like a really, really big hint. (I want to sincerely thank those who have already advised me that a review is on the way.)

I have also learned that what worked last year via social media doesn't mean it’s going to work this year.

For instance, Amazon has changed things. At one time, downloads of free books in a promotion counted toward overall book rankings. Not so anymore. Free books are now counted separately from paid downloads. There are so many authors offering free books at any given time, now it is like having a grocery store full of taste test tables. Everyone knows that if you go to the store hungry, you are going to spend more money buying food. However, if at the end of every aisle someone offers something to eat, a consumer might get full before s/he gets halfway through the store.

A study in Publisher’s Review several years ago has remained pretty consistent even in this computer age, "... an author’s reputation impacts 52% of sales, personal recommendations (word of mouth advertising) encourages 49% of sales, book reviews account for 37%, a good back blurb counts for 22% and advertising impacts at about 14%."

Currently, as a writer, I am unknown to the masses so I lack a reputation.Therefore, I find myself asking my friends and those who have read and like my books to please recommend them to their friends (as well as any stranger who passes within a foot of them any time of the day and anyplace they may be). If you notice I am deliberately not asking for a reviews in this article. I want to be maintain professional author etiquette. (The last statement is not to be construed in any way to mean I do not want, need or appreciate every review I receive. I honestly, truly do.) Also, I want to thank those who assisted me with wording for my back blurb. 

 I have no advertising budget, but hey, prayers are free. 
Can I get an, "Amen" ?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Goodreads Great Opportunity

Start singing to your audience and not so much to the choir.

Any published writer knows the challenge of getting a book in front of readers who will actually spend money to purchase it can be daunting. Most of your contacts are family members or other writers and starving artists on a budget themselves.  Unless your writing targets other writers with miracle "get-published-and-create a million-followers-on-social-media-overnight” books that sell, you may be screwed.

Successful authors make money basically two ways, writing and marketing good books and getting paid to tell how they did it. For this reason, they are too often singing to the choir by establishing a following limited mostly to other writers. To really become successful, an author needs to expand his or her reach beyond other writers. WE NEED TO FIND READERS.

GoodReads gives you the opportunity but with a much greater reach to readers and enough contact with writers to help an author play the “you-scratch-my-back-game” effectively. To quote GoodReads:
"With over 300 million page views and 45 million unique visitors a month, GoodReads offers integrated advertising and book launch packages designed to target and reach readers."
 Note:  I AM the All Things Computer and Social Media Dummie Queen. 

Therefore, if I can do this so can you.

1. Go to and sign-up for a membership. It is FREE. Give them what they ask for: email, your name and a password. I don’t care what you have been told, write your darn password down, make sure it’s not “password." Try using your first pet’s name and your birth date.

2. Fill out as much of your profile as you are comfortable letting other people know. Be advised:

There are TWO profile opportunities on GoodReads. 

One if you are a reader and another if you are also an author. This threw me for some time. Start with the basic reader profile. Use a good photograph. Take a hundred selfies if you need to, but get a good picture. If you are a professional, get a professional picture taken. This is time to invest in yourself. YOU are your main product, even if you think it is your book(s). Besides, it is tax deductible. If you want others to take you seriously, get serious.

Now as a reader, look for your book. That’s right. Pretend you don’t know you but you heard your name and that you wrote a good book. GoodReads may ask for your ISBN number or a .jpg. If your book is available on Amazon, chances are your book will magically appear. Click on your book to confirm that is the one you are wanting. Was that easy or what?

3. Back to your profile. In the upper right corner you have the opportunity to edit your author profile. By clicking on this choice, your basic reader profile expands and you can add all sorts of fantastic stuff. Add it. If you have a blog, open another search window and go to your blog page, copy the address in the address bar, take it back GoodReads and paste it into the little window. Make sure it has the www and the http:// (it only needs to have one set) and because GoodReads may automatically add that in, if you get the message “invalid address," remove the extras. (I told you I own the crown.)

4. Next, go to the forums at GoodReads. Don't post anything, just read and study what is available. Search for topics and see what comes up. Read “Author Etiquette.” OMG, I'm a professional and I had no idea!  Try searching your state, you may find forums specific to your geographic location. Want reviews? Search "author reviews." You will find forums where writers are looking for someone to exchange reviews with them.  Offer to scratch someone’s back and get yours scratched.

5. Now for the best “free” opportunity I have found yet, (I am still new as an author to GoodReads. It has taken me a bit to figure it all out.) Click under explore and find the book giveaway page. Read about it. To participate you agree to give away a physical book and cover the postage to wherever it is going. You will identify your genre’, book length, a blurb about the book. Again, you will add your book, however, this is so cool, if it is already in the system you just have to add your ISBN and it pops up. You will select the length of time of the promotional in drop-down calendars and the total number of books you are giving away. 

I chose a month so I would have free advertising for a month that people are seeing. These are people who love books. These are readers. People who buy books. And, though not guaranteed, many give reviews because Goodreads, in their wisdom, conduct the “random” drawing for winners and clearly state winners are weighted toward those who have provided reviews in the past. GoodReads will tell you as an author who won and where to send the book! That is why I chose to give away three books and limited my shipping locations. Hopefully I will get at least one review. And, in addition, your book's ranking goes up on GoodReads every time your book is added to someone’s shelf as a "want to read."

6. Now before you leave your GoodRead giveaway page, copy the stuff in the box that looks like gibberish and talks about the giveaway promotional. Open a new search window that has your blog settings if you have a blog,  go to your layout page on your blog. Click on add a gadget where you want to add a new one. A new window with different selections for gadgets will open. Now find the gadget that says html/java and paste in what you just copied at GoodReads. Save and preview. Voila!

You can imagine my amazement when a day after I posted my giveaway promotion, (yesterday) forty-five, that’s 45, FORTY-FIVE people added A Community of Butterflies:Chrysalis to their shelf as a "want to read."

Go to Youtube and watch the video Helping Readers Discover Your books with Patrick Browne, one of the head honchos at GoodReads. He explains this so well. Do yourself a favor spend the twelve minutes and watch it! I can't figure out how to get the video to work here.

Oh, also if you are reading this directly from my original blog site at and not from my author's blog on GoodReads which is now directly linked to my blog, (one blog does it all) you will see an icon widget on the right of the blog. Please sign-up for my giveaway on GoodReads and don’t forget to add my book to your want-to-read bookshelf. If you have any questions about how to set up your author profile, GoodReads has great staff who could even help this Dummie Queen figure out how to succeed. But their instructions are the easiest I have ever used. I love followers (I don’t post to my blog very much, so your email won’t be getting clogged with my blogs) and comments are always welcome.

Try GoodReads whether you are a reader an author or both. And lets admit it, the best authors are avid readers.