More Holiday Stress-busters

We all have too much to do during the holidays. So much that, for many, a time that’s supposed to be filled with fun, friends, and laughter ends up being filled with tension, anger, and resentment – maybe even stress-induced illnesses. I remember my mom being sick on many a Christmas. Now I know that it was probably stress-induced – she has fibromyalgia, so would be even more susceptible to this than most people.

So how can we reduce the stress, while still having fun and making things meaningful for our loved ones? I touched on a couple of ways in my ROW80 update post, last Sunday. Here are a few other tricks I’ve tried:

Parties and other time-commitments
For many people, there are simply too many of them! Sometimes, they even conflict, forcing us to choose – and possibly disappoint someone. I can’t speak to that situation – it will be unique depending on you, and the others involved. But sometimes there are simply too many commitments and they’re keeping you from doing other important things – like spending time with your family, doing the job that pays the bills, and oh yeah, that shopping. So do you really need to go to every one of those parties? Ask yourself these questions about each one:

  • If I don’t go, will someone be disappointed or hurt?
  • Are there people there I care about, who won’t understand why I can’t make it?
  • If I don’t go, will it adversely impact me (for example, career or business issues)?
  • Are these people who don’t live nearby, and whom I don’t see at other times of the year?
  • Do I really want to go? (<- This one’s important!)

If you answered NO to these questions, then skip it!

Shipping Gifts

Just say no to waiting at the post office!

I am blessed to have my close family nearby, so I’m not as affected by this as many. But I do know if I was, I’d be planning ahead – and doing all I could to avoid the post office. There are never fewer than ten people in line at mine on any day, and near the holidays, the place is a madhouse! I think I’d almost rather go to the mall; it’s that bad. Of course, the number one key is to plan ahead and get things taken care of early. But aside from that, the good news is (at least for those in the U.S.), most of the time, you CAN avoid the post office! And I don’t mean paying the higher prices at a commercial shipper either. All you need is a computer, a good quality printer, label paper, a credit or debit card, and maybe a postal scale to take advantage of two AWESOME services provided by the US Postal Service: Click ‘n Ship, and Carrier Pickup. Just set up an account at, type in the address info, weight, etc. Enter your credit card, and the system will automatically generate a label with the proper bar codes, tracking info, etc. that you can print on single-sheet labels and stick on those packages. Use the free boxes the USPS provides for Priority Mail and Express Mail – go in and grab some after hours, or even if you brave the parking lot, you can at least skip the line. It gets better – after you print your label, you can schedule a pickup at your home for the day you ship your package – for free! The 13-ounce, must-hand-to-a-postal-employee rule doesn’t apply either: they have your info in their database, so they know you’re OK. You don’t even need to be home for them to pick up your packages. I’ve had them pick up 17 boxes at a time once – no problem! I haven’t been to the PO in months, if not longer; and then it’s only to check my PO box.

Let Shutterfly do those holiday cards!

Holiday Cards
Christmas cards are my bane. A lot of people just buy a box of cheapies from Wal-mart or wherever, sign them, and send them off. If you’re one of them, then you’re ahead of the game. The only way to speed up from that is to simply not send any. I do know people who don’t, and I’m envious. Yet I do send them, for a couple reasons. One, they help me keep in touch with people I might otherwise not, but want to; and two, they’re a Big Deal to my husband. Even though I don’t think he ever sent a Christmas card before we met. They are his opportunity to brag, and in years past, I used my Graphic Artist Skillz to design a custom card with our photos on it, print them up in our printer, print the envelopes up….  it was awful! I’m a good designer, but I don’t work fast, so this was a huge time-suck from the get-go. Then they would invariably be a pain in the butt to print, jam the printer every other card, run the printer out of ink or toner… you name it. Last year I said, no more! Instead, I asked my husband and daughter to pick out photos they wanted to include, and I purchased digital licensing for the photo we had taken of our dogs a few weeks ago, a free sitting at the PetWants store grand opening. I uploaded the bunch to Shutterfly, picked out a design, and click! Cards on the way. I got a lovely box of them in four days, and with coupons, they were under $1.00 a card. With the cost of card stock (not to mention the aggravation factor), the ones I did at home probably weren’t any cheaper. Instead of printing the envelopes, which always seem to jam, I’ll print labels. My husband can then sticker and stamp ’em, and they’ll be good to go. If you really have more money than time, Shutterfly will even address and mail them for you, but this wasn’t available with my coupons, so I’ll do that part myself.

Holiday Newsletters: These are an artifact from a time before email, Facebook, free long distance, and texting. Do most of the people you’d send a newsletter to already keep in touch via the above? Then give yourself permission to Just Say No!

Baking: just say no – or pick up something they’ll really like, like I mentioned in Sunday’s post.

Santa still wraps, but he uses gift bags, too!

Gift Wrapping: If it’s free at the store where you bought it, and the line is short (or you’ve got time), use it! A lot of malls and specialty stores have Girl Scouts or similar groups offering gift wrapping for a small donation. Another tip is to use gift bags! As Melinda VanLone commented on my Sunday post, they take only a few seconds – and they’re reusable! While I do wrap some presents, especially those that won’t fit well in a gift bag, I also use a lot of gift bags. I hardly ever buy them – almost all of mine once contained gifts to me, my husband, or our daughter. My brother has a weird habit of unwrapping presents by meticulously removing every piece of tape with as little damage to the paper as possible. It takes him at least a half hour to open one present, and it drives everyone nuts. From me, he gets all his presents in gift bags – a double benefit!

Online shopping: Avoid the crowds, lines, and craziness – and save time! Do it online. My favorite store is In many cases, you’ll also save money – their prices are tough to beat, there’s no sales tax (fair or no), and most things will ship for free if you spend over $25. It takes a little planning ahead, but otherwise, what’s not to like?

The best tip of all? Do as Flylady says: plan ahead, do a little bit every day, and BUDGET your money – that way you won’t be as stressed for the holidays now, and you won’t be stressed when the bills come later!

Got any more holiday stress-busters to share? As much as these make it look like I have a handle on things, there’s always some last minute gift I forgot, commitment I didn’t plan on, and extra stuff to do, so I’m always looking for more ways to make the holidays fun for everyone, and as stress-free as possible!

#ROW80: As Expected

…I have nothing, writing-wise. But I expected that, as we had dinner plans on Monday, plus Monday is paperwork day, so I often don’t get to writing on Mondays. And yesterday – also expected nothing. The past couple weeks have been one thing after another, and I have things promised to others that I haven’t even been able to get to. Now they’re to the point where I really need to.

When I can, I put off other stuff and make time to write. Sometimes the writing has to wait.

At least I accomplished one big task that’s been hanging for over a month now: reformat my daughter’s computer. (This should have been on the list I posted Sunday, but I forgot it.) It’s been slow and bogged down for a while, and eventually got so that software couldn’t be installed on it (a problem when that includes security updates and virus definitions!). We weren’t even able to copy her stuff off onto a flash drive, so I had to actually take the hard drive out of her computer, install it in mine, copy stuff off, and that added to the overall task. Also, that was when my graphics card decided to crap out – in the middle of copying! But all that is behind me now (hopefully!). So now it’s on to formatting, cover design, and critiques I owe!

If you’re doing ROW80, is your week going as expected, even if your expectations weren’t high?

Where do Print Books Come From?

Books and e-readerIt seems ebooks are getting all the press (virtual and otherwise!) lately. Ebooks and e-readers are all the rage – instant gratification! Large type, if you want! More choices! Tons of cheap and even free books! No restrictions on length, whether you’re reading a four-page flash fiction piece, or a tome to rival War and Peace. No e-reader? Read ’em on your phone or even your computer! What’s not to like?

Yet despite all the advantages ebooks offer, plenty of people still prefer to read a good old fashioned paper book. The smell and feel of the paper! Pretty book covers that look cool on your bookshelf or coffee table! Read ’em in the bathtub – and if you drop it, no expensive electronics to replace! Heck, no expensive electronics to buy in the first place! Browse in the bookstore or the library! Used books! No worries about dead batteries! Despite all the gloom-and-doom reports of ever-decreasing sales, paper books are still with us, and aren’t going away any time soon IMO.

Quite a few independent publishers are forgoing print altogether and publishing only in e. After all, print typically involves a setup fee, and print also requires some knowledge of print graphic arts, which is a whole different animal than on-screen graphics. It’s definitely a lot more work to produce a print book, even though the setup fees have gone way down in recent years, and there’s no longer a need to warehouse and ship – Amazon, Barnes &, and the like are still happy to fulfill that role for a piece of the action.

Time's Enemy print book

Time's Enemy in print - available soon!

Out of all the people I’ve talked to who’ve expressed interest in reading Time’s Enemy, about half of them next ask, “Is it available in print?” So as someone with graphic arts experience, I really have no reason not to offer this, and to that end, I uploaded my book to a printer last Saturday. My proof arrived on Wednesday, I approved it on Thursday, and it should be available on the e-retailers in the next week or so. When that time comes, I’ll announce it here!

So where do print books come from? If you’re an independent publisher, they most likely come from one of two printers: CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon), or Lightning Source (which is owned by Ingram, the largest print book distributor in the U.S.). CreateSpace (henceforth referred to as CS) is definitely the easier of the two as far as setting up the files for printing, and they have a lower setup fee as well. But Lightning Source (LSI) has some major advantages in other areas, and after some major deliberation, I went with LSI.

Most of these differences won’t be apparent to the reader. One of them is how authors are paid – basically, CS requires a larger portion of the book’s price go to the retailer, meaning the author and publisher make less money, while the reader’s cost doesn’t go down (usually – sometimes the retailers will discount). Books produced by LSI are automatically included in Ingram’s catalog, which may make it easier for them to be ordered by bookstores and libraries.

The most apparent difference – at least with my book – is that LSI offers a matte cover, whereas other print-on-demand providers offer only glossy covers. Until LSI offered it earlier this year, only big publishers’ books had matte covers. A lot of readers probably don’t care, but it gives a book a “richer,” higher quality look and feel IMO.

So what about you – do you notice things like glossy or matte covers? Does the “feel” of a book matter to you? Print-on-demand books are typically printed on heavier paper, which obviously makes the book heavier, but also adds to that “richer” feel. Is this something you notice or care about? Inquiring independent authors and publishers want to know!

Cover Art for Time’s Fugitive

Time's Fugitive book coverI design my own book covers (sometimes my graphic design background comes in handy), and was pleased to finish this one last week. Time’s Fugitive is the sequel to Time’s Enemy, and is slated for release as an e-book in December. Depending on how print book sales go for Time’s Enemy, Time’s Fugitive will also be released in print, about a month after the digital release.

Covers matter a lot to me, never mind the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” People do. I know I do. Authors published by big publishing houses usually have little to no input in cover art. There are a lot of bad covers. By “bad,” I mean poorly executed, unreadable, or just plain ugly. They happen to independently-published books and to those from small publishers, but they happen to big-time published books, too – the three-armed woman on Christina Dodd’s Castles in the Air is probably the most classic example. Then there were the notorious, ugly “nekkid Poser people” that seemed to appear on every other erotic ebook for a while. I’m glad that trend went away! Designing my own covers means I don’t have to worry about any of that. If a cover misses the mark, I can easily upload a new one, with the only cost being my time and any stock photos I have to license.

Something Dangerous by Patrick Redmond

I totally grabbed this book because of the cover!

Even if you’re paying someone, there are some great cover artists who provide wonderful covers for very reasonable fees – I’ve seen as little as $100. I’m not looking for cover art work right now, but if you’re an independent author and you’re looking for cover art, I recommend my cousin and fellow author, Sheri McGathy. Sheri also does copy editing (including mine).

The Writers’ Guide to Epublishing did a good article about cover art a couple weeks ago, and the commenters (mostly or all authors) pretty unanimously agreed that good covers sell books, and bad covers can hinder sales. What do you think? Whether you’re an author or a reader, do you care about cover art? Has a cover ever made you pick up a book (and buy), or conversely, has a book cover ever made you not buy a book you otherwise might have?

Do You Judge a Book by its Cover? The Guardian, by Carey Corp

The Guardian by Carey CorpA few weeks ago, writing friend Carey Corp emailed me, with the subject line “Help!”

No, her email hadn’t been hijacked by spammers. She was trying to produce the cover for the print version of her successful YA paranormal romance, The Guardian. She’d done a nice job putting together the cover for the e- version. And isn’t a cover for a print book simply a matter of adding a back and spine to the ebook cover?

Carey found out it wasn’t when she uploaded her print cover to CreateSpace, only to receive a message that it didn’t meet required specifications. After another try, and another reject, she emailed me.

Carey remembered that I worked in graphic design for over ten years before turning to web design, and later programming. And back when I was active in the field, print was still the thing. I was actually one of the first people in the Dayton area to use computer-prepared files for full-blown, four-color printing films, so all of the issues CreateSpace identified in their emails to Carey, were familiar to me.

The modifications I made were minor as far as appearance was concerned, such as adding another set of wings to the spine – I love little details like this! Reworking the rest with higher-resolution photos took a few hours in Photoshop, tweaking color density, printing to a PDF, then emailing to Carey. When I didn’t hear back within a few days, I figured no news was good news – and it was! See her take here.

I am not a big reader of Young Adult fiction, but going by the description, this is something I would have devoured when I was a teen. A lot of Carey’s readers are adults, too, and the more I read this description as I reworked the art, the more intrigued I became – I might just have to pick up a copy! The Halo Chronicles: The Guardian (Kindle version) THE HALO CHRONICLES: The Guardian (Volume 1) (Print version)

Do you enjoy YA fiction? And, do you pass on a book if the cover’s not quite professional? (I’ll admit it – it takes a lot more to get me to buy if the cover’s less than appealing.) If you’re an author, ever try doing your own cover? As a graphic design professional, I’m a big proponent of “don’t try this at home” but for some, it can work out well. What do you think?