Alaskan Cruise recap – Glaciers, train rides, sled dogs and more

Last week, my family returned from an Alaskan cruise. And when I say family, I mean my family of four, my parents and my brother. We all had a good time.

Carnival Legend in the Tracy Arm Fjord.

So let’s see…the cruise ship – The Carnival Legend – was nice. It is an older ship and could use some TLC. The room layout was the same as last time, and Lexie still enjoyed having the top bunk. We had a balcony which I had heard was a “must” on an Alaskan cruise. And I agree with that. The views were breathtaking.

We originally had four excursions planned. One for each of our stops and then a second one in Skagway since the ship was in port for such a long time. Then while listening to a lecture on Alaska, we heard about another excursion in the Tracy Arm Fjord. It sounded great, so we rushed to sign up – and it was well worth it.

Tracy Arm Fjord

Harbor Seals next to the glacier in the Tracy Arm Fjord.

So, after our first sea day, we passed through the Tracy Arm Fjord. In case, you don’t know what a fjord is, it is a long, narrow inlet of the sea between high cliffs. It is created by a glacier. The excursion we opted to do took us closer to two glaciers and a few waterfalls than if we had stayed on board the ship. It was a little rainy, but we were inside for most of the excursion, only going outside when there were pictures to be taken. Suprisingly, this was the only rain on our whole vacation.

Skagway

White Pass caboose that we passed on our way up the mountain.

Our first stop was Skagway. We had two excursions booked for the day. The first was a train ride with my parents and brother. The White Summit Pass train goes up the mountain and then back down. So, while we were the last car on the train on our journey up, we were the first car on the train as we went back down. We saw waterfalls, old train cars and bridges and lots of beautiful views. The best thing is the train picked us up and dropped us off right next to our ship. That made it easy for us to go back to the ship for lunch before the next excursion.

Jase and Lexie at the dog sledding camp.

Lexie is a dog lover. We couldn’t go to Alaska without seeing a dog sled training camp and cuddle the puppies. We left the others and just my family of four went to see the sled dogs. It began with 18 dogs pulling us around on a six-seater metal cart. Though not as thrilling as sailing over the snow, it was pretty cool. We got to meet and pet our team afterwards.

Then, we went to the camp and held some three-week old puppies and petted some older puppies. Lexie was in heaven.

Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier and a view of the rafts we took down the river.

The next stop was Juneau, the capitol of Alaska. Our excursion for the day was a river rafting expedition. We started out on a lake in front of Mendenhall Glacier. We then rafted down the river. Only a small portion had any rapids, but it was still fun.

And we still had some time for souvenir shopping afterwards. Jase always wants something to remember each stop. Here it was a stuffed black bear. The day before it was a stuffed husky.

Ketchikan

Lumberjack climbing the pole at the Lumberjack show.

Our last stop was Ketchikan. There weren’t a lot of appealing excursions that the whole group could agree upon beside a lumberjack show. It was within walking distance of the ship. They divide the audience into two groups. Each group then had their own lumberjacks to cheer for and we were supposed to boo the other side. Jase was all for cheering but not so sure about booing anyone. Overall, it was a good show.

After the show, we hit a few shops on our way back to the ship. Jase picked up an Alaska baseball cap and a totem pole magnet as well as a post card to add to his collection of post cards he had already purchased on the ship.

Overall it was a great cruise, and I would definitely recommend an Alaskan cruise. Next week, I am going to talk about packing for an Alaskan cruise. I’ll let you know what I took and the changes I wished I had made.

Publishing your e-book with Smashwords or Draft2Digital

This post is the forty-ninth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I discussed publishing your e-book on Amazon, which makes sense since it is the largest e-book retailer out there. But it also makes sense to have your book available at as many e-book retailers as possible. You could go through the process of submitting your book at each of these retailers – all who have different requirements, or you can use an e-book distribution platform like Smashwords or Draft2Digital.

Both e-book distribution platforms are very similar. You upload your e-book to them, and they distribute it to other e-book retailers such as iTunes, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo Store and more. There are no upfront costs to use this service. Yes, it is free to upload your e-book to these sites. The way they get paid is to take a percentage (typically 10 or 15 percent) of your royalties from those e-book retailers. But this is a small price to pay for the service they provide, which allows you to spend your time focusing on something else.

Now let’s talk about some differences between the two programs.

Smashwords

With Smashwords, you follow their step-by-step style guide to format your book before you upload it. They then run your book through what they call their “meat-grinder” which formats it correctly for each e-book retailer. The complaint some authors have is that the step-by-step guide is long and can be complicated if you aren’t tech-savvy.

Smashwords has more e-book retailers than Draft2Digital, and they also sell your book on their own website, which allows readers to download e-books in ten different formats. You have the ability to create coupons to offer discounts for your books on their site.

Smashwords takes a 10% royalty on sells from other book retailer sites and 15% from their own site.

Draft2Digital

Now, with Draft2Digital, the biggest plus for many authors is that you do NOT have to format your book. Draft2Digital does it for you. You don’t even have to have your front or back matter done. They do it all. And one cool feature is that you can update the back (end) matter for all your books at one time.

Another great feature on this site is they will set up universal book links. This allows you to offer each customer a link to their preferred book retailer.

Draft2Digital takes 15% commission on every e-book sold.

Conclusion

Both e-book distributors will help you reach a bigger market. For no matter how large Amazon is, it only reaches 14 countries. iBooks is in 51 while Kobo reaches 160, and the Smashword store reaches almost 200 countries.

Which company you use is totally up to you. I have not tried Draft2Digital as they were not available when I first started self-publishing. I have always used Smashwords and have had no issues with them. But there are some features from Draft2Digital that I will say intrigue me and have me considering using them on my next book.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

#33 – Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

#34 – Knowing your grammar or at least using a grammar checking program

#35 – Using a Revision Outline during your Novel Editing

#36 – Editing Techniques: Taking a Break and Reading Aloud

#37 – Publishing Options for your book

#38 – Self-publishing an ebook decisions

#39 – Picking Your Book Title and Your Pen Name

#40 – Investing in an eye-catching book cover

#41 – Writing an awesome book blurb

#42 – Deciding on Front Matter for your novel

#43 – Deciding on Back Matter for your novel

#44 – Formatting your eBook for publication

#45 – Pricing your e-book

#46 – Selecting Categories and Keywords to improve your Novel’s visibility

#47 – Book Promotions: Cover Reveal and Pre-Orders

#48 – Publishing your novel with Amazon and KDP Select

Nontraditional decorations for my husband’s law firm

A little over six years ago, my husband decided to go out on his own as an attorney. He got a little office near our house. We decorated it with Star Wars pictures and memorabilia. A few months later, he got an assistant. Fast forward to today and he has seven employees – two attorneys, two paralegals, a law clerk, a receptionist and an office assistant. (This doesn’t include the person who does his invoicing and financial matters – that’s me.)

As his office has grown in number of people, it has also grown from that little one room office to an 8-room office with a small reception area. This is his fourth expansion/move. More room means more walls to decorate. Now we let each employee decorate their office as they see fit. But that still leaves us with the halls, the reception area and the conference room.

Entry Area

My husband represents cities, counties, hospital districts and other governmental boards, so he doesn’t have many clients coming to the office. With this latest move, he lost the seating in his reception area and only has enough room for the reception desk. Luckily, he has the conference room for any clients or anyone else who comes into the office.

A few years ago, we made this sign for his law office. It now is the first thing you see when you enter.

On the hall to the right that leads to that conference room, we have hung the group pictures of his firm. No distinguished pictures here.

I also love the galaxy picture that we bought from Amazon for the other wall across from the firm group photos.

Avengers Hallway

Loki

This is one of the original hallways from when he first moved from the one-room office to a four-room office. We decorated it with Avengers prints from Etsy, including this one of Loki. (I can’t guarantee any of these link will work in the future but they do as of August 2018.) With his recent expansion, we also added this 3-foot metal Avenger’s logo – and it lights up! (Also found on Etsy here.)

Batman Hallway

Since we had a Marvel/Avenger’s hallway, we decided we needed to do something from DC Comics. We originally wanted to make a Batman-themed conference room, but we never got around to doing that before his latest expansion. So, we decided we could do the other hallway with Batman!

All the items were bought off Etsy. Here are the links for each: Starry Night Batman, Batman watercolors, and 5-panel Batman canvas.

Movie Wall

What to do with the 12’ wide wall across from the receptionist’s desk puzzled us for a few weeks. Then when looking at some various photos of offices, I saw this picture of four or five clocks in a row that showed the time in different locations. That inspired this…

Yes, these are vinyl clocks featuring different movies. There are 22 of them! Wow!

These all can be found on Etsy or Amazon – just search vinyl wall clock. There are designs of TV shows, movies, singers, video games, cities – basically something to fit any room decorating scheme.

Conference Room

And this brings us to our conference room. As I said, we at one time wanted to decorate it with a Batman theme but that never happened. Before our latest renovation, we had a little more room in our reception area. My mother-in-law decorated it in an Indiana Jones theme. We decided to move this theme to the conference room.

As you can see, this is not your traditional, stuffy law office. Heck, even the dress code is casual here with employees wearing jeans and bunny slippers! (Well, they do wear suits to court and other “official” business.) But the rest is ultra-casual.

Publishing your novel with Amazon and KDP Select

This post is the forty-eighth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

During this series, I have covered writing, editing, and formatting your novel for publishing as an e-book. And while I have briefly covered your publishing options, I thought I would take these next three posts to delve a little more into your three biggest options for publishing your e-book.

Of course, I should start with the largest e-book retailer out there – Amazon.

Kindle Direct Publishing is Amazon’s platform for self-publishers. Here you can find all sorts of help on formatting, uploading and marketing your book through Amazon. And with just a click, you can be selling your book in the UK, Japan, Italy and over nine other countries.

You have the choice of either 35% or 70% royalties based on the selling price of your novel.

They also offer a program called KDP Select, which means you exclusively allow Amazon to publish your book. That means it won’t be on Barnes & Noble, I-Tunes or anywhere else. Some authors don’t like the idea of limiting their book to only one retailer, but then again, it is the largest e-book retailer out there so that may not be a bad thing.

Here are some pros and cons of KDP Select.

Pros

As I said your book is available from the largest e-book retailer, and it is also available to Amazon Kindle readers who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited (a program that for $9.99/month allows readers access to over a million titles.) You earn royalties on the number of pages read.

There are several book promotions that you can do with KDP Select, including offering your book for free or as part of a Kindle Countdown Deal, where you can lower the price but keep a higher royalty rate.

You can’t opt out of KDP Select after 90 days, or it will automatically renew for another 90 days. Each set of 90 days allows you to do one promotion – either free days or Kindle Countdown Deals. (More on these promotions and my results with them in the coming weeks.)

You also receive higher royalties on sales to Brazil, Japan, India and Mexico.

Your book participates in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library program, which allows Prime members to ready one book free each month. Again, you are paid for the pages read.

Cons

The biggest con is cannot publish or offer your book for sale with any other retailer.

You cannot even offer more than 10% of our book’s content anywhere, even your own website.

Readers who typically use other retailers other than Amazon will not be able to purchase your book without having a Kindle app or Kindle for the PC.

You are at the whim of Amazon regarding any changes they make to the program or rules.

All your eggs are in one basket for a minimum of three months. (Remember you must opt out, or it will automatically keep renewing.)

Conclusion

Whether it is worth it to enroll in KDP Select, it depends on the author and situation. New titles might do well in the program. It is simple and an easy option. But if you want more control over promotions and selling price, then KDP Select may not be for you.

Remember you can publish on Amazon and NOT be in KDP. I will say that for all of my books, I have enrolled them for 90 days in KDP Select. Afterwards, I typically pull them out of the program and publish through Smashwords (which will be covered next week). The only exception is my last novel which I left in KDP Select for three rounds because I enjoyed the royalties from Kindle Unlimited.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

#33 – Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

#34 – Knowing your grammar or at least using a grammar checking program

#35 – Using a Revision Outline during your Novel Editing

#36 – Editing Techniques: Taking a Break and Reading Aloud

#37 – Publishing Options for your book

#38 – Self-publishing an ebook decisions

#39 – Picking Your Book Title and Your Pen Name

#40 – Investing in an eye-catching book cover

#41 – Writing an awesome book blurb

#42 – Deciding on Front Matter for your novel

#43 – Deciding on Back Matter for your novel

#44 – Formatting your eBook for publication

#45 – Pricing your e-book

#46 – Selecting Categories and Keywords to improve your Novel’s visibility

#47 – Book Promotions: Cover Reveal and Pre-Orders

Taking the kids to their first concert (Imagine Dragons)

Last Thursday, my husband and I took our kids, Jase (13) and Lexie (10), to their first concert. It all came about in March when I heard Imagine Dragons was doing a second leg of their Evolve Tour and would be coming to Austin, TX.

You see, my husband and I went to see them in Houston last November. I had bought those tickets in June of 2017 when my son had just begun listening to Imagine Dragon. Ok, he really was only digging the songs because he heard me listening to them all the time. But by the time the concert came around, he was a fan too, but only my husband and I went to the concert. (You can read about that concert here.)

Shirts I made for the concert.

When we heard they would be close to us again in August, I immediately asked Jase if he wanted to go. Of course, he did. Lexie, on the other hand, likes some songs, but I wouldn’t call her a fan. She was on the fence about going. But once you buy tickets, I can’t add another one later, so I told her that she would go with us. After making sure it fit in my husband’s schedule, I bought four tickets.

Hmmm…four tickets to an outdoor concert. In August. In Texas. Oh why, didn’t I think this through! It is typically over 100 degrees here in the summer. That fact didn’t really dawn on me until the weeks leading up to the concert.

As it turned out, it was only 96 degrees when we got to the Austin 360 Amphitheater at the Circuit of Americas race track outside of Austin at 6:30 p.m. They let you bring in one bottle of water per person. You can bet we took advantage of that.

The opening act was Grace VanderWaal, a 14-year-old singer who won on the America’s Got Talent TV show in 2016. We had never heard any of her songs before the concert and enjoyed her performance. (Much better than the opening acts from the November concert.)

Now, I know some of you are already thinking that I am crazy for going to see the same band during the same tour. You would think that the show would be the same, but it wasn’t. Since November, they have released 3 other singles. But even without that, they changed up the songs they sang as well as the stage.

As you might expect, Jase loved the concert. He didn’t really like standing through the whole thing, and he did have trouble seeing at times. I ended up having him stand in front of me for a lot of the concert. Lexie stood on her seat for part of the concert but then also sat through part of it as she was tired, and I think a little bored with some of the songs she didn’t know.

It was clear she was ready to go though she did perk up for her favorite song “On Top of the World,” and she did like when they shot confetti into the crowd, though she was disappointed that it all kept falling just out of our reach.

Overall, if I had to do it over, I think only Jase and I should go to the concert, though I did promise my husband that I wouldn’t go see them again…while they are on this album’s tour. Nice clarification there. I certainly would go see them again. And I think Jase is ready to go again too.