Helping run our school’s Angel Tree service project

Delivering gifts to our partner school in 2017.

Every year, Lexie’s elementary school does an Angel Tree for families in need from our school as well as our “partner” school. (In our school district, every school PTA is paired up with another school to help that PTA with advice or volunteers. Usually a more well-to-do school is paired with a less fortunate school.) It isn’t done at all schools, but we have a tradition with our PTA of doing an Angel Tree as a service project.

And since I am PTA president this year, of course, I am more involved in the project than I have been in the past. Most years, I have just bought items. Last year, I helped cart over the goodies. This year, I did both those things as well as advertise the event and organized the wrapped gifts that came in. Luckily, I had someone else who was actually in charge of the event.

It was her job to contact the counselors at each school.  The counselors select families in need of a little help during the holiday season and submits wish lists of items these families need. It could be household items, clothes or toys for the kids. The lady in charge then put the list online for people to sign up. We had 16 families at our school and 18 at our partner school.

Now many Angel Trees stop gifts for kids past the age of 12, but we don’t abide by that. We give gifts to everyone in the family, whether they are two months old or 17 years old. We also give to the parents and address family needs which can be anything from blankets, towels, kitchen supplies to just cleaners, laundry detergent or shampoo. In the end, we had 168 individuals or family needs on our list. Wow!

I have had friends in the past who have had to rely on Angel Tree for their kids to have anything for Christmas, so I am always happy to help. I started with adopting one kid and then moved to adopting two – one for each of my kids to help. Of course, Lexie and Jase don’t fully understand the struggle these families endure. They have a room full of toys and can’t imagine kids being happy with clothes or shoes as gifts. But we always gave those items in addition to a toy.

As the years went on this morphed into me adopting the whole family, so we would adopt two kids and buy something for the parents (usually clothes) and buy whatever their family needs were. It is hard not to go overboard with buying so I always set a budget.

This year, I decided to forgo the buying items for kids. I looked at the family needs for some of the family needs from our “partner” school. They wanted cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and blankets. I happen to be at Sam’s Club and noted that many of the cleaners came in packages of 4 so it only seemed logical to “adopt” four families. I bought laundry baskets, trash bags, laundry detergent and blankets from my local grocery store to add to the cleaners I bought at Sam’s Club. I then added tissue boxes and paper towels from my own supplies. I think they turned out very well. (Sorry for the slightly blurry photo.)

Since our Angel Tree had so many families/individuals on the list, we struggled to fill some of the last spots, which were for parents who were asking for clothes. I looked at the list and saw that many of the moms wanted jackets. I had just come into some extra dough after selling something on Craigslist, so I took that money and bought three jackets and then at least one other thing on their list – a scarf, a candle, a shirt and a hat and gloves. Yes, after doing 4 family needs, I “adopted” three more people – and spent exactly the amount I made from Craigslist.

And a week after the due date for all the gifts, our PTA room was swamped with wrapped packages. We have a very generous community. Everyone on that list got multiple things. Some had 2-3 wrapped packages, but I saw kids with 6 or 7 gifts, including a bicycle!

It took us four SUVs to haul over the portion that went to our partner school. They were ecstatic to see all those packages and couldn’t wait to deliver them to the needy families. What a great feeling to know you are helping others have a brighter, happier Christmas!

Holidays work for settings and book promotions

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

The holidays can make a great setting for a novel. And the holidays can be a good time to sell your holiday-themed story.

Writing a holiday-themed book

You can write a spooky or horror filled novel for Halloween or a sweet romance for the Christmas season. I even know an author that set her story at Thanksgiving. Of course, you are not limited to these holidays. You could set your romance or satire on Valentine’s Day. However, the appeal of a Fourth of July tale will just not have the same pull as a Christmas Holiday tale.

Christmas, by far, is the most popular holiday to write about. A quick search of books on Amazon brings up over 25,000 titles, and this doesn’t include Children’s books.

Tips to writing a Christmas Novel

  • Keep it short – Consider writing a novella or even a short story.
  • Invoke the senses – Think of snowy scenes, the aroma of hot chocolate or a baking pie
  • Think happy ending – While I know there are serious stories out there that take place during Christmas, your best bet is to leave the reader at least satisfied and for a romance that would mean ending with a Happily Ever After.
  • Publish it in time – Aim to publish your holiday novel in November or at the very latest the first week of December.
  • Promote it – Promote it not just the year it comes out but every holiday season and reap the benefits of those holiday readers.

If you write a series, perhaps you can take some of your characters and write them their own holiday story. And even if they don’t celebrate “Christmas” you can still write a story that takes place at a winter holiday. (Think Gift of the Night Fury from the How to Train Your Dragon TV series.)

It may be too late this year to get out a Holiday book, but if you invest the time now, you can have a book that will sell well each holiday season.

Promoting your book (any book) during the holidays

Cold winter nights where readers want to snuggle up with a good book or perhaps the abundance of new iPads and e-readers, there are many good reasons to consider running a holiday promotion.

Pre-Holiday Sales

If you have a book in print, you can host a holiday book signing. You can promote your book as a great gift or stocking stuffer. While folks can actually gift e-books, if you offer your book only in electronic form, you probably shouldn’t expect a lot of people buying your novel for others.

If you have an e-book, you might consider offering your book at a discount during Cyber Monday.

If you have published a Christmas or other holiday novel/novella/short story, you definitely need to run a promotion starting at the end of November/beginning of December and get it in the hands of those holiday readers.

Post-Holiday Sales

Instead of trying to find readers before the holidays, sometimes it is easier to approach the new owners of Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers or tablets. And there are quite a few others out there with gift cards waiting to fill up their e-readers.

Of course, the trick is to reach those new readers and let them know about your book sale. As with any promotion, you need to know how to reach the readers of your genre.

Another idea is to create a bundle or box set of books and offer them at a reduced price. Or perhaps get a few indie authors together and offer some of your books as a bundle.

No matter how you plan to do some holiday promoting, just make sure you take advantage of this book-buying season.

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

#49 – Publishing your e-book with Smashwords or Draft2Digital

#50 – Marketing your E-book

#51 – Finding your Book’s Target Market

#52 – The importance of Book Reviews and how to get them

#53 – Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

#54 – My results from offering my novels for free

#55 – Amzon’s Kindle Countdown Deals explained and my results

#56 – Selling your book through book ads

#57 – Using a Book Trailer to promote your novel

#58 – Offering your novels or short stories as a box set

#59 – Deciding whether to offer your book as an audio book

#60 – Taking your book on a virtual book tour

#61 – Writing your Author Bio and selecting an Author Photo

#62 – Setting up your Amazon Author Page and International Amazon pages

#63 – Choosing between an Author Website or Blog

Poptart the hamster joined our family

Two months ago, I wrote about Lexie wanting a hamster. For weeks, she had been on her best behavior and been demonstrating how responsible she could be. But while we wanted her to be responsible for her potential pet that wasn’t our main concern or maybe I should we had three concerns – their names are Nikki, Spooky and Tails. Ok, so Tails isn’t much of a hunter, but the other two cats certainly are.

Hamsters and cats don’t mix.

We had told Lexie this, but it didn’t deter her. And with all her hard work, we couldn’t keep saying no. So, within a few days of my post on maybe getting a hamster, we did it. We let Lexie get one.

We bought her the cage from Amazon. She bounced all the way to the pet store to pick out her hamster – a Chinese Dwarf hamster – she named Poptart. She even paid for her own hamster though I bought the bedding, food and other supplies.

 

Lexie couldn’t wait to get her home and have her run around in her hamster ball. Even Jase was fascinated with Poptart.

But not everyone was thrilled. Nikki, Lexie’s cat, was definitely unhappy to be booted from Lexie’s room. She was used to sleeping with Lexie at night and lounging on her bed during the day. That all changed. Ever since the little hamster joined the family, Nikki has been banned from Lexie’s room. Oh, she has made it in a few times, but we have been there and as soon as she shows any interest in the hamster, she is booted from the room.

I am happy to say that Poptart is still alive 8 weeks later.

As for the newfound responsibility Lexie showed, it stayed for a few weeks and then began to wane. (See my post on the morning rush.) But she has been very good about helping clean Poptart’s cage and feeding her – especially Poptart’s favorite carrots.

Overall, I have to say that I’m glad we allowed Lexie to get a hamster. Poptart seems to be a good addition to the family. But this is it. No more animals. Three cats, two dogs and a hamster is quite enough.

Choosing between an Author Website or Blog

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

My last two post have been covered author bios and your Amazon Author page. These allow readers to know more about you the author. Another way to connect with your readers is to have a website or a blog. Really into today’s tech savvy world, it is surprising when a company – or in this case an author – doesn’t have some sort of web presence.

So, which should you have – a blog or a website? (And before anyone says anything – yes, a blog is technically a website. The difference is that a blog is typically update more often than a traditional static website.)

Blog

Blog is short for web log and is a frequently updated website consisting of blog posts arranged in reverse chronological order. When readers come to your site, they see your most recent post first.

A blog can include static pages in addition to the current posts. (I have 2 static pages on my blog – “About Me” and “My Books.”)

Positives:  Blogs are typically updated regularly (daily or weekly – it is up to you) which give readers a reason to return. Blogs also provide an opportunity for interaction between authors and readers through comments on posts.

Setting up a blog is easy. You don’t need any computer or programming expertise. You will simply use blogging software such as Blogger or WordPress. If you are on a tight budget, a blog can be established for free.

Negatives: You need to update it regularly (or lose readership of your blog) which can take time away from your writing. You will also need a topic to write about unless you plan to just update readers about your exciting life as an author, which is not something I recommend unless you have a very exciting life or can make it extremely interesting.

Website

A website is a static group of pages containing text, images and videos accessed from the same domain name.

Positives: Easy if you want to put up information that won’t require updating on a regular basis.

Negatives: Unless you have the knowledge, you may have to hire someone to maintain and update your website. You will have to pay for your domain name as well as a site to host your webpage.

Website offer only one-way communication. While you can inform your readers, they cannot comment which means no reader/author interaction.

Website with a blog

The lines between a blog and a website are blurring. You can easily design a website that incorporates a blog. I designed a WordPress-based site for my husband’s law firm that has a static front page as well as three other static pages. It also includes a blog regarding recent court decisions. His website was done through WordPress.org verses WordPress.com where I have my blog. (The difference is .com is hosted on WordPress’s website and includes WordPress in the address while when using WordPress.org you need your own domain name and web hosting site.)

WordPress.org actually offers a comprehensive content management system that allows people to build sites with their software even if they don’t want a blog. Quite a few companies or groups have done their website through WordPress – The Rolling Stones, Carleton University, BBC America, and Best Buy Mobile – to name a few. The benefit of using WordPress is you can publish content such as text, audio and video and have it done in minutes. If you had a traditional static website, it could take hours to build a page and hours to update which can cost you time (or money) each time.

Here are some tips for those of you who choose to set up an author website.

  • Don’t put a blog on your website if you are never (or rarely) going to update it. If you want to blog about something other than the books that you have written or are working on, you might consider setting up a separate blog.
  • Make it easy to buy your book. Readers should not have to hunt around your website to find out what books you have written or how to purchase them. If you don’t have a shopping cart/purchase program on your site, be sure to provide direct buy links to your books at other internet retailers.
  • Make sure to name the site after your author name and not your book or series. This way you can focus on a site that incorporates all your books in one location.
  • Make sure you incorporate social media buttons (widgets) so readers can find you on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads and any other group you are involved in.
  • Make sure you have a place for readers to submit questions or comments. You do after all want to connect with your readers.
  • Do not use too many images – simple is better. A lot of images will increase load time. But then again you don’t want to go overboard with text. You want to find a balance.
  • Make sure you update your site! And this means not just with your information and latest book but to occasionally change the layout or design colors/style.

Your main goal with an author website is to provide information to not just fans but potential readers. Make it exciting, interesting and some place that will want to visit again.

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

#49 – Publishing your e-book with Smashwords or Draft2Digital

#50 – Marketing your E-book

#51 – Finding your Book’s Target Market

#52 – The importance of Book Reviews and how to get them

#53 – Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

#54 – My results from offering my novels for free

#55 – Amzon’s Kindle Countdown Deals explained and my results

#56 – Selling your book through book ads

#57 – Using a Book Trailer to promote your novel

#58 – Offering your novels or short stories as a box set

#59 – Deciding whether to offer your book as an audio book

#60 – Taking your book on a virtual book tour

#61 – Writing your Author Bio and selecting an Author Photo

#62 – Setting up your Amazon Author Page and International Amazon pages

Twelve Holiday Recipes

‘Tis the holiday season for baking…This month I am featuring some holiday delights perfect for any holiday party or dinner. Let’s start out with one of my favorite things…Apple Pie.

 

French Apple Pie – A nice twist on pie crust. This one has a nutty pat-in-the-pan-crust.

Swedish Apple PieWith no bottom crust and a pour-type topping, this one is more of a cobbler than a pie but still oh, so yummy.

Caramel Apple Pecan PieI love this one as it includes one of my favorite nuts – pecans!

Caramel Apple Slab Pie A good pie that serves 25!

And for some other pies and another favorite – cheesecakes…

Oreo Pie This is one of my kids’ favorites! (And so easy to make!)

Oreo Cheesecake – I love cheesecake and Oreo cookies so what could be better than combining the two?

Pumpkin Cheesecake – A good combination – this recipe is a copy of the Cheesecake Factory’s one.

And this last group covers cookies and other goodies….

Pumpkin Crunch – A kind of pumpkin pie with a crunchy topping….

Oreo Truffles These are so good!

Bacon Maple Fudge – Everything is better with bacon!

Candy Cane CrinklesCombining a cookie with a candy cane makes for a good treat.

The Best Cutout Sugar Cookies – A Christmas tradition from my childhood is decorating sugar cookies. My kids and I started using this recipe a few years ago.