Throwing Caution to the Wind

caution to the wind

I received a pressure cooker for Christmas. Not the old-fashioned kind. This Instant Pot has 10 tools in 1. Amazing! It does anything you can imagine in the cooking world with the press of a button.

Despite years of teaching cooking classes, I steered clear of pressure cookers. Releasing a pot-full of extremely hot steam was not my idea of fun. Besides, I could make plenty of recipes by just being patient with long cooking times.

After days of watching youtube videos, I finally got the courage to test my Instant Pot. I threw caution to the wind and made a stew with the toughest cut of meat I could find. In 15 minutes, I had moist, tender, flavorful beef. Two minutes later I had completely cooked potatoes and carrots. Did I mention amazing?

I won’t belabor the fact that I was hesitant to push the release steam button and, instead, let it slowly release naturally so it actually took 3 hours to make my stew. But I learned my lesson. Once I got enough courage to press the button, it was no big deal. Throwing caution to the wind was exhilarating. I love my new cooker!

My pressure cooker experience made me think about one of my books that I’m preparing for a professional cover. I worked on Joyful Encounters through the fall, doing a close edit, rewriting the blurb, and looking for possible stock pictures for the designer. When she sent me an awesome design yesterday, I felt that sense of excitement tinged with worry. Should I tweak the blurb some more? Should I read the story again in case a pesky typo slipped in somewhere between the print and e-book? Is it ready for the unveiling?

Such pressure! (Get it?)

I suppose we’re all afraid of making mistakes, of putting ourselves in the public eye, of failing. But it’s time to throw caution to the wind. And, if anything, it will be a learning experience.

Bon appetit!

Auld Lang Syne

New Year

We all recognize the tune of Auld Lang Syne. We may also raise our glasses as we belt out a round of “For old acquaintance be forgot” when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, but what does it mean? Probably something different for each of us.

Technically, the Scottish words mean “old long since.” Loosely translated, we could say “for old times’ sake.” Maybe the old-timers cried in their beer as they reminisced about the good-old-days, forgetting that the old days weren’t always that great.

Regardless, it’s tradition that we reflect on the past year as we look toward the new year. For me, it’s been an amazing time of transition from teacher to author. As an independent author, that includes marketing–which is a mathematical mystery in itself. Formulas and algorithms aside, I find it exciting to find my comfort zone somewhere between where I am and where I want to be.

On this last day of 2018, I know that the future involves change. That’s the nature of our lives. Nothing remains the same unless, I guess, we hibernate on some deserted island. Come to think of it, with the melting of glaciers and rising sea waters, that would change as well. Ergo, nothing remains the same.

As we approach the new year, I’m not setting tangible goals that involve numerals. The number of books sold, the number of Kindle pages read, the monthly income from my books, the number of words I’ve written for my next story–none of those things are on my 2019 list of resolutions. [OK, I’ll probably check on those things, like four times a day, but they’re not going to be given high priority. Of course, that could change.]

Rather, my goal is to bring enjoyment to others through my novels. Maybe help someone who’s going through a rough time or encourage someone who feels alone and dejected. We all need a cup of kindness here and there, and I’m darn proud that readers tell me that I write “feel good” stories.

Yep, that’s my goal for 2019…for auld lang syne.

Mother, I’d Rather Do It Myself

mother and daughter

I must have been a very frustrating daughter. Strong-willed and independent, I knew what I wanted, and figured out how to do it. For example, when I asked for a bike and was told I’d have to earn it, I signed myself up to sell greeting cards around the neighborhood. That was probably in 1959, long before schools took up my brilliant idea of fund-raising. I was only 10 years old.

To this day, I remember the stern look on my mother’s face as she asked what all of the cartons were that had come in the mail for me that day. “I’m going to sell Christmas and birthday cards,” I said, batting my baby blues. “And I’ll buy my own bike.”  And I did.

Around the same time, there was a commercial on TV that became my mother’s mantra. Every time mom would offer her assistance when I was fixing my hair or doing my homework, I’d decline. She’d roll her eyes and chant, “Mother, I’d rather do it myself,” before shrugging her shoulders and walking away.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GshovE9F3F8

I don’t know why that memory has surfaced after 60 years, but I want to tell mom that I’ve finally learned I can’t do everything myself. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. That’s because I was trying to do it myself.

I tried designing my own book covers. They looked home-made. I now have a cover-designer who’s awesome! I tried proofing my own books. How do those few pesky typos find their way into the final copy? I now have a detail-driven proof-reader. I tried creating my own marketing strategy to get the word out about my books. I was lucky if I sold a book-a-month. I now have a cluster of readers who have spread the word and sales have dramatically increased.

You were right, mom. I can’t do it all myself. But I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life to help and support me. I’m a lucky gal.

 

Cold Feet

cold feetDid you ever have cold feet? Literally or figuratively. Probably both at one time or another.

I got cold feet on Thanksgiving night. Literally. When I went to bed, my feet were freezing. Outside temperatures were in the low teens. Fahrenheit. I turned on the electric blanket, raising it up a notch every few minutes until I finally felt warmth. Cozily wiggling my toes, I suddenly realized that the next night would be very different. I was planning to buy a cute springer spaniel puppy on Friday afternoon.

I began to picture myself throwing off the covers every hour or so to take the puppy outside, remembering my first puppy-training efforts years ago. I would remind my first dog, Heidi, to pee, as I stood in my jammies in the front yard, which she would promptly do as soon as we got inside the house. My springer spaniel, Pete, was smart. He trained in less than a week. But we went outside a lot that week.

Even the thoughts of beginning puppy hygiene on cold winter nights gave me shivers. It wouldn’t be much better in the early morning. I knew the new puppy would have me awake and outside at the crack of dawn. The icy crack.

Turning up the electric blanket another notch cemented my decision. Winter was not the time to start puppy training. Not for me, at least. My literal cold feet turned into figurative cold feet. I began to itemize all of the reasons that I shouldn’t get a new canine companion. So, I didn’t.

I’ve experienced the figurative cold feet numerous times. Standing in front of a congregation to cantor gives me cold feet. But I do it. Hitting the upload button when I think my latest book is ready for publication gives me cold feet. But I do it. Giving a presentation gives me cold feet. But I do it.

What’s the difference, I wondered? How is it that we’re able to overcome some fears, but not others? Sometimes our fears hold us back from accomplishing a dream because we don’t think we can do it. Maybe it’s just not the right time.

A new puppy is not in the cards for me at this moment. It’s OK. One of these days, I’ll know when it’s the right time. Or not. For now, I’ll enjoy my warm feet.

Beginnings and Endings

7-stop-sign

I have been a teacher for 48 years. That’s a long time! It makes me an old bird. A weathered old bird. Maybe a wise owl. That’s a nicer way of looking at it.

I remember the beginning as if it were yesterday. Wet behind the ears, welcoming 45 first graders, I was as fearful as they were on that first day of class.

The ending was yesterday, when I hung up my hat and said farewell to a long career in the classroom. It wasn’t an easy decision to retire, but I knew it was time. Not because I’m an old bird who lost touch with a new generation of students. Given their feedback, they still think I’m “awesome.” Rather, I wanted to devote my time to writing my stories. It’s much more fun than grading papers.

So, here I am, now officially a retired old bird, crafting new beginnings and honing endings. Just as with a stop sign, I need to reflect and look both ways. Watch that my way is clear as I merge with other authors who have the luxury of writing full-time.

My newest book, No Gifts to Bring, is a cozy holiday murder mystery. Readers are telling me that they loved it. Especially the ending. And I re-wrote that ending at least 5 times.

I don’t know what my ending as a writer will be like, but I’m excited about the beginning. There will probably be plenty of re-writes as I hone my craft and continue to learn how to market and find readers. The thought of it all fills me with delight.

“To every season, there is a time and a purpose…”

A Penny Saved…

Ben Franklin

“A penny saved is a penny earned,” Benjamin Franklin said long ago. The concept must still hold true since my father often quoted old Ben. Dad also said, “A fool and his money soon part.” Thomas Tusser is credited for that wise tidbit in a poem he wrote in 1557. Another old guy.

Obviously, neither Ben nor Tom could foresee the future to realize that 21st century marketing discounts their proverbial wisdom. What’s an independent author to do? Let her books languish on the shelf or buy into the global capitalist venture? Even Ben’s expression in his portrait is one of skepticism.

I resisted at first, then took a few courses to learn some basics in book marketing. Taking a deep breath, I placed several sponsored ads on Amazon. The algorithm looked strange to me. I could identify the max spent per day on my ad, and the amount I would pay when someone clicked on my ad. I picked some keywords and kept my bid low. The results were dismal.

Back to the drawing board, I created new ads with clever ad copy. I searched for more keywords, hundreds of them, I increased my bid. Aha! The results were good. Actually rather remarkable. My book revenue was higher than the cost of the ads. At least a little. Then the well ran dry.

I needed new keywords, I figured. A keyword is something someone might have typed into Amazon’s search bar to find a book. Authors and titles of similar books are good keywords. Of course, that meant I needed to click on other authors’ ads, upping their costs per click. Sorry, folks.

Looking at the metrics, I also saw that I wasn’t bidding high enough to show up in many searches. Was I willing to go to $1.00 per click, knowing other authors seeking keywords might inadvertently be raising my ad cost? Taking a deep breath, I submitted my ads.

I’m a trusting person, despite Ben’s and Tom’s nagging advice reverberating in my brain. Maybe I’ll just stick to Ben’s other advice: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

I’m not a morning person.

 

A Watched Pot Never Boils

burnt pot

I remember my mother’s advice that “a watched pot never boils,” but I’ve learned that an un-watched pot burns. Like my very favorite stainless steel sauce pot. I walked away for 10 minutes, forgetting to turn down the burner, and returned to find irreversible damage. Or so I thought.

I almost tossed out my pot. My best and most-loved pot. I purchased another pot, but it wasn’t the same quality. In fact, it wasn’t good for anything but boiling water. I wasn’t alone in searching for one that matched the stamina of my old burned pot. Every review I read said the same thing. “They don’t make them like they used to.”

I soaked my burned pot daily, scrubbed it with metal, put it in the dishwasher often with caustic dishwasher detergent. The inside is somewhat pitted now, but most of the burn is gone. Then the test. Will it make my favorite white sauce without burning? It did!

I tell this tale because it’s a reminder to me that there should be a balance between watching my book ad results or my book reviews–and not watching them at all. I watch them three times a day. Is that too often? Did a book sell overnight? Did I get a coveted review? When I see nothing new, I hear my mother whisper in my head, “A watched pot never boils.”

“It’s OK, mom,” I say. “I’ll strike a balance one of these days.” In the meantime, I’m going to make sure that my work won’t go up in ashes. At least not irreversibly.

 

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

forest2Some things are as clear as mud when it comes to being visionary. Metaphors not withstanding, we often can’t see the forest for the trees. Sometimes it takes a knock on the head, a kindly reminder, or even an “aha” moment.

Several friends have commented that my stories always include food. Often quite descriptive, they say.

“Of course,” I reply. “Food’s a big part of our lives. Our daily activities often include meal preparation and food service. Family celebrations, going out with friends, feeding the children–all revolve around food. It should be included in the story.”

“Did you ever consider combining your background in food and nutrition with your books? Perhaps on your website?”

I think that very question was the knock on the head, the “aha” moment for me. It’s something I hadn’t ever considered, yet studying nutrition is a part of my DNA. Why not expand on the meals I write about in my stories? Develop and post recipes; highlight important nutrition principles.

Perhaps I’m beginning to see the forest–the big picture. It will take me awhile to get there. But I’ve said it before. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

In my newest story, No Gifts to Bring (not yet published), the main character suggests that a big pot of hearty vegetable beef soup would warm the innards of some folks who had been caught in a blizzard. It’s easy to make, affordable, and feeds a crowd. You’re welcome to my recipe at https://kathleen-mckee.com/recipes/

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

Invisible to the Eye

the-little-prince

Those who are familiar with Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince know that it’s an allegory with a timeless message of love and hope. I’m not sure why the story has been on my mind recently, though I’m drawn to one particular quote. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Nearly 50 years ago, I was cast as the businessman in an all-women community production of The Little Prince. Full of stage fright, I gave little thought to the message behind the role. I needed only to learn my lines and sing the businessman’s song, both intimidating tasks.

The businessman spends every moment counting the stars, believing that he owns them since he counts them. He has no time to engage in petty conversation. His work is all encompassing. He says: “I have so much to do! I am concerned with matters of consequence. I don’t amuse myself with balderdash.” (13.5)  The Little Prince becomes frustrated with the arrogance of the businessman and feels that he is missing the importance of the beauty around him.

Older and wiser now, I wonder why I was cast in that role. Did I exhibit those traits way back then? Perhaps it’s possible because it’s sometimes my reality now. I stay busy, wanting to focus on my writing, improve my stories, become more descriptive. Create ads, find keywords. Connect with social media. Develop a following. No time to waste. I have so much to do.

To be a good writer, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” We can’t develop characters who are engaging if we’re not open to the presence of others in our lives. We can’t engage our readers if we don’t involve all of our senses throughout the day. The musky perfumed smell of a rose, the myriad colors of variegated summer leaves, the sound of early morning birds chirping, the taste of cold vanilla ice cream, the touch of a gentle hand. If these sensory images are lacking, we have a one-dimensional author.

The Little Prince said, “I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved anyone. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over…‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man—he is a mushroom!” (7.24)

I don’t want to be a mushroom.

Build It and They Will Come

baseball playerRome wasn’t built in a day, they say. A field of dreams didn’t happen overnight. It takes guts and stamina to orchestrate all of the facets of project management to create a platform. In my case, a writing platform.

  • Write and publish a book
  • Write another book to help market the first book
  • Create a social media presence
  • Develop an author’s website
  • Build a mailing list
  • Generate a following

That’s only the beginning. I’ve got so many balls in the air, I’m not sure if I’m coming or going. Maybe just going crazy. Crazy enough to believe that I’ve got the guts and stamina to be a writer. At least the guts.

My latest venture has been marketing through Amazon Marketing Services. Thank goodness for YouTube videos to provide the instruction. My first sponsored Kindle ad, I must admit, has been less than stellar. In the past three weeks, I’ve had 10 impressions, no clicks, and no sales. OK, I agree that’s really bad.

Who knew you needed at least 200 targeted keywords to get enough impressions that could result in a sale? The new sponsored ad goes live on Amazon today. I have a feeling that it’ll be a home run!

Don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KathleenMcKeeAuthor/ and sign up for my newsletter. Build it and they will come!