Sunday, September 06, 2009

Wittenberg - The Play's the Thing to See in Columbia, MD

Last evening we did something unusual for us - went to see a play. We're more a symphony concert couple, but Phil saw a write-up and it sounded interesting, so we decided to check it out.

Wittenberg logo

Short review: Fantastic! If you are in the Baltimore area, make it a point to see Wittenberg at Rep Stage in Columbia at Howard Community College. Four characters - one a real historical figure, the other three strictly fictional but known to us all. Martin Luther, Dr. Faustus, Hamlet, and the Eternal Feminine all at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, 1517. Sounds kind of heavy, doesn't it? Not at all!

Wittenberg - Faustus with Hamlet Wittenberg - Faustus with Luther Wittenberg - Gretchen, Luther, Faustus at the BungHole Tavern

The four actors were great, especially Seth Reichgott who played Dr. John Faustus, and Michael Stebbins who played Rev. Martin Luther. Intelligent dialog with clever references to lines from Hamlet, impassioned discussions of faith vs. questioning of everything, laugh out loud schtick, and the occasional ukulele bit by Faustus. I'm not nearly doing it justice, so you need to see it for yourself.

The play by David Davalos is relatively new having premiered in Philadelphia last year where it won the Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play. It has been produced a few times and I expect it will show up in more local productions. When one comes near you, go see it. You'll find yourself writing a blog like this the next day.


Facebook Fan page for The Cat Lover's Book of Days

Follow me on Twitter @McFrugal

Friday, September 04, 2009

Vacation's Over - Now It's Time for PR

It was a lovely respite - 10 days on the lake in New Hampshire with beautiful days and deep, dark nights with loons calling across the water. If I hadn't been working on a project near to my heart, I would have relaxed more, but I knew it would be like that. It was a blessing of sorts that there's no Internet at the cabin, that we had to take our laptops to the local library to get and send email. Boy, does that focus your reading and writing!

Misty Shoreline NH

Cat Lover's Book of Days CoverBut now we're home and getting into the rapid speed-up of the fall and winter. Now it is time for me to be like Marti, the AR guru of The Art of Marketing You. I've been watching and learning from him and the others on AR who say Blog! Tweet! Facebook! And so I'm starting to blog more. And I tweet as @McFrugal (of the Clan McFrugal, of course). And I'm on Facebook not once but twice. First, for myself and keeping up with family and friends. But now also as The Cat Lover's Book of Days for the book that comes out in October. With the help of a savvy young PR professional, there's even a fan page for the book now.

Busy man on computerAnd that's where I learned another important lesson. You don't have to do it all yourself! I'm one of those who has never found it easy to delegate. I "knew" a fan page would be important. I figured I could do it myself, could understand the technology, and save some money. Wrong! I might have been able to figure it out, but probably not in time to be of any value. So through a referral I found someone who did it in a couple of days and continues to help with press releases and more.

There will always be more that needs doing than I can get done by myself. It takes me a while, but I'm learning from friends like Margaret Rome who find people like tech gurus to deal with the things that need doing, and that would otherwise take away from her incredible productivity. That's my new watchword: Outsource.

Now if only I could outsource sleeping, think how much more I could get done!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Pleasure of New Neighbors and Old Friends

Last year I was pretty upset about what was going on behind my Columbia, MD townhouse. It was necessary, I knew, but I was afraid that I would not see some small friends again. There had been a little stream that ran between houses, and the county determined it needed enclosing to direct runoff better. So for weeks it seemed there were large, noisy beasts galumphing along the stream, digging a trench, installing enormous concrete pipe, and then covering it all over.

That was fine. What wasn't fine was the removal of dense bushes and some trees that had lined the stream. They had to go for the work to proceed, but I knew that those same bushes were home to a couple of groundhogs, the neighborhood rabbit we named "Scamp", and the trees gave cover to cardinals, blue jays, and especially to ruby-throated hummingbirds. The occasional deer wandered by, too. I was afraid they were gone forever when the bushes were removed and some trees taken down.

Hummingbird landing on feederHummingbird drinking

It turns out nature is more forgiving than I am. The groundhogs have moved on, but I did see Scamp - or one of his cousins - earlier this year. And the hummingbirds are back! Not as many this year, but still, I have regular customers for my new and improved hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird leaving feederHummingbird hovering near feader

Which brings me to the new neighbors. A delightful young couple with a toddler and a baby soon to be born, the young man has generously offered to mow our tiny patch of lawn - a kindness I'm grateful for. Then one day he told us they had enjoyed watching the hummingbirds and would I like to see the photos he'd taken? Of course! And now you can see them, too. These tiny wonders of nature, like flying jewels, are one of the best parts of summer. And despite my fears, they are back for us - and our new neighbors - to enjoy.

Brian Hughes took these wonderful photos, and said I could share them with you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Time to Dream

Up to there with work, no time for blogging and hardly time for breathing...but it's a good busy.

For now, dreaming of a vacation getting closer, and a time when I will again take my heart home to a small lake with clear, cool water, mountain views, glorious sunsets, and the loon's call for music.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Make Mine Espresso - Hold the Coffee

Whatever your business, whether real estate, office supplies, or publishing, you can bet that your customers will be looking you up online before they talk to you or send an email. And even if you have an established relationship, they will still go online to satisfy their curiosity and compare you to others. Using technology has become almost second nature to many of us, and as natural as reading a newspaper or looking up a number in a phone book.

We also like to do things for ourselves, especially those of us who tend to be control freaks. (Who, me?) So it's natural to want to control the technology and have it do ever more tasks for us. A few years ago, email was amazing to us. A few years before that, if you were on the road and wanted to make a phone call, you had to pull over and find a phone booth. Is there anyone out there now who does not have a cell phone permanently attached to them, and likely as not reads email and surfs the Web on it?

Wherever you look, technology is changing the way we do business, the way we communicate, the way we spend our precious free time. For those of us who are avid readers, there's a new way to get a book: in a matter of minutes, printed just for us!

A few bookstores and colleges are testing the latest in on-demand book printing and selling. Able to produce any book out of hundreds of thousands in a database, The Espresso Book Machine makes it possible for you to have just the book you want…or the book you have written. At a bookstore in Vermont, an Espresso Machine has been used to print local author's books in short runs and for sale in the area. The machine that the store employees call "Lurch" has proven to be a great curiosity as well as the means for people to get those impossible-to-find titles and books that are in the public domain but rarely on bookstore shelves.

The Espresso Machine is a wonder to watch as it prints the cover and pages, trims and glues them together, and delivers a quality book in minutes. It was on the show floor at Book Expo America in New York and I watched with fascination as the various shiny metal parts moved deliberately around inside doing their book making. That's one of the fun parts – the machine has see-through sides!

Watch for it – there may be a different kind of Espresso Machine in a bookstore near you before long.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Best Part of My Job

It's the phone call – "They're perfect!" – when an author receives the first shipment of books. It's the photographs of the justifiably proud author holding the first copy out of the carton. Writing a book is hard work and takes longer than anyone thinks it will. To complete that, and then to actually publish the book, that's something to be very proud of.

Today I'm celebrating Tim Burrell's accomplishment. His book, Create a Great Deal: The Art of Real Estate Negotiating, is one of the best I've seen on the subject. It's well written and has an eye-catching cover thanks to the design skill of his wife, Judy Burrell. It's already received a very good review by Bernice Ross in Inman News on June 1, and endorsements from many of the top names in the business.

Tim knows a thing or two about marketing in addition to his formidable negotiation skills, and I expect this book will be a great success.

Yep, it's my favorite part.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Brain Fried, Body Weary…And Great Fun!

A week ago this time my brain was on overload, my body was screaming, "What the *#%! do you think you're doing?" and all I wanted was a quiet corner where I could just…be. It was the third day of Publishing University in New York City, that marathon event for independent publishers when experts of all sorts and subjects endeavor to stuff one more new idea into your head. And they do, because the lure of another fresh approach to the business of independent publishing is impossible to resist.

I was the happy and grateful recipient of a scholarship to this annual conference that precedes Book Expo America. (As if three days of book talk weren't enough, we then had the opportunity to become lost in the cavernous Javits Center and the second largest book event in the world.) What did I learn in those three days? I'm still sifting through my notes, still sorting business cards and session handouts. But there were two clear messages I brought back from New York.
  • First, no one is quite sure where the industry is going, but they are sure that ebooks and ebook readers will continue to be the fastest growing segment of publishing.
  • Second, that the people who are afraid of losing any printed book sales (by offering ebook versions, because of ebook sharing, and the like) will miss the enormous opportunities that exist when an industry is a state of change.
I'm not saying anyone should give up their copyrights, but we should also take a lesson from the music industry. People will always want to share things they like. People now pass books on to friends; why should we expect that they won't do the same with electronic versions? Some publishers complain because the second person doesn't buy a new book. Are they sure? There is some early evidence that people who download low-cost ebooks return to buy the printed version, either for themselves or as gifts.

After listening to presentations about ebooks and Google Book Search, I've concluded that it's really no different from any other business. You can either be a person who worries about getting every dollar you are entitled to, or you can be a person who first asks, "What can I do for this person? How can I best communicate with them? What can I tell them, how can I help?"

Which one do you think will end up with the healthier business and bank account?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Yikes! Another Early Morning

Where have I been for more than two months, you may ask? Clearly not keeping up with my blogging, that's for sure.

Well, I've been having to choose where to spend the same hours as you have each day and night, and recently my choice has been on client work and my own creative endeavors. For details on some of those, you could sign up for my monthly newsletter (hint, hint), KeyNotes, where I write each month about what's happening with the publishing business and the new books that are coming out. The April issue, especially, talks about the newest project that has clawed its way to the top of the priority list.

One other thing I've been doing is networking...a lot of it. At the beginning of April I went to one of those early morning networking events that I dread, but that I am usually glad I attended. Around here they are organized by the local chambers of commerce and draw 100+ people each time.

Have you ever been to one? It's a bit like speed dating. You start with breakfast at a table with 6 or 8 people, and as you eat you introduce yourself and your business, pass your cards around, and try to wake up enough to be coherent. After about half an hour the real fun begins. You move to a new table where each person has 90 seconds to do their elevator speech and pass their cards out. When everyone has had a go, you change tables and do it all again. Whew!

For a non-morning person this is not easy, especially since these shindigs generally start no later than 7:30 in the morning and usually require some travel time, too. But still I go a few times a year, as I did last month. With a stroke of good luck, I sat at a table for the breakfast part with a man who is a business coach and motivational speaker. I didn't realize it at the time, but when I talked about how people are publishing books as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition, he thought that was an intersting idea. I carry along a couple of books for visual aids (always a good idea in networking) - including Margaret Rome's Real Estate the Rome Way, of course.

A few days later John called and we met for coffee and conversation. Turns out he has been planning to write a series of short books, each focused on a success strategy - a perfect project for self-publishing. He's also a member of the Annapolis Motivational Speakers, a group of people in different professions but all with a motiviational speaking component. They invited me to come talk with them about publishing, so earlier this week I took myself, my laptop, and a collection of books to Annapolis for one of the most delightful events I've been to in a long time.

This amazing group has only been together for a short time, but they have created a network within their membership of friendship and encouragement. I've never felt so at ease with people I've just met, and the atmosphere was so warm and welcoming that I had nary a butterfly. They were an attentive, interactive, and appreciative audience. What more could you want? (If you are a motivational speaker in the Baltimore/Annapolis area, you should consider joining the group.)

Networking is a fact of life for all of us whether our business is real estate, retail, restaurants, or publishing. It isn't always convenient, but it is always necessary. And as in this case, you never know where a good lead will come from. Besides, you might just find a delightful group of people whom you would never have met otherwise!

Monday, February 23, 2009

When You Finally Know

You know how people ask children and teenagers, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always had answers back then – scientist, pilot, writer. But once I hit the age when you're supposed to have some direction, the choices were not so clear. And since then I've spent decades saying, "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up."

Margaret Rome signing Real Estate the Rome Way

The other night I realized that I finally DO know.
I want to be what I am now. I want to be the one setting up the signing table, schmoozing with the fans, and helping authors make that connection with their readers. I want to be the one with the camera, roaming the room and taking pictures as the author talks with customers and signs their books. I want to be the one they mention in the acknowledgments because I've helped them make a particular dream come true.

It's only taken mumbledy-teen years, but it finally happened. I know what I want to be when I grow up!

(I still don't want to actually grow up…but that's another story.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Girls' Night Out…Redefined!

That's what we're calling it. Sure there will be the usual "girl" things like fashions and makeup and cool stuff to buy. But salsa dancing? Belly dancing?! And how about learning to make the perfect Kir Royale cocktail? (Not sure what that is, but I know it has champagne in it and I intend to learn about it.) This all sounds a bit indulgent, especially for these days, but it truly is for a very good cause. The beneficiaries of the March 6 event will be the women who receive scholarships for post-secondary education from the Business Women's Network of Howard County, MD.

The scholarship purpose is what got me involved in helping with the fundraiser. Now more than ever, women need help to improve their education and skill, no matter where they are in life. What I especially like about the BWN scholarship is that it's open to women who have been out of school for years as well as those just graduating high school. I love hearing the stories of women who have taken it upon themselves to get more education even if they are single moms and working either full- or part-time. You know they will be the ones who not only reach their educational goals, but also the ones who will then give back to their community.

So here I am putting together a Silloway Press tote bag full of books and chocolate, all of which I'd like to have for myself, to donate as a raffle prize. It's just one of more than a dozen great donated gifts that will be on display and waiting for their winners. (Creating the description cards for the display of raffle gifts is also giving me good experience with my new software nemesis, InDesign, so that's a nice side benefit.)

For further diversion there will be several vendors with wares to tempt, including Crystal's Jewelry – hand crafted with fine silver and beads by a remarkable young woman – and Erika's Ceramics, hand made and original designs. I expect that between these two and the other fine vendors, I'll be leaving the event with a lighter wallet and some wonderful treasures.

You're wondering why I haven't stressed when and where? OK, here it is:

Friday, March 6, 2009 - 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Student Services Building, Howard Community College in Columbia, MD

Why not keep it simple and go to the BWN site right now and register? For only $45 you get heavy hors d'oeuvres, two glasses of wine, that Kir Royale, an opportunity to win some great gifts, door prizes, and plenty of fun and networking. And remember, it's for a great cause – education for women.

See you there!

Friday, February 13, 2009


I'm not a superstitious person. Black cats make me call, "Here, kitty, kitty." I walk under ladders if they are between me and where I'm going. Friday the 13th is no big deal – one of my nephews was born on a Friday the 13th and he's a great guy. No rabbit ever lost a foot for me. So why is there so much stuff hanging around my work area?

My talismans are all within view and easy reach as I work. There is comfort in their familiarity. Each piece has a reason for being here, even if it's only that I liked it at some time and just haven't gotten around to moving it since.

On my desk lamp alone there are:

  • One yellow sticky with two horoscopes I liked
  • a bit of ribbon in the burgundy, green, and gold colors I chose for my website, tied around the lamp pole with a "gold" skeleton key dangling from it and a blue jay feather stuck in the knot
  • a mini-cow with magnetic feet that keep it wrapped around the swing arm
  • a bendable skeleton about 5" long that I picked up at the Malice Domestic mystery convention a few years ago, also hanging from the swing arm
  • a small dream catcher that came with a donation solicitation
  • and a small plush elephant, also with magnetic feet, wraps himself (herself?) around the pole at its base.

On the other end of the desk, clustered around the phone, are the red lacquer cup that holds my fountain pens, the Cumberland Rum Flavoured Butter crock from Fortnum & Mason (souvenir of a 1973 trip to London) that holds pens and highlighters, the hand-thrown stoneware mug from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen store in Center Sandwich, NH. Nearby is one of my favorite gifts – an intricate wire mesh and glass bead rattle that looks like a sorceress' ice cream cone. Hand crafted and a gift from my best friend, it's always close at hand.

Don't worry – I'm not going to go into all the things that are near and in view but not on my desk – photos, quotes, magnets, etc. The point is that I don't think of myself as superstitious, yet I surround myself with familiar things throughout my workday. It's a human thing to want familiarity; I can imagine that early humans had favorite items – skins of animals they had killed, pointed stones, and other tools they crafted. How many of us had a favorite bear or blanket that went everywhere with us as toddlers? For that matter, how many have a favorite mug or a lucky shirt/tie/shoes/outfit that we wear to those important events?

What's the point? Just that we should be careful about laughing at the superstitions of other days and other people. We're rational, logical, modern people today, but the creatures who wondered at the magic and mystery of fire still live within us. I happen to think that's a good thing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That's My Bag

Many companies buy promotional items and gifts for clients, I know. I've often wondered whether they could track an increase in business back to the investment they made in magnets or calendars. And for a long time I've resisted buying anything more than business cards because I couldn't see the benefit.

But that has changed now. The trigger was a combination of two events that I wanted to support - both organizations are raising money for scholarships – but at the same time I wanted to promote by business. They both also have a silent auction. Ah ha! Finally I could see a reason to invest in a promotional item. But what?

The first criterion was it had to be something I would like to have myself. Second, it had to be of good quality. Third, it had to be something that people would actually use in a way that others would see. Fourth, it had to have a logical connection to my business. (There are wonderful key chains and calculators, but what do they have to do with books???). Oh, and it had to display my name clearly.

Thinking about those silent auctions I started with the idea of a basket for book lovers. Wait! Why not a Book Lover's Bag? Yes, that was it. A nice canvas bag with dark green handles to match my website, a pocket on the outside, and my logo on the pocket.

I picked them up today, and only wish I had done this sooner. They are just right. (Kira also approves, as you see.) And in a couple of weeks I'll be filling two of them with books for writers and readers, gourmet hot chocolate mix, a cozy lap robe, and a large bar of dark chocolate. (Didn't I say it had to be something I'd like to have?) They will go to raise money for the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Congress and the Business Women's Network of Howard County. I hope the people who win the auctions will enjoy the bags and their contents as I enjoy knowing I've helped deserving students of all ages get a college education.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Be Careful Out There...

...when you're playing in social media. You would think it is common sense, that by now everyone knows that (1) whatever you write and publish to the Internet can be seen by anyone, and that (2) it never, ever goes away.

In a stunning example of what NOT to do, a man from a high-end PR company, on his way to making a presentation to FedEx in Memphis, put a comment on Twitter that was insulting to Memphis! That little Tweet got the attention of employees and executives at FedEx, AND the chain of command at his employer. Anyone want to guess how long it will be before this guy is looking for a new job? Yeah, I'd say about as long as his flight back to New York.

You can read all about it on Peter Shankman's site here:

Another tip - if you're in business and haven't yet signed up with Shankman's HARO (Help A Reporter Out), it can be worth the few minutes it takes three times a day to read his emails. HARO aggregates reporter queries seeking experts or people who can comment on topics for books, articles, blogs, and TV. He classifies the queries by subject area - some are from big names (Good Morning America, Huffington Post, etc.), and some are on short deadline. I scan the summary lines to see if there's anything interesting or that could apply to someone I know. A couple of times a week I'll see something that isn't for me but might be a good opportunity for a client or friend, and those I forward.

Is it worth the time? I think so. In December I was interviewed for a podcast series on women entrepreneurs that will run beginning this year. Even if you're not looking for publicity, it's a fascinating peek into the range of subjects that people write about. Sign up here: Yes, it's free, and no, he doesn't spam.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One Man + Innovative Eyeglasses = A World of Difference

One of my reminders to myself for this year is to find a way to make a difference. I just read about a man who has quietly made a difference for tens of thousands of people around the world by giving them clear vision. (Washington Post story here.) Photo: Oxford University Site

Joshua Silver, an atomic physicist in Oxford, England, invented eyeglasses that can be adjusted on the spot to help either nearsighted or farsighted people see better. Admittedly ugly (think Woody Allen's worst), the glasses have round lenses that contain a thin sac. Hidden in the earpieces are plastic syringes filled with silicone oil and a pump to move the oil into the lenses. By turning a little dial on the earpiece, the wearer adds or subtracts the clear liquid until the focus is right. When the adjustment is right, the syringes are removed and the glasses are ready to go. Current cost? Just $19.

Silver's desire is to provide eyeglasses to more than a billion people with poor eyesight throughout the world. In many developing countries, few people have glasses because they don't have access to eye care professionals. And for those who can see an eye doctor, even fewer can afford glasses. Enter Joshua Silver's amazing glasses. So far, he has distributed some 30,000 pairs, and hopes to distribute a million pairs in India in the coming year.

The part I like best about this story is that a vision company offered to buy his technology years ago and dangled a "substantial" amount of money in front of him. But they would not assure him that they would use his patented technology to bring low-cost eyeglasses to the poor. He refused to sell.

There's a tailor in Ghana who couldn't work any more because he could not see to thread the needle on his sewing machine. He could not afford an optometrist or glasses. With Joshua Silver's glasses, he's seeing and sewing again.

Here's to Joshua Silver and his beautiful, ugly eyeglasses.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Resolutions? No! Reminders? Oh, Yeah!

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? If you do, how does it work for you? I'm one of those who gave up after years of fine resolutions and less than fine implementations. Now, when pressed for a resolution, my favorite is, "I resolve to include dark chocolate in my diet regularly." This meets the requirements of being something that is good for me – we all know that dark chocolate is healthy, right? – and being a goal I can easily attain.

For my writing, rather than make resolutions that don't have a chance ("I will write 500 words a day every day"), I prefer to list reminders – those things that I forget when deep in a project or feeling as if I haven't accomplished anything beyond being frustrated. Rather than "I will write every day" it will be "Do something for a writing project every day." That allows me to include writing a blog for Active Rain, finding articles in the newspaper, or clipping something from a Smithsonian magazine. Heck, it even counts if I only Tweet once on Twitter! It can also be networking with other business owners, visiting a museum or craft show with a friend, or drafting an article to contribute to the local business journal. All of it feeds into the writing and publishing.

A reminder can also be, "Stand up and walk away." I don't know about you, but I tend to keep after something that isn't working, whether it's a sentence or a software program, until I'm ready to use my laptop as a Frisbee®. Persistence is good – it's one of the characteristics that makes a successful real estate professional. Dogged head banging against brick walls is not good. So I have to remind myself to put space between me and the nemesis du jour so that some fresh air can blow through. There's always something else that needs attention.

"What can I do that makes a difference?" That's an important one. Is there anyone who doesn't want to make a difference, to feel that the world (or some small corner of it) is better for you having been here? This is one that can easily get lost in busyness, which is why it's on my reminder board. It doesn't have to be a big thing; sometimes all it takes is a phone call or a card that says, "I'm thinking of you."

One of the most important reminders is a question: "Am I still having fun?" Some days the answer is a growl, but I know that's situational and will pass. Other days it's a chair wiggle, a grin, and a flip of the head; that's good. If the answer ever comes back a flat, battleship gray "No," there will be changes ahead. Because it just isn't worth spending what little time we have doing something that saps the spirit.

Am I still having fun? Absolutely! And I hope that you can say the same all through the year ahead.