Sassy & Southern

What’s Holding You Back?

Posted in General on May 16th, 2011 by Casey Crow

Let’s say you’re a writer and you’ve been working on a new book. Is it close to being finished? Have you worked with a professional editor to smooth out the rough spots, clean up your grammar and fix the punctuation?

What’s holding you back from self-publishing it? Just asking because the sales statistics for self-published authors have skyrocketed.

According to Amazon, its peak shopping day for online sales was Dec. 14, and customers ordered more than 9.5 million items worldwide, “a record-breaking 110 items per second.”  Amazon did report that Kindle was the best-selling item and it sold more eBooks than printed books. Industry pundits estimate that 5.4 million Kindle units sold in 2010, but Amazon isn’t saying.

Apple sold about 10 million iPads in 2010 and DigiTimes reports that some of the companies that manufacture parts for Apple’s iPad are anticipating the company may ship 65 million of the tablet devices in 2011.

OK, so those are pretty impressive stats, but what does it really mean for writers?

I’ve been lucky to have published books. After the initial hoopla, nearly all marketing of my books by the publisher stopped. Why? My favorite (and most honest) editor told me a printed book has a shorter shelf life than a tomato and that too many books are out there that should never have been published.

Digital books have the shelf life of the Internet, which has been going strong for 20 years. Hold that thought — Gutenberg Project has been digitizing since the 1980s.

Plus, instead of relying upon a publisher to market your book to booksellers, you have iTunes and Amazon’s storefronts, not to mention Smashwords/Barnes & Noble/Borders as an outlet. Remember that statistic earlier about Amazon having more than 9.5 million sales worldwide on one day? That’s a lot of people looking at a site that could also feature your eBook.

Add to that an author’s royalty of 70 percent. Sure, you may decide to sell your book for only $2.99 but that means a royalty of $2, which is more than I get from most of my printed books.

I want to encourage you to consider the option. Self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma it had 10 years ago. There is quality work to be had at reasonable prices and the eBook can be read on desktop computers, eReaders, tablets, laptops, netbooks and even mobile phones.

And, with print-on-demand from many of the companies (Amazon is a great example) you can have printed copies of your book to have and hold and autograph and give away or sell.

What you need to do is edit your book, upload it to the various booksellers in the required format, and create an effective book marketing plan. Do you have a website? Do you have a blog? Are you using social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to your advantage? Do you have customer accounts at all the big retailers (iTunes, Amazon, B&N, Borders)?

Seriously, I’ve been there and the burden always falls upon the author to make sure the book is promoted. You can do this yourself and for free, or you can tap into a variety of professional sources who will help you. I used and recommend The Omnibus for assistance with copy editing, eBook formatting, website development and general advice. Find them online at

Creative Commons License
What’s Holding You Back by Madeline Sloane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike

Madeline Sloane is a writer with more than 20 years experience in journalism. In addition to fiction, she writes regional history books. Her educational background is in Anthropology and she is an adjunct instructor at a private, liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

She’s working on several new books, each with a connection to Eaton, a small, fictitious Pennsylvania town she created as a backdrop for her novels.

Many of her stories include an element of her passions – archaeology, history, travel and sailing. Many of her characters have some experience on the water, sailing, kayaking or canoeing. She spends a lot of time researching, which includes reading about boats, doodling boat designs, going to boat shows and chandleries, or just standing at the water’s edge dreaming.

Of course, most of her books also feature exciting and exotic cities which her heroines (and their lovers) tour during the course of their romantic journey. Travel with the women and men of Eaton as they explore the world, and themselves, in the Eaton Romance Series.


There and Back Again. A Hobbit’s Tale…

Posted in General on May 9th, 2011 by Casey Crow

Casey’s note:  This is first-hand account of surviving the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, tornados. I am honored that University of Alabama student Randy Robbins has agreed to share his inspiring story with us.  

There and Back Again. A Hobbit’s Tale…

 [4/27/2011]- please take this with a sense of humor and recognize God’s influence.
by Randy Robbins on Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 1:00pm
This is my experience during the tornado that swept through Alberta and Tuscaloosa in as much detail as I can muster with the medication I am on. I need to put this down for therapeutic reasons and for others to read because I can’t keep re-telling this story. If you are to take anything away from this story it is two things: 1)God saved so many people that day including me and 2)disasters bring out the absolute best in some people…and the absolute worst in others. I am going to write down the events exactly as I remember them while I still can. I will add details that I have gathered from accounts by my neighbor and judging from materials stuck inside my body. I would also like to point out that any person I don’t reference by name (such as neighbor) I had not really met before. Here goes:
At roughly 4pm on April 27, 2011, I was sitting in FI 414 class listening to presentation on industries and the severe weather alarms went off and the University cancelled classes for the rest of the day. I considered staying on campus, but I saw everyone else leaving and decided I would be fine going to my apartment (face palm). This is probably my biggest regret of my life purely for the fact that I let the actions of others sway my opinion and nearly kill me. I walked to my truck that was parked roughly a mile away near the Coliseum. I knew we were in for a storm when the wind knocked my backpack off my shoulder halfway there. I made it to my truck and drove to my apartment that was located at the intersection of University Blvd. and 25th Avenue East in Alberta City, AL. During my drive, I received several texts from both my older and younger sisters warning me that some severe storms were heading to my area. Naturally, I discounted them as hysteria and paranoia and continued on my merry way. I got to my apartment at roughly 4:30pm and popped a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner. I turned on my computer and pulled up my assignments for the night. As I began working through my homework, I got some more texts from friends warning me of the weather. I assured them all that I would be perfectly safe in my sturdy apartment. The timer for the pizza went off so I got it out of the oven and took two slices to my room. I hadn’t eaten much for lunch so I was ravenous. I ate nearly the entire pizza. This small detail probably saved my life. More on that later.
The power in my apartment went out at roughly 5pm and so I opened the shades on my window to read and look outside. I noticed the trees behind my apartment swaying at a steep angle. Then I decided I should probably close all windows and doors. I did so. Just then my buddy Sean Philips texted me that I should find cover. I was coming up with a clever retort about how paranoid he is being when my ears popped really hard and I heard what sounded like a train outside my window. I had watched enough news to know this meant a tornado. I jumped into my closet and slammed the door shut. I felt the whole building shaking so I grabbed the door knob and held it shut with all my strength. Then I heard tearing and ripping noises which had to be my back wall tearing away. At this point, I wanna point out that if any of these events had occurred slightly differently or in a different order, I would have been buried. Anyway, the back wall tore away from the building and the door to my closet began shaking open and I kept pulling it back closed. After a couple seconds of this struggle, the door and I were sucked out of the closet and through the back wall. I never rose more than a couple feet off the ground but, judging from memories of where things were, I flew about 40 feet total. The winds flung me from the back wall into the chain link fence 10-15 feet behind my apartment with enough force to leave bruises of the chain links in my side. It then flung me back into some piles of rubble where I was then rolled around on the ground for about 15 seconds before it subsided slightly. I looked up from my prone position and I was lying on tile floor and I could see my neighbor lying on top of her baby trying to shield her. I also heard myself screaming and realized I had been screaming the entire time but hadn’t noticed.
 The winds were beginning to pick up again so I ran over to my neighbor and threw myself on top of them to try and shield them. Somewhere along the way I stepped on a piece of wood with enough force to shove a 3-inch piece through the bottom of my foot. Please take note, this was not an act of heroism, but desparation. As far as my concussed mind could think, I truly believed during that split second that we three were the only beings left in a world that had dissolved around us. I acted to try and preserve the only other people left in this Hell so I wouldn’t be alone if I survived. I laid on top of her and immediately the winds picked up again. I was bombarded with (judging from wounds and what is still imbedded in my back at the time of this writing) glass, roofing shingles, pieces of wood, and a Bic pen. LOL. I know this for sure because I pulled it out of my side when I stood up. The storm finally dissipated after roughly 10-20 seconds and slowly stood up. Due to adrenaline and shock, I did not notice any of the injuries I suffered. However, I did notice that I could barely hear anything and my ears were bleeding from the pressure of the storm (the earlier popping that alerted me of the tornado). Everyone’s ears were. The poor baby’s ears were pouring blood. At this point, I surveyed my body. My jeans, watch, glasses, and shirt had been ripped from my body.Somehow, I was still holding my iPhone in my right hand. Just then a call came through. It was my older sister, Christina. I could only stare at it in disbelief before answering. I don’t remember our conversation, but she later relayed it to me. Here it is as she remembers it: 
Christy: Randy??? Randy???
Me: Kiki! My apartment; it’s gone. The baby is bleeding. I lost my glasses. My foot is bleeding bad. There are people stuck. I have to go.
I then hung up the phone because people were screaming from within piles of rubble. I limped over to the nearest pile where one of my neighbor’s head was sticking out from beneath a section of roof. I pulled off a couple small pieces of wood before collapsing. I think I blacked out for a couple seconds. Next thing I remember, he is digging himself out. He comes to check on me and almost slips in the puddle of blood and water at my feet. He tears off his shirt and ties it around my foot (I had no shoes or socks on before it hit). He helps me stand and we look around at the damage. I see my childhood friend Austin and his girlfriend Mary and their dog that live six doors down from me. They are standing in their bathroom. I yell to them and then begin trying to crawl out. At some point I believe a neighbor (maybe Mary) throws me a woman’s loafer which I put on my left foot to protect it. It was a left shoe that was about 2 sizes too small but I barely noticed. I can’t walk because of my foot so i throw some sections of my couch across the short wall of sharp debri between me and what’s left of the parking lot and begin crawling on my hands and knees across. Due to the composition and layout of the debris, I am forced to crawl on my belly under my truck to get out (it was then parked in my living room and totalled).
I finally reach the parking lot covered in blood, dirt, oil, and sheetrock dust. I lend a neighbor my phone and then I spot my friend and neighbor, Brandon and hobble to him to check him out. Amazingly, he is unhurt. We both hear someone yelling that another storm is about to touch down in the area so we immediately take off to find shelter. I lose track of everyone else. Austin and Mary help dig out some neighbors. Brandon lends me his shoulder and we begin walking (me hopping) to the Piggly Wiggly down the street. We hear that they are not letting people in so we detour to the local Save-A-Lot and ask the manager if he is letting people in. He lets us in. I sit on the nearest checkout station while Brandon runs to find first aid supplies. He finds peroxide, paper towels, and scotch tape. I use what little Spanish I know to try to cheer up a small hispanic child that was crying near me. I begin to feel very faint from blood loss so I start chugging as much Gatorade as possible to keep blood sugar up so I don’t pass out. The pizza I ate earlier also probably kept me awake and alive. Brandon begins cleaning and wrapping my foot. We then see that there is still wood sticking out. We wrap paper towels and tape over it to try to stop the blood loss.
I then begin to feel a slight itchy, burning sensation on my back so I asked him to take a look. He says that I have a few cuts on my back. I’m glad he didn’t tell me the extent to which it was messed up. We stay in the store and wait for the next tornado to touch down. I sit on a rolling cart so that Brandon could quickly wheel me to the back if it came. We were all getting ready to run to the back and lock ourselves inside the freezer. I tell Brandon to gather some food and water in case we are trapped inside the store. I feel prepared, so I try to slow breathing and heart rate to slow blood flow. Some time later (I began losing track of time and events) we see people run into the bank to steal money and cops arrest them. This pissess us all off for obvious reasons. Brandon and I walk (and hop) up to the Texaco because we hear they have set up a triage center there. We get there and they turn us away so we go back to the store. I am exhausted from blood loss and hopping everywhere. I should point out that I am hopping down the street wearing only my silver cross necklace and boxers and the homemade bandages on my foot. It’s funny now, not so much then.
 We stay in the store for a while. A woman who was in the store earlier comes running back and leads a cop to where I’m lying. I owe her and Brandon both my life. I would have bled out within a couple hours if that cop hadn’t found me. He calls in a truck and I jump in the back and they drive me to the hospital. I ask for pen in the bed of the truck so I can write my name and medical info and mom’s phone number on my body in case I pass out again and can’t talk to nurses. We get to the hospital and I am assigned a radomized name for legal reasons (Raja Ed Downtime). I ask over and over again for them to call my mom to check on Jessica because she is home alone in Homewood and I heard a storm passed by there.
I will never forget the nurse who helped me, Nurse Jackie. She checked up on me throughout my X-Rays and CT scans and stitches over the next 6-8 hours. I felt like I was her only patient although she likely had scores of them at this time. I plan on thanking her personally as soon as I can travel.
This is where the story ends. I am just one person among hundreds, possibly thousands of people hurt in a city where neighbors and strangers alike risked their own lives to save each other. I tried to help who I could any way I could and I owe my life to many others. Thank you, Nurse Jackie for consoling me while I was alone for those many hours. Thank you, Brandon for lending me a friendly shoulder and thinking only of others. Thank you, Lady from Save-A-Lot for finding me a ride to the hospital. Thank you, Mom for forcing Delta airlines to let you off of a plane preparing to take off. Thank you, Jimmy and Jessica for looking throughout hospital (and morgue) for me for hours before finding me. Thank you to the men and women of the National Guard, fire departments, and police departments around the state. Many of us wouldn’t have made it without yall. And, of course, thank you, GOD. Even as the clothes and material possessions were ripped from my body, your symbol stayed fimly around my neck and in my heart.    
It is long, but I can already feel a massive weight lifted from my chest. This note has done its job. If you are reading this, you are my friend and share the honor of calling me “pal”.  ;)

Reprinted in its entirety by Casey Crow with expressed permission by Randy Robbins. May 7, 2011.

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Plotter VS Pantser

Posted in General on May 3rd, 2011 by Casey Crow

Are you a Plotter or Pantser?

Ever wonder where authors get their inspiration? Everywhere! Movies, crazy relatives, intriguing friends, songs, dreams – you name it. The trick is turning that flicker of an idea into 300 pages. My category DANCE WITH A MILLIONAIRE came out of the rare occasion where I remembered a dream. I woke up and having no knowledge of the writing industry, sat down at my computer and typed as much as I could about my heroine, my hero, the plot, and whatever else came to mind. It created a snowball effect. The faster my fingers moved across the keyboard, the more ideas flowed. Pretty soon I had the basis for my first manuscript.

I didn’t know it at the time – because as I’ve said, I failed to do any research about writing, but turns out I was somewhere between a plotter and pantser, with the scale dipping toward the plotter side. I wrote the basic outline, but needed to fly into the midst to come up with the remaining pages. Using a combination seemed to work for me and I used it for my second project. HUSTLER’S DREAM required a timeline as the heroine is a professional pool player traveling the competitive circuit. Following a necessary calendar perfectly accommodated my planner side, but I had to stretch the imagination and dig into my left brain to come up with the emotional character development and secondary plot lines.

In the very unscientific pole I’ve taken, most writers are like me – somewhere in the middle. Others are extreme plotters – detailing outlines before they even begin to write. While some, like RWA Hall of Famer and multiple RITA winner Jo Beverly simply flip open their laptops and go to town. The good news is there is no correct method. Find what works best for you and don’t be afraid to try different methods. For example, I decided to use more of the pantser method for my current WIP, which is the sequel to HUSTLER’S DREAM. I wanted to dip the scale in the other direction and see how it would go. Uh…not so good. This being a sequel, the characteristics of the herione were pretty much already there. I also had a premise and that was pretty much it. I have to be honest though, I made it about half-way through the manuscript using a complete pantser method and hated the process. I kept getting stuck, which ultimately led me to finding other things to do (i.e. fold clothes, iron, Facebook – you get the idea). Months later, I was stuck with an unfinished book. Finally, I got my rear in gear and created an outline, planning the remaining chapters. Now, as I write, I’m writing toward a scene – a goal. (I usually write in scenes instead of pages or word counts, but that’s a subject for a whole other blog!)

It’s been much easier to not sit in front of the computer everyday and stare, terrified, at an empty white page, having no idea what to say. Oh, there are times I’m not sure HOW to say something, but at least I now know WHAT I’ve got to say in order to get where I want to go. I’m proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort level and trying a new method, but I’m more proud for having enough sense to stop struggling and go with what works for me – a mix of the two leaning more toward planning. It’s exciting because this provides a sense of structure while also allowing room for the imagination to run wild so if my heroine ends up with the wrong twin brother, that’s okay!

Let me hear your stories. Are you a plotter or pantser? Have you tried both methods and lived to tell the tale or do you always straddle the fence with great success? Or maybe not, but we’ll keep writing for the love of it!

Casey’s Note: This blog first appeared at www.thebookvixen and later at but I thought since I wrote it, it ought to be on my site too! Hope you enjoyed it. 


Time Management for Writers

Posted in General on April 28th, 2011 by Casey Crow

One of the primary questions I am asked by aspiring authors is “where do you find time to write?” Most people already know that the answer is you don’t have time, you make time. But making time to write in what feels like an already crammed schedule isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Unless you try counting.

Let me explain.

It is a scientific fact that whenever you start counting the number of times you do a certain behavior, that behavior will either increase or decrease in frequency depending on what you want it to do. So one way to track how often you are doing a behavior is to count it.

Let’s say you have a suspicion that time spent on social networking sites is eating into time that you could be writing instead. How can you tell for sure? Get out a pen and paper and start counting how many hours you spend each day on social sites. One person in my writing classes did this and discovered she was spending 3 hours a day on social networking sites, and this was after working a day job! And she wondered why she never had time to write!

This can be done for anything activity that you want to eliminate, compress, or delegate in order to make time to write: tv watching, checking your email, internet surfing (under the guise of *research*), talking on the phone, going shopping, checking for loose change beneath the sofa cushions, and so forth.

An easy way to find out where you can shoehorn writing into any schedule, no matter how busy, is to use what I call the 24-Hour Time Budget™. It’s simple. Simply track every minute of your day for a few days; I suggest a typical weekday and weekend day for starters. This exercise is similar to writing down every penny you spend in order to get a handle on where your money is going; the goal is for you to see where you are “spending” your time in order to wedge in some writing. After a few days, you’ll have an overview of where the bulk of your time is going. Then you can scrutinize the budget to see where you can eliminate, compress, rearrange, or delegate some activities and fit in writing time, instead.

Don’t be surprised if you find, like my former student, that you spend a lot more time in non-essential activities than you thought you did. (The average person watches more than 4 hours of television a night.) Just lop off some hours on the social networking sites and focus on your WIP instead.

Leave a comment letting me know where you discovered you’re spending all your time, and be entered into a drawing to win a TIME TO WRITE lecture packet.


Kelly L. Stone’s ( novel, GRAVE SECRET (Mundania Press, September 2007) was called “powerful” and “well written” by RT Book Reviews. She is the author TIME TO WRITE, THINKING WRITE, and her latest book for writers is LIVING WRITE: The Secret to Bringing Your Craft Into Your Daily Life (Adams Media, September 2010). 


Blogging for Grace Elliot Today

Posted in General on April 26th, 2011 by Casey Crow

Hi everyone! Come see me today over at talking about Second Chances. Please stop by!

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Variety: The Upside to ADD

Posted in General on April 21st, 2011 by Casey Crow

Welcome erotic and Paranormal author Michele Zurlo! Take it away Michele…
I like variety. I’m one of those people who welcomes most changes with open arms. In thirteen years of teaching, I’ve voluntarily changed my teaching assignment (subject area and grade level) four times. I’ve been known to do things just because I felt like it. Impulsivity often works for me, mostly because my short attention span helps me to forget when it doesn’t. Once, I wanted to make a quilt once, so I learned to sew. I made the entire thing by hand because I didn’t have a sewing machine. When I got a new laptop with no games on it, I decided to write a novel. I wrote a vampire story that later turned into Tomorrow Cries, a sweet paranormal romance.

Yes, I’m impulsive. A doctor or a shrink might label me as ADD, a label whose connotations I reject. If I have trouble paying attention, the topic must not be that interesting. I did well in school and I have a Master’s degree in Literacy from Michigan State. I’m a teacher, and my students tend to like the fact I can’t stand doing the same thing day after day.

While I wrestled with Tomorrow Cries, I read my first erotic romance novel. It was a free download on my Kindle. I’m a veteran of the romance genre, having discovered Johanna Lindsay in seventh grade, but I’d never seen anything that explicit. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I thought, “I can write better than that.” A few months later, I had the first draft of Letting Go. That ended up being my first published novel.

The next book in the Awakenings series, Hanging On, took on the issue of the lasting repercussions of a traumatic event. I dislike perfect heroines because I know they’re underdeveloped. Nobody is perfect. When you love someone, you often love their flaws. I also experimented a bit with ménage, mostly because I wanted to explore what it would be like to write an erotic scene involving more than two people.

After that, I switched back to paranormal and tried out having a supernatural villain in Irrepressible Force. In keeping with that theme, I published the first of my Daughters of Circe trilogy, Torment. This series centers around a series of soul mates who must find one another in lifetime after lifetime, but only one of them remembers they even have a soul mate. The second and third in that trilogy, Desiree and Riley, come out this summer. All of my heroes and heroines deal with this difficult and painful experience in their own ways. Both Desiree and Riley end up in foursomes, so they’re my first two forays into ménage a quatre. They also both present interracial relationships. Desiree is African-American and one of the heroes in Riley is as well.

Late last year, I returned to the Awakenings series with Two Masters for Samantha. That was just a fun read. I had no moral dilemma on my agenda or real emotional strife to explore. I used it as a chance to look at the unrealistic extremes presented in much BDSM literature, a fantasy story wearing a contemporary disguise. It was the easiest novel to write so far. I poured it out in three weeks as I avoided working on some papers for a post-graduate class I took. Then I tried my hand at romantic suspense with Crimes of the Heart.

My latest release, Time to Pretend, took the longest to write. I wrestled with it for nearly a year because Daniel was so flipping stubborn. I almost gave it up, but several readers sent emails asking for Daniel’s story, so I kept at it. Once I found out about him and Evan, things flowed much better. That discovery made it much easier to put myself in Alaina’s place. Daniel’s reluctance to face his love for another man would make me sad, not angry. I thought Alaina should be supportive. I thought she was the type of woman who would encourage Daniel to accept himself. It’s hard enough to come out of the closet. It’s impossible to be happy without the understanding and support of those closest to you. I delve into some pretty deep emotional issues here, and I hope you all fall for Alaina, Evan, and Daniel as much as I did.

I like to read about different kinds of people and I become bored when plots or characters seem a little too like others from the same author. I’ve deleted the starts to several novels because one of the characters or the plot echoed another too heavily. I recognize that qualities I admire in a person—pieces of me—will always bleed through, but I strive to make everyone as unique as I can. Many people have commented on the depth and layers of my characters. I have to make them deep or they won’t hold my attention.

Right now, I have several stories going. I’m always working on two or three manuscripts and I’m always reading two or three novels. Ideas, situations, character analysis, scenes, and dialogue flow for me when I do this. I guess that’s the upside to ADD—a mind that never stops working.



Healthy Habits: Eating Right

Posted in General on April 18th, 2011 by Casey Crow

Feeling sluggish and out of sorts? There’s a reason for that people, and you can not use the “monthly visitor” excuse either. Your tiredness is simply a combination of what life is throwing at you – stress at work, running kids to every activity known to man, poor diet, skipping the gym, and we mustn’t forget the oh so thrilling joy of maintaining romantic relationships in the midst of all the chaos. So how do you solve this feeling of well, it’s not depression, but for some, it could lead to it. It’s more a feeling of give-and-take, with you giving 95% of yourself to everyone else and receiving a whoppin’ 5% in return for everything you do. In essence, you’ve lost a sense of yourself – your identity.

Finding yourself begins just like anything else – baby steps. You are not going to change overnight, so that’s once less thing to stress about and wha-la, one less zit or wrinkle. First, get your bootay off the couch (no matter how good you think you are at guessing the right answer on HGTV’s House Hunters) and hit the gym. If you aren’t a member of one – jump around to GAC or the radio or better yet, talk a walk outside. The fresh air will revive you. Next, watch your diet. Balance and moderation are the keys here. If you want a cookie, eat it. Otherwise, you’ll end up eating more in an effort to satisfy your cookie substitution. Just balance the sweet out with something healthy, like a salad, preferably organic lettuce, too. Too much processed sugar makes you weak and feeds cancer cells so counter act it with veggies. Try to make it a point to eat at least one healthy everyday and remember to hit all the groups on the food pyramid, specifically protein, fruits, and vegetables. Pretty soon, it will be become a habit and you and increase the healthy meals and decrease the junk food. But, if there is one tip to offer up, it’s WATER. To reiterate, WATER! This author should own stock in Dasani. Water flushes out the gunk for those who like junk (back to those cookies). You may not care for drinking it with meals, but always have some along side whatever else you’re drinking. That way, when you get thirsty, take a sip of water first, then the wine, soda, or tea. You will be amazed how that one little thing cuts down on calories. Plus, keep a bottle or glass beside you throughout the day to sip on.

In the next installment, we’ll talk more about exercise, but for now, what healthy eating habits to you practice?


What Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, and the Winklevoss Twins Can Teach You About Publishing Contracts

Posted in General on April 13th, 2011 by Guest


Thank you very much for having me to blog today. My name is Jeff Mehalic, and I have a law practice in Charleston, West Virginia and will soon be opening an office in New York. In addition to my litigation practice, I also negotiate on behalf of writers and authors, and represent them in disputes arising from their contracts. I have a blog called The Write Lawyer, which may be of interest to readers here, and another called the West Virginia Business Litigation blog.

Before I talk about why you need to know and understand what’s in your publishing contract, let me add a disclaimer. My opinions here are general in nature and should not be interpreted as legal advice for any particular situation. Any recommendations or advice would depend on the specific facts.

As a writer or author, perhaps the most important document you will work with — after your manuscript — is your publishing contract. I’m sure each of you knows someone — hopefully not you — who has signed a publishing contract without consulting an agent or lawyer and been taken advantage of in the process.

Let me give you three recent examples where sophisticated and experienced parties entered into contracts or other agreements that came back to haunt them, and in two of the examples, caused substantial financial or professional harm.

The first example involves Conan O’Brien, who was involved in a widely publicized separation from NBC last year, after it decided to move The Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. from its traditional starting time of 11:30 p.m. During O’Brien’s negotiations with NBC, in which he opposed any effort to move the start time of the program so that Jay Leno’s program (The Jay Leno Show) could take over the slot, his reps discovered that his contract with NBC did not provide for time-slot protection, meaning that NBC could air the show at whatever time it chose (within reason — it probably couldn’t air The Tonight Show in the middle of the afternoon opposite Oprah or Dr. Phil), and wasn’t obligated to air the show at 11:30, even though that was the time it had always aired, at least since Johnny Carson took over from Jack Paar in the early 1960s.

Without time-slot protection, O’Brien had little in the way of leverage to negotiate with NBC. The obvious question is why didn’t O’Brien’s transactional lawyers — who negotiated his contract with NBC when NBC agreed to give him The Tonight Show in 2009 — ensure that The Tonight Show’s time slot at 11:35 p.m. was guaranteed in his contract? Without knowing for sure, my best guess is they thought he didn’t need it. Who would think that NBC would be willing to move a show from the time that it’s been aired for more than 40 years?

But you know who had a time-slot protection provision in his contract with NBC? Jay Leno. And he’s also the subject of my second example. Most entertainment contracts have a “pay or play” provision, which means that management, such as a studio, network, or television station, has to let the talent work or, if management doesn’t want the talent to work, to pay him or her anyway. But, as NBC discovered to its dismay, Leno’s contract had a “pay and play” provision, which meant that NBC had to let Leno work; it didn’t have the option of taking him off the air and then paying him under his contract.

That provision complicated NBC’s negotiations with O’Brien, because it meant that NBC couldn’t cancel The Jay Leno Show, and find something else for Leno to do or pay him until his contract expired. Leno’s “pay and play” provision, coupled with the absence of time-slot protection in O’Brien’s contract, were largely responsible for the turn of events that led to O’Brien leaving NBC in January 2010.

The third example is one that was concluded — apparently — a couple of days ago, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss in their effort to undo their settlement with Mark Zuckerberg over the creation of Facebook.

Here’s a story from The New York Times from the end of last year that described the Winklevosses’ history with Zuckerberg and what was at stake in the litigation. Essentially, the Winklevosses claimed that the settlement they reached with Zuckerberg turned out not to be worth nearly as much as they believed, in that they thought a share of Facebook stock was worth $39.50, when in actuality each share was worth $8.88. Considering that the Winklevosses had received 1.25 million shares of Facebook stock as a settlement, the difference in the stock’s valuation was huge.

But in Facebook, Inc. v. Pacific Northwest Software, Inc., 2011 WL 1346951 (9th Cir. 2011), the appeals court disagreed with the Winklevosses, and placed the burden on them to have ensured that they received what they had negotiated:

The Winklevosses are sophisticated parties who were locked in a contentious struggle over ownership rights in one of the world’s fastest-growing companies. They engaged in discovery, which gave them access to a good deal of information about their opponents. They brought half-a-dozen lawyers to the mediation. Howard Winklevoss—father of Cameron and Tyler, former accounting professor at Wharton School of Business and an expert in valuation—also participated. A party seeking to rescind a settlement agreement by claiming a  [Securities and Exchange Commission] Rule 10b–5 violation under these circumstances faces a steep uphill battle.

The court concluded its opinion with this summary of the Winklevosses’ predicament and explained why they weren’t entitled to relief:

The Winklevosses are not the first parties bested by a competitor who then seek to gain through litigation what they were unable to achieve in the marketplace. And the courts might have obliged, had the Winklevosses not settled their dispute and signed a release of all claims against Facebook. With the help of a team of lawyers and a financial advisor, they made a deal that appears quite favorable in light of recent market activity. See Geoffrey A. Fowler & Liz Rappaport, Facebook Deal Raises $1 Billion, Wall St. J., Jan. 22, 2011, at B4 (reporting that investors valued Facebook at $50 billion—3.33 times the value the Winklevosses claim they thought Facebook’s shares were worth at the mediation). For whatever reason, they now want to back out. Like the district court, we see no basis for allowing them to do so. At some point, litigation must come to an end. That point has now been reached.

What lessons do these three situations teach? First, make sure that you have representation, whether with an agent or a lawyer. The publishing company will be represented, and the contract you’re offered has been drafted and reviewed on multiple occasions by lawyers. You will always be at a disadvantage if the other side is represented and you are not.

The next lesson is to make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to. If you have an agent or lawyer and you have a questions about the contract language or a particular provision in the contract, ask what it means and why it’s there. Remember that what one provision may give, another provision may alter or modify. The contract has to be read and understood in its entirety, not as a collection of separate clauses.

The third lesson is that everything in a contract is negotiable. That doesn’t mean you’ll get your way on every provision; you won’t, especially if you’re trying to do it yourself. But an agent or lawyer who deals with publishing contracts on a regular basis will know what you can successfully negotiate and how far the publisher can be pushed. On some items, there’s no leeway at all. But you won’t know unless you ask.

And finally, don’t let your desire or enthusiasm to be a published author override your professional well-being. If you can’t reach an agreement with a publisher on the terms of a contract, you will be better off to walk away and pursue publication elsewhere than to obligate yourself to a contract that is heavily weighted in the publisher’s favor.

Casey, thanks again for having me, and I will be happy to answer questions and comments.


Be A Beacon

Posted in General on April 11th, 2011 by Casey Crow

Do you know what leadership is or the definition of a leader? A leader is NOT “the boss.” It is someone who encourages or motivates people to reach a goal or vision. A goal is something that you really, really want to achieve, but in order to reach the big picture or long range goals, you must first set short term goals. Think of this as a journey toward the destination and that’s where we learn, mature, develop, sacrifice, and often have fun. 

The past few decades have seen major changes in the style of leadership from that of a “boss” to that of a “server.” Today’s leaders are no longer at the head of the pack, but pushing from behind. They passionately work toward motivating group efforts into achieving one common goal. Unfortunately, that goal may not jive with your personal wishes, but what’s best for the overall good. Most importantly, the most effective way to lead is to serve.

Back in my Miss Alabama days, I created a children’s motivation program entitled GOALS. It was an anachronym for “Giving Others Awesome Leadership Skills.” I firmly believe that if parents and teachers teach leadership skills to children at a young age, then by the time they reach their teen and adult years, they will have the confidence and self-esteem to stand up for what they believe in and do what is right. Using props, I taught elementary students five leadership skills that I now want to share with you.  Bear in mind, it’s never too late to start “servant leading!”

I use a mnemonic device to make it easier to remember the leadership qualities: God Takes Perfect Care. The “GO” in God stands for Goal Oriented, while the “D” means Determination. The “T” in Takes is Time Management. The “P” in Perfect, persistence and the “C” in Care, compassion.

Goal oriented means staying focused on an ambition or working really hard to make a dream come true. It requires a vision or dream, but you also must be realistic. Start out with small goals and once you reach that, work toward bigger and better goals. Just remember to take one step at a time. Scholars seem to think that this is the most important trait of a leader. After all, Theodore Hesburgh said that “the very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision.”

The second skill is determination, which is dedication to a goal. Basically, it means hard work. I would always show an old, raggedly pair of ballet shoes to prove that success does not happen without practice. My motto is “In this world of give-and-take, you must be willing to give what it takes.”

The third quality is time management. This means organizing the hours in a day to be able have time to do everything you need or want to do. It starts with making a list and setting priorities so that the important items get done first. Break out those calendars, appointment books, and cell phones that beep when you have something to do because it’s mighty easy to get side-tracked.

The next characteristic is persistence – never giving up on a dream. After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, a 1933 memo from the MGM testing said: “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” An expert said of famous football coach Vince Lombardi: “He possesses minimal football knowledge. Lacks motivation.” Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lacking ideas. He also went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. When you don’t reach your goals the first time, keep on trying and eventually you will succeed. It is my opinion that there are no limitations on ambition for those willing to work diligently toward their goals, and to understand that yes, it may take some hard work and dedication to reach those goals, but if you are willing to put forth the effort, you can and will succeed. My favorite bible verse sums it best. “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith develope perseverance.” 1 John 2-3.

Now, think of a megaphone. What’s the first thing you would do with it? Put it up to your mouth and yell, right? Wrong. If you put a megaphone up to your ear, it greatly enhances your hearing. That’s what compassion - listening to the opinions of others and then in combination with your own, forms a decision that benefits everybody. Compassion demonstrates caring and unselfishness. After all, people will follow only those who have compassion. That is what makes a true leader, someone who is a beacon – a guiding light – inspiring others to do his best.

If you tend to shy away from leadership roles, remember you can still be a very effective person simply by serving because that makes you an instant role model – and utlimately a leader without you trying! Here’s another way to get started. If you need help, reach out. Someone, somewhere, somehow will know how to help you. Remember your high school teacher saying, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Shared knowledge builds loyalty and trust. Remember GOD Takes Perfect Care so no matter who you are or what age you are, become a “leader” – a “guiding light.” Be a Beacon.







Blogging for Kelly L Stone Today

Posted in General on April 4th, 2011 by Casey Crow

Hi friends, I’m over at today talking about being a  Plotter vs. Pantser. Please stop by!

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