Thursday, September 25, 2014

Where we are now.

Now Playing -  Tonguetied by Grouplove
Life -  

Well, a lot has happened. Actually, since I last posted anything about our lives, a whole lifetime has happened, it seems like. Technically, the last time I posted anything about our life was back in January, when I laid out our plans for 2014. It's now... nearly 10 months later.

Long story short – We moved out of Maine, are living in the Rosewood House and are starting to get things on track for the holidays and get our family in gear for life.

Long story long... it was a tremendous challenge for us to get to where we are. Virtually everything that could go wrong, did. But virtually everything that could go disastrously wrong went okay for us, so there's that at least.

After a lot of work and research, we decided that the best thing we could do to get our family moved back to Idaho was to get Linz and the kids out there with the Element and most of our stuff, then I would fly back to Maine, do some home improvement stuff, sell the trailer and drive to Idaho in the Fit.

The first part went pretty smooth, though we ended up not leaving the state until later in the year than planned. The drive was nice, though long. Hating the idea of a week of interminable driving on interstates, we cut south and took Highway 50 most of the way, through West Virginia, the Midwest, over the mountains in Colorado and up through Utah to Idaho. If you are planning a trip cross country, I very highly recommend this route if you have the time. It takes an extra day or two, but it is so much more relaxed and has more character in fifty miles than 500 miles of interstate travel. We ate BBQ, wandered remote campsites and generally enjoyed ourselves as much as possible considering how much was left looming over our heads.
As for our stuff? That's a whole 'nother blog, my friends. We shipped it using Uhaul's U-Box service, where you load the box, they load it on a truck and deliver it to your nearest U-Haul. Something that, while slightly more expensive than towing a trailer is more than compensated for in convenience and gas money. Or it would have been if u-Haul hadn't lost our box, been unable to provide even a semblance of customer service on any end of the ordeal and finally delivered our shop products and house a week or so later. Ugh.

But we had our stuff, in a big pile in the in-law's garage, Linz and the kids were firmly installed in their basement, my mom was working on moving out and I flew back to Maine. Despite taking pretty good care of the trailer, it was a trailer all the same. Things degrade so fast in a mobile home and after a few years, there was a surprising amount of little things that needed repaired. Soft spots on floors, re-painting, replacing some damaged linoleum. At the same time, we ran our shops from two parts of the country.

If you ever have the opportunity to live 3,000 miles from your family in a super isolated location with no friends and try to run a shop from there and out in the other location at the same time, while dealing with money woes and home improvement, politely decline. It was terrible. I'm not planning on reliving it here, but suffice it to say that I experienced some of the darkest times and lowest creative ebbs of my life in that trailer.

Eventually, repairs complete and plans made, we convinced the lawnlords to buy our trailer where it was, so that they could rent it out and I wouldn't have to find someone to move it. The deal was not perfect, we'd end up owing an additional $2k on the trailer and we had to wait for the bank. Which, it seems, in Maine consists of conceiving and raising a person from birth to then sign the loan papers. It took forever. The whole time, I stewed in a nearly empty house, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, unsure of when I could actually leave.

The news of an approval finally came a scant hour before the bank closed in the middle of July. I'd already had my car loaded with the last of my gear, save a few essentials. As soon as I got the call, I hopped in the car, drove to town, signed over the trailer and left the state of Maine. Possibly forever.
The drive to Idaho wasn't quite as fun this time, despite taking the same general route. I was in a smaller car that wasn't quite as fun to drive for long distances and more vitally, it was stuffed FULL. It was so loaded that at one point I actually had to unload it and eliminate some heavier items because the body was dragging too close to the tires for safety. I could slightly recline my seat if nothing shifted, but sleeping was next to impossible and there were no funds for motel rooms. I pretty much loaded up audio books and podcasts and drove non-stop.

Once I got back to Pocatello, things started moving at warp speed. We helped finish moving my mom and brother out of the Rosewood House, threw our stuff in and started getting our poor neglected shop back up and running. Earlier in the year we had started attending comic cons and we wanted to continue that and Christmas would be here sooner than imaginable.

But we were back in our house. For the first time in a long time, possibly ever, we were living in a place that we planned to intentionally live for the next 5-10 years of our lives. No crazy plans running constantly about leaving, no half unpacked rooms in prep for a motel, none of that.

The house needs a lot of work. Foundation work, new roof, deep cleaning, new floor coverings, yard work galore, but it's our home. For better or worse, and we plan to make it better.

And I know I've said this before, but I'm hoping to start updating this blog regularly with our adventures again. I'm likely re-directing most of our other blogs to this one and condensing all of my interests here at the ROUS Motel. It might make for a more eclectic page, but it should be a livelier one too.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How To Sell On ETSY - Introduction

Now Playing -  Girl Is On My Mind by The Black Keys

For the last few years my wife and I have been selling our handmade d├ęcor and geeky stuff on Etsy, an online marketplace. What is the first thing people ask us when they find out that’s what we do for a living? Not “What’s the shop?” or “Ooh, what do you sell?” No, it’s almost invariably something like “I make things too… I should do that. How do I do that?” (Though sometimes it’s the variation – “I make things and would like you to sell them for me.”)

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t offended by these questions, not at all. We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living (mostly) from our arts and we want to do everything we can to help every person we know do the same. The only problem is the misconception about running your own business selling things you create yourself – it is INCREDIBLY TIME CONSUMING. Many people, when they hear you work from home for yourself assume you spend half the day surfing the net and the other half napping. In reality, the two of us spend well over 70-80 hours a week working on some aspect of our business and there’s constantly some little detail or project that is waiting impatiently for us to get to it. My average day starts with making a to-do list that usually runs to about 20-30 items, ranging from “Email about shipment” – a two minute job, to “Individually hand paint and heat treat the words Lumos and Nox on 150 switchplates” A job that can take 9 hours of constant work.

So in lieu of trying to help everyone that asks and not actually having the time to be much help, we decided a quick series of How-To blogs would be a great way to guide people down the path of creating their own online self-employed empire.

The plan is to post 4 blogs, each outlining a specific aspect of selling on Etsy and other online sources. However, I tend to babble and that may expand to a number of additional sub-blogs.

So if you don’t have the patience to read all of them and want to know the five most important things about selling on Etsy, here they are – 

 If you plan to make a living off of these products, you will end up making a ridiculous number of them and talking a lot about them with people. If you don’t like what you make or are just doing it because it will sell, not only will it become apparent that you aren’t passionate about it, but it won’t actually be any fun to do.

 Like, depressingly small. Most of your time will be spent writing, taking care of customers, dealing with problems, shipping things, taking photos and research.

 This is not an exaggeration at all, especially in the beginning. You will have to research everything – how to run the site, how to word the listing, what tags to use, what tags are, what others are selling, what they are selling for, etc, etc, etc. The second you get tired of researching and adapting, you stop being successful. The people that have asked for help from us immediately get a list of about a hundred things to go and research.

I’m not kidding here.

 It’s a waste of your time and will only lead to disappointment. There are currently over six hundred and forty thousand active shops on Etsy – that’s shops with items currently available for sale. There are more than a million registered shops and more than twenty five million items available for sale on Etsy right now. Even if you spend the time required to research every aspect of your shop, have a unique and innovative product and spend all the time you can to create an ideal shop and business, you may still never sell anything. It’s as simple as that. It took us two years and hundreds of items before we started building a following and found the right items for us. Some will find that faster, others never will. This is another reason why you need to make something you are passionate about. At least you will love what you make.

Good Luck.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Publishing Your Work Part One - The Basics

Now Playing -  Creepin' Up The Back Stairs by The Fratellis
Life -  
 Over the past few weeks I've had an unusual number of people ask me about resources for publishing their own work and I figured rather than cutting and pasting the response to everyone, I'd make a blog I could send people to.

Obviously, this is far from complete and I'm not going into extreme depth on most things in this blog, maybe later ones. This is just a list of essential steps for getting your creation into people's hands.

Step One

Write something. This is the obvious one and we'll assume you've written a novel, done a few drafts and figured it's ready to go. It's also important to note that this something should be written in a decent editing program. The more familiar you are with it and it's functions the easier and more professional everything will be. Word is great. OpenOffice also works. (And is Free )

Go back over it. Unfortunately, most aspiring authors can't afford professional editing or proofreading. If you know someone that can do it effectively, or is willing to do it on the cheap, cherish that person and never let them go. This is the first place we will spend real money on if we are ever making any of said money.

For any said novel, we typically write 2-3 drafts, do a thorough edit and proofread, then pass it off to the other person who does the same. Then we print it and do the same thing in paper form. And still miss things. Rules, odd spelling things, Simple mess-ups... Linz is especially bad with homonyms. There's nothing worse than publishing a book with english errors or spelling mistakes, but there's also only so much you can do without hiring a pro. Which will cost you. Hundreds, most likely.

On the bright side, most readers of your work will be aware that your book isn't from a major publisher and unless it's a particularly egregious error, are willing to cut you some slack. But do the best you can. In addition to the usual functions like spellcheck and grammar, we use a program called ProWritingAid. It's an online site that allows you to paste a block of text and it analyzes it a few dozen different ways. Overused words, phrases, spelling,  weird rules. It's really nice. You can also pay for it to be used as a widget in Word itself, which is really convenient and quite useful.

Step Two

Decide how you want people to read your book and where. The two major choices are physical books and as an eBook. (Naturally, you can post it online as a blog and what have you.... ) We like our novels to be available as both physical paperback novels and ebooks, but be warned, the physical copy is a LOT more work than making an ebook. For the purposes of this blog, We'll concentrate on making an ebook. Maybe I'll do a follow up on paperbacks. However, if you are interested, we use CreateSpace to make ours. It's run by Amazon, has full integration with them and most of their steps are really easy to follow. They run a print on demand service and you can order books yourself at cost.

As for where people can find your book, that's trickier. Realistically, the best way to reach the most people is to have your book on as many sites as humanly possible. That means publishing your book on, Barnes & Noble as well as sites like the Kobo store, Apple, etc.

However - Each of those stores require different formatting of the manuscript, separate accounts, different hoops and rings of fire to navigate. They even care about how you tab your manuscript and how many fonts you use.  You can publish on all of them and more however. It's just a lot of work.

There's another catch too., the obvious big daddy leader in eBooks thanks to the Kindle has a program with perks available to the author that chooses to e-pub exclusively through them. They let you run promotions, give away free books, discount books to people that own the physical copy, swell stuff like that.

We've tried it both ways and right now, we find that we get better exposure and results from being exclusive to Amazon than we did being on all of the sites. That may change as our bibliography expands and we can build a base of readers outside of the kindle, but for now we publish exclusively there. For those wondering, you can read Amazon books on other devices, it just takes a number of extra steps. I made a tutorial about it HERE. (Which is older and may be out of date.) I own a nook, and I can understand wanting to be on more than just Amazon. I'll get into the other sites at a later date. (Probably)

Step Three

Okay, so we are going to publish an eBook on, and not worry about the other sites and options. The first step is to go to and log in. You can use your sign in or create a new one for your publishing empire. KDP is the world of tools for the aspiring self-pubbed author. Not only does it get you the best exposure, the site is well laid out and walks you through things simply and intelligently (For the most part) I'll make another post later on the exact steps of publishing on KDP, but in all honesty, you probably don't need it. Just click on the yellow button labeled "Add new title" and start making a book!

If I were you, however, I would click on the Help button on the top of the page. When there, Click on, download and print the entire guide titled "Building Your Book For Kindle" not only will this walk you through each of the steps, it explains the trickier stuff, like spacing, tabs and tables of contents in a way that anyone can do it. It's a very nice guide that I still refer back to every time.

That alone should be enough to get your book into someone's digital reader. Not impossible, but it also looks misleadingly simple. There's a lot of little tricks and slang the process uses that can trip you up. Just remember to take your time and read the guides and help sections if you're stuck.

A Couple of Notes:

I would be terribly remiss if I didn't add a few things here that I think are incredibly important.

READ OTHER BOOKS. Lots of them. Pay attention to how they lay things out, the way the page looks. What the front pages look like before the story starts. Especially books in the same genre as your work.

HAVE A GOOD COVER. As an artist, I concentrate on this a lot more than other people, I'm sure, but it is vital. With the tremendous amount of ebooks available, you MUST have some way to stand out before anyone ever gets around to reading your plot synopsis. Sending people to buy your book is all well and good, but if you can't get Average Joe to buy it, you'll never become successful. If you aren't artistic at all, you can still make a decent cover. Pay attention to color and font. Look at lots of covers. Browse Amazon's listings for similar books and see what they do on theirs that makes them successful. Remember that the first time your cover is seen it's less than an inch tall. That's important to note - some covers become a jumble of ugly at thumbnail size.

If at all possible, don't go the generic "Colored background with white words" route. They scream amateur. I read over 200 books a year usually, about half are self pubbed or independent and I have never bought one with a cover like that.

At the same time, neveruse an image you found online unless you bought it for your use. Anything on the internet, whether it says so or not, is protected by copyright. There are some sites that offer images for use, but be sure to check and make sure it's okay to use for commercial matters. Some sites look like they have free images, but it's only if they're used for editorial or non-profit reasons. If all else fails, take a picture and add your title to your own photograph. That's relatively easy with free programs like PhotoScape.

Another option is to hire someone to create a cover for you. We do that on our site Octopress Books where we make custom covers and have started selling template covers that we can add your title and name to a pre-made design for a lower price than our fully custom covers. NOTE: I didn't write this blog to plug our cover services, but I couldn't write this and not mention it, could I? :)

Believe in what you write.

Both before and after publishing your novel, you have to love what you write and what you are doing. People online can be cruel or mindless and that can result in some harsh criticism. My suggestion is to ignore reviews completely if possible. Or have a trusted friend read them and forward ones that are positive, uplifting or genuinely useful. Don't ever let the haters stop you from writing and loving the process and result. Most authors hate their first works. But you have to keep writing and improving.  

(This post is being cross-posted to our other blogs, so I apologize if it's redundant to my readers that follow all of them.)


Monday, February 10, 2014

TempleCon 14!

Now Playing -  One Night In Bangkok by Murray Head

Life -  
I just posted an update on the Deeply Dapper Blog - a post on my recent table time at TempleCon 14. The first update on that blog in almost a year... hahah  Enjoy!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Another update on our plans - 2014 version

Now Playing -  Here It Goes Again by OK GO
Life -  

The more we think we have a plan figured out, the more curves life seems to throw at us. A few months ago, we laid out our plans for the rest of 2013 and our moves in 2014.  It was a fine plan, but a number of major problems presented themselves. Our house in Idaho was severely under-appraised due to a bunch of foreclosures in the area, making it worth less than we actually owed on it. That's a situation that will likely improve, eventually, but for the time being, that means my mom buying it would be a bad move for both her and us. She could get a better house in the area for less money than our place and find one that would suit her needs better. We'd end up losing over $30k if we sold now. On top of that, our Christmas was dramatically worse than we'd predicted. Between the government shutdown, a late Thanksgiving and a myriad list of other reasons, people weren't shopping as heavily as predicted. Our shop wasn't doing itself any favors either. Apart from our soaps, which we'd debuted too late to really get the full benefit, we didn't have anything new and exciting to draw in shoppers.

After we'd gotten the news of the house, I made a trip out there and we decided that the best option would be for Lindsay and I to move back to Idaho, to our old home on Rosewood. That would mean forgoing our plans to move to Washington, but it wasn't all bad news. We still like the house on Rosewood, we just never really gave it a chance. The whole time we lived there, we were looking for plans to move away. Which is really how we've spent the last... seven years or more, actually.

The initial plan had been to sell the trailer and abandon Maine as soon as the holidays were over, traveling south to avoid the weather and get back to Idaho in late January. It would mean us losing money on this trailer, selling it as fast as we could, just to get out of here, the exact reasoning that had kept us here before but this time it was compared to how much we would lose if we sold the house... a number nearly twice as large.

Unfortunately, the holidays underperformance now means that is delayed. We will have to wait until at least spring, when we can sell the house at closer to what we owe and in the meantime I can concentrate on the shop, conventions and possibly a part time job, while Lindsay re-dedicates herself to writing. (Despite not releasing a book in over a year, her romance novels are still selling regularly if not in great numbers)

So this is kind of a non-update. But despite the setbacks, we are actually quite excited about the next few months. It would be more exciting if we were moving back to Poky and better still if our original plans of Washington were possible, but we aren't rushing to escape Maine quite as urgently and that should allow us some time to do it properly. Eat at Red's Eats one more time, do some sightseeing and photography, I plan to hit a number of conventions in the area. It should be good stuff.