Part 2 of The Year in Review for 2018

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your humble host

Yesterday we kinda did the history of the blog, explaining how we went from no readers to lots of readers, and showcasing a few fun highlights along the way.

Today we’ll see about some of 2018’s best moments.

Part of my fondest memories of 2018 was releasing the new horror anthology Dark Visions. Working with so many talented people is fun.

The stories came from a Word Weaver writing contest we had in July with a horror theme, and many contributors had never been published before. Like the original horror anthology the prior year, it did well and was a lot of fun to do, and I guess it’ll be an annual thing now. Why not?

And that’s something I wanna key in on in just a sec.

During the selection process of the prior horror anthology, The Box Under the Bed, we met Jenifer Ruff, who quickly became a go-to person for lots of stuff, just like Allison Maruska. These two smart ladies help guide my writing now, and helped create Double Blind, a murder mystery. I hope they will always be my friends. They are amazing.

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Double Blind flirted with becoming a USA Today bestseller in late November of 2018.

And reading over yesterday’s post, I see a common theme. We had lots of successes here on the blog, and we had lots of failures. Some stuff I tried here worked; some stuff I tried didn’t catch on at all. The take away is, keep trying.

This is a successful blog, with paid advertisers and a huge following, highly anticipated writing contests and a fantastic opportunity for unknown talent to join with bestselling authors side by side in a published anthology… but remember:

I did all sorts of stuff on this blog that didn’t go anywhere, too.

I’d give a new blog topic/feature/item a month or two, and if it didn’t catch on, I stopped doing it. Other times, what worked in 2016 seemed a little stale in 2017, and readers stopped engaging.

We went from learning about writing stuff to teaching about writing stuff to doing a YouTube show, holding contests, creating anthologies, having a private critique group – on and on. It wasn’t all a success.

And it’s kinda that way with books, too. Some will do well, others won’t – and you can’t tell which it is until it happens. Some just don’t catch on and they don’t sell. Learn that lesson and chalk it up to bad timing or a learning process. We don’t always know.

Remember, Stephen King threw Carrie away, and his wife pulled it from the trash.

Steven Spielberg’s flop Hook was the movie he did right before Jurassic Park, his biggest hit.

Your writings may follow that path as well.

They probably will. Mine do.

For 2019, I want to tell you this: keep trying.

I lost writer friends in 2018. They didn’t die; I think they gave up or got overwhelmed. I hope it isn’t true with one in particular, and I won’t say who because it’ll embarrass her, but she will probably fight her way back like she has in the past. Either way, I hope she knows she remains a friend even if she never write another word. One day that might be me, too. Life happens. You don’t see their names mentioned here much any more, and they are missed. A lot.

I have some sequels to write in 2019. They may succeed and they may fail but I’ll keep trying. You keep trying, too.

You may work hard and not achieve your goal, but you sure won’t achieve it if you stop.

What successes do we want to brag about as we gaze back on 2018? Here are a few.

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5. We created Dark Visions, the second book in the Box Under The Bed horror anthology series. This book is GOOD. When we do the third book in 2019, the series will probably take off. I have a good feeling about it.

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4. We had several Word Weaver writing contests – and we’ll have more in 2019.

3. I served on the board of the Florida Writer’s Association.

2. I did a LOT of presentations. I presented to several grade schools, the FWA annual conference, the Tampa Writer’s Alliance, the Bay Area Writing Project, and a lot more.

DOUBLE BLIND 3D

1. I wrote a murder mystery!

I talked about Double Blind a second ago, but it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot, and people say it’s my best work ever. (25 titles to get it right, but we got it right.)

(I also wrote several illustrated Zombunny books – Z2 and Z3 – with my daughter and edited a bunch of books for others, wrote and published A Is For Action – but nothing counts like writing and publishing your shiny new novel.)

Gang, 2018 started off hard. I was completely overwhelmed personally by several things, and they just seemed to keep coming. Later in the year, my younger brother died of cancer. I added schools to my Young Authors Club and I wasn’t sure I could manage them all. Life happens here, too.

But I hung I there and ended up writing my best work to date, and having a lot of fun doing it.

2018 was a success. In some ways, it was not my best year. In some ways, it was. I choose to focus on the successes it brought me, so I can and move forward, smarter and stronger from the challenges that came my way.

The best is yet to be, for me and for you. Believe it.

Tops Posts from 2018

What can I say? The posts that got the most views and comments were announcements of contest winners and reading their stories! Congratulations! I’m not listing those here.

There were two notable posts that did well and deserve recognition.

A Thanksgiving Story

My annual tribute to the tradition of Thanksgiving, this post recalls one particularly memorable Thanksgiving experience.

How To Write Better Stories, OR: Harry Potter And The Blurb.

Blurbs are hard for a reason. Find out why.

My kid writes her own book.

Not a post, really, but possibly the #1 moment in the year. My daughter wrote and published Kitty Diaries, her first solo effort. Proud papa moment, and I realized she and I are as close as I always hoped we’d be when I was doing all those late night diaper changes and middle of the night feedings that seemed to take forever.

I won’t lie, some moments from prior years will be in my top 10 for life. I’m not sure I knew any would be that at the time.

My top moments from 2018 were celebrating big moments for others.

I like that.

That’s kinda what we’ve been all about here. I always say:

“I want to help 100 people become famous authors so I have 100 famous author friends helping me become a famous author.”

We came close in 2018.

2019 is looking good.

Be sure to comment and tell me about some of your top accomplishments for 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The year in review? Or a year-end top 10 list? Or both? Part 1: How to grow your blog and your base.

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your humble host

Near the end of December it’s always fun (or a quick way to have a blog post without doing a lot of work) to post a year in review.

What we’d do is show the top 10 blog posts for 2018.

But I remember 10 turned out to be a lot of work one year. Maybe I should go with Top 5. Or Top 3. I could get into Top 3.

But since laziness isn’t my style (Ha!) I thought I’d show you some stuff from each year that was/were our top posts. You might be surprised.

Check this out.

2013

In 2013 I had a whopping 22 views for the entire year. To be fair, I started the blog in August and didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing. For those of you starting blogs, we’ve shared a lot of stuff about how to grow your blog. Type key words into the search box and probably any topic you want will come up. Wanna grow your blog? Type “grow.” It’s not a perfect system, but with a little scrolling you’ll find what you want. If you don’t, you can wait for a As Me Anything day, or use the Contact Me button and ask now. I’m really good about following up.

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2014

2014 had 210 views, a 1600% increase! Around September of that year, I met Allison Maruska, another struggling author type, in an online critique group, and she gave me some advice about things to change on my blog. Those suggestions helped a LOT. The first was, the blog isn’t your book, it’s you. The blog had originally been called Savvy Stories. I changed it to the bold name of Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR (as opposed to Dan Alatorre – DENTIST) that you see now. The other changes I made was sharing each writerly tip I learned, to help others along the path faster, and just generally being more relaxed and being myself. These were critical changes, and they launched the blog. But there were others in 2015.

2015: Growing the blog

2015 is the first bar on the bar chart that really shows up. I had over 22,000 views, mainly due to Allison’s suggestions, and then from a tip I discovered myself: follow other blogs and about 1/3 will follow you back. I have lots of interests, so I followed lots of blogs. I read AND COMMENTED on them. I “liked” posts and shared them or tweeted them. For any blog that I read, I’d read at least two posts, like them, comment on them, and then follow the blog. As I noted, about 1/3 would check out my blog and follow me back. Since I wanted a lot of followers, I followed a TON of blogs that year. It worked, and many, many followed me back. Then, because people, want to do what other people are doing (I call this the empty restaurant theory) people started following me of their own accord and I stopped “bulk following” so many blogs. But for a while I was following dozens a day, spending about 20 minutes each morning reading new blogs. It takes about 2 minutes to read a new blog post, about 1 minute to short comment on two posts (“Great post” or “I agree; thanks for sharing this.”), and a few seconds to like and follow. So in 20 minutes I’d have 4-5 new blogs I was following, and each week about 10 followed me back. n Sundays I’d wake up and read blogs for an hour or more, so another dozen or two would be following me after that. It was all about getting more followers so more people would be aware I existed. Word Press helps bloggers with lots of traffic get seen more, and I figured my books appealed to everyone. Once a decent number of followers at all, it would grow on its own – and I was right. After a while, I didn’t need to do that any more, and the blog kept growing.

2016: Big Achievements and Not So Big Achievements (Okay, some flops)

In February of 2016 this blog reached 1000 subscribers. We got to 2000 in March of 2017 and 3000 nine months later. THAT’s the power of the empty restaurant theory. (I will explain that soon, I promise.)

Because we changed the blog content, we are at 3300 subscribers as of December 2018, but we could easily have been at 5000. This was about quality, not quantity after setting the growth in motion.

We had over 31,000 views in 2016, quite a leap from when we started the blog 27 months earlier, and most of that came after implementing the two key changes a year earlier.

See, it was always about making friends. I acted like a friend, doing lots of interviews and profiles with new authors, and telling you what I’d learned while asking you to share what you learned. I knew friends working together would accomplish more than I could on my own – and we did. When something good happened, I got excited and shared it with you, and I shared your big moments as well.

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In April of 2016, we started a YouTube show for authors called Writers Off Task With Friends. It never really got off the ground, but it was a fun way for Jenny Allen (who I’d also met in an online critique group), Allison Maruska and I to get together once a week, talk about writing issues we were having, and laugh a lot.

Not knowing what we were doing did not stop us form making 50+ shows. With no viewers to speak of after a year, we kinda read the writing on the wall and stopped early in 2017. But not before convincing ourselves we were good enough to be presenters at the Florida Writer’s Association Conference that year.

2017

Hey, why not? So we did that, and I’m not sure I laughed so hard ever before in my life. Not during the presentations, but when we’d go out and just have fun. Writers are fun too, you know!

Around that time the blog reached its highest viewership to date, with over 60,000 views in 2017. That’s crazy. Wanna know the secret? I started posting something every day, and I had that stuff autopost onto Facebook and Twitter, but the biggest part was: I had content every day.

Whaaattt???

I know!

On Mondays, I’d post a writing-related meme and ask if you agreed or disagreed. On Thursdays, I’d post (copy/paste from the prior week) an “Ask Dan Anything” segment. Wednesdays were supposed to be a reblog of a friend’s blog from the week, and Tuesdays could be profiles of other authors or guest blog posts. Sundays were always a big new writing thing I thought you should know about. That left a few days for miscellaneous thoughts, which I always had/have.

More content = more views. I thought people would stop reading, and some did, but most didn’t – and my views went sky high.

Oh, and somewhere in there we started having writing contests.

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In April 2017 I acquiesced to several suggestions that I host a writing contest on my blog. I had no idea how to do one, but I knew one thing: it could be VERY embarrassing if no one entered.

Luckily, quite a few people did, so a new thing was started: Winners of my writing contests went on to get published! The winner of our 1st Word Weaver writing contest did, and the winner of our 2nd word Weaver writing contest did, and the winner of our 4th Word Weaver writing contest did – and quite a few second place winners and third place winners did, too.

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So we needed a place to showcase that talent. How about in a book? And The Box Under The Bed was born – and the following year, its sequel, Dark Visions. BOTH have gone on to become #1 bestsellers in horror anthologies.

 

We had a lot of fun here, made a lot nof friends, helped people get published, and learned a few things. I hope we keep doing that, too.

Tomorrow, 2018’s best moments and top posts. See you then.

What I Learned Working With 20 New York Times Bestselling Authors

img_2351-16As many of you know, I got invited to work in a big anthology with a bunch of New York Times best-selling author is and USA today best selling authors.

I was very flattered to even be included in such a prestigious group!

We ended up not making the USA Today bestseller list, but the reason I joined the group was because I wanted to learn how different people market, especially successful people. It’s definitely different working with people who have such large followings.

What did they do that I didn’t do?

What are the things they know that I don’t know?

What are the secrets that they might accidentally revealed to me?

Turns out – hate to spoil the surprise – it’s really a lot of hard work.

I know. I’m disappointed to learn that, too.

But okay. You work hard; I work hard. What was different about these guys?

And I guys I mean women because I think 18 of the 20 authors are female.

So what was it these ladies were doing that I didn’t do?

Well let’s start with the fact that most of them were very friendly and very cordial, and when I asked them to do an interview on my blog, upwards of half of the participants in the anthology agreed immediately. Within a day or two I had most of those interviews done.

They also sent along a sample chapter.

I wanted that so that I could read a bunch of different peoples writing and see what was different about what I did versus what they did.

Finally, by interacting with them, I felt I would have a slightly better bond then I might if it was only the interaction we did through the box set.

For example, we didn’t really interact that much in the box set. It was less interactive and less camaraderie than I was expecting in this set but I’m told that’s kind of unusual. I expected a bunch of introvert writers to not interact much, but I have been told by other people who did other sets that they interacted a lot more.

So the friendship and the bonding and the cordiality, that’s part of the equation.

That’s what we have that here. And I have that with just about everybody I work with in every situation. If you are in our private Facebook group working or the horror anthology with us, in the past you’ve seen a lot of chitchat and talking and opinion asking and ideas being kicked around and jokes and whatnot.

You certainly see that here on the blog!

So the big life-changing thing I expected to learn was… There really was no magic secret.

Here is what they brought to the table that I either didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t or shouldn’t or… Well, basically just what is different.

Most of the people who are in this anthology and who have made the New York Times best-selling author list, have a substantial newsletter following. I’m talking like 10,000 people follow them on their newsletter.

That’s different from following them on a blog because I can tell you I have 3000 blog followers and 11,000 Twitter followers but those 3000 people don’t come here every single day. My Twitter followers hardly interact at all. I’m just not interactive on Twitter.

Now, I’m very interactive on my blog, and that’s why my blog has become successful. I am very interactive on my Facebook page, but less so than my blog. I’m even less interactive on Twitter, so therefore it makes sense that my Twitter following is less valuable as a marketing medium.

And my newsletter… well, I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started a newsletter, and I didn’t feel like I should be bugging people all the time, so I don’t send out a newsletter on a regular basis. (That could a be a 2019 goal. More on that in a sec.)

These other people have big newsletters and they use them for business, from day 1, so their newsletter subscribers have been trained to expect that from them..

I think they email their people twice a month at least.

That just seems like overkill – even though I have no problem putting a blog post out every single day! Go figure. That’s just my perception.

Now, I get newsletters emailed to me from sources that I don’t ever read it all. But I want the resource there when I do want it, if that makes sense.

Okay, so they had big newsletters.

What else?

They tend to have book covers that definitely exude the genre for which they write.

That’s kind of a no brainer, but it’s worth mentioning. When you look at the book covers, they say two things:

  • Cozy mystery or cowboy romance or whatever – but there’s no mistaking it for anything else.

  • The covers also tend to look professional and they tend to look like the person who wrote the book is already successful.

One in particular or just screams best-selling author. No surprise; she’s been on the New York Times best-selling list four times!

So presentation matters.

We’re also going to go ahead and stipulate that they write good stories, and not only that they write good stories but that their blurbs entice people to buy the book.

However.

If you have 10,000 people on your newsletter list, when you roll out your book, you’re going to get a lot of sales on day one, and that is big.

We experienced a small taste of this with the horror anthology we did last year. We had 20 authors all promoting it and it did well for a $.99 book that was a bunch of short stories. But it gave readers a taste of what the authors were capable of doing, and a lot of readers ended up buying books by those on authors. And that was the whole point of it. To get existing authors some exposure and to get people who had never been published before to become published.

So the moral of the story is…

Volume.

When I look at how much money this anthology is spending on paid media before the release date, and how much work these people have put into their newsletter to get them that big, that’s a lot of work.

That’s work on top of the work they’re already doing writing and networking and Facebook and all the other stuff that they keep telling everybody to do.

But I think it’s like this.

I use a lot of running and analogies, but I’m sorry it’s just the way it works. When you first step off your couch to go run a marathon, having never run one before, you can’t go out and bust out 26 Miles. Maybe all you can bust out as 100 yards. Maybe 50 feet. Maybe getting to the refrigerator and back winds you.

But if you keep at it and you add a little bit each week or each month, eventually you find that you were running a mile and once you’re running a mile you start realizing I could probably run two or three…

And if you go really wanted to build up to a marathon, you would.

One of my goals for this year (which I have totally neglected) was to build my newsletter up to about 10,000 subscribers.

Seemed like a lofty goal, and honestly, I got busy with a lot of other stuff. But it’s almost year end which means it’s not gonna happen in 2018. Too bad. Shame on me.

But like a good New Year’s resolution, I will carry it forward, and that starts today.

Or January first, maybe.

(No, seriously, I already started. Kinda.)

The people in the box set anthology are spending a lot of money on paid advertising, and they are doing it in volume, and they are doing it with repetition. Most of us don’t have pockets deep enough to do that, but when you spread that cost over 20 authors, you start to realize maybe that’s a hint of what people who are one or two tiers below Stephen King, maybe that’s what they do. Not them per se, but maybe their publishers.

And that has been eye-opening.

That, and being able to interact with the type of people who I hope to be one of some day.

So it’s definitely been a worthwhile experience, and while not giving away any secrets I swore not to give away, I’m going to tell you guys how to get this stuff done.

Because we’ve already done it.

Before ever joined the box set, I got the wild idea to create a horror anthology with 20 authors. It was mildly successful. If I had pushed harder and invested more, it would’ve been a lot more successful.

We could do that with our next one and it will do even better, but what if we had a horror anthology comprised of 20 complete horror novels?

What if a group of us decided to take whatever our next project was, and group together, and market it first as an exclusive box set?

It’s not different terribly different from what we did last year with the scary anthology and it’s not terribly different from what we did this year with the new horror anthology, but it is a little different.

There’s a lot of what ifs.

As I explore them I’ll keep you posted. Some people I hoped would be involved already said no.

But my wheels are turning.

 

 

Mystery or Thriller or Suspense: which is YOUR book?

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your humble host

You wrote a book!

Now: where does it belong on a book shelf, and what online categories do you choose to market it?

You’d think it’d be easy, and it kinda is, but it also kinda isn’t.

Allow me to explain…

…via my normal circuitous route.

Once upon a time, I wrote what I considered a romance. A guy goes on a business trip to Italy, falls in love with a beautiful young Italian lady, and they have a passionate affair. Sounds romantic, right? And it is! There’s also a lot of funny stuff – as in humor – that goes on. So maybe it’s a rom-com, a romantic comedy.

Nope.

Poggi cover FINAL
my poor, uncategorizable book

See, there are RULES for this stuff, and even though it’s an amazing story, the rules of romance say you can’t have a guy cheat on his wife (forgot to mention – he’s married), even if he sees the wrongdoing of his ways and confesses everything and gets back together with his wife at the end. That don’t fly in romance. No cheating.

 

Okay, so… is it a comedy? It’s really funny.

Ha! No.

There’s no sex in a comedy. (There was a lot of sex in the book because it was a romance – or so I thought.)

Maybe it’s… well, what is it?

Jenifer says it’s literary fiction.

Okay. WTF is that???

Wiki says: “Literary fiction is a term used in the book-trade to distinguish novels that are regarded as having literary merit from most commercial or “genre” fiction.”

I . . . have no idea what that even means.

Stephen Petite puts it this way: Literary Fiction is anything that does not fit into a genre. (Genres are things like Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Romance, Western, Fantasy, Science Fiction, etc.)

Now, while that makes more sense to me, it also sounds like a dead end, dump-it-here approach. We don’t know what it is, so let’s call it that. Good luck marketing that!

And the NY Book Editors site puts it this way:

“Literary fiction doesn’t follow a formula.”

Well, I definitely didn’t do that with Poggibonsi! Maybe Jenifer is right.

Okay, but let’s start over. Let’s start where you should start: when you get an idea for a book. Write what you want, but maybe know where it’s going. When you are finished, most of you will have written a romance or a mystery-thriller-suspense thing.

Which did you write?

Leaving romance aside for now, let’s look at what’s in the story.

Per Allison:

Mystery = that thing happened, let’s find out what

Suspense = we gotta keep that thing from happening

 

She even sent me an article from Daily Writing Tips that helps explain it all. Per the article:

Mystery – Thriller – Suspense…

The three genres are closely related.

In each type, a character is trying to get at the truth of something, or prevent some bad thing from happening.

MYSTERY

The main character is occupied in tracking down the truth about an event, usually a murder. If the protagonist is in any danger, it is usually moderate, and becomes a problem only as the detective approaches the truth. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist.

THRILLER

The protagonist is in danger from the outset.

SUSPENSE

The main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.

What if your novel falls into overlapping categories? The DaVinci Code, for example.

  • Describe where your book fits in a bookstore shelving scheme,
  • you need one or two words at the MOST
  • Anyone who uses three or more words is an automatic no because it’s clear they don’t understand categories, and they don’t know what they have.

So, what did you write? Figuring out which slots your story fits into is important because as you go to choose your categories on Ammy or when you pay to advertise it on a mailing/newsletter/ad, you need to put it where OTHER people (readers) are looking for that sort of thing.

I call this selling milk in a milk bottle and not in an oil can.

Figuring out which category your book belongs in is an important step in not doing a lot of crying about why it’s not selling.

 

“That’s my school!”

There are several ways to get from my house to the interstate and other places, but I often choose the route that takes me by my daughter’s school.

If she is with me, she will usually sit up and point. “That’s my school!”

When I drive by alone during school hours, I like to slow down and see if there are kids playing on the playground. Maybe I will see her.

If it’s night, the school looks very different. If it’s dark, it looks kind of… alone.

But it’s mostly happy place, and I can tell you, I don’t recall ever going to buy my own grade school as a kid and thinking I wanted to be anywhere near it! I’m very proud that my daughter enjoys school and has so many friends there, and loves attending. I had friends, but as far as attending? Well, no. I didn’t dislike school, but I certainly didn’t like it. It was something that had to be done and so I did it. I enjoyed high school a lot, and I probably enjoyed college too much, but that’s a story for a different time.

So as I venture forth today, there’s a chill in the air and there are Christmas songs on the radio, and I am probably driving by my daughter school.

I will slow down in peek at the playground. Maybe I will see her.

In a few years, she won’t go there anymore, and a few years after that she will be off to college, probably nowhere near here.

At that time, it might still be fun to drive by her old grade school and peek at the playground and see the kids playing. It will bring back many fond memories and possibly a tear.

In fact, I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t.

#PoetryReadathon – The poetry and other great things bloggers

A great post by my friend Robbie Cheadle!

Robbie's inspiration

Poetry readathon

There are a significant number of great bloggers out there who write poetry among all sorts of other great posts. I thought I would use today’s post to share a bit about three of the part-time poetry bloggers. I consider that I fall into this category of poetry blogger too.

Sally Cronin

Sally has a lovely blog called Smorgasbord where she shares everything from posts about gardening, food and recipes, history and mythology and health and diet. Sally also has Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore where she show cases the books and reviews of an enormous number of her fellow writers and authors.

Sally is a wonderful writers and I have read a number of her books. You can read my reviews here (you’ll find a couple of reviews for other great books featured too):

Tales from the Irish Garden

Just an Odd Job Girl

Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story and…

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Farewell, gang

FYI, I’m probably going to stop blogging December 31 for a month-long hiatus before considering stopping permanently. Just a heads up. (I’ll still keep the blog site but not add new content.)

The newsletter and my Facebook page will be the place to reach me.

I like blogging and my blog got a lot of views – over 50,000 in 2018 – and now it’s time to return to an emphasis on writing books.

I’ll miss you – so let’s stay in touch through the Facebook page and my newsletter!