Reciprocity: Magic or Myth?

A short lesson in how to be a positive and encouraging person.

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I want to start by saying that the intention of this post is not to present myself as some icon of virtue or being any better than anyone else: I am definitely neither. But there are some things I am good at, and one of those things is supporting and encouraging other Indie authors.

I have always been very clear about the fact that nothing I do in the Indie Author community is done with the hope of receiving anything in return. I am more than happy to buy and review the books I do, share posts, help answer questions, and encourage others as much as I can.

You might be tempted to assume that, as a result, I have a veritable army of people ready to fall over themselves to do similar things for me. Well, that would be nice!

In fact, that’s very rarely how it works. More often than not, those who are generous with their time and energy receive very little in return. That’s life: I accept that, as do others I know in the same situation, and keep going.

There seems to be a groundswell of folk, however, who have taken it upon themselves to resent others that they perceive as being “more successful” or “more popular” than them, and to insist that they’re not going to do anything for anyone who hasn’t done anything for them.

Just last week there was a situation where a friend tagged some people in a Facebook post to ensure that her post was seen, and didn’t some of those tag-ees complain! One of them took the opportunity to launch a personal attack and completely degraded the conversation into a most hurtful state of affairs. Another had plenty of very demeaning things to say, not just about the friend in question but also those who sprang to her defence.

Well, isn’t it a good thing we don’t all work that way? What sort of a world would that be. where we all carried on like six-year-olds in the playground?

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Folks, that is not how we Indie.

Assuming that someone will share your post because you shared theirs will sometimes work out that way, but often not. Hoping that someone will buy your book because you bought theirs is not at all realistic.

There’s one thing you can be sure of, though: If an author – or anyone else, for that matter – is horrible to people, those on the receiving end are not going to forget that. There is absolutely zero chance that they will share the post, buy the book, or attend a Facebook event for someone who has abused or belittled them. In addition, the chances of their friends doing any of those things are remote. Tearing someone else down on social media— or anywhere— is entirely counterproductive.

As Indie authors, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to find readers, sell books, write the next number one bestseller, and get noticed by the universe. We’re all tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, blogging and whatever-else-ing we can in the hope of putting our books, or whatever it is we’re doing to make our way in the world, in front of appreciative eyes who want what we’ve got to offer. We’d all like to be able to quit our jobs and pay the bills with our royalties.

2015-11-27 10.51.43 Choose The PositiveBut here’s the thing: this isn’t a competition. Readers will always be interested in another book, another genre, another great read. There is absolutely no need to snuff out someone else’s candle so that yours can burn. We make more light and warmth together than we can on our own. This is something that my friends, especially the Indie Fabs, and I have experienced and proven time and time again.

Encouragement costs nothing. It doesn’t even take much time or energy. If someone asks you for one or two clicks of a mouse button that doesn’t end in costing you money, where’s the harm? If someone does something praiseworthy, commend them. If someone has a great cover, or hits the bestseller list, or writes a great book, congratulate them… and then go one step further by telling others. Who knows? You may even find that they do return a favour one day, or you might discover that someone has done something for you out of the blue, just because they can.

Reciprocity as most people perceive it is a myth. But initiating goodwill by being positive and encouraging? That’s magic. And that is how we Indie.

Why All My Books Are Not In One Basket.

Wide distribution is a boon for Indie authors and for readers.

I’ve never been a believer in keeping all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I use more than one bank. I store my important files in more than one place. And I have always had my books available in more than one place.

In recent months, I’ve become more and more thankful that Amazon is not my sole venue for book distribution.

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All my books are available on Kobo Nook, iBooks, and a number of other stores in addition to Amazon. You can find all the links for each book at jvlpoet.com/books.

 

Like the kindle app, the Kobo, Nook and iBooks apps are completely free.
And from an author’s point of view, there are significant differences:nook-icon
  • Those stores don’t remove readers’ reviews – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t insist you spend $50 before you can leave a rating or a review – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t care which country you live in – but Amazon does.
  • They don’t want to know who your friends are, or mistrust you because you might know some people. Amazon does, though.ibooks_ios_7_icon_update_by_hamzasaleem-d6stc29.png

As far as I know, I am the only Joanne Van Leerdam selling books in any of those stores. If you search for me, you’ll find me.

Amazon doesn’t necessarily make life as an Indie author smooth sailing. Sure, they’re the biggest beast in the eBook zoo… but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that should be fed.

So, I’m going to start favouring different distributors when I buy eBooks, and still give the same support to my fellow Indie Authors through buying, reading and reviewing their books.
I’d love to see more people doing this, just to show we’re not reliant on a company that thinks it can do whatever it pleases, without consequence.

Let’s face it, if a dog bites your hand enough times, you’ll stop patting it. And if that dog doesn’t learn not to bite, it’s likely to end up very lonely. The only people who can teach it that lesson are the people with the option to pat the dog or not.

Personally, I think I’m going to make Kobo my first choice. Some may see it as the proverbial runt of the litter, but that just makes me want to support them. And in 24 months of working with them, I’ve never had anything but excellent service.

I’m also going to try to encourage others to buy my books somewhere other than Amazon.

In addition to adjusting my advertising and promotions, I think I may create a slight price advantage for those who buy from a non-Zon source. That’s easily achieved through my Draft2Digital account, and it might just drive some increased interest in my books on the other platforms. An additional advantage of using Draft2Digital is that their payment threshold is $10, not $100 as it is on Amazon.

On a final note, please don’t think I’m single-handedly trying to bring Amazon down. I’m not, at all. I’ve had good sales there and I’ve bought many, many books there, too.
I’m just very disappointed in some of their “developments” of late, and happy to find alternatives that don’t screw myself or my fellow Indie authors over at all.

Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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Reader Life: Those Horrible Feelings You Get When A Book Is Absolutely Awful.

A reader describes the disappointment of finding a book she had been looking forward to was awful.

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During my lunch break today, I started reading a book I’d been looking forward to reading. I’d bought it because the story looked really interesting, and I was keen to give a new-to-me author a shot.

By the time I had read a few pages, I knew there were problems. The story didn’t go anywhere. More and more errors that should have been edited out were creeping in. Although marketed as a horror story, there were no hints that it was going to turn into one anytime soon… except in a grammatical sense, perhaps.

Still, I persisted. I figured that it had to get better. Right?

Sadly, it didn’t. It got worse. By the time I quit, there were numerous confusions of tense, and multiple blatant errors of spelling, syntax and word choice on a single page. By page 23, there still wasn’t a hint of anything remotely creepy, macabre or scary in the story. That really was the core of my problem – I was bored by writing that wasn’t even really a cohesive story, regardless of its intended genre.

I don’t like quitting. I really don’t. But when my dudgeon starts to rise because I’m not getting the escape I had hoped for in the middle of a ridiculously busy week, and I’ve wasted the time I had set aside to give my brain a break, it’s time to stop. In all honesty, most of the students in my Year 9 English class make fewer mistakes on a page than this writer, and he just hasn’t bothered editing anything, let alone getting anyone– professional or otherwise– to do it for him… I’m done.

In the past, I’ve let one or two authors know via private communication where there are a few really glaring errors that needed fixing. Those things have been fixed, and their book is better because of it. I’ve withheld my review until things were corrected, so that I could give a review that wasn’t full of complaints about errors. Most authors are receptive to that if it’s done discreetly and politely, with constructive help rather than criticism.

This time, though, I’m not going there. I simply don’t have time to fix this book – it’s time consuming, but not impossible, to correct spelling or grammatical errors; how, though, do you fix a broken plot that never does what it promised to do? The problems with this book are far more fundamental than a lack of editing.
angry-2191104_960_720It makes me sad to have to add another title to the small handful of Indie books I’ve read that just weren’t up to scratch. Of the hundreds I’ve read, the vast majority have been great, and some have been among the best books I’ve ever read. It makes me angry that people are willing to sell something which gives other far more disciplined and talented Indie authors a reputation they don’t deserve. The temptation to name and shame is enormous, but I won’t do it.

I’m simply going to walk away and pretend I didn’t pick it up in the first place.

I’ll console myself, and reward myself for my own diplomacy, by setting aside another hour tonight to read something really good from one of my ‘One-Click” authors. That is something guaranteed to make me feel better.

‘Anne with an E’ – It’s Just Not The Same!

Why can’t directors just leave an excellent story line alone?

A life-long devotee of L.M. Montgomery and ‘Anne of Green Gables’, I’ve read all the books several times. I’ve watched the miniseries starring Megan Follows more times than I can count. I’ve enjoyed various other film versions of the story. I’ve visited Prince Edward Island and the original house that was the inspiration for Green Gables, where I walked along the original Lover’s Lane and stood outside the Haunted Forest. I visited Montgomery’s birthplace and the first school in which she taught, which served as the inspiration for the school Anne Shirley attended.

I’m not an expert, but it’s fair to say I know my stuff when it comes to all things ‘Anne of Green Gables.

`My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.’ That’s a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I’m disappointed in anything.”
This is a line and a scene from Montgomery’s book which has always stayed with me. I found myself saying it again today, shortly after I started watching the series titled ‘Anne with an E’. I instantly liked this new Anne, and the new Matthew. I found Geraldine James’ portrayal of Marilla suitably crisp and direct. I was delighted by the way in which the story had started, and by Amybeth McNulty’s delivery of that favourite line of mine. I began to fall in love, all over again.

And then they changed the story. Before the first episode was over, the plot had taken a completely different direction than anything written by Montgomery. “WHY?!” I yelled. “WHY do people DO that?”

Still, I persevered, telling myself it might get better. It didn’t.
I made it to 13 minutes into the third episode, where I clicked off in disgust after yet another change to the original story.

I won’t watch any more of it. It had so much potential, and I had so many hopes… and all it did was desecrate my favourite story and make me angry. This series, like so many other abominations of great books, is yet another corpse buried in that perfect graveyard.

Seriously, Universe… What Am I Doing Wrong?

Apparently, I never learn.

Promo X Cold Shoulder Plain

Only on rare occasions am I ever tempted to feel as though I might just get on top of things.

Other days, like today, I realise yet again just how little most people value me, or anything I do.

Seriously, universe, what am I doing wrong?

I work hard, I’m a loyal friend, and I care more about people than most of them will ever realise. It’s true that I don’t come in the smallest package with the sleekest, glossiest wrapping, but if I’m given the choice of someone who “fits an image” or someone who will both help me and defend me or die trying, I know which person I’d pick to have on my team. I’m not perfect, but who is?

So, tonight I’ve spent a few hours trying to think through and process how I feel and why, In that process, the words of one of my own poems came back to me. I wrote ‘Cold Shoulder’ on a previous occasion when other people’s behaviour left me feeling a similar way.

COLD SHOULDER

Many years I’ve lived on the Cold Shoulder
An inhospitable, stony place –
Where there’s little but frosty silence,
No allowance for comfort or grace.

The chill wind of indifference
Cuts the air without making a sound,
Skittering icy flakes of apathy
And leaves’ skeletons over the ground.

A fine specimen of resilience,
I’m a fine diamond in the rough,
A survivor of hostile conditions
Where life is invariably tough.

I suffer no delusions of love –
For that loss I have frequently wept;
But knowing I don’t matter at all
Is the hardest of truths to accept.

Weary of relentless erosion,
I implore the stone lords for reprieve,
But there is no reward for devotion
To those in whom you don’t believe.

Let them preach not to me of salvation
When they hold all the power in their hands
To inflict such complete desolation –
One could never meet all their demands.

So I remain here on the Shoulder
In this treacherous, heartless place:
Although frigid, this landscape is honest,
And each rock only has the one face.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

 

This is not new territory for me. I have survived every other “kick in the head”, and I’ll survive this one, because I refuse to lay down, shut up and die. And I’ll make all seven people who do actually care about me proud in the process… again.

It does make me wonder, though, why I fall into that same trap of assuming that anyone else ever actually tries to see my worth, or cares about it.
Apparently, I never learn.

 

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‘Cold Shoulder’ is published in ‘The Passing Of The Night’
by Joanne Van Leerdam.

When Evil Seems To Win.

A poet reflects on what inspired her latest piece of dark poetry.

One of the things I find hardest to deal with in life is the perception that sometimes, evil seems to win.

I don’t know why it should surprise me each time it happens, but it still does. I don’t know why people’s cruelty and evil actions still shocks me, but it does.

Let me explain where this train of thought originated.

Not long ago, I witnessed the complete and irreversible downfall of someone I’ve known for some time. I haven’t always necessarily liked that person – less, in fact, as time went on, although that’s not really relevant to this post. I honestly thought that their behaviour couldn’t get any lower than what I had already witnessed, and what I already knew of him. I was wrong.

Please understand that in writing this post, I do not for one moment mean to suggest that I feel sorry for him. I don’t.
I do feel incredibly sorry for those whose trust he, and every other person like him, has broken and abused. My heart breaks for those who find themselves and the rest of their lives shattered among the trail of destruction they leave behind. These things leave permanent scars from which some people never recover.

And there is no denying that I am incredibly angry. How dare he? He can’t say he didn’t know it was wrong. He can’t say he didn’t know what he was thinking. He knew, and he went ahead and did it anyway.

So, as his life unravelled before my eyes, I was left feeling the same about him as I do about everyone who betrays the trust of the people they should be protecting.

Whether it’s broken friendship, corruption, or an absolute degradation of one person by another, I believe that there are powers in this world that celebrate when someone who has always taken a strongly moral stand falls from a position of leadership and finds themselves in a downward spiral of shame and humiliation, especially if it’s a person of faith.

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It was this chain of thought that led me to write ‘The Demons Dance’. It is grim imagery of demons dancing and celebrating around the crumpled form of their latest victim, upon whos miery and death they are completely drunk.

In this poem, as in a number of my others, my love of writing horror and the macabre has combined with my penchant for poetry to produce what I believe is poetry that is both grotesque and beautiful at the same time.

Click to read The Demons Dance.

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When The Words Won’t Come.

Writer’s Block can be brutal, but agonising over it is only going to make things worse.

There are times in every writer’s life when the words just won’t come. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it lasts weeks, or months. It’s certainly frustrating, but I refuse to stress over it. 2018-04-19 17.51.23

I’ve been in a “writing dry patch” over the past couple of months. For a while, there was nothing happening: the only thing I was writing was note after note full of ideas. I don’t know why I couldn’t write anything. I just couldn’t.

That came as something of a shock after last year which, although turbulent, painful and draining on both personal and emotional levels, was also incredibly productive. Three books of poetry, two of mild horror, and two fairy tale novellas in an anthology in a year is impressive for someone who teaches high school and needs to sleep occasionally. In one sense, it’s no wonder I ran out of steam. I’m only human, after all.

It was poetry that recently broke the drought for me. In fact, it usually is. Ironically, it was local tragedy in the form of wildfires around my home town on St Patrick’s Day that got the words flowing again. Since the middle of March, I’ve written some poems that I’m really happy with, and I have some others started.

I have so many stories I want to write, but now just doesn’t seem to be the time for that, so I’m saving the notes and plans and outlines until it happens naturally. I know it will. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

In all honesty, my mind is tired. Today at work, I struggled to remember the word for “chair”– and I was in a classroom, surrounded by at least 25 of them at the time! If I forced myself to write those stories now, they’d be rubbish.

So, I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to give my mind and my spirit time to rest, and not worry about all the things I want to write, or feel I should be writing. I’m certainly not going to churn out a bunch of garbage and try to persuade people that it’s “art”. I’m happy to wait, and I think my readers will prefer that, too.

Hopefully in the meantime I’ll be able to write a few more good poems.

Aftermath.

Today, driving to and from work, I saw the devastation with my own eyes, and my mind took a snapshot that developed into a poem. 

Yesterday I wrote about the fires that had burned around my town on the weekend.

Today, driving to and from work, I saw the devastation with my own eyes, and my mind took a snapshot that developed into a poem.

It’s titled Aftermath and I’d love for you to read it.

Promo Y Aftermath 2018-03-20 17.17.03

 

I took some actual photos, too.

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My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.

What a weekend it has been.

On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.

Wildfire.

It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.

One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.

Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria
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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.

 

Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.

The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.

Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.

 

We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.

Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.

Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.

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Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.

Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.

Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.

This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.

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The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.

The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.

Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.