Thursday, November 16, 2006

Comment Spam

Earlier this month, I opened the blog to comments. I didn't do it lightly. I've had problems with comment spam in the past. Eventually it got so prevalent that moderating the comments and getting rid of the crap took up far too much of my day, and I stopped allowing outside comments on posts.

But I wanted to hear what people thought about the topic o' the day, and figured I'd try opening things up. Astute readers have noticed that several recent posts have been open for comments. Yesterday, Tuesday's insurance post received this incredibly relevant gem:

WOW, this is FANTASTIC...!!! Blog your AD to Millions. Post your AD for FREE and get MASSIVE traffic to your site. FREE to join. To get started fast, Click Here: multi level methods site. It pretty much covers multi level methods related stuff and it's FREE to join.


I'm in the process of changing to the new Blogger (or getting my own, non-Google-controlled one). Perhaps the new one will be more adept at comment-screening. In the meantime, let's go back to the old way, shall we? I love to hear from people who read Muse Inks regularly. If you want to comment, agree, disagree, rant, or otherwise contribute, feel free. Just e-mail me, and I'll probably feature it in future posts -- unless you start talking about ADS posted for FREE for MASSIVE traffic, and sending me links to MLM sites. Yeesh!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Parasite Prevention

The other day a friend who is a relatively new horse owner called to ask a few questions about basic equine management. He had questions on things like hoof trimming, feeding, and ground manners. Then he asked, What about worming? I've heard about that. How often do I need to do it?

Ask that question in any group of horse owners, and you're guaranteed to open a can of worms -- if you'll pardon the terrible pun.

I've heard some vets say that if the horses aren't pastured in overcrowded conditions, you only need to worm quarterly. Others swear by a strict adherence to an 8 week schedule, with clockwork-like product rotation. Still others say the daily wormer is the only way to go...

I told my friend that I generally worm every 8 to 10 weeks, though sometimes I may skip a dose in the wintertime.

Hmm...., he said. So you're saying it should be more than just once a year?


I can't fault him too much, however. Many well-meaning owners aren't that knowledgeable about parasite prevention or very well-versed in what different worming products do.

When talking about an equine worming program, the short answer is: have one.

* Rotate the product you use on occasion, to prevent your horse from developing an immunity to the wormer.

* Quarantine all new horses and worm them with something like ivermectin before introducing them into an established herd.

* Avoid overcrowded pasture conditions.

* Develop a regular worming schedule, write it on the calendar, and stick with it.

* Oh -- and don't go a year between doses...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Insurance Verbage

I'm shopping for insurance. Our current policy costs significantly more per month than I bring in. Literally. It would be financial suicide to continue it. So I'm looking for something -- anything -- that will make it possible for us to have some sort of coverage.

No one in our family smokes, is overweight, has high blood pressure, is infested with a communicable disease, or flies jets. For some odd reason, however, the insurance companies are a bit balky about insuring my husband. The whole seizure thing really makes them nervous.

I fail to understand how the insurance industry gets around the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the official ADA website:

the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services ...

It's the "goods and services" clause that gets me. Anyone who has ever shopped for insurance knows that the industry is BUILT on discriminating on the basis of disability... and gender... and age... and weight... and Acts of God...

I especially love the small print in insurance policies that tell you what your premium WON'T get you. Here's an actual, verbatim excerpt from a company that assured me it did, indeed, want my business, and that it could provide me with the best possible policy for me and my family:

There are no benefits for pregnancy, mental and emotional disorders, or chiropractic care. Organ transplants performed in a designated transplant facility have a $1,000,000 lifetime maximum; in a non-designated transplant facility, there is a $150,000 lifetime maximum. The plan also includes utilization review, which requires notification of hospitalization.


What creative writing skills went into that bit of text, eh? (I know: sarcasm doesn't translate well into print. Can't help myself...)

I especially love the phrase There are no benefits for pregnancy. I look at my three year old daughter and beg to differ with whoever penned that gem.

I also love how pregnancy, mental illness, and a bad back are grouped together as if one had anything in common with the others.

Finally, you gotta love an industry who tells you not only where on the planet you can have your heart transplant, but that also requires you to notify them of when you intend to be in the hospital for said procedure.

To my knowledge, recipients of organ transplants are not generally in a condition that allows them to fly about the country to "designated facilities." They also rarely get the opportunity to schedule their procedure.

Image the realities of the policy:

"Oh -- my lungs are ready! ::wheeze:: Great! When? No, no... That's not good for me.

Besides, I can't have the transplant done there. I mean -- $150,000 won't even cover the surgeon walking through the front door, now, will it? I need you to put the lungs on a plane and send them ::gasp:: to... I've got the address somewhere.

Ooo, but before you do that, I need to notify my insurance of my intention to be hospitalized. they need to ::aaahhhh::: do a utilization review of my case. Just stick them on ice, I suppose. I'll get back to you.

On a final note, I also received this inspired bit of business:

For your husband, we recommend the XYZ health plan through ABC Company. There is a lifetime benefit of $5,000,000 per insured. Maternity is covered with this plan.

I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that an insurance company exists that will cover Robert in the event he becomes pregnant. And here I was, thinking that the insurance industry was going out of its way to be obtuse, murky, and difficult. Who knew?

Monday, November 13, 2006

No Dogs Allowed

There is an absolutely captivating, Must-Read Story online in the New Yorker about Epagogix and their neural network that can foretell with amazing accuracy the domestic box office of any movie based upon the script alone.

From a writer's point of view, knowing that an electronic Neural Net / Crystal Ball existed that could analyze my script and tell a studio what the movie would make is somehow deflating. A release that would get $50 million in box office receipts is referred to as "a dog."

You gotta read it.

Of the many excellent points the article makes -- creating more than enough fodder for several dinnertime conversations -- two things stand out:

1.) Script reigns. Stars, directors, budgets, F/X... You name it. It doesn't matter. Everything rests on the story. Hollywood pays lip service to this concept, but I don't think for a moment that anyone in the industry actually believes it. Still -- facts don't lie. At some fundamental level, audiences agree. It's all about the story.

2.) It can't just be about the numbers. If it is, many good films wouldn't get made. (See what one of the main characters within the article has to say about how the film Dear Frankie affected him. I happen to share his love of the movie. It'd would be a shame if studios only paid attention to the numbers and stopped thinking that small films like that were worth producing.)

It would appear that though we can create machines to operate with ruthless impartiality, there is still a need for the human element. The machines can analyze scripts until the cows come home. That doesn't mean they like the words they're processing.

I'd rather watch a compelling small film than the current blockbuster ANY DAY. That's why I, for one, consider it a huge blessing that, so far, most studios are skeptical of Epagogix' uncanny accuracy and are not using the technology to analyze everything they option.

I happen to be a dog lover. I'm just glad that the occasional "dog film" can still make it through the studios' crystal ball mine fields and find its way to the screen...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Clearance Sales

It's not every day that you see a clearance sale for a hands-on, service-oriented business. Imagine the ads: All house-cleaning must go! or This month only, we'll train your horse for half price! At first glance, it doesn't make much sense for business owners to do such a thing. After all, time is money. Clearing out stock to make room for more is one thing. Clearing out a service is... odd.

Well -- welcome to Oddville.

I'm in the middle of redesigning and reworking the services I offer to writers and others. One of the things I do is proofread and edit things like book manuscripts, articles, and websites. I've been spending a lot of time lately on my own projects. Right now, I've got 6 e-books in various stages of completion. I'm also working on 3 educational products for writers and experts who need to get their words out. I'm pretty busy, so I'm thinking of discontinuing some of the services I've offered in the past.

I don't want to let down any of my regular clients, however, or have them stop referring me.

So I decided to do a Website Proofing Clearance Sale. It will only be for existing clients and for referrals who come through them. But from now through the end of the year -- and while time slots last -- I'm cutting regular charges for a complete website proofing (up to 25 individual pages). I'm also throwing in a free Home Page edit of text and tone, and a Home Page Intended Audience Analysis. All told, clients will save between $500 and $600. And referring clients will get a little something extra for sending their friends and associates my way.

This may provide the butt-boost some people need to get their website text in order. And it will give me ample time to rethink whether or not to continue to provide the service next year.

I'll let you know how the Website Proofing Clearance Sale goes...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sore Winners

I just spoke with a journalist friend who had what I thought was a very interesting tidbit of information. U.S. Representative Fred Upton (think "Whirlpool Royalty," who is instrumental in pushing for some rather concerning internet legislation) was the winner on Tuesday's election. He defeated Kim Clark, who everyone knew was a "dark horse" candidate (Whirlpool carries lots of weight around here). That's not exactly news -- and not exactly unexpected.

Here's the kicker. When Clark called Upton in a sportsman-like gesture to congratulate him on his victory, Upton refused the call.

I doubt that the AP will ever run with the story, but I find it interesting. It says a lot for the current political "us vs. them" mentality across the nation when our elected officials can't even keep up a front of common good manners and social graces, and instead act like petulant, spoiled, rich brats. Hmmmm....

Benefits of Being Herdbound

Remember asking for parental permission to do something you knew was iffy, explaining in impassioned tones that all your friends were doing it -- which was the sole reason you wanted to too?

Remember the answer: "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?"

(Remember wanting to say, "Yup! Especially if a bungee cord were attached to both the bridge and me...")

Peer pressure, group-think, and following the crowd often get blamed for everything from lemming suicides to the Downfall of Civilization.

It's true -- though we pay lip service to individualism, and say that we value being able to think for ourselves, the truth is that we are often uncomfortable standing up by ourselves for much of anything, from clothing styles to ideologies. There is safety in numbers, the natural world tells us. And we take this to heart.

Last month, I wrote a little bit about social proof. Social proof is in evidence every time a sports star's face appears on TV or in a magazine in an effort to sell you something that has absolutely no bearing on his or her sport. Social proof also shows up whenever you hear, "We're the best! But don't take our word for it! Listen to what our satisfied customers have to say..." And it works. It works because -- deep down, we really don't want to be all alone.

While it's true that this need for social acceptance can be detrimental to our health (What would you do if all your friends jumped off a bridge?), it can also act in beneficial ways.

Social proof has helped dramatically cut the number of smokers in this country. It has contributed to our awareness of things like childhood obesity, the dangers of hydrogenated fats, and environmental issues.

Horses, even more than humans, are creatures of the herd. They form a tightly-knit group that moves as one, and that relies on the "wisdom of we."

I love this video. It illustrates both the dangers and the benefits of being herdbound. A herd of over 100 horses were stranded on a small island after a storm. Several drowned in the bad weather. The island barely provided enough room for them all to stand on. People were bringing hay to them in boats, but the situation was clearly out of hand.

The water receded enough for them to reach dry land but they didn't know it. So they stood on their little patch of land. Open, grassy meadows were in sight, but not one was willing to go it alone.

Then, a group of women decided to show them what was possible. They rode their horses over to the little island and the entire herd followed them to safety. All it took was seeing what was possible. Still -- when one horse decided to vacate the island, every other horse backed him up and followed along.

Social proof in action. Sometimes all it takes to break out of a self-imposed, self-limiting space is realizing that someone else has done it and can show you the way.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Shoulder-In, Shoulder-Fore...

...And Other Areas of Confusion

A friend of mine is studying for her upcoming certification test for the American Riding Instructor's Association. One of the areas of the test deals with the fine line between shoulder-fore and shoulder-in.

She's been having a bit of difficulty -- due, in large part, to the fact that the information out there is extremely confusing.

Some trainers say that "shoulder-fore is identical in movement to the shoulder-in -- only a less pronounced maneuver."

Some say that "shoulder-fore is a two-track maneuver (the horse's inside legs fall on one track, and the outside legs fall on another), while shoulder-in is a three-track maneuver (meaning that the horse's inside legs fall on one track, and the outside legs fall on another)."

Still others say that the "shoulder-fore is a two- or three-track maneuver, and the shoulder-in is a three- or four-track maneuver."

No wonder she's confused!

In an effort to clear some of the confusion (as opposed to contributing to it), here are some of the common threads that most reputable trainers agree on when discussing these maneuvers:

* Shoulder-fore is a pre-cursor to shoulder-in. Shoulder-in, in turn, is a pre-cursor to more advanced movements such as travers and renvers.

* When performing either a shoulder in or a shoulder-fore, the horse's head should be tipped in the direction in which he is traveling.

* Just tipping the horse's head does not constitute the movement. A correct shoulder-fore involves the horse's front end coming away slightly (no more than 5 degrees) from the outside rail.

* To perform either movement, the horse's front end must move toward the center of the ring. Moving his hindquarters toward the outside of the ring instead is not a correct execution of the maneuver.

After much online searching, it appears that the shoulder-fore is a relatively new term in classical riding. Some of my favorite, tried-and-true resources, such as Alois Podhajsky's Complete Training of Horse and Rider don't mention it.

Some of the best resources I found that described the maneuvers, explained how to differentiate one from another, and told how to best cue for them were the Shoulder-In lesson on the Classical Dressage site and an article by Shannon Dueck on

Happy riding!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

List Building Webcast

Yesterday I mentioned list building and list management as important parts of an online business. I promised to talk more about the subject today, but -- as luck would have it -- I can let a true expert do it instead.

One of the marketing mailing lists that I'm on alerted me to a webcast that's online later today. Subject: List building. It's taught by someone who has impeccable real-world experience in the subject. It's also offered free of charge as a way to stress-test their software and format before an upcoming fee-based seminar starts.

It happens at 1:00 p.m. EST (10 a.m. PST). So, if you're interested in hearing all aboout building a useable list and knowing what to do with one once you've got it, tune in later today...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Looking Forward

For the first time in years, I am deadline free. I took last week to finish up every single project I had on the books that was for someone else. I'm free! The upside of that is that I can finally work on my own things without feeling that I am slighting my clients or my projects in some way. The downside of course, is that no one is writing the checks...

I have also finished my final obligation with my last "low paying" client. This frees up even more time. But also creates a "monthly money I can count on" hole.

The next two weeks will be spent on a Carol of the Horse campaign that will continue through the first week in December, and on finishing up the product development of the new educational offerings. We're also looking at a complete re-design of the Muse Ink website, coordinating affiliates who want to participate in the "Carol" campaign, and researching the best way to continue to develop and manage our list.

(If Geoff's book campaign taught me anything, it brought home the importance of targeted lists. We're still wrestling with how to best compartmentalize our list into something useful, manageable, and easy to work with...) More on this subject tomorrow.

A portion of Thanksgiving vacation is earmarked for cleaning up my computer desktop and for renovating the blog. I've got a year and a half of stuff on here right now. Over 300,000 words! Yeesh! I'm going to streamline it, change the format a bit, and switch over to Blogger's Beta version that allows Tags.

Much to be done. But first -- I've got to run into town and buy horse feed. I may have no deadlines, but the animals still gotta eat!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Three Hour Training Revisited

I received the following e-mail from Steve Smith, the very talented clinician and trainer I wrote about on Wednesday. He pointed out that though I had opened up that post for comments, I hadn't turned off the password requirement. (Oooops!) Though that has since been remedied, I thought his comments on the Colt Starting Demos, and on training and education in general, deserved their own post:

Hi Ami,

I would like to comment a little about three hour colt starting demonstrations and competitions. First, I would like to thank you for your comments about my abilities as a horse trainer. It means a lot to me, and I thank you. Secondly, I feel the three hour colt starting competitions are primarily for demonstrating trainer’s techniques and styles of training and their ability to read a horse. Colt starting demonstrations are purely for entertainment. I believe some people hope to see a wreck while others, such as me, look at it as a learning opportunity. As I watch, I learn, and therefore my training ability increases.

I do agree with you on the amount a horse can learn in a single training session. The Road to the Horse has the training broken into two day sessions, which I think is really better for each horse. It allows the horse to absorb the training a little at a time. This reduces the risk of mental and physical stress on the horse. At our training facility in Kaufman, Texas, we start many colts each year. We break the lessons down for the colts, making sure they understand what we are asking them to do before we add additional lessons.

Colt starting demonstrations can be misleading to those who don’t understand horses well. There are those who have the misconception that a colt is broke and can be ridden the next day as though it is well trained, but to say a colt is broke after three hours of training is crazy. It takes time to train a horse well.

When I start a colt at a demonstration, I always tell the owner of the horse at the end of the day to realize the horse is not broke and should not be ridden the next day as though he is. I make sure the owner understands that although the horse has done well and come a long way in the training session, he can’t be considered well-trained. I encourage the owner to go back and break the training down for the horse with plenty of repetition to get the horse really solid at each exercise as his training progresses.

The most important thing to remember is to always put the horse first ahead of the competition. I really haven’t found evidence that a three hour colt starting hinders in any way the future training of a horse as long as you go back later and break the training down incrementally with a good step by step lesson plan. I recently did a three hour colt starting demo using a two year old quarter horse stallion in Missouri. Three weeks later, I was told by the person who coordinated the demo that the horse was doing very well. The owner had received several compliments from the stallion’s handlers mentioning how much better behaved and well- mannered the horse was.

In summation, three hour colt starting demos are fun, entertaining, and educational. I have learned a lot from the demos and trainers I have studied and apprenticed under. I pray that I am blessed with the opportunity to some day be a clinician at Road to the Horse.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this topic. If you have any questions or would like further information about our training, demos, or products, please call us at (903)498-4724, or email us at: You can also learn more about our business and facility at

Steve Smith

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Short and Sweet

Yesterday, I committed what I initially thought was a faux pas only to learn a valuable lesson...

In one of my writing and marketing newsletters, I'd read about an online live forum that wanted speakers from the publishing world to talk about various topics. I'd begun composing an e-mail in which I suggested topics I thought might be worth discussing. After each topical suggestion, I provided a few short sentences explaining my qualifications to talk about it.

I had two topics written: "Successful Ghostwriting, Co-Authoring, and Collaborating," and "How to Be Your Book's Best Friend" (easy ways for authors to promote their titles without relying on the publisher to do it for them). I figured I had the e-mail half done. I wanted to re-read it, polish up a few things, come up with a suitable close, sign it and send it.

I thought I hit "Save Draft." When I heard the tell-tale whooosshh! of my mail program, I realized I'd inadvertently hit "Send."

"Oh well," the fatalist in me thought. "So much for that."

Thoroughly disgusted with myself (It wasn't even signed, for crying out loud! How unprofessional do you think THAT looks?), I turned back to work on another project.

Not even 15 minutes later, I received an answer from my Ooops! e-mail. They like the idea of having someone talk about ghostwriting and co-authoring. To the best of their knowledge, no one else has volunteered to speak on either topic. They're currently planning the line-up for the next year. I'll be hearing from them in the next few weeks.


I couldn't help myself. I wrote back to thank them for their prompt reply. I also explained what had happened earlier and apologized for sending an e-mail that ended so abruptly and that contained no signature.

Only a few moments later, I had the epiphany when they replied:

I didn't notice!! lol I'm a busy person and appreciate short, concise, e-mails that are to the point.

I've just got to remember this for future reference. For one thing, there is no need for lengthy e-mail queries. For another -- just look at the time I saved by NOT slaving over constructing the "perfect ending."

I'm not suggesting that sloppy work is somehow to be encouraged. I'm just saying I know I can benefit from taking the "short and sweet," get-in-and-get-out advice to heart! Perhaps I'm not the only one...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Three Hour Training

A friend of mine is hoping to be accepted as a participant in the Road to the Horse competition. This is a more-or-less annual event in which three contestants each have three hours to do as much training as possible on an unbroken young horse. At the end of the contest, each takes his or her horse through a pre-determined series of maneuvers (walk, trot, canter on both leads, stop, turn left and right, back up, jump a low jump, drag an object...). They also get a short amount of time for "freestyle" -- their opportunity to show off any additional things they've accomplished with the horse.

Clinton has won the event two times in a row, and will defend his title this year against Chris Cox and Stacy Westfall. In the past, his freestyles have included standing on the horse's back while cracking a stock whip, shooting a gun, running a chainsaw, and firing up a leaf blower.

My friend who hopes to compete is very good. He's studied Clinton and other colt starters. He's competed in similarly structured colt starting competitions, and can do the chainsaw / leaf blower / firearm thing. He really wants to compete, and I hope he gets the opportunity...

But I can't help but wonder about the validity of this kind of event. When it comes to training anything -- a horse, a dog, my child, or me -- I'm a "slow and steady wins the race" kind of person.

When I start to learn something new, I get the most out of the process with a measured, methodical approach. Too much information dumped on me too soon just causes Full Brain Syndrome. After a certain point, I can't absorb any more information -- even if the instruction is coming from a world-class expert. I need time to process what I've learned, to assimilate it, and to "own" it.

When I teach writers of any age, I find that they learn best in smaller instructional doses. If I do a "Brain Dump" and deluge them with information, I end up wasting my time and theirs because they can't possibly take everything in at once. Throwing more information at them just to be able to say "I covered it" would do them a huge disservice. It would probably also result in demoralizing or overwhelming my students, rather than inspiring them to move to the next level in their writing.

I always wonder what happens to the horses used in these colt starting competitions after the event is over. In three hours, they have gone from "you can't put a halter on me" to horses that have been bridled and saddled -- then they've walked, trotted, cantered, jumped, backed, and stood quietly while small bombs were detonated around them. What happens next? Surely no one in his right mind would consider these colts trained.

I wonder how these colts respond the next time someone approached them with training tack. How to they react when saddled and bridled the next time? What sorts of mounts do they make a year or two down the road? Does their experience with Three Hour Training give them a jump on other horses of their age? Or does it actually cause a training road-bump further along in the process?

I usually don't allow comments posted on my blogs because I've had terrible problems with Comment Spam in the past. But I'd like to hear what other people have to say on this topic. I'll enable the Comments here as long as the spammers stay away.

Note: You'll notice the comments have been disabled. Some people never learn. See the post from November 15 for details...

I would especially like to hear from anyone who's had any experience with young horses that were a part of a colt breaking challenge. What do you think about them? If you're a fan, please explain why. If not -- why not, and what could be done to make a better demonstration of colt starting skills?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Inspiration vs. Implementation

Happy Halloween!

I spent some time on Monday working on a topical list of online marketing ideas for a non-profit organization. The organization in question has a national platform, an impeccable board, and a respectable cash flow. It's got a lovely website. It even knows to hire a respectable PR firm to promote its Really Big Events.

This does not mean that it can rest on its laurels. At least one of its members knows that there is always more that can be done. So they asked if I had any ideas.

I took a look at the website and did a quick analysis of it. In my opinion, it was lacking a few things that would make it attractive to most search engines. I made a short "grocery list" of suggested improvements, and explained their importance.

For instance, if you know the organization's name, and do a search for it in either Google or Yahoo!, their home website is #1. But other sites quickly fill in most of the Top 10 search results.

If, however, you don't know the organization's name, and look instead for keywords relevant to what they do, they don't show up anywhere. Their lovely website is completely under the internet radar.

A quick glance at the home page source code shows a lack of META tags, keywords, site description, and robot and googlebot instructions. While it's true that META tags are becoming less and less important to Google for search engine optimization, I would argue that you're doing any website a disservice by not including everything you can for a website's SEO.

I also took some time to make some general, topical suggestions for improving the organization's overall online presence.

One of the things I suggested they look at was their "Links." Their official site has links to several other websites. But none of those sites have reciprocating links.

It's no secret that links are one key to a large web footprint. In terms of establishing yourself online, the more people who link to you, the merrier.

I made suggestions about 8 or 10 topical marketing possibilities. I know most of them probably sounded obvious. But it's amazing how often the simple things tend to slip through the marketing cracks.

After my evaluation and after making my suggestions, I ended with this final observation: Ideas are a dime a dozen -- it's the implementation that counts.

Too often, clients are eager for inspiration. They want to hear what "great ideas" are out there for marketing on various levels. Yet, when the time comes for them to act on the inspiration, very little implementation actually occurs.

It's true that implementing any idea -- no matter how simple -- takes a bit of time initally. It's also true that most of my suggestions (making the most of e-mail signatures, utilizing free articles, maintaining blogs, establishing a presence in relevant forums...) are hardly "hard sell" techniques. Perhaps their very simplicity makes people suspect their usefulness...

My point is: I can't guarantee that something will work. But I can guarantee that nothing will happen to your website if you don't make the most of your online visibility.

Re: TG2BT...

I received this e-mail regarding yesterday's post (Too Good To Be True):

Read it! Loved it! Will share it at the next executive committee meeting.

I appear to have hit a nerve with at least one reader. One wonders if the X-Com members will recognize anyone they know...

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Too Good To Be True

This weekend, my husband and I volunteered to help out a new friend of ours who is the Executive Director for a non-profit community service agency in the area.

The organization does good work. They run an extremely affordable Thrift Shop full of newer, clean clothes, toys, bedding, kitchen items, furniture, sports equipment, books, and more. They have an emergency food bank and offer a "talent stable" of skilled help available to those who need it but can't afford it. Among other things, they also teach health & wellness classes, provide seminars for first-time home buyers, and give free massages to senior citizens and babies. In other words, they're providing a useful service to the community.

This organization had a website. Because funds for such agencies are often tight, the site was built and maintained by a volunteer. This was fine until the volunteer moved. The site is now locked in limbo-land. To make matters more interesting, the server hosting the site crashed. The domain is still valid, but for all intents and purposes, it is unaccessible.

The volunteer who built the website is a full-time student, and hasn't taken the time to take the existing website data and provide it to the organization.
So, they were stuck with a website they couldn't use. And the afore-mentioned tight funds made getting a new website up and online a daunting task.

Robert volunteered his web expertise, and we suggested a way for them to get online. It involved taking advantage of a special promotion from a web hosting service that’s extremely affordable, and which we’ve used with great success. In essence, if they acted during the special promotion, they could get online for about $30 for six months.

With great excitement, the Executive Director went before the Board and told them the Good News.

Their reaction? That was FAR less than they’d paid in the past. Surely, someone, somewhere had gotten the facts wrong. It simply sounded Too Good To Be True. Therefore, it had to be Suspect. Therefore, they wouldn’t look into it any further.

Now, I am a born skeptic. I know what it’s like to think something is TG2BT. Generally, my skepticism is rewarded.

But I am also a big believer in trusting the experts. If I’m doing something that’s draining my resources, and an expert in the field tells me a simple way to stop spinning my wheels, you can bet your sweet bippy that I’m going to give a certain amount of credence to the advice.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is to retain that healthy skepticism. But don’t use it to incapacitate yourself. If something seems TG2BT, rather than dismiss it out of hand, research it, instead. You never know – maybe you’ve been being taken for a ride. Because, in the eyes of most companies, the unquestioning customer who never comparison shops, never double-checks, and never consults with an expert, is the one who is Too Good To Be True!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Too Successful?

As you might imagine, we're still recuperating from the Event whirlwind.

For over 24 hours, beginning on October 25, Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation was THE #1 best-selling Horse Book on

It was ranked the #4 bestselling Individual Sports book, and we cracked the Top 25 Sports books (#21 was our best).

In one way, the Event was a little too successful: we also sold Amazon out of stock. People who ordered their books later in the day were informed that they had a 6 to 12 day shipping wait ahead of them.

(As an interesting side note, the paperback of the book was ranked 200,000 or so when we began. On October 25th, it climbed to 64,000, and stayed between 60- and 80-thousand all day.)

When the Event began, the hardcover was ranked 102,545. (Meaning, 102,544 titles were doing better than ours. Most disconcerting) We got as high as 1,267. All day we were between 1,267 and 2,800. That carried over into Thursday, when the book was still ranked in the top 10,000 for most of the day.

(Of course, there is no real thing as too successful. I wanted #1 overall -- but that's evidently something I'll have to wait for until the next Bonus Event.)

We received several unsolicited notes from participants telling us how happy they were to get the book, thanking whatever organization let them know about the Event, and looking forward to their Bonuses.

As I looked over the results after the dust had settled, I was happy to see several names I recognized who had taken advantage of the Bonus Event. You know who you are. Thanks to all who made it the success it was.

But enough kudos and laurel-resting -- it's time to move on. Much still remains on October's List of Things To Do. Because, in reality, there's no such thing as "Too Successful..."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- In Praise of the Horse Leaders

The Great Geoff Teall Book Bonus Event is officially under way!

We've worked hard to make it happen. We're grateful to the newsletter editors, riding club leaders, riding instructors, and 4-H leaders who let their members and students in on the news.

As I've been in contact with horse-leaders across the country, I'm continually impressed with the amount of time, energy, care, and attention people are pleased to donate to work with horses -- especially horses and kids. These are often thankless positions that involve staying current in a rapidly changing industry, educating parents, instructing children, and playing the inevitable political games that arise whenever children, egos, animals, and money are mixed together.

Yet, the same names continue to show up as leaders and instructors.

* These are the people who have explained the difference between a "diagonal" and a "lead" a hundred times to patently disinterested parents.

* They routinely stand for hours in wind, rain, sun, and snow in the hopes that their students will master keeping their heels down.

* They can pace off 3 feet more accurately than a yardstick. They can accurately gauge the height of an obstacle to within a millimeter simply by seeing it or standing near it. (That fence is too high. It's above the freckle on my left thigh -- take it down to 2' 6".)

* They can get a dozen pre-teen girls up at the crack of dawn AND have the girls and their horses ready to enter the ring for the first class of the day.

* They can memorize new tests, new rules, new regulations, new courses, and new patterns at the drop of a hat, while remembering with laser-like clarity the finer points of the "old" requirements.

My riding instructor was one of my favorite people while I was growing up. I practically lived at her farm (and would have, if given half the chance). I can't tell you how gratifying it is to know that other kids out there are having some of the same experiences I did -- learning from professionals in the equine industry who realize that the future of any endeavor is in the hands of its students.

Special Apologies to China

We encountered a little glitch in the middle of the day on Tuesday -- hours before the Event's 12:01 a.m. EST starting time. We had included an automatic countdown / timer on the page that was, evidently, TOO effective. When someone in China learned of the Event, she tried to take advantage of it. Here, it was too early. But there the webpage's automatic timer determined that she was, in fact, too late!

When we learned of the situation, we quickly disconnected the page timers. (Nothing like telling people something is over before it has begun!) I sent the newsletter list manager a note explaining that the Event would begin on October 25 (today) at 12:01 a.m. EST. It will officially end at 12:01 a.m. PST on October 26, so those on the West Coast don't feel slighted.

That, we felt, would allow plenty of time for everyone across the country to get in on the Event. We thought we'd covered the time-zone issue fairly well. We're sorry, China!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting the Word Out

It's been a sleety sort of Monday. The kind of day that makes you glad you have a good excuse to sit indoors.

All day long, I worked on the finer points of Geoff Teall's Special Bonus Event that begins at 12:01 a.m., EST, Wednesday. I worked to alert e-newsletter editors and relevant equine forums about the event. I also fielded e-mail queries about the particulars.

The great thing about putting together a package that is so full of good, solid, interesting material, from so many experts in their fields, is that people rarely give you the brush-off. Instead, I found myself in the enviable position of people asking for my approval to let them do an e-mail blast to alert their entire membership lists to the event.

Of course I gave my blessing.

The hardest part of doing a successful "Thing," be it product launch, clearance sale, or Special Bonus Event is letting people know about it. If the product is any good, it's not difficult to put together a fantastic campaign that centers around it. But you can pull out all the stops, write killer copy, have great bonuses, bring in celebrities and dancing dogs -- and it won't do a bit of good if no one knows.

If they don't know, they can't show.

This may be self-evident, but it doesn't make the point any less valid. If you spend the time putting together something that clearly has value to the intended audience -- such as the value the bonuses for Wednesday's Special Event have for people who enjoy riding hunters -- then you owe it to that audience to let them know what's available.

Which is why as the sleet hit the windows throughout the day, I was perfectly content to sit by the fire and get the word out. The clock is ticking, and time is running out...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Just for Riders: Announcing the Great "Geoff Teall Book Bonus Event"

If you or someone on your holiday shopping list loves horses, then you owe it to yourself to mark this Wednesday, October 25 on your calendar.

On that day, a one-of-a-kind, 24-hour only, Special Event will take place that every horse enthusiast should be aware of. It all begins with the book “Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation,” that regular readers of this blog already know well.

I am proud of my role in making this book a reality. I believe it holds tremendous value for every rider who is serious about improving his or her skills in the saddle.

My friend Geoff Teall -- one of the best known and most respected personalities in the world of hunt seat riding – has created this definitive guide for anyone who ever wanted to shine in the show ring, or fly over fences with grace and style.

You may know that the book is brand new this year and it’s already a hit! It was a featured selection in the Equestrian’s Edge book club. On September 26 & 27, it was the #1 Bestselling Horse Book on When Geoff is able to fit a booksigning into his schedule, the books routinely sell out before the event is over.

This is a most important announcement, because when you buy this book on Wednesday, October 25, Geoff has arranged for you to receive a ton of valuable bonus gifts from names you know – like R. Scot Evans, Clinton Anderson, Shelby French, and the American National Riding Commission – that will help you to be a more successful rider and trainer. Many of the bonus items aren’t available anywhere else!

With this book, you will possess the information you need to be WAY AHEAD of the others. All you need to do is read and follow Geoff’s excellent, easy-to-understand advice.

Every chapter is powerful...

In Chapter 6, you'll discover how to determine the difference between physical and mental fear – and how to banish fear from affecting your riding.

Chapter 10 outlines the four factors of every successful jump, and explains how to master each one. It also teaches you a simple exercise you can do at home to determine your horse’s optimum pace for any course.

Geoff’s book -- and the bonus gifts that you'll receive – is described on a special web page:

Bookmark the page. Print it out as a reminder. Then, on Wednesday, October 25, go to the website and take advantage of the Special Bonus Offer. On that day, when you purchase at least one hardcover copy of “Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation,” you’ll receive clinic tickets, a horse-lover’s screensaver, exclusive access to the opening exercises in the ANRC’s “American System of Forward Riding” workbooks, a one-of-a-kind audio seminar with Geoff Teall – and more!

The hard work you put into riding will only pay off if you have the knowledge you need to ride well...and this book is one the best ways to get that knowledge.

To your show ring success!

PS – Geoff’s book and his teaching methods have the blessing of top riders and judges. His horses and riders have won championships at some of the most prestigious shows and Medals classes in the country, including Devon, the AHSA Medal Finals, the ASPCA Maclay Finals, the Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National, the Washington International, the USET Talent Search, and the National Horse Show. But what he has to say won’t help you progress in your riding if you don't buy and use this book.

Get the book during the Bonus Event on Wednesday, October 25, and you'll create your own success story!

Thoughts on Announcing a Big Event

I recently received an invitation to a friend's wedding. I have to admit to doing a double-take, however, as I scanned over the announcement. She was married once before but is now clearly, unequivocably -- and not entirely amicably -- divorced. Yet the announcement called her by her married name.

It took me a bit before I understood her logic: Her children still retain their father's name. And her friends who met her as an adult may only know her by her former name.

Still, seeing her first husband's last name there on her wedding invitation just struck me as odd and made me go "Hmmm?"

Announcing any Big Event -- be it wedding, graduation, new family addition, product launch, or new business venture -- is difficult. Oh, sure, it seems simple in concept. (Come to my wedding!) But it can be vastly complicated in execution. (Is it "Ms.," "Mrs.," or "Miss?" Do I use my maiden name, my former married name, or a combination of the two? Did we even tell Great Aunt Gladys about the divorce...?)

Lately, I've been spending my days thinking about what goes into announcing a Big Event (B.E.). The Special Bonus Event for Geoff Teall's book is only 4 days away. Much has gone into not only getting things prepared, but also announcing their existence. Every bonus needed announcement text. The book needed its own copy. In addition to all the specifics, the Event in general needed words tailored just for it.

In any announcement, every word counts. Though it's unreasonable to expect people to read everything that is written, you must be ready to stand behind what the text says about you and the B.E. Typos are anathema. Grammatical mistakes are only slightly less verboten. But there comes a time in writing the text for nearly every Event when the inevitable Maiden / Married Name dilemma arises.

My favorite general rule of thumb for writing Big Event marketing announcements is:

Draw In, Don't Bump Out

Anything that pulls readers into the text, gets them excited about participating in the Event, and makes them happy to tell their friends about it is good.

That's why phrases like "discover the secret," "don't miss out," and "guaranteed results" are so common. They work. They're especially effective when they're true.

It's also why you see things like "Here's why God Himself loves this product..." It applies the concept of Social Proof to the B.E. In essence, endorsements say that it's OK to join the crowd and take part in the B.E.

Pull the reader in, make promises you can keep, and let people know that they are not alone. That's a recipe for a great announcement.

But don't go so far as to make unsubstantiated, faulty, or empty claims. And don't threaten the reader. That just bumps the reader out of the nice, comfy chute of acquiesence your announcement is working so hard to create.

A very well known author, marketer, and educator actually used the following headline in a major promotion:


A few sentences later, he followed up with:

", instead of making mistake after mistake until you die, buy my product, and you'll be set for life."

Maybe it works for him, but for me it's a total bump out!

It all comes down to this: when announcing a Big Marketing Event, choose your words carefully. They will set the stage and, with any luck, will connect with your audience. Give your readers a reason to keep reading, rather than an excuse to go "huh?" and wonder how much Great Aunt Gladys knows.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Will It Blog?"

I received an e-mail from Dr. Warson that ended with the question "Will it blog?"

So, to him, and to the others who have reminded me that there have been no new posts for a week, the answer is, "Oh, alright."

It's so nice to be missed.

I have to admit, I had no real intentions of taking a hiatus for the last week. I had every intention of buckling down and finishing up some major projects. Which I did.

* The "Rider's Back Book" manuscript received a final once-over and then got sent on its merry way and arrived safely at the Trafalgar Square offices. (1 day)

* My barn got cleaned within an inch of its life. Everything portable got dragged outside. The loft above one stall came down. So did a season's worth of cobwebs in the rafters. The hay storage area received a complete (much needed) makeover. Much unnecessary junk found its way into the trash. (2 days)

* It SNOWED! Several inches! Which, of course, necessitated an immediate trip into town to obtain winter boots and coats for my daughter (who had the audacity to grow out of last year's warm things). (1 day)

* I'm in the middle of planning a big Special Bonus Event for Geoff Teall's book. This involves much text writing, e-mailing, researching, and late-night-oil-burning. Nothing ever proceeds as smoothly or goes as quickly as I think it should. (3 days. So far.)

* Did several hours of marketing research and made my weekly recommendations. Sometimes it seems that the information just isn't there. Other times, there appears to be a wealth of riches. This last excursion resulted in what could be a gold mine of opportunities for my client. I love when that happens, but writing up the recommendations when there is so much information to cover can take quite a bit of time. (1 day)

* Several house projects just couldn't wait any longer. Among them: patching a section of concrete in our basement and getting the on / off switch to the furnace repaired (see the earlier comment re: several inches of snow) (1 day)

As you can see, more than a week's worth of things have happened in the past week. The blog just wasn't one of them.

But all that has changed. Rest assured, it will blog again.

(In case you were wondering, Dr. Warson assured me that the Kona earthquake earlier this week did only minimal damage to his home. Ah, the dangers of living in Paradise...)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Living In Great Hopes

I've had a producer ask to see one of my scripts. This is enough to put a smile on my face, even though I know it's a long hike from "send me your script" to "let me put money in your bank account for it." I'm not unaware of the realities of the business. But, like many writers, I live in great hopes.

Today will be a day of acting to make those hopes a reality. I hope to make a long-delayed trip to the post office and send out the complete manuscript package (photos and all) of "The Rider's Back Book" to Trafalgar Square. I hope to send out a script that the producer will fall in love with. I hope to cross a few things off my "To Do" list and be able to get started with some other big projects.

The unexpected nature of life, and the inevitability of a certain amount of rejection fill the writer's world with roadblocks. But we keep pushing forward. It doesn't matter whether we're pragmatists, fatalists, or realists. At heart, we're all dreamers, filled with a boundless supply of hope.

Hope drives us. It is the writer's power pack. Without it, we could never challenge the realities of the business that present us with seemingly impossible, insurmountable odds.

When hope runs out, the writing stops. Here's hoping that never happens...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Falling Short on Follow Through

For the past few days, my parents have been here lending their helping hands to get a few things done before the snow flies. It's been wonderful. Very little of my regular work has occured, but we have accomplished so much in a week.

The studio is here... a new riding arena and turn-out paddock are nearly finished... the porch roof has been sealed and strengthened... downed and dead trees are cut into firewood... Like I said -- much has happened.

One of my Christmas presents from my father last year was two weeks' worth of help around the house and the farm. (I call it "fatherly assistance." He calls it "indentured servitude.") Before the holiday, I'd remarked that all I wanted for Christmas was a couple weeks of his time helping out with a few projects. We all laughed, but he knew I was completely serious.

When my dad presented me with a little "coupon" for the work time, I was thrilled. I knew I could count on him to follow through with what he said he would do.

Unfortunately, not everyone is like my father. Lately, I've had reason to think about the importance of following through on promises. Several instances come to mind.

It's frustrating, because in each instance, a portion of my life or a segment of a larger project goes on hold while I wait for someone else to fulfill his or her end of an agreement. This, then, requires explanations, rationalization, justification, rescheduling, and other draining activities. Progress grinds to a halt. Stress levels rise. Deadline jitters commence.

I understand as well as anyone that life is not something that is easily blocked out and scheduled in advance. Extenuating circumstances lurk around every corner -- and I try to be flexible and open minded when they rear their ugly heads. But when they loom, and it becomes obvious that you are going to fall short on an earlier promise, I believe you owe it to yourself, your friends, and your colleagues, to follow through and let them know of the kink in the plans.

It's only fair. Other people have lives, too. And though my life may have been preoccupied with sawing wood and setting fence posts for a few days, that doesn't mean that I chose to put the afore-mentioned projects on hold. I'd have much rather been able to finish them and put them in the "done" pile.

Enough grumping for now. I hear the fence calling me...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Moving Day!

No real "writing work" went on yesterday. I spoke with Charles and we talked a bit about two outstanding photos for Dr. Warson's "Rider's Back Book," but that project is really ready to send to the publisher, as soon as all the photos are finished.

The day began with me replacing two support posts and repairing the round pen. All the rain we've had lately made that job easy in some ways (clay is easily shoveled out) and difficult in others (clay is not easily shoveled back in or firmly packed).

My dad cut up the four big, dead trees that we'd dragged to the end of the driveway on Wednesday, before our work got rained out.

Then, we went to work on the riding arena. It was too wet to set the remaining posts, but we decided to nail up the boards on the posts we'd already set. We got a good start on things, too, until the Great Studio Move took precedence over everything else.

Yes, the studio is finally here! Not that it moved without incident, mind you. But at least it's in its final resting place.

The guy who moved it underestimated how astoundingly heavy the thing is. I discovered that this is no pre-fabricated, bantam weight building. No -- this thing was built from the ground up by hand. Our best guess is that it weighs over 3 1/2 tons!

And we moved it. We jacked that puppy up, put additional support beams underneath it, and winched it onto the trailer. The support beams (treated 4 x 6's that ran 20 feet -- the entire length of the building) started to disintegrate under the stress of using them to haul the building forward. We had to stop and reposition things three times. (A simple sentence to write, and a short one to read. But it was fraught with danger and encompassed hours in real time.)

Then we crept toward its new home. We cleared the power and phone lines over our driveway with literally inches to spare. We cleared the side of our house with even less room. And we had to stop twice to saw off tree limbs that were in the way.

But we did it. The soggy ground held up under the truck and trailer. Tom of T & W is a masterful backer, and he slotted the building between two trees just exactly as I hoped he would.

Now, I can't wait to finish the inside and move my work space there. Life just moves from one anticipation to the next.

So, while no real "writing work" got done yesterday, I can't help thinking that my business has taken a huge leap forward. Can't wait to get to work on it... but today is earmarked for the riding arena, too, so though the studio has moved here, my moving in will have to wait...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blame It On The Rain

Yesterday, though my parents are here to offer a week's worth of free help around the farm, and we had great plans for finishing the new riding ring, very little actually got accomplished at the Hendrickson house. This is because, for what seems like the 20th straight day, it rained. It didn't pour. There was no soothing, relaxing pitter-patter on the roof. No -- it just rained... then stopped... then rained... then stopped. Bleah.

The pasture is under water. The stalls are flooding. The fence posts still waiting to be set into place are practically floating in their water-logged holes.

I'd promised to take the day off work. In the morning, while the clouds still retained some of their moisture, my dad and I dragged downed trees near the burn pile. Then the ick started up again, so we did the obvious thing, and went shopping.

The mosquitoes are horrific. The horses are completely covered in mud. I've already mentioned the sorry state of the barn and pasture. And to top it all off, my studio is still not here, because the delivery truck would probably sink out of sight in my super-saturated yard.

The good news is that the audio files for two teleseminars I recently recorded are done. Now, there's just a little bit of work required on the workbooks that accompany them, and they'll be ready for the masses.

* One is titled "Before You Begin." It suggests 10 easy-to-follow things for writers to do before starting a big writing project to help streamline the entire process, keep yourself focused, and remain on track.

* The other tells authors how to be "Champion For a Day." It suggests "Tried and True Things You Can Do Right Now to Promote Your Non-Fiction Book."

Both will be available through Muse Ink later this year. As I said, there is still some work and some polishing to be done. But it's exciting to have the audio part crossed off my "To Do" list. Some things the rain can't interfere with...

Today, we've set our sights upon the riding arena fence again. It remains to be seen whether or not the Weather Gods will smile upon us.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- On Guard!

After 14 years working with horses, it finally happened... the e-mail from my friend CG began. It continued with a detailed description of how she got -- rather badly -- hurt.

She'd been lunging a Haflinger mare that she knew well. Now that it's officially Fall in Michigan, the horses have been feeling their oats and kicking up their heels a bit more than usual.

She saw it coming. But she didn't move fast enough. The end result was that the Haflinger firmly planted both feet on my friend's chest. CG threw up her hands in an unthinking, instinctive move to guard herself, they got kicked, too -- and she has a fractured knuckle to prove it!

She's just started a specialized training program and has a two-year old little boy, in addition to the various animals in her menagerie. Taking care of her dependents with a cast on while the fracture heals isn't going to be a cakewalk.

When you work around horses all the time, it's so easy to get sloppy or to let your guard down. It happens to the best of us. But it only takes a split second for the horse's instinct to triumph over years of domesticity... and for someone to get hurt.

This past spring, a woman in our county was feeding her friend's Belgians while the friend was gone. When the woman was late coming home, her husband went to check on her. He found her in the pasture where she'd been kicked in the head and trampled to death.

Earlier this year, my friend PF was feeding her 20-something year old mare when the horse turned on her. This mare had been used as a therapy horse for handicapped students for over 15 years. She was the quietest, calmest thing on the planet. PF still doesn't know what set the horse off. But the mare attacked her, got her backed into a corner -- and probably would have killed her, if a neighbor hadn't heard the commotion and come over to help.

A few short months ago, my farrier hyperextended his knee when a young horse he was trimming moved suddenly and lashed out at him, catching him off guard and off balance.

And just last month, my friend, the wonderful equine photographer Charles Hilton, moved closer to the horse during a photo shoot so he could show the rider the latest shots through his digital camera. The horse cow kicked and blew Charles' knee.

Now that the snap of cool weather is in the air, it can invigorate even the most blase of old geldings. No horse is so quiet that a sudden movement won't startle it. No horse is so calm that it can't move quickly and step on your foot.

Just a word to the wise as winter approaches -- be aware, and be prepared for anything.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Anticipation runs high in the Hendrickson house today. Grandma and Grandpa are on their way from Pennsylvania, and my three year old daughter is beside herself with excitement.

I know how she feels. The weather interfered with the delivery of my studio yesterday. Now we're shooting for Thursday, and hoping the rain stops long enough to dry out the chosen site for the trucks to come in. I'm like a kid at Christmas waiting for the building to arrive, so I can finish the inside, and move all my work things into it. It's bigger than any room in our house. And once I get all my books and work-related items into it, I have a feeling that every room in our house will feel larger!

Anticipation... It's also evident in the Rider's Back Book. There are a few photos left to agree upon and place in the book. While it's true that the manuscript isn't yet at the publishers (something I'm not thrilled about), we all agreed that it would be best to send an entire, complete package, rather than have the words and pictures arrive in pieces. Besides, the publisher and our managing editor are at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week. It's not like they're desperately waiting for the manuscript to arrive.

No -- the only person who's desperately anticipating doing the Happy Dance upon completion of this project is ME!

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Will Write for Food...

I received this job posting from a friend of mine. It appears that some people really do believe that Superman exists and is looking for work...

Personally, though part of the position looks intriguing, the whole thing appears to be more a job description for an entire communications department than for a single person.

You decide...

XYZ Corp. is looking for an in-house Writer/Club Coordinator to fulfill the growing needs of our company.

This position will report to the Vice President, works hand-in-hand directly with the President and CEO and involves the following:

-Full time position in our corporate offices

-The applicant should have a degree in journalism, English or marketing and [specialized field] experience.

-Photography abilities and education background a plus.

-Relocation is required.

-Will be responsible for developing all content for our monthly subscription club and for writing articles, manuals and other printed materials.

-Responsible for spearheading content of our quarterly magazine and coordinating with in-house design staff to see issues meet quality, timeliness and innovation standards.

-Brainstorming new PR opportunities, membership benefits and written projects.

-Overseeing postings on member-only web site and coordinating chat sessions.

-Will work with in house designers to select photos and supporting graphics for projects.

-Follow up interviews with client base.

-The candidate we are looking for has a great writing style that is easy to follow, works well in a team, but can take a project and run with it. We are seeking an aggressive go-getter that is excited to be involved with XYZ Corp. on a day-to-day basis and can communicate that enthusiasm to our customers and help them better reach their goals.

- WOW us with what you can do! Why are you the best person on the planet for this job? What projects have you spearheaded in the past, are you a high producer that works well in a collaborative environment and likes a fast pace? Then we are interested in hearing from you!

-Salary commensurate with experience.

-401K with generous employer match

-Casual office environment - must like dogs

If they fill that position for less than $150,000 a year, they're coming out on top, I say.

Meanwhile, back in mid-America, the big News of the Day is that my writing studio is a reality. It's bought, paid for, and should be happily nestled in its new home on my property by the end of today. To say I can't wait is an understatement of epic proportions!

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Wall Street Journal and the Amorphous Audience

My friend, the wonderful Stephen Jukuri, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal this week!

This is a thing that I find very cool because, though Stephen is an extraordinarily talented writer and artist, he's not exactly the money-driven, corporate poster child for the WSJ.

I told him I was impressed at his "connections."

His response:

I wish I was that well connected. Freak chance is all. [The writer] wrote a great article on multi-tasking, and I responded, and next thing you know....

This just goes to show how powerful responding to a person's writing can be. We write because we have something to say. We like to think we can touch people. It's always a welcome surprise, however, when we discover that we actually connect with our audience.

For many writers, their audience is a sort of distant, amorphous blur. The writer may wonder if anyone out there really gets what he or she is talking about. When someone actually does "get it," and takes the time out of his or her busy schedule to say so, it is a Banner Day, indeed.

So, kudos to Stephen -- not for being a featured Quote of the Day, but for taking the time to connect with someone whose words connected with him. Every writer should be so fortunate.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Number One

For about 12 hours on September 26 and 27, books I'd written were the #1 and #2 bestselling Horse Books on (Geoff's was #1, Clinton's was #2.) It was a rather surreal experience to see onscreen.

Other cool numbers that cropped up showed that Geoff's book ranked in the Top 10 of Individual Sports titles, and in the Top 35 of all Sports titles. Its overall ranking for the nearly 2.5 million books available on was 1960-something. It may even have done better than that, but those were the numbers I saw.

It's never a good idea to put too much credence in bestseller statistics. From to the New York Times to other book trackers, the titles on such lists vary from week to week and from day to day. A book may hit #1 on one list and not even register on another. Playing the bestseller / numbers game can really mess with your head.

On the other hand, having a title reach #1, the Top 10, or even the Top 100 of a bestseller list can add a certain amount of cache to the book. It can help generate some "buzz" (a loathsome marketing term) and give the project a continued boost. The term "bestselling" can also help validate an author's efforts and be used to gild the writer's bio.

Aiming for #1 is hardly a reason to write a book. On the other hand, it makes no sense to put forth the time, effort, and energy necessary to create a book if you don't believe in the project enough to be willing to promote it as best you can.

I am fond of reminding writers: No one believes in your career more than you do. If you don't believe your book deserves to be a bestselling title, perhaps it's worth revisiting the project and perfecting it until it's clearly the best thing for readers to do with their money and their time.

I tell all new (and not so new) authors to go for it. Aim for #1. Come up with a plan and put it into action. The danger is not in aiming for the stars. It is in failing to raise your sights to the sky. It is also in believing that you're too good for this world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- West Nile Watch

This past weekend I, and most of my horse-owning friends and neighbors, received notification from a local veterinarian's office that West Nile has been conclusively diagnosed in our county. Needless to say, we are concerned.

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the first case of West Nile was diagnosed in the U.S. in 1999. In the last 7 years, it has become a leading consideration whenever horses present with neurologic disease. It is, unfortunately, associated with a high mortality rate (over 33 percent of all infected horses die).

West Nile is a flavivirus. Mosquitoes and other bloodsucking insects transmit it to warmblooded hosts like horses, birds, and people. Horses and humans, you may know, are considered "end hosts," which means that the West Nile virus cannot be transmitted from them to another host.

Our West Nile notification suggested vaccinating and boosting existing vaccinations. The AAEP guidelines for West Nile vaccinating recommend that all horses in North America routinely receive the vaccine (though it is not recommended for pregnant mares, and has been associated with foal deformities and death).

Symptoms of West Nile include muscle weakness, stumbling, tripping, twitching, depression, fever, convulsions, partial paralysis, coma, and death. West Nile can be easily confused with other conditions, such as EPM and rabies, that may have similar symptoms.

All told, West Nile isn't really anything to mess around with. The fact that a confirmed case is in our immediate area doesn't exactly fill me with warm fuzzies. Though we've had some cold weather recently, it hasn't been enough to eliminate the mosquitos yet. It looks like we'll be vaccinating again -- sooner than we'd planned...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Coaching for Accountability

I spoke with my coach, Stephanie, today -- brought her up to date, reported on current projects, and told her my plans for October and November.

I almost rescheduled our appointment, because my good friend Denise had agreed to come and help set posts for the riding arena. Of course, when I scheduled an arena-fence-post-day, I forgot about my session with Stephanie. But I didn't cancel. (It's always easy to say "no." I'm afraid it would have set a dangerous precedent...) Instead, I begged off from setting posts for a bit and came in for the call.

The best thing about having a coach is that she keeps me accountable. She remembers what my goals are. She knows what I'm aiming toward. She keeps me on track and encourages me. And she holds me accountable for my own dreams.

When I'm working with a writer (as the coach, instead of the coach-ee), I like to do the same thing. As someone who's "been there," and as someone who is not so close to the project that I've become myopic over it, I constantly try to find ways to help the writer see the big picture.

I ask the writer to remember the reader. We explore ways to add value to the reader's experience. We discuss long-term plans for the book. We work to streamline the writing process and improve the writer's productivity. And we continually come back to The Point of the whole project, revisiting it from several different angles, to make sure that the end result is consistent with the original vision.

Working with a coach is just that: work. A coach pushes, prods, and challenges you. A coach is as invested in your success as you are, but the coach's dreams are not yours. If you want your vision to become reality, you must take responsibility for making it happen. A good coach in your corner can help show you the way. But it's up to you to commit to the journey.

Back Book News

"The Rider's Back Book" is nearly ready to send to the publisher. I spent some time on the phone last night with Dr. Warson, discussing the medical illustrations (x-rays, MRIs, CT scans and others) that will be in the book.

Our conversation was punctuated with such comments as:

Ooo, this is great. There's a metastatic tumor here that anyone will be able to see...

What an excellent shot of a ruptured disc!

Oh yeah! The L5 / S1 is so damaged that they've practically fused together. See? Ooo -- and there's a disc impinging on the spinal cord, too -- great stuff!

I told him I was seeing a whole new side of him. Most people, myself included, rarely include "ruptured disc" and "great shot" in the same sentence.

Ah, but he was in his element, looking at radiographs, commenting on them, and deciding upon the best ones for the book.

Tomorrow, we are to go over Charles' photographs and make sure all are seen and signed off on. Then it's just a matter of making a hard copy and sending the package off to Vermont. Life is good!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Title Tracking

An interesting website that is currently in Beta testing mode is Titlez.

The site offers a way of tracking the sales ranking of one or more titles. Though Amazon updates their sales numbers hourly, and the rankings are a useful way of tracking a book's popularity with the world's largest online retailer, they keep no record of the title's past success. collects and graphs Amazon rankings over time. Just type a title, subject, publisher, or author name into the search field, and you'll see a graph that features the day-by-day performance of a given book.

You can find things like a book's best rank, worst rank, 7-day, 30-day, and 90-day ranking, and lifetime average. You can also compare the performance of two or more titles.

Since the site is still in development, not all titles have information collected, but you can request a title be added. (Clinton's book, for instance, had the information readily available. I had to request that they track the sales figures for Geoff's book.) For now, access to the site's resources is free -- you just need to register with your name, e-mail, and a password. Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday. It's a BIG ONE. It ends in "0," which always invites a retrospective, and begs questions like What have I accomplished in my time on the planet? and Why don't I have more to show for my life so far?

I've always been a driven person. My plans for my life have been far-reaching and ambitious. I've discovered, however, that those plans have been found on no one's agenda but my own.

For instance, a decade ago, the last birthday that ended with "0" was very difficult for me. I wanted to have at least one book in print or one screenplay optioned by then. But God's time is not our own. And though you can work to advance your career, you cannot simply make things happen.

It took a few more years before I had a book out, but it wasn't the book that I thought would be the first published. By then, my daughter had come along to brighten my life. And my husband had lost his job. So much for my meticulously crafted Life Plan.

Today, in keeping with a grand tradition that includes carb-laden cakes, cards, and candles, I've made a few Birthday Wishes:

* I wish everyone would choose to do one self-sacrificing Selfless Act a day. It would be a regular reminder that there are those less fortunate than we are, and we are all in this world together.

* I wish everyone would "unplug" for 24 hours on a regular basis. With no TV, no radio, no CDs, and no DVDs monopolizing our brain cells, we'd be forced to confront our own thoughts, find our own entertainment, and reach our own decisions without relying on corporate-sponsored media that is focused more on their bottom line than on their consumers' well-being.

* I wish every corporation, every business, and every company were held accountable for the damage they inflict on the planet, and were made to take steps to clean up their collective mess. I wish it were impossible to conduct business without making a non-destructive footprint and leaving the world at least as good as you found it.

* I wish every overweight person would become financially responsible for and sponsor a person who is dying of malnutrition -- until both people were healthy.

* I wish every parent would recognize the enormous potential within his or her child, and would accept the responsibility for helping that child thrive. This includes surrounding the child with unconditional love, giving opportunities for success and for failure, insisting upon personal responsibility, and protecting the child from the world at large (because it is a very large world).

And finally,

* I wish every person would take steps toward reaching a personal goal. What is life without a dream?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"The Sting of Ignorance"

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article by Harvard Medical School professor Jerry Avorn detailing his experience with a toxic jellyfish tentacle, an emergency medical team powered by conventional wisdom, and the omnipotence of the internet.

One of the unmistakable points of his piece, however, is the paramount importance of doing one's own research. Not taking others' suggestions at face value. Not blindly following the lemmings who lead the way. Not falling in the rut of "we've always done it like this..." No -- there is much to be said for personally looking into a thing to gain a greater understanding of it.

True, when using the internet, one must be careful of one's sources. But that's true of any research project.

I use the internet so much on such a consistent basis, that I find it hard to remember how I ever fared without it. But I am amazed at how haphazard many students and other users are toward what it has to offer.

It's not that they're unfamiliar with the computer or the internet. They know how to use all the pieces of the research puzzle quite competently. But too often, they're not entirely sure how to assemble the pieces in order to come up with a discernable picture.

The problem, I fear, is not a lack of information. Nor is it that the information is somehow difficult to access. The problem is simply that solid research skills are taught less and less. To many students, all sites are created equally -- they carry equal academic weight, are equally factual, and equally impartial and unbiased.

My friend TG and I have had many discussions on several variations of this theme.

When she taught at the university level, she routinely ran into administrators who told her not to "waste time" teaching things like critical thinking and research skills. Often, classes such as literature, comparative studies, and writing intensives that would make use of such skills were eliminated entirely from the curriculuum. Instead, they were replaced with things like "keyboarding," "business writing," and other benign courses designed not to educate, but to turn out cubicle drones.

I am inclined to agree with Avorn when he categorizes the internet as one of the three most useful medicines he knows (along with aspirin and acetominophen). It places potent information at our fingertips. It remains to be seen, however, how long we consider information valuable enough to ascertain that it remains free and available to all.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Empty Promises and 11th Hour Angels

Our church is having a series of meetings that started this past Friday and run through next weekend. Normally, I'm pretty skeptical of such things and tend to stay away from them. But they're offering child care during the meetings and made a desperate plea for volunteers. And, since Robert's a deacon, they asked him to help pick up the offering and crowd control. So I decided I'd offer to help with the 4 to 6 year olds. Besides, I figured Cassandra would enjoy hanging out with the other kids.

Last week, we went to an orientation for the volunteers. About 15 of us had offered to help with the 4 - 6 year olds. The woman in charge of the program was thrilled to see us. She had someone all lined up to do a Nature Story every night, she said. But that person fell through two days before the meetings were to begin. Instead of having 10 nights taken care of, she had bupkiss. Would anyone be willing to help?

(This explains why I took a chicken to church on Saturday night, and a duck on Sunday. Monday's attraction will be goats, if I can orchestrate it correctly...)

To further spice things up, the piano player that had committed to playing for the 15 minute opening song service has not deigned to show. So my Extremely Rusty piano-playing skills have been put to use. (Every night I hope someone -- anyone -- shows up to make a repeat performance unnecessary.)

Now, I am the first to realize that sometimes life throws curve balls at you that make it impossible for you to keep a commitment. On the other hand, in this electronic age, if you cannot do what you've said you will, there is NO excuse for not calling with an apology, offering an explanation, and finding a replacement.

Every night, we've had over 60 kids to watch. The job is not difficult. It's actually kind of fun. They sing songs, listen to stories, eat a snack, and do a craft. But every night, we are reminded of the empty promises made by would-be volunteers, and grateful to the 11th Hour Angels that have stepped up to the plate so things run smoothly.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thoughts on Heavy Lifting and the Benefits of Free Press

One of the many electronic newsletters I subscribe to is Dan Poynter's Para Publishing Newsletter . It often features useful information on marketing and publishing, as well as other items of interest to writers.

One of the topics that continually resurfaces stresses the importance of getting featured in the news. One mention of your name or your book's title in a news story or article does far more for your credibility as an author or expert than buying ad space. The public instinctively distrusts the truthfulness of purchased print. Furthermore, the majority of readers still believe in an unbiased press (to a point).

Intellectually, I knew this to be true. But I recently experienced the reality of it first-hand.

Earlier this summer, I bought a pre-built structure to use as a studio. It's a cute, little, self-contained thing that measures 12 by 20. It technically qualifies as a "temporary" (read "non-property-taxable") structure. It's sided, has nice, vinyl windows, air conditioning, ceiling fans, electrical outlets, and more. It's only a quarter of a mile from my house. All that it needs is to be moved down the road, leveled, and voila! I'm in business.

This was my thought process when I bought the building.

Then I started looking for someone to move it.

After literally hours of letting my fingers walk through the yellow pages, and talking to friends, begging for suggestions, I eventually reached a point of abject frustration. It's not that I thought the movers I spoke to were quoting me unreasonable prices to move my studio. It's just that I couldn't find anyone who was interested in (or capable of) doing the move in the first place.

I eventually went through the phone book and called every single business that might have cause to use a driver with a big, flat trailer. No luck. (Actually, the Bobcat dealer did give me a name and a phone number of a guy who could do the job. I even got the guy on the phone. He thought he might be able to do it. But he never called me back.)

I got to the point where I called and begged a friend of mine who has heavy equipment to see if he would take a stab at it. He came out and looked at the project. He probably would have tried it. But it was obvious he wasn't comfortable doing something like that, and I didn't want to push it.

And then my Dad (who was visiting last weekend) read the paper. The Tri-City Record is published weekly. It's our local guide to what's going on. Among other things, it features high school sports results, covers city and township meetings, and (my personal favorite) runs short excerpts of news stories from 100 years ago.

Right in the middle of the paper was a story of a congregation that had set their original belfry on the roof of their new church building. The article featured a picture of the belfry being maneuvered into place with a giant boom. (I never said it was news of national interest, but here in northern Berrien County, we like to be kept apprised of such things.)

"Bet that guy could move your building," said my dad.

I looked more closely at the photo and -- lo and behold! -- the truck had bold lettering on it proclaiming "T & W Transport." Even better yet, it is located right here in Coloma. A phone number painted on the truck's side was also legible in the photo.

So I called. The very nice man who answered came out and looked at my project, and I had an estimate that day.

It made me think of my experience chasing the Snap-On Man. True, it pays to advertise (of COURSE people in the construction industry should include their phone numbers on their vehicles). But the best advertisement is being featured in the free press.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Essential Agent Attributes

Interesting developments may be afoot with regards to Carol of the Horse, my children's audio book, featuring the fabulous musical talents of award-winning inspirational vocalist Sharie Conard.

In July, Sharie and I attended the MEGA Book Marketing conference in Orlando, Florida. There, we were both impressed with one agent in particular. We returned home, made the tweaks to our book that we felt it needed, and published it. But neither of us are interested in becoming publishers. We'd like to find the book a home with a publisher who believes in it as much as we do.

The agent we both liked is based in Nashville -- a city where Sharie spends a significant amount of time as part of her recording career. So, after some talk and much prayer, we researched the agent's contact information and she called him yesterday to see if he would be willing to consult with her and offer some advice on the project.

Amazingly, he answered the phone! Even more amazing, he was very nice and very helpful.

He doesn't represent children's books, he told her (very few agents do, by the way -- the advances and the market for such books are paltry compared to other genres). But he knew someone who does. He recommended a specific person, and told Sharie she could use his name as a referral. (Referrals, you should know, are the "Get Out of Jail Free" cards of the Agency Game.)

Sharie immediately called the agent he'd recommended, and she agreed to do a consultation on our project. We're not begging her to represent us, you understand. We would just like an honest appraisal of the project, and some suggestions from Someone Who Knows.

Again -- the agent was pleasant, personable, and good-humored. Online queries quickly told us that she's been in business long enough to have fantastic contacts. She had authored numerous books herself. She regularly speaks at writer's conferences and workshops. In the past few years, she has sold enough titles to major publishers to make it obvious that this is her business and not a hobby.

She'll have our book by Monday.

Forget the horror stories you've heard about the cons, predators, and rogue agents in the publishing industry. Of course they exist. There are too many desperate writers out there -- and desperation attracts the lowlife agent sharks just like blood in the water brings in the oceanic ones. But the desperate writers almost never do their homework.

In my experience, the vast majority of bona-fide agents I've met and worked with are wonderful, hardworking, dedicated people. They are picky about what clients and what projects they will represent because each book they accept means -- literally -- months of hard work. Authors often have unrealistic ideas about what makes a manuscript salable. The agents are on the front lines of the publishing industry. Their income is entirely dependent upon them choosing their clients wisely, and making regular sales.

It will be interesting to see the book through the eyes of someone who's job it is to take such projects and present them to publishers. With any luck, she'll have some solid suggestions for us to put into practice. I'm already grateful to her, however, just for giving Sharie the time of day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- In Search of Self-Carriage

On Monday, I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with top hunter judge Geoff Teall, in which he discussed his "Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring." (Actually, he threw in a Bonus Tip -- offering additional insight into the view from the Judge's Box.)

His suggestions were excellent. It was good to be able to look at a class from the judge's, rather than the competitor's, point of view. Of course, to anyone who knows anything about showing hunters, some of his tips ("perfect your position," and "ride a reponsive horse," for instance) come as no surprise. However, rather than just state what he wants to see when judging a class, he also provided concrete, actionable, doable approaches for mastering each tip at home.

"Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring" will soon be available as a free download that's part of an online promotion for Geoff's book. But so much of what he said was succinct, worthwhile, and insightful, I couldn't resist a featuring a short "sneak peek" on one of his Tips here.

Case in point: Tip #8: Ride a Horse With Good Carriage.

I realize that this sounds like a given. (Don't we all want to ride a horse with self-carriage -- a capable mover who is well-balanced and fluid?) But I've seen far too many horses in the ring that look like they're going to pitch forward on their faces, or run through their chests. In fact, when sorting through images of competing hunter / jumpers for Dr. Warson's book, it was quite obvious that many, if not most, of them, were incapable of carrying themselves correctly. Evidently, the judges have seen too many of these horses, too.

Geoff spent some time defining what he meant by "good carriage." (In involves, in part, a horse that does not rely on the rider to hold him in, or hold him up. It is evidenced in a horse that stretches his head and neck forward and moves forward freely. It occurs in a horse that is supple, fluid, and forward.)

He then had the good grace to offer some tips for helping your horse develop it.

One of his suggestions had to do with flat-work -- and with working a sort of modified flat-work into your regular schooling. One key to developing your horse's self-carriage is transitions.

Transitions up (walk - trot - hand gallop).

Transitions down (canter - trot - stop - back).

Transitions all over the place (canter - stop - back - trot).

Mix things up, he advises. Get the horse thinking and responding.

Though he had several great suggestions for practicing and perfecting each tip, one of my favorite things about Geoff is his philosophy of "Less is More."

"If you're riding, and your horse starts doing something you like," he says, "it's time to stop and do something else."

In other words, don't drill and drill and drill on a concept. When the horse gets it, exhibit some self-carriage (or self-control) on your part, and move on.