Where’s the beef?

 

First things first. My apologies for missing Friday’s post. We got caught in a massive traffic jam on I-35 outside of Austin on the way home from Sea World in San Antonio and didn’t get home until late. If anyone’s been on I-35 around Austin, you feel my pain. And that was after dealing with massive crowds at Sea World. Anything for the kids, right?

Nevertheless, we move forward with another Mystery Monday. We’re all trying to find a certain niche with our mystery writing, something that will make the critics say, “now this is a fresh approach in the mystery genre, these are unique characters, this is a truly different story.” Well, for all of us looking for both unique characters and fresh plot on this Mystery Monday, I give you cattle rustlers.

Oh yes, you heard me right. Cattle rustlers. Thieves of the Beef. Cattle rustling isn’t something that’s stuck in the Wild West, or days of yore. It’s alive and well all over the world. In fact, with beef prices on the rise, law enforcement is seeing more cases of cattle rustling today than ever.  Back in the olden days (1930s-70s) rustlers would herd cattle into trucks in the dead of night. From 1970 through today, they often use helicopters to manuever herds into temporary pens and then load them into the trucks from there.

Now where does a story go that starts with cattle rustlers? How to formulate a plot around a cattle rustling operation? There are many different directions. Maybe your lawyer hero used to be a cattle prosecutor who’s moved on to the big city, but still uses the small town tricks he learned in said profession to solve the case. Maybe a female police chief in a town along the Texas-Mexico border witnesses a helicopter that she thinks is being used for a cattle rustling operation only to investigate it and discover its being used for something much worse. Or, how about a reformed cattle rustler as one of your supporting characters?  

Wherever you go with your mystery, unique characters or a fresh approach to a story will always make readers raise an eyebrow, and hold their attention along the way. Stories about the characters that are associated with off-bat subjects, like cattle rustling, might be just the right meat in your Mystery Sandwich.

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Mark Fadden is a freelance writer and award-winning author of Five Days in Dallas and The Brink. Check out his novels at www.markfadden.com

The Writer’s Audit

It’s the first post of “Writing Wednesday” in the new and improved Mark Fadden’s Blog, and with tax season in high gear, I think it’s time that we borrowed one of the most unpleasant things that you can go through – a tax audit – and use it to make sure that we’re budgeting our writing time correctly. After all, our time is just as important, even more so, than our money. So, what’s good for the IRS Goose is good for our Writing Life Gander.

First, let’s take a look at a typical workday:

24 hours in a day – out of that we’re probably working, getting ready for work, and commuting to and from work around 11 hours a day; let’s give us kids or a hobby, which includes trying to get our daily exercise, so that’s around 3 hours a day; we need to eat – 2 hours for that; finally sleeping, let’s give ourselves 6 hours.  Add ’em up and, wham, there’s 22 hours. So, we have 2 hours a day leftover for writing. Question is, is that enough?

Well, like my statistics professor in college once said, numbers can, and do, lie. While they aren’t lying here, this is a typically workday schedule. Let’s give us 2 days off a week from our day jobs, and throw in a little time to hang out with friends and family, drink a few cervezas, and sleep in a little and we go from having 2 hours free a day to 20 free hours a week (2 hours a day during the week plus 5 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday). Sounds better, doesn’t it? So, will 20 hours a week give us enough time to not only write, but research, edit, blog, promote, and do everything else there is to do to be a writer in the 21st century?

The answer is, I don’t know.  But like saving and dieting, the proof is whether you actually adhere to your budget. Is your butt in your somewhat uncomfortable writer’s chair and are you actually doing the work? Or are you sitting there playing Angry Birds on your computer and ticked because you just can’t get the little house to crumble the right way to smash the oinking pig?

So let’s say that we’re all being good and we’re doing our work. Let’s take a look at my numbers. For me, I work from the house, so cut commuting out of my work schedule and I free up an hour each day. But, I’m also the primary caregiver for our sons, so add two hours to my kid portion of my day. That puts me around 15 hours a week. Is it enough? If I budget my time, yes. often, I let some of my writing time bleed over into other parts of the day with a little thing I like to call multi-tasking. While I’m riding the exercise bike, I’m doing research by reading a book on the secret service. When I take the kids to the library for story time, I review the 5 pages I wrote the night before. These are small things, but like saving and dieting, small changes add up to big gains over time. Making sure we are using our time wisely can mean the difference between a finished manuscript at the end of a year or starting yet another year with that same old New Year’s Resolution: “This is the year I finish my novel.”

Now it’s your turn. How does your writing audit stack up? How many hours can you devote to writing a day? How much does your actual time compare to your budget?   To the keyboards!

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Mark Fadden is a freelance writer and award-winning author of Five Days in Dallas and The Brink. Check out his novels at www.markfadden.com.

The secret to eternal life? Be a press release on the Internet

The warning has permeated all our lives…be careful what you do and where you do it. It could wind up on the Internet. And once it’s on the Internet, it never dies.

While that is a dire warning for those of us who tend to streak our neighbor’s yard and they happen to have a network of clandestine security cameras, it is actually a good thing when it comes to those of us trying to sell a product or service. Whether you have created a viral video (the “will it blend” of an iphone has over 9.4 million views on Youtube), or a press release, the Internet breathes life in it by keeping in relevant. 

Case in point, the press release I sent out through prweb.com is still getting posted on websites 3 months later. So, remember, write a good press release, maybe even invest in a service to broadcast it, like prweb.com, and your release too will live in infamy. Who knows, maybe your grandkids will hit on it 30 years from now. Stranger things have happened on the Internet.

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Mark Fadden is a freelance writer and award-winning author of Five Days in Dallas and The Brink. Signed copies of The Brink are available 20% off the cover price at www.shop.markfadden.com.

New Ereader? Download the eBook version of The Brink in seconds, for less than $8.

Better book marketing with search engine optimization

Whether you’re a freelance writer with a website that shows potential clients your work, or you have a full e-commerce site that you use to sell books online, I’m going to ask you something that may remind you of the title of an 80’s Def Leppard song: Is your site optimized?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is Excalibur’s sword when it comes to you being the king of your web kingdom. I attended an eye-opening seminar about SEO put on by the Colleyville Chamber of Commerce. The seminar was conducted by i5 web works, a Dallas/Fort Worth Website Design, Internet Marketing, and Search Engine Optimization firm. “You really, really, really, really need to have a blog,” was just one of the points Principal and Co-Founder Michael Burns drove home. And that’s not just for writers, but for everyone. Search engines, it turns out, love blogs. But they have to be quality blogs with updated information. “You can’t just post on your blog every few months,” Burns said. “Blogging has to be a daily thing.”

Towards the end of the seminar, Burns and crew looked at a few of the audience members websites and wouldn’t you know they picked mine. Burns offered invaluable constructive criticism about the problems with my site from an SEO and design perspective as well. I’ll be covering these topics over the next couple weeks. Why? Two reasons: One, sticking to one topic at a time allows us to get fully immersed in it. And two, because it gives me more subjects for multiple posts!

For tonight, let’s talk title tags. Title tags are the keywords that come up at the very top of the window (in the blue part). You probably don’t even look at them very often, but those keywords tell the search engine what that page is all about. The title tag for my home page, http://www.markfadden.com, used to read, “Official website of author Mark Fadden.” Sounds important to us, right? But to the search engine, it means nothing. Using what I learned at the seminar, I streamlined the home page to just have a short welcome and a preview of the first 4 chapters of my latest thriller, The Brink. I used Google’s keyword tool (can be found under the “opportunities” tab on their Adwords page), and typed in ‘book preview, new author, and read books online.’ The tool then not only tells you how many global and local searches are made a month for each keyword or phrase, it also offers keywords or phrases that are like yours and those monthly search numbers as well.

Based upon how many searches were made for certain keywords, I’ve now changed the home page title tag to read: “Read books online – New Author Mark Fadden book preview.” Incidentally, Burns mentioned that each page of your site needs to have unique title tags, and don’t go past 65 characters. I just changed the tags today, so I won’t have any information on how they have impacted traffic until tomorrow. Godaddy.com, my web hosting service, has a 24-hour lag time in posting site statistics, so we’ll review them in tomorrow’s post. Until then,

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

Rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow… 

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Here’s what readers are saying about Mark’s latest thriller The Brink:

“I finally had a chance to sit down and read The Brink–all the way through in a day and a half. The story is gripping, even frightening, and you capture the suspense in the rhythm of your prose. In places I was reading so fast I felt like I was in the chase! I’ll put it on the shelf next to my signed copy of Lonesome Dove, in the gallery of great contemporary writers!” – Bob H., Amarillo, TX

“He’s the next Dan Brown.” – Arlene D., Southlake, TX

“Truly a pager turner for me. I could not put the book down. Every time I thought I had figured something out, the next twist came up. If you like conspiracy theories, you’ll love this one.” – Sharon L, Houston, TX

Want to start reading The Brink right now? Download the eBook version from amazon.com for less that $10 at http://www.amazon.com/The-Brink-ebook/dp/B003OYIEPC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1284567122&sr=8-2 or bn.com at http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Brink/Mark-Fadden/e/9781450210492/?itm=1&USRI=mark+fadden.

Order a signed copy of The Brink as a keepsake for yourself or as the ultimate one-of-a-kind gift at http://markfadden.com/buyabook.html