It used to be that self-published authors and publishing houses had a bad name, and I’m so glad that it’s changing, and part of that reason is the influx of technology that allows people to easily and cheaply publish their work. I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I think most self-published authors do. But, my love or hate of Amazon is not why I am writing this post. I am writing it because I am so tired of vanity publishers ripping off self-published writers. We’ll cover in other posts about self-publishing options.
Hiring a Ghostwriter can save you money and can most certainly save you time.
I have a client that should have had me write his book from scratch instead of editing it. It certainly would have been cheaper. By about half. I love all the mentality that everyone can write a book. It’s true: Everyone can write a book. Behind all this hububalu though is an understanding: you have to hire a good editor.
I like to think that I don’t have prejudices about people groups, but as much as I try not to, I do. I’m not talking about plain old American racism here; I just have ideas from my experiences and the culture I belong to about the way certain groups behave. Sometimes they're positive prejudices, sometimes negative, and sometimes neither, really.
You might have grown thinking that there are about 50 genres of books, but really, there are 3. We’ll call the rest of the genres, like sci-fi and mystery, sub-genres. So what are the three types?
In less than 24 hours, Ana, our new exchange student from Brazil, will be here. When Chuck and I first got Joop, we were a little naïve and didn’t know what we were getting into. By now, we’ve got more of a handle on things, but teens always find a way to throw you for a loop.
Initially, we believed there were some rules we thought were kind of stupid, but have since decided were pretty amazing ideas. Some, we still think are stupid…
The biggest rule we allowed Joop to break, ended up being the rule that he wished he had been given. He says it’s one of his biggest regrets for the year.
Most exchange agencies suggest that you don’t allow your student to call home more than once a week and that they don’t talk to friends at home. As millennials, Chuck and I didn’t understand how this would even work with social media and technology.
To remove the temptation to call home more often, the agencies suggest that tech usage is strongly monitored and that phones, ipad’s, etc are confiscated at night. At first, this seemed really strict! I mean I get monitoring your kids internet, but keeping them off social media, or preventing them from calling their significant other, or snapchatting with friend groups, and then removing all tech from their rooms at night seemed mean.
Now that I’ve been doing this for a couple years, I realize the wisdom behind this rule, which has less to do with internet safety than it does with helping the students acclimate faster to the American culture.
As my community rep, Amy Ovalle, says, you can’t fully integrate into American culture if your mind is back at home. One of the biggest problems early on with exchange students is them staying up most of the night talking to friends and family back home.
I had no problem at first with Joop talking to his then Dutch girlfriend almost every day. And often every day. But it wasn’t till after they broke up and he was no longer calling home all the time, that his year here took off. He started football, made friends at the local school, felt better about America, and all around got better acclimated to American culture.
He now says he wishes he had tried to get into American culture quicker and that he had spent less time talking with people back home. So, I decided that the next time we had a student, I’d take their phones and not let them call home.
Because Leonie was sick, I never took her phone. Though, I fear I still should have taken it. I’m not sure how much time she spent talking with people back home, adding to her mono with extreme home sickness. I fear the homesickness may have made the mono worse, and laying in bed texting her boyfriend may have been part of what reset her equilibrium to horizontal, so that whenever she stood up she’d get dizzy.
Our third teen was an Americanl student, and she wasn’t allowed to have social media or her own technology. And the quick ease that she fit in with us proved my point. I know she was an American, but without access to social media or friends from home, she had to talk with us. She had to make friends here.
So when Ana comes, her phone will be mine at night. And lucky for her, she doesn’t have a boyfriend back at home either.
Side note: I know this seems harsh, but exchange students, just break it off with your boyfriend or girlfriend at home. Your heart will always be back home, and you won’t get the most out of your year. Live fully in the moment at in America. In 10 months, you’ll go back home, so don’t waste a moment of it.
Smart phones and social media can quickly rob an exchange student of their time here. Most, almost all of the students, that come really do want to really get into the American culture. They are here to become bi-cultural. As a social media loving, tech savvy millennial, I know the near addictive draw of it all.
I’m an ambitious, self-retrained 34-year-old woman, and I have a hard time putting my phone down, quite often. I know I shouldn’t be on my phone just before bed because it disrupts sleep patterns, but so often I find myself scrolling through Instagram or playing some mindless game 30 minutes after I should be asleep.
If I was 16, living in a new country, and homesick with the means to talk to those I miss the most in my hands 24/7, you bet I’d use it. Even if I knew it wasn’t good for me.
Some rules will still be bent, but this one will be strictly enforced this year. Y’all didn’t really believe I’d follow the letter of every, single rule? Nah
When Joop and I started our adventure, we tongue and cheek called it #JoopDoesAmerica. And it kind of stuck. Joop was doing all kinds of American stuff, trying American foods, and it was a funny hashtag. It was amusing.
It wasn’t until we came out with the book that someone pointed out the infamous – and what some would consider classic, if you can consider anything pornographic a classic – adult film called Debbie Does Dallas. Debbie never once crossed my mind when I was writing the book, filming the videos, or posting on Facebook. And because most of our audience was either conservative, young, or international, the link to her was never explored.
However, it became quite clear that most Americans over 30 did have that immediate reaction to the book. When it was videos staring an underage foreigner drinking mountain dew or eating potato chips, it was quite obvious nothing kinky was going on. But in the absence of videos or pictures, most Americans minds went straight to the gutter.
Since everything was branded #JoopDoesAmerica, Joop and I made the decision to keep the name for the book. Initial sales were fine, but most of the sales were not in the US. Sales in the US, despite following marketing that almost always worked, plummeted after our initial fans bought it. Then they stopped altogether.
Then, about a month ago, I was flagged – by an American – for adult content. It was dismissed after a very brief inquiry, but I got the message: Joop Does America was too racy of a title for the American audience I was seeking to reach.
So, I’ve spent the last couple weeks coming up with a new title and book cover that will convey the message of the book better to an American audience. I decided to use the catch phrase those of us who work exchange students use…daily.
It’s not better or worse, just different.
So here’s the new book cover and title: Just Different! The Art of Cultural Exchange.
To keep the #JoopDoesAmerica brand intact, I changed authors from me and Joop to #JoopDoesAmerica, which is me and Joop together. We’ll still be listed as the authors on Amazon, but the cover will have the brand instead of the people. Though, Joop will argue that he is the brand.
The new cover with the new title will be available only on ebook later this week.
My family loves salads, which means we have about 15 different types of salad dressing. Greek dressing. Italian dressing. French Dressing. Ranch Dressing. I also love a good dipping sauce, like Chic-Fil-A’s Polynesian sauce.
If you notice, with one exception, all of the dressings I had use a country’s name in it. Or a region, like Polynesia. However, have you ever thought what an Italian would say if you showed them Italian dressing?
“What? You call that Italian? That’s just an herby vinaigrette!”
And for the life of it, I can’t figure out how that red goop is attributed to France, or sometimes Russia, maybe even Catalina. What American came up with these ideas?
In case you’re wondering, I think Dutch Dressing would be just plain mayonnaise.
Ranch dressing, my one exception, is not called by anything in America other than ranch, just like Italian dressing would just be called vinaigrette in Italy. Ranch dressing, believe it or not, was not invented until the late 1950’s in America, where it was only sold at one Ranch until 1973, when they started selling dried mixes. It was until 1983, the year before I was born, that you could buy ranch dressing on a shelf. By the 1990’s, ranch dressing had cemented its place as America’s favorite dressing.
But, many places in the world don’t have it!
A former exchange student I met in the Netherlands asked me if I had brought any ranch dressing with me, because she couldn’t get anywhere in the Netherlands, and really missed it.
I thought, when I come back I should bring some ranch with me. Or at least some dried packets to mix with the fabulous Dutch mayonnaise. Bring ranch, funky M&M’s and Chic-Fil-A sauce to the Netherlands; bring home mayo, stroop waffles, and licorice. But, that was about the extent I thought about it.
However, last week a friend of mine sent me that photo of a specialty flavor Doritos. For Americans, we call them Cool Ranch Doritos. But apparently, elsewhere, ranch dressing is known as American dressing. So, the Dutch call them Cool American Flavor Doritos.
I guess I was wrong when I said that there was no food or flavor that was uniquely American. Ranch. We are ranch flavor.
This all reminded me of one time when I was at a conference on diversity and immigration issues, and a speaker actually talked about ranch dressing. He said we accept people from all countries and backgrounds into this country, but then we just end up pouring Ranch Dressing on their traditions.
We do this metaphorically, but we also literally do it as well. Cilantro Lime Ranch? Ginger Miso Ranch? Curry Ranch? Basically, Mexican American dressing, Japanese American dressing, and Indian American dressing. Let’s take these ethnic flavors and mix it with bland, white goop. Cool American Doritos have me thinking about this on a whole different level.
You never knew salad dressing could be so political, did you?
As a developmental editor and literary consulant, I work with a lot of aspiring writers. And aspiring writers are often a mess, let me tell you. I know that some of the no-no’s they commit simply stem from not knowing any better, but some things they do make me want to throw their stories into the burning pits of Hell. These mistakes generally have little to do with grammar or plot. I do have peeves related to those too, but I can work with you if those are your only issues.
If you are an aspiring writer, try to avoid these mistakes:
This is the worst writing sin that you can ever commit. If you are a writer, then you are also a reader. I can tell if you don’t read. It’s very obvious.
Recently a piece came across my desk, and I just knew its writer didn’t read. I felt sure that he had never read anything other than the signs on the road. His whole novel was written in all caps, bold, and italics. Not to mention that almost every single word was misspelled – but that’s a grammar issue, and I’ll deal.
I asked this writer why on earth he thought that this formatting was okay. He didn’t have an answer. So I pushed further.
“Who are your writing inspirations?” I asked.
“I don’t have any,” he replied. “I don’t really read. I just had this idea in my head.”
Let me say it again: if you write, you must read. If you aren’t a reader, then you can’t be a writer. This is the #1 rule of writing: Read first, then write.
Not taking criticism
I try to be polite and not directly tell people their work sucks. I really do. I’m kind of a give-it-to-you-like-it-is girl, but I understand that being a first-time writer is hard, so I am nice. I don’t come right out and say it sucks, even though it probably does. But that’s why you’ve sought me out, right? You want to get better.
It’s hard for me to be nice, trust me. So when I tell you that your story needs some work, please be nice back to me and don’t flip out.
Flipping out usually comes in one of two ways:
You’ve never had anyone other than your mother look at your work before, but you feel you have written the next Twilight because she said your work was great.
Narcissism. Writers don’t have time for it. This industry is cutthroat. You hear of a story now and then about someone like Stephenie Meyer who just sends one copy of her book to one big-name agency and voila, it’s a bestseller. Oh, wait, that’s the only story I know like that. It doesn’t happen. Your mother is not a good critic, which is why you have come to me. I don’t love you or care about your feelings.
Willful Ignorance of writing basics
Not knowing the difference between an outline/background/summary and an actual story
Okay, this one is a little bit of a grammar issue, but it’s tied so closely with the other bad habits that I must mention it. This is the problem that I often see with narcissistic writers, suicidal writers, writers who don’t read, and writers who don’t write. In fact, I see it in almost all of them. (Non-readers being the worst, though.)
I get lots of manuscripts across my desk that the writers claim are finished, but all I see in front of me is a summary/outline/background for a story. It takes me hours to just force myself to sit down and read what is going on. They read like this: “MC did this, and then she thought this, and then she did this, and then this happened.”
There are several problems that go into this. First off, 97% of the time, books are written in past tense. Unless you are a literary genius, don’t use present. It makes the book sound like a summary. Problem two: not using dialogue. How can you have an entire novel without one line of dialogue? These books have no scenes, no dramatic presence, very little drama, and I don’t care a flip about anyone and anything happening in the book. There is nothing other than description going on. Books aren’t descriptions of what is going on; books are lively, make you cry and laugh, throw the book across the room because you hate a character so much, pieces of art.
Willful Ignorance of publishing
Will you write/edit/polish my query for an agent even though I haven’t written more than the first ten pages of the story? (Because that’s all agents require, right?)
So far your query letter looks good, which means that you have Googled how to write a query letter. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that those pages you Googled gave you a certain piece of advice. The #1 rule for new authors about querying agents: have your manuscript finished. So I assume you must think that you are the exception. But, honey, you aren’t. Stephen King wasn’t the exception either. For fiction, you must, must, must (can I say it again?), must have your manuscript finished and polished to the best of your ability before sending it to an agent. I’m not going to help you query an agent if you haven’t finished your book. It really is a waste of my time.
Now, if you are an Important Person, someone with a following, platform, etc., and you want to write a non-fiction book, that’s a different deal.
Being a writer without writing
I’m a writer…but I’ve never finished a writing project before.
This one usually goes along with asking me to write a query for an unfinished book. Having an agent doesn’t make you a writer. Writing a book makes you a writer. Or a short story. Or an article. Go finish something. Once that is finished, go finish something longer.
And the unfortunate part of this: I get job applications for ghostwriters who haven’t completed a full-length book. My ghostwriting company (www.theghostwriting agency.com) only works on full length works. It says that upfront on the website. I don’t do blogs or content. My ghostwriters are expected, if necessary, to complete a full length rough draft in 1-2 weeks. If you haven’t been able to complete a full-length work in your 10-year writing career, what makes you believe you can do one in 10 weeks?
My family has been immigrants and nomads for centuries, preferring to be identified by a set of beliefs, principles, and morals rather than by any country. The furthest we can trace this pattern back is to a man named Peter De Tringham, who lived in Northern France in the 16th century. Peter, a Huguenot, which is a French Protestant, fled to the Netherlands with his family after their village was burn down by Catholics. They decided to drop the De and became Trigham. In the late 19th century My great, great, great grandfather Tringham decided to seek a better life in America, following his brother to West Michigan.
Upon Entry at Ellis Island, my ancestor could not find his brother, who was to vouch for him and thus allow entry to the United States. That’s how immigration worked for Europeans at that time period: You showed up on ship, presented yourself at the port of entry, and had someone vouch for you. It looked like Mr. Tringham wouldn’t be able to enter, but somehow he did. I’m not sure how.
Did his brother eventually show up? Did his brother send a letter? Did he just disappear into a crowd and sneak in? Or perhaps, he was vouched for by another immigrant? Often immigrants of various nationalities would stand waiting on the docks to vouch for other immigrants from their homelands.
Eventually, Mr. Tringham made it in to the US and a transcription error turned him from Tringham to Stringham, my maiden name. He eventually had a son named Harry, who married a woman named Bertha, and became a homeless, alcoholic bum. His son, Harry Newton, grew up to be a kind-hearted workaholic, who died at an early age from a heart attack, leaving behind his wife, Wilhelmina, who had her own personal immigration story, to raise my sweet, poetic 14-year-old grandfather, my feisty, stubborn 16-year-old great aunt Phyllis, and 19-year-old Navy recruit Bob, who sadly went the way of his grandfather.
Unlike her husband, Wilhelmina herself was a Dutch immigrant. Her father – my great, great grandfather – Cornelius De Jong, fled famine and serfdom in the Dutch province of Groningen. He worked and saved and eventually sent for his family to follow. My great, great grandmother packed up her starving, unemployed family onto a boat, and set sail for a life that included proper nutrition for her several children, including the youngest, my 4-year-old great grandmother called Mina.
Due to lack of proper nutrition, the unsanitary conditions on the boat, and lack of vaccinations, little Mina got sick. Very sick. And as was custom, the ship’s crew planned to throw the sick little girl overboard. Luckily for me, this is not where Wilhelmina’s story ended.
I have a nearly 4-year-old niece named Inola. She’s a sweet, spunky little princess with 3 older siblings who dote on her and fulfil her every wish. I imagine my sister, Maria, in my great, great grandmother’s wooden shoes, and how she would have turned into Wonder Woman, shouted SHIELD to her other children, and catapulted herself into the air, incinerating all those in front of her who would dare wrest her sweet child from her arms. You do not come between a mother and her children.
I don’t know what she did or said to keep her child, but it was an anomaly. Thousands of sick children were thrown overboard. Sometimes entire families would succumb to illness on the way. Little Mina made a full recovery, but her mother was not so lucky. Cornelius remarried a lovely woman, who saw all her step-children as her own and raised Wilhelmina to be a righteous, intelligent, and loyal woman.
What would cause my family to brave the rough journey across the ocean, knowing that many times most of the family would die on the way over? To leave everything they’d ever known? Parents. Siblings. Friends. To face down the great, gaping maw that swallowed so many other immigrants into its watery depths?
They were serfs, living at the discretion of the landowner, and when famine hit, the landowner’s generosity dried up like the land they owned.
While visiting Joop, I had a chance to visit Groningen, the province that sentenced my great grandmother’s family to starvation. Joop’s Opa, Bart, explained to me about these rich farmers, or Herenboeren – gentlemen farmers if you translate literally, but I feel there’s hardly anything gentlemanly in taking advantage of the poor – who just over a 100 year ago still had a feudal system intact, and how they ruled over the people that worked the land. The workers could leave, but where would they go? Another Herrenboeren? They could eat the food and use natural resources, as long as there was enough for the lavish lifestyle of these farmers.
I saw little Mina in those artificially raised hill towns called Terpendorp, playing with her one little doll, perhaps because she was the baby and the little princess of the family she was afforded the luxury of a toy. Maybe it was her older sister’s once upon a time. She was beyond lucky. Lucky her mother held onto her so tight, lucky she wasn’t taken from her mother, lucky she didn’t die, lucky she had a toy, lucky she got a good step-mother.
If it wasn’t for my great, great grandmother refusing to surrender her child, I wouldn’t be here today. If it wasn’t for Mr. Tringham presenting himself at a port of entry and grace being shown when all the papers weren’t in order, I wouldn’t be here.
I’m proud to be an American, but like Peter and Cornelius, by loyalties lie not with any country, king, or even president, but with a set of beliefs, principles, and morals higher than any man-made law. Here or there, America or the Netherlands, Europe or the Americas, Earth or Mars….it makes no difference.
If there’s one thing Americans are known for collectively, it’s our need for independence. We don’t like to be told what to do or having to conform to a set cultural standard. That’s made us both unique and full of variety, but also caused a lot of strife between us. And social media has turned that into a regular circus show.
I’m not sure we can even point to a true American food. Hamburgers? German. Tacos? Mexican. Meat and Potatoes? Pick your European country. Pizza? Italian. Black Eyed Peas and Collards? African Diaspora. Immigrants come with their food cultures and Americans bastardize it with chemicals and industrial processing. Sometimes we come up with awesome weird combinations: Hey, what happens if we mix Native American cornbread with German sausages and then deep fry it? Corndogs!
I guess if anything is American, it’s the deep fryer.
For those of you that know my family, we take the American credo of independence and variety to a whole different level. Most families in the US are somewhat homogeneous. It’s up to the family to decide what they want to be, but that’s what they are. They’re a dance family or a church family, etc.
My family? Not so much.
My mom says our family’s motto is “Conformity is highly overrated.” She raised us to think for ourselves, questioned us if we did things similarly to her just because, and played devil’s advocate so well the devil is looking for employment elsewhere. For example, in the last presidential election, no more than 2 or 3 people voted for the same person. That means Trump, HRC, Johnson, Stein, write-in, and non-voters all sit at the same table together every week.
For those of us who spend most of our time in America, it’s easy to forget that what makes us unique, our variety, is a cultural decision that is not carried over pretty much anywhere else in the world. It’s especially hard for me as a contrarian raised by a contrarian.
Going to the Netherlands was an eye opener for me.
There certainly existed a set cultural standard for what it meant to be Dutch, from down to what you wore to what and when you ate.
So, if you’re going to ask me what I least like about the Netherlands, I think their (your) somewhat Stepford wives’ conformity was it.
This was best summed up by Joop’s mother, after days of trying to explain a certain cultural difference to her, which she was completely unable to grasp.* Her eventual response: “I don’t understand this whole cultural differences thing. There aren’t different cultures. There’s only one human culture!”
Joop of course groaned and said, “See, see! This is what I have to put up with! I want to move to America! I can do what I want there.”
With every cultural difference you come across, there are benefits and drawbacks. America's independence, if not tempered leads to isolation and possible implosion, while the Netherlands conformity can lead to stagnation. Take your pick. Or learn how to moderate your worse tendencies.
Like I said upfront, our desire for independence causes a lot of strife internally and getting laws passed that benefit everyone or are excepted by everyone is a pain. But if I want to, I can dye my hair rainbow, love a gay redneck, and wear nothing but plaid shirts and striped pants, and belong to an agnostic Muslim congregation, and I can find other people like me. I can eat paleo, or keto, or vegan. I can eat tacos every Tuesday, or even every day, or not at all.
Joop’s going vegetarian was not well accepted. Dutch eat meat and potatoes. They are very good quality and tasty meat and potatoes, but they are still meat and potatoes.
I basically brought a black uniform with me to the Netherlands. I still couldn’t completely wear Dutch clothes because I need color! But it was far more subdued that my average wardrobe. Walking into Joop’s school where everyone could where what they wanted, was like walking into an American school with school uniforms!
The positive side to this conformity is that the Dutch have much more of a sense of shared identity and therefore more social security. Joop said to me, if America really wanted to take care of healthcare, they would have to band together and decide that caring for everyone was the best.
My response: We do want to take care of anyone! It’s just we can’t decide the best way to do it!
Of course, for the Dutch, taking care of your people looks one way and one way only. Not so much in America. There are a million ways to take care of your people. I joke not.
Look at how we deal with healthcare: Religious healthshare groups, churches, workplace health insurance, family support, non-profit organizations in the millions, federal government insurance, state government insurance, free clinics, free dental buses, civic organizations…
I could continue.
It really can be a pain to track down all the programs for your needs, and sometimes as soon as you find it, it disappears. The red tape and bureaucracy needed to navigate this properly is financially infeasible. So people complain, and network, and join support groups, and give money to friends…until the correct help is found. Hopefully, before it’s too late.
It’s a mess and I have no ideas on how to fix it, or if it can even be fixed, or if we really even want it fixed.
All I know is Americans don’t like people telling them what to do and the Dutch don’t need to be told what to do because they already do it.
Anyway, that’s what I had the hardest time adjusting to there: Nobody told me what to do, but I was still expected to know and do it. Luckily, I had Joop. However, I still felt like I should have a sign on my back that said, "Sorry! Idiot American."
*If you're wondering what cultural difference I could never satisfactorily explain to Joop's mother: it was how no group of 25 American 4th graders would travel on foot a couple miles across the streets of Amsterdam with nothing but 1 teacher in the front and 1 parent in the back, in order to tend to their highly organized and identical garden plots. Now I given every American mother a heart attack and brought every American teach to tears...
I live in Athens, Georgia with my son, my husband, and an ever revolving list of exchange students, who are a never ending source of entertainment and writing material.