Learning? Let Lynda and Your Library Help!

This post brought to you by the letter L.

I’ve self-published a book before (Take the Wheel: A Woman’s Guide to Buying a Car Her Own Damn Self), and I work in publishing, so I feel pretty confident about publishing Lightning in a Throttle: Three Early Electric Vehicle Victories this summer. I’ve got lots of friends and colleagues in the biz who can help me out, and the paper has already been edited, so it’s nearly ready to go right now.

But what if I did more? What if I used this book as an opportunity to learn new skills? What if I, a wordsmith of many years, tackled design, which I have no business doing at all?

My friends and colleagues are likely weeping at reading that. Self-published authors with outsize opinions of their design abilities are the bane of their existence. But how hard can it be to pick up InDesign when you haven’t used it since 2006? How difficult can it be to create a cover in Photoshop using a vintage image from a presentation you did and a font you downloaded? It’s an awesome font!

Um, it’s hard. All those things are hard. Even with an awesome font.

But not impossible, thanks to Lynda.com and the Multnomah County Library! So Lynda.com is a site where you can learn a whole bunch of business stuff; it’s owned by LinkedIn, which I do not use. Multnomah County Library is a magical network of books both print and virtual in Portland, Oregon; it is owned by the people, of which I am one! Just as I learned of the existence and usefulness of Lynda.com, my friend and fellow library user Carly told me that I could log in to the learning site using my library card and the classes would be free. Holy. Shit. Yes. 

This is where I am learning the very basics of InDesign CC, which I downloaded on Saturday. By the end of the afternoon, I had placed my text and made some headers using my awesome font. I have not yet tackled images in reflowable ebooks. It seems daunting. But I’m pretty sure Lynda is going to teach me how to make it happen in the next series I’ve saved to my playlist, InDesign CC 2015: EPUB Fundamentals. I took a short refresher course in ebook publishing basics yesterday afternoon on a whim. For free. I’ve also got Creating Ebooks for the Kindle waiting for me. I’m going to own this shit. Sort of. In all likelihood.

If I truly mess up my manuscript in the design process, I do have friends and colleagues I can pay to bail me out and fix my fuck-ups. Whether or not you have this kind of professional safety net, it’s worth checking to see if the library card languishing in a desk drawer might be able to help you improve your ebook’s design, inside and out. Though if you’re a writer, your library card is probably not languishing. It might be in rough shape from overuse, but not languishing. Languishing. Languish. Languish. Now it sounds weird.

Anyway. To recap: Lynda + Library = Love + Learning. Happy publishing!

Owning the Means of My Production

On International Women’s Day 2017, I participated in A Day Without Women. It was supposed to be a general strike, but it supposed a lot of privilege on the part of the strikers. There were millions of women who couldn’t take a day off. I’m a freelance writer and editor, so I worked extra hours early in the week so I could strike that day.

But there weren’t any good events in my city, which was weird, because I live in Portland, Oregon. This is our jam. But I only found one sad afternoon-long speaking event that sounded like a snooze-fest. I decided to devote my striking day to seeking out women in automotive occupations, especially engineers, and boosting them. I tweeted about some women, I offered to volunteer with a university that holds seminars for women students in automotive engineering, and I reached out to a woman who runs an excellent automotive website for membership in our local professional organization.

And then it was lunchtime.

That was not a full day of striking. I continued searching and Googling and ran out of women to boost. It is a small cohort.

I got bored enough to take steps to move my own long-simmering plans ahead. I registered Practical Fox as a business in the state of Oregon. PF is essentially a vanity publisher. I have a nonfiction paper, a revamp of a previously published book, a historical fiction trilogy, a fantasy book for middle-grade readers, and more that I want to publish over the next couple of years. I also want to own the means of my own production, which seems an appropriate goal to realize during a general strike. I put the work and the money into these projects, and I get the rewards (however great or small they may be) in the end.

So from boredom was born a publishing schedule that, in addition to my paying freelance work, will keep me very busy through October and mildly busy thereafter. Boredom will not be an issue for a long while.

The Bottom Line Is Not Just a Figure of Speech

I’ve been a freelance writer and editor years longer than I’ve had proper accounting software. (A quick hat tip to Freshbooks for making the switch from home-brewed spreadsheets to software not so painful.) While the basics are easy (invoice! expense! bam!), and I have a brilliant freelance-friendly tax accountant, I’m still learning a lot about the business part of my freelance business.

It’s the end of the year, so I needed to clean up expense reports and I wanted to donate a huge pile of money to charity because I’d had a good year. I wanted to share. I used the profits and loss report to see where expenses had been categorized or entered incorrectly, then flipped back to the expenses to fix it all. Et voila! Profits!

But not much.

This is where I learned what exactly the profit and loss report reports. Sure, it tells you if you profited or lost money over the year; I knew that. But I didn’t really get the difference between my gross income, which was pretty good, with my net profit, which was paltry. I pay myself a monthly wage, so that took a huge chunk out of the profits. And I pay for all my own travel to automotive shows and conferences, so that was a lot too. And there’s utilities, and subscriptions to tools like Merriam-Webster Unabridged online, and the few bucks I paid for contract templates with better language than the ones I’d used for years. It ate away at that net profit line in big bites and small nibbles until I had just a little pile of virtual money in bold font at the bottom of the report. Oh, I thought, this is that bottom line everyone talks about. 

I was disappointed. I wasn’t going to be donating a big chunk of money after all. I was not going to make it rain up in here, or anywhere else. But I followed through with my original intent, though it was more than a bit diminished, and donated 10% of that net profit to the Malala Fund to help girls around the world achieve 12 years of education. And I’d like to do it again next year. So I’m going to pay more attention to the literal bottom line and, I hope, have a bigger pile to share in 2016.

How to Write a Nonfiction Book

  1. Procrastinate by proofreading a friend’s novel because I am all about giving back to the writing community.
  2. Play some video games.
  3. Open up all the notes and outlines. Despair. I thought I had better notes. This isn’t an outline; it’s a list of facts. I’m supposed to make a story out of this? Shit shit shit.
  4. Strap on headphones and dig into writing anyway, though the draft is beyond terrible. It is embarrassing.
  5. Come up for air an hour and a half later when the dog nudges you for the afternoon walk and dinner. Guess the writing started going well at some point.
  6. Walk and feed the dog, feed the cats and the rat, and grab an apple for yourself. Writing needs fuel!
  7. Finish up a not so bad 2000-word draft of chapter 3 that includes two racing crashes from the early 1900s and an all-caps New York Times headline (“VICTIMS TOSSED IN THE AIR”).
  8. Achievement unlocked: not cooking dinner and dibs on the beer in the fridge.

Next Event: CES 2016

I’ll be at CES in Las Vegas the first week of January, along with all the other nerds and geeks. I’ll be there specifically to report on all the latest in automotive tech for Popular Science and How Stuff Works, but I’ll also be testing out every gadget they’ll let me get my grubby paws on. Very much looking forward to the big reveal from Faraday Future, the company that fancies itself a competitor of Tesla Motors.

Next Event: LA Auto Show

I’ll be flying down to Los Angeles to see all the shiny cars and shiny people at the automotive press days Nov. 18-19. The Connected Car Expo takes place the day before in the convention center, and I’ll be there too, reporting on the latest automotive tech. Fingers crossed Nissan brings in the fancy grilled cheese food cart again this year! I’ll be posting about all the coolest, shiniest stuff I find on my Take the Wheel Facebook page and on Twitter, where I’m @kristenhg. Follow me to find out if grilled cheese dreams come true!

The Research Rabbit Hole

Running down the research rabbit hole is one of my favorite activities. I know other people hate it; that’s why they pay me to do it. And I am so happy to do it.

If you are not happy down in the hole with the information bunnies but you find yourself having to throw yourself into it anyway for your project, I shared four of the research tools I use just about every day in the Indigo newsletter this month. These will help you find what you need while you’re searching and keep track of what you find so you can actually use it later.

Good luck with your project! And wave if you see me when you land at the bottom of the research rabbit hole. I kind of live down here.

Next Up: Oregon Trail Rally

I love rally racing! It can be frustrating as a spectator since you can only see a piece of a stage as all the racers come through, and some stages don’t even have spectator access, but what you can see is so very cool. Rooster tails of dirt flying up behind a car as it comes around a curve; water splashing as the driver powers through a puddle. Maybe the wheel will come off. Maybe someone will end up in a ditch. Maybe your friend, who’s running in the local race, will win a stage!

Last year, I got to interview Chrissie Beavis for Subaru’s Drive Performance magazine. We’ll see what opportunities arise in 2015! Check the clips for any published articles.

Next Up: The SUV Competition Formerly Known as Mudfest

Though it is now officially known as the NWAPA Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year extravaganza, it will always be Mudfest in our rainy, Pacific-Northwest hearts. In mid-April, I’ll be driving up to Washington to test a couple dozen SUVs, CUVs, and pickups on pavement and dirt to see which deliver on their promises. There are a few categories, from off-road beasts to luxury SUVs more suited for ridin’ dirty than actually getting dirty. And of course there’s the big overall winner. Check back to see who wins, and check the Clips page to see where my coverage is published.