Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Wild Daily Temperature Swings Of Tahoe

A friend in Portland told me that he has often noticed that the weather report for Tahoe shows large temperature differences between the daily highs and the nighttime lows. I've noticed it too, but I never really paid attention to it. For those of us in Tahoe, we just love the way summer nights cool down into the upper 30s even when the daytime highs sometimes get into the upper 80s. The winter swings are not so dramatic, but they are still significant.

With the fall nights getting down into the teens, I was reminded of my friend's comment. Here's a screen shot of the National Weather Service website from last month. Three days in a row, we had a 50-degree temperature variation from high to low.

The question is, why do some places (like Tahoe) have such large temperature swings and others (like Portland) do not?

So I did some research. What I learned is that it's all about humidity. 

Water vapor is a Greenhouse gas. Which means, it keeps heat it by letting sun rays pass through during the day to warm up the earth. Then at night, when the earth is radiating its heat back into space in the form of infrared radiation (a substantially different wavelength than much of sunlight), water vapor bounces that radiation back to earth. So water vapor is relatively transparent to much of sunlight but relatively opaque to infrared radiation.

The bottom line is that moist climates don't lose anywhere near as much heat during the night. Dry climates like deserts lose a great deal of heat during the night because there is almost no water vapor in the atmosphere to bounce that infrared radiation back to earth where it came from.

You may be thinking, "But Tahoe isn't a desert." It's true that most years Tahoe gets a lot of precipitation, mostly in the form of snow. But what's interesting is that Tahoe's precipitation comes in storms, or waves of storms off the Pacific. We rarely get moist air masses that just hang out and drizzle on us. Our storms come in fast and move out in a day or two. During those times, we have high humidity and thus we have small daily temperature swings. 

But when we don't have storms, we get the same dry climate as the high deserts of Western Nevada.

It's a great climate. We get storms maybe once a week during the winter, and the rest of the time, summer and winter, we have dry air which brings us our amazing sunshine.

It also brings us wild daily temperature swings, warm sunny days with cool nights.

Those of us who live here think it's perfect.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

13 Things I'd Want To Know If I Were Beginning A Writing Career

Okay, you’ve written your masterpiece. What next?

Here are 13 things I believe are critical to know.

1. Slow down. I know you’re excited to see your work in print. But don’t rush to publish. If you do, you will likely regret it. (A bad cover, lack of editing, and the wrong publishing approach won’t just prevent your book from selling but will lead to a preponderance of bad reviews, which can ruin your career.)

2. Work on your platform before you publish. If you want to get an agent and pursue a traditional publishing deal, may the force be with you. But realize that for New York publishers, the quality of your book is much less important than your platform, i.e., how many people can you reach and entice to buy your book? If you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company with 25,000 employees who might buy your book or you have a popular syndicated newspaper column or radio or TV show, your book will find eager publishers. But even if you’ve written a masterpiece, if your email list is only 43 people, you won’t find a publisher. In which case…

3. Consider self-publishing. The possibilities today are endless. But don’t fall for a slick website sell-job. Do your research. Stay away from internet publishing service companies like iUniverse, Xlibris, Author House, Publish America and a thousand others… Many companies like these have been sued for a wide range of false promises. They sell you on a cheap publishing concept and then try to up-sell you on publicity packages. They provide little or no editing without a huge expense, bad covers done by a college intern even when you pay well for it, and no effective marketing despite what they promise. The stories I’ve heard from authors with these outfits and the books I’ve seen from these companies are astonishing in their ineptness. Before you pick a publishing service, try finding an author who is actually making a living working with the company you're considering. Try finding a reviewer who will give serious consideration to a book from one of these companies. Find one person who actually sold two or three thousand books after paying thousands for their publicity package. Look at the Amazon sales ranking for books by these companies’ authors. You will be amazed at how lame internet publishing programs really are. The only thing most of these companies do really well is make money by sucking in naive authors who are blinded by the stars in their eyes.

4. Bottom line? If you self-publish, either start your own company or go with Amazon’s Create Space. They do the same thing the so-called self-publishing companies do, only they do it for free. (Note: Amazon also offers upgrade services at high prices. Don’t do it.) When you need an editor (you always need an editor!), hire two or three yourself. When you need a cover designer, hire one yourself. You might ask, "Is starting a business easy?" Of course, not. Writing a book wasn't easy, either. "Is starting your own business worth it?" Of course it is, just like writing a book was worth it.

5. You’ve spent a thousand hours or two thousand hours writing your book. Spend at least a week or two researching the business. (A savvy author spends as much time at the business of writing as she does writing. Maybe much, much more. Yes, hundreds, even thousands of hours.) Read blogs on publishing, self-publishing, selling books. Read books on the same. I recommend Marilyn Ross's Complete Guide to Self-Publishing and Dan Poynters Self-Publishing Manual. Put some serious effort into learning about the business. And if you are like me and sometimes miss the obvious, here's a tip. The simplest and most effective way to research anything is to go to Google and type what you want to know. "What are the downsides to internet book publishers?" "Pros and cons of Kindle publishing" "Best way to market ebooks" etc., etc.

6. Note: Many, many successful self-published authors point out that unless you own your ISBN number, you aren't really self-published, and you won't have the control you need to be effective in your publishing. If you don't understand all the implications of that statement, your research will explain it all.

7. I've already mentioned your platform, which is those people who know about you and to whom you reach out when you come out with a book. After you figure out how you're going to publish - and before you actually start the process - it's time to get really serious about your platform. Work on your email list. Trade business cards with every person you meet. Get their email address. Same for your snail mail list. Write a blog. Post at least once a week. Make it interesting and connected in some way to your book. Don’t make it a navel-gazing exercise about yourself and your inner world of writing angst. Save that for your writer’s support group. If you provide useful information on a weekly blog post, people will find your blog. In fact, after a year or two of weekly posts, you will likely be amazed at how many readers find your blog. (I was.) And once they appreciate your writing, they will try your book. Plan an email and postcard snail mail campaign. Plan a newsletter. Plan promotions, giveaways, and other ways of getting readers to try your book (and future books).

8. Set up your public Facebook page and your website. Make sure your website name is a dotcom based on your author name, i.e., MarieRodriguezAuthor .com. If you don’t know how to do a website, don’t hire it done, learn to do it yourself. If you hire it, you will pay large amounts of dollars and you will never be able to tweak it and update it yourself, and there will always be a lag time before your hot new information gets posted, because your web designer will be on vacation when you most need help. Websites are not hard to do. I know because I learned. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than cooking a comprehensive Thanksgiving dinner for 12. I bought several books on it and took a class at the local community college.

9. Start on your next book and the next after that. Except for Margaret Mitchell and Lee Harper, no author makes it with one book. And today, more than ever, an author needs to have many books. Restaurants can’t make a living with one entree. Neither can you. Get the next book and the one after that under way.

10. Read blogs on writing and marketing. Many authors write about a wide range of topics. But most do occasional entries on the business of writing. Here are my blogs on writing. 

11. Find successful authors who are relatively new to the business, i.e., their first book came out in the last three or four years. Mimic what they do. Study their books (cover, size, interior formatting, price) study their publishing model, study their website and their Facebook page, study their events schedule, how they do their talks and what they talk about, their book signings, etc. (For example, you will learn that most events done by most successful authors are not connected to bookstores. I’m not talking about famous authors who have hundreds of fans following them wherever they go, authors who get sent on vanity book tours by their publishers. I’m talking about the rest of us working authors who are not celebrities. Bookstores are great, and you should support them, but more than anything an author needs to get in front of large numbers of people, and, most of the time, bookstores don’t provide large numbers of people. This correlates to the fact that well over half of all books sold are not sold in bookstores. They are sold at gift shops and Target and Sam’s Club and Walmart and Costco and, most of all, at Amazon.)

12. Focus everything you do, from book design to marketing, on Amazon. Love it or hate it, Amazon now sells about half of all books sold, and that number is climbing. You simply cannot afford to ignore Amazon. In the world of ebooks, which is how most fiction is now sold, Amazon sells approximately 65% - 70% of all ebooks sold. An author can survive even if she pays no attention to other outlets for book sales, and many such authors thrive. But no author can survive by ignoring Amazon. So learn to work with them. Read blogs on the best ways to market your books on Amazon and the best way to put your books into the Amazon system. (I use Amazon Advantage to sell my paper books.) 

13. Last, but most important of all for fiction writers, study up and learn how Amazon’s Kindle program works. As mentioned in point #12, whether you are published by a Big 5 publisher in New York or going it alone, Kindle is now where the money is made. I strongly recommend formatting your own books to Kindle and uploading them yourself. Like building websites, it’s not hard to learn. It’s tedious, but not hard. NEVER pay a percentage to some company who says they’ll format and sell your Kindle books for you cheap. Yikes! The beauty of Kindle, in fact the whole point of Kindle from an author's perspective, is that you can get real-time information on sales not just "sales ranking" but actual sales numbers. You do a talk, then you go home to see what kind of bump you got in Kindle sales. You exhibit books at a festival, and you check your Kindle numbers to see how effective your free postcard handout is. You do a radio interview, you judge its success by your Kindle numbers. You use Kindle’s various promotions to acquire hundreds or even thousands of new readers. You adjust prices up or down and see how readers respond. But if you give up Kindle control to a third party, your hands are tied and you can’t do any of these things. It could be said that if you are in control of your Kindle program, you are in control of your career. If someone else is in control, well, you've given them the only keys to your vehicle.

In sum, this is the greatest time in history to be an author. There are no more gatekeepers deciding who gets to be published and taking most of the profits at the same time. Any author can now make their book available to the world. And (as in any line of work) if that author is knowledgeable, focused, and willing to work very hard, that author can have a writing career, the best job in the world!

How bad do you want it? The spoils go to those authors who want it the most. If you are one of those, go for it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Outdoor Tahoe House Tour

As you would expect, Tahoe has a whole lotta spectacular houses. People of means from all over the world often choose Tahoe for their nice second (or third or fourth) homes. Of course, the rest of us are curious about these abodes that belong to people with everything. As long as we don't cause a problem, and as long as we stay on public property, there's nothing wrong with looking from the public street.

For the big picture, take a drive around the lake. Clockwise is best because then you aren't looking across traffic to see the lakeshore homes. Going during the shoulder season (October, November, April, May) will give you the least traffic to deal with.

Many of the nicest homes are on the lake and out of view from the road. But it is still fun to see the area and peek through the gates. If you have access to a boat, you can see these houses that are out of view to everyone else.

People often wonder where is the greatest concentration of spectacular houses. That would be Lakeshore Blvd. in Incline Village. You can find it on Google Maps. 

This is Incline Village from above (The overlook on the Mt. Rose Highway).
Lakeshore Blvd. runs along the lake on the lower right side of the picture.

This is a 3-mile piece of road, sometimes referred to as Billionaire's Row. The houses on the "mountain side" of the road are generally very nice. The ones on the lake side of the road are mostly out of view. They are mostly owned by business and tech titans. You would recognize many the names. Some are Wall Street fund types, and a few own big companies in several areas of business. Perhaps the most common category are the software moguls, from the companies whose products and services you use.

Some people imagine that this is where the movie stars have houses, but these out-of-view houses are mostly too expensive for movie stars.

The Eastern end of Lakeshore Blvd. starts near this sign on Hwy 28 
I made a quick check of Lakeshore Blvd. on (zoom in until the map turns to satellite photo, and each lot shows a price) and saw the following prices: $17.8M, 20.9M, 23.2M, 16.6M, 32.6M, 10.5M, 10.4M, 21.4M, 32.9M. Yes, the M stands for millions. And those prices are for individual properties. Some owners have two or three or even four contiguous properties. Not long ago, I saw a sales listing for 65M. For perspective, Zillow estimates that the mortgage payment on a 32M property would be $123,000 a month. That would give a $65M two-lot property a mortgage payment of a quarter million dollars. A month. (I wonder what brand of Scotch the owner drinks.)

There is a nice sidewalk path that runs most of the 3-mile stretch.
You can park at one end and have a beautiful 6-mile round trip hike.

There are many nice houses you can see...

And there are many more hidden behind gated drives...

Lakeshore Blvd. makes a nice hike or drive. Enjoy.

Just after this blog posted, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on a property that is just a bit west of Lakeshore Blvd., one that used to be owned by the Hills Brothers Coffee people. Here's the link:

Here's the pic by Jarvis Photography:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Tahoe Lake-In-The-Sky Air Show

A few weeks ago at the end of September, we had another "Lake In The Sky" airshow at the South Lake Tahoe airport. It was great fun.

Three biplanes flying over Cave Rock

For airshow snobs, it might not be much compared to the monster shows like the annual Oshkosh, Wisconsin airshow. But I've been to the Oshkosh show, and I can tell you that our Tahoe show is better in many ways. 

First, you don't have to park a mile away and fight monster crowds. Second, and even better, you get to see cool planes flying "Right There!" above your head or a only hundred feet away to your side. Compared to Oshkosh where you need binoculars to see the planes fly, Tahoe's show is amazing.

The variety of planes was impressive, and the flying was spectacular.

Here's the link to the Lake In The Sky airshow.

Below are a range of pictures. (Can you tell from them that the 12-year-old boy inside me is alive and well?!)

Here they come!

A Hellcat heading out onto the tarmac
A Japanese Zero following him. Will they have a dogfight?

Zero and Hellcat ballet at 300 miles per hour

In Front of Trimmer Peak
After the Hellcat and Zero show their moves, it's time to check out the other aircraft.

Classic warbird
Flying boat

Flying wing
Here's a Canard design, with the small wing forward and the main wing aft.

 Next, comes the biplane air show, beautiful planes, amazing maneuvers.

#1 of what I thought of as the Three Musketeers

#2 (This was flown by an 81-year-old pilot!)

#3 Sweet Paint job!

Up we go
Three's company
Pulling 6 Gs
Up and over
If you don't go all the way over, you do a tail slide until you flip around

Soon, come the choppers.

In comes the Sky Crane. This one is outfitted with a water tank.

The dangling pipe is for sucking up water when they hover over a lake.

Then they fly to the fire and drop their load.
This chopper arrived while we all watched, flown in by a woman pilot and set down so smoothly a glass of water on the dash wouldn't have spilled a drop. The announcer loved telling all the girls at the show about the woman pilot. "You want real Girl Power, learn to fly one of these!" he called out.

At the end of the show, the planes all flew off into the gathering clouds
It was a great event for all.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Reality Check For Authors

Note to authors: If you write books, here's something basic about the business that will make your job much more clear.

Authors are responsible for selling their books. Not publishers, not brick-and-mortar bookstores, not online bookstores, not libraries, not gift shops, not the local Rotary book sale. It is the author who motivates someone to try his or her books. The venues that put your books into distribution or - if you're lucky - actually stock them on their shelves, are merely making them available to buy. It's the author who has to get a reader to search out his or her book and buy it. If you think otherwise, you are setting yourself up for serious disappointment and, probably, career failure.

A few weeks ago, I was at a library author event with something over a dozen authors. The library invited the authors, provided them with space and tables, and publicized the event in local media, both print media and online media. The library even made sure that the publicity mentioned each author's name along with some basic information about their books. The library printed up name sheets for each author's table.

By my standards, the event went well. People showed up and bought books. I don't know how many books were bought or how successful the various authors were, but I sold a bunch of books.

Afterward, I heard one author complaining to one of the librarians, saying, "I didn't even sell one book." The author went on to say that one of the exhibit rooms was not clearly marked and not enough people went in there.

The only reason I wasn't incredulous was that I've seen it many times before, authors blaming everybody but themselves for getting no traction with their book. I wanted to say, "At no expense to you, the library cleared out their space, put up tables and chairs, publicized the event including getting your name and your book's title in the local media, and you have the audacity to complain to them that you didn't sell books???!!" I wanted to say, "How many postcards did you send out about the event, how many emails, how many phone calls? Was it on your website and your social media pages? Did you hand out flyers about it at your last event? Have you even done other events?" I didn't say it, but maybe I should have. It might have given that author a helpful reality check.

I understand disappointment. Books are hard to sell. Every author secretly hopes that their book is good enough that it will somehow find an audience by itself. But it doesn't work that way. Books don't go viral like cat videos.

Do your research. If you spend even a fraction as much time learning about the business of books as you did writing your book, you will learn that no book sells without significant effort on the part of the author.

"Wait," you say. "James Patterson's publisher does all this press and advertising. His books are bought by millions who've never been exposed to his efforts." Right. That's because he built his audience step by step, working at it 8 days a week for decades. I've never heard of a single successful author who didn't pound the pavement, introducing her books to the world. There is no successful author out there who would think that not only should a library set them up in front of readers but also figure out how to sell their books. Authors who succeed recognize that it is an incredible opportunity to be given a venue and media coverage all for free, and they would promote, promote, promote, driving readers into that library any way they could. Just like they drive readers into bookstores. Just like they drive readers to Amazon. Authors have to sell their own books because no one else does.

If you are serious about developing a readership, then get serious about learning how to introduce your books to the world and plan to work on it continuously. 

I've mentioned some effective approaches in previous blog posts, so I won't list them again here. But here's a tip. Find books that sell - especially those by relatively new authors - and research what that author did to make it happen. Then mimic their efforts. Do the same things they do, set yourself the same schedule, give just as many talks, go to as many schools, exhibit your books at as many or more festivals of all kinds, send out as many emails and postcards, make your website just as attractive, post on your blog just as frequently, make what you post just as compelling, and make your social media approach just as comprehensive. And if you're self-publishing, hire the same professional book cover designer, format the inside of your book to make it look just as professional as theirs, develop your characters to be just as captivating, work your future books into a single series or connect them all up in some fashion so that if a reader likes one they'll buy the rest.

Libraries are a writer's best friend. They introduce your books to readers who would never otherwise find them. And libraries do it all at their expense. Learn to work with libraries. Be grateful for what they do.

But don't expect them, or any other institution, to sell your books. Authors sell books.