Writing

Want to be a Serious Writer? Be prepared… it’s Expensive, But There are Some Tricks to Save Money

I have been honing and practicing my writing skills for nearly a decade. Along the way, I’ve had to spend money on editing, cover design, and marketing services. It cost a lot. I am not kidding.

I also fell into the trap of using “self-publishing” services, which were actually vanity presses. They offer publishing packages from hundreds to even thousands of dollars. And those books sell few to no copies. I would avoid those at all costs. And not just because of the pricing, but because of how they treat authors, take their money, and result in poor sales of their books. Try to use legitimate services where you just upload your materials, such as Amazon KDP or Draft2Digital. Both are free to publish on.

But it’s more than just that. I will return to the publishing and marketing topics after I discuss editing and cover design.

Editing can be pretty expensive. Some editors will even charge thousands of dollars for their services, especially if they’ve worked with big-name, bestselling authors. So, unless you already have the money, I would suggest avoiding those. There are editing services that charge moderate amounts. There are also beta readers, who are usually quite affordable. Many don’t price their services over $100. It may be worth using them for content editing.

Also, a lot of editors will be willing to split the payment plans. That might be useful if you don’t want to spend too much money at once. Another approach is not to get every single draft of your manuscript edited. I don’t just mean the sloppy first draft, but any draft you may feel needs more work… from you.

Everyone’s writing process differs, so the editing necessities will vary, too. If you’re new to writing, it may be challenging to improve your writing abilities without customized feedback. You can read books on the writing craft and more, but they could only take you very far. My suggestion would be to spend less on any unnecessary items outside of your writing time. Or take a side job and save your earnings for book production service.

Which brings me to the next part: cover design. Unless you have a great reputation in graphic design or illustration, it’s best to hire someone. But like editing, some may split the payment segments. Keep in mind your book’s genre and what cover design would be appropriate and attract more people. Regardless of that saying, everybody judges books by their covers.

Now back to marketing. If you self-publish on Amazon, you can price your book as low as 99 cents. If you do the select program, you can run a free promotion for up to 5 days. However, if you do KDP select, your eBook can’t be available anywhere else digitally, like your website or blog. You can also ask Amazon to make your eBooks perma-free by publishing them on sites like Barnes & Noble or Kobo, and making them free. This is an option if you publish through Draft2digital. Amazon may or may not price-match your book to other retailers. If you write a series, Amazon might be more likely to allow you to make the first installment free.

There are a lot of eBook promotion sites that will share free and 99-cent eBooks. And they usually cost less than $100. Maybe even $50.

So, there you have it. While being a writer won’t prevent you from spending a lot of money, you can still use these techniques to pay less.

cooking

Very Delicious Oreo Pudding

I’ve wanted to make an Oreo dessert for a while. In fact, my first idea was to make a no-bake Oreo mousse pie. The recipe sounded promising. However, something about the steps in that formula made me too lazy to start. So, I kept postponing until I decided on something simpler. That is what you see in the picture above: Oreo pudding.

There were a bunch of exciting recipes in the Google results. But I desired something quicker. I chose the option where the preparation time was 30 minutes. I made a cream cheese frosting with more cream cheese than butter, which the instructions called for, anyway. Then I made the vanilla pudding from a mix, followed by the whipped cream. I then crushed thee Oreos in a bag. At some point, I removed the cream filling from the inside since it was kind of interfering with the smashing of the cookies. After that, I mixed the cream cheese icing with the pudding and placed it in a pan. I then covered it with the crushed Oreos, and repeated the process until I topped it with the whipped cream and sprinkled the remaining cookie crumbs on top.

After chilling it for a half hour, I took it out and ate some. It tasted good, but not as delicious as the next day. I guess it needed more time to be in the refrigerator.

One thing I used less of was sugar. Not that it was a choice, but because I was low on the powdered kind. Therefore, I had to made do with what I owned. Despite that, it still came out great. The Oreos already contained lots of sweetness to begin with. What also matters is that I came back for more. That is a sign of success.

I don’t remember what site I got the recipe from, but if you do a web search for “Oreo pudding,” just look for the one that says it’ll take 30 minutes. If you make it, I would recommend chilling it for at least an hour or 2. That way, the ingredients blend better. I hope this helps.

cooking

Making the Frosting was a Tough, But Happy Journey

That you see there is a frosting I made from scratch. It looks liked whipped cream, and yes, it does contain heavy cream. However, it is whipped buttercream icing.

The process of this was no easy task. In fact, it took time to get right. I don’t just mean that for the specific one pictured. I also am talking about other moments I made icing, whether it was buttercream, cream cheese, or just whipped cream frosting.

You could tell me to just buy a premade frosting from the grocery store. However, my family doesn’t really like that. Not only do those kinds contain ingredients that don’t exactly please my parents or brothers, but they think I can do a better job. After all, I know what goes in the icings and any food I make from scratch.

In fact, this is one of the cases where less is more. Homemade frosting consists of softened butter, powdered or confectionery sugar, vanilla extract, and milk or cream. Of course, you can also use food coloring to dye the icing or cocoa powder to give it a chocolate flavor. You may use shortening or almost extract, as well. That is, if you are not allergic to nuts, nor is anyone you serve the dessert with the frosting.

But one thing that you should take seriously is the amount of liquid you put in your homemade icing. Otherwise, it won’t mix well and the thickness might not please you. What happened to me when I added lots of heavy cream to my buttercream frosting was that there were chunks in it, even though I used an electric mixer. It also tasted sour. My goal was to make a whipped buttercream icing. And what I discovered is that in order to get the right consistency, adding a little at a time is absolutely necessary. I start off with the butter, sugar, and vanilla, followed by two tablespoons of heavy cream. Then I mix them for a few minutes. If I want more, then I add a little extra. The process repeats until the thickness is where I want it to be.

The message you want to take home is that you should take little steps at a time when making icing, even when following a specific recipe. I wouldn’t recommend pouring a lot of liquid with mixed butter. In fact, the only time you should really pour a large amount of fluid is if you are cooking whipped cream icing, and without butter. You would stabilize the whipped cream with unflavored gelatin. But that’s another topic.

Anyway, I hope this post helps. Also, take your time when making frosting. It could take several minutes for your icing to satisfy your desires.

art

Food is Hard to Draw Formally

That you’re looking at is a steak I drew from observation. But it was not from a real one… a photo of one. I know it doesn’t really resemble a steak. That is when I discovered a surprise: food is hard to draw.

It is so weird, because I can usually draw pretty much anything. And no, not because I’ve been doing art since I was very little. In recent years, I took a lot of still-life drawing and painting, figure drawing (which I received an A in in college, not to brag), and much more.

Up until maybe a few weeks ago, I hardly ever did any art. Not because of the stress I’m experiencing during this stupid pandemic, but because I am discovering that I am more of a writer than an artist. That being said, I do enjoy art. I would just rather keep it as a hobby rather than a career focus.

I don’t know if that’s the reason why food is hard to draw accurately, or at least not in an ameteurish manner. I looked up tutorials on how to sketch food. However, the results I received from Google were not exactly the right kids for people like me. They targeted more beginner or naive “artists.”

I guess my approach will be to draw actual foods in person from observation. But not just any kinds… the simple fruits and vegetables, like apples, oranges, and eggplants. I will save drawing things, like steak, pasta, and other complex dishes, for when I feel ready and I have improved the traditional still-life food items.

cooking

Mmm… Meaty Marinara Without Tomato

Before I became allergic to tomatoes, I really enjoyed Pizza Hut’s meaty marinara. However, since then, I had to make my own versions of my favorite foods that normally contain tomatoes, except without them. Sadly, they usually don’t taste very good. Or they will only be similar at most. But even that is not satisfying.

Luckily, this one is different. Yes, the recipe calls for tomato sauce and paste. But I use canned pumpkin and puréed roasted peppers instead. I also mix apple sauce with the peppers, which gives it more of a texture like tomatoes. I even include red wine, and that improves the flavor, too.

I think what also makes this taste good is that you have to simmer the sauce for at least an hour. That gives the meat enough time to absorb the sauce and add flavor to it. After that, you mix it with the pasta, top it with shredded mozzarella, and bake it for several minutes. I don’t remember how many, though.

This isn’t something I can make regularly, however. It is time-consuming, so I don’t have the luxury of cooking this often. On the bright side, though, I think it makes the pasta more enjoyable.

I find that when I eat something frequently (not everything), I get tired of it and won’t want it for a while. I’m already beginning to feel sick of eating commercially-made food. When the world was on lockdown in the spring, I couldn’t eat out, although I could receive takeout, curbside pickup, or delivery. But now that restaurants in my area have opened up again, since early summer, I think I went crazy eating out. Now my body hasn’t felt the best. So, I am starting to cut down on the commercially-made food, but gradually, since abrupt changes do not work for me.

Anyway, one thing I am going to try is find copycat recipes of my favorite commercially-made foods. At least I will know what is in them. Hopefully, I will also feel better.

art

Drawing a Whole Room is Difficult and What You Can Do Instead

Have you ever tried to draw a room? How about a whole one? Did you struggle?

If the answer is yes to the last question or all of them, then fret not. I, too, have had trouble drawing an entire room from all angles, corners, and points-of-view. I’m sure it is possible, but probably very difficult. The Internet doesn’t offer much information about creating an entire room on paper or digitally. And if you’re not an architect, it may even be harder to execute the sketch or image you want.

However, there are other ways to make a room without having to study architectural drawings, unless, of course, you want to be an architect or already are one. Otherwise, check out the ideas below:

1: Model a room with sculpting materials

This can depend on your artistic or 3D modeling skills, both traditionally (without technology) and/or digitally. You can use inexpensive clay to build your room dimensions and designs. If you have the time, talent, and money, you can also try 3D-modeling programs.

2: Draw different angles or points-of-view as separate sketches for the room

This is what I usually do. The drawing above is not what the intention was, though. I had to observe and sketch an image for a college assignment. However, I did try this technique for other drawings that I did in my spare time for fun. I even show a couple of illustrations of a room I did on another post.

With this technique, more thinking and planning may be required. But it should be okay as well as less hectic than the 3D-modeling option.

The two techniques have their own pros and cons. Of course, it’s up to you in the end what you think will work, depending on your situations. It also wouldn’t hurt to try an approach you’ve never done before. Hope this helps.

art

At Last, I Am Back and Even Good at Art Again

After doing hardly any drawing and other forms of art, I have returned to it. While I was worried that my skills have decayed or were going away, it turned out that they remained. That’s right—I drew a picture of a boy from a photo and it came out like this:

This is just a rough, observational sketch I did of the kid. I am working on finishing it at the moment with outlining and coloring it in Photo-shop. I wanted to do it traditionally, though. By that, I mean with pen and markers. But not the generic kinds—the sophisticated types. However, I couldn’t find my fancier markers. It was probably because I am donating a portion of my art supplies.

I’m not giving up on art, though. They just took up too much space in my room. Plus, I kind of like Photo-shop better, even if it can spoil me and cause laziness.

That being said, I still enjoy non-technological media, like pens, markers, paints, and pencils, which is what I used in the drawing above. I still have the fancy pens, but I didn’t think of looking for them.

Anyway, let me get back on topic. My drawing skills remained the way they were last. So did the techniques I used in college courses, such as figure drawing. I started with the interior lines and simple shapes before refining the details. And the image still came out well.

The message I want to send to you is that not every talent you possess will deteriorate if you don’t keep up with it for a while, especially if you’ve been working on it since a young age. I’ve been doing art since my early childhood and have been using it regularly as I grew up.

Now here is the finished image of the drawing:

art

Collaborative Art Project: Medallions with Abstract Designs

In order to get through the pandemic without highly stressing out over it, my friend, “Veronica” (not her real name) and I are collaborating on different art projects. The first one we worked on were medallions with abstract designs. This was inspired by an assignment I did in college. In an art class (I was a fine arts major), we had to do a large series of small drawings. So, my professor suggested medallions for me.

When the pandemic happened and I was (and still am, big time) tired of not being in control of my life, my mom sent me an article, where it said that helping another and vise versa can improve your feelings. After thinking about ideas, this is what I came up with: collaborative art projects.

Because I was an art major in college, I had to learn a lot of vocabulary related to it, as well as how to critique forms of creative works. That is what I applied to when helping Veronica.

I drew a few abstract designs inside circles, and then finalized on this one to color.

The markers were old, so they were kind of faded. However, it also allowed me some room for dimension with the various (and unintentional) tints and tones. I also picked colors that I felt would go well with one another.

The same happened with Veronica. She also colored in the shapes that she felt went together well. The shapes reminded her of different objects, too. So, she picked hues based on what the elements looked like to her.

Another thing she did that I also used to do a lot was turn the paper when drawing and coloring. She said that she learned the technique in school. Below is her medallion.

She colored one section all maroon, which is when I taught her the idea of filling in each shape between the lines a different color. I also informed her about something the same professor told me about one of my projects later in my college career. If it were copied into a black and white replica, it would be all the same tone. I used it as a compliment on how Veronica paired the hues.

The message you can take home is that you can help someone close to you with anything that you’re strong in and that the other person may benefit from. Hopefully, this will work for my friend and I, as well as pretty much everybody.

art

Character Design: What I Learned and Even Discovered Recently

You haven’t seen an art post in a while. That’s because I haven’t been doing a lot of it these days. However, there is something about it that I discovered quite recently. Obviously, it’s about character design. You want to know what it is?

It’s how I was better at it at age 13 than at age 23 in 2017. Okay, you may be looking at me like I have 4 heads. And at the time 3 years ago, when I was 23 and finishing college, I didn’t realize or think of it. But I could portray characters more accurately, based on their personalities, when I was just 13 years old.

Well, they weren’t my own characters. They came from the “Harry Potter” series. At that age, I enjoyed the franchise very much to the point that I did fan art of it. But most of it was silly and the characters did things they would never do. However, that’s a different story.

Aside from the wackiness, I also drew the characters alone, with facial expressions based on their personalities. Below is an example.

I must applaud myself for drawing (movie) Snape pretty well when I was 13. I also liked to use arrows to direct at the characters, which I don’t think is conventional in character design. But I could be wrong for some companies or designers.

Ten years later, in my final semester of college, I took an illustration course. One of the things we had to learn was character design. However, I just drew characters in stock poses. The example below is a replica I did of when we had to design characters for a comedic live-action TV show since I don’t have the original anymore.

It wasn’t this sloppy. I just did it from memory. Plus, I haven’t been doing a lot of art these days. I’m hoping my skills aren’t deteriorating.

Anyway, that above is supposed to be Megan from “Drake and Josh.” I used a simplistic style since I felt it was appropriate for a slapstick comedy. But when we did a class critique, somebody pointed out that I could have given her a more sinister look based on her personality and traits.

If you’ve seen “Drake and Josh,” you know that Megan pulls pranks on her older brothers, but her parents find her innocent. So, a wicked smile would have been more suitable.

Another assignment we had to do was illustrate a story that Disney did not adapt. I picked “Perseus and Medusa.” Just like with the other assignment, I drew the characters in stock poses again. Even though I don’t have it anymore, I illustrated Perseus with a default smile on his face. That was when I learned not to do that anymore.

So, from that point on, I portrayed the characters more accurately based on their traits. Below is an example of another character from the same Greek myth.

For those who don’t know, Polydectes was an evil King in “Perseus and Medusa.” This is why I drew him the way I did.

If you are interested in learning character design, it is important to know as much about them as possible for you to illustrate them for whatever project you work on. Even if it’s only for personal use, these tips could come in handy.

cooking

Lemon Meringue Pie: Delicious!

I’ve first discovered this pie when reading “Amelia Bedelia” as a young child. However, the pie never appealed to me…until recently. I saw a post about it on my Facebook page. That triggered me to want to make it.

It’s kind of involved and not too easy. You have to temper egg yolks into a preserve-like mixture and not end up making scrambled eggs by mistake. That made me kind of nervous, but I succeeded with the tempering.

You also have to blind-bake the crust. What that means is you make the pie dough, put parchment paper on it, and pie weights on it. That will bake some of the crust, but not the whole thing, especially the bottom. It makes the pie crust just right, not too soggy or hard. This is essential with lemon meringue pie.

The process took a while, and to the point where I didn’t experience hunger while cooking it. In spite of never making or eating it before, it came out delicious! In fact, it became addictive. I would eat a few slices a day. I also got excited to tell others about it, including my friends.

One thing you should take seriously, though, is letting it chill several hours. I mean that. Otherwise, the lemon part will be liquid-like, and a bit messy, as in the picture above. I sliced it too soon. If you keep it refrigerated overnight, it’s even better. The pie will look like a pie.

I believe I got the recipe from “Sally’s Baking Addiction”. You can Google something such as, “Lemon meringue pie Sally’s Baking Addiction” and try it. Patience and care are important, though. Take your time with the steps, and hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.