Julie's Web Journal at Stately Barrett Manor


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Writing. Technology. Life.





Spring Has Sprung Like A Big Springy Thing
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Well, at least the plants are starting to bloom.

Here is our smoke tree:
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These blooms will eventually turn purple.

And look, Chtulhu has a bloom!

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Cthulhu is our elder aloe vera plant. We keep him in the garage during the winter, and if we get lucky, there will be a bloom in the spring. Soon, Chthulhu will produce pups spawn.

We also have a few rose buds at the side of the house. 

Tags: Pictures

Filed under: Pictures   Flowers         
4/15/2014 12:28:12 PM
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(Un)Happy Tax Day!
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Finally got all my taxes finished, filed, and accepted by the IRS. Then today I realized I'd forgotten all about making a quarterly tax payment. Fortunately, today is the deadline. I guess there are worse things that could happen.

This morning I ran across an article by Bob Sullivan on the self-employment tax, and how it might hurt America in the next 15 years or so. If you're thinking about freelancing or starting a business on the side, this is a must read.

What most people don't understand when they start out (and sadly, some people who hire contractors don't either) is that the self-employed pay a higher percentage of income taxes. Here's what happens: When you work for someone else, your employer pays half of your employment tax, and you pay the other half. That's your Medicare and Social Security withholding. The total employment taxes are 15%. You get to pay this on top of your income taxes. And if you're not making enough to pay income taxes, you're very likely still going to pay self-employment taxes. 

This is why I put away 30-50% of income (after expenses, of course) away for taxes. The amount you set aside may vary based in your family income. See the disclaimer below.* The IRS has all sorts of complicated helpful forms and publications on their site.

I always put away more than I think I'll pay. Why? Because freelancing is a "feast or famine" job, and my handmade business is seasonal. Also, I'm overly paranoid when it comes to taxes, and I'd rather have more than I need than be caught short. The leftover money can also provide a small cushion in case of unexpected expenses. 

Also keep in mind that you'll be paying taxes on a quarterly basis, which is why you want to set something aside as your money comes in. 

When you're determining your rates for freelancing or your prices for goods, keep taxes in mind. You don't want to be hit with a nasty surprise.

*Disclaimer: I am not a tax professional, nor do I play one on TV. Your situation is probably different than mine, and you really should do the math and/or see a tax professional on your own. Your mileage may vary, etc. 



Filed under: Taxes            
4/15/2014 10:35:44 AM
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Still Alive
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Wow, I didn't mean to let this sit fallow for a month. But it's not entirely my fault. First, I had computer issues. The hard drive started acting up big time. We put in a new drive, replaced the (also) faulty CD-ROM drive, then installed Windows 8. It worked ... until it didn't. This was not a Microsoft problem, though: I managed to track it down to a really old version of a program that I like. So now I guess I get to upgrade. I have another program I can use instead, so there's no hurry on the upgrade.

The plumbing problems are best not mentioned. No, really. No one mentions plumbing unless they have to, right? Then there was the minor(ish) finger injury. That kept me from typing with any accuracy for a while.

Plus, I've been busy working on new items for Steam Cat, and plodding along with book plotting. At some point I'm just going to have to sit down and write, damn it. 

Anyway. I'm back - I hope. 

It's a gorgeous day here, but too windy to get out and work on the patio as planned. I needed some thread, so I worked that errand in with a thrift store run. But of course. And oh, yes. I found stuff!

First, this lighted makeup mirror:

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It's probably from the 1930's, and still has the sticker from Acme Specialty Manufacturing, which is still in business. It needs some touch-up paint, but it still works. Someone added a new cord in the 60s, but everything else is original. It works, too. 

Unfortunately, I didn't have a coyote to pose with it, so that's Gwladys Pendelbury modeling today's second find:

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This hat probably dates to the 1940s. It's absolutely gorgeous. Like many thrift store hats, the veil is practically gone. The stitching is all by hand, and it's amazing work. 

There's not much on the web about Evelyn Varon. She apparently started in France about 1914 and then moved to New York at some point. I've seen hats as late as the 1970s that carried her label.

I like going to the store where I found this hat. They have what I affectionately call "bags o'crap." The take small items, bag 'em up, and you buy the whole bag. Even though the bag is clear, it's sometimes hard to see what's in it. I've hit some amazing fabric and trim jackpots there. Anything in the bag that I can't use I just donate back. The bag I grabbed today had some fabric of dubious value and a lovely vintage fur collar. I draped the collar on Honoria Glossop and took a picture:

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Lovely!

I also bought a set of plastic cups that look like large coffee shop cups that I will use to display the coffee sleeves I'm working on for Steam Cat. I want to display them on cups, but I don't want to use branded paper cups or ceramic cups at the next show. Ceramic cups + cement floor = disaster. Why yes, I am a klutz. 

Have a good weekend!

Tags: Pictures

Filed under: Pictures   Vintage   Hats      
4/11/2014 3:39:00 PM
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Thursday Sees A Little Better
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Well. Got the frickin' laser beam treatment on the left eye yesterday, and I am seeing some improvement. 

I would be lying through my teeth if I told you I wasn't feeling some anxiety about this treatment. Oh, everyone says it's a piece of cake, and they were right. But still, it was the waiting for this that did me in. This procedure had been postponed twice because the machine was off undergoing some repairs. So yeah, I was just a bit anxious.

Dr. B. and his staff were great, and he talked me through the entire thing before I even sat down at the machine. 

But still. Twenty shots from a frickin' laser beam. In my eye! 

Yeah, I'm still a little freaked out, but it's not the fault of the doctor or his staff.

There is improvement today, and I get the impression it will take a few days for the virtual dust (or at least the new floaters) to settle.

Anyway. I'm glad it's over and now I can try to get down to work!

Tags: Life

Filed under: Life            
3/6/2014 9:20:54 AM
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Updatery For A Friday
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Last weekend was ConDFW. I had a great time, and I bought something in the Art Show:

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This is the "Hugonaut" sculpture by Vincent Villafranca. (I've lightened the picture a bit to show the detail.) Vincent is an amazing artist and a great guy. He designed the base for the 2013 Hugo Award. If you look closely at that picture, you'll see the Hugonaut.

I figure this is the closest I'll ever get to having  Hugo on my mantle. Also, I wanted a tangible reminder of running the awards show last year, so I'm thrilled to have this piece.

I had a bit of a sinus problem going on at ConDFW, so apologies to anyone who thought I was being short with them or was simply acting out of it. The sinuses are still acting up, and I seem to have managed to get just a bit of the concrud, which is why I haven't been online much at all this week. I need to get better so I can have the laser procedure on my left eye next week. 

Yes, the surgeon's equipment finally got repaired and I hope this will help one of my eye issues. The only downside is that I haven't made my deductible yet, so this will cost me considerably more than the office copay it would have cost in December. Still, if it means I can see better it will be well worth the cost. 

THEN I can order new contacts. The insurance should cover at least part of that.

Gonna try and eat a little lunch and see if my body will cooperate. Have a good weekend!

Tags: Life  Pictures

Filed under: Life   Pictures         
2/28/2014 11:00:10 AM
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My ConDFW Schedule
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Apologies for the lack of posting. Just got recovered from Sci-Fi Expo and then came down with the stomach virus that's going around. Feeling better today, though. If I was going to get sick, I'm glad to get it out of the way before a convention, and I'm sure they're glad, too! There are just some types of "joy" that should not be spread.

So, ConDFW is this weekend. It's shaping up to be a great convention, so do come out and say hi. Stick around for the panels. Buy some art. Stay for the parties! (FenCon's is Saturday night!) Here's what they have me doing this weekend:

Friday, 4pm, Addison Lecture Hall: Selling Yourself for Fun and Profit 
Panelists: Barbara Ann Wright (M), Peggy Dee Haslbauer, David L. Gray, Melanie Fletcher, Gloria Oliver, Julie Barrett 
Self‐promotion is always a tricky issue in this day and age.  Where do you do it?  What is trustworthy?  How do you get the news out to the public that your book, or art, or movie is ready?  The internet is a big place, and easy to get lost in.  Our panelists look at ways of getting the message out to the masses so you can earn more than blank looks.  

Saturday, 2pm, Addison Lecture Hall: The Secret of Repetition: How to Create A Sequel 
Panelists: Mark Finn (M), Kevin J. Anderson, Stephen Patrick, KM Tolan, Julie Barrett 
There are sequels everywhere.  Most are not very good, or ill‐advised – for instance, a Sharknado 2 has been greenlighted.  However, some do rise above the original – such as Empire Strikes Back, or The Dark Knight.  Our panelists discuss sequels, how to create them, what to avoid (if you can) and why.   
 
Sunday, 11am, Chinaberry: Mining for Ideas 
Panelists: Chris Donahue (M), Rhonda Eudaly, Samuel Boyd Taylor, Michael Ashleigh Finn, Julie Barrett 
Writers are always looking for new ideas and concepts to use in their stories.  However, sometimes ideas can be found in the most unlikely of places, such as history magazines or science websites.  Our panelists share some tips on how to mine such places for ideas that are useful for writers, and interesting for readers. 
 
Sunday, 12pm, Red Oak: The Really Mad Hatters 
Panelists: Bev Hale, Julie Barrett, Cynthia Talbot, Donna Hawk 
During this panel our Mad Hatters show the construction of many styles and genre of hats for flamboyant costuming purposes.  There will be interactive discussion on construction and design of hats using already completed and “pull it out of the box” found items to enhance any costume or persona, as well as construction of hat bands out of things conventional milliners would never think to use.
 

Sunday, 2pm, Red Oak: What’s Next: Finishing Touches 
Panelists:  Cynthia Talbot, Becky Demonja, Peggy Dee Haslbauer, Bev Hale and Julie Barrett 
That dress dummy looks pretty awesome in that costume you just finished but what about your hands your arms, your hair, your shoes, your jewelry, your hat, your headdress, your cape, your wings,  your . . . the list goes on and on.  How do you know when your costume is really finished and where do you find or make all those awesome finishing touches. (Oh and make sure you ask Bev Hale about that “3 dead Ferrets” rule). (Note from Julie: I will have the "infamous" Three Ferret Hat!)

See you this weekend!

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Filed under: Conventions   ConDFW         
2/17/2014 6:22:47 PM
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Wrapping Up The Week
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Well, I haven't accomplished a lot. Sigh. Let me count the things that happened:

1. Got a few things accomplished Tuesday, then got a call from my eye surgeon. The laser procedure I had scheduled for Wednesday is indefinitely postponed. The machine is STILL under repair. I'm on a waiting list and they'll call me when it's my turn. This is not a major problem (it's a common procedure post-cataract surgery), but I am seeing some decreased vision and cloudiness in the left eye. This procedure was supposed to be done a month ago and they delayed it because the machine broke. My optometrist suggested that I wait for that until I got my next eye exam. But now I'm down to my last pair of contacts and having trouble with near vision. So yes, the eye doctor will see me now.

2. Major calendar fail on my part. I thought he was going to see me Wednesday. The appointment was for Thursday. Of course, I was already across town when I got the automated notice asking me to confirm my appointment 24 hours in advance. Gah. All my fault.

3. Went to the optometrist on Thursday. He's a great guy, and is committed to making sure I have healthy eyes and good vision. The bad news (as he put it) is that my right eye can still be corrected to 20/20, meaning I can't have the cataract surgery yet. Then he ticked off all the stuff going on: An eight diopeter difference between my eyes (the brain can cope with three. Eight just makes it fall over and sink into the swamp). Extreme nearsightedness in one eye. Uncorrected astigmatism in one eye. The retina tear (one year ago!). And now the cloudy vision in the left eye. An encroaching cataract in the right eye. Two is not uncommon. Heck, I had extreme nearsightedness and uncorrected astigmatism in both eyes for as long as I can remember. But his many is a lot. And yet, the insurance won't do anything for me.  He said that I'm doing really well considering everything that's going on, and realized that was sort of cold comfort. 

4. Then I had to go get a slow leak in a tire fixed. The good news is that the problem wasn't in the sidewall, so they could fix it the even better news is that they didn't charge me a thing to fix the leak and rotate the tires.

5. Wednesday night I went to bed dead tired  with the intention of reading for about ten minutes and zonking out. The tablet was powered down. Hmm. I'd charged it up. Turned it back on and, long story short, it was a brick. It was stuck on the manufacturer logo. Spent Thursday morning trying every geeky trick I could possibly think of (and a few more I found online) to fix it. Turns out a lot of people have had the same problem with that tablet. They'll fix it, but it'll cost more than the tablet is worth. Sigh. But wait! Paul has an extra Windows RT tablet hanging around. I spent last night getting that set up, and now I'm (mostly) back in business. Much rejoicing. I use the tablet for reading and some writing and a few other things, so I'm good. And not out more money!

6. Friday. Laundry. Grocery shopping. 

I did get some things accomplished yesterday, though. I don't think I'm going to be nearly ready for next week's show. I'll have what I have. I'm not going to go into panic mode (again) and go crazy. I have enough on hand that if I sell out I'll be a happy camper, but I could really use more stock. More hats in popular sizes. More spats. That kind of thing.

So let's close the week with an (archived) cat picture, shall we?

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Hit the 'nip. Have a good weekend!


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1/31/2014 4:58:29 PM
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Monday Mumblings Has A Site Update
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
I took a few hours yesterday to update the Post Cards section of the Nostalgia area. 

I really needed to clear my brain after one project and before digging into another. Not to mention that Saturday I realized that an event is happening a week earlier than I'd thought, and so I have a truckload of work to do now!

You may not see me much online. In the meantime, have a picture of some kitties playing jump rope:


Tags: Housekeeping  Pictures  Cats

Filed under: Monday Mumblings   Housekeeping   Pictures   Cats   
1/27/2014 9:44:00 AM
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Publishing Myths Series Revisited (Again)
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Way back in 2009, I wrote a series of blog posts on publishing myths, with a quick update in 2011

Changes in the industry have rendered some of my information out of date, but I'm leaving it up for archival purposes.

The biggest news since then is the continued rise of ebooks and self-publishing. We've also seen several small publishers collapse, and further consolidation at the top. What's an aspiring author to do? First off, it's your choice to do it yourself or look for a publisher. Whichever route you chose, remember Yog's law:
Money flows toward the writer.
Simple, isn't it?

But wait! What about self-publishing? Don't I have to pay someone to produce and market my book?

Yes, or you can do it all yourself. But not all services are equal. Remember, the goal is to make money. Publishing is a business, whether you do it yourself, go through a commercial house, or hire someone to do all or some aspects of the work. Whichever route you go, you need to thoroughly vet the publisher or service:

* What is their payment rate? How is it structured? An advance against royalties? Royalties only?

* How often do they pay? Do they have a record of timely payments?

* How is their editing and cover design?

* What do they do to get their products (your books!) into the hands of readers?

* What is their acceptance rate? This is very important. Some small publishers are pushing as many books out the door as fast as they can. How can they do a good job of marketing your book when they have so many in the pipeline? 

* How do they pay their editors and cover designers? Can they retain good editors? Some of the smaller presses pay royalties. I've heard tales of good editors leaving small presses that pump out a lot of books because sales are low and royalties don't cover their time. If sales are so low that editors are leaving, what chance do you have of decent sales? 

If your publisher does a substandard job of editing (or expects a fully edited manuscript on submission), slaps on a cover, and then expects you to do all the work promoting and marketing the thing, then what the hell are you doing with that publisher? Waiting out a rights reversion, I hope.

If your acceptance letter includes a pitch for "publishing packages," chances are you'll be paying far more than you'll ever get back. While there are a few success stories with this model, it's generally a bad business move on your part.

One of the more interesting developments in the last few years has been online magazines. Some pay pro rates and and are approved markets for some groups like SFWA. Vet them like you do a standard publisher. Watch what rights they acquire and for how long. You don't want to lose your work to a rights grab.

What do you do if when you get a rejection? Remember that your story does not deserve to be published. Also read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Slushkiller and John Scalzi's Ten Things About Literary Rejection. They both date to 2005 or so, but the advice still stands. Read #3 in Scalzi's list. Burn it into your brain.

P. N. Elrod (disclosure: we're been good friends since college) has been doing an occasional series of "Dear Aspiring Author" posts on her Facebook page. She's been reading slush for a publisher, and much of her advice is very similar to the two links above, but with delicious snark. (Well, if you could eat snark, this would be delicious. So there.)

It's not the big bad publisher's fault that you keep acquiring rejection letters. (That's a myth!) You can increase your chances by doing two things: Adhere to the publisher (or publication's) guidelines to the letter, and keep writing and revising. If you get a personalized rejection letter, it often means you're doing something right, even if your work wasn't right for them or their schedule (or issue) is full. If you get an R&R (Revise and Resubmit), do it. You still may not get an acceptance in the end, but I guarantee you'll have a better story.

That brings me to another myth I keep hearing after all these years: "The evil editor is going to ruin my story!" If you have that manuscript with a reputable publisher, that ain't gonna happen. And if you think they're ruining it, then it's time to have a long talk with the editor about your vision and theirs. Please consider that an experienced editor has been at this a long time, and they know a lot about story structure. If I disagree with an editorial direction, I can go back and explain that the reason I'm doing X is Y. The editor will consider it and tell me why their suggestion will make it better or suggest an entirely different approach, and tell me why. If you honestly believe they're ruining your story, prepare to turn in your advance and walk away.

And that brings me to another myth: If the book doesn't earn out you have to pay back your advance. I've heard of a couple of small publishers that have tried to sneak this in a contract, and authors who have not been successful at striking that clause walk away without signing. Here's how it really works: Remember way up there when I said that publishing was a business? If they're going to pay you an advance against royalties, they're confident that they're going to sell a certain number of copies. If the book doesn't sell as well as they'd hoped, well, they lose the bet and you win. If the book sells as many as they hope, you've both broken even. If it sells more, then you both win. You'll get more royalties! 

Still, there are certain situations when an author will have to return their advance, and they all involve the author not adhering to their end of the contract. Generally, your end of the contract is to produce that manuscript on time (if the contract isn't on acceptance), do requested edits on time, and follow the legalities. If they discover you've plagiarized, they're going to ask for their money back.

But if for some reason the publisher walks away during the process through no fault of yours, the advance money is yours. Maybe the bean counters decide to cut the list down and your book gets axed. It's very disappointing, but at least you have some money and a manuscript (that may have undergone some editing) that you can shop around elsewhere.

There is one other big myth that is becoming more and more of a reality with small publishers. Some publishers require you to have a social media presence and promote the hell out of your book. Some are now asking for marketing plans for fiction. Damn it, Jim! I'm a writer, not a marketing guru. Part of the job of a publisher is to get those books (print or electronic) into the hands of readers. If I'm sitting here in my dark corner of the innerwebs jumping up and down and screaming "look at me!" it's not as effective as a publisher going out to physical and online bookstores and saying "look at our authors!" This costs money, and should be part of the cost of doing business. If you go to a physical or online bookstore and see the "we recommend" section, chances are the publisher paid for placement. This is part of their marketing budget. If you attend a genre convention, your publisher may buy an ad in the program book. This is how they advertise themselves - and you - to the world. You support that with your online presence. But you shouldn't be expected to do the publisher's job. 

When a publisher puts the entire burden on their authors, what do you think is going to happen? Imagine walking into a room full of people jumping up and down and begging you to look at them. You get to choose one or two people to take home to have dinner with you. How do you choose? How do you chose wisely? I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader. But suffice to say the room is getting more and more crowded.

Tags: Writing Publishing Publishing Myths

Filed under: Publishing Myths   Writing   Publishing      
1/21/2014 12:53:41 PM
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Well, THAT Was Interesting
Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett
Today that creepy person at the mall just may have been me. But it was all in the spirit of commerce, I promise!

Chris and I went shopping for clothes today. We split up and I attacked the clearance racks. There was another interesting sale going on as well. Dillard's is closing the store near us, and all their store fixtures are on sale. Most of you know I make and sell accessories under the name Steam Cat, and as such I'm always on the lookout for items I can use for display and photography. On one of the jewelry counters (only $250 apiece!) was a pair of shoe forms (NOT $250 each):

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Why yes, I can use those for display and photography so ankle spats don't fall over like a limp batch of overcooked broccoli. (Pardon the crappy cell phone picture.) The price was right, and so I bought 'em. The lady who sold them was obviously curious as to why I'd want those and so I explained how I'd use them. Turns out she makes hats! Small world. Anyway, I paid for the items and she put them in a clear plastic bag.

Before I even got out of the store, bits were poking out of the bag, so I found myself walking through the mall, cradling a pair of plastic feet. Oh, no. Not creepy at all. 

So if you saw a crazy lady at the mall today with an extra pair of feet, keep in mind that she wasn't a fetishist. Just a businesswoman who knows a bargain when she sees one. 

Oh, and I did find some clothes. No shoes. Somehow that would have been very wrong.

Tags: Life

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1/9/2014 4:30:34 PM
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5/16/2014  - 5/18/2014
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