Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart

Travel Fun

There are plenty of blogs out there already offering travel tips (I know, I’ve read many of them), so I hesitated to add another one to the collection.  But since each travel blogger offers hints from their own experiences and perspectives, it occurs to me that I might have a few tips to offer as well.

As my last couple of blog posts mentioned (Travel, Travel and More Travel on here and “Traveling along the Lewis & Clark Trail” on my other website), I am a big fan of traveling. It’s been something I’ve been doing for pretty much my entire life.

Dan, Sonia, and I on our horse and carriage ride across Florence, Italy.

Okay, so we don’t get to travel THIS way very often.

I have ridden as a passenger (my favorite), I have driven (I can manage that too – as my 4200 miles in February and March of this year can attest), I have flown (something I endure for the sake of who or what I am flying to), I’ve occasionally traveled by train (I would be happy to do more of that), and I have traveled by boat (mostly on cruise ships – by far my favorite way to travel!).

I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with one or more friends, and I’ve traveled the most with family. I actually enjoy any or all of those options. Here I will share my tips based on my experiences on those various types of travels. Maybe one or more of them will be helpful to you.

Enjoying Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

When I got to the security area, I happily made my way to the somewhat shorter line for TSA Pre. This was my second flight since receiving my “Known Traveler” number the previous month. At $100 for 5 years, my Global Entry application is one of the best travel purchases I’ve made in a long time! It guarantees me TSA Pre on all my domestic flights for the next five years, and should make coming back into the country from my international flights easier. (I won’t get to test that portion until June.) But I do have to say getting to leave my shoes on, not having to take any liquids out, and not having my CPAP machine taken apart (all of which happened when I flew in January without TSA Pre), is amazing! I had experience the TSA Pre options a few times when traveling with my husband, but to now have it guaranteed makes me very, very happy!

A church bell tower in Italy.

From my first trip to Italy. I hope to make good use of my Global Entry on more international trips.

From what I’ve heard, getting just the TSA PreCheck is less complicated. (My sister was able to do it while stuck in the Charlotte airport on one of her trips, and I’ve seen walk-in offices in several other airports I’ve traveled through.) Whereas the on-line application for Global Entry probably took an hour, then I waited several weeks to hear back from them about setting up my interview. Which is where the fun really began – trying to find an appointment time in a place I could easily get to – even though I live in Northern Alabama, I ended up with an appointment the following month in Houston, Texas. Fortunately I was traveling to Austin and could work in an appointment on my way home from there. Otherwise, I might have been looking at months before I could get an appointment for my 5-minute interview.

The Usefulness of Packing Cubes

My recent trip to Denver was for ten days and I easily packed in my small carry-on suitcase. Since my goal is to always fit in a carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip, that wasn’t particularly unexpected. The real surprise was coming home – my sister had given me a pair of jeans, five tops, and two pairs of shoes – all of which I managed to add to my carry-on along with everything I had brought! That was a real feeling of success. The three packing cubes I had originally packed in were much fuller, of course, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

Packing cubes have become a big part of my packing/traveling strategy. One of my sons and his wife introduced us to them almost seven years ago – and we have become quite fans, with eBags being our favorite brand. Most carry-on suitcases can easily hold a set of the packing cubes – a large, a medium, and a small cube, though I had actually used one large and two medium cubes on this last trip.

Packing Light

Beautiful sunset

Even on our 15 day cruise (where I saw this beautiful sunset) I only took my carry-on.

At this point I had planned to talk about the importance of choosing the right carry-ons, but I’m still in the process of making the decision on my next carry-on purchase, so that portion of the post will have to wait a week or two.

One of the reasons my carry-on is so important to me is that I take it with me everywhere! It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling for an extended weekend or a two-week vacation, I pack in a carry-on. In fact, I no longer own a large suitcase (the last one I owned went home with one of my children when they were moving several years ago – and I haven’t missed it since).

I read on at least one other blog the idea of never packing more than a week’s worth of clothes, regardless of how long the trip is.  That pretty much works for me – in fact I’ve been known to pack less than a week’s worth of clothes. No matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve had the ability to wash clothes – often in a bathroom sink or occasionally in a laundromat. (On our 15-day cruise I even sent laundry out to be washed a couple of times – it still cost me less than checking a bag one direction would have cost me.)

My Top Travel Tips

  1. If you want to make traveling easier, and not spend a ton of money, my first suggestion is to buy some packing cubes. There are lots of sizes, colors, and brands to choose from. If you haven’t tried them yet, I can just about guarantee that they will make your packing easier. They make it easier to be organized, and to fit more in.  And if your suitcase gets searched going through security, you will be very thankful! I was going through security last summer with a friend who hadn’t flown in awhile. Her bag got pulled because she had forgotten about the “three-ounce” limit for liquids. While the TSA agent pawed through the suitcase looking for the contraband shampoo, I cringed watching her clothes going everywhere. I hope before she flies again, she adds packing cubes to her packing list!
  2. If you’re planning to do much flying, seriously consider signing up for the “TSA Pre” program or the Global Entry.  There’s only a $15 difference between the two ($85 versus $100, each for 5 years). Traveling is much simpler with either of these!
  3. Invest in a good carry-on if you don’t have one. My youngest traveled to school in Boston last fall in a vehicle. She was effectively moving there, so she only took a large suitcase. But this spring she will be traveling home for a wedding. It was cheaper for us to buy her a cheap carry-on for the trip than to pay for her to check the large bag both ways. (Of course, since she should be traveling more in the future, it was also worth getting her a not-so-cheap one.) And again, more on that investment in a future post.
  4. And, last but not least, pack light! On dozens of trips across the country and across the world I have never regretted bringing too little – though I have regretted bring too much on a couple of occasions! I have seldom forgotten something that I either couldn’t live without, or could purchase somewhere away from home.

Happy traveling!


Travel, Travel, and More Travel

Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn’t have the opportunity (or desire) to travel as much as I do. It’s been such a part of my life for so long, that it seems normal. Sort of like having a big family – it’s what my life looks like, and I seldom think of it as unusual, until someone else points it out.

Now granted, travel, at home or abroad, is certainly not an absolute requirement  for fulfillment in one’s life.  But for me, it is hard to imagine life without traveling – a lot of traveling, in fact.

Oftentimes it’s fear of the unknown that keeps people from choosing to travel, to try something different. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that made the choice to travel, and to travel often. And since it was a family that “thought outside the box” even before people were talking about such a thing, our travels were often unusual, and yet relatively inexpensive, at least as much as traveling with a family can be.

Early Travels

Since I feel like I was born with gypsy blood, I don’t remember my earliest travels: I was born in the Panama Canal Zone when my father was stationed there the first time. Apparently my mother and I stopped in Cuba on our way back to the states at the end of that tour (this being long before our Cuban Crisis and subsequent Cuban Embargo).

Over the next five years or so we traveled across the United States, living in California, North Carolina, and Michigan, before returning to the Canal Zone. But my earliest memories of travel come from our time in Panama that second time, including flying with my father out to the San Blas Islands.

But until that point, our travels were not necessarily unique for families with a parent in the military. (Well, maybe the flights to the San Blas were unusual.) But the real travel fun began when my father was reassigned to a base in Massachusetts. What did most people do in that situation? They packed up their families and flew back to the states. Not us. My father ordered a Land Rover from England and purchased a kit from somewhere to build a tent trailer. And remember, this was in the mid-60s,  before the internet made such things at least a bit simpler.

When the time came, the six of us (Dad, Mom, and four kids from a nine-month-old to me, the nine-year-old) drove and camped our way through Central America and Mexico, and then up the east coast of the United States to Massachusetts. I wrote my first (of many) travel journals (Stars Over Central America) during that trip.

Since I was nine-years-old and missing six weeks of school for the adventure, my assignment was to track our travels, including purchases we made, places we stayed, and even the seemingly-never-ending flat tires that plagued us for much of the trip.  And remember, this was in the mid-60s, before cell phones.

A few years later, when my Dad was about to be sent to Vietnam, we drove from Massachusetts to Michigan, via Alabama. There was family to be visited in Alabama, and so we stopped for a visit “on the way.” (As my good friend Dee and I like to say, we can make just about anything on the way on a road trip.)

Road Trips

As a parent, my lengthy road trips have continued. We made trips up and down the east coast, and from Texas to Montana and back, in a converted 15-passenger van. (We maxed out at 13 people in that van.) After more than 200,000 miles on that vehicle, we traded down to an 8-passenger minivan. We broke that one in on a 7,000 mile trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail. (There were a mere 7 of us on that trip.)

The Lewis and Clark trip was the only really big trip in the 8-passenger van, but we still managed to put more than 200,000 miles on that van as well.

I’ve traveled with friends as well as with family. My good friend Dee and I have made several trips to Jamestown and D.C. (each about 700 miles from our homes in northern Alabama), as well as many other places – sometimes for teachers’ workshops, sometimes just for fun!

And in between those longer trips, there were the numerous shorter trips for soccer, football or lacrosse games and tournaments, and the countless trips to Montgomery (at least twice a year for Youth in Government events).  And so that list goes.

Suffice it to say, I like road trips!


Flying is actually one of my least favorite ways to travel, though I’m hoping my recent acceptance into the Global Entry program (which includes TSA Pre on every domestic flight!), makes traveling by plane a little less painful. (I’ve enjoyed the TSA Pre benefit twice so far -and am loving it!)

But in spite of not absolutely loving to fly, it is often the best way to get where I’m wanting to go.  In addition to countless domestic trips from Alabama to one side of the country or the other, in the last decade I’ve managed to fly to Panama,  to and from Germany several times, to Italy and Albania twice each, once to Turkey, and last summer to Hungary for the start of our first European River Cruise. (I’m definitely holding out hope that we will get to do that again!)


Cruising has quickly become one of my favorite ways to travel/vacation.  My  sisters and I took our first cruise together to Alaska in 2010. Since then I’ve managed to cruise seven additional times (with two more scheduled for later this year). So far our cruises have been primarily with various family members, though the most recent one was a group of our college buddies. My shortest cruise to date was the 4-day cruise I took to the Bahamas and the longest was the 15-day cruise we took through the Panama Canal.  So, suffice it to say, I also like cruises!

The Pleasures of Travel

For me, travel brings lots of pleasure: The pleasure of being with family and/or friends; the pleasure of being somewhere new (or somewhere again!); the pleasure of seeing history up close and personal.

As a writer, traveling keeps me in the midst of new ideas and new material.  Since history is everywhere, I am constantly bombarded with new things I want to learn more about, in order to write about.

Volcano at Night

Volcano we saw in Hawaii

But it isn’t just the history that excites me. The whale we watched in Mexico, the volcano we viewed in Hawaii, and the sunsets we saw in Alaska, excite me just as much. In fact, high on my “still to do” list is a visit to the Galapagos Islands – a trip that is much more about the animals there than its history. (Though I did learn it had a fascinating history when I was doing some research a few years back.)

Travel and Retirement

The year before I retired I got a lot of questions about what I was planning to do with myself when I was no longer running my business (a homeschool resource center I had owned for almost fourteen years). I always had the same answer, “Travel more and write more.” For those that knew me at all (and knew even a portion of what I described above), that answer often stumped them. Since I was already doing quite a bit of both, how was I going to do more?

Well, I’m less than four months into my first year of retirement, and I would say I’m off to a good start – I’ve flown to North Carolina and Colorado (on two different trips). I’ve also driven to North Carolina two other times, and taken a road trip to Texas. My road trips in the first three months of the year totaled more than 4,000 miles behind the wheel.

If all goes well, I’ll be heading back to Washington D.C. for a few days at the end of this month (another road trip) and then I’ll be heading back overseas in about six weeks (for the next cruise on the schedule). That will just about wrap up the first half of my first retirement year (with an average of one trip per month).  And plans for the second half of the year are still a work in progress!

As of a couple of years ago, I have finally visited all 50 states (with Alaska and Hawaii being the last two), and I’ve lived in or visited at least 28 countries. When I filled out my  Global Entry application at the beginning of 2017 I had to indicate how many countries I had visited in the last five years, not counting the U.S., Canada, or Mexico. By my count I had been in 14 other countries during that time period (cruising definitely helps that number, though I had flown in or out of almost half of those!).

God willing, I still have many trips to do in the years ahead – trips to learn on, and to share with family and friends. There are so many amazing things to see and do in this big, wide world of ours – I hope I manage to marvel at even a small percentage of it.

In one of the next couple of blog posts I will share some of the travel tips I have gleaned from years and miles of traveling the country and the world, with and without children.

Happy traveling!



My Growing Love of History

When I was young, I think I approached history the way many people do – it was a subject I had to take in school, and not much more. I was a good test taker – so I could memorize the names and dates, at least long enough to get an A on the test. But history held no more significance to me than that.

It wasn’t until our family moved to Wuerzburg, Germany for more than five years, and I found myself surrounded by history that I could reach out and touch, that I figured out that history was more than just the names and dates in my history textbooks.

All of a sudden I was surrounded by what makes history real – the stories! And then I realized that it’s the stories behind those names and faces that make history important, that make history come alive.

Now, I find myself asking often: What happened in this place? Why did it happen? What was the context in which it happened? Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that wants to find the answers to these and many other questions. Or maybe the seeds of a historian had been planted when I was younger, traveling through Central America with my family, and I just didn’t realize it.

But whatever the reason, being there in Wuerzburg, I suddenly found the desire to learn more. In fact the more I learned about this amazing place that we had been transplanted to, the more I wanted to know. I found myself taking every tour I could find in English, tours that took me through the palace, in and around the castle, or through the historic old portions of town.

After awhile I became frustrated at the lack of English materials that existed to tell me more about this city and its fascinating history. When I complained to a friend of mine that I couldn’t find a book in English about the history of our town, she replied very matter-of-factly, “Because you haven’t written it yet.”

When I was done laughing at her (at that point I had never considered writing anything for readership beyond myself, my teacher, or my family), I looked at the pages of notes I had already compiled from the countless tours I had taken, looked at the stack of books I had been pouring over just for the fun of it, and finally admitted that it could be fun to write a short history book.

And that, as they say, was just the beginning. Over the next two plus decades I was generally busy homeschooling my twelve children, but along the way it seemed that I just kept stumbling across the wonderful stories we call history: The history of those who made up the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the history of George Vanderbilt and the amazing house he built and called Biltmore; and of course, the never ending stories I read about Leonardo da Vinci and his amazing life and work.

It seems that the stories are everywhere I go. Whether I am taking a vacation in Panama or visiting family in Turkey or Albania, the stories seem to reach out to me. They beg me to listen to them, to hear them, and then to retell them. It is actually one of the things I love the most about being an author – it gives me an excuse to do more digging, another reason (besides just for the fun of it) to travel across the country and around the world, and an audience with which to share it.

My hope is that is long as I am on this earth, I will be able to enjoy the stories of history that are all around me – and to share them with others, both young and not so young.

Happy reading!


Visiting Washington, D.C. (Again!)

D.C. – One of My Favorite Cities to Visit

Washington, D.C. has to be one of my favorite cities to visit.  Even though it is almost exactly 700 miles from my home, and I haven’t had any “work reasons” I needed to go there, I have managed to visit D.C. an average of once per year for the past twenty years.

My excuses to go started with the first teachers’ conference I attended in the area and extended to a political event, just to play tourist, or to take students. Besides traveling there at least four times with my students, I’ve traveled alone, with family, and friends. I’ve gone for only a day or two, and I’ve gone for as long as a week or more.

I love to go to D.C. for a number of reasons – there is never a shortage of things to see and do – and most of them are inexpensive or free. And it helps that the vast majority of them are worth going to again and again.

Sites Frequently Visited

The above are important points considering how often I’ve gone with other folks who have never been before – which means I’ve been to numerous places countless times, including, but not limited to:

Taking Students

As I plan my next student trip to D.C. for later this spring, I have to take into consideration how many of us are going, which of the students have been before, and what they have and haven’t seen already.

Two years ago I brought some of the same students and we did things that weren’t typical for us: Mount Vernon, The Arlington Cemetery, and the Holocaust Museum. So this year we may very well go back to some of my old standbys.

Promises to Myself

Since there is so much to do, and never enough time to even make a small dent in the list – I have made myself three promises that I work hard to keep:

  1. Always visit at least one new site.
  2. Enjoy however much time I have in the city on each visit – whether it’s hours or days.
  3. Remember I’m “keeping something for the next time”! That was a piece of advice my Uncle Dick gave me and my good friend Dee on one of our many trips to Williamsburg, and it has served me very well on my many trips to D.C.

The Lock Keeper's House

Of course, all of the above promises work well for any place that we have the privilege of visiting multiple times. Venice is becoming another such place for me. I’ve been there twice, and if all goes well, I’ll get there two more times this year.  But, more on that in a future post.

So, if you’re going to have the privilege of visiting D.C. for the first time, I can offer you several suggestions based on my experiences (and of course, like with any other suggestions, you should choose and use just the ones that sound good for you).

Things to Consider:

The D.C. Subway system from underground.1. Public Transportation is very easy to use in D.C. and fairly inexpensive. I like to park at the end of one of the color lines, since they generally have bigger parking lots, and take the subway in from there. (Vienna for the orange line generally works well for us.) It’s a good idea to compare prices for daily tickets versus passes. If you check out the website before you go, you can get a better idea of what works best for your particular visit. Once you’re in the city – walking is generally the best way to get around!

2. My next recommendation for planning a trip like this is to make a plan based on how long you’ll be in D. C. – but then be flexible. Plans are a great starting point – but things happen. (We’ve adjusted D.C. plans because of a late start one morning that resulted in NO parking spots left in the Vienna parking lot; when there was a suspected shooter in the D.C. area; and when we walked by the National Museum of Art on our way from one place to another, and students asked to go in for a little while. Of course, now, I almost always stop at the Art Museum to make sure my students see one of my favorite da Vinci paintings!

3. In order to make a plan, take into consideration how much time you have, what the highest priorities are for you, and where they are in comparison to each other. A city map like this one, is helpful if you’re focusing on the sites/museums on and near the National Mall. Map of the main tourist sites near the National Mall

4. Be sure to look at the days and hours of the places you want to visit before you even come close to finalizing your plans! Some of these places are only open 5 days a week, and some are 6 days a week (and a few are 7 days).

If I have a group that hasn’t been before and two days to tour, this is often how I schedule our trip:

Day One – Seeing the monuments along the mall, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and one or more of the museums along the Mall (the American History Museum, the National Archives, and the National Museum of Art being high on my list of priorities). Needless to say that can be a day with LOTS of walking. (If you’re really feeling energetic, add the side trip around the Basin!) On the mall day we used to eat at the food court at the Old Post Office, but since that’s no longer a possibility (see the photo below), we’ve eaten recently at the food court at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

Day Two – On the other side of the Capitol we can focus more on sites like the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court building, and Folger Shakespeare Library. On that day we often eat at the food court at Union Station.

If you haven’t been to D.C. before, I hope you are able to make a trip. And if you have been, I hope you are able to go again!

Did I leave anything important off my lists? Any place in particular I should add to my “someday soon” list?


Happy Traveling!


More KDP Publishing Information

After questions that came up at last night’s Writer’s Meeting, I debated whether to update my first blog on Publishing Options or whether to put it in a new post.  With the length of the first post, and the additional important KDP publishing information I needed to share, I decided it was better to write a new one.

Two points came up that need to be addressed, one that I had forgotten to include the first time, and one that was brand new information to me.

Publishing Paperbacks

In my first post I spoke of my recommendation to publish paperbacks through CreateSpace. That is not the only option out there, of course, but from my own experience and my research, I strongly believe it to currently be the best – the cheapest, the easiest, and yet, still high quality way to get books published in a “Print on Demand” manner.

But what I forgot to mention was another option that Amazon has just released – of publishing your paperbacks through KDP along with your Kindle books. Amazon is touting this as an “easier” way – because it only requires one account to keep up with rather than two. However, at least at the moment, my research indicates that the disadvantages of going that way outweigh the advantages, specifically the inability to purchase your own books through that system. (And having two accounts to deal with is no big deal!)

On CreateSpace you have the option of ordering physical proof copies of your books before having them go live for the whole world to see. And while I appreciate the ability to now proof my books digitally with CreateSpace, I ONLY use that option when I am making small tweaks to an existing book. My personal rule of thumb is to ALWAYS order a copy of my book before I actually publish it to the Amazon website. That is particularly important for books with pictures inside, but I find it useful for all of my books.

I also appreciate being able to purchase my own books at a low price, so that I can have a copy for myself, gift it to family and friends, give it to potential reviewers, or even sell it myself directly (something I did when I had a physical store to carry them in, but don’t plan to do now because of sales tax headaches).

But apparently there is no purchasing option through the KDP print system at the moment.  From what I can tell without participating in it, the system itself is probably very similar to CreateSpace’s (which would make sense, since Amazon is behind both of them). But as long as the option to purchase low priced copies of our own books isn’t there, I would just stay with CreateSpace!

If you want more information on the KDP print option, you can see look at Print Publishing Guidelines.

Kindle Delivery Fee

This second topic is actually one that I have to admit being ignorant of in spite of having published through Amazon for more than six and a half years now. Apparently, somewhere in the small print (and we had to DIG to find it last night) KDP explains that there is a delivery fee for our Kindle books (on top of the percentage they keep after giving us our royalties). And that delivery fee is based on the size of the book file. So for the vast majority of my Kindle books, which are text dense and tend to have only a few pictures, this has not been a big problem. But for a photo based book, or an illustrated children’s book like they are trying to publish, this can quickly become a very big problem.

In my six plus years of publishing with Amazon I have been very happy with their customer service and their business model. But this “hidden” fee certainly threatens to rain on my Amazon parade.

Again, to be clear, for those of us publishing books that are text-based not picture-based, this is a fairly small issue. But for people who are wanting to publish picture-based, or even heavily illustrated, books, this is something to pay attention to!

I checked my reports from the last few months and found that most of my books were being charged a $0.02 delivery fee. Obviously that’s not a big problem. But one of my books, that has pictures, but isn’t even what I would consider a heavy-hitter when it comes to size, had a $0.23 delivery fee.  Again, not the end of the world, but certainly significantly more than the other books I’m selling, and something I will pay more attention to in the future! (And the month I sold 100 copies of that book, it certainly added up to more than pocket change.)

Now that I’m looking for it, I see the delivery charge in my account when I’m publishing a Kindle book. This is a screenshot from one of my books that does have quite a few pictures. It has a $0.30 delivery fee.  Screenshot from my Kindle AccountNow, one thing to note – in this case, I’m still going to make more money going with the 70% royalty option (in this case $1.88 – $0.30 versus $1.05). But if my book was much bigger and the delivery fee rose above the differential of $0.83, it would make more sense for me to chose the 35% royalty, because at least right now, they are not charging a delivery fee on those books.

So, now that I know the delivery fee is there, and see where it is showing up on the KDP website, I can still recommend to authors that they put their picture-heavy books up as a Kindle book – BUT they need to pay close attention to the delivery fee, and make an informed decision of whether they need to choose the 35% royalty option or the 70% option.

For more information on the Delivery fees, see Amazon’s Agreement, and search for “Delivery Costs.”

Reader Questions

Are you using KDP’s service? Are you happy with it? Did I leave out anything important on the KDP front?

Happy Publishing!

Cathy, author of 65 Kindle books, but still able to learn!

To Use KDP Select or Not to Use KDP Select

Decisions in Self-Publishing

I am a BIG fan of publishing through the different options Amazon provides, now active in their programs for paperbacks (CreateSpace), e-books (Kindle), and audio books (Audible through ACX). And I do strongly encourage authors to use at least the first two programs as often as possible. But even once you’ve decided to publish a Kindle e-book, your decisions are not over. Next you have to decide whether you want to participate in KDP Select or not.

Like many decisions connected to self-publishing, this is not a simple “Do it” or “Don’t do it” choice.

How KDP Select Works

Let me start by explaining a little about how the KDP Select program works:

  1. If you have multiple titles that you are publishing through Kindle, you get to make a choice for each individual title (in that sense it’s not an all or nothing option, which I like, since I don’t want to have ALL of my books entered into it).
  2. When you choose to put a title in the program you are committing to give Amazon exclusive rights to the e-book version of that title for 90 days. You can mark your title to be removed from the program at the end of the 90 day period, or you can continue on for another 90 days.
  3. Of course, exclusive rights mean that as long as a title is in the KDP Select program, you can not offer it for sale as an e-book anywhere else (no uploading it to Smashwords, Apple, Barnes and Noble, or any of the other myriad sites that accept e-books). It can still be a paperback or audio book in places besides Amazon, this just effects your e-book options.
  4. For some people, the exclusive nature of the program keeps them out. They are not willing to give up their other publishing options. And that is a decision that you will need to make, too. I don’t have many of my titles in the KDP Select program, because I do make some sales on other sites. But, I do make most of my sales on Amazon (most months, more on Amazon than on all other sites combined). So, occasionally I am willing to put a book in the KDP Select program for 90 days.
  5. So, why even consider giving up the option to publish in other places? Amazon does give you a few benefits for being in the KDP Select program. For starters, only books that are in the program get to be in Amazon’s “Kindle Unlimited” and the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.” Those may or may not matter, depending on your book(s) – my experience is that more expensive titles will benefit most from those options. The other benefits for KDP Select books are being able to participate in the “Kindle Countdown Deals” and the “Free Book Promotion” option. Those are the two biggies that help sway me to consider KDP Select from time to time.

Making the “Right” Decision

For me, I doubt I will ever go strictly to KDP Select for all of my titles, but I will consider it for a limited time for new titles.

For more information on both sides of the issue, you may want to check out one or both of these blogs:

Smashwords offered a fairly extensive look at the KDP Select program from their perspective in their July 2014 blog post, Is Kindle Unlimited Bad for Authors? If you want more information on the program, that’s a good place to look.

Of course, Amazon has a different perspective, as they explain in their article, Why Enroll in KDP Select.

My Decisions

I hope by now you can see that it is a complicated issue, without a right or wrong answer. You get to decide which option works best for your book!  And again, you can always change your mind. (Though from personal experience I will say that it is easier to start in the KDP Select program and then bow out after 90 days, than try to get into it once you’ve published your book on other websites (where you then have to be sure to completely remove the book before trying KDP Select.)

I am starting my most recent novel, Leonardo: A Return to Painting, in the KDP Select program. I may or may not leave it there long term – that’s a decision I’ll make just before the first 90 days are finished, paying particular attention to what the Countdown Deal does for my sales.

Happy publishing!


Author of Leonardo: A Return to Painting


Answering the Question: Where Should I be Self-Publishing my Books?

Me along the beach in South CarolinaSelf-Publishing Questions

In upcoming posts I plan to address all three of my biggest passions beyond my family and my faith (writing, history, and travel). But today, let’s start with a particular subset of my passions that I get questioned about often – self-publishing.

Because I have written and self-published so many books for so long, I hear questions about it again and again – twice this week in fact. In general the question goes something like this: “What suggestions do you have for writers for publishing alternatives?” Or it might be “I have a book written, now what?” In answer to these and related questions, I’m going to share some of my favorite self-publishing options.

Self-Publishing Options

After many years of writing, I started publishing on-line in 2010. In the past seven years I’ve put together almost 400 e-books of various sizes on, a site dedicated to homeschoolers, and over 200 paperbacks through Amazon’s publishing arm,  So it’s safe to say I’ve got more than a bit of experience with such things!

I’m going to start this post with the assumption that you’ve already written your book and had it proofed and edited properly. Those topics might be an entire post by themselves at some time in the future. Here all I’ll say is, you have to do both before publishing your book(s) – writing and editing. You don’t have to pay tons of money for the editing (or any other portion of this publishing journey), but one way or another, it needs to be done.

If you’ve gotten past those and are trying to figure out your publishing options, here’s some of my favorites:

1.Paperbacks – CreateSpace

CreateSpace is my number one choice for paperbacks. It is easy, it is inexpensive, it is high quality, and your books can quickly be available on (I did try one other “print on demand” company for a few months before I found my way to CreateSpace, but in my experience, CreateSpace wins on price and ease of use. CreateSpace offers many different size options for your paperbacks – from 5×8 to 8.5×11, the last time I checked. I have done my paperbacks in a variety of those sizes.  And you have the option of doing the interior of your books in black and white or in color. Color costs more, of course, but both are economical options.

And regardless of what you may read on some blogs or in some books, I think you should make a paperback version of almost any book you’ve completed. As I mentioned,  CreateSpace is “print on demand” – so we’re not talking about a garage full of books here, we’re talking about buying at least one. And the books only have to be a minimum of 24 pages – so even some of your smaller book ideas can be made into paperbacks.

2.E-books – Kindle

When I finish a book the first two places I’m going to publish it are almost always CreateSpace and Kindle. Part of that is because both sites are so easy to use, and part of that is because those are the two sites I make the most money on. If you are doing a book that can be read on an e-reader (or these days, on an app on a phone), you should definitely consider publishing it to Kindle.  I have some books that are student workbooks, those don’t go on Kindle, but almost any other book I’ve written does go there.

There is an option on Kindle, KDP Select, that you choose for each title whether to participate in or not. I plan to have a follow-up post soon just to go into the pros and cons of that program. It’s biggest downside is the required exclusivity (for 90 days for that title). But again, I’ll have to come back to that in a post in a few days.

3.E-books – Smashwords

Smashwords is often the third place I publish my books. It is another site for e-books, and I do make some sales there, but Smashwords is actually most beneficial as a distributor of e-books. Thanks to Smashwords I no longer have a separate account to maintain at Barnes and Noble, but my books are available there, as well as on Apple, Kobo, and a whole host of other e-book sites – but all thanks to Smashwords’ distribution efforts, not mine.  The only time I don’t put an e-book on Smashwords is if I’ve decided to try it in Kindle’s KDP Select program. My latest novel, Leonardo: A Return to Painting will be in the KDP Select program for at least three months (the shortest time you can commit to it), so it is currently not being sold through any other e-book sites. But my other novels, and many of my non-fiction books, are also published through Smashwords.

4.E-books – CurrClick

In my writing, any books that aren’t in KDP Select and might appeal to a homeschool audience, get uploaded to CurrClick. The beauty of CurrClick is that books there are generally uploaded as Pdfs, and since they can be priced as low as $0.50, they can be quite small. CurrClick is my favorite site as far as the additional options they offer – from easily being able to make bundles to being able to send emails to previous customers about great specials going on there.

5.E-books – TeachersPayTeachers

For any and all materials that might appeal to a classroom teacher, TeachersPayTeachers is another great site. I found out about it a few months after I started on CurrClick. My sales haven’t been quite as good there as at CurrClick, but since I can easily add my books to both sites they are still a steady source of additional income.

Getting Started with Self-Publishing

The beauty of all of the above sites is that they are all free to set up accounts on, are all free to publish your titles on (you’ll have to pay a nominal price for the proof copy of any paperbacks you do, but that’s it for charges), and are relatively easy to use. When I started on each of these sites, I had no idea what I was doing, and knew no one else who was publishing through them. All I did was go on each site, find my way through the sign up process, and then started uploading books! When I started on CurrClick, a publisher had to apply for an account (I believe it’s still that way now). But on all the other sites it was just a question of going on the site and setting up an account.

6.Audio Books – ACX

I recommend the first five options (when they apply) to all writers who are wanting to publish their work. As I said before, they are easy and inexpensive. And all have great potential for helping you make money from your books, if that’s important to you.  This last option doesn’t fall in the same category. Audio books are not as simple or inexpensive as the first five options I’ve recommended. But, now that I’ve recently delved into them, I have to at least mention audio books. I have been enjoying listening to Audible books for several years now, and had long dreamed of “someday” having some of my books available in audio format.

But it wasn’t until a narrator approached me in January and offered to narrate one of my books, Understanding Presidential Elections, that I realized just how doable Audible books really are.  In fact, I currently have narrators working on two of my historical novels, Leonardo the Florentine and Failure in Philadelphia. I’m not quite the expert in this area as I am in the other methods of publishing, but I am very excited about what we’ve done so far!

Stay tuned for more on the Audible experience in a future post.

Ready to Start Self-Publishing?

Are you still overwhelmed? If I had to narrow down my advice to writers wanting to publish their works, my number one advice is “go for it”! Pick a site, set up an account, and work your way through the process.  On all of the sites I’ve published through in the past, it’s always easy to make changes – whether to my book cover, description, or even the book itself. It’s very unlikely that you will make a mistake that can’t be corrected. (The one site I can’t say that about is ACX for Audible books – that’s not in the same category as the first 5 options I mentioned.)

And my number two suggestion – don’t spend lots of money! I’ve met too many people who thought they were self publishing (but really, they were using some version of “vanity publishing” – and usually spending a pretty penny in the process).  Don’t be tricked into spending money you don’t need to.

Did I leave out any of your favorite publishing arenas? Or leave a basic self-publishing questions unanswered? Let me know.

Happy publishing!


Author of Simply Put: Self Publishing Basics