10/28/2015 (10:38 am)

Driving in Wyoming – It’s What I Do

Filed under: Personal Musings |

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Reprinted from AaronOnAutos.com

Some people work for a living and don’t care much about what the job is, so long as it’s a steady paycheck. Others prefer to go their own way and scrape by doing something they enjoy. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. For most of my adult life, I’ve taken that route, occasionally working for someone else, but always with the goal of starting up something on my own as soon as I could do it. Finally, I fell into something I love and have wanted to do for most of my adult life.

I write for a living. That might seem like a good profession, but it’s just one facet of my overall job. I wanted to write because I had this glamorous idea of what writing was all about. I imagined sitting down for a couple of hours every day tapping into a keyboard as wondrous thoughts and profound ideas spewed forth onto the computer screen and, eventually, to my printer. From there publishers would fight over who got to pay me the most to utilize my immense talents in their magazines, newspapers, and books. The reality, of course, is that most of the work involved in writing is finding someone who wants what you’ve written. Or will pay you to write something they want written. It’s not very glamorous. Nor does it pay particularly well, considering the hours spent.

Snapshot 1 (4-3-2014 1-59 PM)The good news is that all that scribbling and typing I did growing up and while working other jobs have paid off. I wrote thousands upon thousands of pages, most of them bad attempts at fiction or pale prose pretending to be editorials or opinions. Luckily, few of those pathetic scribblings survive today. I say lucky because the last thing I need is someone digging that stuff up and printing it, showing off my incompetence. But all of that work honed my writing into something better than average. I may not be a shining star amongst the other professional writers, but I’m better than all of those who wish they could do this for a living. That’s something. At least, it is to me.

But writing is just the final product of what I do for a living. It’s what gets me paid. So that I can do what I really want to do. Drive.

Aaron-KiaSorento-outtheroof2Early on, I realized that my favorite form of recreation was not drugs, alcohol, or even women. No, my favorite form of recreation was driving. I worked at a wrecking yard as a teenager and found it fascinating to walk the aisles and look at the various vehicles and their constituent parts. I would go to car shows and oggle the pristine restorations lining a lot or field. I learned to wrench on cars and trucks, what the differences between carburetors and fuel injectors were, how timing chains and belts did their job, what an overhead camshaft was and why two of them was even better.. Meanwhile, I drove my heaps – I couldn’t afford much, but got lucky with my first car, a 1984 Toyota Corolla LE, a nearly bulletproof car. From there I owned an International, a Ford, a Chrysler, another Toyota (this time a pickup truck), a Honda, and now a Mazda. I loved and still love driving cars, looking at vehicles, and talking about automobiles.

Eventually, upon realizing that my business (working in IT) was over the edge and falling into bankruptcy fast, I decided to try something else. I got a little job and worked for a while and then attended trucking school. We needed to move to someplace that was more cost-effective and less crowded. I eventually became a truck driver, which allowed me to drive all of the time, go places I’d never been, and get paid to do it. It seemed ideal. Looking back on it now, it was; except for one thing. I was married and hated being away from home for so long. We didn’t have kids, but being away from her, on the road, all the time, for weeks on end was tough on me. I finally decided that I was going to have to come up with something else. In the meantime, we’d purchased a house and moved to Wyoming. All I needed now was a grub stake and an idea of what I was going to be doing once I left that truck.

IS350-buttscratchcapAs I’d been driving, I’d still been writing as well. My earlier days of writing about business ideas and ways to profit online were long behind me. That had been my sideline while I’d been working in IT. Now I was writing for little trucker’s magazines and truck stop circulars. Mostly about life on the road or about specific products or places I’d stopped. It didn’t pay much, but it was fun. I decided to turn to freelance writing, this time with earnest and with an end goal in mind. I didn’t want to write about trucking anymore. At the time, I specifically wanted to write about alternative powertrains, new types of transportation, cars, and video games.

I took a lot of non-automotive writing jobs initially, hoping to just break into anything and start making some money and getting my name known. I approached it wrong, though, aiming for the paycheck more often than the byline. I did a lot of “ghost writing” (writing under someone else’s name at their request), which paid, but didn’t build a reputation. Soon, though, I met some people who wanted me to write as me. And about cars. From there, things kept getting better.

I began learning the business of automotive journalism: joining press clubs, building a network of friends in the business, finding more and better outlets, etc. It didn’t take too long for that work to pay off in the form of a brand new car in my driveway, given for a week courtesy of an automaker who hoped I’d write about it. Then my first press junket. Then more cars. And more cars. I stopped pursuing the press junkets, which were fun, but rarely paid and the drive time was short. I focused instead on getting press loans – vehicles brought to me and left for a week or so. I found more and better outlets to write reviews and commentary about the cars I was driving and that, in turn, meant more vehicles.

0914151047aThis focus paid off in a relatively short amount of time. In about three years, I went from being totally unknown in the automotive industry to having 60 cars in 52 weeks in 2014. This year, I’ve already beat that number and may get close to 100 by year’s end.

On average, I put about 200 miles on a car during the week that a manufacturer leaves it with me. Sometimes a lot more. I spend hours behind the wheel, under the hood, looking underneath, setting up photo shots, giving people around my little town of Pine Bluffs rides in cars they’re interested in, etc. And talking about cars. I talk about cars constantly. Ask anyone who knows me. I now have regular access to just about every major automotive make available in the United States. And I love it.

I don’t care what the vehicle is. I’ll drive heavy-duty pickup trucks, tiny subcompacts, luxury cars with six digit price tags.. whatever you’ve got, I’ll drive it. This has also meant that I’ve been able to drive or ride in some very cool machines. I drove a 1965 Dodge Dart GT, tooled around behind the wheel of a 1967 Corvette Stingray, rode in a 1969 Dodge Challenger R/T, took to the track in a 2015 Dodge Viper SRT, squealed the tires in an electric-powered semi-truck, and convinced a preacher that he should consider owning a car with the name “Hellcat” on it. Among other things.

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In a nutshell, my job is to drive around Wyoming in cars other people gave to me and then tell people about the experience. This is the perfect job for Aaron Turpen. So I’m gonna keep doing it. Once in a while, I’ll give some inside stories about the interesting things that happened that weren’t reported. That’s what Driving in Wyoming will be about. Enjoy!

07/24/2012 (1:35 pm)

Self-Publishing Leaves Few Excuses

Filed under: Writing Basics |

I’m not going to claim any expertise in self-publishing.  Over the last decade or so, I have published 8 electronic books under my own name and written nearly two dozen others for clients to publish in their names.  These books have varied in length from 20 pages to well over 100 pages of pure content (not including graphics, formatting and so on).  I can honestly say that with every book I have written myself, published myself, and attempted to market myself, I’ve failed to make more than the equivalent of a dollar an hour after factoring in the effort to write, edit, format, etc. the book.  So I’m not an expert at self-publishing on a successful level.

I have, however, met and known many who are and have had many discussions and read many articles from people who are bonafied experts at self-publishing success.  Enough that when time permits, I will again enter the arena with another attempt, I think.

There are a few things that seem consistent in these discussions of self-publishing:

  1. It’s not easy – you can’t just throw together any old material, make a cover graphic for it, and put it on Amazon or B&N and strike it rich.  You still have to let the world know that you have a book, and that requires marketing and effort.
  2. Publishing crap work is possible and can even be successful.. for a short while, but it will eventually backfire.
  3. Putting all of your eggs into one venue for distribution is just asking for a dirty omelet.  Diversify.

These three things seem to be pretty universal.  Marketing is the hardest part of self-publishing for most good authors (it comes easy to those who ignore rule 2).  Another difficult part is dealing with all of the various formats – if you want to distribute your book on Amazon (avoid KDP Select, it includes an exclusivity contract), you have to format it for the Kindle.  For Barnes & Noble, the Nook.  For others, it may be in PDF or some other format they prefer.  If you do each of these yourself, you’ll be spending as much time formatting as you did writing and editing.  If you hire others to do it for you, your profits will probably disappear quickly.

Luckily, with the rise of self-publishing and the number of authors willing to use it as a way to sell their work, there has come a slew of options for taking care of the technical bits and some of the marketing too.  One of the better ones, I think, is Lulu.

Basic services at Lulu are free – you can do your own formatting and publishing your book for free, actually.  For those on a tight budget or who prefer the DIY approach, that’s awesome.  For everyone else, Lulu has services.  At the very least, no matter how great your writing, I would suggest you have a professional editor go through it.  You can do this outside of Lulu, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but whatever you do, get it edited.

The point is: self-publishing is now easier than it’s ever been and is open to anyone who wants to put their words out into the world and let others read them.  There are fewer and fewer excuses for not getting your words into print (virtually or no).  Services like Lulu can make it happen for you.

06/25/2012 (12:58 pm)

How to become an automotive writer in 5 easy steps

Filed under: Uncategorized |

Originally published at GreenBigTruck.com.

Just about everyone who visits websites like this or reads auto magazines thinks “Wow, what a great job those guys have. People hand them free cars to drive, feed them lunch and dinner at fancy restaurants, and even take them to the race track! And all they have to do is write about it. How awesome is that?”

The answer: pretty dang awesome, my friend.

So how do you land a wonder gig like this? Well, becoming an automotive writer is not easy. In fact, it normally requires a lot of work, years of school, and a lot of sacrifice. Some people, like one guy I know, went the hard way by getting an engineering degree, working for years in the industry, and then finally breaking into the writing side of things after years of work and sacrifice. But that’s the hard road and while it builds character and stuff, if you’re like me, you’ve already got plenty of character. So why not take the easy way?

No problem. There are five simple steps that you can take to become an awesome automotive journalist like myself. I used to be a heavy metal singer, then a computer nerd and then a truck driver. If I can transition those into becoming an auto journalist, then just about anything can be turned into writing about cars.

The 5 Skills of the Automotive Journalist
There are five skills to master to become someone who’s paid to write about cars. Anyone can write about cars, but not everyone can get paid to do it. To be a professional, you have to get paid for the job. Learn these five skills, and you’ll be ready for the big leagues.

Skill #5 – A Way With Words
Writing is about writing. Right? Exactly. So learn to write. If you’re experienced at making snide comments in automotive forums, tossing out authentic-sounding information on Facebook threads, and can jive your buddies into believing you when you remark about 1980s Japanese cars having left-handed threads on the engine bolts.. you’re well on your way to mastering this skill.

You don’t have to be right or even in the ballpark. You just have to be coherent at expressing the idea. So if you’re writing about the new 2013 Ford Mustang, don’t bother looking up facts like the actual horsepower or the number of valves on the engine. Who cares about that crap? Just wing it. The Mustang probably has, like, a 1,000 horses under the hood. Right? If anyone calls you on it, tell them you were using artistic expression. It’s a thousand mustangs under the hood. See? Playing with words. That makes you a writer.

Not very good at this? Don’t worry about it. Being able to write well is the least of the skills required to be an automotive writer. Bad writing doesn’t matter. That’s what editors are for.

Skill #4 – A Large Stock of Ramen
Sounds odd, but trust me, writing for a living means going through lean times. It doesn’t pay as well as most people might think. So you’ll need some backup just in case the bank account runs dry. Ramen is cheap, easy to stock a lot of, and doesn’t seem to have an expiration date. So load up on them. Besides, if all that hooey about the world ending and Armageddon coming actually happens, you’ll be preparado.

Skill #3 – Know Stuff About Cars
Like being able to write (see #5), this skill does not need to be mastered, per se, but it should at least be generally understood. If you label a Corvette as a Dodge, people are gonna notice. Although with foreign cars like BMWs and Citro..er.. Citraun… whatever.. nobody cares, so you can call them whatever you want. But with domestics, I guarantee some wannabe automotive writer will call you on it if you don’t at least match makes and models. Lucky for us, there’s Google, which is accurate enough that if someone does call you on a mislabel, you can probably find a website where it was called that and say there’s your reference. Then tell the comment troll to go get a job. Name-calling is the best way to get rid of idiots who say bad things about your stories.

Skill #2 – Cursing
One thing every automotive writer needs to master is cursing. There are two reasons for this:

1) most publications won’t publish things with curse words in them, so you’ll need to master cursing so you can master alternatives to it;
2) sooner or later (probably sooner), another writer, an editor, a publisher, or some twit in comments will f#@*%&! p#*& you off and you’ll have to vent – proper cursing is the best way to do this without ending up in jail.

In fact, in all of automotive, from manufacturing to sales to mechanics to journalism, cursing is a universal expertise. So if you master it, your job qualifications for many areas of the industry will suddenly broaden big time.

Skill #1 – Getting Other People To Pay for Stuff
As we all know, the whole point of becoming an automotive writer is to get stuff for free. Right? Totally. Getting stuff out of industry representatives (called “reps” in the biz) is easy. Just ask for it and they’ll probably hand it over. Your status as an automotive journalist means they must worship you or you’ll say bad things about their product. So feel free to treat them like dirt and take all the freebies they have. With reps, if they have it with them, it’s a freebie. Key fobs, hats, jackets, laptops… whatever. Just tell them you want it and they’ll hand it over.

Reps are easy. It’s editors, publishers, and the like that are rough to get anything out of. Generally, it’s understood that nobody wants to pay you anything because they believe the job perks should pay for the job itself. After all, you get to interview hot models posing with cars, drive cool vehicles all the time, get free stuff out of reps, and so on. Yours is a life of glamor. So why should they cut you a check?

Learn how to get paid, even if you don’t deserve it. The number one rule in automotive journalism? Everyone loves you and the world is yours, so they should pay up. Keep this in mind at all times and you’ll negotiate to win. Missing a deadline or failing to turn anything in at all is no excuse for them not to at least cover your expenses – even if those expenses were just beer and your cable bill.

These, my friends, are the five skills you must master to become an automotive journalist. It won’t be easy, but you can do it, Padowan.

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