Writing a Novel

Working at Dojo Bali in Canggu

This picture won’t make any Top-Ten Instagram lists.

The lighting is bad. The subject is unclear. I’m drinking shitty insta-coffee (no designer mocha) and I haven’t stopped sweating in 72 hours.

There’s one main reason that I’m here in Bali: I’m here because I heard somebody say, “the best way to be a starving artist is to lower your monthly bills.”

My only goal for 2017 is to finish my novels. I’m currently writing a fantasy series that will consist of either 3 or 4 novels.

My story doesn’t have any Elves or Dwarves, but it does have strange cultures, magic, sorcery, sword-fighting, ships, hallucinogenic drugs, talking animals, murder, mystery, slavery, inns at the end of the world, heroes and villains and enigmatic mentors. My story has a cast of protagonists, like Harry Potter, and a world map for reference, like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

My plan is to self-publish my series on Amazon. The books will be available as print books, and mostly as ebooks that you can read on your phone. They’ll be affordable – maybe $1.99 a piece. Novel#1 should be finished in February; I’ll be sending the final draft off to the editor at the end of January. But I won’t release #1 until the whole series is finished. My goal is a summer release – June or July of 2017.

So here’s to the new year. 2017 you’re nothing special. You don’t have badass symmetry to your name like 2000 or 2020 or even 2012. But if you’re the year that I become an author – and I really think you are – then you’ll always be the year I love.

Advertisements

Liliana Hart’s Secret to Success: Monday, January 18th

I have to write a stellar story. Next I have to get a professional edit, and pay for a professional cover design. These are gimmes. Any self published author would agree.

But what about when the dreaded time comes to publish my babies into the world? At this point, the advice starts to get a lot more varied.

Here are a few examples of popular self publishing advice…

  • Write in a genre that people go nuts for: Romance/Erotica sells more than any other genre. Crime Stories, Thrillers, Mysteries, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy also sell well. Literary Fiction doesn’t.
  • Publish regularly and frequently
  • Have an outstanding Book Blurb and Book Cover. You may have a great story, but without a catchy Blurb and Cover, no one will notice.
  • Publishing short stories vs. publishing long stories. (A year ago, Kindle Unlimited paid authors for books rented/sold. This meant that short books were favored the same as long books. Which led many authors to favor short fiction, since they could produce more of it, more quickly. But recently Amazon switched to paying authors by pages read, so short fiction no longer has the same advantage.)
  • 75% of ebooks are sold through Amazon (in the US). So you should publish through Amazon and put all of your books in KDP select.
  • OR, you can… “Go wide”, making your books available across all platforms: After Amazon, the top 4 retailers in the US are Apple Ibooks,  Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay.

Over a year ago, Beverly Kendall published a report. She was trying to crunch the numbers on what exactly made authors successful. She polled hundreds of authors and found a few popular strategies that seemed to keep popping up. Many successful authors…

  1. Have been self-publishing for more than 1 year
  2. Wrote a series
  3. Put one or more of their books free
  4. Have 4 or more self-published books available
  5. Price their work between $2.99-$7.99
  6. Acquire professional editing and book covers

Nect, Beverly Kendall took a poll of 121 authors who had done ALL of the bullet points listed above, not just one or two of the things. Of those 121 authors who did “everything” right, 82% were earning over $10,000/year, and 57% were earning over $50,ooo/year.

***

All of this background in self publishing success is leading up to a super interesting technique employed by Liliana Hart. I first heard about this technique through Hugh Howey’s blog. But according to Liliana the technique is known as “5 down, 1 in the hole.”

The gist of the idea is that you WAIT until you have 5 books (preferably all of them part of the same series), then you publish them all at the same time, on the same day. While those five books are gathering buzz, you publish the 6th novel within a month or two. In that same time you are working on a 7th work to release.

Using this method, Liliana became instantly successful, with ZERO publishing history, traditional or indie or otherwise. She was making $20,000/month by month three. And that was a few years ago. These days she’s a publishing and business juggernaut.

Her rapid success is very rare for any author, much less a brand new author with zero published works.

Other big name authors like Hughy Howey, Jami Gold, and Lindsay Buroker, seem to think that there’s something to Liliana’s technique.

Here are a few pros and cons to consider:

Cons

  • It’s hard to sit on a finished work. Many authors aren’t willing to do this. It could take years to finish your series.
  • It’s hard to gain traction on a series. Usually it takes a long time to build up interest, good reviews, and word of mouth buzz.
  • If your series is a flop, then you might have wasted your time. Normally you would get a lot of reader feedback after your first book, and that would help you improve the series as it goes on.

Pros

  • You can potentially generate a lot of buzz, and get a lot of favor with the Amazon algorithms, by publishing many titles in a short time span.
  • Readers tend to trust authors who have been around for a long time and have a long backlist. So by the time anyone hears of you, you already have multiple titles for them to choose from.
  • Readers can potentially binge read your series if they like it, like a good Netflix TV series, instead of having to wait a year for the next episode and losing interest.

 

 

Beginner’s Guide to Editing Your Book: Tuesday, July 21st

For my first self-published novel, I plan to pay for a professional editor. I’m really excited and nervous about the process. I’ve been researching all over the place to find out WHY, HOW, and WHICH KIND of edit to get. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

Different Kinds of Edits:

  • There are many kinds of services that fall under the scope of “editing.” But in general there are two types: A Developmental Edit / Story Edit / Structural Edit is very involved. The editor makes suggestions that really shape or re-shape the story, regarding things like character development, style, point of view, plot lines, pacing, and genre-specific revisions. On the other hand, a Grammar Edit / Copy Edit / Line Edit focuses more on the nuts and bolts of grammar, punctuation, mispellings, and all the small, nagging mistakes.
  • A Developmental Edit will cost more, anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of your work, because this kind of edit requires a lot of work from the editor, and a lot of back and forth between the editor and writer. A Copy Edit will cost less, from $100 to $1,000 dollars. A copy edit is more straightforward, more “black and white”, and involves less back-and-forth between the writer and editor.

Can’t I Edit My Story Without Paying $1,000?

  • You can definitely find editors on the cheap. Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are good places to find freelance editors. The advice from authors is always the same: Get a sample edit first. Read reviews and credentials. You get what you pay for. Ask around for recommendations from other writing groups and forums.
  • If you have to, get your friend or spouse to edit your work. Just by all means don’t do it yourself. The more eyes you get to comb your story before it’s published, the better.

The Process – How Does it Work?

  • Standard Practice goes like this: The writer gives a “story sample” to the editor – usually a 10 page excerpt from your story, or something in that neighborhood. Editor makes corrections and suggestions, offers those to the writer, along with a proposal for further work. All of this should be done for free. Then the writer can choose to go forward or politely decline.
  • Editors can charge however they want. Some are pay-by-the-hour. Some will give you a bottom-line cost for the entire project, depending on things like, the length of your work, whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, and how much hand-holding you’re looking for throughout the process.

Why I Want to Pay for Developmental Edit

  • I know that the leap from “writing in your closet” to “publishing your work” is a huge one. I’ve often heard that your first developmental edit is sort of like a crash course master’s degree in writing. New writers are going to make a huge leap in their abilities after that first edit, simply from having a professional point out their most glaring mistakes.
  • For me this will be a long term investment. It all depends on what your goals are. For me it has to do with, not just publishing a book, but becoming a better writer. That’s why I’m so excited to discuss one of my stories in depth with an editor. Because the learning curve is steepest in the beginning, and the gains most visible.

***

These are all just notes I’ve picked up, as I try to learn things myself for the first time.

When you’re new to the game, this kind of stuff can be daunting. So hopefully this helps new writers get a clearer picture about the process.

Self Publishing in 2015: Monday, July 20th

I just read a great article from Shawn Inmon called, If I Was Starting Over as an Indie Publisher. The article was posted over at “Indies Unlimited“.

Shawn’s article is short, to the point, and full of advice. Here’s what I took away from it:

  1. 5 years ago was a great time to self-publish your work. But NOW is also a great time to self publish your work. You may have missed the first wave, but you’re still ahead of the curve.
  2. The importance of building an email list can’t be understated. This is advice I hear over and over again from authors. When you build an email list, you build a direct link between yourself and potential customers. This is something that nobody can take away from you. As an independent artist, that list is your most valuable asset. No matter how the market change, or social media changes, or how stories are sold in the future, you will always be able to talk directly to your fans.
  3. Building a “Street Team” is something that I’ve heard Mark Dawson talk about before. This is essentially a group of really dedicated fans of your work. These are people who are willing to read and review your new works when they come out, as well as providing feedback. Shawn says that he would actively try and recruit these people, rather than just waiting for them to come to him.
  4. Write short works and publish often. This is another mantra that I’ve heard repeated from many others. One huge advantage that self-publishing presents, is the ability to publish quickly. About as soon as you can write and edit a work, you can put it on the market. I believe that the younger generation wants lots of content and they want it quickly, they want their content accessible on any device, made readily accessible to purchase. As a writer, I would rather go along with these trends than agains them.
  5. There are tons of ways to find success as an indie publisher, but there is no cookie cutter route. Every new artist and every new story have different versions of potential in the market. From one self-published author to another, the advice is always varying. So be brave and take advantage of all your varied opportunities. Try all the platforms, all the strategies, test them all and see what works for you.

KDP Select: Monday, July 6th

When you publish a book on Amazon, you have a choice to make.

You can choose to enroll in KDP Select (kindle direct publishing) or can choose not to enroll in the program.

(I’m not ready to publish just yet. But I’m trying to plan my strategy. Most of the advice in this article is based on the “Author Strong” podcast by Mat and Nancy. Because they have recently done a few episodes on the topic of Kindle Publishing).

Possible advantages to enrolling in KDP Select:

  • Your book is placed in the Kindle Unlimited program.
  • Promotional perks. You can set your book to “free”, or choose a handful of days in which to “discount” your book to go along with promotional deals.
  • The contract only lasts for 90 days. So you can always choose to pull out of the program after 90 days. If you don’t pull out, the contract will automatically renew.

Possible disadvantages to enrolling KDP Select:

  • Exclusivity. You cannot sell the same book on other platforms (itunes, kobo) while it’s in KDP.
  • You can’t make your book “perma-free”. It must be priced .99$ or higher.

Unfortunately there is no universal advice for how to publish your book. Every author and every individual case is different. That’s why self-publishing is so great for those people who are willing to get involved with the process, try new things, experiment with different strategies, and find what works for them.

To me it seems like a good strategy to start with Amazon and KDP, simply because Amazon is the largest retailer. And because for 1st time authors it will be easier to focus on one thing. In the long run, I think any self-publisher would say, “at some point you want to cast your nets wide,” and experiment on multiple fronts. But for beginners, Amazon and KDP are the simplest, fastest way to jump in.

One popular strategy is to write a trilogy, or a series, and give away your first book for free. This way you attract readers to your series. You’re just trying to get them interested, and if they are, they’ll continue to read through your series.

For this reason, you might want to keep that first book OUT of KDP so that you can keep the price at free. From what I understand, the best way to do this is to use a service like “Draft to Digital” who will publish your book and distribute it to platforms like kobo and itunes. Then, since Amazon price matches works form other platforms, Amazon will also sell your book for free, even though you’re not in KDP, and of course that book won’t be available on KU either.

I have heard many success stories of people who put all their time and gusto into one novel. They had one work that they really believed in. They did their research, paid a lot to promote it, and had great success.

But I know that for most people it doesn’t work that way. Most self published authors have 5 or 10 or 15 works before they start making decent income.

For now, my rough plan of entering the self publishing world is to write a three-novel series. I’ll give the first book away for free, and then sell the second and third books for $1.99 or $2.99.

It’s definitely daunting to think about all the options. But the only way to learn is to jump in there and learn from your own experience. It makes sense to me that publishing medium to short fiction, and publishing often (every couple months) is a good way to align yourself with the growing trends.

The self-publishing podcasts have been enormously helpful for me. By far the best ones are:

The Creative Penn with Joanna Penn

and

The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast with Simon Whistler

But I also listen to the “Sell More Books Show,” “The Self Publishing Podcast,” and now “Author Strong” for self publishing advice.

Publishing Revolution: Wednesday, July 1st

I haven’t yet broken into the self-publishing world, but I really love what the whole movement stands for.

Amazon and the global marketplace. Kindle and Ebooks. Shopping online. Anyone can be an author. Anyone can be a reader. Writers talking directly to readers. Writers publishing a LOT of work quickly. Readers consuming more and more. Specialized genres and niches. Stories easily translated to other languages and cultures. Listening to Audiobooks. Renting books on Kindle Unlimited. Podcasts and Meetups and Facebook groups and Nanowrimo and all of it.

What Youtube did for movies, what the Ipod did for music, and what Amazon is doing for publishing – all of these changes are good because they make it easier for artists to reach consumers.

Any innovation that encourages creativity is a good thing in my book. Everyone has weird quirks and interests, and now thanks to the internet we can connect to other people who are just as crazy as we are!

I like to follow authors who are real people. The experience shouldn’t stop once I finish the book. I also expect to to find them on facebook and twitter, and read what else they have to say on their blogs or newsletters. When I find somebody I really like, I devour their content as fast as they can put it out.

I listen to self-publishing podcasts every day. I’m sure I’ve tried them all, but new ones keep popping up.

What annoys me is when I hear people still arguing about “traditional publishing” versus “self publishing.” And asking those silly questions like, “is self publishing legitimate?” or “I still need the validation of a traditional publisher.”

Those debates are downright silly. They’re played out. The new generation doesn’t care about who published what or where it came from. The new generation has a natural talent for sifting through a lot of bullshit and finding the good stuff. Anything is possible for the new generation. We want it faster, sharper, transparent, no BS, democratic, respectful, well-intended… and we want it all immediately.

 

5 Quirks of the Fantasy Genre: Monday, June 22nd

I want to write a fantasy series this year, so I’m trying to do some respectful research on the topic… What do fantasy readers like? What do they expect? What are they tired of?

Here are a few notes I’ve been picking up on the fantasy genre.

1) Point Of View: The third person omniscient narrator was popular in the old days but has since fallen out of fashion. Much more popular is the third person limited, where the author jumps around to different characters, but stays close to each character, looking over their shoulders and only letting the readers know what the characters themselves know.

I must be a part of this trend, because I personally don’t like when authors jump out of the 3rd person limited and into the 3rd person omniscient.

I think it’s because, the omniscient narrator reminds me that the author is present, and that the author already knows everything. The third person omniscient narrator reminds me that there’s a writer behind the story. I’d rather not be reminded that I’m watching a movie – I just want to be swept up in the action as if I’m there.

2) Grey Characters are the most interesting. The battle between good and evil is not as white and black as it used to be in the old days. It’s important to get inside the heads of all the characters and realize their motivations. There are no heroes and no villains – only humans who want success, love, and prosperity –  humans who are insecure, afraid, and irreparably damaged just like you and me.

3) Portal Fantasy is apparently out of fashion? I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems to be a hot topic between readers and authors.

A portal fantasy is when the main character travels in between worlds. The classic example is Alice in Wonderland. Other examples include Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, and The Magicians.

A non-portal fantasy is when the story begins and ends in a fantasy world. Lord of the Rings is an easy example – there’s no modern day kids popping in and out of the Shire. Middle Earth is its own reality.

But portal fantasies are what I’ve always loved! Surely those types of stories can never be exhausted? There are pros and cons to both, sure. Maybe portal fantasies aren’t in fashion, but they’ve sure sold off the shelves in the past.

4) Introduce a Reader to a Fantasy World Slowly. Don’t throw in too much newness too quickly. Don’t scare the reader away. Give them something normal and introduce the magic gradually as you go along.

I appreciate this about the Golden Compass series. Pullman does a good job of letting you slowly into the fantasy world. Actually I think all successful fantasy authors have figured this out. A fantasy world is queer, unusual, brimming with foreign words and concepts. If you push too much of it too quickly, the reader might shy away. Give them time to get used to their new universe and they’ll slowly start to buy into it.

Harry Potter doesn’t begin with Harry flying crazily on his broom, casting Patronus spells against the Dementors. It starts with a regular boy in a regular enough house. We are slowly introduced to the crazy over time.

5) Avoid Info Dumps. I hear this a lot in regards to fantasy. The underlying problem is that fantasy authors are world-builders, and as such, they have a lot of information to relay to the reader. It goes without saying that “info-dumps” are bad in any genre, but in the fantasy world it’s a particularly sticky trap. Talented writers figure out how to relay that information slowly, over time, through the mouths of their characters, and in the midst of the action.

***

That’s all for now. A part two will be coming shortly. Whenever I start researching, I’m just reminded of how much I don’t know. But it’s fun to learn. The fantasy genre, for all these reasons, is intriguing to me. I loved it as a kid and I want to offer my own stories to the catalog.

Home Schooled Author: Friday, June 12th

This morning I listened to a podcast with a 16 year old kid who’s got 9 books published on Amazon. The kid’s name is Mark Messick. At age 11 he dropped out of school and his parents began homeschooling Mark and all his siblings.

Soon after beginning the homeschooling process, Mark discovered that he loved writing. His parents encouraged him. They bought him some books about writing, and they helped him arrange his schedule so that he could finish all of his “regular” schoolwork and chores by lunchtime – leaving his afternoons free to write his stories.

Now he’s 16 and he makes $2,000 – $4,000 per month from his books. Even more importantly, he’s built a valuable skill set and a network of relationships that will help him going forward. And he’s only 16.

Mark doesn’t know if he’ll go to college or not. Right now, he doesn’t think so.

***

I’m impressed with Mark and I’m rooting for him. I hope that his current success is only the beginning.

He’s a reminder to me that time is the most valuable resource. That being yourself is always the best option. And that whatever excuses I make about my age, my skill, my time, or my lot in life – well they just aren’t good enough.

 

Mark Dawson’s Success Story: Thursday, June 11th

Mark Dawson is a self-published author and inspirational story. This past year he’s been making waves on the self-publishing scene. Forbes just wrote an article about him, titled,

Amazon pays $450,000 a year to this self-published writer.”

So how did a regular guy with a wife, two kids, and a full time job become a writer?

Everyday he had to take a 1.5 hour train commute into the city to get to work. When work was over, he had another 1.5 hour ride back home. He certainly couldn’t write in the mornings, evenings, or on the weekends, since he was busy being a father and husband.

But he found that he could be quite productive on that 3 hour train commute. He got to where he could write 3,000 words consistently each day (1,000 per hour).

His first self-published novel, “The Black Mile,” didn’t do so well. But since he had nothing to lose, he started giving his novel away for free on Amazon. The strategy worked. Even though he didn’t make any money, readers started finding his book and picking it up for free. It was a good story and readers wanted more.

Luckily Dawson had his routine down pat by that time. 3,000 words 5 days a week equals 15,000 words a week. That’s 60k in a month, or 120,000k in two months. Which meant that Dawson could easily put out a new novel every couple of months.

Over the course of a couple of years his readership continued to grow. Dawson was loyal to his fans and good at involving them in the process. He didn’t quit his day job until he was good and sure that his income from writing was consistent and reliable.

Most people spend years writing their novels. But they’re not really writing a novel. They writing for a few months and then stopping for a few months, starting and stopping, making the usual excuses. Meanwhile, guys and gals like Mark Dawson are plugging away on their lunch breaks, or in the mornings before their spouses are awake, or they are speak-texting words into their phones while driving to work.

It’s the kind of story that keeps me going. I really hope that Dawson’s success continues to grow. I hope he keeps finding ways to do what he loves.

The universe smiles when people do the work they were born to do.

Storytellers Wanted: Thursday, April 30th

The world needs new writers more than ever.

Some are afraid of the self-publishing boom. They say the market is flooding. They say it’ll be impossible to get noticed anymore.

(Wherever change is happening, people are always going to worry their faces off – that’s a given.)

But the truth really is that the world needs new writers and new stories immediately.

Dickens was 150 years ago. Twain was 130 years ago. Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” was published nearly 60 years ago! Soon Kerouac and Hemingway and Vonnegut will be as wierd for kids to read as Chaucer and Shakespeare.

Walker Percy was a doctor who transformed himself into an award-winning novelist. Percy said that the job of the modern writer is to illuminate and diagnose the symptoms of our present condition. The job of the writer is simple in this regard, to write plainly about how the world looks and feels.

This very instant, every person on the planet is arriving at the present moment; none of us know exactly what to do next.

If stories help us, and I believe they do, then we need as many new stories as we can get.

History is flooded with stories. The market is flooded with stories. But your unique story from your unique perspective is still untold. It’s a blank canvass, a baby, an unplanted seed.