Thursday, November 22

Happy Thanksgiving, Battlestar Galactica & Kris Rusch

Happy Thanksgiving, Battlestar Galactica & Kris Rusch

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last month at the Surrey International Writers' Conference (SiWC) I had the pleasure of hearing Jane Espenson, one of the screenwriters (and co-executive producers) for Battlestar Galactica (she also wrote for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Caprica, Torchwood and is currently with ABC's Once Upon a Time ), talk about her experiences on the set. One story in particular has stayed with me.

Edward James Olmos, the actor who played Admiral William Adama, is charismatic. Even off screen Jane said he seemed larger than life and everyone was a little--or a lot!--in awe of him.

Edward Olmos used to give the cast and crew inspirational pep-talks which he would end with, "So say we all!" and then the cast and crew would echo it back to him three times, ending with a rousing "So say we all!".

Jane ended her Keynote speech at SiWC that way. It was fun, even inspirational, and it got me thinking about the value of togetherness.

How Writing Has Changed

Over the past months and years I've talked about how publishing has changed, about the rise of independent publishing and self-publishing portals such as Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. I've debated the advantages and disadvantages of programs like Amazon KDP Select and the drawbacks of exclusivity.

But one thing I haven't said much about is how great it is to be a part of this growing vibrant community of independent writers. The amount of sharing, of generosity, is amazing. The way folks have shared their sales numbers in the hope it would help their fellow writers (Joe Konrath, David Gaughran and Robert J. Crane, to name only a few), the way writers have shared not only their sales strategies but have given a detailed analysis of whatever success or failure they met with (for instance, Edward Robertson over at Failure Ahoy!). And reading Kris Rusch's Business blog has been an education (Dean Wesley Smith's blog is great too).

You guys and gals are amazing! I'm proud to be an independent writer.

How Publishing As Changed

As Kris Rusch points out in her latest blog post, it wasn't always like this. She writes:
What’s different is the ease with which a writer can connect with her audience. Less than a decade ago, writers had to struggle through an expensive and cumbersome system to get a book to readers. Now, there’s another system that goes direct. From various e-book platforms like Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iBookstore to paper book platforms like Createspace and Lightning Source, writers can now upload their books directly into the book distribution system and get readers worldwide.
[N]ow, a writer can write whatever idea that strikes her fancy, whatever ignites her passion enough to make her spend months on the same topic, whatever excites her. And since so much of what we read and enjoy isn’t about the topic or the size of the idea but about the writer’s voice and her passion, we’ll probably see many more successful books on topics that surprise us old pros because we were taught that such things don’t sell. (The Business Rusch: Thanks-giving)

I hope you're having a great, relaxing, thanksgiving with lots of turkey and pumpkin pie, shared with family and friends.

This coming year will bring even more opportunities, even more challenges. But we're up for it.

So say we all?

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NaNoWriMo Update: My manuscript is at 41,120 words. Now that my word count is in the 40,000 range I feel as though I can see the finish line. (Big cheer!) I want to have 43k words by tomorrow. Wish me luck! And good luck to everyone as we sprint toward the end of our NaNoWriMo 2012 journey. We can do this!

Other articles you might like:
- Creating Memorable Supporting Characters
- Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2
- Rejection Enhances Creativity

Photo credit: "Pumpkin Pie Slice" by TheCulinaryGeek under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, November 21

Creating Memorable Supporting Characters

Crafting Memorable Supporting Characters

I try and do two posts a day and my previous post--Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2--took up most of my blogging time.

But that's okay! Because I know what I want to talk to you about. I found a TERRIFIC post over on the wonderful blog The Other Side of the Story entitled 5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters.

How To Develop Memorable Supporting Characters

Nancy Parker writes:
Some [writers] spend far too much time developing their supporting characters, and some spend far too little time doing so. Achieving a balance between the two, while difficult, isn’t impossible. 
Here are two of Nancy's 5 points:
 3. They need a little personality. 
You should always give your supporting character her own personality so that your readers remember who she is. This is especially important in books that have a wide range of characters, because if the supporting character lacks a personality she’ll end up getting lost between the pages. Whether that means that she’s the witty one, the one who is always forgetful, or the one who fulfills the role of the snarky sidekick is all determined by what void you want her to fill within the story.

4. You can have too many supporting characters. 
You also want to stay away with placing too many supporting characters into your novel. When too many of them are running around it starts to get confusing and hard to follow, and readers have to spend too much time trying to remember who did what and why they’re relevant. 
Great advice! To read tips 1, 2 & 5 click here: Guest Blogger Nancy Parker: 5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters.

Other articles you might like:
- Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story

Photo credit: "Greetings!" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2

Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2

A few days ago I talked about the strategy of making books permanently free to increase sales. (See: Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales)

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the idea is that if you, for instance, make the first book of a series free that its value as a marketing devise will far outweigh your lost revenue.

I wasn't sure how that post would be received since there has been some resistance within the indie community to the idea of giving away ones work and was pleasantly surprised by the wonderfully helpful comments the article received.

In this post I want to look, first, at a variation on the idea of using permanently free electronic books to increase sales of your other work: make the ebook version of a book free and use it as advertising for the paper version. Then we'll look at another indie author--Robert J. Crane--who uses the technique of perma-free to sell books AND he has been so kind as to share his sales figures.

(By the way, if you have tried perma-free to increase sales of your work please contact me, I'd like to hear about your experience.)

1) Make The Ebook Version Free, Charge For The Paper Copy

Example: Seth Godin

The first time I heard of this strategy I thought I had to have misheard. But, no, offering the ebook version of his paper books has worked out well for author and entrepreneur Seth Godin.

In 2001 Seth wrote Unleashing The Ideavirus. I'll let him tell you about it:
Seven years ago, I wrote a book called Unleashing the Ideavirus. It's about how ideas spread. In the book, I go on and on about how free ideas spread faster than expensive ones. That's why radio is so important in making music sell.

Anyway, I brought it to my publisher and said, "I'd like you to publish this, but I want to give it away on the net." They passed. They used to think I was crazy, but now they were sure of it. So I decided to just give it away. The first few days, the book was downloaded 3,000 times ... The next day, the number went up. And then up. Soon it was 100,000 and then a million. ... I didn't ask anything in return. ... Here it is. Share it.

A Google search finds more than 200,000 matches for the word 'ideavirus', which I made up. Some will ask, "how much money did you make?" And I think a better question is, "how much did it cost you?" How much did it cost you to write the most popular ebook ever and to reach those millions of people and to do a promotion that drove an expensive hardcover to #5 on Amazon and #4 in Japan and led to translation deals in dozens of countries and plenty of speaking gigs?

It cost nothing. (You should write an ebook)
Unleashing the Ideavirus is still selling strong. Over on Amazon, the paperback version is at #34,038 (excellent!) while the Kindle version is sitting at around rank #152k.

Let's think about that for a moment. The ELECTRONIC copy of Unleashing the Ideavirus, the format Seth is giving away for free (the link is right here), is downloaded more often than The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (#223,261), published in 2003, two years later.

It's true that Seth's book is $7.86 while League is $11.87. That probably has an effect on sales, but my point is that offering the book for free doesn't seem to have hurt sales of even the electronic version!)

That's just one example. Here is a listing of 15 books Seth Godin has made permanently free.

Here is Seth Godin's blog post advocating writing an ebook with the intention of making it permanently free: You should write an ebook.

Example: David Gaughran

David Gaughran released Let's Get Digital, in July of 2011. What caused a lot of commentary at the time was that, like Seth Godin, he gave away a PDF copy of his book on his website (it's still available here: Let's Get Digital). David did one thing differently from Seth, he put up a donation button for anyone who wanted to contribute to his continued financial well-being.

So, did making the PDF perma-free pay off?

On the Kindle version of Let's Get Digital is priced at $4.98 and is at rank #26,388 which is good. In fact, the electronic version is selling the best out of all David's books, at least those on I'd consider that a success.

Thanks to Leauxra for drawing my attention to these examples.

2) Eric Flint and the Baen Free Library

Baen Free Library was founded in 1999 by writer Eric Flint and publisher Jim Baen "to determine whether the availability of books free of charge on the Internet encourages or discourages the sale of their paper books" (Baen Free Library, Wikipedia).

Eric Flint concluded that making an electronic version of a book available for free enhances the sale of the paper version. Is he guessing? No. Eric shares his sales figures for Mother of Demons, a book he made free for electronic download around 2000 and persuasively argues that giving the electronic version away for free helped  his sales. Eric writes:
Almost eight years ago, I put up my first novel [Mother of Demons] for free online—as a result of which it got most of its sales since then, and is still selling well enough that even after the mass market edition finally runs out, the publisher is going to keep it in print in a hardcover edition.

Nobody knows exactly what percentage of first novels never go out of print for ten years and then get reissued in a hardcover edition. But the percentage is probably somewhere in the top one-tenth of one percent. (NOTE: need sub-title) ["Note: need sub-title" is the subtitle. See the reference section at the end of this post.]
So not only doesn't having your book up as an electronic copy, free of charge, hurt the sales of hte paper version, but it helps it. Sound familiar?

Thanks to Antares for not only telling me about the Baen free library but providing me the links as well.

3) Independent Author Robert J. Crane: Perma-Free Works

Indie author Robert J. Crane left a comment on my first post where he generously shared some of his sales figures. I have Robert's kind his permission to reproduce his comment here:
I have two books set to perma-free, the results are thus:

Released my first book [Defender] in June 2011. Between then and June 2012 I never sold more than low double digits (best month was something like 25 sales across 3 novels and 2 short stories).

Set my first series book free in my high fantasy series in July 2012, my urban fantasy series first book [Alone] permafree in September 2012.

July 2012: 169 sales
Aug 2012: 319 sales
Sep 2012: 1759 sales
Oct 2012: 2727 sales
Nov 1st to 20th: 3008 sales

Most of these are at $4.99 or their foreign equivalent. Hope this helps give a little inspiration or data to make a decision off of, at least.

Needless to say, I highly recommend perma-free. 
Wow! Look at that jump between August and September in terms of sales: 1,590 units more. That's over 5 times better than any of the previous months. And at 70% of $4.99 that's over $5,000.

Here are links to Robert's perma-free books:
- Defender: The Sanctuary Series, Volume One
- Alone: The Girl in the Box, Book 1

Here is an excellent article Robert J. Crane wrote about how he became a self-publisher: Why did I self-publish? He is one of the few writers I know who have a degree in Creative Writing.

Perma-Free: A Strategy Worth Trying?

I think so. The data I've seen so far is compelling: free works as a sales tool.

What do you think?

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NaNoWriMo Update: Well, I'm at 39,034 words. Whew! I tell you, that was not easy, it felt like the words were being pried out of me. (shiver) Hopefully the words will flow (versus wrestle!) tonight. I hope to have 41k done by tomorrow. :)

Other articles you might like:

- Rejection Enhances Creativity
- How Often Should A Writer Blog? Answer: It Depends On Your Goals
- Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

Reference Links:

- Thirteen Steps to Write and Publish a Free Ebook In Thirteen Hours (from
- Baen Free Library
- A series of articles by Eric Flint on the topic of piracy and whether it hurts book sales (short answer: No!): Prime Palaver.
- Eric Flint: Salvos Against Big Brother. Towards the end (it's a LONG page) Eric shares his sales figures for Mother of Demons, a book he made free for electronic download around 2000. He shares several years of data and persuasively argues that giving the electronic version away for free helped  his sales.
- Note 1: "NOTE: Need sub-title" is the title. I guess it was a note to someone to get the article a title, but it was never done. Works for me! I also wanted to note that there is no direct link to this article. It is one of several that have been pasted together on a webpage. The only way to go from one to the other is by scrolling or searching on the name of the sub-title.

Photo credit: "Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls at The Skate Park Creative Commons" by Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, November 20

Rejection Enhances Creativity

Science: Feeling Rejected Can Help Us Access Our Creativity

A couple of days ago I wrote about how science was beginning to understand the creative process. It turns out that when you're in creative mode (for instance, when you're writing a first draft) you shouldn't edit yourself. Write whatever comes to mind and clean it up later. (See: The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself)

Rejection Enhances Creativity

Today I came across the result of a series of experiments designed to measure the effect of rejection on creativity. The researchers concluded:
While it is never a comfortable experience, the feelings of rejection can actually help us access our more creative selves. ... Moreover, we can enhance that [creative] ability by changing the way we respond to rejection. Instead of dwelling too much on the pain of being turned down or turned aside, consider the freedom you now have to explore new possibilities and less mainstream options. (How Rejection Breeds Creativity, David Burkus)
It seems that subjects who felt rejected did better of tasks requiring creative thought than subjects who felt included.

So mail off your novel, your shorts stories. If they get accepted, great! If they don't, you'll become even MORE creative. Win-win!

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Other articles you might like:
- How Often Should A Writer Blog? Answer: It Depends On Your Goals
- Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover

Photo credit: "Stopped Watch" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

How Often Should A Writer Blog? Answer: It Depends On Your Goals

How Often Should A Writer Blog? Answer: It Depends On Your Goals

Sometimes writers email me and ask how often they should blog, or what they should blog about, or how long their blog posts should be, and so on. That's great, I love hearing from readers. I write back and ask: Why do you want to blog? Or, more specifically:

What do you want your blog to do for you?

I've talked before about whether a writer needs a blog, but I've rarely talked about things like how often a person should blog.

Originally I was going to look at a number of different goals a writer might have for their blog and then, for each goal, give my two cents. But that would have made this post book-length! So I'm just going to focus on one goal for today.

Goal: Build A Writer's Platform

Let's say your number one goal is to build a writer's platform. Now you can go on to answer other questions such as:

a) How often should I blog?

Since your goal is to build a writer's platform then you'll be interested in growing your blog. Different folks measure their blogs growth in different ways. Some look at the number of unique visitors per month, for others they concentrate on pageviews.

How big is big enough? I think this is a personal thing. Some writers would be happy with 5,000 pageviews a month while others want 500,000.

Whatever your goal, ask yourself how long you want it to take to get there. If you want to go from 0 pageviews to 5,000 pageviews per month in 6 months then I think you would need to plan on blogging every day and see how things go. Give it a month, or even two, and look at your rate of growth.

Ask yourself: If your pageviews continue growing at the present rate would that be enough to meet your goal or do you need to adjust your blogging schedule? Perhaps you're going to overshoot your target. Perhaps your calculations will show that, in six months time, you'll have an average of 10,000 pageviews per month.

If you want 10,000 pageviews per month as your new goal, great! Keep at it. If you'd rather scale back and spend your time doing something other than writing blog posts (for instance, starting the draft of your next book) then do that.

What you need to do with your blog depends on what you want. It depends on what your goals are. 

Here I've talked about a person wanting to take their blog from 0 pageviews per month--a brand new blog--to one with 5,000 page views. But what if you already have a blog that has around 5,000 pageviews a month? What if you want to grow it to, say, 100,000 pageviews per month or even larger?

I asked this question of a professional blogger, someone whose blog gets around 350,000 pageviews per month. This person told me that to grow ones blog rapidly one needed to publish at least two blog posts a day. At least.

I looked around for advice on the internet as well, and this bloggers advice was echoed wherever I looked. And, what is more, if my own experience is anything to judge by, it was good advice.

b) What should I blog about?

Blog about something that interests you. Since you're building a writer's platform, it (of course) needs to be something related to your writing.

Look at what authors writing in your genre blog about. Or, more importantly, what do readers in your genre like to talk about?

A great way to find out is to ask. Put up a poll on your blog, go to conventions and ask fans what they like to read. Say you write spy thrillers. Do fans of the genre like reading about the lives of real-life spies? Do they like reading about the technology involved in spying?

For instance, look at Amanda Hocking's blog posts, especially those she made when she first started out. What did she blog about? Popular culture. The TV shows she watched, the bands she liked. She connected with the people who wanted to read her fiction.

c) How long should my posts be?

Shorter than this one! (grin) I try to aim for around 500 to 750 words per post, but often go way over that.

The longer the post the more important it is that it be broken into sections with descriptive headers. That way if someone is interested in just one aspect of the post they can quickly get to the information they want. Also, a long post looks less intimidating to the eye when broken up, otherwise it just looks like one gigantic, unappealing, pillar of text.

d) Should I use images?

Yes! In my experience readers love images. Also, if you use images with a creative commons copyright often you'll get traffic from them as well. Why? Well, when you abide by best attribution practices you'll post a link back to the picture and, often, to the profile page of the artist. Artists like to see where their work is being displayed and will often drop by to say "Hi".

Also, if I have time, I like to leave a comment on the page I took the picture from, thank the artist for licensing their work with a creative commons copyright and provide a link back to my blog post. This is not only part of best practices but it's another way of making a connection and getting a url to your site elsewhere on the internet.

In General ...

Whatever genre you write in, go and look at the websites, blogs, what have you, other writers have put up. Pay attention to things such as Google Page Rank and how well known the writer is apart from blogging. It seems to me that the more popular a writer is independently of their blog, the less often they need to blog.

Originally I wanted to talk about all sorts of different reasons why a writer might want to blog and to say a few words about each. I still want to do that, so I'll list these goals here and come back to them down the road:

- To showcase your writing in the hope an agent or editor will see it. This would demonstrate the quality of your writing and that you could work to a schedule.
- To get into the habit of writing every day (or X times per week)
- To keep a personal account of events others can read./To keep in touch with friends and acquaintances.
- To have public encouragement while writing a book (e.g., a book blog)

What are your goals for your blog? If yours isn't listed here, please leave a comment and tell me what it is. :)

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After all my talk about the importance of a blogging schedule it looks as though I might not be able to post a second blog today. So I'll give you my NaNoWriMo update now. As of this moment it's up to 37,034 words and I'm hoping to get that up to 39k by tomorrow. Cheers!

Other articles you might like:
- Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales
- Vanquishing Writer's Block

Photo credit: "arches" by paul bica under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 19

Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

A few days ago I wrote a post about how to use MS Excel to outline a novel. That post grew out of my own need for a visual structure, a way to see my novel in front of me all-at-once. (See: Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl)

Today I want to talk about another way of using Excel to outline your novel: The Character Grid.

This method comes from Kim Harrison, author of the Hollows Series. Let's dive right in.

"My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters," (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)

In the following, knowledge of the world of the Hollows is plus, but you can get the gist without it. The following should give you something of a feel for Kim Harrison's process. She writes:
Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love. It made a much more tidy story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them.

My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters. Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters.

I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter. My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters. Same thing with characters.

Variety keeps the reader interested and the story moving. So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid. It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified to my needs. Here’s the one I used for ODW [Outlaw Demon Wails] [see Figure 1, below]. (I inserted the paragraph breaks) (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)
Here is Kim Harrison's Character Grid:

Figure 1 (Click to enlarge)

(Here is a link to the original character grid.)

Kim continues:
Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom.  (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that.  The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror.  I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom, but I recently had a software upgrade, and I lost my headers and footers in Excel.  (sucks big time)

My character grid is how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine.  It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene.  Very bad.  Same thing with the bad guys.  I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end.  Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters.  I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.

A character grid of some sort is also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance.  Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out.  Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is. (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)
Kim Harrison's post is one of the best I've read on plotting and structuring your work-in-progress and it's part of a series.

Kim Harrison's Series On How She Plots A Novel

1. Where you at in NaNoWriMo?
"Today, in my official Not-NaNoWriMo, I have again procrastinated with other work, confining my rough draft of book ten to ideas in my head. Tomorrow, I will pick up my pencil and write something down. Promise. How about you? Where you at?"

2. Writing starts with “I want”
"I’ve been developing my writing style for over a decade, and this is what works for me. There’s no wrong way to do it as long as you’re making progress.)
I want. . .
That’s what it’s all about at this point for me. What do I want to see or accomplish in this 500 page monster. So today I’ll be sitting down with about ten sheets of paper and a pencil."

3. Procrastination: I’ds da queen
"My word count is still zero, but I’m almost ready to start writing. My post yesterday gave you some indication of how I went about organizing my thoughts for a new book. Well today, I’m going to tell you exactly what I did."

4. Day Two Of The Plotting
"Well . . . I took my six pages of notes from Thursday and wrote up a free-flowing, one-sentence brainstorming list of “ways to start” and a list of ”ways to end.” I still don’t have a good way to start the book, and I won’t until I have the end, but my goal is to have in the first five pages the hint of the problem that is settled in the last so to make a full circle."

5. Character Grid
"For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process. Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it. This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me. It’s a process that’s still evolving. Oh, and my word count is still zero."

6. And on the fifth day . . .
"So far, while using my character grid, I’ve found that I’ve got a slow spot, and I moved some things around to quicken it up. I also named a new character, learned a few things about him, and Rachel has told me she likes him better than the guy I thought she’d be interested in. He kind of likes her, too, or maybe he just likes the way she makes him feel. (Be smart, Rachel.) I’ve also learned what the story is about besides solving the crime and settling the love interest. (By the way, it’s not settled.) What I’m talking about here is the character growth, I suppose. And without character growth, not only would the story be stale, but I’d be bored to tears writing it."

7. And now . . . it begins
"... again. (grin) Last night, I finished breaking my 13 page synopsis into chapters, using it as a guide to write about a page of handwritten notes about each chapter, being careful to include who is in it, where to begin, and what poignant thought to end it with. It’s here that I usually find my hook into the next chapter that gets you to turn the page instead of turn off the light and go to bed."

8. Last day to send me your costume pictures
"Yesterday I finally finished my plotting and started actually writing the thing. Taking my one page of notes on chapter one, I spent the morning writing out the dialog, then in the afternoon, I turned it into prose. Today I’ll take my one page of notes on chapter two and do the same, and in about three to four months, I’ll have turned my 27 pages of notes into a 500 page manuscript."

How do you plot your novel? Does it look anything like Kim Harrison's method? Thanks for reading!

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NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 35,528 words, so I caught up last night and did an extra 500 words. That makes me happy. Hopefully I'll be able to get up to 38k tonight. (fingers crossed)

Other articles you might like:
- Vanquishing Writer's Block
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- Using Technology To Sell Books: Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Photo credit: "I Want To Believe … In Fairies" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Vanquishing Writer's Block

Vanquishing Writer's Block

Anyone who has gone through NaNoWriMo knows, at least a little bit, what its like to be a professional writer.

You can't get writer's block.

Well, you can, but that would mean not reaching your writing goal and that would be bad.

Very bad.

So, what's the solution?

Become a muse whisperer. That's right, muse whisperer. How does that work? I'm glad you asked.

1) Just Write

Here are some writing exercises that have helped me get back in touch with my muse in the past:

a) Timer method

Set a timer for 5 minutes (or however many you'd like). Write until the timer goes off, even if it's your name or "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". It's up to you, but try and stay away from knives if it's the latter.

b) Page method

Write until you have filled 2 pages. Again, since the idea is to defeat writer's block, write anything. Don't edit yourself, don't filter. Just write.

c) Variations on (a) and (b)

Thank your computer, tell it that it's wonderful, then turn it off and pick up a notebook--one made out of paper--rummage around for a pen or pencil, then sit down and do (a) or (b).

I had a horrible case of writer's block after my father passed away and it was putting pen to pater that got me through it. After one 10 minute session of just writing, the dam inside me broke and I had the glorious experience of having WORDS tumble out of me.

2) Just Talk

Instead of trying to write a story, talk it.

I have a Sony digital recorder that I love, but sometimes I feel like I should be talking faster, or getting to the point quicker, so Dragon Naturally Speaking is easier for me to use, although one benefit of using a digital recorder is being able to get up from my desk and walk around.

You can feed the sound file from your recorder to Dragon and the program will transcribe your mutterings for you. I should add that this works best after you've trained Dragon up a bit, otherwise it might give you back word spaghetti.

3) Just Imagine

I do a variation of this sometimes when I want to generate ideas. If it seems silly to you, that's cool, just skip this point. :)

Go somewhere that doesn't have a recording devise of any kind. You don't want to be tempted to record these ideas while they're occurring to you because that can interfere with the process. At least, that's what I've found, but your mileage may vary.

Make sure you won't be disturbed for, say, 15 minutes. Oh, and if your imaginings take off go with that and don't worry about finishing the exercise.
Imagine a place. It could be outdoors, or indoors, underwater or even in the cold expanse of outer space.

What does your place look like?

Are you warm? Cold? Hungry? Frightened? Curious?

Is anyone with you?

You notice something about your place. There is one part of it that seems different from every other. Investigate. How is this part different?

As you investigate you realize what you are looking at is a portal. If you step through (you may have to open it first) you will be taken somewhere dangerous.

There is a sound behind you. Your heart jumps as you whirl around.

A living being stands before you. Their appearance is terrifying and they hold an object, it is something dear to you. It is the thing you value most in life.

What is the being holding? Take a moment to examine it.

The being moves quickly toward the portal and plunges through, taking with them the thing you hold most dear.

You follow them.

What is it like to go through the portal? What sort of feelings did you experience before entering?

Describe your first glimpse of the world at the other end of the portal. Is the being there? Do you see the thing you hold most dear?

I'm not saying any of these methods will work for you, but they are something to try. The more one tries the greater the chance of success. At least that's how I look at it. :)

4) Make Writing Habitual: Schedule It

I was going to title this point, "Your muse and you: developing a sustainable relationship" but I figured "make writing habitual" was more descriptive. But, really, what I'm talking about IS building a relationship with your muse.

We, our bodies, are used to patterns. When we get used to a pattern (for example, coffee in the morning, lunch with co-workers), when something becomes habitual, we miss it when it doesn't occur.

It becomes natural. In fact not doing it just doesn't feel right. It seems as though something is missing.

Here are a few ways to help develop the habit of writing:

a) Write in the same place each time

I'm not saying this will work for everyone, or that it's a bad thing to have several places to write in. Actually, several places could work, but I think it's important that they be, more or less, the same places.

You could have an office at home, or a corner, or a corner of the kitchen table, or you could write at a coffee shop, at the mall, on the bus, and so on. The where doesn't matter, as long as it the same place (or places).

b) Write at the same time of day

For instance, Stephen King writes in the mornings. Other folks, Amanda Hocking for instance, write at night (though few people are nocturnal). (See: Amanda Hocking's Unusual Writing Schedule)

Again, it doesn't matter what time you choose--you could even split your writing time between morning, evening and night--what matters is that it's the same time, or times, because that's how you develop a pattern. Your mind and body need to learn to anticipate that at certain times you'll be writing.

c) Write every day

I snuck this one in at the bottom because it's not strictly true. You don't have to write every day to develop a pattern that becomes a habit. But it helps.

If you only write once a month it'll take years for that to become habitual. On the other hand, if you write every day, it'll take maybe a month or two, depending on the person.


I hope you've found something helpful. If you are experiencing writer's block you have my sincere condolences. If nothing I've talked about in this post works for you try talking with someone who has had writers block in the past. Sometimes just talking about it helps. If you don't know anyone who has had writer's block, please feel free to contact me. :)

I would like to add that if you've found something, a way of writing, that works for you and flies in the face of everything I've said about developing a habit, great! If you've found something that works for you, then go with it. (See: Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments)

Do you have a writing routine/schedule? If so, please do let us know what it is in the comments. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales
- The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself
- Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Photo credit: "The brick wall (free wallpaper)" by under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, November 18

Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

I discovered Lindsay Buroker's blog only within the last few months but within that brief time it has become one of my favorites. A couple days ago Lindsay posted an article I want to share with you about how to improve the sales of your books.

Don't Put All Your Eggs In One Basket = Don't Put All Your Books In Amazon

Don't put all your books in one estore even if that store is Amazon. KDP Select can be a wonderful tool to sell books, but it's not a good idea to keep your books in the program indefinitely.

Select can do wonders for increasing your book's visibility, but then experiment. Try out other venues. You can still keep it at Amazon, just not in KDP Select.

Don't misunderstand, I think Amazon is great. But none of us knows what the future holds. What if Amazon were to become less indie friendly? My mother told me to hope for the best and expect the worst.

Also, Kris Rusch has a great point: the more estores your books are in the easier it is for your readers to find them. If you want to turn readers into true fans then making it easy for them to buy your books is a good start. (See: Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?)

How To Market Your Books In Other Venues

Most venues, particularly Barnes & Noble, don't give books the same kind of exposure as Amazon, so what are the most effective ways to increase the visibility of your books in these less friendly markets?

Lindsay tried:

- the Nook Boards & Mobile Read
- the UK Kindle Users Forum (there's also the US Kindle Users Forum)

Lindsay used the forums to chat with readers and writers and she gave away coupons. She concludes:
In general ... I find forums to be a time sink. You can spend a lot of hours there and earn few, if any, sales. I generally only recommend forums for people who enjoy being a part of that sort of community anyway.

The Power Of Perma-Free

What ended up working for Lindsay was making one of her books permanently free and distributing it as widely as possible. People loved her work, went looking for more, and when they found her other books they were happy to pay for them. Lindsay writes:
What did make a difference for me, especially with Amazon UK and the international Apple stores, was having a book permanently free on those sites. I’ve talked a lot about this before, but I made my first Emperor’s Edge book (and eventually my first Flash Gold novella as well) free at Smashwords about a year ago. I had the freebies distributed through their partner sites, and Amazon eventually matched the price.

What took longer, but did eventually happen, is that Amazon UK (and DE, ES, IT, etc.) price-matched the ebook to free as well. That’s when I started seeing sales of my other books in those stores. It was a similar process for iTunes. It’s taken a while for the free ebooks to percolate through, showing up in the international Apple stores, but I’m now selling books every month in Apple AUD, DKK, GBR, etc. and am making between $1,500 and $2,000/mo overall in overseas sales.

A couple of tips:

- Make the first book of a series perma-free.

- Free works best if the book is permanently free. The only way to make your book free in certain markets is to offer it for free on a site like Smashwords. Price-matching bots/spiders will come along notice it's free, tell momma spider about it, and then momma spider will change the price on her site as well. This process can take months though.

The Benefits of making a book perma-free

- A huge benefit of using a perma-free book for marketing is that it requires no additional time investment on your part.

- Free book catalogs are the new libraries. As libraries continue to feel the economic crunch, more and more readers are using free book catalogs as though they were libraries to discover new authors. If they read your book and like it, they'll buy more.

It All Adds Up

You've heard of the death of a thousand cuts? The idea is that you can receive one cut and it's shallow and you bleed a little bit but that one cut is no threat to your life. If you receive a thousand of them, though, or tens of thousands of them, well, that's a different story.

It's the same with books, only in a happy way. You might only earn 10 dollars from one store over six months, 20 dollars from another, and so on, and by itself ... 10 dollars, 20 dollars, those amounts are negligible. They're not going to buy food for the day let alone pay the rent! But if you earn 10 dollars from 200 stores, well, then it begins to add up.

Perma-Free: An Experiment

I've blogged before about writing 15 novellas, 3 per series, and then bundling them into 5 series and offering them on Amazon though KDP Select. One advantage of this strategy is that a book would be free at all times.

Another strategy--and I believe someone suggested this in the comments--would be to permanently set the first novella of each series to free and offer them on every available platform. (See: How To Earn A Living As A Self-Published Writer)

The perma-free strategy would take longer. It takes time to get your books into all possible markets and it would take time for the first book/novella of each series to be set to free, but over time I could see it being more lucrative than keeping them all in Amazon's KDP Select Program.

If anyone has done this I'd love to hear from you!

All quotations have been from Lindsay Buroker's wonderful article: How Do You Improve Sales at Amazon UK, Apple Overseas Stores, and Other International eBook Sites?

Update: I wrote a squeal to this post a few days later: Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2

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NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 32,462 words, a bit short of the 33k I was aiming for. I'm going to try and make that up tonight and have 35k done by the end of the day. * crosses fingers! *

Other articles you might like
- The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself
- Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care
- Time Management For Writers: Nanny For Chrome

- Self-Publishing Success Stories. I didn't directly refer to this in my article, but it's an amazing list! Here you'll fund hundreds of indie publishing success stories. Inspirational!

Photo credit: "Campos de cultivo" by (Xip) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, November 17

The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself

The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself

Sometimes characters refuse to do what you want. You finish your outline, complete with a heartwarming theme and everything looks great. Then you sit down to write and ... Nothing. Your characters refuse to cooperate almost as though they had wills of their own. Damn them.

Other times it's as though your characters are acting in a play you didn't write. They do wonderful and interesting things, unexpected things. All you have to do is write down the story unfolding in your mind.

I've had both these experiences, as I'm sure you have, and we all prefer the second type. Especially during NaNoWriMo when we don't have a lot of time to coax characters to play nice.

The point is ... yes, there is one! ... that our characters often behave, for better or worse, as though they have a will of their own.

Science Is Beginning To Understand Creative Processes

Recently Science has shed some light on this phenomenon and, in the process, revealed two things I believe are of special interest to writers:

1) When characters act as though they have wills of their own, they kinda do.

2) All things being equal, it's probably better to pants your first draft.

Let's take each of these in turn:

1) Pants Your First Draft

Neuroscientists Siyuan Liu and Allen Braun recently put rappers inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and asked them to freestyle. (That's one sentence I never thought I'd write!) Why? Because they're trying to understand the creative process.

Specifically, Liu and Braun were wondering whether the areas of the brain which regulate its own activity would be MORE active or LESS active when a subject was engaged in creative pursuits. It turns out they're less active, far less active.

What does that mean? Braun says, “We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity.” [1]

In other words, stepping back, being uncritical--just letting it happen--is what creativity is all about.

What does this mean for writers? All things considered, try to pants your first draft. 

You can still have an outline, but don't let it get in the way of your creative flow. Just let it happen. If you have to throw out your outline, do it! After your first draft is done, or even after you've finished writing for the day, you can go back to your outline and adjust it as needed.

2) Your Characters REALLY DO Have Wills Of Their Own ... At Least It Seems That way

Liu and Braun think that decreased activity in certain areas of the brain, those involved in self-regulation, could explain why artists sometimes have the sensation of their performance having “occurred outside of conscious awareness”. For instance, those rare times when it seems your story is unfolding of its own accord and all you have to do is write it down.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if science could give us tips on how to make this happen more often?

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NaNoWriMo Update: I have 31,010 words and am shooting to get up to 33k tonight. I'm starting to feel we're nearing the end. Yea!! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care
- Time Management For Writers: Nanny For Chrome
- Tucker Max's Advice: Become Your Own Publisher And Triple Your Royalties


1) Brain Scans of Rappers Shed Light on Creativity, Daniel Cressey and Nature magazine. Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for a link to this article.

Photo credit: "shadows on the wall" by AlicePopkorn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 16

Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Andrew Stanton was "the second animator and ninth employee to join Pixar Animation Studios".
He was designer and writer on Toy Story (1995), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He went on to write and direct such worldwide hits as A Bug's Life (1998), Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL·E (2008), the latter two both winning Oscars for Best Animated Feature. (Andrew Stanton, IMDb)
Not many people can say they've won two Oscars. Here are some of Mr. Stanton's words of wisdom for the struggling wordsmith:

Everything Must Lead To A Goal

Everything you write, from the first to the last, leads to a singular goal. Ideally, it confirms some truth, it deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.

Make Your Reader Care

We connect to other people through stories.

Your readers want you to make them care. They want to care emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically.

The Promise Scene

A promise scene is a scene at the beginning of a story that assures your readers/viewers that your tale will be worth their time. For instance, some stories begin with a storyteller, a guy at a bar saying, "Here, let me tell you a story." That's a promise.

Andrew Stanton remarked that a well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshopt. It propells you though thestory to the end.

Make The Reader Work For It

Your reader wants to work for their meal, so to speak. They just don't want to know that's what they're doing.

We're born problem solvers. It's what we do. We deduce, we deduct. It is the well organized ABSENCE of information that draws us in.

Andrew Stanton calls this the Unifying Theory of 2+2. Make the audience put things together. Don't give them 4, give them 2+2.

Stories are inevitable, if they're good, but they're never predictable.

Well Drawn Characters Have A 'Spine'

Judith Weston talks of characters having a "spine".  Andrew Stanton describes this as an inner motivation, a dominant unconscious goal they're striving for. It's an itch they can't scratch.

For instance, Wally's inner motivation is to find the beauty, Merlin's is to prevent harm. Woody wants to do what's best for Andy.

(To read more about this idea see Judith Weston's book The Film Director's Intuition.)

Like us, characters often aren't consciously aware of their inner motivation. A major thereshold is passed when we mature enough to acknowledge what drives us and to take the wheel and steer it.

As in life, change is fundamental in story because life is never static.

Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

 Honest conflict creates doubt in what the outcome might be.

Pixar's Rules of Storytelling

 Since it's beginning, Pixar had certain rules:
1. No songs
2. No 'I want' moment
3. No happy village
4. No love story
5. No villain.
In the first year, Pixar's story wasn't working and Disney was panicking. But they believed in themselves and they figured it out.

Remember: Storytelling has guidelines NOT hard and fast rules.

Some people will tell you there's no secret to storytelling. That's hogwash. There is a secret and this is it: Instilling WONDER in your audience. Wonder is honest and innocent. Watch Bambi. The very best stories are infused with a sense of wonder.

Here's another secret:

Capture a truth from your experience and use it to drive your story

Andrew Stanton's parents told him he had been born so premature their doctor didn't believe he would live. But he did. He was given a second chance, a chance he is grateful for. Andrew Stanton used this private truth to infuse emotion into a pivotal scene in finding Nemo.

Don't be shy, use the values you personally hold.

Andrew Stanton's TED Talk

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NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 29,012 words and hope to reach 31k tonight. (Yea!) Last night I tried Jeffrey's Scott's outlining method in Excel. Wow! It was a revelation. I'm kicking myself for not doing something like this before. (See: Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl.)

Other articles you might like:

- Andrew Stanton's advice is very similar to that given by Donald Maass: Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page.
- Story tips from Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story.
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman

Photo credit: "0216" by Cia de Foto under Creative Commons Attribute 2.0.