Wednesday, December 23, 2020

1.5 years of using Booksprout for Amazon Book Reviews

Booksprout is a website that helps manage advanced reader copies (arcs). The main advantage of this website is the community it brings along with it. That drives an important discussion that will be highlighted in this article. That conversation is what is the size of the community and how effective is it?

We’ll break this down into four main sections:

  • What is Booksprout
  • How big is this pool
  • How many readers turn into Amazon book reviews
  • Can it be super-charged

Before we begin, I’ve used 7 books with the free version of this service. Most of my books have been complete short story (10k words) in the fantasy genre, that use Fiverr to help with cover design. Many things may factor in your mileage: genre, book length, cover, and more.

What is Booksprout?

Booksprout is one of many services that helps provide stories to readers before they are published. You start by uploading the cover, some category information, the book description, and the complete book in the three major formats (epub, PDF, and MOBI). Once you have the book uploaded, you create an ARC. You can choose to make this private, and be specific on where you want to see the review. I always have kept it public and I choose Amazon only. The biggest thing to select here is when it will be published (also known as when you want to see the reviews). You can post an already published book and just set the review date for one or two weeks in the future.What will happen after you post the ARC is that readers that follow you on Booksprout will get an alert, I believe through their email. They can pick up a copy of your ARC after getting that alert. In addition, readers in the community will grab copies of it. This is the biggest benefit of BookSprout, in my humble opinion. No advertisements are needed to get this going, but your results may be lower without marketing. After you have a small group of advanced readers, they will be sent three more emails. The first is a “reviews due soon” alert, the second is “ready for review” alert, and the final email is a “follow-up” alert. This is the second biggest draw of any advanced reader copy service. Automatic emails do help provide better results than simply expecting people to remember. That being said, it might be best to also add your own follow-up into this mix. You do get the full email address of each reviewer. One thing of note, Booksprout doesn’t want you using this email address. They just provide this so you can reference to your own ARC reviewer lists.

On a different note, if you (for some unfathomable reason) don’t have a mailing list, you can ask people to subscribe to your author page on Booksprout. However, I would recommend against this, as it makes more sense to have your own mailing list. You should be the one cultivating your own list of people and telling them of books coming out. I am a firm believer that giving Amazon, Booksprout, or anyone else control of your mailing list is never as good as keeping control yourself. I suppose the one exception to that is if you absolutely hate mailing lists and keeping people updated on them. That’s leaving money on the table, but every author’s journey is different.

How big is the Booksprout pool?

So Booksprout has been out since around August of 2015. However, I don’t think it really adapted into the service we see today until 2017. That being said, it doesn’t really feel like it’s actively being developed. The service feels the same as it did when I subscribed a year and a half ago (May 2019 – writing this in December 2020). I know they are still developing it, because I got an email on November 24th that readers can now search for ARCs by genre. That seems like a very basic/needed update that should have been done a long time ago. I looked in my email and I’ve received a total of three emails over a year and a half, and only one of them about an update to the website. The support section is fairly basic and I am having a lot of difficulty trying to find information on one of the mentioned upgrades with a paid membership “Featured Community ARCs”. I can’t seem to find any information on the web about this either. So, it’s not moving very fast towards growth. All of this doesn’t address the current size of the book pool.

My genre is fantasy. I can use the service and see how many books need advanced reading completed. Once their due date is passed, they would be removed from this list. As of the writing of this, there are 553 ARCs currently available. Romance makes up 360 ARCs. The second most popular is erotica with 69 ARCs. My genre, fantasy, has 59 ARCs available. 42 ARCs are for teens/young readers. There are 31 ARCs that are action adventure. 28 ARCs are for thrillers. About 25 ARCs are mystery. Science fiction is about 21 ARCs. If you are doing the math here, you come up with over 553. Please note that books can be multiple genres. For example, you can have a thriller aimed at teens/young readers. Another example would be a science fiction tale with plenty of action and adventure. I’ve broken these genre’s down so you can see the size of the available options to the readers.

How many of these readers turn into Amazon Reviewers?

This is one where your mileage is going to vary. I’ve posted seven books over the last year and a half. I have done NO marketing on this service. These were all fantasy short stories that were complete (no cliff hangers). All the covers came from Fiverr for about $17 each. So, on average my books were requested… 3-4 times. Of those 3-4 separate requests, they led to an average of 2 Amazon reviews each. You might be wondering, how does that compare against traditional organic reviews. While this is completely anecdotal and is different for every book, one common statistic is that for every 200 books you sell you get one organic review. For some people that number might be one review for every 500 sales, another person it might be one for every 100 sales. Let’s hold to that average: one for every 200 books. To get the same effect from Amazon, as you do from Booksprout (2 reviews) you would have to sell 400 books. Here is the kicker: An average self published book will only sell 250 copies in its entire life. An average traditionally published book will sell 3000 copies in its lifetime. While 1-2 reviews may not seem like a lot, they can add a massive amount of credibility to your book. As with everything, your author journey is going to be different than everyone else. If you focus effort on the right fulcrum, the levers will help move in your favor.

Can this be super-charged

I absolutely believe that this can be supercharged, if done in the right way. I think the best way is to do this via your own mailing list. What makes this interesting is that you can do a test in addition to this marketing. For example, you can segment your mailing list into two chunks. The first chunk is sent just the cover asking for an ARC review. Once they hop to the website, they see both the cover and book description. The other chunk of your mailing list may have just the book description without the cover. If you notice a lot of people sign up via the cover list, instead of the book description… that maybe somewhat normal. (Covers are the main sales tactic of books) However, if you have a lot of people jump into the book ARC via the description link, and not the cover link, that means your cover may need some work.

You can also work on advertising this Booksprout link via your social media accounts. This might be a great way to gain a foothold with new readers you wouldn’t normally reach. For me, this hasn’t worked well. I prefer to use a service better designed for this, such as Storyorigin or BookFunnel. (I use both those services) These places give readers free books if they sign up to your mailing list. These are amazing services because you can curate and modify your mailing list as you desire.

My Synopsis:

Booksprout is well worth using. I never expect to get a massive surge of reviews, but even just 1-2 can help my book stand out a little bit. My own personal opinion is to use your own mailing list to help build reviews (segmenting and then following up with them yourself). That takes time and energy. I can’t guarantee that it will be time and energy well spent, but from what I’ve experienced, mailing lists are the best marketing tool for any author. Well, that and spending buckets of money on market research. However, few of us how lots of excess money to spend on research which may just reveal that your book isn’t marketable. My opinion has always been to fail quickly and move on, at least at the beginning of my author career.


I’ve used NetGalley as well and I believe that Booksprout is better than they are for ease of use. However, NetGalley allows more reaching out to potential reviewers. You don’t need NetGalley to reach out to potential reviewers though. My advice is to build your own set of reviewers via your mailing list. (Mailing list segmentation can be a powerful thing)

Video about book review services, like Booksprout:

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Building Word Count as a New Years Resolution

When the clock strikes twelve on a new year, its easy to estimate how many words you’ll accomplish for the future. After all, you’re given a full year to accomplish them. However, as days turn into weeks, and weeks into months… the truth slowly becomes obvious. Word count goals are difficult. This last year, 2020, I only barely achieved my word count goal of 400k words. Even so, that was because I added in my regular ranting on top of my produced work. My produced work was actually somewhere in the ballpark of 150k. That can leave an author feeling quite bummed about what was created. If you add into that all the promotions and upkeep you have to accomplish as an author… and it really is a difficult career.

What I’ve learned through New Years resolutions is that you have to strike that balance between ambitious and achievable, with a bit of wiggle room added in. All the while, making the goal something that can be measured. That’s a very tricky balance. The first step to completing that, from a word count perspective, is to understand what you achieve in the past few years. If you can figure out what your natural pace is at, that will help you determine where your future pace needs to go. The next component is to break down that average into specific projects. For example, if you’re average is 150k per year, then perhaps that’s two 75k books? Or perhaps one book and a bunch of other items. The goal here is to connect realistic with ambitious. If an additional 25% boost, say to 180k words per year, means that  you can have three 60k books… that might be a great goal. 

Finally, you need to add in wiggle room. This is where you take the main goal, say 180k, and not specify it to more than one book. That way, if you only achieve one book – but you really do well on articles/small stories – you aren’t frustrated. You still made your goal of 180k words in a year and that’s certainly something to celebrate. Ultimately, the goal of a new years resolution is to provide some long range insight into your habits. By injecting a bit of careful planning, you can come up with a plan that will work well the entire year. Just make sure that you don’t overestimate what can be done. As the saying often goes: people overestimate what can be done in a short time, and underestimate what can be done in a long amount of time. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Effect of Little Sales on Future Work

One common phrase that is often said to authors is “write to market”. The idea behind this is to do research into a genre, figure out the tropes, figure out a little bit of a spin, get the work completed and edited quickly, and put a professional cover on it. Then go ahead and post it on the marketing websites and things will take off! However, that’s not always the case. In addition, it may feel difficult or boring to try and write to a genre you don’t care about. So authors may take a more fulfilling route: Writing what their heart desires. In this route, you may not be able to make your investment back.

This can lead to a frustrating cycle of pouring in lots of money into a pit. That’s correct, authors can dig themselves money pits. When confronted with such a pit, authors are told to simply: write more. If you keep trying and keep paddling, eventually you may make it to shore. The problem I’ve found is that when one effort doesn’t work, a person isn’t motivated to try it again. That can lead to a depression in the creative outlet. I think there is a balance to be achieved. This is where an author can get minimal sales, but still be excited about upcoming work. It’s the place where I am at currently.

Build marketing channels that may work, while also building books that may work. The idea behind this is that you don’t put all your emotional eggs in one basket. Instead of just saying you failed at writing and get depressed, you have another horse to bet on. You can also look into that new marketing channel and see how you can sell you book. If you are constantly balancing these two acts of creation, then even minor sales don’t seem so bad. After all, each time you get a little better in either approach, you see the result immediately. This is an iterative process where you keep getting better slowly over time.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Using NaNoWriMo to Build a Vacation Mind

I know the point of NaNoWriMo is to not only build a daily writing habit, but to built a book. The hope is that after 30 days of trying to write quickly that you’ll have something. I am trying it again, because I just can’t seem to get into a regular routine with writing. It’s been a quick thing to get out of the way and I don’t want that. I want the writing habit to be more of a vacation, if that makes sense. I think part of the problem is that I don’t have a great way to get started on all this. If I knew I was going to work through a particular chapter per day, that would be helpful, but right now, it feels like I need to take a lot of time to get to that place. It’s the cold water problem, and I wonder if I am going to suffer from it my entire life. The cold water problem being you don’t want to dive in, because the water is cold. Once you swim a little, you get used to the water temperature and have fun.

I think the very first thing I need to do is to setup a regular timing. I then need to figure out enough to prepare and make it easy to launch into the next chunk. So perhaps, make sure the next chapter is outlined, and then also include some inspiration. Two kinds of inspiration: Raw inspiration that isn’t as structured. Inspiration that is focused on the book. I need a way to think of these as a boarding pass to the vacation. Maybe like a digital cruise card? Going back on the ship of writing.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Opposite of Opportunity Cost

Let’s start this blog post with a definition. Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain, because you chose a different route. This is similar in concept to technical debt. Technical debt is what is required to re-work an existing quick solution to make it solid. How are these two concepts related? Opportunity cost is often, when truly boiled down, “we took the easy/logical route” when you shouldn’t have. So what happens when you realize that you have regrets over picking one route instead of another? Picking an easy/logical route that didn’t work as well as “the greener grass on the other side”?

I am going to take a moment and simplify the verbiage so that we can gain perspective. When we look at the word “opportunity” that really seems to drill down to “non-action” or areas where action could be taken. When we look at the word “cost” we can make it modified to be “lack of” or “removal of” future gain. So, taking this new context into play, opportunity cost could really be “through non-action we removed future gain”.

Let’s flip this now. The opposite of non-action would be action or energy. The opposite of removal is gain. So our actions open more possibilities? That doesn’t quite work because the word “cost” is still too focused on fiscal funds. My thought is flip this definition not through technicalities, but through spirit. To me, the opposite of opportunity cost is energy gratitude.

Why is this the opposite? In the first verbiage “opportunity cost” there is regret over not taking a certain action, which could have gained you more. In the reverse verbiage “energy gratitude” you are happy with the movement that you took.

So, why does all this matter? It’s a matter of fast versus slow. In life, you are pushed to achieve so much. When you rush from thing to thing, it all blends in and becomes a stale mush. It’s like taking a tour bus, every day, that never stops at the monuments. Just every day is a new set of monuments that you quickly snap pictures of to catalog. In a slower version, the bus stops, and you get to walk around the monuments and read the plaques. You get to dig into the little things more. They say life is a journey, but that doesn’t mean it’s a speed run to the end. Instead, if you flow through it quickly, nothing ever really pops up more than another thing. It’s all the same value of emergency. When you move slower, you have things that matter and things that don’t matter. Life gains a sense of flavor and isn’t just a bland mush you shovel in to live another day.

All that is to say, I am trying to move a bit slower and more deliberate each day. The hope is that what I produce is more relevant and important than if I just tried to fit in everything.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Cover Tiers: Low Cost, Middle Cost, and Top End

Back in June I discussed finding a pre-made cover. The hope was to upgrade from the Fiverr, Deposit Photo, GIMP solution that I’ve used in the past. The truth of this past cover is that I am really paying fiver for topography. I am asking what style/color of text works best for an image. That’s not a bad value, because it really is valuable. Each Deposit Photo would cost me about $5 and then there would be identifying text fonts from similar books. I would then need to boil down the top three colors of a cover and use a color wheel to find the right text color. I would then need to combine it all. At very least, that would take me about 30 min to 45 min. I pay $7 to save that time ($12-$5).

The only problem with this value is that I can’t expect them to do much work for that $7. The truth of it is I would expect them to have it boiled down to a 10 minute procedure; with a bunch of up sells that are the real money makers. So I am looking towards the next step up. I also looked at the step above that. The next step up is to take some of that image stock and have a designer custom build new images from it, then complete the needed topography. I am currently paying about $150 for each cover. That will include the extra bells and whistles (print cover, 3D mock up, audio book) that would normally cost me at the cheap place around $40 for each cover. So, for that $110 extra I hope to get a couple hours worth of work on each cover; mostly to make modest changes.

The next level up is even more costly, though there might be ways to dilute the costs a bit. The next level up is to have two artists instead of just one. With this level, you have someone draw characters and backgrounds. You then have a cover designer take these images and build them into a workable book image. I’ve spent a bit of time on this and I think you can get a dirt cheap hand drawn image at $100, but the truth is really $260 to get a good image. Plus, add in the $40 to convert that image into a book image, and you get nearly $300. That’s a very bottom cost per cover. So the cheapest level is $12 per cover, my middle range is $150, and my top end is $300 for the cover. Right now, I am not sure I have the platform to go all the way to the top, but I am hoping that I can afford the middle range. My shorter stories will probably stay around the bottom tier. In the future, I may go with more top end tiers, but that will be after I have a bigger established audience. Ultimately, that’s how you decide which cover and cost to go with. My own personal yardstick is earning out the production costs within two years. My stories stories and novels, with everything (eBooks / audio files /  print books), cost $270 per 10k written. If I remove the ghost writer, it would be $140 per 10k written. In the end, my hope is to mix novels and short stories. I would like to write the short stories and plot out the larger novels. The goal is that everything is touched/directed by me, but I make progress even if I have a bad day. In order to make that happen I hope to align more marketing mechanisms. I’ll then work on the other side of all of this (the research) and combine all of this into a bit more of a regular system.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Trying a New Road: Ghost Writing

I’ve worked hard and saved up a little bit of money from royalties. I was doing this to build audio books from my longer stories. The problem is that my schedule isn’t really helping with a routine. I am working on building the routine needed for a daily writing habit, and I’ve done well on building that. However, this money is burning a hole in my pocket, especially when it could be used to build more stories. So what I’ve settled on doing is working with a ghost writer to help knock out some work for me. My idea is to work together to produce stories up to the correct quality. I want to build stories quickly, and this would help me with some of the more prolific problems I am having. The hope is that I can learn to be more prolific, and that when combined with their talents, I can build a lot more stories.

I am going to be working through these stories with the same fine tooth comb that I put my own work through. I know that may show that this road will not work. However, if there is a way to make it work, I am very excited about it. I hope that I will be able to work through all of this in a manner that can make Long Tail Writing a bigger success. I’ve worked towards execution on a lot of things, this would help fill in the final puzzle piece towards creation. I think that would help add some stability to all this. I hope that I can also write a number of small books and stories along side what the ghost writer is producing. That being said, I think I will need to use a different name for this work.  Since my “voice” is going to be different than his, and our combined voice is going to be different than both of us. By creating an extra name, I think it will work well. I will have to think about this more.

What I hope to do is to work together to build a trilogy and then get some decent covers. After that, I want to get all the editing and fixing complete. Once that is done, I would like to find a way to get the first two stories into audio book format. Once all that is done, then I can start working towards promotion. The goal would be to have the promotions paid for and have a little royalty left over when selling the second book. This royalty would go towards building the third audio book. The hope is that I can build an entire trilogy series on a regular basis; each trilogy building a bigger base of royalties – which would then be used to build more books. My hope is to continue to re-invest in this adventure the best I can. The hope is to split the royalties three ways: 2/3 goes into building more books. 1/6 goes into charity donations. The final 1/6 goes into my retirement. The eventual goal is to make that a full three way split. It’s a lofty goal, but as long as I keep pouring time and energy into the tasks, I know I will get there one day.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Joy of Writing into the Void

I am far from a popular author. Truthfully, I am not sure even my closest friends and family read what I write. There is a certain amount of sadness in that, but at the same time, there is a certain amount of freedom as well. I can write down anything and everything that comes to my mind. I’ve learned to write not for anyone beyond myself. Everything I create, I create because it pleases me. I know that nearly every word will be cast into the void, not to be picked up by others. That’s okay, because writing is an introspective art. Subjective opinion on an introspective process is not required.

The only problem that I’ve really had, with writing into the void, is the lack of path. There is not a strong urge to write a specific tale or scene. There is the worry that I’ll spend my time crafting a scene that won’t work, or will be boring, or will no longer carry my desire. I am worried that I’ll waste years working on a story that no longer interests me. I think what I need to do, to combat that, is to find what I am passionate about and give myself permission to quit once a product is out. I don’t need to write trilogies and massive stories. Singular books and stories are just fine. I also need to put additional restrictions on my writing habits so that I can get the work done quicker. The only problem is that I simply don’t know how best to “get in the groove” without a lot of time. It feels like the small cracks of time I can find, just simply aren’t enough. I know that’s a lie, I know I could do it, but there is that momentum challenge. I am going to spend some time today preparing and hyping up the process. I want to be excited to write my next chunk, and I want it to be a pleasurable experience. As previously said, I write for myself, so ultimately the goal is to make this as pleasant as possible.

Monday, August 10, 2020

10 Good Qualities to Cultivate to Become a Better Writer

Writing is a subjective art that blurs the line between bliss and torture. One moment, every word is a golden gift handed from the muses on high. The next moment, you’re being laughed at for practically writing in crayons. Art is the practice of constant doubt and frustration. So what are some qualities that can be cultivated to make a person a better writer?

1.) Routine over inspiration

In this quality, a daily habit is more important than waiting for inspiration to hit. The truth about writing is that inspiration hits the most when you’ve already started. That means your best inspiration usually happens when you’ve already been working for a bit.

2.) Determine if “this” works and why.

A good feature to cultivate in your writing practice is constant observation. This can be observing the details of others around you or in looking at other stories. Does a scene in a movie or TV show work well for you? Why does it work well for you? Start breaking down what works for you and start looking for unique perspectives you can put into your writing.

3.) Clarity and simplicity

I’ve heard that (paraphrasing) any idiot can make something larger / more complex. It takes genius to go other way. Not everyone has access to a large vocabulary or knows deeply about history. Making things easier to grasp can help increase accessibility to your writing.

4.) Just enough tools

There are so many tools that writers can use to build word count. However, there is also the temptation to use everything. After all, isn’t more better? The answer is no. The goal is to build words, not processes. I am not doubting the ability to use writing tools to make progress, but you don’t want to try to do everything. If you do that, you’ll start ending up chasing rabbits down weird rabbit holes. For example, digging into what formatting may work best or what tool can export into a weird file format. The truth is you need to focus on the most important part of writing: the writing.

5.) Love of reading

The second most important part of writing is reading. Knowing what works in other stories is important. Beyond giving you a sense of what the competition is doing, you can see some unique methods that may work in your own writing. You also want to anticipate how it feels to be the reader on the other end of your writing.

6.) Anticipate questions

Speaking of anticipating readers, you want to know what questions they may have in the story. Each question they have becomes a promise that will be solved later. If you don’t know you’ve made those promises, you can’t fulfill them with answers. If you write a story without answers, it’s a very unfulfilling endeavor for the reader (and they won’t read anything else you write).

7.) Humility

After you’ve turned out a few books you might be rightfully proud. Push that urge down. Remember that there is always more to learn and that there will always be someone better. No one likes a boastful writer that preaches about how cool they are.

8.)  Graceful writing

One quality to foster is the art of graceful writing. Grace is simply hard work disguised as simplicity. By planning ahead, or strong editing, or both, you can make stories feel more graceful. They simply feel like they fit, instead of being shoehorned into a message.

9.) The right kind of wondering You know you are a good writer when the reader finishes the story and starts thinking of other possibilities. You don’t want them thinking about how their questions didn’t get resolved, but rather: what would they have done in the character’s shoes? That’s an indication that they are invested in the story. An invested reader will move onto the next chunk of the story.

10.) Thick skin and a forgetful mind

Some readers won’t move on and will instead bring out the flame throwers. The best defense against flame throwers is a thick skin and a forgetful mind. If a lot of people are making the same comment, sure change it, but if it’s just one angry person… do your best to ignore it and forget the feedback. Writing is subjective and not everyone will appreciate your particular voice.


Monday, July 20, 2020

More Feedback is Not Always Better

I recently am trying out an idea where I get as much feedback as possible as quick as possible. The idea is to test my novel ideas before I get too far into the weeds (technical details or in this case, too many chapters in). The hope is to build a book that is not only interesting, but works for the most people possible. However, I’ve recently discovered that more feedback is not always better. Here are a few reasons why:

Reason #1: Feedback comes in so many flavors

Taking a step back from the purely subjective nature of feedback, there are many types of feedback. The truth is that there are multiple types of edits that can occur. Developmental feedback can help with big picture feedback. That’s really what I was hoping for in this early stage of writing. I would even enjoy structural feedback, which tells me how to take the picture I have and make it clearer. That being said, part of the feedback I got was spelling, grammar, and word usage. That’s not very helpful and actually does the opposite of what I want.

Reason #2: Feedback can destroy your passion

If the person doesn’t know the genre or desire of the writing, they might focus on the other stuff. That can include spelling, grammar, and word usage. When you hear that you aren’t doing a good job on the basics, you feel horrible about your writing. It makes you want to quit, though you are just starting out on the story. That’s the opposite of what you want. You need encouragement and direction, not nit picky details that are easy to change.

Reason #3: Direction can stop in the middle of the street

If you find some feedback that sound true, and you begin to follow it, you want to get more feedback on the rest. However, sometimes you have people flake out and stop giving feedback. In addition, they might not have consistent advice. Having someone give consistent good advice can be really tricky. You don’t want one good piece and then it’s done.  

My concluding thoughts: Find several people who will work with you through the process. I am actually a bit partial to having to pay someone to do the feedback. I think that’s because I like the idea of incentive to work together. Ultimately, you have the most incentive to develop your own story. Others only have the incentive if your story is interesting. Beyond that, they don’t really have to care very much. However, if you pay them or do a 1 for 1 exchange, there is that relationship in place. You both know what’s expected and your desires are aligned. You both want to have workable feedback because that will either result in more gigs or in more feedback for their own story. I think that’s important. Ultimately, I think that’s the main strategy I need to continue to work on: being an author is about developing relationships. I know that sounds odd, because who wants to have some kind of relationship with a random author? However, when I say relationship, I mean any kind of interaction. Getting a free book, getting reviews done, getting book covers created, getting the audio books recorded, and many other things require some kind of regular interaction. I think developing those interactions and finding your development “crew” is important.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The 5 Stages of Finding Your Writing Process

I have read a lot of articles online and taken a number of video courses. I am far from an accomplished expert, but I have spent a lot of time looking into what process works for me. I think that this can be broken down, for me, into a number of areas. In addition, this process is just at its start. I hope to continue to tweak and perfect what I’ve learned, which is exciting to me. Let’s dig into this 5 stage process.

Stage 1: Build Something Horrible

I think this is the stage that is potentially the hardest in some ways. People don’t want to be horrible at something they’ve worked really hard at. In addition, it is really troubling to start the process knowing you’re going to be horrible. However, there is a topic that I find absolutely fascinating in this stage. For the first time ever, you get to hear your voice. When I say voice, I don’t mean your actual throat voice. What I mean is your literary voice. When you write a book, you write it in a unique way, in a unique style. When you first start writing, you get to start hearing this for the first time. It’s like hearing the compilation of all the stories you’ve admired through the years. Or perhaps it’s a squeaky and high pitched type of thing, where you absolutely hate your voice. Either way, you don’t know the “sound” until you start building something.

Stage 2: Work with Others

This is the stage where you might be the most shy. Now that you’ve built something, it’s time for others to read it. That can include beta readers, friends/family, or even narrators. The biggest and most important part of this stage is honesty. Brutal and non-comforting feedback. Once you have this, you can start to change the parts that don’t work that come naturally to you. That’s right, for the first real time, you will start training. You move from believing you know how to write, to actually writing better. The more feedback and the more trial/error, the better you get. This is the practice that separates the normal from the great.

Stage 3: Sow Knowledge Finds

After you’ve gotten feedback on your own writing, you can now dig into all the various pieces of advice out there. It might be best to stick with advice from proven authors, since their advice will be more generic. If you get advice from non-proven authors, they may believe that small successes are key. One note, I am not a proven author. When I say proven author, I am saying someone professionally doing writing for a living. In addition, they can’t be subsided via another route. A lottery winner, who doesn’t need to work, isn’t the best source of what may work. You want to find someone who works hard and is turning that hard work into an actual livable wage. Once you have these sources, and you learn from them, you hear about way more than you could ever act on. These knowledge finds become seeds for finding your style. You go ahead and plant them, which means you try them out. After you try a number of them, you’ll get a sense of what works and doesn’t work. I think this is the most interesting stage, because of the excitement of what could happen.

Stage 4: Reap and Repeat

After you try out a number of ideas from known authors, you can see what works for you. After you work through a lot of these ideas, you’ll begin to see a trend. At this point, you should be trying out the ideas, getting feedback on your work, and seeing what makes your style work. You should be finding ways to leverage your practice to be bigger and better. However, it doesn’t stop there. Now that you have a sense of what may work, you can start looking outside of known experts to see what is working on the fringes. Ultimately, you want to continue to work on your process and style. The more you refine and leverage it, the better it becomes. One potential danger at this point is building too big of system. At this point, you may need to cut things that work, but don’t work as well as you want. You need to keep the most important stuff: such as stuff that makes it fun to write. After you cut and find new stuff enough, the final stage opens up.

Stage 5: Final Why

Now that you’ve dug through all the methods that work for you and what you know how to get better, the final stage appears. This stage is determine what drives you to continue this practice. What makes you want to continue to get better and better. The more you refine and focus on this, the better. This stage is extremely risky, which is why it’s towards the end of this process. At this stage, you may determine you don’t want to write. You may also determine you want to write for the rest of your life. The choice will be yours, but it may fuel a unique determination. You’ll face the final boss battle of your writing process and either come out with a loss or win. Knowing your why is the most important part of the writing process. It is also the most difficult to pin down.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Finding a Pre-Made Cover

Many of my stories are short stories that don’t require an expensive cover. (Please note, none of these are affiliate links.) I’ve had luck so far spending money on this fiverr gig, then using GIMP to modify the end result. The idea is to get an image and font that work well for the cover. I then modify the image manually, along with the text, to get an okay cover. However, I don’t think I will be able to continue doing that as I write longer and more complex tales. My next step in this process is to pay for pre-made covers.

Why is this the next step? Because the Fiverr gig only takes one image from DepositPhotos to be used for the cover. A custom cover takes a number of images and blends them together. The end result is a cover that could pass for a 100% custom design. This is the next step up from pre-made covers, though it is the longest time-wise and most expensive. So, how do I find pre-made covers? First I lookup what others have recommended and commented on. For that, I searched Reddit. I found this SelfPubBookCovers website. There are a lot of great covers there, but there are also a lot of junk covers as well. To help sort these out, I clicked the genre I am looking for and begin scrolling. When I find a cover that looks good (even if it doesn’t fit the book) I click it. I then take the creator’s name and search for covers by that creator. What I am doing is isolating the really good artists and then looking through their portfolio. Through my search, I may dig into about a half dozen different artist portfolios. The end result is finding that one or two covers that really stand out that may fit the book. After that, I look for covers by that artist that are similar. Many times I am not only looking for one good cover, but a small series of covers. The goal is to pre-buy covers for two or three books, so that as the series continues, I have covers that all match. I think that’s an extremely important aspect to finding a cover. The goal is getting a book series that looks professional, but not having to pay high prices.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Building a New Website

 As you can see I am building a new website. I am hoping to make this website feature rich, while also making it fast and secure. The goal with this effort is to own another potential marketing channel. I believe in the importance of owning versus renting. If a person uses an exclusive website to publish their book and uses that platform’s tools to market the book, they don’t really own the book. They own one product in one rented instance. That means that the rent can go up, the platform could change its rules, and many more things. This has already happened to me several times and I am tired of building on shaky ground. My hope is to build up my own website, my own mailing list, my own promotions, so that I can truly own my destiny. I believe that fully owning your sales chain, from production to repeat sales, is a stronger strategy for the long term. 

There is short term risk with this move though. The main book platform, which requires exclusivity, has the majority of the market. That means that in order to build my own sales chain, I may sacrifice short term profit. That’s going to be really tricky to do. Still, the name of my effort is ‘long tail writing’, which is about building a writing platform that will last for a long time. My personal hope is that this is something I can relish in during my twilight years. I want to look back at all this effort and go “I am so glad I did that”. I think the key to that isn’t just a single trick or short term gain. I think the key to that is human connection and bringing value wherever I go. I think that if I can build a platform that is really useful, that will have a more lasting impact than simply grabbing the easiest cash and running. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Loading and Dumping Writing Information

There are a few things I've done lately to help build a writing practice. I started out finding a way to take in new information. After I got kinda "full up" on information I had to figure out another method. This article speaks about the "loading/dumping" of information that I hope will lead to a better craft.

Step 1: Loading up on information.

In this step, it's pretty obvious what happens. I got to a variety of sources and I learn about how to write. My current favorite right now is masterclass, just because it has so many topics by people that are really at the top of their game. I like the idea of learning new things from top teachers. I think that's what really sets Masterclass apart from other sources. Yes, you can get wonderful information, from top teachers, at other locations. However, you need to know which teachers are at the top of their game at first. Once you figure out a handful of top teachers, you then have a very limited amount of material from them. Many of these wonderful authors may have just put out one or two books on the subject. Once you've exhausted that source of information, you can ask for recommendations. From these recommendations you can gather perhaps a few more top teachers. However, even this eventually runs out. Soon, you're stuck in this place where you don't know if the other author really has the "proof" to what they say. That's ultimately what you are looking for from a teacher. You want proof that what they are teaching is you going to be valid and worth studying. Everyone has something to say, but not everyone has an equal amount of sweat in what they've learned. Some people are just trying to say things to get others to listen. That's not someone who is going to have a lot of life long lessons to learn. Enter Masterclass! You not only have a variety of wonderful teachers to look into, but you get a demo video at the beginning that gives you their style and credentials. That way you can view a variety of demo videos before settling on a worth while teacher. Once you've looked into gathering a bunch of information, the next step is to use it.

Step 2: Dumping the information

Right now I have a few different spots that I can dump information. This helps me gain the maximum capacity. After all, if you have a lot of material to work with, you're going to need a lot of space. That means that you need to have a variety of organizational systems that will take in this knowledge and make it usable. My first step in this is to sort the kind of information. If it's meta information (how to write) I may put it in that area. If it's for a specific book, I'll put it on the chapter list for that book. If it's about a specific chapter of my book, I'll add it to the header of the chapter. If the information isn't about anything, but is still really cool, I'll put it on the writing compost heap. That information will be picked through at a later day. The goal with any of this is to be able to take in information in a manner that you can use at a much later date. What I've found with this method is that I often need to fill in specific inspirational information or specific chapter information all the time. However, the compost heap and meta area (how to write) tend to fill up fairly quick. That means that I keep less information in the areas that fill up quick. I tend to keep more information in the areas that always need information. That's how I build my capacity to hold information.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Discovering the Need for Faster Feedback

I am having some difficulty getting back into the swing of writing daily now that we are having a pandemic. That being said, I have introduced some wonderful new things to help my writing practice. I did sign up for MasterClass, which is giving me access to not only wonderful writers, but creators of all sorts. I was also able to hook up a family member with these same courses, so hopefully that will help them create.

I know that there is merit in working on your method, but I am finding that it’s diminishing returns if you don’t go and put the work back into practice. It’s my hope to build the mix between process and results. I’ve got a new focus now; working to make connections with readers. That’s a better focus than what I’ve had in the past, which were mostly based on fear.

In the past, I looked at royalties as proof that what I built had value - because I feared that it had no value. I now realize that honest connections with people are the way to build towards the future. To build a constant feedback loop, instead of just making assumptions from money.

Because money doesn’t always (pun intended) tell the story.

My hope is that the rest of the week will see an uptick in creation. I have a better understanding of why I write and why I wrote in the past. I am hoping to build a mix of creation and a chaotic sort of mindfulness.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Royalties are Less Important than Reviews

When they say you got to get the fundamentals right, they don’t really tell you how far the fundamentals go. Becoming an author is not simply about writing a wonderful book. A wonderful book is not an easy fundamental to deliver on. It takes a team to make that work. However, a wonderful book also takes practice. So after you’ve done enough writing and worked with the team and you have a wonderful book… that’s only the beginning. In today’s world, that’s just the first step. You also need to be able to sell that book. The first sale is easy: you get your wallet out and you buy. Getting a complete stranger to buy is magnitudes harder. After that, you have an even larger gap to figure out: getting a regular stream of complete strangers to buy your work. Even those can be fast tracked if you just throw enough money at it. The difficult part is getting them to buy without throwing buckets of money at the problem.

Some people think that if they throw buckets of money at the problem, it will eventually trickle into their other works. That might be true, but that becomes extremely hard to manage. So, say you are able to get a regular stream of complete strangers to consistently buy your work: fantastic! You still fail. Why? Because in order to make the book worth their time, it costs money. So you need to figure out a way to not only get strangers to buy your book, but you also have to earn out on your book fairly quickly. Why would you need to do this fairly quickly? Because you need funds to build ANOTHER book. You need funds to restart the campaign. You need funds to get this going again.

So after all the scrapping and connecting, the pleading and baby-kissing… what do you get with your author career? If you’re lucky and you work hard; there is one and only one reward. It’s easy to think the reward is royalties. It’s not royalties. If you pour everything you got in, you get a lever. Every time you pull that lever, you get to play the lottery. That lottery is simple: Is what I’ve created good enough to connect with people. That’s the treat. You get a visible, tangible sign that your deepest thoughts and work is validated. Not validated because they got a freebie, but validated because they spent hard earned money, took their scarce amount of time on this earth, and said - thank you for the escape. That thank you is the treat you get at the other side of the lever. I made fun. I made wonder. Here they are, in a box.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Building a Writing Environment

One of the key tricks to building a daily writing habit is to build a productive work environment. If you have a place you want to go to write, it will allow you to build a better word count. A daily writing habit can mean the difference between a professional and wannabe writer. So here is a first step to getting towards the professional realm of writing.

Stimulating but not Cluttered

You want to build your writing environment in a way that inspires you. That may include inspirational quotes, Funko Pops from your favorite shows, posters, or any number of things. The point is to surround yourself with inspirational items. However, no one wants to work in a mess. That is why you must strike the balance between being cluttered and being inspirational. Sometimes the best way to strike this balance is to organize the inspiration. This may include a shelf that has nothing but figurines on it. Maybe your posters are in professional framing. Another idea is to keep certain areas of the work area clean. Even if you are mostly digital, and don't do a lot of paper, the psychology of a clean working space allows you to be more active. Again the trick is to balance inspiration and clutter.

Tools and Preparation

One of the easiest ways to have a wonderful writing environment is to be prepared. If you are prepared to write for the day, you are more likely to write. That means you have an outline that needs to be accomplished. If you don't use an outline in your writing, it may be helpful to describe the feeling or environment prior to writing. The idea is to not start cold. You want a warm start to your work and being prepared is the best way to do that. In addition, having the proper tools to work is important. If you live in a noisy household and have trouble concentrating, a pair of noise canceling earphones may be required. In addition, you want to have the right software to write. If you have the correct software and it is set up the way you understand, then that is something you don't have to think about when you produce words. Ultimately, your goal is to make writing as frictionless as possible. You want to reduce the amount of excuses you have.

The Comfort Zone

One of the best ways to build a writing environment is to be comfortable and be in the zone. This includes wearing comfortable clothing and having lighting that you prefer. Some people like to work in a darker place, while others love the sunlight pouring in. Whatever is most comfortable to you, try to achieve that. In addition, wearing comfortable clothing is also essential. You don't want to be picking at your clothing, or squinting, when you're trying to produce words. Finally, the tone of your book can be set by the tone in your ears. If you have music that fits your book, that may be a wonderful addition to your working environment. Or, if you like to listen to a certain type of music, such as classical or chill, then running that over your headphones / speakers may help produce a wonderful writing environment.

Building a writing environment is the first step to a daily writing habit. However, there is a point in which you can over-engineer your writing environment. If you are spending more time on the activities surrounding writing, and not actually writing, then it can be a detriment. You can change your environment in an iterative approach. That means you change your environment a little at a time to make it a better and better writing environment. After a number of years, it will be a wonderful place to work every single day.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

How to Find Time to Write

Lately I have been having difficulty finding time to write. I want to write, but there have simply been too many higher priorities. This had me wondering how I should find time to write. Here are three different ways to do just that.

Method number one: Edges

One of the best ways to find time to write is to look at the edges of your day. That means your morning or night. If you can wake up an hour early or go to bed an hour late; that will give you time to write. This will make a big difference in your writing. My suggestion is to look hard at your morning. It is better to wake up fresh and write then to be tired from your day job and write.

Method number two: Commute

Another great method to find time to write is to look at your commute. Sometimes you can take public transportation or carpool and write during that time. Another method would be to use a recorder device while driving, though that can be difficult especially if it becomes a distraction. Distraction free driving is the law.

Method number three: Cutting

Sometimes the best way to find time to write is to cut out things you don't need. For example, if you're spending a lot of time in the evening watching TV, it might be best to cut out the number of shows you watch. That will allow you to have time to write. Another method to cut out things is to delegate them. Many people have others hired to mow the lawn or clean the house. This time saved would allow someone to write. In addition, setting up meals in advance may help reduce the amount of time taken to make dinner. This time can be spent writing. Cutting down your daily chores, or daily habits, can lead to some wonderful writing time. Writing is fantastic because it doesn't take that much time to get some words on the page.

Finding time to write can be tricky. We all have day jobs, relationship obligations, chores to do, and we still need to find time for ourselves. That's a lot to do in everyday life. However, finding time needs to be important if you want to be a writer. Ultimately that's what being a writer is all about. You prioritize the act of writing over other things.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Three Pillars of a Daily Writing Structure

What we do without thinking, via habit, helps define most of our life. Some speculate that it is what our lives are built upon. We simply go from one ingrained procedure, like a computer, to the next. This is why writing every day is so important. Writing daily helps your thought structure and makes it much greater than you would normally would have access to. They call this better word structure a writing practice. This is the true power of writing every day. A writing structure can include three components. There may be more components than these, but these three are the ones I can think of easily.

Structure one: Goals
When you have writing goals, it helps alleviate a very common problem. That problem is what to write. By taking away that extra consideration, you spend less time preparing, and more time writing.

Structure two: Revision
My least favorite topic is editing. I hate it. I think I hate editing so much because I need to rely on software to help me with grammar. I also hate editing because I have to cut out material. My preference is to always use every word I've written. However your writing released needs to be the best words written. That is why editing is such a key component of a writing practice.

Structure three: Fun
Fun is a commonly overlooked area of a writing practice. Many writers focus on profits or on hitting a major goal. However, it is equally important to have fun while writing. This can include world building, listening to inspirational music, or simply work-shopping an idea with another person. Fun will drive you to write everyday and continue to expand on your craft.

These three structures are important to a writing practice. They are not the only three structures, they are simply the one I can think of right now. However they are important to consider when building your writing practice.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Building a New Writing Style

Lately I've been working on building a new writing style. It all started when I read about the snowflake method. In this idea, you take one part and expand it. For example, a character starts with a few lines, and turns into a paragraph, then a page. The idea is that you continually expand your story structure. In addition to all that snowflake method, I have also been reading about what kind of questions a person should ask when developing a story. All of these new ideas have me thinking about developing a new writing method. Here are three ways that I'm doing just that.

Method 1: Dictation

Right now I'm finding that writing is taking too much time. Writing is important to me, but I have my day job. Writing is important to me, but I still need to make sure to take out the trash. Writing is important to me, but I still need to make sure to spend time with family. There are all these different things getting in the way of writing. In order to get these done, I'm now trying dictation. Even this very article is being dictated. I'm hoping that this will speed up my writing.

Method 2: Asking Questions

In a recent interview with Patrick Rothfuss in the Writing Excuses podcast, he presented this question. He asked to question yourself on what you're writing; what you are trying to make the writer feel. In addition to that, he says that you should list out what the three objectives of a given chapter should be. He also lists that each scene, that's where someone enters her at this stage, should be noted with some other purpose. In addition to these questions, as mentioned above, there is the snowflake method. In addition, there are more questions I found in the Lazy DM Guide book. That book shows you how to run easy campaigns Dungeons & Dragons 5. I'm using these to help me build a writing structure that is easier to complete.

Method 3: Interweaving

An area I fail in is in adding descriptions into my stories. I am fairly light on the description, instead diving right in the action. However, when reading Brandon Sanderson books, I see how he shifts between each type of topic. He’s digging into description one moment, dialogue the next, and exposition the third. He continually shifts between these different modes, which makes the flow of the story much better. I'm doing my best to emulate that style.

These three methods are how I'm trying to modify my writing style. I don't know what's going to be successful, so I am aiming to practice as much again. I'm also turning to flash fiction prompts, to help me build this muscle. The more that I'm able to write successfully, the better. Ultimately I want to produce the best writing possible as quickly as possible. I want to be able to produce stories so quickly, that I don't have the surplus of ideas. The quicker these go out into the world, the faster I can improve my writing.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Five reasons why I love to write

There are many things to write, but never enough time to express them correctly. Today I will look into five reasons I love to write.

1. To become my own favorite author.

This reason is fairly direct. Anytime I find something cool that another author has done, I want to make it my own and better. The hope is that I can build writing that is amazing. It’s also amazing to think I could have my favorite author write as much as I desire.

2. To surprise and make someone happy; and to break away from their routine.

It’s easy to look at fantasy or fiction stories and assume they are a waste of time. It’s not like you gain marketable skills after each epic book series. Instead, writing allows us to relax in our day-to-day lives. We can unwind and let ourselves be entertained with the various stories. We don’t always need to gain something for it to be worthwhile.

3. To own things that will generate money far into the future.

I’ve always been attracted to the idea of automated work. I like things getting done, even when I am not around. The biggest draw to this line of thinking is fiscal. I love money just appearing, almost as if from magic. I know that all supposed passive incomes are not passive. However, I also know that a person can build a series of good that will help them leverage things in a new way.

4. To own fun, intellectual property and see that come to life.

It’s one thing to write silly stories and ideas down on paper. It is another to see those stories connect with people. Or to see other people take your work and put their own creative spin on it. I like having my own cool things to sell. Things that I would love to own, and build those into even better things. I think there is a certain amount of fun in that idea.

5. To give my mind a vacation in a strange land.

Finally, this is why I love writing. Writing can lead down some interesting rabbit holes and theories. By having a few moments to think, I allow my brain to chase these down and explore. I am no longer concentrating on my day-to-day survival. Instead, I am taking a break from that continuous burden and letting my brain play as it desires. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I love to write.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Using Nooks and Crannies of Time

I think one of the problems I’ve faced recently is my own ambition. It’s easy to desire the creation of many things, but it is more difficult to find the time to complete it all. The routines that help us keep the world spinning are not always in the same rotation towards our goals. This means that you need to sneak in creation wherever you can. That can be tricky as you may not be able to start quickly on your topics. That means that you’re “rev-up” time makes a lot of time slots non-workable.

If you keep refusing these time slots and are not able to get work done, then guilt can set in. Once that happens, you might start making compromises on your goals. The more you do that, the more you feel worse about yourself. This can continue downwards until you are extremely angry with yourself or you become depressed.

Here are some tricks I’ve found to help with this:
  1. Make some 0-Rev activities towards your goals
  2. Go through a quick “why” drill
  3. Meditate in a way that restores

The first trick, making 0-rev activities, is fairly simple. If you’re goal is to put down a certain amount of words every day, you might need some prompts or structure to do that. However, if you haven’t made those prompts, you’re going to pause and not want to write. (Or you’re going to need additional time to start) However, if you make ‘side writing habits’ that don’t require research or structure, you can quickly get into writing without a specific plan. This is a trick of ‘pantser’ writers, they just push everything into a direction and follow where ever it goes. If you can’t do that with your main stories, then just try writing some blogs (like I am doing now) or write on a platform like Hubpages or Medium. I am not saying these don’t require work, but getting a raw word count to play with later can be very helpful. Ultimately, you want to be able to launch into your goal as quickly as possible, no preparation needed. If you make activities designed this way, than you can fit in the activity into the nooks and crannies of your day.

The second trick, a quick “why” drill, is like a little kid asking you a bunch of questions. You take your goal and plan, then apply a why to it. Why does doing this activity solve the problem/achieve the goal? After you have your answer, ask why again. Why does hitting this goal solve the problem? You continue down several layers (often times people stop at 5 why layers). The purpose of this activity is simple. You want to find the most gain for the least amount of work. Once you’ve identified this, you can achieve your goals quicker, which means the nooks and crannies of your day go farther.

The final trick, meditating in a way that restores, is something fairly new to me. In the past, I’ve used meditation in a way to focus. I am focusing on going to sleep or focusing on my daily to-do list. However, there is a method to meditate towards restoration. If you’re brain is getting tired, recognize that and don’t try to fit in a complex activity. Instead, look to focus on what will bring your brain back into “the zone”. This can be completely off-task, but don’t get too zoomed into anything else. This is a meditation where you find a way to relax you’re overworked brain, but don’t let it completely check out. Once your brain is relaxed, then focus the meditation on a method to get it revved back up. Here is an example of how this works: You can start by listening to some of your favorite songs. Then start singing along with them. As you feel more relaxed, switch the station over to some more interesting music. That might cause the creative side of you to come out. Once that side is out, you can go back to building wonderful things.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Measure Twice, Cut Once on Resolutions

‘Measure twice, cut once’ is an adept expression for all of life.  New Years resolutions are easy to build for a lot of people, though more and more are turning away from the idea. I think it’s an interesting paradox myself. People try to fix their indulgences at the start of a year, promising this is going to be ‘their year’. They cut out coffee or desserts to get into better health. I am not above this practice, though I usually do the ‘cut out an indulgence’ at the start of lent.

What makes this interesting to me is that people don’t appear to take a holistic view of their entire life. Instead, they focus on the micro area that is bugging them. If they can just fix that one tiny area, they should be able to tackle all of it, right?

However, that one tiny area may not be the area with the most need for improvement. Furthermore, it might not yield the best results. For example, cutting out coffee may help reduce calories from cream/sugar… but what about those donuts you had for breakfast? What’s more, what kind of goals have worked in the past and why?

Looking to build new patterns in the new year must be based off past success. To me, it’s bizarre to start fresh without really looking at your past. This is what I want to show in this article. Having trend data can really help a person get a better grasp on goals.

For example, I’ve tracked the last 17 years of new years resolutions (since 2003) and can tell you the trends within the data. That allows me to build goals that are not only attainable, but inspiring. The goals are flexible enough to achieve, but have enough of an impact to have a drastic effect in my future going forward. To me, that’s ultimately what you want in a New Years resolution: attainable major change that inspires you. I don’t think a lot of people are willing to track it down to that level. That being said, I am glad I am willing to do this! I look forward to an amazing year of growth!


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