The view out my window shows gently falling snow and frosted fir trees. Pretty, so long as I'm sitting here looking out the window. Less so when I head out later to pick up my sick dog from the vet. What does this have to do with life rolls? What are life rolls? Continue Reading
I've always loved to draw. As a kid, I didn't think about it as a career path—not like writing. I've practiced drawing and painting digitally over the past few years. I'm still learning and don't plan to stop learning. Artists (whatever your art form) should always keep learning. I've decided to have fun and put my drawings on t-shirts! Continue reading Square House Design | Fun T-Shirts on Amazon Merch and Redbubble
I didn't think about cash streams when I started writing. My basic understanding was that I'd write something, send it out, and I'd either get paid for it or not. Of course, this was back before the Web and before the current age of self-publishing (which has been the model in the past). I wasn't thinking about cash streams or about different ways I might use the copyright on that work. I also didn't consider how long I could continue to benefit from my intellectual property.
Today writers face many different decisions around cash streams and our intellectual property.
Amazon Has All Your Eggs
In the United States (not necessarily in other parts of the world) Amazon is a giant. This dominant market position leads writers to put everything in Amazon's basket by going exclusively with Kindle Select. This can work very well. With the integration of print into KDP, it is also easy to offer paperback copies. It offers promotional opportunities and inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited all-you-can-read e-book lending program. Paid by page reads, many writers find a lot of success this way by offering work that readers want.
I've also seen the reactions when Amazon changes how Kindle Unlimited works. A change to recommendations, to what gets paid, can mean that what worked before doesn't work for some writers. With everything in Amazon's basket, writers are vulnerable to such disruptions.
Another group of writers talks about the benefits of going wide to multiple stores and distributors. Whether going directly to Kobo or iTunes or using a service like Draft2Digital, these writers aim to reach as many readers as possible on an international scale. With enough success around the globe, Amazon's share of contributing to the writer's income drops. It still might make up the biggest piece of the pie but it becomes obvious that it isn't the whole pie.
This is where those other cash streams come into the picture. Say sales through Amazon makes up 60% of your income. Does it make sense to drop the other 40%? If you never had anything except Amazon sales it might not be obvious how much you're missing.
It's Not All E-Books
Intellectual property—copyrights you own—can provide an endless variety of income streams. The same story might sell in e-book, different print formats, audiobooks, in periodicals, anthologies, gift boxes, and other formats that you decide to produce. It can be translated into other languages. It can be adapted to other media, such as plays, films, or TV shows. It might become the basis for gaming titles across a variety of game genres. Comic books offer yet another take on your story. Merchandise is another possibility, through licensing or other avenues.
Think about a popular intellectual property, e.g., Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Ask yourself a question about those stories. Would they exist in the way they do if either George had published the story as an exclusive e-book on Amazon? (And yes, I realize that wasn't an option back then.)
What if your book is the ‘next [fill in the blank of your favorite title]'? Even if you don't think that your story has the potential to be the next whatever, there are still so many formats and opportunities available.
And yes, going exclusively with Kindle Select doesn't have to be forever. Except writers do sign exclusive deals all the time with major publishers that have far-ranging implications on how that writer makes money. Get an intellectual property attorney (not an agent) to look at any contract. Amazon is relatively benign in comparison to many publishing contracts. At least with Kindle Select, you can opt out in 90 days—with a publisher contract you might be lucky if you can opt out in 35 YEARS.
Lots of Eggs in Lots of Baskets
That's my strategy (though it isn't true at the moment). As I relaunch my titles and release new titles, I plan to go wide and hit as many formats as possible. I plan to have lots of titles available wherever readers can find them. Lots of eggs in lots of baskets. Some of the eggs might get broken. A basket might develop a hole in the bottom, but I'll have other income streams in place. I may even have a Kindle Select basket with targeted titles that are likely to be of interest to Kindle Unlimited readers. I want to experiment.
What About You?
Do you want Amazon, a publisher, or another vendor to have all your eggs? Share in the comments!
I am relaunching my writing career this year, planning to move the dial from very few sales to the bestseller ranks. With twenty-four titles including new and previously published titles, I have a lot of work to do. It's easy to get frustrated that I'm not moving faster.
Take Tortoise Steps
I am embracing the tortoise approach to self-publishing. I'm picking my steps to make incremental progress. One thing at a time. Otherwise, it quickly gets too overwhelming.
I have a bunch of previously published novels that I want to reissue. I published some under my name, others under pen names, but I plan to bring them back out under my name. I want to change my print-on-demand (POD) approach to move Amazon paperbacks over to the Kindle Direct Platform (KDP) from CreateSpace, move expanded distribution to IngramSpark, add hardcover editions via IngramSpark, and add large print editions on IngramSpark as well. That means I'll have four versions of each book across different formats and platforms.
Then there are e-book editions of each novel. I plan to go direct with KDP, Kobo, and run the rest through Draft2Digital.
The new editions of the books will have new covers (and different print formats require changes there too). Designing and illustrating my own work may not be the best approach from a strictly commercial view. I'm doing it because I love doing illustration work. The artwork hasn't been what I want—yet. I'm getting better and continue to learn.
I also plan to check the interiors to catch mistakes that might have been missed in previous editions.
Then beyond all of that are other things I want to do with the books, such as audiobook versions, other language editions, merchandising, and other projects around my work.
That doesn't even begin to tackle marketing, email lists, and promotion.
That's too much! Rather than tackle all of that right now, I plan to take one step at a time. I can create new cover art and update the e-book. I can put the books back up that I took down from Kobo and Draft2Digital to try out Kindle Select. I can create KDP paperbacks even if I don't have the hardcover editions done yet. It doesn't all have to happen right now. The key is just taking those steps, one after another.
Forget the Rabbits!
I hear about writers putting out a book each month and other high-productivity efforts. That's great! I'm glad it works for them. I'd like to increase my production rate, but right now I plan to continue at a pace I can manage. That's okay too. As I relaunch my writing career I try to do something each day that will help me move it forward. Today I wrote ~1,500 words between the blog post, finishing one short story, and starting another story. I listened to podcasts to help me improve. I practiced drawing by creating the pattern for this entry's featured image.
Sounds like a pretty good day to me!
What Steps Are You Taking?
I'd love to hear what steps you're taking to move your creative practice forward! Share your thoughts in the comments.
Writing doesn't take much time. If you figure on a 1,000 words per hour pace, you can plan how much time you need to write a novel. If it's an 80,000-word novel—80 hours. At a 17 Words Per Minute (WPM) typing speed. You could cut the time in half simply by typing at a 34 WPM rate. The bigger question isn't how fast you can type. Without deliberate practice and focus on your typing speed it probably won't change much. The real question is when can you fit in the 80 hours, 40 hours, or 120 hours it will take to write your novel? That comes down to goal setting.
The Double-Edged Goal
Goals cut both ways. They can help you slash through distraction—and they can gut you when you fail to meet your targets. It gets even worse when you consider that most of us go through our days juggling dozens of different goals. If you're like me and have a career outside of writing, you'll have goals for that career. It may take up most of your time and energy. You may have goals around your family. Your health. And goals related to your creative practice. Often we don't think about all of these as goals. We might consider some to simply be tasks that need to be completed. A task might be mowing the lawn because it is the first sunny day we've had in weeks. You could even say that your goal is to have a lawn that looks good and the task of mowing is just one of the things that you do to reach that goal.
That's fine. Taking care of the lawn is one of those never-ending goals, same as taking care of your own health, and it is evaluated at any moment when you ask yourself if you are meeting the goal.
People also like to talk about projects as larger efforts that might contain many goals with related tasks. You might consider writing a novel a project. Whatever term you choose to use—your life is full of things to do.
External vs. Internal Goals
Your boss giving you an assignment is their way of accomplishing a goal (or several goals). In turn, you create goals based on that assignment, e.g. don't get fired for not getting the work done. Often we have less resistance when given external goals that are tied to “work.” We get up and go to work each day. We work to reach our goals as well as organizational goals.
Often it isn't the same with our creative practice. For one thing, it runs into other goals, ours and other's goals for us. I might want to spend the day writing and working on illustrations but I also need to do our taxes. I have other chores to do. My family also has goals for me. My son wants to play or code together. Our families understand that our jobs will take a great deal of our time. Naturally, they want to spend time with us when we're home. That's great! I definitely want to spend time with my family too, and I'm endlessly grateful that I have a family. I'm also fortunate in that they are also creative and artistic people. They have their own creative practices too.
Setting Our Goals For Our Creative Practice
With that in mind, I need to set realistic (and challenging) goals. I can't compare my productivity to someone else. What they're doing doesn't matter. I need to figure out what works for me. I might want to write a new novel every two weeks, spending 40 hours per week. That's not going to work with everything else in my life. Instead, I need to work back from what it will take to write a novel. If I need 80 hours to write the book, how much time can I spend on it each day?
Let's say that I figure I can manage a half-hour on my lunch breaks to work on the novel. That's about 500 words or 2,500 words during my work week. If I don't do any extra on the weekend it'll take 32 weeks to write the book. If I don't take days off I can finish it in 23 weeks. Figure that I'm bound to miss some days and call it 6 months to be safe. That gives me confidence that I can meet that goal.
Write a novel in 6 months by writing 500 words per day, 7 days per week.
That also lets me use streak-tracking to help with my motivation on the book. I'll need to change parameters if I want to complete the book faster. Write more than 500 words (either by spending more time or increasing my speed). I need to keep my other goals in mind, things like blog posts, short stories, publishing, marketing, and illustration. Plus everything else in my life. I don't write in a void.
What About You?
What tips do you have for setting goals? How do you balance your career and creative practice? Share in the comments.
Librarians love resources. We collect them, catalog them, add them to lists, and enthusiastically share them. I'm no exception and this week I want to share The Creative Penn Podcast by Joanna Penn.
Podcast episodes are posted every Monday and include interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship.
Why I Dig This Podcast
The Creative Penn is smart, funny, and brings in many other voices for interviews. Joanna Penn's timeline to indie fame covers the past decade of her progress. She shares lessons learned in her podcast. I appreciate her transparency and willingness to share information with the audience. Although she is the author of many successful books, the podcast doesn't feel like a sales pitch for her books. She is (to use one of my son's favorite new words)—genuine. Simply scrolling through the list of episodes, I want to go back and catch up on ones I've missed.
I started thinking about indie publishing around the same time as Joanna Penn. I remember seeing her name in various places, but she wasn't someone that I followed. Big mistake. Back in 2009, I started to get serious about my writing career but I wasn't sure about the indie route. I started trying a few things and began publishing much more material in 2010.
I made every mistake possible on the indie publishing side. I like being a librarian (and my son was still a baby at the time), so giving up my day job wasn't going to happen. It'd be easy to look at Joanna's timeline and feel envious. I don't. I find it incredibly inspiring and helpful. I started this blog to share my journey because it hasn't gone the way I wanted and I'm in the process of restarting my writing career while continuing to work a day job. Many of the writers I talk to are in that same place, balancing writing with a career and family.
The Creative Penn podcast offers so much for writers, whatever your goals. I highly recommend it.
Fear is a serial killer. Creativity, productivity, confidence—fear kills them all. And writers often fear many things. Rejection tops many lists in its various guises. We might rework a story or novel because on a deep level we feel it is not good enough. We develop rituals to handle the fear even if we fail to recognize that the real problem is that we are afraid.
Realizing that your novel (or story) doesn't matter will set you free to create without limits!
5. Your Novel Is One In a Million (Literally)
Each year human beings publish more books than we can count. Year after year. It has been going on for a very long time. The average American reads 12 books in a year. No matter how many books you write it will never be more than a drop in a very big bucket. That's great! One more reason not to stress about your book. Move on to the next.
4. You Novel Is A Game With No Takebacks
You can't take back a Superbowl. Your team played the best they could in that particular game. They don't get to go back and say, “Wait! We want to redo that play. If we—.” Nope. Game over. They can use what they learned playing that game to try and do better in the next game, but that game is done. The same thing is true with your novel. It's done. Move on and write the next book. Keep repeating that and learning.
3. Your Novel Is Only As Good As What It Taught You
Whether your novel makes you a million dollars or ten dollars (or puts you in the hole)—it doesn't matter. Really. Yes, it matters whether or not you can pay the bills. Which is better?
- Writing and rewriting a book over and over because you feel your financial future hangs on it?
- Writing several books in the same time period and learning from each?
If you have several books out your chances of paying the bills increases. There's no guarantee but you can't be sure obsessing over making one book perfect is going to result in increased earnings either. Judge the success of your book by what it teaches you, not by how much money it earns (and you need to take the long view on that too).
2. Your Novel Is Not Your Story
Your novel doesn't matter because it is only a communication tool. It isn't the story. Think about it. Your writing is a process of encoding marks on the page to tell a story. Do a good job and the reader gets the story you wanted to tell. They experience what you tell them to experience. If you screw it up it's like picking up a call with a bad connection. The reader can't hear you, hangs up, and goes on with their day. So the call didn't go through, so what? Try to make the call again. Or call someone else. If you write a manuscript that doesn't work—pitch it! It doesn't matter. Write it again.
1. You Novel Doesn't Determine Your Future
You wrote a book. Great. Good on you. Now write another. And another. Have fun with it! I often hear people say that you need to treat writing as a job. Okay, I get that, but it doesn't sound fun. Think back to games you played as a kid, at the stories that you made up while you played. Play when you write your novel. Sure, you'll learn from it. Kids learn as they play. Play and learning are inextricably linked. Go play! Have fun. Don't take it so seriously. Then do it again!
Who doesn't want to fall in love? Hopefully, you've had the experience of seeing that one perfect book cover that captures your gaze, pulling you into an intense and engaging experience. It entices you to pick it up. You run your fingers across the cover. Maybe you turn to read the sales copy or maybe you don't because the cover has captured you so completely.
Although today you might just look and then swipe right.
Online (Book) Dating for Sci-Fi Writers
In truth, most book sales, whether print or e-books, take place online. We're not picking up the book with the cover that catches our eyes. We're looking at the book's online profile. We read the sales copy. If other people have picked up this book, we might read what they say. If we like what we see, we buy the book. Often that means in e-book formats, though it can be print.
If we enjoy the book we might go back to that author for a second date. A third. Maybe, if it's a great match we'll give every book by that author a chance. It all starts with that first look that catches the eye.
As writers, we know the importance of making a good first impression with our book covers. I'm working on improving my covers right now, as a part of the reboot project.
Studying the Bestselling Covers Using Amazon Lists
I tend to picture book covers from decades ago when I think about science fiction book covers. The covers that I grew up seeing in bookstores in mass market paperback formats. I also love old pulp covers.
Design has changed since then. Covers need to work as thumbnail images. Most book sales take place online.
Looking at Amazon's categories, they've selected a number of titles to represent each category. Although some of the titles appear to fit the categories, others seem odd to me. I wouldn't call Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels cyberpunk, for instance. Ready Player One might be a better fit. Artemis works for Hard Science Fiction.
The sidebar lists a much longer list of categories. You can also just scroll down to the list. Ready Player One sits at the top with over 15,000 reviews (at this point).
Looking For a Match
These show a variety of styles. Most without a complicated scene, except for Genome. My Moreau Society series centers around detective Brock Marsden. He incorporates alien DNA into his own using Galactic technology. This gives him unique abilities. It takes place on a world with many different species of aliens, as well as standard humans. Other categories might be Colonization or Adventure.
In the Colonization category we find these sorts of covers:
The covers differ in some ways from the previous category. Persepolis Rising is the only one with a complicated cover painting more in the style of older science fiction. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has that ‘classic' look to it. Most use simple shapes that translate easily to thumbnails.
Turning to the Adventure category we find:
Familiar names on this list! Bradbury's cover hits the same red, black and white theme. Brown's covers are easily recognizable as part of the same series. Ready Player One sports the movie-branded cover. Philip K. Dick's cover resembles the Brave New World cover.
Let's compare these to titles from the Mystery category:
Author names are much larger on these books than the science fiction titles, although you see a bit of that with Atwood and Corey. Other colors show up in these covers. I could see incorporating some of the mystery elements into a design that is more clearly science fiction.
What Are Your Favorites?
Let me know in the comments which cover designs and elements you like. What should I focus on for my new covers? I need to come up with new covers for all of my reboot titles. Right now I'm focusing on science fiction. I'll do some more posts as I get further along in the process.
Where do you get your ideas for stories? Do they come in the mail along with other assorted junk destined for landfills? Or maybe the muse's breath tickles the fine hairs on your neck with whispered inspiration? I've heard that some ideas are inhaled on the misty vapors of a hot shower. A man I knew in New York swore that he got his best ideas while eating big, crisp, dill pickles as long as his hand.
Don't Go Hunting for Ideas—Target Characters Instead
Ideas don't matter. An idea isn't a story. Here's an idea:
An asteroid hits the Earth.
It's happened before and it will happen again. Arthur C. Clarke used it in the opening of his classic book Rendezvous With Rama. Other writers have created numerous other tales about impact events in books and movies. It's an old, well-used idea. Does that mean you can't use it? Of course not!
Just decide who you want to write about because it's their story that matters.
Compare Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Armageddon. Very different takes on the idea because the characters are different! The story emerges from the character.
Pick on Your Characters—It's Your Job
Characters exist somewhere, in a place. And they exist in some sort of situation. They have a life that exists before the first page of your story. That situation or problem may not (probably isn't) the main problem of the story. It could be related. Unfortunately for your character, things are about to get much worse. Almost as if there is someone deliberately making things hard for them. Oh, wait, there is! We don't read stories about characters where everything goes terrifically well all the time for the character. Things get worse for the character. They try to solve one problem and fail. That ‘try-fail' cycle repeats. Each time they do their best but things keep getting worse until they either succeed or fail for the last time.
Damon Knight describes the Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, and Emotion in his book Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction.
I like this visualization of the concept. It neatly captures the character, situation, setting and adds an important factor—emotion into the mix. He explores each of these factors (and much more) in his book. It's well worth reading!
Where do you get your ideas?
What do you turn to for ideas? Do you agree that ideas don't matter? Let me know in the comments!
“The air in the shop smelled of talcum, resin, and tissue, with a faint, almost indefinable undertone of pine and acid-free paper.” (“There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold” by Seanan McGuire)
Sensory details draw readers into your story or novel. Evoking one's sense of smell is one of the most potent ways to do this. Scents tie us to our memories and create a powerful sense of place. An opening of a story should draw the reader in and anchor them in the story. Scents can also substitute for taste, think of the smell of sugar when someone opens a box of fresh donuts. Or the way overripe apples smell almost like cider late in the season as they drop from the trees to rot among the grass.
“Humans called it the Medusa. Its long twisted ribbons of gas strayed across fifty parsecs, glowing blue, yellow, and carmine. Its central core was a ghoulish green flecked with watery black.” (“Hardfought” by Greg Bear)
As surprising as it might be, sometimes we forget to include sight in our story. Our characters appear, converse, and interact without any word of where they are located. Sensory details emerge through the character. All of the senses, including sight, are interpreted by the character. Your characters will notice different things about the setting and have different opinions about it. In the “Hardfought” opening, Bear shows the characters opinion even before naming the character by describing the nebula as “ghoulish green” and “watery black.” In the next paragraph, introducing the character Prufrax describes the nebula further as “malevolent” and goes on revealing character details. This not only draws the reader into the story, it also reveals character details.
“Rinna Sen paced backstage, tucking her mittened hands deep into the pockets of her parka. The sound of instruments squawking to life cut through the curtains screening the front of the theater: the sharp cry of a piccolo, the heavy thump of tympani, the whisper and saw of forty violins warming up.” (“Ice in D Minor” by Anthea Sharp)
Sounds convey so much of the character's experience to the reader and provide another powerful way to anchor the reader in the story. In Anthea Sharp's story, the contrast in the first line with the second is interesting and tells us something is different about this scene. The sounds of the orchestra immediately provide a sense of place and tell us the character's view of the instruments. It also reveals that the character knows each of the instruments.
Often sound is coupled with other senses. Or the absence of sound can reveal details about the setting and the character. As with the other senses, it all flows from the character. To one character the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the office ceiling, the flickering of a dying bulb, might drive them batty. The other person in the office doesn't notice the buzzing of the lights but does notice how the person sharing the office is always snacking on M&Ms, making smacking noises that drive them crazy.
“When he was very young, he waved his arms, gnashed the teeth of his massive jaws, and tromped around the house so that the dishes trembled in the china cabinet.” (“Dinosaur” by Bruce Holland Rogers)
Touch adds an additional sense of being physically present in the setting. It gives the character solidity. The character lives in the environment—they aren't a disembodied bundle of cameras, microphones, and other sensors. Touch links us to the character and setting. It's also overlooked. It might seem unlikely, how do you miss a sense of touch? Suppose that you write, ‘John picked out an apple from the basket'. There are no specific details in that description. It isn't filtered through the character's sense of touch, or opinions. ‘John plucked an apple from the basket, the skin giving beneath the gentle pressure of his fingers to reveal the worm-blasted rot inside.' Or, ‘John selected an apple from the basket and relished the crisp firmness ripe with juicy potential.' Two different experiences, sensations, and opinions of the apple.
“Cat waited for a moment as she stepped into the bakery, the bell dangling from the door announcing her arrival. Trays of baked goods surrounded her. Silver trays with goodies packed to the edge—baklava, chocolate sponge cake layers held by ganache and lemon cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, the lemon filling betrayed by the dollop of neon-yellow filling on the center right on top.” (“True Calling” by Irette Y. Patterson)
Patterson's opening evokes several senses. It also evokes a sense of taste simply from the description of the baked goods. The character pays attention to the pastries. She knows what they are and there's a sense of relish as she takes it in. Although the scents aren't explicitly mentioned, the description evokes the scents of sugar and lemon. Some words have a strong association with scents and taste. The two often go together. In this case, it's enough to make the mouth water. As the opening continues, the sense of taste is further utilized to ground the reader and develop the character.
Taste is one of the senses—like a sense smell—that has strong associations with memory. We associate tastes with events and times in our life. A character's sense of taste can also link them back to memories and gives the character a feeling of reality outside of the page. They came from somewhere. They didn't just start on the page.
Evoking All Five Senses Every 500 Words
Author Dean Wesley Smith recommends hitting all five senses quickly in each opening, whether the start of a story or a scene opening and again every 500 words. It grounds the reader and keeps them in the story. This is an area of craft that I plan to practice as I write my weekly stories. I also plan to go back to familiar stories and look at how the author used the senses in their stories.
Who Does This Very Well?
What writer, story, or book engaged your senses? Share your thoughts in the comments below.