Beating Writer’s Block—by Not Writing

Exhibit A: Earrings

I’ve been having some issues with writer’s block lately, so I decided to write about writer’s block. Then I got writer’s block regarding my post about writer’s block. (Insert Inception joke here.) Just to put some icing on the cake, I’m also teaching a class about how to deal with writer’s block at Savvy Authors in May.

What have I done to myself?

I think I’ve given myself writer’s block.

Anyway… Over the last few days, I’ve managed to get pen to paper again and found some words coming out. Not a huge number, although I did squeak out about 800 today, which is a vast improvement over none. And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because of the Sculpey.

What does Sculpey have to do with writing, you ask? Well, I have no idea. It’s just a theory. But recently, getting frustrated over my lack of wordflow, I got a sudden urge to buy either a cake decorating set or a stack of Sculpey bricks. The Sculpey was cheaper and has considerably fewer calories, so, armed with a coupon, I marched into Michael’s and bought a box of assorted colors and a book featuring Very Impressive Sculpey Art I Will Never Be Able to Do.

And I made some earrings.

Two days later, I started writing again.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m going forward on the theory that there’s a cause/effect relationship here. I was feeling blocked, so I looked for another creative outlet. I found one, expressed it, and in the midst of finding some form of creative zen, the words started flowing again.

It’s made me wonder if this kind of thing has happened in the past, and I just haven’t put two and two together. I frequently get obsessed with creative things. I’ll go into a craft store and buy a bunch of colored pencils, or watercolors, or a stack of pastels. One time I went on a rubber-band-bracelet kick. It’s as if sometimes my brain needs a swift kick in the creative rear—or a break from the particular creative demands of writing.

Let’s face it—writing a novel is a long-term proposition. It takes tens of thousands of words all strung together in an order that (hopefully) makes sense. You have to stay focused for weeks and months and even years sometimes. There are a gajillion small details. So maybe our muses get intimidated, and approaching another art form helps soothe them. Think about it. I made a pair of earrings a couple nights ago. It took me less than an hour. I have a final product I can do something with. It was physically soothing and achieved a nice result. That’s a lot different from putting one word after another for weeks and weeks before I can slap “The End” on a book.

Many other forms of creativity are also more physical. Putting paint on a canvas. Smooshing pastels into a piece of paper. Kneading bits of clay. Knitting a sock. They’re meditative, too, and in many cases while you’re creating a smaller, more physical project, the writing part of your brain can wander around and play with ideas while you’re not really paying attention.

I think it just might have been the key (although I hope it doesn’t stop working now that I’ve made that connection). So next time you’re feeling like the writing isn’t quite clicking, maybe give it a try. Buy a bar of Sculpey, or just bake up some Play-Doh. Draw some birds or paint a picture. See if it shakes the words loose. It’s worth a try, and even if doesn’t take care of the writer’s block, you’ll still have something to show for it.

Crafting Dialogue–or Avoiding it Altogether

Photo by Brian Lary from freeimages.com

My TV-watching habits, well documented in my earlier stint as an RMFW blog contributor, have started me thinking a lot about dialogue recently. Going to the movies last night kicked those thinky thoughts into high gear, so today I’m going to translate those thinky thoughts into writey thoughts.

Many new writers think that dialogue should mirror the way people talk in real life. Well, in a way it should, but in most ways it shouldn’t, because when people talk in real life they’re quite often repetitive, stutter, and boring. Not that what people say isn’t important, but when you’re writing a book you don’t really want lines and lines of dialogue discussing how much toilet paper you really need, where it’s cheapest, and whether the generic brands are suitable for every day use. In real life, this is an Important Conversation. In a book, not so much.

I think the ways in which dialogue should mirror real life are mostly about speakability and appropriateness to the situation. I get thrown out of a story bigtime when someone says a line of dialogue that I can’t imagine someone actually saying. Usually this is because the dialogue is too precise, too grammatically correct, or artificial sounding. If I try to say it out loud, it just sounds off. Reading dialogue aloud helps with this. If it doesn’t come trippingly off the tongue, it might need some revision. (I’m reminded of Harrison Ford’s comment about dialogue in the original Star Wars: “You can write this shit, George, but you can’t say it.”)

So, this is a good theory. My TV-watching habits have given me some examples that both break these rules and follow them, but still manage to be great examples of good dialogue.

Aaron Sorkin is often touted as a great TV writer because his style is immediately recognizable. I’ve often argued (mostly to myself) that this doesn’t make him that great a TV writer, because it’s my feeling that stylistic quirks shouldn’t pop up in TV dialogue (and probably not in written dialogue, either) unless those stylistic quirks are particular to the character. Stylistic quirks in dialogue that reflect the author tend to bother me, because it makes the reader immediately aware of the author behind the curtain.

I used to watch Sports Night back in the day when it was on. That was a great show. I wish it hadn’t gotten cancelled so soon. But especially toward the end of its run, every character sounded like Aaron Sorkin to me. Later, I started watching Studio 60, and I lasted about two episodes because the Aaron Sorkin-ness of the dialogue permeated every character and every line. That just didn’t work for me. (I haven’t watched West Wing, but based on clips I get the impression the balance might have been much better on that show.) Basically, my thought is that if every character sounds like you, the writer, then you, the writer, aren’t doing a great job of inhabiting and individualizing your characters. (I could be wrong. After all, Aaron Sorkin isn't exactly unsuccessful.)

My next example is Hannibal. If you really focus on the dialogue—the structure and word choice, length of sentences, etc.—you quickly realize that nobody ever talks like that. It’s a very stylistic approach to dialogue, but the characters don’t all speak in the same cadences. Nobody on that show talks like somebody would in real life, but they don’t all talk like Bryan Fuller, either. But the dialogue is so stylized that a lesser cast of actors would have a very hard time pulling it off. This isn’t a criticism. It’s just an observation. In fact, the writing here is so well structured and so well acted that I didn’t even tune in to the overly stylized dialogue until partway into the second season. If you can pull off that kind of charged, carefully weighted dialogue in a piece that is, at its core, genre fiction, then you’ve done something pretty damn impressive. Hats off to you, Mr. Fuller. (And Mads and Hugh and Gillian and everybody else in the cast...)

The next two examples—and they’ll be short—are examples of lack of dialogue. This is something else that’s hard to pull off in a story or a book without relying on POV to carry your narrative, but I think it’d be a great exercise to try just to see what you can tease out of yourself.

Wall-E is a fabulous example here. About the first third of the movie has no dialogue whatsoever, but during that time the film manages to do a lot of heavy lifting, including some major worldbuilding and introduction of two characters with very distinct personalities. We’re able to immediately tune in to the vibe of the world, the story, and the two main characters without either of them saying an intelligible word. Would this be hard to pull off in a book? Sure, but if you try it, I bet you’ll learn a ton about how you structure your stories and whether or not you’re using dialogue as a worldbuilding/characterization crutch.

The second example is Logan, which I saw last night, and which is still burning up my brain because holy crap what a freaking good movie go see it immediately. Without dishing any spoilers, there’s a character in that movie who doesn’t speak a word until about the last third of the film, and yet we’re able to tune in immediately and know exactly what’s up with them from the moment they appear on screen. Everything is projected through body language and interaction with the other characters. Again, hard to pull off in a book? Maybe. But try it. Body language is a difficult thing to convey in narrative, and if you try to present a character using only that tool out of your toolbox, I bet you’ll learn a lot and end up with even more weapons in your arsenal.

I’m going to end this with a quick moment of Blatant Self-Promotion… My latest book, Call Me Zhenya (which has a lot of dialogue because I like dialogue) is on sale for .99 right now at Amazon, so this would be a great time to grab it! I promise you’ll get at least a dollar’s worth of entertainment out of it.

(Thank you for your patience with this quick moment of Blatant Self-Promotion.)

The Wonders of Vellum—Ebook Formatting Made Easy

One of the challenges of self-publishing is formatting your final files so they create an easy-to-read, nicely formatted final product. While you can always just upload your Word files and have the target site (Amazon or B&N or Smashwords) convert it for you, this approach doesn’t always provide the best results. There are plenty of tutorials online that tell you how to convert your file and reformat it so it’ll make its way gracefully through these online converters, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a file that’s put together nicely to begin with?

Enter Vellum. Vellum is easy to use and spits out final files that are not only pretty, but get this—they pass the vetters at Smashwords on the first try. If, like me, you’ve had issues getting your files past Smashwords, then you know this is a big plus. I still have books sitting at Smashwords that I haven’t figured out how to get through the vetter. Now I know. I’ll reformat them with Vellum.

Before I continue to rave about it, I’ll mention the two drawbacks to the program. First, it’s a little pricey. You can either pay $30 per individual book or $200 for an unlimited license. I went ahead and opted for the unlimited license, because I knew I was going to want to use it for a good number of books. The other drawback is that it’s only available for Mac. On the positive side, you can try it out for free to see if the workflow works for you. You’ll have to pay to move on to the export stage, but by the time you’ve gotten to that point, you should have a pretty good idea whether or not you want to spend the money.

If you’ve got a Mac, though, you’re all set. I found Vellum so easy to use that I didn’t even need a user guide for most of what I needed to do. Basically, you just open a new file and start copying and pasting, one chapter at a time. A “Styles” tab lets you change certain formatting styles with one click. Adding elements allows you to drop in a partially preformatted copyright page, About the Author page, and other bits and pieces. The only thing I had a bit of trouble with was adding links to the page that lists other works. I also wish there were a way to save a default element so it’s already filled in when you bring it into the document. If there is, though, I haven’t found it yet.

When you’re done adding all your chapters and other elements, you export your files. This is also super easy—just a click and save operation. When the processing is done, you’ll find your files saved in separate folders for each format, all ready for uploading.

I’ve put up reformatting my older e-books because I knew it would be time consuming and tedious. But with Vellum, I’m ready to tackle the project. If you have large numbers of books to convert, like a substantial backlist, or if you’re planning to release regularly, I think Vellum is a solid investment for clean, professional, problem-free formatting. Rating: 10/10, would buy again.

Kindle Scout to Kindle Press—A Final Wrap-Up

When last I posted here, my book had been accepted for publication through Kindle Scout, but wasn’t yet available to be purchased. Since then, it’s gone up for pre-order, and then for general purchase. Rankings have been lingering in the five figures, between about 65,000 as the low and 12,000 as the high. I had expected a faster drop-off, but I haven’t seen it yet—the numbers have stayed pretty steadily in that range (of course, I go to check right now and find it at 77K BECAUSE OF COURSE IT IS!). I don’t know what kind of sales that means, exactly, and I won’t know until I get my first sales report, which will be either the end of this month or the end of next.

The process of publication was dead simple. I got some edits back, which were less than painless, then got an email telling me when the book would be available. I was asked if I’d be willing to change the cover, which I did. (You can see the new version right here!) This had to do with the inclusion of a weapon on the original cover. I just found a shot of the same model without the gun (actually, she does have a gun in this picture, but it’s by her side, so it was easy to remove it from the visible portion), plopped it into the original cover, cleaned up a few things, and went on my way. I like the new layout at least as much as the original.

After the book had been out for a bit, I received an email with screencaps of some of the promotions Kindle is doing for the book, which right now consists of inclusion in their “New Releases” newsletter and in advertising sent to Kindle users. Three months after initial release, which was 12-24, I’ll be eligible for a regular promotion. These include pricing promotions, and according to the email, the book has also been nominated for various placement promotions. I’m not sure what this entails, but hopefully it’ll sell me some books. I’m also doing some ad placements myself, as well as hitting social media, etc. I’ve decided to do this on a “drip” strategy rather than a big “splash” strategy, so I’m not flooding all my social media channels all the time. In addition, I wrote two short prequel stories and am offering them for free to new newsletter subscribers.

I’ve found the process so far to be satisfactory. If you’re the kind of person who likes to ask a lot of questions and get answers right away, you might find the Kindle Press approach frustrating. I get the impression they’re a bit overworked and understaffed, but that’s probably true of any publisher these days. They’ve provided all the information I really needed in a timely fashion, and I’m happy to plug along with other things while I’m waiting for people to get back to me, so it hasn’t bothered me particularly. In the mean time, I’m working on those promo plans and, yes, busily scribbling away on a sequel.

Also, the book’s gotten some absolutely fabulous reviews! Reviews came up during the pre-release phase, so that was helpful. People who voted for the book were able to submit reviews and have that star rating all ready for the general release. So that was a good thing, and I like to think it’s helped get sales jumpstarted. Hopefully reality won’t hurt me too hard when my actual sales numbers come in.

I hope sharing my experience with Kindle Scout has been helpful. I’m excited about all the different ways we can get our stories out in front of readers, and this one seemed like it would be fun and potentially snag a larger audience than I’ve been able to find all on my own. If you have any questions about anything I’ve discussed in this series of posts, please ask! And best of luck to all of you working to get their stories out into the world.

 

Promotion Options—Thunderclap and Head Talker

Elegant anique fountaine-pen on an old paper
Yes, this is what I write with. I am OLD SKOOL.

During my Kindle Scout campaign, I decided to try some new promotional options that I’ve seen some other folks use with some success. One of these was Thunderclap. In the process, I discovered Head Talker, a similar promotional outlet. This month, I’m going to talk about these promotional outlets and the impressions I got from trying to generate sales this way.

What is Thunderclap?

Thunderclap is a way to leverage social media to get the word out about a new book, a special giveaway, a website, or something similar. You set up your campaign and then recruit people to participate. The campaign itself consists of a graphic, a link, and a short blurb appropriate to social media (generally under 140 characters, with hashtags, to accommodate Twitter). You choose a deadline for your campaign, which is the day the message will be broadcast. The goal is to get 100 people signed on to your campaign. Each person who signs up agrees to post your message to one or more of their social media accounts on the day and time you’ve chosen. If you gather enough participants, the message will go out from all these accounts at the same time, creating a “thunderclap” of promotion. At a minimum, you’ll get 100 repetitions of your message on 100 different social media accounts. If one or more of your participants agrees to have the message go out on multiple accounts (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), you’ll have even more exposure on their social networks.

The advantages to this approach are several.

  1. It’s free.
  2. You can leverage other people’s social media accounts rather than blasting your own followers repeatedly.
  3. Theoretically, you’ll get your message in front of a variety of people who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.

However, the disadvantages are also several.

  1. It’s time-consuming—you have to find people willing to repost your message.
  2. You can end up blasting your own lists trying to get enough participants to trigger the campaign (with Thunderclap, you need to have 100 people or the campaign won’t go live).
  3. You can end up in an echo chamber. You can sign on to lists where people support your Thunderclap in exchange for you supporting theirs, and you can build your numbers this way, but then you’re basically advertising on all the same channels as everyone else.
  4. Even if your campaign doesn’t go live, you’ll still end up sending messages for everyone who participated in your campaign who DID go live. So if you have 100 people on your campaign, this could be 100 social media messages blasting out at various times on your social media channels. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, with a few caveats, which I’ll discuss below.

How is Head Talker Different?

Head Talker works the same way, except you can have a campaign go live with as few as 25 participants, rather than the 100 minimum demanded of Thunderclap. Head Talker gives you the option of 25, 50, or 100 participants to activate your campaign. Again, it’s free, and it works almost exactly the same way as Thunderclap, right down to the signup pages being very similar.

Conclusions and What I Would Do Differently Next Time

My personal experience with Thunderclap wasn’t the greatest. I didn’t get the results I wanted because I wasn’t able to make it to the 100-person minimum to activate my campaign. I had hoped that just signing up and getting eyes on my campaign might generate some page views at Kindle Scout, but the way Thunderclap is set up made that difficult. This has to do with the lack of a live link on the Thunderclap campaign page as well as the “echo chamber” effect of my recruitment efforts. So as far as I could tell, there was no real payoff for me of having a campaign that didn’t actually go live.

The other thing I didn’t care for was that, since I managed to get 75 people on my campaign, I then ended up with 75 (or so—I didn’t keep track) Twitter posts hitting my feed, sometimes to the tune of several per day. This cluttered up my Twitter feed. Worse, some of the posts were worded in such a way that it sounded like I was promoting my own work, which I was uncomfortable with.

What would I do differently? Lots of things.

  1. I would probably try Head Talker with a 25-person minimum instead of shooting for 100 people for a Thunderclap.
  2. I would check each campaign I agreed to support to see how the post was worded so that it would be clear what was being advertised when it hit my Twitter feed (you have the option of rewriting the message when you sign up to support someone else’s campaign)
  3. I’d be sure my campaign was worded in such a way as to not cause this problem with any of my supporters
  4. I would give myself more time to seed my campaign. I only gave myself two weeks, which was because I only had a month to gather page views for Kindle Scout. I knew this would be a liability, but I didn’t have much choice for this particular campaign. Next time I’d like to have a month lead time.
  5. With more lead time, I could hopefully find supporters in places other than the Thunderclap-specific Facebook groups I used for this campaign. Theoretically, that would get me out of that echo chamber.

Will I try this again? Probably, but with the changes I mentioned above. I’m still not sure it’s the most efficient form of promotion, but it’s free, and if you parse out your time efficiently, it’s not too much of a time-suck.

Has anyone else used Thunderclap or Head Talker? If you have experiences to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

 

Kindle Scout—What Happens When You Win?

Coming soon from Kindle Scout!
Coming soon from Kindle Scout!

If you haven’t heard the news by now, my Kindle Scout campaign was a success! My book, Call Me Zhenya, was chosen for publication by Kindle Press. I received just under 700 page views, with a surge at the very end in both views and in time spent in "Hot and Trending." The page views necessary to get into Hot and Trending dropped significantly at the end--I'm not sure why, or if that's built into their process to get last-minute votes, or how that works. As with most Amazon algorithms, there's no real way to look under the hood. But I kept up the promotion to the very end, as anybody who follows me on social media can attest, probably with an eye-roll at my multitudes of posts. I got the notification only a couple of days after the campaign ended. Everything has happened a bit faster than their materials indicate--in a day or two rather than a week or two, for example--which is cool.

So what happens next?

Basically, what happens next is that the contract as printed on the website goes into immediate effect. I was asked to look over my full manuscript and my cover art, make any changes I wanted to make, then reupload them. The next step is to fill out financial information so they can pay me my advance. (This isn’t going as smoothly—it looks like I might have broken their site. Typical of me and my weird electromagnetic field.)

The letter I received indicated that, if they feel it necessary, I’ll receive a letter with recommended edits. After that is all settled, they’ll give me a date when the book will go up for preorder. Also, I’ll presumably receive notifications when the book goes up for special promotions. So far, I’ve heard about people getting .99 deals for a period of time, special Kindle Fire deals, and other promotions directly through Amazon. Based on what I’ve seen from other Scout winners who’ve talked with me, promotions aren’t guaranteed, and of course the success of any individual promotion isn’t guaranteed, either. But a number of people seem to be pretty happy with the results they’ve gotten.

As far as the overall experience so far—for those who like personalized communications from their publishers, this won’t fulfill those needs. Most of the communication has been via form letters, though I do have an individual I’m talking to about the problems with Amazon Payee Central. You can also request a phone call if you have any questions, which I haven’t done as of yet.

Overall, it continues to be an interesting process. I’m learning a lot of things, and have discovered a whole community of Scout winners who offer help and guidance to newbies on the block. There’s a great group of people there that I wasn’t even aware of until the announcement went out about my book, so it’s cool to know there are even more resources to delve into.

As the time comes closer to publication date, emails will be going out with information on preorders, and those who voted for the book will receive their free copies. Hopefully, I’ll get some good reviews from the Scouters, and things will be off and running.

Thanks to everyone for their support, and if you have any other specific questions about Kindle Scout, the process, or anything else, feel free to ask, either here or via email.

Next month, I’m going to chat about Thunderclap/Head Talker and the pluses and minuses I saw from those platforms.

When Scouting Goes Live

Call Me Zhenya-goldOn September 23, I finished yutzing around with my Scout entry and uploaded it. The campaign is now underway, ending on October 23. How are things going? I have no idea… But I’m learning a lot. One of the things I’ve learned is to ask for votes everywhere! So please! If you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts or learned one or two things from it or if you just want to help me put my kids through college (I have TWO of them who are BOTH in college RIGHT NOW!), toss me a vote! I’ll be eternally grateful, and the karma will be awesome. Also, if they choose my book for publication, you’ll get a free copy! And then you can taunt your friends! HA HA! I got this book free and you didn’t!

Ahem.

On to the substantive (I hope) portion of the post.

Entering your book into the Kindle Scout program is pretty straightforward. You have to upload a formatted manuscript in .doc form. (For those who have been paying attention, yes, this means all my research into Scrivener vs. Vellum was useless for this project.) You’ll also have to have a bio, a completed cover, and blurbage for your book. The length limitations for the blurbs are pretty severe—I had a 100-word version of the blurb and still had to trim it. A side note--I paid someone to do my blurbs for me, because I wanted them to be kick-ass. I was pretty happy with the results.

Once you upload, you wait. You’ll get an email letting you know whether your book is accepted into the program. This actually didn’t take very long—I had my approval email within 24 hours. They send you information on your campaign link and tell you when it will go live (you have a few days to prepare).

Every day, you’ll get updated stats on your page views. See below for what this looks like. An interesting note here—the data provides page views, NOT the number of nominations. It also provides info on where your votes are coming from and provides some “also nominated” info. This means books your scouters also nominated. This inspired me to look for “allies,” like Nathan Lowell mentioned in his hella awesome workshop on Amazon at Colorado Gold.

 

kindle-scout-data-10-11-16The screencap here shows the first page of my stats for October 11. (Click for a .pdf of the full stats--it's 2 pages) On page 2, you can see that a little less than half my page views are consistently coming from Kindle Scout directly. The rest are from outside links, and so are the result of my promotional efforts or from other people passing the links around, etc. The big bumps occurred at the beginning, when I posted the link to Facebook and Twitter and also sent out a notification via my reader newsletter. There’s another big bump after my friend Marteeka Karland posted about the book in her reader newsletter, which is about five times the size of mine, subscription-wise. I got another bump when Kate Douglas, another friend and a long-time Kensington author with a good-sized following, posted a link on her author page with some praise for the excerpt (as in, if this isn’t published soon I’m going to HUNT KATRIENA DOWN!!). (We luff Kate :-])

 

Some other things I did, all of which seemed to have produced small bumps in page views:

Ran a Book-a-Day giveaway at The Romance Studio. This was a drawing for a paperback version of the book, which I’ll send out after Kindle Scout lets me know whether they’re buying the book (they buy only electronic rights, so paperback rights will belong to me either way).

Ran guest blogs on other authors’ blogs. This included a person from the Also Scouted list. I noticed one of the books popping up was one I’d already nominated, so I contacted the author and asked if we could exchange blog posts (an ally! And I’ll probably do this again with another author or two before the campaign ends). She only had a few days left on her campaign, so I made sure her post went up promptly, and she posted mine a day or two later. I also posted a blog at The Romance Studio a few days before the Book-A-Day giveaway.

Ran a Thunderclap. This didn’t pan out—I didn’t get enough backers to activate the campaign. I came close—76 out of 100—but couldn’t quite get it over the line. I’ll probably give Thunderclap its own post later, since I have some Profound Thoughts about the process.

Some things that didn’t happen that I’d hoped would happen:

I didn’t seem to get any pageviews from the Thunderclap recruiting. If you know how Thunderclap works, it’s pretty obvious why this didn’t pan out. There’s no direct link to your book until the campaign goes live (or if there is I didn’t find it). Again, there’s a lot to talk about regarding Thunderclap.

Amazon allows you to add your other books to your campaign page, and I’d hoped this would generate some sales. I figured some people would see the campaign, notice the other books I’d written, and check them out. So far I see no indication that sales of my Kindle self-pub books have spiked at all. On the other hand, I’m noticing that Amazon linked to a lot of out-of-print editions, so that might be my own damn fault for not tweaking the links when I had the chance. On the other hand, Authorgraph tells me a few of my Samhain titles have gone up in the rankings, so...maybe?

The numbers overall are lower than I’d hoped. On the other hand, I’ve spent a good amount of time in Hot and Trending, which doesn’t suck. It appears that the magic number to be featured in that part of the site is about 60 pageviews (you can see these stats on page 2 of the pdf).

As of now, I’m sort of running out of ideas for promotion. However, I have a book I’m consulting, and I’m going to pull ideas from there and execute them over the last stretch of the campaign. The book is called Crowdfunding for Authors by Bethany Carlson, and it’s not actually out yet. I got an ARC copy because I supported the book on Indiegogo. I’d suggest keeping an eye out for it when it does become available, because so far it’s looking like a pretty good resource.

That’s about it for the State of the Scout this month. Next time, I should know whether or not the book has been accepted for publication, and I can report on the beginnings of that process or let you know where to buy the book when I release it myself.

Again, to drop me a vote for Call Me Zhenya, drop by my campaign page!!

Promotion—The Necessary Evil

My kitchen table about two hours ago.
My kitchen table about two hours ago.

Promotional plans, and lessons learned along the way.

I hate promotion. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I’m not sure I know any fellow writers who tell me they love promoting themselves and their work. For me, it’s not even so much that I don’t like talking about myself and my work. It’s just a big workload piled on top of an already big workload, and most of the time it feels like it’s not really getting me anywhere.

I know it’s necessary, though, so I do what I can. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but sometimes I manage to find something that’s actually fun, and that helps.

In any case, when it comes to my current Kindle Scout project, it’s blatantly obvious I need to promote. So, while I’m finalizing my edits and figuring out what system I want to use for my final formatting, I’m brainstorming on some promotional ideas. Here are some things I think I’ll try for online promotion:

Thunderclap. I’m not sure this kind of “tweetstorming” approach works consistently, but I know people who’ve seen some decent results. I think it’s far better to have numerous other people tweet for you than to tweet the hell out of your own audience. Also? It’s easy. And free.

Blog tours. Also free, unless I decide to pay to have someone set it up for me, which I don’t think I’ll do.

Facebook boosted posts. I’ve done this a couple of times but not enough yet to have made any conclusions about the results. I think it’s worth a shot.

Facebook ads. I had some good success with these on a past project, so I think I’ll give it another go.

I’m also going to switch out my autoresponders on my newsletter signup site to send out a sample of the book I’ll be Scouting. I’ve been sending a romance short story to new subscribers, but I think it’s time to switch it up a bit. I’ll also send this sample to my current subscribers. I’ve found that I get very high open rates when I send out freebies. This so far hasn’t really translated into sales, but at least I get people’s attention.

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s tried these promotional techniques, or who’s had a particularly good response from any other on-line promotion approaches, so feel free to hit the comments. The promotional landscape is changing at least as fast as the publishing industry itself, so reports from the “front lines” are always useful and welcome.

In-Person Promotion

I also have an in-person opportunity coming up this weekend with Colorado Gold. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, so I took an informal poll. (This was while I was at my BFF’s house for brisket on Labor Day weekend. I said, “I gotta figure out what to make to take to the conference.” She said, “Chocolate. Everybody likes chocolate. Add a prize. Willy Wonka that shit up.” My daughter said yeah, do that. And that was my poll.) That seemed like a good idea, and it was a lot simpler than some of the things I’d been brainstorming. There are some lessons here: 1. Simple is good. 2. When it seems appropriate, have somebody help with your brainstorming. 3. Willy Wonka is applicable to numerous life situations. Also, listen to your BFF.

I was freaking out about the lack of time because I left it to the last minute, like I do, so my daughter agreed to step in and design a bookmark for my packages. She did a great job, and we printed them up (after much printer hijinks) and put them together with some chocolate for that Willy Wonka-ing. In addition, there’s a Golden Ticket—one person who subscribes to my newsletter over this weekend will win a $25 Amazon gift card. Lessons here: 1. Don’t leave things until the last minute (I will never learn that one). 2. Outsource whenever possible, especially when you have talented people living in your house. 3. Printers will always decide to stop working properly when you’re in a hurry.

If you’re at Colorado Gold, hit me up or look for my cards at the main table. Also, if you can’t make the conference and are reading this blog, you can enter the contest by signing up for my newsletter at katrienaknights.com. You’ll get a pdf of the first chapter of Call Me Zhenya, the book I’ve been working on preparing for Kindle Scout. You can see this either as a thank you for sticking with me through all these posts, or as an act of blatant self-promotion. Either way, I hope to see some of you at Colorado Gold!

Decisions, Decisions—Formatting My Ebook

html is so confusing...
html is so confusing...

I’ve been in the process of moving from Colorado to Illinois, which is very time- and energy-consuming, so I haven’t spent much time on the next stages of getting my book ready to submit. However, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to do for the next step and ways to give the book the best possible chances once it hits Kindle Scout.

It occurred to me that good formatting might give the book an edge. I have no idea what criteria KS uses to determined which books to publish—other than the crowdsourcing part—but there’s mention that the more complete and ready a book is, the better its chances. I’d been thinking of this in terms of finished text and quality editing, but then suddenly realized formatting could be a part of the equation as well.

There are many ways to format your ebook. Probably the easiest is to upload a prepared .doc file (or similar) to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Kobo and let their auto-formatting take care of it. However, I got curious and downloaded the html markup for a book I’d done this way and discovered it had been formatted in probably the most convoluted way possible. It had, for example, style tags on every individual sentence. Just looking at it gave me hives.

So I started looking into other ways to do final formatting for upload. There are numerous articles and series of blog posts, etc. discussing different ways to approach the task. One way is just to use straightforward, clean html markup, but you have to put it all in there by hand, more or less. Amazon offers a guide on their KDP site.

Some other approaches are presented here:

You’ll also find guides at Barnes & Noble and Kobo, Draft2Digital, and probably any other e-book outlet providing information on how to format in the best way for their particular system. There’s a lot of overlap, though some places are pickier than others *cough*ibooks*cough*.

I’ve been self-publishing for a few years now, so I figured I had all the formatting stuff down pat. However, as I’ve been reading (and looking at the markup actually created when I upload my books to KDP), I’m starting to suspect I’m not going about things in the most efficient or effective way. So I’m going to look into some other options.

I use Scrivener as my main writing software, and I’ve heard that it also does an excellent job of exporting manuscripts into various e-book formats. I haven’t tried it yet, mostly because I do my drafting in Scrivener, then export to Word for final edits. I’d have to pull the manuscript back into Scrivener and divide it up again to make use of this functionality (at least that’s the way I understand it). I want to try it at some point in the future to see how it works and how easy it is.

Here are a few articles about how to put your final e-book together using Scrivener:

What I’m really intrigued with right now, though, is Vellum. It costs money ($29.99 for a single book, or $199.99 for an unlimited license), but people seem to be raving about it. I’ve downloaded and fiddled with it, though I haven’t paid the licensing fee yet, and so far it seems to be easy to use and also allows you to easily add visual elements that give your book a very polished look. It’s Mac-only (sorry, PC folks), but it appears to be turning into an automatic go-to for a lot of self-pubs.

Some information about Vellum:

So basically, right now I’m wavering between using Scrivener, which I already own, or spending money for Vellum, which may or may not make the process smoother, easier, and prettier. Whichever way I decide, I hope a nicely formatted book will give me a little bit of an edge when it comes to being chosen for publication.

But What About Editing?

Even Walt Whitman did him some editing.
Even Walt Whitman did him some editing.

Pros and Cons of Automated Editing—a Discussion of AutoCrit

In the continuing saga of preparing a book for Kindle Scout, let’s talk about editing for self-publishing. This could also apply to editing for submissions, since you need to have your book in squeaky-clean shape before you start submitting to publishers (I know a good number of people who don’t believe this, but that’s for another post…).

If you’re like me, the idea of getting a book in solid shape for self-pub is a bit intimidating. I edit for other people on the side, but I have very little faith in myself to find my own mistakes. I know my manuscripts generally go to the editor far cleaner than many of the manuscripts I edit for other publishers, but there are still mistakes—typos, weirdness generated by Dragon Dictate when I use it, and of course the dreaded continuity issues.

Ideally, before you self-pub a book, you should send it to a professional editor. This can get pricey, though—I’m not sure I could afford myself as an editor right now, and my rates are really low. Nathan Lowell beat me to the punch in talking about using beta readers to crowdsource your editing in his article Bootstrap Your Book. The methods he discusses here are very useful and effective. If you’re lucky, you maybe have a proofer or editor on your list from a publisher you’ve worked with before who might be willing to give your manuscript a gander for a low cost. My group of proofers includes a fellow author I’ve edited for years as well as a proofer/editor from one of my publishers. It pays to make friends in this industry… Bartering can work, too—if you feel confident about your abilities to find typos or point out continuity issues, work out a trade with another author. Or offer large quantities of chocolate.

In any case, since Nathan covered the bases of crowdsourced editing, I’m going to talk about another low-cost approach—automated editing. Wait, wait—don’t run off. I have Important Things to Say.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Grammarly, which is a site where you can upload your manuscript and have it spit out a number of different grammar issues regarding your manuscript. I haven’t used this site, but I’ve used AutoCrit, which I believe is similar. I’m going to discuss my experiences, what automated editing can and can’t do, how it’s helped me, and why it might be worth looking into.

I stumbled across AutoCrit by accident. I’d gotten a sponsored email from Writer’s Digest with a free offer for a short video course on creating dialogue. I have a tendency to grab and hoard free things (SHINY! SHINY! FREE!), so I grabbed the course. I didn’t notice at the time, but it was from the AutoCrit website. They started sending me emails offering me a GREAT DEAL on a year-long membership to their site. After deleting several of these, I finally thought okay, wait. I’ve got a manuscript I need to get cleaned up. Let’s go sign up for the 7-day free trial and see what this puppy can do.

So I did that. I then uploaded Call Me Zhenya—all 93,000 words—onto the site and let AutoCrit do its magic. It generated about ten reports, which I then downloaded and looked over.

There are, of course, limits to what this kind of editor can do. It’s best to ignore a lot of the advice it produces, much like it’s best to ignore most of the green squiggly lines MS Word automatically generates to tell you you’ve committed a grammar infraction.

HOWEVER.

The reports I got from AutoCrit found a good number of things I had obviously missed on the forty quadrillion editing runs I’d done on my own. The report on “ly” adverbs was particularly enlightening (My name is Katriena and I am an adverb-aholic). It also found some typos I’d missed and put my horrible word repetition habit into stark relief. (Seriously? 1600 repetitions of “quietly?” Good grief, woman!)

I wasn’t quite as on board with the reports that supposedly showed me show vs. tell writing. The parameters they used didn’t seem realistic to me, as they were mostly keyed to certain verb tenses. The passive verbs report seemed equally arbitrary. I do, however, feel like the time I spent going through the reports and sifting out repeated words, typos, and adverbs was well spent. I also took the plunge and bought the discounted year’s subscription. It seemed like a reasonable price, though I probably would have balked at a full-price subscription.

Overall, I thought it proved to be a good addition to my self-pub repertoire, since it found a good many things a proofreader would have marked up. That means I can send a much cleaner version to the actual humans who read the story later, and that can only be a good thing.

For those who might be curious, the reports AutoCrit provides are:

  • Adverbs in Dialogue Tags
  • Adverbs Overall
  • Clichés
  • Generic Descriptions
  • Passive Verbs
  • Redundancies
  • Sentence Starters
  • Show vs. Tell Indicators
  • Unnecessary Filler Words

You can run these one at a time or all in one fell swoop. You can also decide whether to get a high-level report or a detailed report that shows you exactly where all the noted transgressions are located in the manuscript. This can be in a list form, or highlighted on a copy of your manuscript. You can upload a few pages, a chapter, or the whole manuscript for evaluation.