Affinity Publisher For Non-Fiction

And that particular loop (series) is closed. Yesterday I hit publish on Affinity Publisher for Non-Fiction.

This one picks up where Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts left off. It covers tables of contents, indexes, merging multiple documents into one, using chapter names for your headers, having multiple columns of text on the page, and working with images in the main body of your text.

Which closes that particular “open loop” because that is the last book I am writing on Affinity Publisher. Yay. One down, two to go.

Of course, it’s always interesting writing non-fiction because I learn new tricks as I write. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “I never bothered to track that answer down” and sometimes it’s a weird blind spot I had.

So, in honor of weird blind spots…

I always use the Resource Manager to swap out my images, but it turns out there is a Replace Image option in the dynamic menu at the top that you can click on when your have an image selected. Much simpler to use if you’re not worried about the DPI of the imported image.

Something to share for those who already read the prior books.

Anyway. Enjoy. It may take a few days to hit all the major stores, but it’s on its way.

Do You Have To Bleed on the Page

I think if you’re around writing circles long enough, someone will mention how writing can be like cutting a vein open and bleeding on the page. You know, pouring a piece of yourself out there for the world to see in all its brutal, painful glory.

I was even in a writing group a few years back that had ribbons drawn up to that effect.

In one of the comments on a recent thread, author Jon Wasik (who has a new urban fantasy release coming out this week, check it out) was wondering if it always has to be that way.

Do you have to put that much of yourself out there every time to write something “good”? Which, of course, makes it all that much harder if the book doesn’t sell like gang busters right out the gate, right? It was a piece of you and no one wanted it.

(Which on Valentine’s Day I’m sure many can commiserate with, even the non-writers. You put yourself out there and…crickets.)

I figured I’d take the response I gave him there and expand upon it a bit since I’ve written a wide variety of things at this point, some that absolutely had a part of me in them and some…that didn’t?

So December 2014 I decided what the hell, I am going to dash off a billionaire Christmas short story and publish it. I did it in a day. Wrote the story, edited the story, put together the cover, and hit publish all in the space of about eight hours. I didn’t even write that story in my office, I wrote it while sitting on my couch watching TV.

And then eight months later I rounded it out and turned it into a collection where they go from that start to married. That took I think about a week to write the rest of it.

So let’s say two weeks of effort.

Now, as I mentioned to Jon, there was a part of me in that story in the sense that I can’t write a rescue fantasy to save my life. Over the course of that series of stories the woman prioritized her family over jet setting with her billionaire, dumped him when he tried to pay her to stay with him, started her own successful company, and only married her billionaire when it was clear that they were going to be equals in the relationship.

It was very much a billionaire romance as written by me.

But it was also a throw away. It wasn’t something I slaved over or had an emotional investment in. It wouldn’t have hurt me personally to see people say rude things about the character or her choices.

As I mentioned to Jon, I don’t think that story is a story anyone thinks about for more than ten minutes after they finish reading it. So it may not fit the definition of a good book. But what it was was a profitable book.

Mostly because it was a billionaire holiday romance. There was and is a voracious audience for that kind of book. (And I’m not saying they’re easy to write, because romance and sex scenes are not easy to write, especially over and over again. I have all awe and respect for romance and erotica authors because that stuff is hard to do.)

I haven’t written anything new under that name in years, that’s really the only big thing I ever published under that name, and advertising options are limited because they’re short stories. Despite all that the series has sold 3,600+ copies and made me a profit of close to $2,000 after taking out advertising and audiobook costs.

Not big numbers if you’re a romance author, but big numbers for me at the time. And for a short story series? Really big numbers.

And it was not because I bled on the page. I did not carve a part of myself out and offer it to the world. What I did was meet the expectations of the readers I was targeting enough that they bought the initial story and went on to buy the collection as well.

Sometimes readers just want enjoyment. Or a good laugh.

I actually think that putting emotional weight on the page can be the harder thing to do. At the writing workshop I attended almost five years ago, they hated my writing for the most part. It was too emotional. Get on with it. Stop sitting in the feelings and give us action. Make things happen. We don’t care what your character is feeling or thinking. At least not that much.

My first fantasy novel a good friend called the character whiny. Probably for the same reason. She was too busy grieving her dad to ride her horse around having adventures.

It is not easy to have a character on the page be deep in their feelings and have most readers care.

For me that first fantasy was about grief and losing your parent. But that friend who found my character whiny? Has never lost a parent. I’m pretty sure they’ve never lost anyone, not even a pet. Maybe a grandparent. Maybe. They couldn’t connect what was happening to their own experience so they wanted to move on to something more interesting.

So if you’re going to put emotion on the page you have to either accept that you’re not writing for that type of reader who can’t identify with the emotion you’re writing about, or you have to get so good at writing emotion that you can suck any reader into it and make them care. That is much harder to do than dashing off some fun romp.

Of course, I do think the stories we remember and that go on our shelves and that we tell everyone else about are the ones that are deep and somehow make us feel those emotions.

So lasting literature that people rave about? Yeah, that probably requires putting a piece of yourself in there. But profitable literature? The thing that can pay next month’s rent? Eh, not so much.

Random Comments and Thoughts 20220213

I just had to pull myself away from playing Quordle which is basically Wordle but you play four games at once with your guesses. I like Wordle. It’s simple, it’s a bit of a challenge, and it’s over in ten minutes or less. And it feels to me like the word list is a bit curated to not be the easy ones but also not be impossible.

Interestingly enough, because I can play it more than once I’ve been playing Quordle more even though I like it less. Yesterday one of the four words was BALER which, not one in my vocabulary. And I had NANNY for one, too.

It seems to love words with Y in them and the fact that it allows words with the same letter three times and pulls a very wide range of possible words makes it more annoying to play. There’s not as much “I won something mildly challenging” satisfaction.

But if someone were trying to monetize a product, I suspect they’d develop Quordle. More time spent per game, more games played per day.

Which, you know, might explain a lot of things we get in society when the focus is on maximizing profit over other measures like enjoyment.

On another note, I’ve found a productivity hack that works for me.

I happen to feed my dog three times a day. She’s a large dog and part of a breed that can be prone to bloat and one way to help reduce that risk is to give smaller meals. For the last however many years she’s been getting her lunch at 10 and her dinner at 4.

At 10 I take time to feed her, feed me, and read. At 4, I feed her, feed me, and then call it a day. As much as I tell myself I’ll go back and work from 5-6, it generally doesn’t happen.

So this year I decided I was moving her meal times to 11 and 5. There was a bit of sad crying the first week, but she’s now settled into the new schedule. And the beauty is, it bought me more than an hour of work time.

As I write this it’s 9:20 in the morning and I’m just getting ramped up on “work”. I’ve checked ads and that sort of thing, but I haven’t done any writing, editing, formatting, etc. yet. And before what would happen is I would wrap up this post around 9:40 and I would think about how I had to stop at 10 to feed her so instead of working I’d putz around until 10.

Now, because I don’t have to stop until 11, I will finish this post and go work on my project and have a good solid hour-plus of work I would’ve normally lost. And I seem to be seeing the same thing with the afternoon, too. It feels like I’m using more of that window of time for work as well.

So just a little change to the timing of my behavior triggers (feed dog dinner-stop working) and I get more work done.

Something to consider if you’re trying to find a little more time in your day. It isn’t exactly what the guy covered in Atomic Habits, but it’s along those lines. He discussed how you can chain activities together to form habits. This little hack is more about just changing the timing of that chain.

What else?

Yay for the D2D and Smashwords merger. I tried Smashwords many moons ago and found their process too difficult and never went back but it’s been on my to-do list for a couple years to try to list direct in their store. So now I can hopefully do that with the click of a button someday soon.

A reminder if you update your A+ Content in the U.S. store and you were using a copy of it in other stores that you need to go through and re-approve it in all of those other stores because it will kick back to draft.

And if you run AMS ads be sure to occasionally expand the ad data period to 30 days or even lifetime to catch any keywords you might have turned off for a limited-time slump but that are actually good keywords for your book. I’m pretty sure Amazon removes fake clicks a few days after the fact, so what can look horrible on Monday will look just fine when you go back a week later and look at that time period.

I’ve never actually sat down and mapped my numbers to verify this, but it seems to me that’s how it works.

Anyway. Off to write with all of my new writing time.

A Good Twitter Thread

I am that weird person who does not actually have a Twitter account but also reads Twitter daily via a series of bookmarks of people I like to follow on there. And today one of those people who I started following because they’re a nurse but also like to read because they’re a writer, had a good Twitter thread.

I’m going to link to it because it’s one of those emotionally raw threads the author may choose to delete later so I don’t want to create a permanent record of something they may not want to be permanent, but here it is: Cassie Alexander on a new release and writing and life

There are so many good parts to this thread it’s worth reading the whole thing starting around post seven.

I did take a screen cap of this part. (Which if she reaches out and asks me to delete I absolutely will.)

It is hard to be a writer. It takes a relentless sort of optimism to keep going at this thing. Because almost no one makes it right out of the gate. It is decades of effort to get somewhere that’s just the starting line.

And that’s really challenging to talk about. Because you have to be vulnerable and admit to not being as successful as you’d like to be. Or sometimes not being successful at all. And we live in a world that does not reward that vulnerability.

Fake it til you make it. You’re supposed to make things look absolutely effortless and fun and enjoyable as you sail into the sunset. But that’s really not the truth of it.

I enjoy every single day of my life right now. I enjoy the writing and the fiddling with design and the publishing books and even the advertising. But there are days when I have that dark moment of the soul.

Because how can it be that you can make good money just showing up and doing the job as X but you turn around and do something far more challenging that takes real dedication and effort and…don’t make money. Or not near as much money.

And I know that feeling she talks about of hoping but not hoping with that latest release. I mean, I just put out book eight of a cozy mystery series in December. I had to squash every single positive thought I might have about that book. Because it’s book eight.

It’s not going to take off and make my career. It will sell less copies than book seven. Or maybe as many copies. But not more. And being book eight that number of copies is way less than book one sold.

I just had to think of it as another brick in the wall of publication I’m building. It’s slow grinding work to stack that next one on there and not be able to see that everything is (hopefully) working to create something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.

Part of my issue with the idea of publishing a new fantasy series is that whole, “maybe this will be the one” idea. Because I know it won’t. But I know I need to do it anyway to keep building this writing thing.

It’s hard not to hope and then be disappointed over and over again. But that’s the business.

I tell myself, “You can’t lose until you quit.” And the small wins do keep me going. There’s always some little glimmer of hope. But, man, some days…

It’s Never Too Late

I think one of the most dangerous ideas that floats around in self-publishing world (and the real world to some extent) is that you have to get things right the first time around or else you’ve failed.

But that’s absolutely not the case.

Let me give you some examples. My fantasy series is one of them. I published the first book in that series late in 2015 and the last book in that series in the middle of 2017.

And the sales…were not what I’d hoped for. I’d splurged for the pretty covers. I’d paid for expensive promo. I’d done a pre-order. But…it was depressing enough I haven’t gone back to writing fantasy since.

But here is the profit and loss chart for that series:

See something interesting there?

I’ve made more in profit every single year on that series after it was finished than I ever did while I was publishing in it.

That first spike is thanks to AMS ads and I’d say the rest of it is due to the occasional Bookbub ad or free run that boosts sales.

So those covers maybe helped get the Bookbubs, but it was really about working the series once it was done.

I was ready to give up on that series back in 2015 because it hadn’t lived up to my expectations when what I really needed was to figure out how to get it in front of its audience.

Here’s another one:

Look at that. Four years after it was released and suddenly it spiked. Want to know why? I changed the title to something that wasn’t a wordy mouthful and ran AMS ads against it.

The book itself had good content. But the title was doing it no favors.

It’s fallen off again since then because it’s just a single standalone title and those can be hard to keep afloat, but it would’ve been easy to say, “Gosh, I must not have written a very good book” when it was more, “Gosh, I really need to do a better job of branding what I wrote.”

It can feel embarrassing to have to change things up. And it can hurt to try to revive something you put a lot of effort into and still have it fail. But it’s usually worth a shot. Not the complete re-write. Don’t do that. But the new cover, the new blurb, the new advertising opportunity. All of those can be worth a try.

And if you’re thinking, “But everyone will see it.” Sad answer is most people aren’t watching.

Which is why I had no problem deciding today that I really didn’t like the covers I’d done for the Affinity Publisher books I published last week. So I put up new ones. I’d rather do that and have better covers on those books than leave it as is because someone might see that I failed and judge me.

Here are the new covers. I’m still not thrilled with the fiction layouts one, but I am much happier with the ads and book cover ones even though the ads one makes me feel a little dizzy if I look at it too long.

For me this is an argument for doing your own covers. I decided I wanted to change things up and two hours later I had done so. For others it would be why you don’t do your own covers, because if you paid someone they would get it right the first time around. (Hopefully. If you chose well and gave them good directions about what you’d actually written. Part of the challenge to self-publishing when you’re new is not knowing what works or doesn’t work.)

Anyway. If you’ve been thinking that there was something you could’ve done better and it isn’t some huge time sink, go do it.

Random Comments and Thoughts 20220205

A few random comments/ thoughts.

First, I just did a bit of a reorder on the website. I had maintained separate pages for each major store (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook, Google, etc.) where my books are sold, but that was a bit unwieldy to keep up to date and certain books were starting to get buried.

When you have as many books as I do, trying to figure out what order to present them in is probably the biggest challenge. Especially when most of my books here fall under one category (Microsoft Office) but I do have other titles that people come looking for.

So I got rid of the store-specific pages and you’ll now see at the top of the website links to products on Microsoft Office, Business and Personal Finance, and then Writing and Self-Publishing.

I labeled each one products because there are video courses and templates in addition to the books.

For each title the thumbnail now links to Books2Read and the comments section below includes store-specific links as well as the print ISBNs.

The resources pages I had that linked to other sites or blog posts, etc. are now on the side.

Second, for fellow authors, one of the things I did while I was doing this massive update (it took about a day) was to also add my print links on B2R for at least Amazon and Barnes & Noble since I was already there getting the ebook links. Something to consider doing if you haven’t already.

I’ll have to circle back and do some of the other print stores later and also do audio links but not sure when I’ll get around to it.

One of the trickiest challenges of self-publishing is knowing where to put your time. Last year I added a few new stores and honestly they were not worth doing from what I’ve seen so far. But sometimes they are, right?

Going direct to Kobo was when I finally started getting some traction there because of the promotions tab. And being direct at Nook when I finally was able to access their promo tab really helped the year that happened.

So it’s always worth considering these new things that pop up, but often the best thing to do is just write more.

Third, I read a good book for authors the other day, Romance Your Goals by Zoe York. It is not just for romance authors, by the way. Might be worth checking out. Just ignore the goal profiles section.

(There’s an implied hierarchy and judgement in a few of the profiles that raised my hackles. Could very much be a personal thing. But overall a good book.)

One of the things reading that book prompted me to do was map out the various titles I have under each pen name. (Covered in Chapter 7 of her book.)

And it was clear seeing that map why my non-fiction outperforms my fiction. Because on the non-fiction side I have multiple series that tie into one another or complement one another.

I do have some distinct little buckets–as you can see by my new categories for products at the top of the website–but overall there’s a wide variety of “product” to pull in customers that feeds into the larger pool of books.

Compare that to my YA fantasy that has one trilogy, my cozy mysteries that have one series with a few side short stories, my main romance name which has two related novels and an unrelated novella, and my secondary romance name that has one series of related short stories and then one other short story in the same subgenre.

Basically, it highlighted what many authors know but maybe don’t implement. Which is that you need a big enough catalog or related titles to really gain some traction.

(I sometimes joke that instead of building one home for myself I am concurrently building five of them, which means a bunch of unfinished projects sitting around that will all suddenly hit at once if I keep going that way.)

With enough books, advertising becomes easier. You can have a permafree title or enough series to run rotating discounted promotions. Also, getting books out there consistently keeps existing readers engaged and draws in new ones.

Which is all to say that doing things the way I have on the fiction side is not a winning strategy. Not if you want to make more than a few thousand in profit per year. On the fiction side I need to focus.

But that leads to my fourth thought which is about closing loops.

I am one of those people who holds mental space for the things I haven’t finished yet. It’s why consulting was annoying to me. Because if I had a client who consistently used my services, but didn’t use them full-time I was still holding space for that client on the days or weeks when they had no work for me.

I actually ended my last consulting relationship because a project had ended and I knew that I’d be getting fifteen minutes here, an hour there, requests until something new ramped up.

But I also knew that I’d be giving that client far more mental space than they were paying me for because I’d be checking my emails regularly (I had an internal email account with them) and staying on alert for when they needed me. I preferred to move on and free up that mental space rather than stay on board for a little bit of income here or there.

(Clearly, prioritizing income is not something I do well.)

But I realized thinking through my goals for this year and what I’ve done and have to do that I also hold space for series that are started but not completed. They percolate as an open loop in my head until I finish them.

What will I include? When will it fit into my schedule?

I will mentally write parts of the next book while walking my dog or trying to fall asleep at night. It’s like my to-do list is weighted down with all these things I haven’t yet finished even if they’re not on my schedule to be completed anytime soon.

Which is why I’ve decided my goal for the beginning of this year is to close some of those loops.

I have three series that are one book away from being closed, so even though they’re not what I wanted to focus on right now, writing those three books should theoretically free up a ton of mental space. (I hope.)

(And one will in a sense be that final cap on my old career. Like, here, I gave you everything I know about that. Bye now.)

Good news for my non-fiction readers is that means two more non-fiction titles will be released soon. And probably the remaining Affinity videos by April or so because that, too, is an open loop since I already did one video course for those books.

Of course, if I pull that off it puts me in a dangerous spot mentally.

Because I will have, at least as far as I’m concerned, fulfilled all my writing obligations to everyone. There won’t be any loose ends. (Yes, I have readers on the fiction side who would want more, but I’d have no open series where readers were left hanging. I could walk away without guilt.)

Which means if my best friend from forever ago comes to me in May and says, “Let’s start that packaged food business we joked about” I may well say, “Okay, let’s do it. Sounds fun.”

Because I also realized reading that book that my goals are not writing goals. There’s an exercise in there where you list what you want or don’t want from your writing, and it turns out I don’t want or care about awards, peer acknowledgement, celebrity, bestseller status, or having adoring fans.

I like self-publishing because it gives me complete control of my time and energy. And with the non-fiction at least it feels like I’m doing something meaningful that helps others. It’s also a good challenge where I can be perpetually learning something new.

So, yeah…I don’t actually need to be writing to be happy? Makes that whole five-year-plan thing a bit of a challenge.

Then again, that’s always been the case for me. My life was never certain enough that I thought five-year plans could be met. Of course, ironically, they could’ve if I’d set them.

But, for example, planning on having X person in your life five years from now so that the two of you can do Y is just not something my mind will let me do.

I had a terminally-ill parent who did live until I was eighteen but that was never guaranteed. I always had to have plan A, B, C, D, E…Z. And I never ever let myself put all my hopes on one outcome.

You never know when bad eyesight or someone more attractive or a global plague will make that thing you put all your hopes on impossible. Better to remain flexible.

I think we’ve now wandered into therapy territory, so I’m wrapping this up. Off to add print links for my cozies because they have a large print option on B2R and that’s just too exciting to pass up.

Affinity Publisher for Ads and Covers

Time for the first release(s) of 2022. Affinity Publisher for Ad Creatives and Affinity Publisher for Basic Book Covers are now live.

I originally set out to write one book that would cover both ads and covers, but when I hit 100 screenshots and wasn’t even done with ads I realized it needed to be two books. I try to keep my non-fiction “bite-sized” so people can learn something valuable without it seeming so overwhelming that they just skip around and miss half of what they need to know.

Which means that it would be best if you’re interested in these books that you start with the one on ads even if your ultimate goal is to do covers. Because if you do them in that order we will slowly build your skills up with smaller projects first. Literally. The first project in the ads book is to place an existing book cover image in a picture frame. That’s it. But it uses about ten key skills that you will use over and over again after that.

What else? Generally I prefer print but on this one the ebook may be the better choice because it will give you color screenshots. You can learn what you need to learn from the print version (or else I wouldn’t have published it or would’ve bit the bullet and only done a color version), but there are times where I say, “look at this colorful image we just turned into a black and white image” and, well, in print there’s no difference, right?

The mechanics are covered in both, but the “look at those green and red lines” part is not.

And note that this is Affinity Publisher not Affinity Photo. Photo is the Photoshop equivalent of the Affinity suite of products, but I do all of my ad work and 99% of my cover work in Publisher because what I am doing is taking existing elements, like stock photos and cover images and putting them together.

If you want to do something more fancy, like using mask layers, etc. that’s best done in Photo. That is why the covers book is very clear that it’s showing you how to do basic covers. But sometimes that’s all you need and we all have to start somewhere.

So if that’s where you are on your journey and I can help you move to that next level, here you go. Enjoy.

Print ISBN: 978-1-63744-028-5

Print ISBN: 978-1-63744-029-2