Time for NaNoWriMo

I have never in fact participated in NaNoWriMo because I’m not motivated by prizes, competing with others, joining groups, or by someone cheering me on. My motivation is simply to get shit done. (Which is why I have 105 perfect tournament crowns from Microsoft Solitaire tournaments so far this year. Someone send help. I need an intervention.)

This year, though, I’ll be doing what NaNo requires and in the month of November, which is writing the first draft of a short novel in the space of a month.

BTW, for a good general post on Nano and writing check out Chuck Wendig’s NaNo post for 2019.

In preparation for starting this next novel (otherwise known as the procrastination stage), I’ve been doing some thinking.

This will be my 12th novel. And the fifth in this particular series. And I gotta tell ya, I think I’m just now reaching the “you know that you don’t know it” level of writing. After eleven completed novels.

Stop and think about that for a second. How many hours of doing this thing have I put in so far and I’m just now starting to see glimmers of what all is required to make it work well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think my earlier novels are good and enjoyable reads and, for the most part, the reviews back me up on that. People don’t always like what I choose to write about but they generally read to the end before telling the world about it.

But the issue I’m finally becoming concerned with is this: the consistency of the reader experience. Not just writing one good novel or one good series, but writing novels and series that consistently meet the needs of a particular group of readers.

To be really good at this you have to hit enough of the right buttons each and every time so that your particular group of readers walks away satisfied and comes back for more the next time you publish. That is not easy.

It is in fact exponentially harder than writing a single novel. And if you don’t do it well, you end up building on a shaky foundation. A reader thinks, “Well, that book was alright, I guess, so maybe I’ll read another one by them.” That is not the type of readership you want.

Because that kind of reader is the type of reader you will eventually lose if you continue on the way you are. In a hot genre with readers desperate for new material this could take some time. You could probably have a successful series or even two, but it will eventually catch up to you.

So it isn’t about writing a good novel. At least not long-term. It’s about creating a good reader experience across all of your books. And that is much, much harder to do.

And with that cheerful thought, I guess I’m off to “win” my own little NaNo.

Essential Writing Skills

This post is for those authors who want to make money at their publishing someday whether that be via a traditional publisher or self-publishing. If your core interest is in getting your stories down on paper, then carry on.

But for those who want to make money at this somehow, there are some essential skills you’re going to need to have and it’s important to work on them alongside the writing.

First, you need to be resilient and adaptable. This industry, on both the self and trade publishing sides, changes constantly. Today there’s talk that maybe Amazon shifted how it treats borrows from KU for book ranking. (If so, it’s about frickin’ time IMO because someone borrowing a book for free is not and never has been the equivalent of them paying money for a book.)

Sometime earlier this week AMS randomly decided to add Ad Groups to ads which changed where you see your list of target keywords. That was after adding two new markets and then removing the links for those markets from one primary location and changing where billing and other items are found on the page.

A few weeks back a publisher with a decent reputation stepped in it when they took on an author who had been banned from publishing direct on Amazon. And just this week at least one big-name editor was abruptly let go, impacting every single one of their authors.

No matter what path you choose, things will constantly be shifting under your feet. You need to understand that and prepare for it and not be knocked out of commission when it happens.

Second, you need to understand business and numbers and contracts. In a group I’m in where some trade published authors post there was mention of how an author was screwed over by a basket accounting clause in their contract. If you’re going with a publisher and you don’t know what that is, you need to learn. That and all the rest of it.

A while back a publisher contacted me about potentially distributing some of my titles. Sounded great until they sent me a publishing contract that paid no advance and would’ve taken all my foreign language rights for free. If you as an author can’t see a situation like that for what it is and push back, you will get screwed.

And if you aren’t paying attention to profits and are only focused on number of units sold or nice reviews, you won’t last long-term.

I don’t expect authors to take things to the extent I do. (Yesterday I got bored and performed a multi-variate regression analysis to see which ad options I was using were actually driving sales and realized that two of them I was using and thought had been doing well for me weren’t.) But you do need to have some sort of a clue about how this industry works and what is happening with your own business.

Finally, you need perseverance. Sure, some authors hit it out of the park with their first book. And it’s all shiny happy times from that point forward. But not most authors. If you need an example, look at George RR Martin’s career. He left novel and short story writing for a while to work in television. He switched genres. This massive success he’s seeing now? Took decades to achieve. And required him to dust himself off more than once along the way.

I’m sure there are other traits authors need to succeed at writing that have nothing to do with the story or how it’s written (including a good bullshit detector), but these were the ones that were on my mind this morning. So there you have it. The writing is just what you need to play the game. You need far more than that to stay in and succeed.

 

Excel, Word, and PowerPoint Essentials

Excel Essentials 20190222  Word-Essentials-Kindle  PowerPoint-Essentials-Kindle

I published Excel Essentials, the collection of the four individual titles in the Excel Essentials series a while back. At the time I didn’t publish the ebook version on Amazon, but that is now available on Amazon for anyone interested.

And because I am also done with the Word Essentials series and the PowerPoint Essentials series at this point, those too are now available as standalone titles. Note that Word Essentials and PowerPoint Essentials only contain two titles each so are that much less expensive than Excel Essentials which contains four titles.

Also, for at least the next week or so Word Essentials and PowerPoint Essentials will not be available on Apple but they will be there soon. (I’m changing how I distribute my books there and it takes a little longer than I’d expected.)

The books are all available in ebook, paperback, and hard cover but it may take a few days for them to reach all the stores.

For those of you who already own the individual titles (Word for Beginners, Intermediate Word, PowerPoint for Beginners, Intermediate PowerPoint, etc.) there is no new material in these books, it’s just another way to provide the information for those who know they want it all at the time of initial purchase.

As of now I’m done with writing new material on Microsoft Office, but if there’s something specific you want to see that I didn’t cover, let me know and if I think it’s within my skillset I’ll work on it. That’s actually how Excel for Budgeting and Mail Merge for Beginners both came to exist.

 

Holding a Fork Is Hard When You’re 2

I visited one of my best friends this weekend and she has a two-year-old. It was fascinating to watch the kid try to eat some sausages on his plate using a real fork. He was very determined to do it himself, but the experience or the motor coordination or whatever it is that someone needs to actually use a fork wasn’t quite there yet.

He tried everything. He put the fork tines-down into the sausage and tried to pull it apart that way. He put the fork sideways to the sausage and then used his fingers on the tines to push down from both sides. He was determined.

But he just wasn’t there yet. Finally his mother rescued him with ten seconds of effort with a fork and knife, making it look so so easy to cut up that sausage.

I tell you this story because it’s an important reminder that we don’t all come into this world fully-formed and capable of doing anything we want or anything anyone else can do. Often we have to try and fail and try some more and fail some more and keep trying even when someone else makes it look incredibly easy.

Writing is one of those tasks that works that way. There are so many moving parts to writing a good book that it’s almost impossible to list them all out. You think you have the list and then someone mentions another aspect of a good book and you have to add it on to the end of the list. And just knowing what’s required doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it.

When I first started this writing journey I figured I’d have it nailed down in five years. Most people I saw talk about their timelines took ten to fifteen years to get that first publishing contract, but of course I’d done really well in other aspects of my life so why wouldn’t I do really well in writing, too?

Well…

Eight years in and I’m finally willing to admit that it will probably take me a couple more years to really get to where I want to be to make this work. (I’m currently where I was in my first post-college job, net, but I expect more from myself these days than that.)

But every time I start to feel frustrated I’m just going to think about a little boy with a fork trying to figure out how to eat a sausage and remind myself that most skills in life require dedication and time to master. The key is to keep trying until you get there.

A Brilliant Business Presentation for Creatives

DesignCuts is having a free online conference this week which has some fantastic deals on font and design bundles as well as some really interesting presentations. A lot of them are design-oriented, but there was one I watched today that I think is a must-watch for anyone trying to launch any sort of business quite frankly.

It’s basic business principle in the context of earning money as a creative. I’d highly recommend watching at least the first thirty minutes. The video is available here and it’s called Making Money as a Creative by Tom Ross.

 

AMS SP Ads for Authors in Germany and UK

As of sometime yesterday or this morning Amazon announced that authors can now access Sponsored Product ads in the UK and Germany. I’ve been running ads in the UK using an Amazon Advantage account which has a few more options than this, but it’s still a nice development for those authors who hadn’t managed to set up an Advantage account.

Keep in mind that each market is different and they’re going to respond to different bids and different keywords than the U.S. market. Think spelling differences, for example.

Also, in both accounts I had to fix my payment information. They had my credit card on file but I had to provide my address and legal name before I could run an ad. For those not in the EU, I just skipped the VAT field and checkbox at the bottom.

And in the German version it originally came up in German. Click on the top right corner dropdown just like you would for .com to change the language to English.

I’m not sure of the reporting delays in those markets. I had a German sale today that is probably from my AMS ad that I started there this morning but when I checked the dashboard it wasn’t even showing impressions yet let alone a sale.

As with everything this is good and bad. For those of us already advertising in the UK it’s going to hurt some. But it also levels the playing field a bit more which I think Amazon needs to do more of.

Also, those who are willing to poke around and figure things out on their own will do better initially as they get up and running first, but that’ll level out as information percolates down.

Expect click costs to go up over the next couple months. If you don’t stay on top of that expect impressions to drop significantly as more people enter the market.

Enjoy.

 

Sadly, I Am No J.D. Robb

A lot of the reading I’ve been doing this year is of the In Death series by J.D. Robb (probably better known as Nora Roberts). I’m almost done. That’s close to fifty books.

And I find myself as an author in awe of her ability to stay true to the demands of her genre. Every single one of those books I’ve read so far is firmly structured as a mystery.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that the opening is about the murder. And the focus of the story is on solving that murder. Those books are definitely character-driven. They would not be the same books without Mavis, Peabody, Roarke, Feeney, McNab, and all the other relationships. And they’re not necessarily the types of murder mysteries where you’re given the clues to solve the murder yourself. You as a reader are along for the ride with characters you’ve come to like.

Despite the fact that they’re character-driven mysteries she still manages to keep the murder and the solving of that murder the frame of each and every single book. I have yet to see her stumble on that point after forty-plus books.

Now, there are some authors who would see that as problematic. They think it’s too predictable. But what those authors fail to see is that that’s how you meet the expectations of readers of a certain genre.

You show them on page 1 that this is the type of story they’re going to get. This is a murder mystery. Someone is dead. And now someone will solve that murder. And then, within that framework, you play with the characters and the story.

It seems easy to do that, right?

But I’ll tell you, I personally do not find it easy to do. I’ve now written four cozy mysteries and finding that balance between the mystery and the personal lives of the characters is the biggest challenge I have in writing those books.

And just today I published a short story set in that world that doesn’t even have a mystery! That’s how much I struggle with it.

Trust me. You don’t want to put yourself in the position of having to explain through your marketing that this book isn’t what readers have come to expect from you.

So I really, really admire J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts for her ability to consistently and continuously work within the frame of her genre and yet create unique and believable characters at the same time. She’s truly a master of her craft. Someday I hope to be half the writer she is.