More AMS Changes Coming

It never fails that I publish a book on AMS and then Amazon makes changes to how the ads work or, in this case, the navigation options. So for those of you who might have noticed a little note at the top of your AMS dashboard today that said changes were coming but that didn’t know how to find the Amazon Advertising blog, because who wants to provide a link for that sort of thing.

Here you go.

Short version: They appear to be moving all of the options at the top of the screen to the left-hand side of the screen.

Timing Issues

I’m on book four of a NYT-best selling YA fantasy series. I’ve devoured the series. Each book is about six hundred pages long and I’ve probably read the last three in less than a week. But an issue I noticed during book one is making it really hard to finish book four, so I thought I’d write about it here for any authors looking for non-obvious ways to improve their writing.

This author is great at characterization. Look at the 25,000+ reviews that each book has and you’ll see that readers love how fleshed out the characters are and how real they are.

But the author has issues with timing.

In book one there were some obvious ones. For example, in one chapter we’re told it’s been two weeks since an event happened and two chapters later we’re told it’s only been two days. This happened twice that I can remember. They were little hiccups that were somewhat annoying but not enough to keep me from immediately ordering the rest of the books in the series.

Now I’m up to book four and the finale is upon us. There’s someone trapped in a dungeon, another character under siege in a castle, others have fled the invading army, etc. And now all of a sudden all of those timing issues are getting painful. Someone takes¬† a day to follow a trail one direction and an hour to go back down the same trail. Earlier in the book weeks passed, possibly months, for something that should have been incredibly urgent. And a council whose first meeting was supposed to be in a week or two somehow didn’t meet for perhaps months.

All the timeframes are muddied and conflict with each other. Character A goes off to do something and it takes five days. Character B does their thing and it takes two weeks. Then they intersect as if they both took the same amount of time.

I’ve already complained elsewhere about a series where two main characters became so out of synch in how their storylines were presented that they were months apart in alternating chapters. To the point that a minor character was in back to back chapters in completely different parts of the world.

This is worse than that because it’s clear the author didn’t have a good handle on how long anything in the book took to happen. And because they didn’t have that firmly established for themselves, the timing of events slips and slides around in the story that made it onto the page, too.

It’s worse with this book because of the multiple points of view. But this can still be a problem even with single POV novels.

You send someone off to do X, does it make sense that they would take as long as they did to do it?

Or, for example, with my cozies I have to account for the fact that the character actually has a job to show up for six days a week. She can’t just be off solving a crime for three days straight without there being a consequence for that. Right? Or take off for hours every day to investigate clues. At least not during work hours.

So watch for this one. With my multiple POV novel I actually had an Excel spreadsheet with a timeline for all of my main characters and where they were and when to make sure it matched up. But it can be as simple as reading through the novel once with an eye to timing if the focus of the novel is tight enough.

Anyway. Something to think about when you’re not worrying about plot, pacing, characterization, tense, point of view, or genre expectations.

 

 

Let’s Talk Luck

One of my coaching calls this last week was with an extremely successful author. Multiple six-figures and for multiple years. And during part of that conversation the author said, “I’m just lucky, that’s all.” Or something along those lines.

My response was very immediate and very adamant. “No. You were not lucky to be where you are. Sure, maybe the genre you chose and when you published factor into things and that can be about luck. But the ability to produce novels on a consistent basis that meet your readers’ needs has nothing to do with luck. That is all you and your hard work and talent.”

It was an interesting conversation because I’ve never been a fan of the other side of that argument where people who’ve done extremely well say that there was nothing lucky about their success. That it all comes down to how hard they work. I always think that’s a bunch of bullshit, to be honest.

To me it’s always a balance of the two with the hard work taking more than its share but serendipity playing a part as well.

Let me give an example that has nothing to do with writing.

My very first job out of college we were each assigned to a mentor who taught us how to conduct securities examinations. We worked side-by-side with our mentor for about a year. We also had to study for and take a series of tests in that first year, but the bulk of the learning occurred on the job.

I started within about a week of another individual in our office who was extremely intelligent. Fully capable.

But I was assigned to a first-class mentor. Probably the best examiner in our office. And that other person was assigned to one of the worst examiners in our office. It was luck that I was assigned to who I was and that they were assigned to who they were.

And as a result I was provided an environment in which I could flourish and they were not. Luck.

But the hard work I put in to then take advantage of that opportunity was all me. I was the one going after opportunities and eager to learn. I was the one asking questions and working hard to get up to speed.

As a result, I was quickly promoted and this other individual was not. It made a significant difference in our career paths.

And, sure, I can point to how much effort I put in to make that happen.But the fact of the matters is that all that hard work and drive would’ve been wasted if my mentor had been someone else.

So when I think about writing, I always look back on that situation. And I acknowledge that it’s about luck and effort.

Luck happens when the right reader sees your book and helps it go viral. Or you write something that it turns out is in demand with a large number of readers. Or you catch the cultural zeitgeist at just the right time in just the right way.

Effort happens the rest of the time. When you’re writing those books and getting them out there for readers to discover. When you’re learning from your early mistakes and adjusting your plan to account for what you’ve learned about readers or your writing or the market. When you acknowledge what you don’t know and take steps to learn it.

Yeah, maybe it takes luck to make half a million a year as a writer. But most of the authors I know who are very successful in this business (consistent six-figures) also work very hard and very smart. They consistently produce good books that their audience devours.

To do that year in and year out requires more than luck. It requires talent and dedication. So if you’re one of those people, don’t sell yourself short.

Unreliable Narrators

I did something interesting this morning. I read through my diaries from twenty-five years ago. It was fascinating to see what I wrote about versus what I remembered. And it was fascinating too to see what I wrote about and didn’t know I was writing about.

Often in writing we hear about the unreliable narrator. The person who is telling you a story and maybe not telling the whole story or telling the story their way instead of telling the truth. And there’s always this idea that maybe that’s deliberate.

But the funny thing about reading those diary entries was that eighteen-year-old me was telling the truth as I saw it at the time and completely missing some things that were right there on the page. I wasn’t trying to be unreliable. Who tries to be unreliable in their diary? But I was being.

Even more interesting is that I went reading back through those entries because I’d started to wonder if a close friend of mine had maybe been not so close and if I’d just failed to see it at the time. (They ended up dating both someone I’d had a complicated situation with and my best friend which prompted the question all these years later. Coincidence? Or something more?)

And what I realized after doing so is that when you hold memories in your mind and have no record of them when they happened that they grow and shift and take on different forms than they actually had at the time.

Turns out we’re all unreliable narrators. (And more so, whether real or not, the stories we tell ourselves about what happened in the past are more important than what actually happened because the stories we tell ourselves are what we let shape our future.)

Data Principles for Beginners

I forgot to announce that I released a new title a few days ago called Data Principles for Beginners. If you’ve read the Excel titles you’ll note that I make mention throughout those books about issues I’ve run into on data projects I worked on with respect to structuring data or analyzing it.

Well, this book takes all of those little mentions and puts them in one place as well as exploring a few other key principles that will make life a lot easier for anyone trying to work with their data.

Data Principles for Beginners

 

Possibilities vs. Probabilities

As you might have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about writing success and what counts and what doesn’t and what’s realistic and what isn’t. That’s what happens when I reach a big milestone. I’m kind of go, go, go and then I hit it and I stop and assess.

So Thursday I went to the monthly writers’ group dinner that I attend and I shared my little happy milestone about grossing six figures and one of the guys said that’s a really rare level to reach, like that was sort of an anomaly and be all, end all. Nowhere to go from there.

My response was that, sure it was hard to hit, but I compare myself to the people netting six figures a year and so all I think of is how far I still have to go.

That’s guy’s response was that it basically wasn’t possible to net six figures a year at this because only about 1 in 10,000 people manage to do it.

My response to that was, well, why can’t I be that one in 10,000?

(I’m pretty sure everyone at the table was like, who would think that highly of themselves that they’d even image they could be that person?)

But, see, that’s the thing.

Just because something isn’t probable doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

Yeah, so most people fail at this. Seen and understood. Witnessed. How many people have I known over the years who wanted to write a novel and never wrote the first draft? How many wrote the first draft and never wanted to edit it? How many tried to get a trade publisher, didn’t manage it, and then quit? How many self-published and then quit when they didn’t have instant success? How many are still publishing and not seeing success?

It is unlikely to see a lot of money from publishing books. I will agree with that 100%. It is not probable that any given author who sets out to make a lot of money writing will ever reach that goal.

But it is absolutely, 100% possible to do so.

Can anyone do it? No. I don’t think so. I think some people are just not in a position mentally or life-wise to make that happen. I think some people are just never going to click with enough of an audience to make it happen.

But it’s possible.

I realized then that that guy reminded me of my grandma. In the sense that my grandma, every single time I talk to her and every single time she sends me a card (and she sends lots of cards, bless her), tells me to “be safe”.

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been getting that message from her for over forty years now. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

Why not say, “Get out there and take some risks.” “Be adventurous.” “See if you can fail today.” “Do something you’ve never done before.”

But no, it’s always “be safe”.

Because she, like the guy who said these things to me, lives in the world of probability.

It’s a comforting world. If you don’t exceed what’s likely to happen then it’s easy to say, “well, this is how it is for everyone, right? I didn’t make it because most people don’t make it.”

But the possibility mindset is very different. It says, “If one person could do it, why can’t I? What makes them so special that they can succeed where I can’t?”

The possibility mindset pushes through. It keeps driving for the goal when the probability mindset is ready to sit back and admit defeat.

Which one is smarter? Probably the probability one. It’s why I hope my friends with good jobs who’ve worked steadily at them for 20+ years have a guest room with a nice couch when I finally crash and burn. But it’s the possibility mindset that has the potential to achieve what no one thought was possible.

Two interesting ways to frame a problem if nothing else.