Mindset

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up. Enough that I went to an engineering-focused college my freshman year, declared myself a physics and electrical engineering major, and signed up for a special tour of NASA in Houston. I even had a whole folder of articles on the space program that I’d cut out of the paper. My college essay was about going to space.

But I’m not an astronaut.

Because I didn’t have the mindset to get there. When I heard that you had to have perfect vision to be an astronaut, I gave up. And I soon switched to majoring in psychology.

Compare that to a man who actually became an astronaut, Chris Hadfield. I watched his masterclass last week and in the last video he was talking about how he became an astronaut.

He decided he wanted to be one when he lived in a country that didn’t even have a space program at the time. And then he spent over a decade-plus working towards that goal, becoming a test pilot, getting a masters, etc. all while that goal was not even something anyone else would have thought was possible. Because of that, when his country finally put an ad in the paper for astronauts he was there and ready to act.

He believed that impossible things happen. And because he did, he succeeded where I failed. He had the mindset to succeed.

I’ve always considered myself a fairly successful person, but I realize looking at what he did that I’ve often chosen the easier path instead of persevering when I faced a setback. (My moving to New Zealand is a perfect example. I do not live there today because I let their rejection of my residency application stop me when there were other options. Just not the convenient options I wanted, so I gave up.)

Fact is, most of us don’t have the vision and resilience to work towards a goal like becoming an astronaut in a country that doesn’t have a space program. Or becoming a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Or a professional athlete. Or anything else that takes years of hard work, focus, and effort.

But I think a lot of us could at least reassess our mindset to achieve greater success.

(The rest of this is writer-specific, but if you’re not a writer think how this could apply to your circumstances instead.)

There’s a writers’ forum I frequent. (The new one, not the old one.) And I have to say…

I am horrified by what I see as the predominant attitude at that place.

There was an entire discussion there a while back about how it’s not possible to make a living at writing and how no one should bother trying because they’ll just be disappointed. And another one there last week by people boasting how they don’t track their sales because that’s a waste of time and effort. And now there’s one about how AMS ads don’t work or maybe only for those who spend five figures on ads because someone tried them and didn’t get them to work for themselves, so clearly they are a sham.

All of which is…bullshit.

And an example of how a poor mindset can sabotage you.

If you tell yourself that no one can do this, including yourself, do you think you’ll succeed? Do you honestly think you’ll push through when things get tough? No.

If you don’t even try to figure out what contributes to your success and what holds you back, do you think you’ll succeed? Maybe. By luck. But who wants to stake their dreams on luck?

If you try something and fail once and then decide that it must not work, do you think you’ll succeed? Not likely. Most people fail at least once on the way to success.

I mean, sure, some people will succeed while saying you can’t, paying no attention to what helps someone succeed, and giving up and changing direction every time they hit a wall. But most won’t.

So if you want to succeed? Aim high. Believe that even if no one else can do it, you can. When you run into a setback, reassess. Pay enough attention to what works and what doesn’t so you can learn and adjust and adapt.

Does that mean you will succeed? No, of course not. The harder the goal the less likely you’ll achieve it no matter what you do. But having the right mindset certainly makes it a helluva lot more likely.

 

A Moment to Be Grateful

An author whose blog I’ve followed for years lost his wife to cancer yesterday. She leaves behind him and their two children and what sounds like many, many others whose lives she touched.

I don’t know how old she was, but I suspect she wasn’t much older than I am. I’d been going to write a blog post today about how persistence and endurance and the ability to change course are I think some of the most important skills for being a successful writer, but instead I want to take a moment and just be grateful for what I have.

Life is never perfect. If it is perfect it’s only perfect for a moment. A snapshot in time. And then the dog barks, you step in gum, someone says something rude, something horrible happens somewhere in the world and it fills your TV or computer screen.

And it’s easy when life isn’t perfect to forget how good it really is. It’s that dissatisfaction that keeps us moving forward and accomplishing more and more, but every once in a while it’s good to stop and freeze the moment and say, “Life is pretty damned good right now.”

For me it’s the little things. I have my dog. I have my family. I have peace and quiet. I have my health as much as you can have your health when you spend too much time in front of a computer and your drink of choice is Coke. I’m doing something I truly enjoy, both the writing and the Strengths coaching. I have a nice home. I live in a nice place. Those closest to me are doing well.

Are there things I would change? Absolutely. If I could double my book sales that would make me very happy. (For ten minutes and then I’d set some new goal that was hard to reach.) If I could find that perfect person who just fell into my life without the effort of trying to find them, I’d like that, too.

But, really, truly, I am so so grateful for the life I have right now and I wanted to take a moment to say so. And to remind everyone else to take that moment, too. You never know how many more you’ll have…

Finding a Way Forward

One of the most challenging things in this business is trying to figure out what to do next. And it’s something that happens to authors at all levels. There is no point in time where an author becomes immune to those questions.

Unless they’re number 1 in all the stores all the time. Maybe then it’s not an issue. But even then I think that author would wonder or doubt or question. “Do I keep writing what got me here? How long will I stay here if I do? What if I don’t enjoy it anymore? What if the readers don’t enjoy it anymore? What if I’m out of ideas?”

And when you’re not where you want to be, it becomes even trickier. You wonder, have I just not given it enough time? Or am I making a mistake here? Am I writing the wrong thing? Or do I need to improve my craft?

Back when I started publishing, the common advice for fiction writers was that it took three books for a series to take off. Some might take off before then but there were many, many authors saying that they suddenly saw a jump in sales at book three. So often authors were told to just keep writing until they had those three books out and then think about what to do next.

I’ve even seen the advice to not even try to advertise until those three books are out. (Advice I hate. If you’re going to do that, then hold all three books back and publish them close together.)

The last year or so that advice has shifted so that now people say that it takes four or five books in a series to take off.

But…

The problem is sometimes you’re not actually hitting reader expectations and so no amount of books are going to get you there.

If you’re headed in the wrong direction, continuing down that path just makes it worse. Especially when writing in a series because most times the next book will sell less copies than the one before. (Unless the whole series suddenly takes off a la JK Rowling.)

The problem with the “wait three books or four or five” advice is that authors don’t stop to question the presentation or quality of their books when they really should.

A while ago on one of the author forums I saw an author tell another author something along the lines of, “I’m so glad to see how successful you are because it lets me know that if I keep going with this, I’ll be successful, too.”

But I looked at that author’s reviews because I was going to make a marketing suggestion to them (apply for a Bookbub because they had gorgeous covers) and I realized that in their case their problem was quality. There were consistent remarks in the reviews indicating that this particular author needed to stop publishing what they were publishing and probably take some craft classes or pay for an in depth critique.

(I should note here that there’s a difference between negative reviews that say “OMG, I read this book in a day and it was awesome but someone please get this person an editor” which actually indicates someone’s doing something right and should keep going and will probably do even better if they get that editor as long as the editor doesn’t destroy their voice, and “I had to quit halfway through because I got so sick and tired of the pages and pages of characters telling each other what had already happened” comment which indicates a craft issue.)

(By the way, this is not someone I know other than seeing them post online, so no one who knows me think this is about them.  I actually try not to look at my friends’ books unless they tell me they’re doing really well for this reason. I even avoid the books of people who comment here regularly.)

I think it’s healthy to stop and think about what you’re seeing in your own books. Not what the general trend is, but what you’re seeing. What are your reviews? What are your sales? Are things trending up? Are they trending down? Do you get fan mail?

And I think, too, that sometimes even when you’re doing well it’s worth taking a risk and trying something new. I know more than one author who has moved away from their initial genre to much greater success in a new genre.

There’s value to picking a direction and going in it (if I had done so earlier today I’d be writing the next thing already instead of this blog post), but there’s also value to stopping and adjusting and reassessing, too…

 

Excel, Word, and PPT Books Now in Hard Cover

Just a quick announcement to let you know that Excel for Beginners, Intermediate Excel, 50 Useful Excel Functions, 50 More Excel Functions, Excel Essentials, Word for Beginners, Intermediate Word, and PowerPoint for Beginners are all now available in a hard cover version.

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I have to say, I’m pretty excited about this one because the books feel much more substantial in hard cover than paperback. (That Excel Essentials one which combines the other four Excel titles into one book is a behemoth. It’s one inch thick and weighs two pounds! Who knew I had so much to say about Excel.)

The covers are case laminate so there might be a little denting at the edges like you can see on 50 More Excel Functions in the photo, but overall I was pretty impressed with them. And keep in mind with the skinnier ones that the spine text might be slightly off center because of print-on-demand variances, but it will be there on all of them.

They should be available on Amazon (here’s my author page for the U.S.) as well as Barnes & Noble and any other location where you can order print books.

IngramSpark Update

I thought I’d give a quick update on using IngramSpark. I haven’t been paid yet (and I don’t think I will be the first time until September which is kind of crazy), so until that happens I can’t declare myself fully satisfied, but so far I’m pleased.

One of the nice perks that came with using IngramSpark as opposed to KDP Print is that I had some additional format options.

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For example, I published the omnibus edition of Rider’s Revenge last year in ebook and was disappointed to find out at the time that I couldn’t do so in print because all three novels combined with the front and back matter adds up to about 1,122 pages.

Unfortunately, KDP Print maxes out at 828 pages for the size and paper I was using so a print version wasn’t an option. But IngramSpark will go up to 1,200 pages so I decided to go ahead and put out the trilogy in print as well.

It’s not as cheap as a trade publisher could do. That book you see in that photo is $29.95. But at least there’s now a print version for that series that’s more comparable to the print pricing for YA books published by traditional publishers.

It’s also fun to have on my shelf.

The other print format I’m pleased to have access to is hard cover. I’ve now put all of the Excel, Word, and PowerPoint Essentials titles out in a hard cover format in addition to their paperback format. (They’re slowly making their way to all the platforms. They look to have made it to Barnes & Noble at this point but not yet to Amazon.)

I have to say that I think I really prefer the hard cover versions for those particular books. They feel more substantial in hard cover than in paperback. It’s the exact same material, but there’s a definite perception difference between the two.

They aren’t flawless. There’s a little bending on the corners of some of the proof copies I received and I’m not 100% happy with the spine text placement with the skinnier ones. But overall, I’m pretty darned happy. And for a POD option, I have to say it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

I don’t expect to use hard cover for my other non-fiction that either are too skinny for it to make sense or that are in a size where I don’t think it works as well.

And I haven’t yet tried the non-case laminate hard cover option, which is what I’d want to use for fiction. (At this point I think doing so would just be a vanity project.)

But overall I’m excited by the additional formatting options and how they’ve turned out.

(I still don’t think the expense of going with IngramSpark is justified for someone just starting out unless they have access to free ISBNs through their country of residence, but it’s definitely something to consider when you have enough books to bring down the per-unit ISBN costs.)

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.