Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vacation and a Profit/Loss Update

It's school vacation week here in New Hampshire. As a stay-at-home dad first and a writer second that means I'm hanging with the kids all week. I'm writing early in the morning before they get out of bed but I'm cutting back on the rest of the #indieauthor tasks I usually do while they are at school.

My editor continues to plow through Annihilation and has been sending me chapters at a time. The book is so much better with her help. However this means that it is still not published so it is not making any money. That keeps me squarely in the loss column. Details are at the botom of the post.

I actually kind of  liked my Fiverr cover from the first go round but thought it could be a little better. So I threw another $5 into the pool and got a second cover. Then I watched a replay of +Guy Kawasaki and +Shawn Welch APE'ing a few books. The art used on my covers was not original and my guess is that the designer did not have rights to pass on to me for commercial use. As I result I posted the job on Elance and have a professional designer working on the project. When the transaction is complete I'll include it in the loss column.

The other expense I incurred was a barcode for the print version of the book. I hadn't origianlly planned on doing a print version but some of my reading in the last two weeks has led me to change my mind on that topic. I'll do another post on the subject but the barcode cost me $25.

Starting from the last update on profit and loss I have spent $295 on my book so far. The breakdown is as follows

  • $265 itemized earlier
  • $5 for second cover from Fiverr
  • $25 for a barcode from Bowker
I'm still not including some services that I know are technically expenses related to my book. I still contend that I would have them even if I weren't trying to publish. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why you need character biographies

Whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction a character biography will help you remain focused on who it is you are moving through the book. Before I started putting my story into text I sat down and wrote several character biographies. You can see them at my website.

I'm a fiction writer so that is what I'll be focusing on. For non-fiction my guess is it can be very simple -- "A 42 year old working mother who doesn't mind cooking but hates grocery shopping." or "A 35 year old marketing manager with a bachelors degree and designs on the corner office." It's not a target market as much as it is a consistent frame of reference.

For fiction you have to create the depth. You want to bring a character to life. Readers should be able to identify with your character and feel like they can actually picture them. What better way to do that for yourself then to write down a character biography?

I know the pantsers out there will tell you they don't know what their character is like yet or that they don't do well with structure. Others will say that they have their character all mapped out in their head. The exercise of writing down details of a character helps you sort things out before you get into the weeds of your story. Does your character have siblings or are they an only child? Has your character ever broken a limb? What color hair and eyes do they have. Where are they from, have they ever moved? Much like a regular person the details are endless. It can be fun to get started and see where it leads.

In addition to being fun and sorting out details the character biography can also help break writers block. If you get stuck and don't know where to go next try the character bio. Maybe you'll find a mistake or something you forgot about the character. Maybe you need to add something juicy that you came up with while writing. Before you know it the character is all up in your head and there are a hundred different things you need to do with your story.

Also, lets face it, sometimes we have to take breaks from writing. If you have to go away from your story for a while then the character biography can help you get back into it later. Reading your notes can help you remember the plot and story arc. Reading what you have written can remind you of where you are in the story. The character biography can help you to remember who it  is you are taking on the journey.

So where do you stand? Have you written character biographies or do you completely pants it?

Monday, February 18, 2013

How to tweet all day

When I first started using Twitter one of the things that really mystified me was how certain people were able to tweet all day long. It didn't matter if I was checking on twitter from my laptop in the morning or if I was taking a peek on my phone while I was out to dinner with friends. The same people kept sharing content 24/7.

My first reaction was jealousy. I wished that I had the kind of job that let me surf the interwebs and tweet things out all day long. Next came confusion. Many of these people were really successful. They write books, blog, consult with clients, give interviews and so much more. How did they find the time to tweet all day when they were clearly doing other things?

For a while I blamed my phone. It's old, the screen is too small and the performance is terrible. I resolved that I needed a better tool if I was going to be tweeting all day. So I checked my mobile account to see up getting a new phone. Let's just say that the price for upgrading to a new iPhone or Galaxy III out of cycle was not in the budget. But the exercise got me to thinking about tools. These people have to use a tool to tweet all day.

So I did a little research and found Buffer. Not only does it work for Twitter, but it works for Facebook and LinkedIn too. Buffer lets you put tweets into a queue and will send them out at predefined times through the day. So if you find four or five interesting pieces of content while you are surfing you can use buffer to share them with your followers but spread them out over the course of the day.

Buffer even sends you an email when the queue is getting low and tells you to add content. This makes it kind of like a game for me. I want to make sure my Buffer is full almost all the time. It's also nice because you can still tweet out regularly. This means that if I snap a cool picture with my phone and want to share it right away I can do that.

So if you want to tweet all day but only have fifteen or thirty minutes to surf for content, checkout Buffer. You can be tweeting and sharing all day long in no time.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Two tips for beginning writers

If you want to be a writer you have to write every day. Easier said than done. Chances are you have a job, or family or both. There are a bunch of other things that you have to do and your desire to write goes unfulfilled. So how do you go about cultivating a writing habit?

I'm not published, yet. But I am a writer. I have written over 150,000 words in two novels and a novella. I write every day and I have for the last five months. Last year there were several months when I did not write every day. I thought about it and wanted to write every day but just couldn't find the time. Then in September I started using two simple tools that helped me cultivate a writing habit that I am proud of.

Here are my two best tips for cultivating a new writing habit.

 1. Use your calendar. If  you really want to write schedule the time in your calendar. Ideally you would be able to find an hour every day but for the begginer that might be tough. Even if you wind up scheduling and hour 3-5 times per week it will help develop the new habit. The time blocked for writing needs to be just as important as the time you block for going to the gym, grocery shopping, meeting friends for drinks and any other "must do" items.

 2. Set a timer. When I first started wtiting every day I set a timer for 30 minutes. It allowed me to write and focus completely on the story and getting the words on the page. I never had to worry about missing the next appointment or taking time from the other things I had to do that day. I still use the timer but the length varies from thirty minutes to sixty minutes. Every single time the timer goes off I wish I had more time. It makes me want to come back tomorrow and not miss a minute.

That should do it. If you follow these two tips for a week or two the writing habit will become fully established. Once you've developed the writing habit you can start to look at improving your writing.

Are you going to establish a new writing habit?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My character is falling in love

I won't let you ask my wife, but if I did she would tell you I'm not a romantic. I'm not a romance writer and I didn't plan to have a romance in my book, Annihilation. But lets face it, sixteen year old boys, physics genius or not, have crushes and fall in love.

So Seamus is attracted to and falling for Sofie, one of the few survivors of the apocalypse. There is no "meet cute" and they do not become inseparable within hours of meeting. It's a little more realistic in that they meet, feel an attraction but then take some time. As with life there are a bunch of things that get in the way and it never seems like the right time to declare emotions. I'm still not sure where the two of them will wind up but there's a spark.

In honor of Valentines Day here is a passage from my book that I consider to be somewhat romantic.

        The wind and the noise have either come down in intensity or my hearing has adapted to the cacophony. I shout to Grace and Sofie who are now wrapped in a feeble embrace with me "Where's Dad?"

Grace seems to have stopped functioning. She worries for others when they stub their toe. The worry and concern she must feel right now has drained her.

"He's manning the fire truck." Sofie hollers back. She keeps splashing water on her face. I'm sure it's to keep cool but it also has the effect of washing away the dirt and tears. Her face is drained of energy and emotion but her beauty is still radiant. This hardly seems like the time to be thinking about falling in love but I can't stop.

Leaning over slowly I kiss her. I have no explanation for this action. It is unwarranted and inappropriate. But she's kissing me back! This is amazing. In thirty years will our children believe the story of our first kiss? I think not. It dawns on me that I'm not sure if this is a first kiss or a last kiss. Was this a final act of desperation before we all die? Or is this a first act of resolution that we will defend and protect each other until the end of time?

          My romantic interlude is stunted when the back end of the Escalade comes crashing through the house. As the girls and I dive into the water for cover the brakes engage. When we surface we see the giant SUV skid to a stop just short of the pool. There are dings and dents, scratches and burn marks everywhere. Our luxury land liner looks like the battle wagon Sofie declared it to be. 

What do you think? If you want to learn more about Seamus, Sofie, Grace and the other survivors checkout my website The Seamus Chronicles

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Input, influence and independence

Recognizing that I'm just another 40 something hack trying to write his first novel I have been reading about the craft of writing. There are lots of great blogs and sites out there that can teach the topic.

I am open to input and will try to acknowledge my influences as best I can. But I'm finding it hard to maintain independence. I read a post from an editor the other day that said she is looking for books with strong teen girl voices or non-white protagonists. It's not her fault, those are stories she would like to publish. But I started thinking about how to change my book to include one of those two items. The more I read about publishing it seems that writers, particularly in fiction, come up with ideas and then try to morph and cram them into what editors are looking for. If the writer has a story and plot outline they can write a character into it based on what is in demand. But that doesn't really work for me.

I devised the story I am writing in my head over several months. It uses my family as a basis for the characters and with the exception of the Sci-fi aspects I'm writing about what I know. I get that it is supposed to be fiction, but I have never been a teen girl or a non-white.

My feeling is that if I write the story I love and truly believe that I have developed the story to the best of my ability, it will be a great story. So I will remain open to input on plot lines, logic that may not flow and writing critiques (thanks to +Robin Jenson  for helping with these). I'll also lean on and acknowledge my influences like Jimmy Buffett and Star Trek. Hopefully I will remain independent though and write my story with my characters. I know I'll be independent with my publishing ;-)

How about you, are any of your characters influenced by what someone else is looking for? 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Writing a book is like making music

With each performance on the Grammy's last night I was struck with the different levels of creativity that were on display. I realized that to be successful, writing and publishing books requires a blend of creativity similar to making music.

When you see the award for song of the year and realize that some of the nominees were songs not written by the person who performed it you can see two levels of creativity. To me the singer or band is like the editor. They take great content and polish and present it in a way that interests a wide audience. They make it easily consumed.

When I see Mumford and Sons on stage and the keyboardist is rocking out with a huge smile on his face you see his level of creativity. It's different than the creativity of the lead singer, but equally important to the song. The keyboardist is your books layout. If the background and format are not right the content will not be as engaging.

Justin Timberlake did an amazing set in front of an old-school style big band setup. The clip is below. The facade was intriguing and made me want to wait and listen to the song. His choice of graphics caught my eye. This one is easy, the cover of your book.

I could go on like this; choreography, producers, clothes etc. The point is that these amazingly talented artists think creatively on many levels. But they don't get to the #Grammys by themselves. The finished product comes out with input from multiple resources.

So as a writer why would you try and do it all yourself? It's OK to get help. Editors, professional cover designs, layout specialists they can all take your vision and your art and make it customer friendly.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Screw passion, pursue something interesting

Chances are that if you have something you are passionate about you're not reading posts like this. If you're asking yourself "what should I do" or "how do I find my passion" you've read a hundred posts like this. I think that have found my "passion" but it's still a little too soon to declare victory. Instead I would like to talk about how I got here and what I'll do next.

Recently I read a blog post form +Joshua Fields Millburn at the Minimalist papers. The title is "Follow your passion is crap." The advice is to instead "cultivate your passion." In simple terms this means to work at something until it becomes a passion. If you are like me though it leaves you with the question of what to work at.

As a stay at home dad with three kids in school full time I had the chance to take time and figure out what I wanted to do. With eight "free" hours a day I could take classes, get a job, pick up a new hobby.  The options seemed limitless. I was paralyzed by the opportunity. It wound up being that I spent all my time trying to figure out how to spend my time. A viscous cycle.

When I finally came out of my rut I started to investigate things that I thought were interesting. I would somewhat arbitrarily decide what my "passion" was going to be and then read, research and think about the topic for a while. I pursued them because I found them interesting, not because I was passionate about them. Many of the things I pursued I still find interesting, but not passion inspiring. Fly fishing still fascinates me and I would love to be good at it. I do not see myself staying up late to tie flys or invest in the latest gear, I have no passion there. I really like golfing. Over the past year I realized that I enjoy being outside, hanging out with friends as much as I like the golf itself. I'll keep playing golf, but if my handicap doesn't get any lower it won't bother me. Again, no passion.

So I keep pursuing things that I find interesting. Some of them  will remain as hobbies while others will be put away in the memory bank as something I was once interested in. My expectation is that once I find that interesting thing that I want to stay up late working on I will have found my passion. Then I can cultivate it. My guess is that I will be elbow deep in something before I realize it's my passion but that's a good thing.

How about you? Did you wake up this morning with a pre-existing passion or are you going to pursue something interesting and give it a chance to become a passion?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Profit and Loss

Technically I am not writing novels to make money. Truthfully speaking though I would not be writing everyday and working to understand the self-publishing market simply for relaxation. I'm writing stories that I want to read, their comercial acceptance or failure will not determine my satisfaction with the tales.

At some point when we try and monetize our hobbies we need to start looking at a return on investment. How much are we spending on our hobby and are the returns big enough to continue with a sustained investment. There are a number of authors who are very open with their comercial success. Joe Konrath shares some sales figures on his blog. I hope some day that I can do posts like his and let you know how many thousands of copies of my book have been sold. Today however my book is a cost center.

I'm about 6 weeks from publishing on Kindle. To date I have spent $265 on my book. The break down is simple:
  • $9.95 for my domain name
  • $5 for a place holder book cover from Fiverr
  • $250 for 10 ISBN numbers
The expenses above do not include a few things that a hardcore accountant may expect to see. The laptop I use for writing is a seven year old MacBook, in my mind that makes it a free resource. I should put a value on my time, I have thousands of hours invested in the book, but no line item for that. My cell phone is actively used for social media updates and book marketing, but I would have it if I weren't writing so again, no line item. All of the writing has been done with Google Docs so there is no software cost for that. However yesterday I signed up for a trial of Microsoft Office 365 and I already know that I will pay that subscription when the trial is over, that will be a line item.

Over the next six weeks I expect to drop thousands on my book for things like a professional cover design and professional layout services. I'll update my profit and loss statement to reflect those expenditures when they occur. In March I will publish my book so starting with the April update there will be some income to balance out the expense.

Are you tracking the investments you make in your book?