writing

Writing process? – part six – Publishing preparation

So, this is my step by step for self-publishing. It’s New Zealand based, because that’s what I have experience with. This is the stuff you can do up front, and will make the actually upload process very quick and streamlined when you get to it.

Get yourself an ISBN. In NZ you can get one for free from the National Library here. It’s free to issue but you will need to give them a copy of your book for legal deposit when it’s done, they’ll send the form, etc with the ISBN. Easy!

You’ll need cover art. There’s lots of options here, there are artists on Fiverr and on Facebook. Or you can check the credits on the books with awesome covers and find artists that way, or ask a fellow indie author who has covers you love for a referral. Many, many options. You’ll need to know going in if you’re publishing ebook only or paperback too, because there’ll often be an extra cost for a wraparound paperback cover.

Decide where to publish through. Most authors, myself included, go for Amazon. Amazon is a great choice because it has the widest audience and it has Kindle Unlimited, which is great for certain genre of books. Lots of romance readers are in KU and you get paid per page read, which can be quite lucrative.

You can also go ‘wide’ and publish with Kobo, Apple Books, etc. This is particularly easy if you use an online distributor. I use Draft2Digital for this because they upload books to library wholesalers, which gives me more options to sell. You can also do each website manually, but I like saving time, even if D2D take a little cut of sales.

Write your blurb aka the absolute worst part of the novel creation process. The best advice I’ve seen for this is to look around at blurbs in your genre, which sound interesting. Work out what it is about the blurb which sounds interesting and then do your own version. No copy pasting here, that’s gross and bad manners. Instead, look at what’s grabbing you. Look at what makes you interested, and then draw out the most interesting, hooky things about your book’s plot. I absolutely hate blurbs, but they do get easier with time.

Write your endmatter. It’s up to you what to put in the back of the book. Links to your author social media, links to other books or media you’ve got online, a hook for your next book. A preorder link for your next book, if you’re really onto it. A dedication and a little bio of yourself is nice, too.

Copyright page! Something I didn’t even think of until I was getting my manuscript formatted. You need to make a copyright page to go in the front. There are standard ones you can copy paste online and enter in your own information, dates and ISBN. Just google it!

Register with Payoneer or a similar third party banking/payment service. I like Payoneer because it’s super simple to use, they don’t take much of a fee, and they give you a US and a UK bank account number (among others!) This is great, because if you register on Amazon with a New Zealand bank account number, they won’t wire you any money until you’ve earned past a certain threshold. (I think $100USD). Giving them a US bank account cuts that threshold out, and you’ll get paid a lot faster. They also convert the currency for you when you get paid out.

Register on KDP – assuming you’re going with Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing requires a separate registration/activation from your regular Amazon account. They’ll ask you some tax questions, and you can register your shiny new US bank account number from payoneer with them. Then once they’ve processed your account you’ll get a shiny ‘add your book’ page:

If you’re relatively sure of how long it’ll take you to get everything ready, you could set up a preorder and share the link around. Preorders are great because they give your book a boost on release day. However, don’t set one if there’s any uncertainty about how long it’ll take you to do. You don’t need to upload a manuscript to do a preorder, just a blurb and ideally a cover image. Amazon will give you a countdown for when to upload your manuscript so it’s processed in time.

Okay, I think that’s enough steps for one blog post. Join me again soon for part two: the actual uploading of the thing, and what to do afterwards.

Previously in this series:
Part One – Starting out
Part Two – Characters
Part Three – Actually writing
Part Four – Sticking to it
Part Five – Editing and redrafting

Marketing, writing

Social Media for authors part one: Your voice, your brand

This is the first in my advice series for building customer engagement with readers as an author.

Disclaimer: I’m still very new at this business in particular so I expect this advice will date quickly. That said, I have been doing professional social media for various companies for almost a decade on and off and I know a bit about engagement.

Before you do anything else, you need to think a bit about how you want to come across to a total stranger. You need to plan your brand.

I’ll admit, if someone asks me what my brand is, my mind blanks out. I don’t like the idea of reducing my entire self to a few words, and I hate the idea of selling myself as an idea. But when it came to a pen name it became easier for me to get my head around it.

When I came up with Jaxon Knight for the Fairyland romances, I knew I could leverage off my love for theme parks, fluffy happy stories, romance and food, as those are all things which feature in those books.

For a more hypothetical example, if I have a pen name to write science fiction stories about spaceship battles in space, then that pen name should have a brand concerned with military tactics, spaceships, physics and all things space. If I was to be posting on social media for that pen name, I could do things like retweet NASA and share photos from the International Space Station. Basically you want to connect to your readers on the things that they’re into and you are too.

In terms of politics, it’s important to decide early on what you’re willing to get into. A lot of authors will recommend not being political at all, just stick to the books and the fun stuff. I think this is impossible, frankly. Nothing you write or release exists outside of politics. The choices you make around what to write and what not to, is political. But that doesn’t mean you want to go on twitter and start fights with politicians as your author persona. Just be mindful of what you choose to share.

I, personally, am okay with complaining about transphobia as my author persona, because I write trans and gender diverse characters, and if people are following me for my books then they’ll know that. If someone who disagrees with me unfollows me as a result, that’s okay because they probably wouldn’t like my books anyway. The upside is that if there’s someone, somewhere who looks up to me as an author and identifies as trans or gender diverse, then they’ll know I’ve got their back. Trust is super important.

Keep your voice authentic to you. Don’t make up a bunch of lies that you have to keep track of, because people will catch on, catch you out and assume you have something to hide. Trust lost! You don’t have to be posting photos of yourself and sharing details of your life, but share enough to show you’re a real person. For example, my Jaxon Knight instagram features a lot of food I’ve made, because I put a lot of food and cooking scenes in my Jaxon Knight books.

So what I’m saying, basically, is that you should think a little about how you want to come across before you get stuck into social media as an author. Think about the kinds of things you can share on your social media, decide how much of your true self you’ll share and what you’ll omit from your real life, and have a think about politics as well.

Take a look at what some of your favourite authors are doing, on their facebook pages and twitters you’ll notice it’s not just ads for their books. They’ll be sharing articles and retweeting people etc.

Take a look at what other authors in your genre are doing as well. Obviously, don’t just copy them, but the more you immerse yourself in the community the more you’ll get an instinctive feel for how to interact in a way that works. Watch and learn, and then do your own version of it.

Don’t fake it, if you don’t actually care about the stuff you share, it will read as dull and flat. Be yourself, but be a refined, targeted version of yourself.

Phew, okay. Apparently I have quite a lot to say about brand and voice, despite finding those terms a little cringey. Please comment if you have any insights or extra stuff to add! In this series I’m going to do some specific Twitter, Facebook and Instagram advice and whatever else occurs to me. If you’d like to see me tackle something in particular please let me know!

Writers, writing

Boosted productivity via Bullet journal genius

I’ve been using a bullet journal this year, and I’ve found it useful in a lot of ways. Specifically I’ve been loving tracking my word counts/pages edited for each day. This is an example month spread from May. I used to just have words across the whole page, but then I realised I wanted to have editing and learning and things accounted for as well.

So, here’s May with the central spindle date margin, editing etc on the left and wordcount on the right. The running total wordcount for the whole project is on the far right.

I usually try to focus on one project, but you can see I jumped around some (and did work on two projects in one day towards the end… ) I also had a full week of learning, but it gives you a general idea.

But then for the month of August, I tried this system from youtuber Garrett Robinson:

Suddenly my hours were focused. I was less likely to get distracted, or mooch around on other tabs on my laptop. I would be tempted to but just say to myself ‘no, this is my hour to do X’ and apparently that was all my brain needed to really knuckle down. So to speak.

Here’s my running totals for August. You can see that my daily word counts have shot up, I’ve been more focused on a single project, and my pages edited have increased as well. August 11th is, as far as I can tell, my most productive words day ever. It’s a heady feeling.

More than that, I wrote 25k words in one week. I think my previous record was a very exhausting 20k week which resulted in almost nothing the week after. With this system I was still energised, I wanted to keep writing, but I knew my editing on another project was my priority so I jumped into that instead.

This last weeked I travelled to Christchurch and went to the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, so my word count’s been a bit all over the place. But I learned a lot and have a nice new list of actions for various projects, etc so. It’s all good.

I love this bullet journal tracker, it really really works for me, and I recommend anyone looking to up their productivity gives it a go, for one month at least. I’ll definitely be using it for September and churning out some serious words.

Writers, writing

Writing process? part five- the editing/redrafting

In a lot of ways editing is my least favourite part of the process, but at the same time I do enjoy it, and I do like seeing that my skills in editing have improved.

So the first thing is that I was under the impression you need to let a manuscript ‘rest’ in a drawer for 6 months to a year, so that you can gain distance from the work and let your sub-conscious work out plot problems or whatever.

This is, to put it bluntly, crappola.

You can edit something right away. Or you can wait a week if there are puzzles that need fixing up, or you can set it aside. But know that on some level the setting it aside for a time is you avoiding the next step. Remember that the resistance in your brain is trying to stop you succeeding, and telling yourself ‘no, I must not look at it for X time’ is a really easy way to never take the next step.

That said, a little distance can be nice, and sometimes you want distance. If it’s a particularly problematic manuscript for example.

Anyway, assuming you have let precisely the right time elapse, here’s some tips on how I wrangle the editing process.

Weasel words – Or filtering words. These are words which find their way into your writing but can easily be dropped or rephrased in order to make the sentence stronger. For example: That, just, looked, up, down – you’ll have your own words that you’re using or overusing, and a quick Ctrl + F + search for that word will highlight how many times in your manuscript you have it. Whittle them out, rephrase the sentence and see how your prose improves.

Further reading: Filtering words , words and phrases to discard

Beta readers – Beta readers are amazingly magical unicorns who like your work enough to read it and give you feedback on it. If you find good, reliable beta reader do whatever you can to keep them. I have a brilliant one who keeps track of plot holes, points out when a character’s turn of phrase doesn’t sound like them, and also peppers the manuscript with compliments and “Oh my God, I know these feels!”
Besides giving feedback on a draft, you can also bounce ideas off a trusted beta reader, such as “what if I made this guy the villain?” and see what they think.

Actual professional editors – these are worth their weight in gold, and although it can be a little daunting to pay someone a large chunk of cash when you’re starting out, the difference a good editor can make to your manuscript will definitely pay itself off in time. You learn more about writing craft, your own weaknesses as a writer and new techniques that can improve your next draft.

Proofreaders – different to an editor. An editor will look at characterisation, tension highs and lows, ways to improve the story itself. A proofreader will look for grammar errors and typos. Freaking genius, because even if you’ve done this yourself you’re going to miss things. You get so used to your own words that your brain skims over the details.

Editing software – I love Grammarly, but there’s also Hemingway, ProWriteAid, even the spell check in Google docs or Word. They’ll all pick up things you might have missed. Grammarly and Hemmingway will also pick up sentences which are too complex, or incidents of passive voice.

So I’ll generally do a few passes, one searching for my weasel words, one with beta reader feedback, then send it to the professional editor and do another pass with their feedback. Then run it through grammarly and word spell/grammar check and made the changes those programmes find which I also agree with.

And then Proofreader time, which I do last before uploading to Amazon. Amazon itself will also find a typo or two sometimes!

So editing is time consuming and it’s hard, and I don’t really like it, but it’s necessary and it’s a great way to upgrade my writing skills.

You’re never going to get a perfect, typo-free and perfectly punctuated manuscript, so at some point you have to say ‘fuck it, that’ll do’ or you’ll be polishing that thing forever. Don’t do that, accept it’s as good as it’ll get and let it go.

Writers, writing

Writing Process? Part four – the perspecacity

Okay, so let’s say you’ve read and applied the previous posts, you’ve started something and you had momentum for a while. But then something came up – maybe a cool new TV show was released and you’ve marathoned that for days. Or maybe you got sick or work got intense and you haven’t had the headspace to write.

It happens to everyone.

I find around the 8 – 10 thousand word mark I often trail off and think about a new, more exciting project I could be working on. I’ll can always come back to this one later, right?

How do you keep with the same thing?

Honestly? you just have to be super strict on yourself. There’s always going to be a time when you struggle to motivate. You have to find what motivates you. Here’s some ideas, but you have to find your own golden ticket…

  • Read through the plan for the book and remind yourself of the neat stuff to come
  • Write your back of the book blurb. Writing the blurb is so depressing and difficult I’d rather do almost anything but write it
  • Reconnect with your reason for writing – the most motivation I had was at the start of the year when I was in a job I actively disliked. I hated having to go into the office, and I wanted a way out – writing could be the way out, but I have to complete manuscripts for that to work
  • Daydream about your potential future readers, and how much they might love your story
  • Bribe yourself. I really want to play my new video game, but I have to get words down. Well, if I get X many words today, then I can take a break and play for half an hour. Then I can write more and ‘earn’ more time. Then if you get into the flow of writing, you can put the reward off a bit longer and earn bonus extra words. Brains are easy to trick sometimes!
  • Some sort of tracker or progress recorder, which has worked especially well for me lately (more on that soon)

It’s hard work.

You have to put the next words down or the thing will never get finished. But just think of the end point – if you get to the end of the manuscript then you will have finished a manuscript! and that’s pretty miraculous, really.

You just gotta want it and keep on wanting it as hard as you can. Then you do the work and keep on doing the work. Then one day you can type ‘the end’ and feel like the big goddamn hero that you are.

There’s no foolproof method here, it just comes down to understanding your own reasons for writing and what motivates you. If you want to write for money then of course you have to have completed manuscripts to publish. If you want to write to tell your story and share it with people – you have to have it finished to do that.

If you have a way to force yourself back into a WIP when you’re in that ‘fallen out of love’ stage please comment and let me know!

Uncategorized, writing

Writing process? Part three – the actual writing

I’ve written before about a daily writing habit, but I think there’s more to actually writing. And by actually writing I really mean writing enough of a first draft to complete a piece of work. So, here we go…

Part three: the actual writing

Honestly? Finishing a draft is the hard bit because it requires self discipline and saying no, and forcing yourself to be creative. I don’t have a tried and true method for making any of this easy, but here’s the basic tenets I stick to, that I’ve found helpful to remember in terms of writing a first draft.

Don’t edit as you write – it’s really easy to fall into a trap of perfecting things as you go. You can’t do this. Your job when writing a first draft is to get the first draft done.

Don’t judge – following on from point one, it’s really easy to write something and immediately think ‘oh no, that sucks, I’m terrible’. You can’t do that on your first draft, instead you have to stick to your plan and …

Just spew it out – write as much as you can as fast as you can manage. There’s lots of quotes around this ‘you can’t edit a blank page’ and ‘you have to write what you’re going to throw away’, that kind of thing.

Don’t over commit or stress yourself out – signing up to something like NaNoWriMo or giving yourself a really big daily word count to start up with, or even telling yourself you have to write every day is a quick way to burn yourself out. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you just give yourself five minutes a day, or a half hour, or aim for 500 words, whatever works. Don’t call yourself a failure if you don’t manage to stick to your initial goal. Just look at your goal and see if you need to make a change to it. Then forgive yourself and try again when you can.

If it’s boring, skip to the next bit – this is a hard one to realise when you’re in the woods of writing, but if you’re struggling with a scene, it could be because it’s boring. You can either skip this bit (often when it’s ‘and then character A got to place B’ you can safely skip it). If it’s a scene you need for plot reasons, then my favourite way to fix it is to ask what would make it fun? Don’t let a boring scene slow you down, nothing boring has to be included. Readers will find it boring if you do. Another thing you can ask yourself is…

What’s the worst that could happen? – conflict drives story and reveals character, so look for it in every scene. Then at the end of the story, you can ask ‘what’s the best that could happen?’ and make things brilliant for your babies… well, assuming you’re writing something where everyone survives and your leads get a happy ending. I’m writing romance at the moment and it may be influencing things.

You have permission to write whatever – I know this is kind of obvious, but I have definitely run up against an internal belief that I have to write something worthy or I’m wasting my time. Now, this is a stupid belief and it needs deconstructing.

First: what is worthy? I don’t know, but it sounds stuffy and elitist.

Second: Why the fuck shouldn’t you write just exactly what you want to write?

Third: Forget worthy. Channel your inner child, think about the coolest most fun thing you can imagine and tell a story about that. Worthy is a trap (and an excuse not to write).

So, there you have it. Those are the things I try and remember, and generally this has helped me.

Some other hacks if I’m having trouble getting going:

  • write on paper in a cafe or library
  • voice to text on whatever programme you have, and dictate your story
  • alternate writing on a new draft with another project – have both open in tabs on your laptop and switch between them when you get distracted
  • Pomodoro technique or writing ‘sprints’ of a certain time

Please comment and let me know if you have how to write hacks, everything works differently for different people, so you never know what might hit and what might miss.

Read the Writing process series
Part one – Planning
Part two – Characters

fiction, writing

Writing process? Part one

Advice about writing? What is my process? Well, first it’s just write. Write as much as I can, when I can and make time for it.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Let’s see if I can answer over a couple of posts.

Part one: Planning plants?

I used to write pure ‘by the seat of my pants’ aka Pantser, and just let the story tell itself through me. It was all very Romantic Poets – the wind through the lute and me just the instrument to the divine muse.

I got several novels written that way, but when I gave them to publishers or various others to look over, there were big problems with them.

e.g. The plot ambled around. The B plot started half way through the book instead of near the start as a concurrent stream. The characters made choices which were bizarre.

Some of those manuscripts are salvagable with some hard work, but looking at myself and realising I wanted to write fast, get something out there and hopefully make a little money, I knew I there had to be a better way.

So, in August and September last year I changed it up.

I read this article about increasing daily word count to 10,000 words.

Now, I’m generally enthusiastic about my work, and I can sort of find time most of the time, but planning was where I fell down. Like the Romantic poets I mentioned above, I didn’t believe in it. I thought I was above it.

Well, that’s just pretentious nonsense, isn’t it? You can’t sit around and hope a divine muse will pop into your house and dictate a book to you. You have to do the mahi and make it happen. And that meant planning.

There’s a lot of great books out there on planning* and I’m sorry but I haven’t read a single one. I had a fire under my butt and I wanted to get started immediately. So I went to planning articles and beat sheets.

Beat sheets are wonderful. Beat sheets break down the story beats into acts and important turning points, and there’s all these wonderful genre specific ones out there, too!

I’m a big fan of Jami Gold’s worksheets. She has put a ton of work into breaking down different genre and explaining each beat in a succint way.

So, I grab the beat sheet for the kind of book I’m writing and then brainstorm some things about the story.

Who are the characters? (I’ll do a post on my character notes, because I find them hilarious). Name the characters, what are their relationships and what are they most afraid of? Then I start mapping out the novel scene by scene using the beat sheet.

I don’t map the scene out exhaustively, I suppose I’m a little afraid of feeling like it’s done already, and losing the impetus to write it. So I give myself generic description. Something like:

Intro character A = house routine with daughter M – visit Important place – meet character B there. Show A’s need for love, and a way out of his lonely routine

Or

Character A is in the backyard , is startled by figure – heavy on atmosphere and description, then startle awake.

You can see I don’t give myself too much to go on, just enough to get the scene in my head so I can write it fully. Also reminding myself to write atmosphere is important or I’ll rely on dialogue too much. This makes me a planster – a planner who also writes by the seat of my pants.

I’d love to show you a picture example of one of my plot plans but it’s all spoilers for unpublished books… maybe someday.

I write this all longhand and leave lines in between each scene for extra notes. Characters can surprise you, they can move the story forward or change their minds when you didn’t expect it.

I’ve also found that as I write I might see a need for another scene to expand on something, so I give myself room for that as well.

Then, plan done, I just start writing those scenes. It really does save time, and it lets me see the shape of the story in advance. It ensures my B plot is present and interconnecting with the A plot, and it means when I’m focused I can just tear through words.

I don’t believe in divine wind from Heaven any more. I believe in working hard as often as I can, instead and tools like a beat sheet have really helped me with that.

*Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat! seem to be the two most recommended, and I have every intention of reading them… some day…