Blame My Teachers

Blame My Teachers

Blame My Teachers

Teachers are an interesting sort.  They are like guiding lights showing us the way along the path of life.  For some.  Some of us were difficult students (me).  And some individuals have no business being in a formal education setting (I won’t name names).  The fact remains: The people in my life who had perhaps the most profound effect on me were my teachers.  Three come to mind.  That’s not to diminish my appreciation for my other teachers.  I went to a private school and was fortunate to have a whole cast of characters whose genuine concern was my education and well-being.  They were all good.  They all cared.  And they all affected me.

But I digress, three stand out.

Elementary School

I was fortunate enough to have Mrs. Cowan for both first grade and third.  She read aloud to us.  I still tear up thinking about the intense, emotional experience of Where the Red Fern Grows.  She did voices.  Read with drama and flair.  Story time was better than anything on TV.  She let her students soar with their strengths upon discovering their talents.  Take me for example.  When it came time for math, or science, or even history, I got bored.  Especially Math.  Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine were popular at the time, and I had read them all.  When I found myself waiting for another book to be released, I instead ventured into my earliest manuscripts.  Most teachers upon catching a student ignoring his math lesson to write gruesome and juvenile horror would have disciplined me.  Instead, she read it an encouraged me to continue writing.  She didn’t panic at the blood and guts.  No.  Instead, she took it as the musings of a little boy with a wild and overactive imagination.

Mrs. Cowan, thank you for not stamping out my spark of creativity.  You kindled the flame by showing me how to fall in love with make-believe, and I never grew out of it.  That fire is still alive in me today, and you’re one of the reasons why.

Middle School

In middle-school and high school, I had a truly brilliant woman for English, writing, reading, and drama.  Ms. Huibregste was always prepared for every lesson.  She’s the reason I like the subject of history now.  It is, after all, the pursuit of knowing humanity’s true story inspired by actual events—perhaps the most relevant subject to know in order to refrain from repeating the mistakes of our past.  She loved to laugh and have fun, but she took teaching very seriously, and expected her students to take learning the same way.  Her classes exposed me to great literature and a lot of it.  And my favorite thing about any class she taught was the promise of a whole stack of writing assignments.  My peers and I produced hundreds of thousands of words for this woman.  She made us do it until we knew how to do it right.  Until we were good at it.  Her standards and expectations were high, but always within reach.

Melissa, thank you so much for the pleasure of sitting in your classes for the most crucial years of my development.  I could fill books with the knowledge I learned there (and I intend to).  You taught me how vast literature is, and how to recognize great work when I read it.

High School

In my last three years of high school, I met a man called Mr. Hanold.  He made a first impression as an eccentric, and lived up to it until I graduated.  He taught my expository writing class.  Piggybacking on Ms. Huibregste’s foundation, he gave us pens, notebooks, and said, “Go.”  Whatever musing happened to be crawling around in our beehive of teenage minds we recorded into a journal at his instruction.  All to make space for creativity to flow like a stream from our imaginations.  Once, I left a tidbit I’d written outside of class on his desk.  He read it, and after class the next day, asked me to stay behind and explain myself.  I confessed my deepest, darkest secret to him: writing is the only thing in the whole world that makes me feel truly alive.  He took me under his wing, helped me get published for the first time, showed genuine enthusiasm in reading my work, and critiquing it.  On more than one occasion he said about my writing, “You can do better than this; write it again.  And again.  And again.”

Scott, thank you for believing in my talent, and for believing  in me.  Thank you for telling me the truth about how hard it is to be a writer in this day and age.  I’m so grateful for the courage you gave me to try it anyway.  I haven’t quit.  You can’t lose, if you refuse to quit, right?

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it.  The first teacher taught me to enjoy my imagination—to relish in it.  The second taught me the discipline to produce excellence, to hone my craft, to make the sacrifice of time and study.  The third taught me what it would take to pursue my dreams, and told me I possessed the moxie to make them come true.  Every bit of success I owe in no small measure to these wonderful, weird people.  These teachers.  Words are my thing, but they fall short in adequately articulating my humblest and sincerest gratitude.

So, I hope “Thank you,” will suffice.

Why I Review Books and Why You Should Too

Why I Review Books and Why You Should Too

This post explores the effects and benefits of taking the time to leave honest, critical reviews for books and e-books.  It may seem like such a small thing, but it has a profound effect for the reader, the author, and the book itself.  Discover why reviews are such a big deal, and why authors regard them so highly (even the negative ones).

You’re Already Thinking It

Reading a book is not just an activity; it’s an experience.  If it’s well-written, I make a connection to the characters and invest in the plot.  I feel the emotions from the laughter and joy just as much as the pain and loss.  After making the journey from the front cover to the back, sometimes I feel satisfied and sometimes I feel cheated.  Regardless, after finishing a book, one thing remains true: I have something to say about it.

Just like the conversation most folks have leaving the auditorium of a movie theater as the credits roll, I like give those around me the impression a book left on me.  My favorite character.  The chapter that made me laugh.  The plot point that took me to the edge of my seat.  Why I couldn’t put it down.  I like to hear the same things from my friends (the ones who read).  Books, just like films, can be eye-opening, thought-provoking, and life-changing.  If they found such a book, I want to read it too.

They Influence Your Decision

If you read a lot you probably have a stack of books in queue, waiting to be read.  On those rare occasions when I’ve made it through the stock and I’m actively looking for something new to sink my teeth into, I hit Amazon and start looking through e-books I might like.  When I see a title or a cover that strikes my fancy, I read the synopsis.  Even after the hook piques my interest, there is still one place I look before making my final decision: the reviews.

Reviews show you the feedback of others who have gone before you.  The reviews are categorized and counted by how many stars readers awarded them.  This total is averaged and the book is given a score.  When I see a book with a hundred reviews, and it averages as a 4-star or 5-star, I take it as a good sign.  But I don’t stop there; I take the time to read through a couple of the reviews, making sure to read both the positive and negative things.

All books are not created equal, and in the same vein, not all reviews are helpful.  I would rather see a 3-star review that outlines the reader’s likes and dislikes than a 5-star review that just says, “I loved it.”  I want to know what they loved and why.  It kills me to read oversimplified reviews.  I watch people post novella-length tirades on social media complaining about their experience with a local fast food joint, but they won’t take more than a few minutes to post an intuitive review about a book they spent hours reading.

Behind the Scenes

Readers only ever see the finished product of a writer’s work.  They don’t see the editing and revisions, the cover design, the endless queries and rejection letters, the formatting, and the marketing.  Do you know why authors always encourage their readers to leave a review?  It helps.  Reviews help the book rank higher in keyword searches on Amazon, and they help encourage readers to buy and read the book once they find it.  I wish I could count how many authors I find online doing everything they can to promote their book, and find out they have less than ten reviews.  It makes me sad when I take the time to read their book only to find a little-known treasure no one has noticed for one reason: a shortage in reviews.

For this reason, I make sure to take the time to leave an honest critique of books I read.  I like to think of it as paying it forward.  Perhaps, if I take the time to help an author out, my readers might just do the same thing.  It is not just for the author’s benefit that you take the time to leave a review, however.  The book that you so thoroughly enjoyed, another person might dismiss at a glance for lack of reviews.  That’s sad.  So sad.  So why not give others the opportunity to enjoy what you enjoyed.  To share in your pain and your pleasure.  Perhaps you didn’t like it.  At all.  There’s nothing wrong with leaving a negative review either.  Ever finished a book you didn’t like and wish someone wrote a review telling you what to expect?  You could be that person for someone else.

Why Should You?

If you want to know what’s in it for you, here’s some incentive you might find interesting.  Did you know that Amazon will contact people who leave a lot of reviews?  Merchants selling on Amazon can purchase access to consumers who are likely to review.  These customers will oftentimes get offers to try products for free in exchange for a review.  Now, the people they choose have usually left reviews numbering in the thousands, and probably buy online more often than the average person.  Still, I can’t imagine how someone could decline receiving goods at no cost in exchange for their opinion.  Every time I turn on social media I see there is no shortage in sharing opinions.  Leaving reviews is one of those rare opportunities where your opinion can truly make a difference.  So, why not?

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.  Moreover, I hope this inspires you to leave good reviews for things you read.  Somewhere behind the scenes, there’s an author hoping and praying for a reader just like you.  As always, thank you for reading and feel free to leave any feedback in the comments section below.

Worth the Wait

Worth the Wait

Being the outgoing person I am, meeting new people offers an exciting prospect.  It used to make me nervous, but after some observation, I realized it was the same exchange over and over.  You trade names and ice-breaking questions, namely, “What do you do for a living?”  I used to answer this question with what I do for my day job.  Now that I’m working to build better habits in self-promotion, I answer by saying, “I’m a writer.”  This ensures every new person I meet hears about me and my work.  While an effective marketing strategy, it also opens me up for haters to take their jabs.

“So how much money do you make off each book sold?”

I tell them, and they follow up with, “Safe to say you’re not in it for the money, then?”

I politely explain that I’m not in it for the money.  I do it because I love it.  Yes, I’m building a lucrative career with writing, but it’s a journey and I’ve only just begun.

“So how many books have you sold?”

I tell them, they snicker, and say, “I guess it’s safe to say your book is not exactly a bestseller.”

This is where I get in trouble.  I hate this attitude—as if the measure of my success as an artist is defined only by how much money I make.  Despite my most valiant efforts to hold back the sarcasm, I typically reply with something along the lines of, “No, it’s not a bestseller.  If it were a bestseller you would have already heard of it, of me, and would be asking me for my autograph instead of demeaning my artistic endeavors by narrowing something as broad as success down to how many books I’ve sold and how much money I’ve made.”

It’s about this time I lose any hope of this person ever buying and reading my books.  And while I should perhaps be a little less cavalier about it, I feel no great loss.  Success takes time, and anyone I encounter who cannot respect the journey, gets categorized as a hater.

Ain’t nobody got time for haters!

Rather than get discouraged, I think on people who took a while to come into their own.  One of my favorites is the inspiring story of Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  By and large, his story is a long and tragic tale, but it takes a twist at the end no one would expect.

At age 5, his father died.  He dropped out of high school at 16, and lost four jobs by the age of 17.  He married at 18, fathered a child at 19, and his wife left him at 20.  He worked as a railroad conductor until he was 22.  After this run of bad luck, he joined the Unites States Army and washed out there.  When that didn’t work out, he applied for law school and was rejected.  He tried his hand at selling insurance and failed yet again.  Failure after failure paved the road leading him to work as a cook and dishwasher at a café.  Here, he worked until he retired at the age of 65.

Day one of retirement landed him a check from the government in the amount of $105.  Taking this as a slight, as if to say he lacked the capacity to provide for himself, he felt life no longer worth living.  Deciding to commit suicide, he sat under a tree to write his will, but instead he wrote what he would have accomplished with his life.  It was in this moment of clarity he realized there was more in life he hadn’t done, more he hadn’t tried.  In attempt to soar with his strengths, his mind went to the one thing he knew he could do better than anyone else he knew: cook.

After borrowing $87 he bought and fried up some chicken using his recipe.  With no restaurant of his own, no avenue to sell, he took the time to go door-to-door and sell to his neighbors in Kentucky.  Imagine the nerve!  Knocking on someone’s door and asking them to buy fried chicken from a stranger!  But guess what.  It worked.

At the age of 88 he was the billionaire owner of the second largest restaurant chain with almost 20,000 locations globally in 123 countries.  And he almost committed suicide because he felt he was a failure.

I have one up on Harland Sanders.  He didn’t realize what he loved and what he was really good at until he was 65 years old.  I’m not even 30 yet and I know exactly what I love and what I’m really good at.  I have years to hone my craft, decades to get exposure for my work, and all of the passion and determination it takes to make something work.  It won’t happen overnight—until it does.

One day, my books will be on shelves.  Someday people will know who I am and the work I do.  Eventually, I will not have to work a day job to make ends meet; I will use my talent and creativity to employ myself.  I’m already living my dream.  Just because it isn’t fully realized doesn’t mean it never will be.

When you get discouraged, work harder.  It will make you feel better.  When you get down, think about Harland Sanders, how long it took him to find his niche, and how well it paid off.  You’ll get there so long as you never give up.

Give It Away

Give It Away

One of the best e-book marketing techniques we can utilize is this: give it away for free.  Yes, you read that right.  FREE-ninety-nine is price few readers can argue with.  When the opportunity to give your book away for free comes around, leap on it.  Especially for new authors working to build their audience.  Before an e-book becomes a bestseller, the biggest hurdle writers have to jump over is raising awareness.  Get your name and your work out there.  I’ve written articles before about how important it is to have a website and a social media presence.  All of that builds on getting noticed, reviewed, and generating sales.

I publish through Amazon Kindle, and while they set a minimum price for e-books sold through their site ($0.99) they offer promotional tools.  One such tool is setting days aside for your book to be listed for free for a limited time.  You have to schedule it at least the day before the launch.  I recommend setting it out at least a week to give yourself time to prepare.  Prepare the Facebook posts, set aside a budget to boost the post to a target audience, build hype on Twitter, make a blog post, an announcement on your website, and tell everyone you know to tell everyone they know.

Self-publishing, unless your audience is already established, means the author must take the initiative to market and advertise on their own.  It’s work.  I don’t find it particularly fun, though some do.  But it’s necessary.  The good news is: it’s not very hard.  It takes a little time, but every download and subsequent review will feel like a victory.

Canva

If you’re like me and your Photoshop skills are lackluster and forgettable, Canva will be your best friend.  It’s free and it’s easy to use.  Spend a little time browsing through their templates until you find something that works for you, save it to your computer, and now you can use it.  Here’s an example of one of my recent creations.

Tales of Espiria

Facebook

This is the largest and fastest growing social media site out there.  If you’re trying to reach people online, this is the way to do it.  If you haven’t created a Facebook author page for yourself yet, bookmark this site, stop reading, and take care of that.  Invite your friends to like it and remember to take the time to post.  It doesn’t have to be every day, but I recommend at least once a week to remind people you’re still around.

After you post your advertisement, Facebook will allow you to boost your post.  It allows you to specifically designate a target audience, set up a budget and a time frame, and it does the rest.  What’s really cool about this feature, is it will not spend your money unless it needs to.  If you set aside $100.00 for a three-day promotion for your free e-book, and it only uses $50.00, you’re not throwing your money away.

Kindle

Amazon Kindle has a similar feature.  They do not allow you create your own advertisement, but will use the cover art from your e-book.  You fill in the blanks with some eye-catching, captivating text, and then you set a time frame and budget.  This works a little differently than Facebook.  You will only pay Amazon per click on your advertisement, but you have to put in a bid for the clicks.  Authors and publishers all over the world are doing the same thing with their e-book, so there’s an element of competition here.  Amazon recommends $0.35 a click.  Speaking from experience, if you go less than this, you will end up setting aside $100.00 for advertisement, and only spending $6.00 or $7.00.  If you want to go really aggressive, say $0.59 a click, this gives you a higher likelihood to win the click bid, but decreases the number of people you can reach before you run out of money.  I recommend going a little over the suggested amount to ensure you’re winning the bids, and maximizing the number of people you reach with your budget.

I’m sure right about now you’re wondering to yourself, “Why would I spend money to give my e-book away for free when I’m trying to make money?”  This is a great question.  I asked myself the same question when doing online research about how to raise awareness about my e-book.  One cliché we’ve heard over and over rings true, “You have to spend money to make money.”  Now, this is not an absolute, but let me tell you from personal experience, it helps.  A lot.

I’ve finished two books in my fantasy series, Tales of Espiria, Conspiracy and Crusade.  I did not start advertising online until after the second one was published.  I tried giving it away for free to see if people would find it on Amazon.  Two people did.  Only two.  After that, I tried giving it away for free and advertising on Facebook.  I received a lot more downloads, though not as many as I liked because I was very conservative with my budget.  I tried doing just Kindle, but once again, I bid too low per click.  I saw the best results when I gave the first book away for free, advertised aggressively on both Facebook and Kindle.  Not only did my first book get more downloads, the second book got more sales.  It sold so well, I made back the money I invested in advertising in royalties.

This strategy is especially good if you’re writing a series.  Give your first book away for free, and if people download and read it, they will likely buy the subsequent installments.  My personal plan is routinely give my first book away for free.  Upon the publication of each volume in the series, I plan to give away all of the previous books for one day.  Like so many of you, I have a long way to go before Tales of Espiria receives the notoriety I’d like for it to have.  Giving your work away for free won’t yield an immediate return, but will help you in the long run as word begins to spread about your work.

In an attempt to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, I’ve decided to give the first novel in my fantasy series away for free this weekend.  If you’d like to give it a read, it will be available for download starting tomorrow 06/08/16 through Sunday 06/10/16.  If you read it, please take the time to leave a review on Amazon.  If you have any published works available, I’d love to take a look.  I try to always make the time to leave a review for anything I read.  It’s helpful to authors and readers alike.

Free(1)

I hope you found this article informative and helpful.  Thank you, as always for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.  Have a wonderful day!

Writing is an Uphill Climb

Writing is an Uphill Climb

Writing is an uphill climb.  It starts as an interesting idea worming its way into your brain, slowly taking root.  The idea turns into an obsession threatening to consume you from within unless you let it out. So you start writing.  One word at a time, the obsession hashes out into a story.  Rich with characters and complexities serving to convey the premise upon which the idea began, you finally write those long-awaited words, “The End.”

And then the real work begins.

After taking a break from your creation to clear your head, you come back to it and read it out loud.  You correct the obvious spelling and grammar errors missed by your Word Processor’s less-than-stellar spellcheck.  When this is done, you read the manuscript aloud again, pulling apart every sentence to make sure it flows with the one before and the one after.  Slowly, but surely, the rough draft evolves into the novel it was always meant to be.

But it’s not quite there yet.

You hand your manuscript over to a trusted, unbiased critic (hopefully with an outstanding grasp on grammar, spelling, and the English language) and allow them to slice into your words and make them bleed.  Blood red errors and nuances to be improved come back at you to remind you how easy it is to overlook your own mistakes.  So you run head-on into the cleanup process, mopping up the red and replacing it with the black that should have been there in the first place.

Once you’re ready to reveal your story to the world, you set to formatting the manuscript so that it’s ready for publication. Once you’re sure it’s the way it’s supposed to be, and you’ve emailed the .mobi file to your Kindle device for the one hundredth time, you click submit and you’re story is available on Amazon.

But no one buys it.

The masses do not flock to your story, reading in a frenzy, showering it with reviews and accolades.  Traditional publishers don’t knock down your door, fighting each other for exclusive rights to turn your book into a profit for their company.  No one has heard of your book—or you (unless you already have an audience; in which case: lucky you).  It collects e-dust on the e-shelf of Amazon Kindles endless annals of self-published e-books.

It’s time to change hats.

You’re not a writer anymore; you’re a salesperson.  A marketing guru.  A social media whiz.  An entrepreneur.  Effectively, you become your own agent.  I know. I hate this part too.  Self-promoting is such a weird thing to do.  What if people don’t take you seriously?  How many times do you ask people to buy your book?  And once you get them to buy it, how do you get them to read it?  And never mind getting the few people you’ve haggled into reading it to take three-to-five minutes of their precious time to leave an honest, critical review on Amazon!

By the time you get an author website, establish a page on Facebook, search out advertising and promotional options to generate awareness about your book, and tell every living soul you come into contact with you start to realize a terrible truth.

Writing is an uphill climb.

And it never ends.  After you put in the time and effort to do what you love (writing), and do the same for the not as fun but necessary parts (editing), you focus your time and attention to marketing and promotion.  Somewhere along the journey you start to realize that it is WAY harder to sell a book than it is to write one.  The most frustrating part about it is the struggle to find a balance between working on your next writing project, and promoting the previous one.  It’s easy to lose heart.  Typically, something’s got to give and one area or the other suffers.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news? You’re a beautiful, talented, creative writer passionate about your art and taking it seriously enough to put in the work required.  You’re still here, and you’re not going to quit.  Never quit.  That’s the only way you can truly fail.  Some authors wait years before their work receives any recognition or return.  When the going gets tough, you have to take a long hard look in the mirror and tell the individual staring back at you, “It’s gonna be worth it.”  Because it will.  Being a writer is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.  Even this is an imperfect analogy as there is no finish line in this race.  Once you’ve made it as far as you ever thought you would, there’s more on the horizon.

I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. As always, thank you so much for reading!

Turn Your Manuscript into an E-book

Turn Your Manuscript into an E-book

This article outlines how to turn your manuscript (as a Word document) into an e-book. What took me weeks to research and glean from several sources, I’ve compiled here in a one-stop shop for you. It takes a little bit of effort, but the good news is: it’s not hard—at all.

When it came time to publish the second installment in my fantasy series, Crusade, I knew right away I did not want to take the traditional route to publishing. I spent years trying to get Conspiracy published. Countless query letters. Piles of rejection notices (if they bothered to reply at all). Only to end up getting roped into a joint-venture contract with a vanity press. Needless to say, that process left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So I started researching self-publishing.

Formatting: Write the Right Way

This is the most time-consuming part of the process. Your Word document has to be formatted a certain way or it will look wonky when it hits the e-reader device. My suggestion, if you plan to publish multiple books, is to format your manuscript while you’re still writing. Waiting until the end and trying to change everything is a hassle. Believe me; I know.

Table of Contents

Microsoft Word has tables integrated into the software that will make these for you. It’s really important to have one so it will transfer into your e-book. While the software typically keeps the reader’s place, it’s a huge convenience to be able to jump wherever you’d like to go in case that fails.

The Table of Contents in Microsoft Word works on the styles templates. Usually, you’ll see them displayed across the top of the screen.

template

Chapter titles will appear in the Table of Contents using the Heading 1 style. You can alter the font, size, and alignment as you will. I use Cambria font, 16-point, boldface, center alignment for mine because I like the way it looks on the e-reader screen, but feel free to get creative. It’s your book and should look the way you want it. It is important to note, you should make sure any part of the chapter title you want to appear in the Table of Contents is part of the Heading 1 style.

I’ll use one of my format as an example. I include the chapter number, title, and perspective from which the chapter will read.

—1—
A Sample Chapter
CALEB

Whichever parts of this segment I include in the Heading 1 style will appear in the Table of Contents. If I included the whole thing, it would look like this:

—1— A Sample Chapter CALEB

As you add to the manuscript or make changes, be sure to right-click on the Table of Contents and click Update Field, Update entire table, and save the document. Remember, you don’t have to follow this format to the letter; it’s your book.

Paragraph Format

Speaking from experience, this can be a pain if you mess it up. I’ve noted writers will format their manuscripts in different ways, usually based on preference. Some use double-spaced lines. Some use indentations. Others use HTML format (line break after each paragraph, no indentation). When it comes to turning your manuscript into an e-book, there is a right way to do it.

For the body of your story, use the No Spacing style. Do NOT use the Tab button to indent. At the top of your page, Microsoft Word will have a ruler. On either side of those rulers are little brackets to margin the indention on the page. Move the top bracket on the left side over one inch for the body of your story. Now, every time you hit the Enter button, the next line will indent automatically.

If you highlight a large body of text, move the ruler, and find some of your paragraphs are double-indented, this means you’ve hit the Tab button. You’ll need to go back and manually delete each incident. It’s a pain, but if you don’t, some of your paragraphs will appear that way on the e-reader.

After the end of each chapter, insert a Page Break. The hotkey command for this is CTRL + Enter. Hitting enter until a new page starts in Word is not sufficient. If you don’t include the Page Break, when you swipe left to turn the page on the e-reader, the end of one chapter will bleed into the beginning of the next and your title will appear in the middle or bottom of the page at times. To keep it streamline, use Page Breaks after everything.

Book Cover

You’ll need to have cover art to complete an e-book. The best resource I can recommend is Fiverr. There are a ton of artist out there willing to make an e-book cover for as little as $5.00. As with most things, you get what you pay for. You can post a request for work, set a budget and outline exactly what you’re looking for. There are artists out there using this site as their main source of income. Once you’ve found an artist you like, and they complete the work you commission for them, you own the image and can use it as you see fit.

File Conversion

I use Amazon to publish as it’s free, user friendly, and pays 35% royalties (25% higher than the industry standard). You control your price within their very reasonable parameters. But before you upload your book on Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP, you need to change your manuscript from .doc or .docx into a .mobi file. Here’s some great news for you. There is FREE software called Calibre. It’s user friendly, and if you have trouble, there are some YouTube tutorials out there to show you step-by-step if you’re a visual learner.

Once you download the software, the first thing you need to do is save your manuscript as a webpage or .html. You can do that by File –> Save As, and in the drop-down box beneath the file name ‘Save as type’, select Web Page. Take note of the file location and get ready to convert.

Click on Add Books and find your HTML version of your manuscript. Once it’s added to the queue, select it and click on Convert Books. It should default to .mobi conversion, but make sure that’s what the target file will end up becoming. Upload your cover, title the book, add your name or pseudonym as the author name and start the conversion. It takes approximately 60 seconds to change it.

Uploading on KDP

You’ll need an account with KDP. You can use your Amazon account if you already have one. If not, it’s free and easy to create. Once you’re logged in, click on Create New Title, fill out all of the necessary information, upload your .mobi file, set your price, click the agreement and hit Submit. Kindle says it can take 72 hours for your book to be available in their Store, but I’ve never waited more than a few hours for it.

Once it’s available, it’s time to start marketing. As marketing an e-book is an entirely different animal than writing and publishing one, I intend to write an article outlining some of the marketing techniques I’ve used and found successful.

Until then, I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. Thank you for reading!

Writing: How to Start

Writing: How to Start

How to Get Started

Most of the articles on this blog are geared towards seasoned writers. One of my readers brought to my attention not everyone has the same level of experience, and some people just want to know how to get started. For those of you who are venturing into writing for the first time, here is some helpful information to get you started.

The first thing you have to do is show up, sit down, and do the work. Simple, but profound. You have to stop thinking about writing, stop talking about writing, and actually write. It takes time, and effort, but it’s the only way the ideas swimming around in your head will ever turn into words on a page.

Writing is a journey, a process. You’re not going to sit down and write an entire novel in one sitting. You have to piece it together like a puzzle, one word at a time. Setting aside time to write regularly is the best discipline to develop. If you don’t stick to it, those words will never be written.

Try this as your first venture. Jeff Goins wrote a fantastic article about this very topic entitled, The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit. Breaking it down, set aside time every day to write at least 500 words for the next 31 days. It helps you form a habit to fit into your life schedule, is a small enough task to be done daily, and large enough that you’ll have something substantial if you stick it out. You’ll have more than 15,000 words when you’re done, and that is a great start.

Accountability

One thing that has helped me tremendously in my writing endeavors is making acquaintance with other writers. I expand on this in my article Why a Writing Community is So Important. Having one or more persons in your life who will take the time to ask you, “So what have you written lately?” keeps the desire to write alive, and throws fuel on the commitment fire. If you know other writers, get in touch with them. Ask them about their work. Take the time to look at theirs if they’re willing to share, and give constructive feedback. You never know when you might need the same.

The Right Tools

Here’s another rudimentary yet essential snippet. Some people prefer to write the old fashioned way with pen and paper. While I prefer to use a word processor, I cannot deny the enriching and visceral feeling of scratching ink onto a page and watching it transform. If this is your preferred method, get yourself a good pen and a notebook dedicated to writing. Don’t use this to jot down telephone numbers, addresses, doodle (unless you’re writing a graphic novel) or etc. This notebook is reserved exclusively for writing. Keep it in a safe place and keep close eye on it so as not to lose or misplace it. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing hard work.

If you’re like me, and you prefer typing to writing, you will need a functioning computer and word processor. Most people use Microsoft Word as it comes installed standard with most PCs. If you’re a Mac user, Pages works too. Stay organized and keep a folder with nothing but your work in it. Don’t forget to back it up on a cloud or portable hard drive. I learned the hard way what happens if you don’t, and believe me, that is not the kind of devastation you want to suffer.

Hone Your Skill

We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” When it comes to writing, a more accurate statement would be, “Practice makes permanent.” If you write every single day, you’re bound to get better, but what that will do is help you form a habit. Writing good work takes a firm grasp of the English language and how it works. Taking an extra English college course couldn’t hurt. Better yet, there are plenty of Expository Writing and Creative Writing classes out there designed to exercise the imagination muscles it takes to come up with original stuff, and help you hash those ideas out into words.

Here are some great online video tutorials I found helpful. Here’s a quick five-minute video by Rick Davis on YouTube, and another 30-minute presentation by Mich Nicolson I found informative and helpful.

Try New Things

Don’t get so stuck in one groove you neglect the opportunities to venture out. Writing is such a broad horizon and there are so many opportunities and experiences to be had. If you fancy fiction, don’t be afraid to try poetry. If you’re writing an autobiography, perhaps a fun short story will help break up the monotony. Online magazines and newspapers oftentimes accept articles directly from the author (without the need of a literary agent). Ever think of starting a blog? What about a screenplay?

The possibilities are limitless. Shaking it up can keep thing fresh and interesting. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Living in the Age of Information, we can find a how-to for pretty much anything we want.

I hope you found this article helpful. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave questions or comments in the comment section below.

Why a Writing Community is So Important

Why a Writing Community is So Important

The writing life is a lonely one. It takes dedication and requires time shut away from the world. The struggle to keep from becoming a shut-in is real. Annie Evett illustrates this dilemma in her blog post The Lonely Life of a Writer. Loneliness is discouraging, and leads talented people to give up on their dreams all the time. This is why it’s so important for us ink-slingers to stick together.

When I moved to Springfield, Illinois I was delighted to find SpriFiWri, an organized group of local writers. They welcomed me with open arms, and for the first time in my career, I had peers to interact with. The group meets twice a month for critique sessions. We divide two hours up among those of us in attendance, read segments of our work aloud, and receive helpful suggestions for how to improve our work. One of our New Year’s resolutions was to hold each other accountable to setting aside time to write more. So twice a month we have ‘write-ins’ at a local coffee shop. I was blown away by how helpful this proved to be. Three of us hashed out almost 10,000 words between us!

Because writers tend to spend so much time alone, we oftentimes develop the mentality that we are alone. I have a large circle of friends, but very few of them are writers. It’s difficult for them to relate to what my life and the effort I put into my work is really like. In SpriFiWri, I found myself surrounded by skilled, talented, hard-working writers with voices and styles all their own. Impressed by the work they shared, it served as a reminder of the talent out there. It gave me a sense of belonging, but also helped me up my game. It reminded me of some wise sayings I heard growing up.

“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

“You become the company you keep.”

For the first time in my life, I had people to show my work who were just as talented, just as skilled, just as passionate, just as hard-working, and probably more so than me. It’s important to have people in your life who challenge you. Kevin Daum wrote an excellent article about this very subject: Want Success? Surround Yourself With People Who Challenge Your Thinking. As writers, we shouldn’t write to impress people, but there’s nothing wrong with letting others inspire you to do better.

I know some of you are reading this thinking to yourself, “This sounds great. I wish my town had something like this.” First, it might have one already. Research local writing groups online; you might find a group established already.

“But what if I’ve searched high and low, and there are no groups in my area?”

Excellent question! The answer: take initiative, and start one of your own. Find a place to host a meeting. You can start with the Public Library. They’ll let you hang a sign on their bulletin board, post it in their newsletter, and help get you started. If you’re in college, you could do the same thing there. Make a post on Facebook announcing it to the world. Encourage your friends to share your post and spread the word.

You don’t have to emulate the style of SpriFiWri. It can be a social gathering where you meet up, mingle, and uplift each other. You can host critique sessions, or write-ins. Perhaps you want to initiate a group writing project for your community. Maybe a writing convention is coming to a city near you, and you want to plan to go together. The sky is the limit! Find something that works for you and stick with it. Commitment is the greatest challenge in this endeavor, but is so worth the effort to build a community. And don’t be intimidated if you come across someone more skilled or talented than you. This is a good thing! You’ll never learn anything from people who are looking up to you. Only by seeking those greater than ourselves can we truly hope to grow.

If you have questions about how to organize a writers group, please feel free to contact me or leave questions or comments below. Helping other writers succeed is one of my greatest passions. I hope you found this encouraging and helpful. Thank you for reading!

A Guide to Editing and Revision

A Guide to Editing and Revision

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule when it comes to people is: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. But The Golden Rule of Writing is: rewriting is always better writing. There exists among us rare and exceptional people capable of producing a perfect manuscript with a first draft. They are, in fact, aliens from outer space inhabiting the bodies of humans, and are here for the sole purpose of making the rest of us look incompetent. If you’re one of these aforementioned body snatchers shelling out Pulitzer-winning words on your first attempt, then you can stop reading now. For the rest of us, here’s a guide to help you refine your work to the luster intended upon inception.

Planning

Not every writer fancies making a skeleton outline or road map before they start slinging ink. For some, they work better in the spontaneity of making it up as they go. However, I find it extremely helpful, especially when encountering writer’s block. Taking the time to write a paragraph summarizing the chapter gives you the power of organization. It acts as a bookmark for writing. With the busyness of everyday life, if I don’t schedule time to sit down and write it will never happen. To make sure I don’t sit staring at a blank screen for two hours, I look at my outline, and it tells me what I should be working on. If I don’t feel the inspiration for a certain chapter, I have a whole list of unwritten segments to choose from. Never underestimate the power of Copy and Paste.

First Draft

A lot of writers still prefer the old fashioned way: by hand, with pen and paper. I am not one of these people. I like my word processor very much, finding it more economical in the way of time. Regardless of your method, the goal in this stage of the game remains the same. Your focus should be getting as much as you can on the page. Don’t stop to fret over the perfect word or phrasing; when you come back to edit and revise, you can use a thesaurus to make sure you’re saying exactly what you mean. Getting the story out of your head and onto the page/screen is half the battle. You’ll have plenty of time to smooth rough edges when it comes time to edit.

Take a Break

When you finish your first draft, do yourself a favor, and set it aside. There’s no cut and dry amount of time, and if you’re working on a deadline this might not be possible. Though in most cases, you can afford to take a rest. Why? I’m glad you asked. Your brain gets into a groove, and your story and words start to consume your thoughts. When you edit immediately, you’re likely to skip over errors like missing words because you know what you mean, and your brain fills in the rest. My tradition, upon finishing a first draft of a novel, is to pick up a book or two in the same genre with rave reviews. Take the time to appreciate the work of your contemporaries, and take note of the things you liked or enjoyed. Personally, I take 30 days to keep my work out-of-sight and out-of-mind so it feels fresh when I read it again.

Proofread, and Read it Aloud

Don’t groan—and stop making that face. I’m serious! You’ll hear a lot of people tell you it’s not necessary, but trust me when I say this is one of the most important parts of the editing process. Here’s why it’s so important. It’s easy for your brain to organize your own thoughts, but you won’t know what it’s going to look/sound like to your readers until you read it out loud. If something sounds wordy or gets you tongue-tied, rest assured it will do the same to your audience. I won’t go into exhaustive detail here, but I have a helpful article entitled How to Improve Your Manuscript outlining four pitfalls writers oftentimes fall into. It’ll get you started on the road to editing. If spelling and grammar isn’t your forte, don’t be afraid to hire a professional editor. Investing a couple hundred dollars for your future is worth it to produce quality work. Don’t forget: your name is attached when it’s published, and they won’t blame the editor for mistakes.

Seek Help

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to connect with other writers. Give your work to someone whose skill and opinion you trust. I belong to a local writer’s group called SpriFiWri stationed in Springfield, Illinois. We meet twice a month to share our work and offer criticism and feedback. Using red pens, we ferociously attack the work, and call it ‘making it bleed.’ Seeing lots of red is not a bad thing; it’s a great thing. If you’re serious about writing, nothing is more valuable than criticism. Lose the sensitivity, let go of the sentimentality, and grow some thick skin. If they read something you wrote and they hate it, you say, “Thank you for taking the time to read it. I appreciate your feedback. What can I do to make it better?” Then, listen to what they say, and take it to heart. Remember, you’re far more interested in what they didn’t like than what they did.

Tip: Print your entire manuscript when you give it to someone to review. It guarantees your file doesn’t go places it’s not supposed to, and it’s harder to overlook. Ever been sent a file and left it forgotten in your email inbox or saved in your Downloads folder? I have. They might do the same. But a printed, physical copy serves as a better reminder. Double-space so there’s room for them to take a red pen to it.

Read It Again

After you’ve made the changes you want, you might want to take another short rest from working on it. No need to wait 30 days this time; a week should suffice. Get your manuscript in the format you like to read best (e-book, printed, on-screen) and read your ‘finished’ product. You’re almost certain to find things you’ll want to change. At this point, you’re looking less for grammar and spelling, and more for whether the chapters flow together well. Are they in the right place? Do certain points in the story drag? You might want to shorten these segments. If there are bothersome things, however minute, bothering you, they’ll bother your readers too.

Try not to write the parts that people skip.

—Elmore Leonard

Conclusion

Writing is about what works. Following this guide to the letter might not be the best thing for you. Take what’s helpful to you, and apply it. Modify the rest, or throw it out completely. If you take anything away from this article, let it be the Golden Rule of Writing: re-writing is always better writing. A painter starts with a blank canvas and fills it with something that wasn’t there before. A sculptor starts with a block of stone and slowly chisels away until his or her creation takes form. Both principles apply to writing. Once you hash out what you want to say, take the time to smooth and polish until it says exactly what you want it to say—no more and no less.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Feel free to leave questions or comments below. Thanks for reading!

An Alternate Route to Publishing

An Alternate Route to Publishing

How It Used to Be

Twenty-five years ago, when a writer wanted to get published and get paid, first they sought out a literary agent to represent them. Upon finding one, this agent queried publishers hoping to find one looking for the kind of work the author produced. The author, if he or she took the initiative, also queried publishers accepting manuscripts from writers without a literary agent (while few and far between, some still do). This slow process typically results in a pile of rejection letters, and has driven many a writer to give up on his or her dreams of ever finding a traditional publishing contract.

Seeing a marketing opportunity, a vast number of vanity presses popped up in the late nineties and turn of the millennium. These dime-a-dozen companies offered joint-venture contracts to writers, saying they would publish the manuscript, but at the author’s expense. This method rarely resulting in success and notoriety, many writers fell victim to what most consider a scam. The author pays the publisher a fee under the impression they’ll turn their book into a hit, only to find out they paid for overpriced printing. When I was a naïve nineteen year-old with a story and a dream, I suffered this devastating indignity.

How It Is Now

Fast forward to the twenty-first century where e-books and self-publishing is as easy as uploading a file and clicking a ‘Submit’ button. With visual media available with no more than the touch of a button, fewer and fewer readers emerge from each generation. Those who do, typically read from a tablet or smartphone, and no longer bother with printed books. Now, you’ll still find those old-fashioned folks like me who maintain the opinion that the feel of turning a printed page cannot compare with virtual simulation, but we are a dying breed.

The dream come true for writers is still a traditional publishing contract from a large firm able to throw money into marketing a book and building an audience. It still happens, but it’s like catching lightning in a bottle—or winning the Powerball. Anyone with a few thousand dollars to invest can hire a vanity press to turn their story into a printed book, but are left to do marketing and promotion themselves. Not every writer is a salesman or marketing guru, and books published this way usually sell less than 100 copies, and do not offer a lucrative return on investment.

Get Inspired

The publishing game has always been a competitive market, more so now than ever. With expert-level difficulty awaiting anyone attempting the audacious endeavor of using words to generate income, fewer people bother trying. But adversity is no reason to give up on a dream. You can’t lose if you don’t quit, and there is no shame in reaching for some low-hanging fruit. This dilemma has inspired some writers to dedicate their life’s work to helping other writers keep trying and not give up on their dream. Jeff Goins is one such writer. His book You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) addresses the modern writer’s frustrations and gives practical, easy-to-apply advice to help overcome some of these aforementioned obstacles.

An Alternate Route

Self-publishing is not the easy way out; it’s hard work, but it CAN yield results. Instead of waiting around for someone to pick you, why not pick yourself? There’s a few things you’ll have to do yourself that will be out of your comfort zone, but isn’t learning something new worth it to make your dream come true? The answer is yes, of course. We’ll start with the easy ones.

An Author Website

You need one. Don’t let someone tell you otherwise. If you’re not a web designer, don’t worry. There’s easy-to-use products out there to help you make a website in just a few hours. Squarespace offers professional, streamline templates with a user-friendly platform, hundreds of how-to tutorials, and knowledgeable customer service reps to help you along the way. I used them, and had my author website up and running in two days. I’m thrilled with the results and my only regret is I didn’t use them sooner. Check them out, and use the coupon code NERDIST to save a little money on your purchase. It’s not an investment you will regret.

Social Media

This is how the world connects and is the fastest way to spread the word. It’s free and easy to set up an author page on Facebook as well as to invite your friends to like it. You have to market yourself as well as your work. To do that, you have to get your name out there. Don’t stop at Facebook. Get Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr, and LinkedIn too. If you use a business card, have an email subscriber list, a blog, or anything you send out to your readers, welcome them to follow/subscribe to your pages. Check them frequently and take the time to update them.

Word of Mouth

This is the most powerful tool at your disposal. Change your way of thinking when you meet new people. The question most-often asked by new people is, “What do you do [for a living].” If you’re like me, you have a nine-to-five day job to pay the bills, and writing is something you do on the side. Our first inclination is to say, “I work at such-a-such a place doing this-that-and-the-other.” Stop. Don’t do that. Your new response, from now on, should be, “I’m a writer.” Tell them about your writing, where to find it, about your website, and your social media outlets. Live your dream by simply being what you are at heart: a writer.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Let me start by saying this: it’s free. That’s right. When your manuscript is ready (story, table of contents, copyright, and cover art) you create an account, upload it for free, and when people buy it you get paid. Instead of the months-long wait a publisher will force you to endure, your book is available between 24 and 48 hours. Wow! This changes the game. No more literary agents, no more query letters, and no more waiting months—years, potentially—to find someone to publish you. Amazon/Kindle has effectively transformed publishing into something DIY, by making it free and easy.

Conclusion

Make no mistake; self-publishing is still a long, uphill climb. It will force you to work harder and learn things you never knew. But it’s not without reward. You don’t have to wait on someone’s approval. When people start reading your stuff, leaving reviews, and the buzz leads to more sales and you get that royalties check in the mail, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you earned every cent. This method is not for everyone, but it is for anyone. Self-publishing is no small topic, and I intend to expand on many of its components in the future. I hope this article helped you. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for reading.