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Independent authors wear many hats, not just the one emblazoned ‘writer'. Bethany Cadman explores the idea that every author needs to treat writing like a business in order to thrive.

When we think of writers, we imagine arty, creative types. We visualize daydreamers who have chosen the less trodden path, who go with the flow, are arty, scatty, and loveably disorganized.

We conjure images of people, casually dressed, with mile-high piles of paper on their desks, and Post-It notes stuck to their hair, those who are caffeine-addicted, emotional, brilliant beasts who adore adventures and riveting conversation and love, more than anything, telling stories to everyone and anyone who will listen.

When we think of business people, we imagine those who are more stoic and sensible. We envisage smart, punctual people, those who are suited and booted with sleek hair and polished shoes.

We picture highly organized, strategic, spreadsheet-loving souls who stop at nothing to get what they want.

These two types of people are so at odds with one another, yet most writers could do with taking a leaf or two out of a businesspersons book. This doesn’t mean they have to compromise their ideals or make their life any less enjoyable.

However, by applying some typical business strategies to their writing, writers will see their productivity increase, their progression accelerate and become ever closer to reaching their writing goals.

So what are the things writers should do to achieve this? In this article, we explore some of the accessible and actionable ways a writer can start to treat their writing like a business.

Meticulous Organization

Any business owner knows that organization is key to the smooth and successful running of day to day operations. Writers too need to get organized if they want to be at the top of their game.

To become more organized you need to have a plan. Start with your end goal and then work out the steps that you need to get you there.

These steps should make up your action plan, and from there you need to figure out how much time it will take you to complete each step, as well as the resources you need. Then you can create a realistic schedule and will know what you need to do and when from the very beginning.

Progress Monitoring

Businesses don’t stay stagnant, they all aspire to improve and expand over time, and writers should feel the same about their work.

Not only do you want to develop as a writer, but also to build a bigger fanbase and reach a wider audience. Put tools in place to monitor your progress and challenge yourself to ‘grow’ each month by setting yourself achievable, clear targets whether they relate to your work, i.e., ‘finish ten chapters' or marketing your work, i.e., ‘getting 100 new followers on social media' or ‘increasing book sales by 25%'.

Even if you are experiencing success with your novel, it is essential to continue to progress and improve, and never, ever get too comfortable.

Customer Retention

A good business is nothing without its customers, and writers are nothing without their readers. It is crucial, therefore, to pay attention to your readers and listen to their needs.

Just as a business would reach out to customers to find out what they want and whether they are satisfied with the services they provide, a good writer will spend time nurturing their fanbase by communicating with them, responding to comments and listening to their feedback, and by giving them something valuable.

Just as loyal, returning customers are the foundation from which successful businesses are built, loyal, returning fans are what will help authors go from strength to strength.

Research & Education

A good business is always learning and trying to improve through the way they run their operations, how they treat their employees, the quality of their products and services and their customer satisfaction rates.

They do this by educating themselves, by discovering trends, by researching their competitors, by identifying what problems their customers have and providing solutions.

Writers should also dedicate themselves to learning about the craft of writing. They can do this through reading, through experimenting, through researching their genre and studying the delicate art of writing and storytelling and applying this to their work.

Marketing Strategies

Businesses need to market themselves to get attention, to build trust in their brand and to make people aware of the products and services they offer.

Writers, now more than ever, know that writing a book is only half the battle. Marketing plays an enormous part in determining the popularity of a book, and so the writer's who familiarize themselves with different marketing techniques and learn how to implement these will boost their books' chances of reaching interested readers.

Understanding how to use social media, promote offers, get in the press, and encourage readers to subscribe to your blog and newsletter will all strengthen your author platform and brand, and can be an invaluable way to ensure that as many people as possible discover your writing.

Hours, Holiday and Pay!

Last but not least, writers who treat their writing as a business should also remember to treat themselves as its employees. This means fair working hours, time off and making sure you are reasonably compensated for your efforts too.

Of course, we can’t predict how much money our books are going to make, but rewarding yourself for reaching goals and just being aware of the value of your time means you will appreciate yourself as an employee and be more motivated to keep up the good work!

We are no longer just writers. We are editors, marketers, HR consultants, Accountants, PR experts and so much more.

To do ourselves and our work justice we must recognize all the roles we must play, and start being more businesslike to give our writing the very best chance of success.

[Note from Joanna: For more on this subject, check out my book, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.]

Do you treat your writing like a business or a hobby? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Bethany Cadman is the author of Doctor Vanilla’s Sunflowers and is a freelance writer and blogger. She has an MA in Creative Writing and has just finished her second novel, SWAP, which should be hitting the bookshelves soon! Learn more about her work at BethanyCadman.co.uk.

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Every writer has had more than one moment where a brilliant idea pops into our mind. Sadly, if we don't capture those ideas quickly they may be forgotten in the busy rush of life. Trevor Carss shares 11 free (or inexpensive) ways to make sure your genius story ideas never go astray again.

When crafting your next bestselling book, capturing creative ideas on the fly is often the greatest author challenge. The last thing you want is a missed opportunity at creating something special.

What if you are in the swimming pool and a thought floats by? Out for a run and forgot what you were thinking when you arrived home? For writing consistency, authors must remember and capture those fleeting moments.

When you have that next idea in mind, here are eleven ways to capture it quickly, before your thoughts move on to something else:

1. Google Keep

No matter what electronic device you have, Google Keep can capture anything for you. From text and drawings to audio and checklists, organizing your ideas is quite intuitive with this app. Google Keep is available for all major computing platforms.

2. Evernote

Evernote is a more robust note-keeping app in this list, with additional collaboration tools to make working in teams easier. For authors, this can be helpful when collaborating with editors, agents, and publishers.

There are free and paid options to choose from, depending on your needs. If you are not in the Google ecosystem, this is the best option available.

[Note from Joanna: I use Things app on Mac which syncs between my phone and laptop. It's my external brain!]

3. Google Docs

If you have several long-form ideas to write out, including full novels, Google Docs is the go-to cloud word-processor without a price tag attached to it. It used to be that Microsoft Word would be the platform of choice for aspiring authors. Not anymore. Every author should be considering this for their writing needs.

In terms of capturing ideas on the fly, this word processor is more sensible if you intend to type out several paragraphs of content. Autosave is an author’s best friend, and Google Docs does it brilliantly.

[Note from Joanna: I've co-written a number of books with Google Docs. It's great for collaboration as well as idea gathering.]

4. Google Sheets

If you like spreadsheets, having ideas organized in columns might be your preference. You can capture thousands of ideas into spreadsheets, and it’s great for developing a content calendar of your upcoming writing ideas for publication. Now Google Sheets has checkbox options to ensure you’re tackling tasks.

5. Google Slides

Storyboarding is an important way to map out every page. For this, Google Slides is an often overlooked but powerful way to plan out book ideas.

Crafting outlines, chapter-by-chapter, can be facilitated with this app. This program is like Microsoft PowerPoint and is typically used for presentation creation.

6. Apple Notes

For a simple option, Apple users go with the native Notes app on their iPhones, MacBooks or iPads. For ease of use, this is a great option to get started with. Especially when time is of the essence, you might want an app that just works. This is the one. The major downside to Apple Notes is it does not play nice with any other device but Apple’s.

7. Moleskine Notebook

The traditional notebook still has its place for those who prefer paper notes. With today’s smartphone technologies, Moleskine has smart notebooks that can be scanned digitally for searchable notes. Or, if you’re just looking for paper capture, any notebook will do. Go with unlined paper if you like to sketch out ideas as drawings.

[Note from Joanna: I used Moleskines for 15+ years but have switched to Leuchtturm1917 as the paper quality is great for fountain pen ink and the pages are slightly wider.]

8. Post-it Notes

For brainstorming sessions, Post-it Notes are a staple item. Having a stack of these by your bedside table doesn’t hurt either. Some of the best ideas jump out at you while you’re lying in bed.

9. Twitter

A unique idea capture method is Twitter. Known for its social media prowess, you can tweet an idea in 240 characters or less with Twitter. Keep in mind these ideas will be public, but that might work to your advantage if you are into social media for your marketing efforts. You can be the innovative author who tweets your ideas to the world. You are building a following while capturing your creativity!

10. Self-SMS

When you’re just looking to get the creative idea written down, sending a text message to yourself might be the best electronic option.

11. Browser Bookmarks

While reading informative blogs, some of the articles you come across might spark an idea or two for you. In case you would like to refer back to the article in future, your Internet browser can bookmark the page for later.

Final tips

To avoid app overload in your creative process, the suggestion is to use a maximum of 2-3 note-taking apps. My personal process involves a combination of Google Keep for notes on the fly, Google Sheets for content calendars, Google Slides for outlines and Google Docs for long-form content writing. Google Keep is the first place where my ideas go to grow.

By capturing your ideas in one main area, you will be better equipped to organize them for later. Avoid the dusty digital folder. This is the proverbial unused filing cabinet where ideas go to die.

Capture your ideas where you will see and act on them, rather than burying them away.

What are your favorite tools for capturing your creative ideas? Do you use any of the ones mentioned here? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Trevor Carss is the author and illustrator of more than 50 children’s books and adult short stories.

Follow his latest thoughts at TrevorCarss.com.

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Can self-publishing be a viable route for literary authors? If you write cross-genre, can you be successful with your writing? I talk about these topics and more with award-winning author, Jane Davis, in today's interview.

In the intro, I mention the AI text generator that has now been released in a modified version [TalkToTransformer.com] after being considered too dangerous to release in Feb [Techcrunch]; Google's new AI that can help you speak in another language in your own voice [The Next Web]; and how to turn your book into a podcast with text-to-speech AI, Amazon Polly [The Creative Penn blog]; and how moving house is like learning to write and publish.

Plus, my interview on how I run my author business plus my thoughts on a voice-first future [Unemployable Podcast]; my Mum, Jacqui Penn, on writing as Penny Appleton and a behind the scenes look at our creative relationship [Kick in the Creatives Podcast]; and how travel and writing can help you deal with death and grief [Books and Travel Podcast].

Do you need a professional editor or book cover designer? Do you need help with marketing, publicity or advertising? Find a curated list of vetted professionals at the Reedsy marketplace, along with free training on writing, self-publishing and book marketing. Check it out at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/reedsy

Jane Davis is an award-winning writer of literary fiction. Her first novel, Half-Truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail first novel award. And she recently won the Selfies Award at London Book Fair 2019, for best self-publish work of fiction for her book Smash All the Windows.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Making the decision to move to indie publishing
  • On the many factors and issues around book pricing
  • Why you need to try different marketing strategies until you find what works for your books
  • Finding your target audience
  • Looking at what a book has earned as a whole, rather than how it’s priced at any one time

You can find Jane Davis at Jane-Davis.co.uk and on Twitter @janedavisauthor

Transcript of Interview with Jane Davis

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm here with Jane Davis. Hi, Jane.

Jane: Hello, Jo. Hello, everybody.

Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.

Jane is an award-winning writer of literary fiction. Her first novel Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail first novel award. And she recently won the Selfies Award at London Book Fair 2019, for best self-publish work of fiction for her book Smash All the Windows.

You're actually a multi-award-winning author now, Jane. Congratulations.

Jane: I've got a couple more than that as well. But some of them are quite small ones. But, yes, it's my second. The Selfies Award was the second award that recognized self-publishing standards as well as the writing. So to me, as a self-published author, that means something special, and it's one for the team, which is nice. It's not just for me, it's one for the whole team.

Joanna: I love that. We're going to come back to that.

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Jane: A very convoluted route, I suppose. And I think as a child, I was quite creative. But I wasn't one of these people who grew up storytelling and writing. I was far too shy and retiring for that. But I did spend a lot of time drawing.

I come from a family of musicians and artists. And I think my parents had some idea that we'd all be able to make a living in the arts somehow. So we were all sent off to ballet lessons and to play musical instruments and nothing like that happened at all.

In fact, I didn't even get that far as to really look realistically at a career in art because the work I produced for my O level art, the examiners hated. I had been projected to get an A and I didn't fail, but I got to C and it was a little bit just and thought, “Oh, maybe I'm really not very good at this. Maybe I'm not good enough.” And so I actually left school at 16 and went to into the world of insurance where I stayed for 25 years.

Joanna: Sexy.

Jane: Exactly. I had no creative outlet whatsoever. And I think once I'd achieved the things I wanted to do, I bought my own house, I had a car, a nice wardrobe, things like that, it begins to bunk you that there actually is no creative outlet.

Domething happened in my personal life that I wanted to make sense of, and I turned to writing. I remember a very drunken evening with my partner, Matt, down by the…I call it a second bottle of wine evening, down by the Thames and a lovely summer's evening. And I pitched a book to him, which is something I'm not very good at doing to this day.

But I pitched an idea for a book for him and he said, “Do you think anybody would want to read that?” And he said, ‘Well, I'll read it.' And I thought, “Okay, then and I'll give it a go.” Not realizing that it would take me four years of writing in all my spare time.

It didn't get me a publishing deal but it did get me a literary agent at the time. I thought I'd written a crime novel as well at that point and they said, “No, Jane, this isn't crime.” I've never been very good at working at more genres.

Joanna: What year was that first book or how many years ago was that?

Jane: That was when I was 36 and it took me until I was 40 to write it. So we're talking…I'm not very good at math. That's not a strong point. About 16 years ago now.

Joanna: So you've been doing this a while. I think that's important.

Jane: I've been doing it a while. Yes.

Joanna: You mentioned genre there and you're a literary fiction author. So even though you said you're not that good at genre, I think literary fiction is a genre. So I'm really interested in your thoughts on the category on Amazon of literary fiction.

Why do you choose that? Why is that what you write?

Jane: In short, I don't choose literary as my first choice of category. In the official classification codes, there is no such thing as literary fiction. It's general fiction. And so working out where you sit is a process of elimination, because you've eliminated historical, you've eliminated sci-fi.

What you're left with is this thing called general fiction. I saw Adele Parks gave a talk at a conference. And she said that she was actually given the choice whether to have her work marketed as commercial fiction or literary fiction.

There isn't really a subcategory as commercial fiction, either. It tends to be things like women's fiction, but that's the sort of thing they meant.

And she said, “Well, what's the difference?” And they said, “Well, literary fiction sells 7,000 copies on average, and commercial fiction sells 70,000 copies on average.”

And so she said, “Well, I'd like to eat and pay the mortgage. So I'll be commercial, thank you very much.” And it's those sort of choices that you made that is a little bit about the way the book is marketed.

Once you've decided in your category, you tend to be pigeonholed if you're under contract. We have a bit more choice if we're publishing independently because as Kathleen Jared said to me recently when I interviewed her that self-publishing gives her the freedom to flip between genres if she wishes to.

But it's true that most readers associate an author with a certain type of fiction. And I don't sit down thinking I'm going to write literary fiction. I'm someone who left school at 16. I've got an O level, and a swimming certificate. And that's a word that I associate with the classics, with Austin, with Dickens with Will Self, and to some people they might think it's a difficult read, it's not going to be accessible read.

What I try to do is I like to write about meaty, thorny subjects and I like to write about moral dilemmas. But I always try to make them accessible by showing them through the eyes of perhaps one or two characters, the case of my last novel, rather, a lot more characters and that actually with multiple points of view.

But usually breaking it down in that way so it makes a subject that accessible to people. And I do like to inform people, but I also want to entertain. And so if I have the choice, I'd say contemporary fiction because historical fiction is easier to market as well.

If I've written something that I can categorize as historical fiction, I will. Literary fiction is kind of a label that gets attached to me and you know on Amazon that we have the choice of different categories so that we can chart in different ways, in the rankings, then if literary fiction is a choice I might use that as one of my 10 choices, but it's not my first choice. I prefer to say contemporary if I can.

Joanna: So many genre writers or commercial writers write in series.

Are authors who write mainly standalone novels classed more as literary writers rather than genre writers?

Jane: I don't know that that's got anything to do with it. Kate Moss said not so long ago as well that she distances herself. She prefers to think of herself as a storyteller, which I thought leaves you open to all genres really.

Joanna: Little bit broad there, Kate.

Jane: I don't think anyone sits down and says they're going to write a literary novel. The challenges that I set myself for to write something that's authentic, something that's honest, something that feels true. And if people say to me, by reading a review that someone says to me, “I believed that everything happened as it was written on the page,” which is reveal had recently.

And I thought, well, actually, that means I've done my job. Because I'm writing about made up things, quite a lot of them are based in truth, but the events themselves, the people are fictional, obviously. And if I get a comment like that, then I think, yes, actually that's probably one of the best compliments I could have.

Joanna: You mentioned getting a literary agent earlier on in your career. You've won prizes. Your writing is excellent. Many people would then say, “Well, why choose to be Indie?”

You're in the UK. I would say you're significant in the genre in the UK because you're always at events, you're talking about it, which is fantastic.

Why choose the independent way? Tell us a bit about your story and how you to have chosen to publish?

Jane: Yes. Well, the truth is that I had my 15 minutes of fame, and was told I was going to be the next Joann Harris. And then, actually, I was dropped by my publisher.

So although I would say now that self-publishing is a positive choice for me, it came as a bit of a shock at the time. I didn't realize because I was very green, and possibly my business background may be less challenging than I should have been.

I've sat on the board of directors for 16 years. You're very used to in a situation, putting a case forward, arguing your case, but not actually winning the votes to get your policy put through to get your idea accepted. But the truth is that nobody actually asked me, “How do you see yourself as a writer?” when I was published.

And I was so grateful to get a publishing deal that I didn't really challenge it at all. And I thought, “Oh, you're going to be on our Black Swan label.” Apologies. I didn't say, “What does that mean?” I just thought, “Great.”

I just looked up a couple of authors who on there and they were authors I liked, who were fabulous. And it was only when I presented my second book, which was actually quite soon after my Half-truths & White Lies was published, probably in about three months down the line because the production took quite a long time. And they said, “Yes, we love it. But of course, we can't publish it because it's not women's fiction.”

It was only at that point that I realized that that was how they saw me and that it wasn't possible. They weren't going to publish me if I wrote anything else. And it had never been my intention to write only for women.

As someone put in one of their reviews, it's human fiction. This isn't women's fiction because it was a book that they'd bought it under the category of women's fiction. I said, “This isn't women's fiction, it's human fiction.”

My fiction was always supposed to be for everybody. I presented them with a book where the main character was a 12-year-old boy, a book that became A Funeral for an Owl, and it's my best-selling book now. And they said, “No, we can't take it.”

What I set out to do after that was I set out to write what I thought was deliberately quite a commercial women's fiction novel with a really feisty ass-kicking female lead. And, again, that was of a historical bend and, again, it was something they didn't want.

So I actually was in the end, in the not very enviable position of touting three quite different books around the market at the same time. And I really stumbled upon…I paid like many, many people… I mean, this was back in 2009, in 2010. Self-publishing was probably still in its infancy and the advice at the time was no self-respecting author will self-publish.

And you pay thousands of pounds to get this advice and of course you listened to it. And it wasn't until I actually thought, “I should go along to a conference and see what this is all about. Just check up on it.” And I realized that I was walking into a room of absolute professionals, people who had been traditionally published before, whose latest book hadn't sold quite enough copies.

There was someone there who's writing what he called lad-lit at the time, and so chick-lit. He felt he was writing the equivalent of chick-lit but for men. And there was no market for that at the time so he decided that he would go ahead and self-publish.

And there were people who had ghost written novels for other people, but had choosen to self-publish their own work because it didn't fit neatly into a genre. Or something was literary that was classified as being too quiet for the current market because we know that it is a business decision that the big publishers are making.

I reread recently Diana Athill's memoirs stats about her many years in the publishing industry. And she talks there and reminds us that the Booker Prize was set up to try and tempt non-readers or people for whom reading was one of many options to get them out of the cinemas and the bingo halls, to get them to pick up a book by making it newsworthy.

She talks about how if a book came across her desk that she categorizes literary fiction, she would almost hope it was bad because then it would be an easy decision, she could just turn it down. Whereas if it was good, it had to have an editorial meeting to decide whether it's something they would take on board in the knowledge that if they took it on, they would probably sell 800 copies and they would make a loss.

And of course the publishers, they have their more commercial books that will prop up that costs that will support it. And that's one of the things they want to do as publishers. But when you're publishing on your own, you don't have those other books to prop things up unless you delve into nonfiction.

Roz Morris, for example, has her own writing series. I think you do as well, you have nonfiction books as well. And of course, they support and they give credibility to your skills as an author as well. It's something I haven't ventured into yet, simply because I think there's so many books out there.

Joanna: We know there can be many books on the same topic. So I don't think that should stop you for sure. But I want to come back on the word self-publishing because you have talked about on your blog and things about how self-publishing is a misnomer.

Tell us about your publishing team and why it's not self-publishing.

Jane: The only part in self-publishing is where you push the button, at the end of the day. You're the only person who can decide whether you're going to put that book out there. I still hope that if I've written something, spent a couple of years writing a book on the professional opinion that it wasn't good enough that I would actually abandon that project.

I've never got to that stage but I still hope that if that's the opinion I'm getting that I would have the integrity to do that rather than put out something that was substandard. I also feel the pressure mounting with every book because readers have certain expectations.

They keep on saying, “Well, we see the development with every book,” and you're thinking, “Oh, my goodness, what am I going to give them with the next one to top the last one to meet those expectations?” I think it gets tougher.

One of the reasons self-publishing is now my first choice is because I've built a team around it. Of course, my first attempt at self-publishing I didn't have that. I was changing services as well as I was using professional services. But it took me a while to get a team that I was completely happy with.

And not only professional services, but I have a core team of beta readers, probably about 20. And then for every book as well, I actually look for someone with specific skills. So, for example, if a book has a medical subject matter, I might ask a doctor. I might be looking for sensitivity readers if there are issues of diversity or ethnicity. So I'll pull in some extra people every time.

But after I've self-edited the book myself to within an inch of its life, and I just can't be objective about the thing anymore, that's the point at which I'll send out to beta readers. I collect all of their comments back.

And really, if more than one people are saying to me, “I've got a problem with that part of the book.” Even if you don't agree with the solution they're suggesting, you know that there is a problem with it. So you've got to start making the changes and also weaving those changes the whole way through.

By the time my books get to a professional, they've been through quite an extensive state rounds of self-editing, really.

And so for my last book I use the structural editor. I don't always use the structural editor. But it was a really complicated structure from my last book, and I used Dan Holloway, who's been known to ALLi members as our news hound. But he obviously writes himself and he can just get to grips with something very, very quickly.

He's very challenging, which is what you want people to do you work with. The whole idea is you're not employing the yes-man. You're employing the people who are going to push you to make the book as good as it can possibly be.

When Dan says, “Is that really the first thing you want the reader to know about that character?” You have to really be able to justify that and to think about what you've done because I don't plot, I write quite organically.

So the book grows out of an idea. And I'm probably not thinking those questions through to myself that need to be asked at the structural stage.

Dan is great fun to work with. The cultural references are so broad. He'll say, “Go and watch the first scene of ‘The Player,' or, “Go and watch the scene from ‘Silence of the Lambs.” There are a lot books he'll send your way to look at.

A cinematic approach can be really, really useful to trigger ideas of how you might tackle a particular problem. And he rather than offering the solution on a plate challenges you to find your own solutions or define what it is that we need to take it next.

After that stage of edits, I use a copy editor and I use some John Hudspeth who I haven't actually met, I found online. I found online because his comments are so irreverent.

Joanna: Not irrelavant.

Jane: I can't say innovation. Oh, I've done it today. But irreverent the people actually publish his comments to their work. There are blogs on which people publish his comments and they're so funny.

Joanna: That's brilliant.

Jane: Someone I can actually work with because he can present critique in a way that is going to make me laugh and I'm not going to take offense. Because it's so easy when you get a critique paper back the first time round to read it through and go, “But that's not right.”

And to be very dismissive to this because that's your baby they're talking about and you've been working on it for such a long time. And sometimes it's good to have someone who can make you laugh at yourself quite a bit. And he also does a little bit like a school report at the end of each chapter as well.

Joanna: That's fantastic.

Jane: On how it's moved the novel on or if it hasn't moved the novel on in the way that he wanted to see. And his writing sound really excited, “Where to go next with this,” or, “I'm not sure where you're going with this,” or something like that.

But he's putting his thought processes down as a reader, which is really, really useful..

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We are on the cusp of an explosion in audio content — but human narration takes investment and AI voices are improving all the time. If having your book narrated and turned into an audiobook is not within your current budget, why not try turning it into a podcast using speech to text technology? Makoto Tokudome walks us through how to do this using free and inexpensive tools. 

Are you a self-published author? Are you looking to get your book into other mediums such as audio?

Do you wish someone would narrate your book? Wouldn't it be great to be able to turn your book chapters into podcast episodes?

Well, by using some free online tools, now you can!

I've put together this comprehensive tutorial to walk you through the process I used to turn the chapters of my book into a podcast. You can check out my example here.

In a nutshell, I used Amazon's Polly text-to-speech (TTS) service to create MP3's of my book chapters. And then used Anchor FM to create and publish the audio as podcast episodes.

The idea of creating podcast episodes out of a book was inspired by Mark Coker and his podcast episodes of his Book Marketing Guide book.

*Caveat – Although text-to-speech (TTS) technology is quite impressive, my understanding is that Audible/ACX and other vendors still require audiobooks to be narrated by a human.

So What Can We Do With Our Text-to-Speech Audio Files?

1. You can create a podcast

2. You can use the audio files of your book to be a lead magnet. Give your audio files as a free audiobook download in exchange for email signups.

What is Amazon Polly?

Amazon Polly is a text-to-speech service that can convert text into audio speech. Text-to-speech technology has been around for some time. You may have even used it on your Mac or Apple device.

But up until recently the technology has usually produced halted, robotic voices. But Amazon Polly is able to create more lifelike speech that is quite impressive.

Amazon Polly currently offers this service in 26 different languages (e.g., English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish, etc.).

I chose the male voice “Brian” with British English to narrate my book chapters. (Listen to a sample.) You can sign up for an account here.

Take a look at the pricing. My understanding is that you can request up to 5 million characters (i.e. not words) a month for free, and then $4.00 for each additional million characters:

Using Amazon Polly

After you sign up for an Amazon Polly account (i.e. Amazon AWS), you will first need to create a S3 bucket. (Out of this entire tutorial, this is probably the most difficult/technical part.)

This S3 bucket is basically an online drive or cloud storage in which Amazon Polly will save your MP3 files that you converted into speech.

Follow this guide to create an S3 bucket.

Select a unique name for your bucket (e.g. mtokudome)

Make sure you make a note of the region in which you create your bucket (e.g. US West Oregon).

Amazon Polly lets you convert up to 3,000 characters to speech on-the-fly. You can play around with the different languages and voices.

Anything beyond 3,000 characters needs to be a task request that gets processed by Amazon servers. This is why you first needed to create an S3 bucket.

At the very top of the page, make sure you select the same region in which you created your S3 bucket.

You also need to specify your S3 bucket name. Click on “Change S3 task settings” and input your S3 bucket you just created.

Now you should be all set up to start turning your book chapters into MP3s.

(If you have problems, email me or leave me a comment below and I'll try to help.)

The first step you need to do is prep your book chapters. Open up your book document (i.e. Word document). You need to remove any page numbers, footnotes/endnotes, hyperlinks, etc. Otherwise, all of these will be read out loud.

In my own book, I had a few foreign words and some acronyms that needed to be tweaked. In theory, you could copy and paste your entire manuscript, but I found it better to work in batches, chapter by chapter. I also did this because I use these separate MP3 files as different podcast episodes.

Once you have cleaned up the text, copy and paste it into the Amazon Polly window. Then select the language and voice you want to use. Double-check your S3 task settings to make sure that your S3 bucket is set correctly.

Once you're ready, click on “Synthesize to S3”. The task will be processed and completed in a few minutes.

Now go over to your S3 bucket where you will find your newly created MP3 file. Click on the MP3 file to download.

After you have created the audio file, you will most likely want to listen to the file. You may still end up finding words or pronunciation issues that need to be fixed in your chapter text.

If you're happy with the results, you can continue to convert the rest of the chapters of your book into audio.

What is Anchor FM?

Anchor FM is a free podcasting tool / platform that allows virtually anyone with a smartphone or computer to start creating their very own podcast. And it's 100% free.

Anchor FM removes the complexities of things like podcast hosting and distribution. Your episodes are hosted for free and distributed to all the major podcast networks (e.g. iTunes, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.)

You can sign up for an account here.

Using Anchor FM

There are plenty of ways to get fancy with podcasting, but the goal of this tutorial is to keep it as simple as possible. The goal here is to add cover art, some basic description, and create a basic intro and outro for each podcast episode. I include some basic audio editing suggestions below, but they are not necessary.

Editing Your Podcast Details and Episode Details
At the top of the page, click on “Settings” This is the settings page of your podcast. Give your podcast a name and description. Fill out the other details.

You can also upload cover art for your podcast. If you have the graphics for your book cover design, you may simply choose to upload this file. If you have some photo editing abilities, you may want to modify your cover design to fit more of a square aspect ratio.

If you don't have editing abilities, you may choose to use a free tool like Canva to create a simply design. Check out their templates for album covers.

Adding Your Audio File

At the top of the page, click on the “New Episode” link. At this page, you can drag-and-drop the audio file of the chapters you just created. For example, drag-and-drop chapter 1 of your book to create your first podcast episode.

Creating an Intro and Outro

The next step is to create an intro and outro. The simplest way is to click on the “Record” button and record yourself. If you have a microphone or headset, it can improve the quality of the audio. Once you create the intro and outro, you can drag them around in the correct sequence.

What to say in the Intro and Outro?

You may be wondering what to actually say in your intro and outro. You can google for some tips and ideas. But at the minimum, you probably want to introduce yourself and give an overview of who this podcast might be for. Here's my intro as an example:

Hello and welcome to The Thoughtful Language Learner Podcast. My name is Makoto and I’m also the author of the book The Thoughtful Language Learner.

Are you a struggling language learner? Do you feel like you lack the confidence and skills to learn a foreign language?

I believe that cultivating self-awareness and understanding who you are as a learner is the key to success.

Through this podcast, I’m bringing you the contents of my book. Each episode will cover a new chapter. Sort of a like an audiobook. And what’s cool is that I’m bringing you each chapter through some text-to-speech technology. I hope you like it.

Since the goal of your podcast is to get people to know about your book, you probably want to mention that somewhere in your intro or outro. The outro might also be a good place to have a call-to-action or a lead magnet for people to sign up for your email list. Here is my outro example:

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of my book. If you found it helpful, send me a message and let me know.

Also I have a free PDF that introduces some of the assessment tools mentioned in my book. If you are interested, just go to rebrand.ly/freepdf

Thanks for listening.

Editing Your Episode Details

You're almost ready to publish! After you click “Save episode”, you will want to fill out details about the episode. Give it an episode name and description. Again, use the episode description to be a place where listeners can learn more about you or about your book.

Once everything looks good, click “Publish this episode”.

Congratulations! You've just created a new podcast and put out your first episode.

The episode will be immediately available to listen to (and over the next day or two will become available on the other networks such as iTunes, Google, etc.).

Improving the Audio

Although this is not a necessary step, there are a few simple things that you can do to improve the quality and production value of your podcast.

You can use any audio editing software you like, but I'm using a free software called Audacity.

If you listen to podcasts, you probably notice that many intros include some sort of background music. There are some places such as Youtube's Audio Library that provide royalty free music that you can use for projects. (Note that some of them are free to use but require attribution.)

Find some music you like and download it.

Using Anchor to record your intro and outro is okay, but you can use Audacity to also improve the audio quality.

Finally, I noticed that the audio file created by Amazon Polly was a little too quiet. I used the “Amplify” effect in Audacity and increased the amplification by 3 dB.

Conclusion

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. I know that utilizing text-to-speech may not be for everyone. I personally find Amazon Polly's speech quality acceptable, but some may disagree.

As a self-published author, this was something new I wanted to experiment with. I'll honestly be happy if the podcast leads to a few more people finding out about my book.

Have you thought of turning your book into a podcast? What do you think about using speech-to-text? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Makoto Tokudome is a husband and father of two. He is a language teacher and language coach who loves to help learners get motivated and gain confidence. With an engineering background, he is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to improve learning.

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Do you want to successfully self-publish in ebook, print, and audiobook format?

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There are thousands of new books being published every day, but many self-published books quickly sink to the bottom of the pile.

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NOTE: If you already have the red cover edition from an ebook store, you might get a message that you have already downloaded it. Please use the green button below to get it directly from me in your choice of ebook format. 

Available in ebook (FREE) format and also in paperback and Large Print editions


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  • How do you get paid when you self-publish?
  • Book marketing principles
  • How to market fiction
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  • Plus, links to more useful resources.
Reviews

“I wasn't particularly convinced on self-publishing but this guide helped me a lot to decide what to do. Not only on self-publishing but also on the tools necessary to be there. Seriously, this is not a guide to tell how good it is and to motivate you… this is ACTUALLY “the” way to do it.” – German Bobadilla

“A darn-near perfect starting point for those who want to learn more about how to self-publish successfully and what additional considerations must be made if “financial success” is as important or more important to a given writer compared to simply releasing one's work into the world and being satisfied with that.” – Lewis D. Medeiros

She [Joanna Penn] is the rare blend of creative artist and savvy business woman. We really need more role models like this to show us the way forward in being an author first but also a marketer and a CEO of our book “business”. If this sounds daunting to you, I suggest you read this book anyway as in this day and age, you have to be more involved in your books success than ever before. ” – Susan Henry

If you want to pull back the curtain and see what it takes to publish your book as an ebook, paperback or hardcover, then you need to read this book. The ideas presented in Successful Self-Publishing gave me the confidence I needed to branch out beyond Amazon KDP and CreateSpace, and try to launch my book as an ebook, paperback and hardcover on other distributor’s platforms, such as Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Ingram Spark and Kobo.” – Frank McClain

This book should be on the book shelve of every existing writer and especially to new writers…” – Andreas Michaelides

This book is chock full of practical, useful information and insight. Joanna is willing to share from personal experience the trials and triumphs of becoming an independent author. She holds your hand and walks you through the initial process of creating your first published eBook. I was impressed by her selfless attitude and genuine desire to help others. She has loads of valuable advice that she makes available for FREE! This is well worth your time even if you have already published your first few books.” – David E. Thiele

Available in ebook (FREE) format and also in paperback and Large Print editions


FREE: Buy Direct from the Author 


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How do people find your book when they search by asking devices with their voice, not by typing? By 2020, 50% of all searches across the internet will be voice-based, and 30% of all searches will be done without a screen. [QuoraCreative].

Voice search is happening now, and in today's show, I talk to Miral Sattar about how you can optimize your book for better discovery.

In the intro, I mention the Amazon SMB Impact Report and how much money is going to independent authors, as well as how much investment is going into Alexa. [Business Wire] Plus, all the ways you can Build Your Business on Amazon, which includes publishing on KDP.

Today's show is sponsored by my own courses for authors, including How to Write a Novel, How to Write Non-Fiction, Productivity for Authors, and Content Marketing for Fiction. If you want to take your learning to the next level, go to www.TheCreativePenn.com/learn to find out more.

Miral Sattar is the CEO of Bibliocrunch and the creator of Barely Bear, a smart speaker within a cuddly toy. With a background in software development and several years developing digital initiatives at Time Magazine, Miral is perfectly placed to talk about voice search for authors today.

Check out Miral's course on Voice Search here. You can get 50% off if you use promo code: THECREATIVEPENN at checkout.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • What voice search is and why it matters
  • On the penetration of voice search in different markets
  • The importance of a featured snippet for your website
  • Optimizing search results for things other than your name
  • Keyword tools to use to work with natural language search
  • The increasing importance of publishing wide because of voice search
  • On rewriting fairy tales for the modern age
  • Barley Bear, a cuddly toy that will tell your child a story

You can find Miral Sattar at LearnSelfPublishingFast.com and on Twitter @miralsattar

Transcript of Interview with Miral Sattar

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I'm here with Miral Sattar. Hi, Miral.

Miral: Hi, Joanna, how are you?

Joanna: I'm great. It's good to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.

Miral is the CEO of Bibliocrunch and the creator of Barely Bear, a smart speaker within a cuddly toy. With a background in software development and several years developing digital initiatives at “Time Magazine,” Miral is perfectly placed to talk about voice search for authors today, which is just a super topic.

What is voice search, because some people might not know, and why is it increasingly important?

Miral: Voice search is speech recognition technology. It's based on a natural language called natural language processing.

The way it works is instead of typing in your commands, like typing in 40 words, you can actually say 150 words and get the results that you want. Siri works with voice search. Amazon's Alexa works with voice search. Microsoft Cortana, Google Home pod, they all work with voice search.

Joanna: Many listeners, I presume, will be using voice search in some way.

Give us some examples of how it's different with voice search to typing.

Miral: Let's say if you're looking for a book, if you type it in on a browser, you would type in nonfiction 2018, whatever period that you're looking for.

But if you're actually talking through your phone, you would say, ‘Hey, I'm looking for a book from the historical period of the 1500s, romance…' That's kind of what the main difference is. It's based on longtail phrases and questions.

It's basically like asking you a question versus just typing in two or three keywords.

And with authors and with people who are optimizing for voice search, you have to get into the mind of, ‘Hey, who's looking for my content? What kind of questions would they ask somebody else, and what type of things would it return?'

Right now, Amazon, we're so used to just optimizing just keywords and keyword phrases. But with voice search and natural language processing, you have to kind of think about, let's say, I'm looking for Michelle Obama's ‘Becoming' book.

Say, ‘Hey, Siri, can I buy Michelle Obama's ‘Becoming' book?' Or if I'm looking for a guide to New York City, I would say, ‘Hey, Siri,' or, ‘Hey, Alexa, what is a great guide about New York around me?'

So you have to think about phrases and actual longtail keywords versus just like the 6 to 10 keywords that were used to putting in.

Joanna: Which is such a big mindset shift for some of us. We're a similar age, not being kids with the internet, but getting the internet and then developing our search for this typing market.

I find it difficult to use voice search myself because I'm so fast with typing it. It actually feels longer for me to formulate a question.

Miral: Also, Alexa can be pretty frustrating sometimes. I think I saw a study that said Alexa returns what the book's about 30% correctly, and that's a big deal. Publishers and authors are losing a lot of opportunities because of the poor search functions.

So if I went and said, ‘Hey, Siri,…' I hope it doesn't launch right now. ‘Hey, Siri, who's Joanna Penn?' It's going to launch your website, but then it's going to show me your snippet that you put on your website. So it'll tell me exactly who you are.

Joanna: I was at London Book Fair recently, and a report came out from Score Publishing, and Bradley has been on the show as well. It says ‘New York Times' bestselling authors and their publishers stand to lose as much as $17 million this year in book sales because of poor voice assistant search recognition. So that backs up exactly what you're saying there.

Can you give us an overview? You've mentioned some of the main assistance like Siri, and Alexa, and everything.

What is the penetration like? Are we talking only rich people in America have these devices?

Miral: No. Actually, for voice search, a report came out by Adobe, about 50% of users by 2020 will be using voice search. So, that's half the world, and this is not just the United States. This is like half the people in the world who have access.

And depending on the country that you're in, the mobile adoption is different. Like in China, it's completely different than it is in the U.S. because we're app-based. We first started out with desktops. But I was reading a report on China, they started out with mobile only. It's not mobile first, they're mobile only, so a lot of the voice prompts are voice prompt first.

So, 50% adoption in the world, which I think is a pretty, pretty incredible number. And a lot of these results that you get are not optimized. They're not optimal.

If I didn't know the rules about how to get my book on Audible…before I had connected my Alexa to my Audible account, I said, ‘Hey, Alexa, find me Michelle Obama's ‘Becoming.” And she said, ‘I can't find that book right now,' which is a little ridiculous because it's the number one bestseller on our Amazon and nonfiction in the United States.

But I went through the Amazon page, I figured out how to connect it, and then it said, ‘Oh, Michelle Obama's ‘Becoming,' it's not in your library. Would you like to purchase it?' But you have to get the exact prompt right and say, ‘Alexa read, ‘Becoming' by Michelle Obama. And the phrases have to match exactly; it's the title and the author.

Joanna: I think this is important, I feel like we're early on. It is frustrating to use these voice assistants. As you say, you always try something, and then you have to try something else. But let's not forget that most of us do that with typing as well. We type something into Google, and it doesn't quite return what we want, so we type something else.

I guess what we're saying is, most things are not optimized right now for voice search because we've just spent 20 years optimizing for typing.

Would you say that some of these issues will resolve over time as more and more people are using it?

Miral: I think the speakers will get smarter. And I originally used to call them smart speakers, but then I realized nobody understood what I was talking about. I was actually talking about smart speakers, and someone was like, ‘You mean people who are really good at speaking?' And I said, ‘No, smart speakers like Google Home, Amazon's Alexa…'

Joanna: It's the Echo, isn't it? Because Alexa the assistant but the Echo is the…

Miral: Yeah. Amazon Echo, but the natural term is called Amazon's Alexa. And even though it's Echo Dot, and the different types of Echo devices that they have, that is actually a smart speaker. Yes, you're right.

So then I started calling them Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri voice assistants, so those are the assistants. Cortana, Alexa, Siri are the name of the assistants for the devices that they actually belong to.

Joanna: We mentioned the developing markets there. And what I find interesting is that the Android devices are much more used in other markets because of the price point. Amazon did have a phone briefly, but then got rid of it.

So realistically, if we're talking that search is on mobile, we're talking Android devices, Apple devices, and then other Microsoft devices. Which I think is what's interesting because, at the moment, it just feels like Amazon's Alexa is everywhere.

But actually, they don't have the mobile penetration through things like Google.

Do you feel like the Google Home pod or the Google search through the phone has a stronger marketplace elsewhere where Amazon is not so dominant?

Miral: Amazon has the largest market share. It has about 41% market share for speakers in the United States and 31% globally. But if you look at Google, they've grown over 400% over the last 5 years. So they're actually the fastest growing.

On their Google support forums, they actually have guides for these are the optimizations and that they're going to be using things like the featured snippet that you have on your homepage to actually return results through voice search.

Because a fundamental difference between web browser's search, mobile search, and searching through a smart speaker is if you type of query on a web page, if you're a top 10 result, you're in good shape. But if you're a number nine and you're searching mobilely, then you don't make it to the front page of a mobile device.

Maybe you make it…maybe if it's a longer screen, you're like the fourth result. But for a smart speaker, if you're not the first result, then you're kind of nowhere. You have to keep on saying, ‘Next.'

Joanna: It's interesting because my husband has an Apple Watch, and there's only room on that tiny screen for a few lines. So, there's not even a first page. It's like there's only one thing, which is kind of crazy.

You've mentioned the featured snippet. Let's get into that because all the authors listening and going, ‘Okay, so how do people find my book? How am I going to do a snippet?'

What is a featured snippet, and how can we do that?

Miral: If you go to the Google support page, it's based on your meta description on how you set your meta description on each page.

Joanna: Of your website, that you wrote?

Miral: Yeah, on your website. Let's say if you go to TheCreativePenn.com, your featured snippet says, and I pulled it as an example, ‘I'm Joanna Penn, award-nominated ‘New York Times' and ‘USA' bestselling author…'

Joanna: Yay, me.

Miral: Yeah. ‘And award-winning creative entrepreneur.' But then I googled another well-known person, and their snippet was,'I had a chance to catch up with the blog's founder,' I'll leave his name out, ‘and took the opportunity to find out what he's been up to.' So it's not actually about his main blog, it's just the beginning of the post.

What a lot of authors do is when you need to SEO optimize your whole blog, you need to individually come up with a description for each blog post on your blog, especially your homepage, and just summarize to see if you can condense it into one sentence on what your blog is about because that's what's going to show up on your smartphone.

If I say, ‘Hey, Siri, tell me about Joanna Penn…' I'll actually do that right now. I'll say, ‘Hey Siri, who's Joanna Penn?'

Siri: Okay, I found this on the web for, ‘Who is Joanna Penn?' Take a look.

Miral: Okay, so you are the top result.

Joanna: Yay.

Miral: And then the snippet shows, ‘Joanna Penn is an award-nominated ‘New York Times' and ‘USA Today' bestseller.' So, you basically have like 10 sentences.

So you want to make sure everything is condensed in your meta description that you set on your homepage, and you can do that through an SEO plugin. If you're doing a blog post or you writing about a specific topic, you can actually set that.

It's just basically one sentence, condense it as much as possible, and set it on every blog post that you write, or at least on all the main pages, or your homepage because the homepage for most authors are what shows up in search results because they probably are the most traffic pages, or their book's page.

A lot of authors have the list of their books on their web pages. So an example of a good meta description would be all of Joanna Penn's books, and then list out the most popular one. So if someone is searching through mobile, then they kind of get that idea to give them an idea of who you are, and it's correct.

Joanna: First of all, just for listeners, if people use WordPress, then the Yoast plugin has this metadata snippet thing. So, that's one plugin.

And you've just reminded me to update my older pages because you're right, these older pages, like my book's page, I probably haven't updated that snippet for 10 years. I probably do need to update that. So people listening who have an older blog, update those most common pages.

But then the other thing is that, if people are looking for me and they know my name, then searching for my name means they get me. But that's not what most of my traffic is.

For example, on The Creative Penn a common search is, ‘How do I self-publish a book?' So let's go to that kind of search, or fiction authors, it might be, like you said at the beginning, ‘What is a historical romance set in the Regency period?'

How do we optimize for those questions so that we can be found when people don't know who we are?

Miral: When people don't know who we are? How do we optimize? What I found really helpful just for SEO purposes, browser SEO, is having an FAQ page, which lists out all the common queries that someone would ask and then share it.

Let's say you don't know who you are, but you still want traffic. The way SEO works is, first, you have to have good web rank. You have to have a good rank, you have to be mobile optimized, and you have to have fast page speed. And there's tools that you can use to actually test those things. So those are the basics.

If the web is finding that you're not loading fast, you're not mobile optimized, you're going to be further, further, further down. So those are the basic things that you need to fix first, right, is first you need to SEO optimize your basic web page.

And then once you've mastered that, and let's say you're searching for historical…let me see an example, a history of partition in South Asia, right? If you're searching for that type of book, I would probably put in the meta description exactly a summary of that in addition to the keywords.

The keywords actually help the discovery in Amazon and Google, but the actual sentence that summarizes it will be in your meta description. So you want to make clear that that's what the browser sees and that's when people returning your search results see.

You should already have a higher ranking, but then you want to be able to also translate those keywords. And then there's tools that we can use and come up with phrases based on the keywords that you use for your book. I'm just going to use this. Don't hate me for using this, vampire fiction.

Joanna: No, we love vampire fiction around here.

Miral: ‘What is the best vampire fiction novel?' And it will probably say…

Joanna: ‘Twilight.'

Miral: On your actual page, you would put in the different keywords. But then based on the different keywords, you should come up with phrases on your FAQ page to guide the reader, and also, in that little snippet that you have, what your book is about in a query form.

What is the best vampire fiction today?' And then that's probably what a person is going to search for when they're looking for vampire fiction. And then there's different tools. I actually have a list of them that you can use to actually work on your natural language search.

There is Keywords Everywhere, which I really love, and then there is the Google Keyword Planner, which shows you the most popular, and I'm sure authors use that frequently.

The Moz mobile checker, what you could do is you could look at your competition and see who's linking to them and what keywords are being used by them and then just kind of adopt them to your own.

Joanna: And, of course, our friend Dave Chesson at KDP Rocket would be the other one.

I'm going to summarize what you're saying because I know for some people, this might be a little bit technical. But actually, if you control your own website, this is not that difficult.

So I got from you there that I should go to each of my books, each of my book pages, and go to my snippet in my metadata and update that per book page to try and respond to people's search. Now I haven't done that. I don't even know if I've done the SEO on my book pages on my website, so I've got two actions so far out of this, which is fantastic.

I think that a lot of authors listening are going to go, ‘Okay, yeah, fair enough. But most people are not actually buying books on my website. They are buying books from Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books. They're buying an audiobook from Audible, or Findaway, or wherever, one of the many places you can buy books. So, we have no control over the metadata on those sites.'

So are there any ways that we can upload our descriptions and our keywords.

How can we optimize or help people find our books on these other platforms?

Miral: That's where content marketing comes in and promotional images. I'm sure a lot of listeners are familiar with the Stephen King library, and the Stephen King library is now available on Alexa, on the Echo devices, and it's also available on Google.

But my parents have a Google Home device, and my brother has a Google Home device, and we have Alexa Dot in our home. So when I was trying to search for it, I said, ‘Hey, Alexa, I'd like to listen to Stephen King.' And it said, ‘I don't know. I can't find what you're looking for.' And then I said, ‘How could that be? That's kind of strange.'

And I said maybe it's not available yet. And then when I went home to visit my parents, I said, ‘Hey, Google, I'd like to listen Stephen King,' and it didn't really understand my prompt. And then finally, I googled, and I said, ‘How do I access the Stephen King library?'

And then the publisher, they created images that exactly tell you what the exact prompt should be. And if you don't use the exact prompt, it's not going to understand what you're saying, and the speaker won't understand how to get the book. So the exact prompt for Alexa, if you have an Alexa device is, ‘Alexa, open Stephen King library.' That's it.

Joanna: Everyone, Stephen King is now open.

Miral: Yeah. Then you hear his voice, and he's telling you about his collection. I was like, ‘Oh, yes, I got it. This is awesome.' And then the same thing with Google Home, it's like, ‘Hey, Google, open Stephen King library.'

But on the publisher web page and all the blog posts about it, they actually have an image design that just displays that text that says, ‘Open the Stephen King library.' They have a full page dedicated just on how to access it.

It's mostly educating readers on how to get your book. The complicated thing about Amazon is that it won't actually search Audible books unless you've actually connected Audible to your actual device.

And Google Home doesn't let you purchase devices from Google Home. You have to upload them to Google Play, purchase them on Google Play, and then ask Google to read that book that's on there. But they're improving it. And pretty soon, I'm pretty sure the feature's going to come with the ability to purchase.

For Amazon Alexa, they've integrated music purchasing. My daughter accidentally purchased songs, and then I realized I should actually put the children controls on there so she can't purchase any other things. It's like, ‘Hey, Zara, do you want to purchase Amazon music to listen to Mother Goose rhymes?' And she said, ‘Yes,' and I was like, ‘What are these charges that just showed up?'

So the Alexa and Amazon Echo devices have integrated Alexa voice assistant for purchasing, so it's a matter of educating your readers how to exactly do it. And the first thing is having an audiobook because they will find audiobooks.

Then they will find audiobooks that are in the Kindle store that are borrowed from the Kindle owners lending library if you're part of Kindle..

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Without conflict you have no story. Vivian Otoo shares four types of death that create conflict and tension in your work.

Conflict in your story has to be an emotional ride for your readers. Conflict keeps your readers engaged and turning the pages. You may know this, but you’re still wondering how to implement the information.

What is conflict? A conflict in a story is a problem the main character needs to solve to achieve their goal. Without conflict, there is no story and no character development.

Conflict and high stakes relate to one another. If the character doesn’t resolve the conflict, what is at stake? What would your character lose? This is the question you should ask yourself when you’re thinking about the conflict in your story.

Stakes are essential in a story because it keeps the plot moving, challenges your character, and keeps readers turning the pages. Without stakes your plot will become flat, the pacing of your story will slow down, and the conflict will be non-existent.

Now, with deciding what your story stakes will be, it is important not to overdo it. When the stakes are too high, you risk your plot becoming unbelievable and comical.

To keep your readers engaged in your story, tone it down. Use the pull-back method. If your stake is over the top, write it down anyway. After reading it pull back 30-25% and write it again. This method will help keep your stake high but also prevent your story from being overly dramatic.

There is another concept for conflict, and that concept is death.

Why is death a great concept for conflict and high stakes? Because nobody wants to die. The ultimate fear in our society is death.

We know our time in life is limited and we don’t know when we will die, so we try to live our best lives every day. When something or someone threatens that hope, we try everything we can to prevent that from happening.

Physical death is obvious. It is the death we are all familiar with, but today I will introduce four types of death you can use when you sit down to write your story again. They are professional death, psychological death, social death, and ego death.

1. Professional Death

Professional death is when your lead character’s career or life purpose is at stake. In our society as children, they often ask us, “who do you want to be when you grow up?” Or “What do you like to do?”

There is a saying, I’m sure you’re familiar with: Life is not worth living if you’re not doing what you’re passionate about. Being fulfilled and living your life’s purpose is important in our world. There are claims having a purpose or doing the line of work you love prolongs your life.

Example: Let’s say a detective who's sober for many years has lost his daughter. He has broken his sobriety and is under the influence at his job. His boss has given him a warning he will fire him if he doesn’t get it together.

Your character loves being a detective, but he is going through a hard time. He doesn’t want to do anything else in life. His boss hands him a case giving him one last chance to prove himself; a murder that may link to his daughter’s disappearance. He takes up this case hoping that it will save his job and give him closure in life. If he does not solve this case, he can lose his job and career and when you lose something you enjoy it can feel like death its self.

2. Psychological Death

Psychological death is when a part of your lead character will die if they don’t win the conflict. The most common one is love. This death plays on the emotions of your readers.

With love stories, you know at the end of the story the two characters will be together. During the story, to keep your readers turning the pages, create an illusion of your character experiencing psychological death throughout the book.

To achieve this create obstacles and complications that would keep your lead character from getting their true love.

Psychological death applies not only to love. It could be anything that your lead character believes they can‘t live without and holds your character together. Another example, Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye is trying to remain authentic in his life and believes if he doesn’t he will die.

3. Social Death

Social death refers to the condition of people not accepted as fully human by broader society. Diverse scholars applied the expression to describe racial slavery, political economy, and other examples of social ordering.

A loss of social identity, a loss of social connectedness, and losses associated with the disintegration of the body.

Social death is when a group of people have their identities taken away and forced to assume a new more degrading identity. The person being ostracized will adopt the new identity and believe who they are and they deserve to be getting the treatment they’re getting. They will blame themselves why they’re ostracized.

Example: You can have your main character be part of an ostracized group in your story. With their new identity living everyday life living less like a human. Then your character realizes that this isn’t who they are, and they used to be somebody, and the way he and his people are living isn’t right.

First, your main character will have to reject the conditioning the people in power gave to him and adopt a new identity. This will show internal conflict, then he would have to convince his own people of his revelation. Some people will follow and some wouldn’t.

Then he will have to face the conflict with the people in power who don’t want your main character to fight back but want to keep things the way they are. With the example of social death, there is conflict coming from all sides.

4. Ego Death

Ego death is a loss of subjective self-identity. It is a term with significant ties to spirituality, mythology, and mysticism.

Ego death is a symbolic transition that results in a person being spiritually awakened.

The ego is our identity which we have created for ourselves. The ego is made up beliefs of ourselves like our personality, talents, and skills. When we form thoughts about ourselves that we agree with we form a self-image which contributes to the ego.

Ego death is where you have a dissociative experience of self. Everything you’ve identified with fades and a person panics and tries to hold on to these beliefs because without them they would cease to exist.

Example: There are ways to create conflict with the concept of Ego death. You can create a lead character that has everything he/she wants in life, but then realize their self-identity is a false illusion. Now your character doesn’t know what to do with themselves and wants to find answers.

The character is experiencing conflict because everything they once knew and believed can’t be trusted. You can go further and brainstorm how this new realization creates conflict with your character’s family, friends, job, and environment. How does your character resolve the conflicts?

How do you create conflict in your stories? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Vivian Otoo has been writing since she was ten years old. She has been writing her first novel since 2012. After she graduated from University in 2014, she went for her author dreams. She is a blogger and owner of Just Write Now where she helps writers learn the craft of storytelling and publishing. In her spare time, she likes to binge Netflix, get lost in a good book, and spend time with loved ones.

[Man sitting alone image courtesy Ben White and Unsplash.]

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When you feel your creativity isn't flowing easily, what do you do to get things moving again? Marc Graham shares tools and ideas for tapping into all your levels of consciousness to banish writers' block forever.

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

One minute you’re writing along, the Muse is singing, your characters are cooperating, and even the cat is giving you room to type your fast-flowing words.

The next moment, you’re stalled. You’ve written yourself into a corner, your characters have rebelled, and the Muse has ditched you for a bender in Vegas.

Been there? I sure have.

Writer’s block is something we’ll all encounter from time to time. But by understanding the psychology of the creative process, exploring the nature and source of Story, and adding a few tried-and-true tools to your writing kit, you can open the floodgates to your creativity and crush writer’s block.

Sound good? Let’s dive in.

The Psychology of Creativity

Storytelling is as old as humanity itself. Even before speech developed, people used drawings and gestures to communicate. At first, the stories were practical and cautionary.

Og forgot his spear and got trampled by a mastodon.
Don’t be like Og. —Anonymous

The experiences of others could be harnessed and added to one’s own knowledge without having to learn those (sometimes fatal) lessons herself. How to hunt and gather successfully. How to integrate within the tribe. What lay beyond the distant mountains.

And then something magical happened: Someone awoke with a dream. Suddenly, events that no one in the tribe had physically experienced—not even the dreamer—now entered their collective consciousness. A new story had arisen out of nowhere, and the first shaman entered the scene.

The human mind is hard-wired for storytelling. As a species, we have the capacity to ask What if? and to create myriad answers to that sublime question.

To understand how this works, we need to dig a bit into philosophy and psychology.

Fair warning: This is a highly subjective field, and I’m cherry-picking theories to match my personal outlook. I’m also distilling this broad topic down to a minimum of terms and considerations. I don’t claim any of the following as complete or absolute fact, but it works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Story engages the human mind at three primary levels:
  • Ordinary Consciousness — This is where we spend most of our time, the normal, everyday, waking consciousness that helps us communicate and navigate the physical world. This is the seat of our intellect and emotions. I’ll also refer to this as simply the Intellect.
  • Higher Consciousness — This is the realm of transcendence, of the ability to consider the immaterial and abstract. This level of mind defines us as humans, as homo sapiens sapiens: the human who knows that she knows. This is the seat of ideals, inspiration, and spirituality. I’ll also refer to this as the Superconscious.
  • Lower Consciousness — This is our root operating system, consisting of base instincts, natural urges, and information storage and retrieval. It also serves as the filter that selects which of the millions of sensory inputs we receive each second get passed along to the Intellect. According to Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious, this level of the individual mind also contacts a broader field of awareness that all human minds can access, the source of myths and symbols and archetypes. This is the seat of intuition and creativity. I’ll also refer to this as the Subconscious.

Creativity requires a solid connection between all three levels of consciousness. Without the ability of the Lower Consciousness to draw information from outside our regular awareness, our stories can only be about what we directly experience.

Without the inspiration and purpose derived from the Higher Consciousness, a story has no meaning beyond the exchange of information.

When we’re blocked, it’s the result of these interconnections being somehow disrupted, or possibly of receiving conflicting information from the various levels.

The solution, then, is to strengthen those connections, to find tools that quickly restore them when they are temporarily blocked, and to learn how each level of your mind communicates so that your ideas come through clearly.

The Source of Story

Now that we have a cursory understanding of how the mind works, let’s take a look at the nature and source of Story.

I contend that Story exists independently of the storyteller’s mind. This is not a new idea. Plato expressed something similar with his Realm of Ideals. It has echoes in Jung’s Collective Unconscious, Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, and in certain theories of quantum physics.

Rather than being a product of the Intellect, Story is an infinite natural resource that the other levels of consciousness can discover and harvest.

To be fair, Intellect plays a critical role in crafting and shaping the story, in turning abstract ideas into effective communication. But Intellect is no more responsible for the raw materials of Story than a blacksmith is for his iron ore.

Understanding this is valuable in a couple of ways.

First, it gets rid of pressure, self-doubt, and guilt. Intellect (that part of us we most often identify with) is solely responsible for crafting the story, for shaping the raw materials into a functional and pleasing end-product.

If the raw material ceases to be imported, it’s not the fault of the storyteller, no failing of the Intellect. It’s a simple matter of reopening the trade routes.

Second, the storyteller now has access to an inexhaustible supply of ideas, the raw material of Story. She doesn’t have to rely on her experience, to wait for inspiration, or to have a vision. At any time, she can send her Superconscious out to prospect, followed by the miners of the Subconscious to gather the ore.

So how do we ensure these other levels of consciousness do their jobs? How do we establish a steady, reliable flow of ideas?

For that, we need to turn back the clocks.

Shamanic Tools for Storytelling

Among the ancient tribal cultures—and even among indigenous peoples today—shamans were the storytellers, the keepers of the lore. They held responsibility for the health and well-being of the tribe, and they preserved the myths and history of their people.

While Western society has generally lost its connection to the mythic past, the role of the shaman has passed to you and me—to the storytellers.

Indigenous shamans journey in trance state to other dimensions, to Upper World and Lower World, to find whatever might be helpful to their tribe.

Storytellers, too, travel to other planes of reality to discover our stories and bring them back to our tribes of readers. So, how do we do this even more effectively?

Shamans and latter-day mystics developed a number of practices and tools to empower their Higher and Lower Minds, and to more readily travel between the worlds.

One outgrowth of this practice is the Tarot, as described by Corrine Kenner in Tarot for Writers.

[Note from Joanna: You can listen to Caroline Donahue discuss using the tarot for writing on this episode of The Creative Penn podcast.]

Far more ancient are the Norse Runes. Both tools rely on the interplay of the three levels of consciousness to draw from the wellspring of Story to craft an individual story.

So, how exactly do these tools work?

In addition to filing away your mother’s birthday, your childhood address, your telephone number, and where you left your keys, part of your Subconscious is constantly swimming in the Collective Unconscious, the sea of creativity that is the Source of Story.

An example of a World Tree. Image copyright Marc Graham

Just as failed communication between parts of your mind can have you turning the house upside-down to find your keys, a similar failure to communicate is the main cause of writer’s block.

What’s the usual first step when we’ve misplaced our keys? I generally start retracing my steps, using my short-term memory and Intellect (both housed in the Ordinary Consciousness) to solve the problem.

The trouble is, it wasn’t Intellect who decided to leave the keys in the freezer, something that makes no sense and of which we have no memory. We’re using the wrong tool for the job, and the typical result is failure.

It’s only after we’ve given up the hunt or passed out from the exertion, only after Intellect has given up and moved on to some other task, that the solution comes through another level of consciousness.

Sometimes it comes as a burst of inspiration from the Superconscious: Oh yeah, they’re in the freezer. Sometimes, more subtly through the Subconscious: I could really do with a bowl of ice cream. Either way, once the Ordinary Consciousness is out of the way, the other levels are empowered to speak up.

Tools like Tarot and the Runes work on this principle. They engage the Intellect by inviting it to classify a Tarot card or a particular Rune by shape, number, meaning, etc. While the Ordinary Consciousness is thus distracted, the Superconscious and Subconscious are free to locate and collect an abundance of raw materials from which you can craft your story.

Putting It into Practice

Now that we understand how the mind works to put a story together, how can we use this to enrich our storytelling?

1) Empower All Levels of Consciousness

An active intellectual and emotional life are crucial to navigating the day-to-day world of work, relationships, and surviving in physical form. It’s also important to exercise the Higher Consciousness through art, inspirational reading, and other uplifting activities. Equally important is strengthening the connection to the Lower Consciousness through meditation, free writing, etc.

2) Reduce Your Stress

Stress triggers the Ordinary Consciousness, which works in real time to craft solutions to keep us alive, to the exclusion of all other aspects of our mind. We live in a world shaped to place us in a constant state of stress and lock us into our intellect and emotions (the manipulation of which is the bread and butter of ad agencies and cable news outlets). Removing or reducing stress allows the Intellect to take a breather and gives the Superconscious and Subconscious more freedom to engage with you.

3) Stay Healthy

This is a corollary to item (2). The healthier you are, the less stress is on the physical mechanism of your body, and the more the Intellect can relax. Get plenty of rest, fresh air, and natural light. Exercise and eat wholesome foods. Play with your pet and spend time with loved ones. All these things will improve your general health and just make you happier. Who doesn’t want that?

4) Develop a Mindfulness Practice

As with the shamanic practices of old, storytelling is a sacred art. Taking time out from busy-ness to sit, reflect, meditate, or simply listen to your heartbeat and your breath—any practice that connects you to your inner self and that helps you center on your place in the world will be time well spent.

5) Build Your Shamanic Toolkit

While strengthening the connections between the three aspects of your mind will help proof you against writer’s block, your stories will still not simply write themselves. There will still come times when you hit an impasse, when your characters are being stubborn, or when you’re just not sure what should happen next.

Grab a set of Tarot cards—there are dozens of options available, with themes to match whatever genre you like.

Odin's Lots. Image copyright Marc Graham

Or find a set of Rune cards, tiles, and/or dice. The instructions and suggested layouts that come with sets like these—if they’re not already geared specifically toward writers—can be easily adapted to the storytelling process.

Tools like these are fun to use and can give great results right out of the box. As you build your rapport with the tools—perhaps even create a little ritual around their use—your Superconscious and Subconscious will quickly learn that you’re serious about connecting with them, and those lines of creative communication will gain strength.

6) Give Your Gift to the World

Story has the power to transform lives and shape our world. The world needs your story and your unique way of presenting it. The more you give of that gift, the more the Muse will see you as a vital partner in breathing life into Story, and the more ideas and inspiration she’ll send your way.

Like a pyramid scheme, but not gross.

What tools to you use when your writing is feeling blocked or stuck? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Marc Graham is a novelist, speaker, story coach, and the developer of the Runes for Writers creativity system. His debut novel, Of Ashes and Dust, is available from Five Star publishing. A second book, Song of Songs: A Novel of the Queen of Sheba, will be released by Blank Slate Press in April 2019. A third novel and a companion book to the Runes for Writers system will be published later in 2019

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Should you publish exclusively on Amazon or should you publish your books wide, making them available on every platform, in every country and every format possible? In today's episode, I explain your options and my own choices as an independent author.

In the introduction, The Amazon Conundrum, Lindsay Buroker's thoughts on KU; Draft2Digital announce Reading Lists carousel tool; AI and Creativity with Professor Marcus du Sautoy; You Can't Take My Door [The Next Web]; Google Poem Portraits [Google blog]; AI music and copyright [The Verge]; plus my personal update and how scuba diving has shaped some of my books [Books and Travel podcast]. Plus, join me at The Career Author Summit in Nashville, May 2020.

Today's podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world's largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks. Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.

Joanna Penn (yes, me!) is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn and also writes non-fiction for authors. She’s also a podcaster and an award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer's Digest.

You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • What is Amazon ebook exclusivity? KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited
  • The benefits and drawbacks of exclusivity on Amazon
  • Going wide with print
  • Going wide with audio
  • Marketing when publishing wide

You can find lots of detail about publishing options here, or in my updated book, Successful Self-Publishing, available as a free ebook on all the usual stores or direct download, as well as print and large print editions.

Any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment on this post, or tweet me @thecreativepenn

Introduction

In the early days of the independent author movement, the most heated online discussions were about when the ‘stigma’ of self-publishing would go away, whether traditional publishing or self-publishing would rule supreme, and when ebook sales would kill off print.

Those discussions have mostly disappeared now and the main split in the author community is about whether to publish exclusively on Amazon or ‘go wide,’ meaning to publish on all platforms in all markets.

I get questions every week on my podcast, email and social media about publishing wide and at London Book Fair a few months back, most of the questions were about this topic. Since there are so many misunderstandings, I’m going to outline the current state of publishing wide and the pros and cons of exclusivity.

Clearly, this is my opinion and I’m biased towards my own experience and global perspective, but I hope that you will find it useful.

Even if you do stick with exclusivity for ebooks, I hope you’ll consider going wide with print and audio in order to expand your reach and diversify your income streams.

What is Amazon ebook exclusivity? KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited

Amazon is the only platform that has an exclusive ebook program meaning that you cannot publish your book to other sites like Google Play, Kobo, Apple Books, or to library digital eco-systems, or even sell direct from your own site. Readers have to be within the Amazon eco-system to read your book.

KDP Select is an opt-in program available to authors who publish through the Amazon KDP dashboard as well as some traditionally published authors who negotiate through agents and publishers. There is a check-box per book, and you opt-in for 90 days of exclusivity, which is automatically rolled into the next 90 days unless you specifically opt out.

To be clear, this means you can't publish the book on any other platform, including your own website, or in any boxsets, during this period. You are licensing exclusive rights to Amazon to publish your ebook within the period you opt-in for.

If you opt in to KDP Select, your books are available in Kindle Unlimited (KU), a subscription program where readers pay a fixed amount per month and can borrow and read unlimited books. It's described by some as the “Netflix for books” and encourages unlimited reading within the platform, attracting hardcore readers (sometimes called ‘whale readers’) who would usually have to pay a lot more to read that much. Indie authors can only be in KU if they opt in with KDP Select as above, although some exceptions are made for big sellers.

Authors are paid based on Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC), basically, pages read, from a pot of money shared between KU authors at the end of each month. This amount changes every month and is determined by Amazon. There are also All-Star bonuses for the top sellers.

You can still set a retail price and sell your book to other Amazon purchasers who are not in KU, but you are not in control of your KENP.

Note: You can still publish on Amazon KDP and not enter KDP Select, as I do. 

The benefits of exclusivity

KU is its own ecosystem with a sub-set of voracious readers who only borrow books within the program. At the time of writing, KU is available in US, UK, Italy, Spain, Brazil, France, Mexico, Canada, Germany, India, Australia, and Japan. The program is being rolled out in the biggest book markets globally, so the number of readers is increasing. Of course, your books are available for sale as well, so readers who are not in KU can still buy them on the Amazon platform.

Some genres sell very well in KU and some authors make great incomes by publishing only within KU, but it doesn’t work for every author and every book, even within a popular genre.

Discoverability is easier because anecdotal evidence suggests that the Amazon algorithms favor books in KU and that Amazon ads are more effective for KU page reads.

There are also promotional options every 90 days including five days of free promotion, which can be good for getting reviews, and Kindle Countdown Deals, time-bound promotional discounting for your book.

For some international markets, you can only get 70% royalty if your book is in KU, applicable for Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico. If you’re not in KU, you can only get 35% in these markets, even though you might get 70% in the other countries. Although these are not significant markets for most indie authors right now, they are a big focus for global growth.

It’s also easier to manage book content and price changes. Timing promotional price changes across stores is one of the big pain points if you publish wide. You can schedule a price change on Kobo and Apple Books, but Nook can take a few days, and Amazon’s speed of change varies between 4-72 hours. Similarly, if you want to change back matter or fix a typo, you have to do it multiple times on multiple stores.

Of course, you can use aggregator services like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, Streetlib or Smashwords to update once for all platforms, but if you are exclusive to Amazon, you only have to manage one site and one set of changes per book.

If exclusivity sounds great, that’s because it is!

If you only have one book and are just starting out, then it's definitely worth trying KDP Select at least for the first 90 days. You will have enough on your plate trying to learn lots of new things about publishing and marketing anyway.

Or, if you have several books in unrelated niches, then it's also potentially worth doing. You may even decide that you want to run your entire author business on Amazon, and that’s certainly your choice to do so.

So why aren’t I in KU?

I’ve been wide since I first self-published in 2008 and both my author names — Joanna Penn for non-fiction and J.F.Penn for fiction — have always been wide.

I briefly tried KDP Select with a new pen-name, Penny Appleton, that I started with my Mum, mainly to see what all the fuss was about, but I pulled those three books out after a short time. Here’s why.

The drawbacks to exclusivity

I was one of the first people in Australia to purchase the Amazon international Kindle when it came out in 2009. [Check out my embarrassing video here!] I’ve been a happy Amazon customer ever since, a voracious reader who has spent many thousands of dollars (and pounds) on the site.

Reading the 1st Kindle in my hammock in Australia, 2009

I’m a Prime member for the free shipping but I am not a KU subscriber. My own Kindle library has 1864 books in it at the time of writing this, all of which I have purchased over the years. I love reading!

As I have mentioned before, authors can be a self-sustaining community because we read far more books than we can ever write. This is why I want everyone in the world to write a book. Imagine the explosion of reading and books sold!

I very happily self-publish and sell my books on Amazon and it makes up a large proportion of my book sales income.

I am not anti-Amazon — but I am anti-exclusivity. I do not check the KU box. Here’s why.

Independence

I'm an independent author by choice. Self-publishing was never the second choice for me. I’m a creative entrepreneur and running my own publishing company makes great business sense. I’m an empowered creative in charge of my own writing career.

The definition of independence includes “free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority; not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.”

If all you have are ebooks in KU, you are not independent because you are not in control, you are subject to another’s authority, and you depend on Amazon for your livelihood.

Some authors have done very well in KU, and some continue to make fantastic revenue from it. But others have seen their income decimated when the rules around KU page reads or categories changed.

You have no control over how much you’re paid, and Amazon can change the rules at any time. They have done this several times already, and they will continue to do so, because it's their business and they can do what they like. There’s no warning. It just happens. So there’s a level of anxiety within the KU author community about possible changes and people monitor Facebook groups and forums all the time. There is no peace of mind.

I have a personal example of this loss of control that shapes my own need for independence. In early 2008, I was laid off along with four hundred other people in one day from my corporate IT department in Australia. My one source of income disappeared overnight. Few people saw the Global Financial Crisis coming, and we all had to adapt.

Change is inevitable, so I choose to spread my bets amongst the retailers as well as selling directly from my own site. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2013, Jeff Bezos said that at some point, Amazon itself would be disrupted. He just hopes it happens after he's dead! [Publishing Perspectives]

As I write this in April 2019, Amazon has just pulled out of China, closing its marketplace due to competition from Alibaba [CNN] Clearly, it is not a foregone conclusion that Amazon will win the online marketplace war in every market.

I think about the future of publishing a great deal. I'm in my mid-forties, and I'm not just building for the next year, I’m building for the rest of my life and hopefully leaving something for my family when I’m gone. As Amazon continues to rise and rise, we see the push back of many different industries against their domination. There are calls for big tech to be broken up and increased regulation for online retail, so who knows what the next five years will hold? [Medium: Elizabeth Warren article on Here's how we break up Big Tech].

I’m committed to a future that is not controlled by a single retailer.

I believe that every author’s individual choice plays a part in that future, and together, we can make a difference. That's why I am part of the Alliance of Independent Authors because we are stronger together.

Of course, most authors have a job or other forms of income, so Amazon is not their only source. I just wanted to explain my own background and decisions as a full-time author-entrepreneur. In my household, this business is our only income, but at this point, The Creative Penn Limited is truly diverse and only around 11% of my total business revenue comes from Amazon.

Missing out on global growth of digital markets

My Kobo Writing Life sales map

I went to school in Malawi, Africa; I’ve worked in the Middle East and all over Europe and lived in Australia and New Zealand as well as traveling around the USA and other places, so I have seen a lot of the world (for which I am truly grateful!).

You can hear about my travels on my other podcast and blog, Books and Travel.

My family is British-Nigerian-Hungarian-Kiwi-Jewish-Canadian-Caribbean, and that’s just amongst my siblings and their kids.

My perspective is always global and yet so much of the independent author movement is US-centric.

Fair enough, it started there, but the world is changing and the adoption of digital technologies and mobile-first economies will change the way the world works by 2025.

Amazon may be the biggest player in the developed digital markets like US, UK, Canada, and Australia, but there are other retail stores and devices that dominate in other countries, plus there are exciting possibilities for where the digital world is heading.

If you stay with Amazon exclusively for e-books you're missing out on selling your books on other retail stores like Kobo, Apple Books, or on Google Play. The latter is particularly interesting because there are 1 billion Google devices around the world now [CNET] with growth in developing markets that use cheaper Android phones. Many new markets are mobile first.

If you publish wide, your books can be for sale in 190 countries and across apps that you have never even heard of through distributors like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, Streetlib, and Smashwords. Sure, availability does not guarantee sales, but I’ve now sold ebooks in 86 countries, which would not be possible if I was in KU.

To stay up to date with global publishing news, check out The New Publishing Standard.

Scammers, quality issues and the perception of KU and self-publishing

There are absolutely lots of great authors with fantastic books behaving ethically in KU, but there are also a lot of scammers, as reported by David Gaughran on multiple occasions and in a recent article: Kindle Unlimited: A Cheater Magnet.

Book-stuffing to expand page reads, charts flooded with ghostwritten books, and more recently, the plagiarism of #copypastecris, which Nora Roberts is trying to tackle by suing the author involved. This bad behavior continues to proliferate because the KU model encourages it.

These scandals take us back to the old days of indie when we had to defend the quality of self-published work. Again, there are great books in KU — but there’s also a lot of crap generated by people trying to scam pages read and get All-Star bonuses.

From a reader perspective, KU and the rise of Amazon ads have made it harder and harder to find books I want to read on the store. I’m not the only one finding the categories I love stuffed full of books with no relation to the genre I want to read. I used to browse categories as a reader every week but now I’ve started to find books through physical bookstores again as well as social media and bookseller email lists. I’ve also been browsing on curated stores like Apple Books to find my next read. I can’t be the only one.

Long term thinking

I understand why so many authors choose to stay exclusive with Amazon. It’s easier to manage, easier to report and for some authors, it’s a lot more profitable. But it’s also short-term thinking, focused on sales today or this month.

If you only use KU, you’re building a business on a platform that changes the rules regularly, allows scammers to reap rewards, and prevents your books from reaching libraries, readers in other countries who can’t access Amazon, and those who ethically object to Amazon business practices.

Publishing wide is an attitude, not just a technical choice.

It’s deciding that you want your book to be available to every reader in every format. It’s publishing for the long-term, not for daily sales rank.

When you have a long-term business model, every asset you put in the world helps sell the other assets. I'm not so concerned with e-book sales in launch week, I'm concerned with the long-tail income for the rest of my life.

I love creating so that’s how I spend my time. I measure my life by what I create. I focus on creating books, getting them out in every format I can, in every country I can, on every device I can, and then, I know that these sales come, but they take time.

Wide distribution is a long term mindset.

It’s..

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Many writers deal with the usual stresses of life, but also with chronic illness. Writing can be a great career when managing cycles of pain and energy, but you need to take extra care of yourself. 

In this article, Ivi Jayde shares five self-care tips to support writers in this situation. 

You might also find Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch useful.

I am twenty-eight and a writer but I also have fibromyalgia. Like many with this chronic condition, it’s hard to get through the daily grind, let alone write with it.

As all you writers out there know, writing requires mental stamina and concentration. When pain and fibro fog have you staring at the screen before you, you simply want to quit. However, not all of us can do that. Perhaps it’s the main form of how we sustain ourselves.

So without further ado, a few suggestions on how to handle a chronic illness and doing something that requires thinking and focus.

1. Take breaks

Write for a half hour or hour and a half, then chill out and watch Netflix or Acorn TV for an hour. You deserve it! Perhaps even read that novel you’re dying to finish.

Reading is writing, remember!

It might take more time, it might mean a prolonged schedule in the writing process, but it’s worth it. In the end, if it’s just one of those days you can’t do it, then listen to your body and take that day off.

2. Reduce stress and anxiety levels

I know your doctor has said this, but if you have too many projects on the go, consider cutting down to one. Consider sharing a project with someone, a writer friend or a writer family member. Perhaps make it a three-person act.

Consider doing novellas, rather than larger projects. Short stories or poetry might also be a viable option.

If you find yourself fearing rejection or having low self-esteem, consider listening to meditative sounds on a phone app or meditative soundtracks on Youtube. Underwater sounds. Classical music. Rain falling. Cat purrs. Tibetan monks chanting. Wind chimes. Birds chirping. All of these can help lower stress (it might even help with descriptive work too).

3. Get enough sleep

I know it’s obvious and plenty of people have told you this, but sleep is essential. Get to bed early. Have a good sleep schedule. Calm your mind with essential oils, natural sleep aids, and comfortable clothes and linens.

Don’t write deep into the evening (your mind will only want to circle, and race, as you try to figure out plot points and character motives). A tired writer is no good.

4. Get support

Look online (or in your area of residence) for chronic illness groups and writer’s groups. Both can be good places to discuss issues with handling chronic illness and working on a project. They are good places to find like-minded people you can discuss your project or writing in general with, and in doing so, take your mind off the pain.

Email friends, close co-workers, and relatives as well and see if they can spare time to look at your work. Feedback here and there can prove to be beneficial for us writers. They may even give you ideas or offer to edit a few things, to lighten the load. You’ll never know unless you ask.

Please do them a favor: acknowledge their participation.

5. Get organized

Use a phone app to make lists, buy a journal to write things down, use your calendar to mark down important dates and goals.

When your brain is dealing with not only pain and exhaustion, but things like plot and character, it’s easy to forget due dates, chores, and deadlines.

When appointments, deadlines, events, bills, and other important things start to pile up and you forget, it will only wreak havoc on your ability to write. It will cause more stress and that in turn will only make everything worse.

6. Laugh. A lot.

As the old adage goes, laughter is good for the soul. It helps you deal with stress and pain, as well, as scientific research has shown.

Read something funny. Watch something funny. Listen to something funny. Think of something funny. Farts. Jokes. Cats gone crazy. Dogs gone crazy. Kids and babies gone crazy. People falling. Stand up comedians on Youtube. Sitcoms. Humor movies. Chatting with a funny neighbor or roommate.

Anything to get you hooting and roaring with pure delight. The more you can laugh in a day, the less pain you’ll feel and the more you can achieve. It may even help you write a humorous character or plot, who knows!

Are you dealing with chronic illness? How do you nurture yourself while writing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Ivi Jayde is a history graduate. Feminist. Cat mom. Anglophile. Avid reader. Chai tea, dark chocolate, flavored coffee, and macarons enthusiast. She is currently working on a historical fiction project about Pandora’s Box (with a feminist twist). Ivi is also always taking online courses and reading various articles about writing fiction. She believes that one can never learn too much when it comes to gaining skills in this field (blame it on how competitive the industry is). She plans to travel more this year as well, which will prove to provide great opportunities for story ideas and new experiences.

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