5 Ways To Write Every Day…Even When You REALLY Don’t Want To

By | August 2, 2011

If you’re a writer who never has trouble getting the daily word count on paper, who writes easily and fluidly without ever getting stuck, look away now. This post is not for you.

…To the 99% who didn’t look away, hi there! You’re in good company. What inspired me to do this post, in fact, was a recent message from bestselling ebook author Amanda Hocking where she is having trouble writing, too. Her office smells musty, and she can’t work in it…but that’s where she works, it’s part of her routine! What now?

This is one of the things that can make a writer’s life difficult. Now Amanda is a notoriously fast writer, and I am sure it won’t take her much time to establish a new routine. But that may not be so easy for all of us.

Here’s some ideas for getting yourself to write, even when it feels impossible:

  • Write down your wordcount every day. This makes you more accountable to yourself, and it’s a useful trick to practice. You don’t want to write down “0 words”, so you’ll make yourself keep going.
  • Write 100 words per day. Now this goes against all writing advice you may have heard, and you may be thinking — 100 words per day, that’s nothing! I’ll never finish a book that way!
    But the point is that 100 words is a tiny amount. It’s doable. No matter how ‘stuck’ you feel, you can force your brain to crank out 100 words. And the magic of it is that once you get to 100 words, you can usually keep going. At least for another 100 words. And so on, and so on…
  • Write whatever the heck you want. You can’t figure out the plot? Write about the scenery. You hate the point of view you chose? Grab a different one, no matter how crazy, and write from that POV. Write a bit of dialogue between two characters who haven’t even met yet. Write a poem, a love scene, a limerick. Can’t think of anything whatsoever? Write about the wallpaper you’re staring at. The sooner you can convince your brain that it’s Just For Fun, not all Serious and Difficult, the sooner you can get back into the groove.
  • Pomodoro timer - set it for 25 minutes!

  • Use the Pomodoro Technique. That’s a fancy name, but all it means is you set a timer for 25 minutes, and during those 25 minutes you must write, nothing else. Use a kitchen timer or your iPhone clock, your bedroom alarm, whatever’s handy. When the set time is over, take a 10 minute break and set another 25 minute writing period.
    This writing technique is especially useful if you keep finding yourself wandering away from your desk or laptop — oh, those plants need watering! Oh, the cat needs attention! Oh, look at those dirty windows, I must wash them right now! — when you should be writing.
  • Write anywhere. It’s easy to fall into the trap where you can write only if your office is sparkling clean, your desk is empty, you have a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and you have no distractions whatsoever.
    It’ll take time and effort, but you can retrain yourself to write anywhere — in the underground, in your lunch break, outside on a park bench, in a crowded bar, in the doctor’s waiting room. This takes practice, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to start today. Take a small notebook and pen with you wherever you go, or a smart phone and a roll-up keyboard, and write.

How Long Should Your Ebook Be?

By | July 19, 2011

When you’re publishing an ebook, you’re not bound by the traditional publishing rules. There’s nobody to say to you: “Oh, we can’t publish a novel that long, paper costs will kill our profit” or “Oh, we can’t publish a novel that short, it will look weird on the shelves”.

You don’t need to keep track of the foibles of arbitrary and conservative publishers. However, you do want to attract as many readers as possible, and that’s where wordcount IS important.

Think about it. If you buy an ebook for your Kindle on Amazon, and it’s only 10,000 words long, you’ll finish reading it in an hour — or much less, if you’re a fast reader. You’ll feel cheated, especially if you thought you were settling in for a nice long read.

You can sell short stories on Amazon and elsewhere, sure. Just remember to make it clear that they are short stories. Then, to give readers a better value for their money, you can bundle them. 5 short stories for $1.99 is still a bargain.

So, now that we’re only looking at what readers want and expect, what is a good length for your novel?

We’re keeping to wordcount, here, because page length doesn’t mean anything on electronic devices.

The old editor’s rule of thumb, “count the pages and divide by 250”, is only useful if you write by hand. Then you don’t have any more accurate way to track your wordcount, the way you would on a computer.

Here’s a list of word counts from recent tradionally published bestsellers:

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

You’ll notice that the wordcounts are steadily creeping up in both series, though in Harry Potter they eventually go down again, but not by all that much. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a small book; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was more like two phonebooks stapled together.

There is no literary rule that states that later books in a series must be longer.
No, this is a purely commercial effect: the publishers give an author more leeway, and more pages, once she starts selling really well.

So, when you’re publishing your own ebook, you can start out with more words than JK Rowling did. Still, you’re in the same position JK Rowling was, when you’re writing your first novel: nobody knows you, and you have to work hard to draw in your readers.

That’s why I believe it’s smart not to write a 300,000 word epic for your first ebook. Your readers don’t know you yet, and have no idea if you’ll be able to bring such a long book to a satisfying conclusion. Once you’ve proven to them that you can, they’ll be back for more.

To put this in perspective: JRR Tolkien intended The Lord of the Rings
to be published as one book, not a trilogy. Can you imagine? It’s nearly 500,000 words long! On the other hand, Tolkien first caught the public’s attention with The Hobbit, a charming book of only 95,000 words. The people who read that shorter story were ready to follow him deeper into Middle Earth.

In short: there are no rules for ebook writers, and that is a wonderful thing. But smart, successful ebook writers will keep the length of their ebook to about 100,000 words. Especially if it’s their first novel.

And hey: if you write 1,000 words a day, that means you can write three full sized novels a year.

Why You Should Track Your Word Count Every Day

By | July 18, 2011

Do you know how many words you write in an hour? How many words you can write on your best days? Or your worst? Or what your average word count is over an entire year?

Here’s 4 reasons why it makes sense to track your word count:

1. You can improve your daily amount of words, simply by keeping track of them. This is a simple psychological trick you can use for your own benefit. By merely writing down what you produced that day, you’ll get into a competitive spirit and want to add just a little more the next day. Or if that isn’t exciting enough, check out other writers’ word count and use them as a benchmark. Can you write more words a day than Stephen King?

2. It’s very hard to estimate how long it will take you to write a novel, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.

That’s because your word count isn’t the same from day to day. If you’re stuck on a plot or a scene, you may produce fewer words; if you’re feeling confident, you may produce more.

But once you keep track, you’ll know your average amount of words per day, and even per hour. You’ll know that you can write a novel in a year, or half a year, or even three months. And once you know your own production speed, you can adjust your marketing strategies to match.

3. Early warning if your word count is slowing down. Without tracking your daily word count, you might not realize that you haven’t been as productive lately. The reason might be obvious — you’re writing in a new genre, or you’re in the early stages of planning a novel.

But maybe the reason isn’t so clear, and you’ll have to investigate. For example, perhaps you’ve been getting distracted by Twitter, or phonecalls, or household disturbances while you were supposed to be writing.

4. You can use your time more efficiently. Many writers set aside a specific number of hours for writing. Once you set yourself an additional word count minimum, you will find productivity climbing. “4 hours’ writing time or 1000 words, minimum” is much more effective than just “4 hours” in which you may spend the entire time staring at the wall.

5 Tips for Taking a Good Author Photo

By | July 7, 2011

As soon as you start publishing your first ebook, you’re going to need a good author photo. Not just a small, pixelated picture of yourself at a party somewhere, but something you can use in forum profiles, Amazon author pages, Goodreads, Facebook fan pages, Google+ and everywhere else.

You don’t absolutely need an author photo. It’s just that you will look anonymous without one. The photo helps to give your readers a sense of who you are. It helps them to connect to you as a person, not just a name on a page.

Here are 5 tips on taking a good author photo, whether you take the picture yourself or hire a professional photographer:

Use a photo that matches your writing style and genre. That doesn’t mean you have to sit on top of a moon rocket because you’re a science fiction author, or surround yourself with naked men if you’re a romance author. All it means is that the mood of the picture must match your books. For example, if you write lighthearted comedy, don’t use a moody black and white photograph of yourself scowling at the lens.

Neil Gaiman's author photograph

One of Neil Gaiman's many author photographs that fit his goth-friendly image.

Don’t Photoshop yourself out of all recognition. Sure, nobody said you have to look your worst, and a small dose of Photoshop can help. But if you ever do a book signing, lecture or any other kind of appearance, it would be nice if people could actually recognize you from your book photo, and not be disappointed that you’re not a supermodel.

JK Rowling photograph

JK Rowling: good lighting works just as well as Photoshop.

— Take it seriously. By that, I mean: don’t use a random Facebook picture. You don’t have to use a formal posed photograph for your author photo. But there’s no need to throw up a random snapshot, either. Think of it as a picture you’d include with your CV. You want to look your best. What if you suddenly hit the big time, like Amanda Hocking, and news media start asking for your photo?

Amanda Hocking's Amazon Author photograph

Amanda Hocking's Amazon Author page photograph.

Put your own spin on it. If you can contrive a photograph that shows you to advantage, and that isn’t a standard three quarters headshot, you will stand out. People will remember you. They remember the mysterious Lemony Snicket, even though he breaks all the rules by not showing his face in his photographs.

Lemony Snicket's mysterious author photo

Lemony Snicket's mysterious author photo.

Make sure you have a high resolution image that’s ready for print. Ideally, you should have at least two high resolution photographs: one black and white, one full color. Put these on your website and add a note that you give permission for these to be used as press images, or give them a Creative Commons license to allow re-use. That way journalists can legally use the photos even if they don’t have time to contact you. If you don’t provide high resolution images, you’re putting newspapers and magazines at a disadvantage. They may choose to go with another author rather than spend time and money on sending a photographer.

10 Publishing Blogs That Are Worth Reading for Ebook Authors

By | July 4, 2011

There’s a ton of publishing blogs out there. Blogs by authors, editors, agents, interns, and most of all, writers. I have read a lot of them, and certainly didn’t find all of them useful, entertaining or interesting. Also, there’s a lot of endless repetition of traditional publishing information: how to write a query letter, how to get an agent, and so on. Not always relevant for authors who are publishing their own ebook.

So which publishing blogs are worth your time? I’ve made a selection of 10 blogs that are relevant as well as just fun and informative:

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing by author Joe Konrath. Joe’s a master of ebook publishing promotion, and he’s earning his money where his mouth is, with enormous Kindle ebook sales. He also has a ton of guest posts from succesful and struggling ebook authors.

Pub Rants by literary agent Kristin Nelson. Kristin reports on agent deals, analyzes publishing contracts and generally provides a ton of info. Ebook authors might be most interested in her posts on current and coming trends. Remember, the books that are in brick & mortar bookstores now started their publishing track as long as two years ago; what agents are looking at right now is part of the book trend to come. And as the blog name indicates, Kristin is not afraid to snark:

(…) we saw a lot of fantasy novels with main characters gathering herbs in the forest. Who knew what a popular past time that was? Openings with battle scenes where the reader had no connection to the characters was another big winner.

Amanda Hocking’s Blog by author Amanda Hocking. Amanda’s only 26 and has sold millions of Kindle ebooks on her own. Now she’s also got a traditional publishing contract: $2 million for her next four books. Her blog is friendly, chatty and informative, and she has down-to-earth advice for her fellow ebook authors: Pretty Much Everything I Have to Say About How to Do What I Do .

Anne R. Allen’s Blog, by romantic suspense writer Anne R. Allen. She writes smart, incisive posts on all aspects of ebook and traditional publishing, from the writer’s point of view. For example, she points out that understanding literary agent contracts is vital, even for self-published ebook authors, and here’s why: if you’re a Kindle bestseller, agents will come trolling for you, hoping you’ll sign up with them. And the worst of the bunch add horrific clauses to their contracts.

Nathan Bransford by literary agent Nathan Bransford. Nathan collects tons of publishing news, from the ebook and traditional sides of the fence, and gives his own take on new developments. In Amanda Hocking and the 99-Cent Kindle Millionaires, he gives a rundown of traditional publishing costs versus ebook costs that’s worth taking a look at, and analyzes Joe Konrath‘s and Amanda Hocking‘s success.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books by romance readers Sarah and Candy, and an impressive roster of commenters that includes romance bestsellers Nora Roberts and Laura Kinsale. For romance readers and writers, this blog is essential. Sarah and Candy break away from the pink-edged nicey-nice romance book culture — they grade their reviews from A to F, and if they find out an author’s plagiarizing they’ll tell the world. They’re also funny as hell, and that’s what makes their blog well worth a visit even if romance is not your bag. Their greatest hits are a good place to start reading, and their Covers Gone Wild series will crack you up.

Miss Snark, by an anonymous literary agent. Why on earth am I recommending a blog that isn’t updated anymore? Because Miss Snark is just that good. She used her anonymity to give unvarnished, snarky, often hilarious advice to writers on just about everything to do with publishing. Her fans have provided the Index to her blog archive; check out her first page critiques and general writing advice.

Faceout Books, by book designer Charles Brock. Every week, Faceout Books showcases a bookcover and interviews its designer. Whether you intend to design your own book cover or want to know which designer to hire, this blog is full of inspiration.

The Business Rusch, by SF & fantasy writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. She has a lot of experience in publishing, as a magazine editor as well as a writer, and The Business Rusch is a section of her blog devoted to business advice for writers. Check out her Surviving the Transition series:

I want you to know that most of what you learned, experienced, and understand about the publishing industry—the industry you have worked in for decades—no longer applies.

Writer Beware by writers Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss. Writer Beware is a publishing industry watchdog group, run by writers. They will keep you informed of all the scams and shady dealings in the world of publishing, and hand out a lot of useful marketing tips as well.

How JK Rowling and Pottermore Can Help You Sell Ebooks

By | July 1, 2011

It’s been all over the web: JK Rowling will release ebooks of all the Harry Potter books exclusively through her new website Pottermore. It’s a very smart and bold move on her part, and I think there’s a lot of good ideas here that can work for other authors. Yes, even authors who aren’t multimillionaires (in other words, all of us).

Pottermore isn’t open for business yet, and won’t be until October, but you can leave your email address there. In other words, they’re already building a mailing list that will surely be gigantic. That’s the first tip we can take from JK Rowling:

While you’re still building your website, collect email addresses from interested visitors. That way you’ll have a starter group of people for your mailing list. Don’t abuse the privilege and spam them with announcements every day — just figure out what you would like to hear about from a favorite author, and take it from there.

JK Rowling will benefit hugely from the ebook sales, because she retains ebook publishing rights. Her publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic, according to Wired, have print publishing rights, though they will apparently get a cut from the ebook sales. This is something that will be difficult for a new author without the clout of JK Rowling, but it’s an important point all the same:

If you choose a traditional print publisher for your books, fight as hard as you can to retain ebook rights.
Ebook bestseller Joe Konrath also advocates this strategy. He believes he could sell some of his ebooks at a much higher rate, if only his print publisher didn’t control the rights, distribution, covers and pricing. And he also believes that if you run the numbers, signing with a traditional publisher could be a very bad idea, even if you take ebooks out of the equation.

Wired reports that

Rowling has opted to keep the e-books DRM-free, meaning that they are not locked into one device or platform. She is instead opting for digital watermarking that links the identify of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This doesn’t prevent copyright theft but does ensure that any copies will be traceable to a particular user.

I think this is another very smart move on Rowling’s part. It’s frustrating for the bookstore chains who won’t be able to sell the ebooks, but on the other hand, bookstores have already made massive profits on the Potter hardbacks and paperbacks.

Meanwhile, Rowling is not locked into the Kindle or the Sony Reader or the Nook or any other ebook reader. Nor is she paying commission to Amazon, Apple, BN, Smashwords or any other ebook seller. Whatever gargantuan profit the ebooks realize will be all hers, and her readers will benefit from the lack of DRM.

For other ebook authors, I think the idea here is:

Diversify. Don’t just sell books through Amazon or Smashwords. Sell them on your own website, too, and if at all possible, make them DRM-free. This also allows you to sell ebooks in a wider variety of formats: .pdf, .rtf, .epub.

Pottermore won’t just offer ebooks. It will also be a place for Potter fans to hang out, and delve deeper into the Potter universe. And JK Rowling has promised 18.000 words of notes and background material, exclusive to those fans. That’s a big enticement to sign up, even if you already know all the Potter books by heart and aren’t interested in the ebooks.

That’s the last smart move I think other authors would do well to copy:
Offer more. If you have a bunch of short stories, you can sell them on your website, but you can also offer some of them for free. Give readers a reason to visit your website, and a taste of your writing that they won’t be able to find elsewhere.

How to Transfer Books to iBooks Without Connecting to iTunes

By | June 27, 2011

I wrote earlier about how to transfer books to your iPhone without using iTunes or iBooks. That method uses two free programs, Stanza and Calibre.

This is a followup to that post, to answer the question: what if you DO want to use iBooks on your phone, without connecting to iTunes every time?

It’s a pain to have to connect your iPhone to your main computer and to iTunes every time you want to upload a book. Also, you may not want to sync your iPhone with iTunes every time. But there’s a way around it that also lets you keep using iBooks, if you prefer that over Stanza or the Kindle app. And you can upload books from anywhere, not just your main computer.

I’ll show you how in 6 simple steps:

  1. Get a Dropbox account if you don’t already have one. Dropbox is 100% free, and gives you 2Gb of server space, to store files in. Books, mp3s, Word .docs, you name it. You can access the files from your iPhone with the Dropbox app.
  2. Upload the ebooks of your choice to your Dropbox account.
  3. Install and open the Dropbox app on your iPhone — the books are there! (If not, wait half a minute or so for it to sync. Normally it’s very fast.)
  4. Tap on the book you want to import into iBooks and then tap on the arrow icon at bottom right.
  5. Dropbox now asks you if you want to open the book with iBooks. If you also have Stanza installed, you can choose between iBooks and Stanza.
  6. iBooks will automatically open and your book will show up there, ready for you to read. Done!

5 Tips and Tricks for Reading Ebooks with Stanza

By | June 22, 2011

Stanza is a free ebook reading app for your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. I’m an enthusiastic user of this app — hardly a day goes by that I’m not reading books, magazines and articles on Stanza.

These are my 5 favorite tips & tricks for reading ebooks with Stanza:

  • switch to white letters on black if you are reading in bed. You can do this by opening a book to read, then tapping the yin/yang icon at bottom center. This way, you can read comfortably in the darkness without a glaringly bright screen. You can also use this setting to read books without disturbing others with your screen glare; in a darkened plane, for example, or even in a theatre or auditorium.
  • speed up the pageturn animation. If you’re a fast reader, like I am, you probably won’t want to wait for an animation every time you turn the page. In Stanza, you can set the pageturn speed to almost zero. Then it just takes a light tap on the right side of the screen to go to the next page, or a tap on the left side to go back. Even though the iPhone screen isn’t that big, this way you can read at top speed. It’s actually faster than an e-ink reader!
  • get free books anywhere by tapping Get Books > Catalog. Here, you can download thousands of books from book repositories like Gutenberg.org and the Random House Free Library. Stanza will automatically organize the books for you by title and author.
  • use Stanza to easily transfer ebooks from your desktop computer to your iPhone. You won’t need iTunes for this, just a free library program called Calibre. I explain how this works in detail here.
  • The Now Reading icon will only show you one book, the one you’ve been reading most recently. To see your 10 latest reads, tap Library > Groups > Latest Reads. This is very useful if you want to switch quickly between several books, or if you just want to see what you’ve been reading in the past couple of months.

How to Put Ebooks on Your iPhone Without Using iTunes or iBooks

By | June 21, 2011

Reading books on my iPhone is a wonderful thing. I can carry a library around in my pocket, and add new books to read everywhere I want. Even on a train or in a waiting room.

But what if you have a whole collection of ebooks in different formats on your laptop or desktop computer, and you want to transfer them to your iPhone?

You can use iTunes to drag book files into the Books folder. Then you hook up your iPhone to sync it with iTunes,  and get the books on your phone that way. But to be honest, I don’t really like using iTunes to organize my books. Especially as I already have a big, organized collection of ebooks elsewhere on my computer.

So what do I use to put ebooks on my iPhone? Two free programs:

First I’ll explain what each of them does, and then I’ll tell you how to use these programs as a fast and easy way to put ebooks on your iPhone.

Stanza is a free e-reader app for your iPhone, similar to the iBooks app or the Kindle app. I prefer Stanza because it is very user-friendly.

Calibre is a wonderful free, open source ebook library program. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux, and you can use this program for a ton of different reasons:

  • to publish your own ebooks professionally and for free
  • to organize your ebooks by author, title, genre or tags you add yourself
  • to convert ebooks from one format to another. (.txt to .epub, for example.)
  • to share ebooks with other devices, like your laptop, iPad or iPhone.

The last option is the one we’ll use now, and I’ll take you through it in 10 easy steps.

  1. First, download and install Calibre on your computer.
  2. Open Calibre, and start adding the ebooks you want to transfer to your iPhone. You can simply drag and drop the files into Calibre, or you can click Add Books.
  3. Now, click Preferences > Sharing > Sharing over the net.  Here, you can set up your own server to share books with other devices. Pick a username and password (so random passers-by can’t get access to your books!) and you’re good to go.
  4. Keep Calibre running on your computer. Meanwhile, grab your iPhone.
  5. If you haven’t already done so, install the free Stanza app on your iPhone now.
  6. Open the Stanza app on your iPhone and tap “Get Books”.
  7. In the “Get Books” section of Stanza, you’ll see a top bar with “Catalog | Shared | Downloads”. Tap “Shared”.
  8. If you left Calibre running, the “Shared” section will show your Calibre ebook library! After you type in the password, you will have access to a complete list of the books.
  9. Tap on the title of the ebook you want to download to your iPhone and then tap “Download Now”.
  10. The ebook will download in seconds and will now be stored on your iPhone. Tap “Read Now” to start reading!