Consistency Basics

Last week we looked at why consistency is important for building up a writing habit. Today we’re going to look at what the basics are for setting up a consistent habit.

Let’s dive right in.

  • Set goals. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, it’s hard to know what you have to do to get there. It also helps to set a single goal at first and add additional ones as you become more comfortable with your habit.
  • Realize you can’t change everything at once. If you’d never run a step in your life, setting a goal of running a marathon after a month would be unrealistic. Along the same lines, if you’re having trouble finding time to write, a goal of a book of month is not going to be achievable. (Probably. There are always outliers on everything.) There’s a reason why so many people and books recommend “baby steps” when working on changing habits. Your baby steps will look different from other people’s. One person may need to start with a goal like “Write at least 10 minutes every day” whereas someone else might jump straight to “Write 2000 words a day.” Do what’s right for you.
  • Figure out how to make your goal happen. If you don’t make writing a priority, it can be hard to squeeze it in around everything else. Figure out how you can fit in your writing every day. Do you have a block of time that you can easily convert for writing? Will a simple change of routine clear something up? For example, I recently decided to start getting up half an hour earlier and write first thing in the morning.
  • But don’t sabotage yourself. While it’s important to plan out how and when you’re going to fit in your writing goals, you also need to be realistic with yourself and how you work. I can get up a little earlier and write because that’s when my creativity’s at its best anyway, but if I was someone who liked to hit the snooze button five times before finally dragging myself out of bed, I’d never be able to stick to my plan. If you know you always spend your lunch break chatting with your friend, you’re unlikely to be able to use that time for writing.
  • Define what counts as meeting your goal. Remember those writing challenge months that pop up every now and then? What can count varies by challenge (some allow work only a single, specific project, where others allow you to count anything you write, including schoolwork, blog posts, and work reports). Be fair to yourself and your goal. If you really need to get something done, don’t allow yourself to count words on a side project you’re doing for fun. Likewise, if your goal is just to practice without a specific end goal, then, sure, count the words on that fanfic you wrote while the kids were eating lunch. Does research count? Editing? Marketing research? Make sure you lay this out beforehand so you’re not tempted to improvise on the fly.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your goal as needed. If your goal isn’t working, don’t stick with a losing plan. Maybe you were too ambitious (“fly and die,” as we used to call it in crew) and you’re getting depressed at your “lack” of progress. Maybe you finished writing and need to transition to a different part of the process, so your daily word count goal is now worthless. Make sure your goal is working for you.
  • But don’t give up before you try. If you’ve set yourself a reasonable goal, figured out how and when you’re going to do it each day (or week, or however often you’ve picked), and have implemented appropriate baby steps for you, don’t give in to fears that you’re taking on too much at once. You’ll be surprised to see what you can get done when you put your mind to something and make sure you take the right steps.
  • Set a trigger. A trigger, in this case, is something that signals to your brain that its time to get down to business. A trigger can be literally anything, as long as you link it specifically to your consistency habit (i.e., don’t do it other times) and do it each time you sit down to write. For example, I have specific writing gloves I put on (they are specifically for wrist support for typing, and I would link you, but alas, the company went out of business) when working on a novel that I don’t wear at other times (like now) which are part of my trigger. I also put on fingerless gloves over my writing gloves, and put on a specific Pandora station.

Anything else you would add, Squiders? Next week we’ll talk about ways to help your habits become and stay habits.

Library Book Sale Finds: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

Good afternoon, Squiders! Been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? My archives tell me last June. In case you were wondering, I’m still working on the stack of books from the library book sales in summer 2015. (We didn’t go to any last summer, which is probably for the best. I think I still have over a dozen.)

You know, I picked up all these lovely science fiction and fantasy books, yet I keep reading the non-scifi/fantasy ones. (Okay, well, I have done seven of these–this is the eighth–and three were scifi/fantasy, so not always.) Admittedly, I just finished a 600-page fantasy novel (American Gods) which probably had a fairly major impact on the decision, which came down to “not fantasy, not huge.”

(And now I have Wintersong back from the library, so I’m back into another fat fantasy novel. Just a two-day mystery cleanser in the middle.)

On to it!

Title: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year:
1951

Pros: Great mystery, excellent use of misdirection
Cons: Weak, uninteresting beginning, too many characters?

I think I’m out of mysteries from the book sales with this one, though I do have several mythology collections and a book by Edith Wharton, so I can procrastinate on the scifi/fantasy for a bit longer if I’d like.

This is a Poirot novel! I’ve never read one before. I am familiar with Hercule Poirot, of course, because my family watched Masterpiece Mystery on PBS religiously when I was younger. It’s a far cry from the Miss Marple books, as it is in Poirot’s viewpoint (though it does occasionally stray into others) and also has a bit of a weird structure to it.

The book opens with the wrap-up of the trial for the murder of Mrs. McGinty, a charwoman (or cleaning lady) who was seemingly done in because she kept her savings under her floorboards and everyone in town knew it. The case has been rather clean and obvious, and Poirot took no note of the murder at the time because he found it boring. However, the superintendent of the police for the case, having worked with Poirot on a previous case, comes to him and tells Poirot that though he gathered the evidence, he can’t help but think that they’ve convicted the wrong person. He has nothing concrete to go on except his experience as a police officer. Poirot agrees to look into as a favor to a friend.

I found the first couple of chapters pretty dull. The book opens with an older Poirot wandering about being sad about the fact that he can’t eat constantly. Even once the potential mystery is introduced, the book still takes a few chapters to actually get into the act of mystery solving. For a while there, I actually considered putting the book down, which you know I rarely do.

Fortunately, for both me and the book, the pace picked up and got quite interesting after that point. Mrs. Christie throws in a good half dozen potential culprits and expertly keeps your attention off the real one. If I have one complaint, it’s maybe that she had too many suspicious personages in the end, because I’m pretty sure it’s never explained why–oh. No, never mind, I just figured it out. Nothing to see here.

I went to a mystery panel at a writing conference once, and one of the panelist said that you couldn’t know who did it, as the author, until you were most of the way done, because otherwise you’d  subconsciously write in too many clues that would point readers to the killer too early. So you have to write the book as if they all did it, so there’s enough red herrings and clues for any number of people. This book feels like it was written like that.

Anyway! I enjoyed it. I read the whole thing in two days, which I haven’t done in a while. So I’d recommend it, if you like classic mysteries and/or Poirot and/or Agatha Christie and/or if you’re looking to get into reading mysteries, which I also highly recommend.

(I use them as a brain cleanser.)

Read Mrs. McGinty’s Dead? Thoughts on Agatha Christie or Poirot in general?

A Human Element by Donna Galanti

Happy Tuesday, Squiders! Today I’m pleased to introduce you to A Human Element by Donna Galanti, a paranormal suspense novel. Donna’s also giving away a $15 gift card, so stick around at the bottom and enter to win!

A Human Element cover
Evil comes in many forms…

One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite in her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a madman, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his, and she has two choices—redeem him or kill him.

Excerpt:

“I am not here to hurt you,” the man said when Ben shrunk into the rock. “I’m going to cut the ropes.”

In a few swift movements he slit the ropes binding Ben, who staggered back. The man caught him and held him up, then ripped off the duct tape.

“Who are you?” Ben’s body trembled from the rush of fear and a fierce headache pounded in his temple.

The man didn’t answer. He bent over one of the dead Samoans and pulled out a wallet. He looked inside and threw it at Ben. “It’s yours.” Then the man led him by the arm down the overgrown road where he handed Ben his clothes from the brush.

“Come on,” the man said. Ben looked back at the dead men sprawled face down. They oozed like two fat walruses sunning themselves in the moonlight. “Don’t worry about them. I’ll dump them later, somewhere they’ll never be found.”

In a daze, Ben followed his savior up the rough road, stumbling behind him in the dim moonlight.

“I’ll take you back to base and you’re on your own,” the man said once they reached his car, parked off the main road. “Don’t speak of this to anyone. Understand?”

Ben nodded and climbed in the car. He looked over at the stranger in black who had saved him. His mammoth biceps flexed as he drove, hunched over the wheel. Ben stared at him, and then a memory flickered. “Why are you following me? Why save me?”

“I’m an interested party. Leave it at that.”

“I can’t. I would have died up there for sure.”

The man didn’t respond.

“Thank you.”

The man looked at Ben. His green eyes glowed in the moonlight that filtered into the car.

“Someday you might not thank me. Someday you might not survive.”

Bio:

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy (Imajin Books)  and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem (http://project-middle-grade-mayhem.blogspot.com/search/label/Donna Galanti) . She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna enjoys teaching at conferences on the writing craft and marketing and also presenting as a guest author at elementary and middle schools.

Visit her at www.elementtrilogy.com and www.donnagalanti.com.

Connect with Donna:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

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Instagram:

Purchase books 1 and 2 in the Element Trilogy

Donna will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why Consistency is Important

On to a new topic today, Squiders! But first, I want to tell you about a promo that’s going on through tomorrow, March 17. You can get a variety of fantasy novels or series for free or $.99 through here. I’ve got my first novel, Hidden Worlds, included. There’s some good stuff (I may have bought a couple myself) so take a look!

So, we’ll start with why consistency is important today, and then in subsequent posts we’ll look at ways to build up and maintain consistency as well as what to do when life is getting in the way. Like the submitting/publishing posts, there’s some stuff I’ll leave off the blog posts so that there’ll be some new info in the book when I put it out, though I’m not quite sure what exactly as I haven’t finished outlining this book yet. But that’ll be done before next week.

Merriam-Webster defines consistency as a “harmony of conduct or practice with profession” which is a bizarre way to put it, if you ask me. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “consistent behavior or treatment.” (And also “the way a substance holds together,” which is irrelevant to this discussion.)

If you do a quick Internet search, you’ll find several dozen articles on why consistency is the key to success. But what it basically comes down to is this: if you’re not regularly doing something, practicing it and improving on it and trying new things, how can you expect to be successful?

I heard a tenet once, many years ago, that said you have to write a million words of crap before you get anywhere. Not sure who said it originally, since the writing community picked up the idea and ran with it. A million words sounds like a lot. It’s 10 100K word novels. 20 50K, if that’s more your length. It took me about eight years to get through my million words of crap, and that’s not counting earlier stuff from my teens.

So, to be specific, why does it pay to be consistent with your writing practices:

  • Things get done. A novel can seem like an insurmountable goal, and if you’re writing once or twice every month or so, it very well could be. By writing consistently, you can break a goal into something manageable and see that you’re actually getting closer.
  • It helps improve your craft. The thing about that old “practice makes perfect” saying is that it’s true, to some extent. Sure, there is the occasional odd duck who can put out a story that gets them everything they want on the first go, but most people have to work at learning some aspect of the writing process, whether it’s plotting, description, characterization, structure, etc. Writing consistently can help you learn to see the errors in your own work, and also help you try out ways to fix those errors.
  • It keeps you from getting rusty. When I was younger, I’d write for, oh, six months of the year, and then take the other six months off and do other things. Whenever I came back to the writing thing, it was as if I couldn’t remember what I was doing. Sure, it’d come back eventually, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and pain if I hadn’t taken such a long break.
  • It helps you push yourself. Most writers have a list of things they’d like to get done eventually. For example, I’d really like to write a cozy mystery someday. Maybe set in space. By writing more consistently, you can get through projects faster, which leaves you time to experiment, or to say to yourself that maybe now, finally, is the time to try the epic time traveling romance you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Writing becomes a habit. And habits tend to get done in a day around everything else.
  • More opportunities will come your way. If you’re more consistent, you’ll probably build up a reputation in your writing community for being dependable, which means that when that editor needs a last minute story to round out an anthology they know you’ll be good for it. Or if that small press you’ve had your eye on opens a call for historical romance, you’ll have a novel waiting in the wings ready for submission. Or if you’re at a conference and overhear an agent say that they would give up coffee to get their hands on a MG scifi adventure with a female protagonist, oh hey, you just finished one up last month.
  • The writing business isn’t for the faint of heart. Writing can be very depressing. There’s a lot of waiting and rejection and a lack of response, and if you’ve got one novel done and you’re waiting for it to sell for a million dollars and make you a bestseller, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It helps to move on to new things, to have more than one project, to keep your mind off of what a single project is (or isn’t) doing and to keep your momentum going.
  • It keeps you up to date. The publishing world and its trends change often, and it can help you tailor your goals and what you’re working on if you’re generally aware of what’s going on.

Anything I’m leaving out, Squiders?

Poll Results, Project Switching, and Musical Aftermath

Okay, so judging from the poll last week, the next nonfiction topic we’ll focus on is writing consistently–why you should do it, strategies for doing it, and how not to beat yourself up about it if life has other plans. We’ll start that on Thursday. Woo!

So, in the continuing saga of breaking writer’s block by starting another novel, I have switched back to book one of the trilogy and…it actually felt pretty good. Not like pulling teeth at all. I think giving myself some distance really helped, and now hopefully everything will go smoother.

That said, distance has helped me realize that the new chapter one that took me a month to write is really, really terrible. I mean, okay, not terrible. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever written. But it is lacking in relevant plot points. It introduces characters, the world, the plot just fine, but the action in the chapter itself isn’t helping anything and isn’t terribly interesting on its own. The main characters go through training for much of this book, and so I introduced the training in chapter one. I also switched chapter one viewpoints (this story is dual viewpoint between a male and a female character), so I think I eliminated the training-related tension in doing so.

That being said, it’s not like there was a lot in the last version of the story, so I need to do some brainstorming on what to do about the first chapter in general. Maybe take the training sequence out, or add something to it to make it not just a standard day, or…

But, anyway, things for another time. When I was outlining this draft I’m working on now, I did consider taking the first chapter out and starting with the second chapter (where unexpected things definitely happen during training), but it felt too in medias res-y. I know there’s something to be said about starting in the middle of something, but when you’re setting up a high fantasy trilogy it felt like the reader would be too adrift without at least a smidgen of setting and worldbuilding and plot thrown in. (If you have examples otherwise, please let me know.)

I also considered writing chapter two both ways (from the female character’s viewpoint as the starting chapter and from the male character’s point of view as the second chapter) which I may still do.

But I’m leaning towards just leaving the beginning alone to percolate and plowing ahead with the rest of the draft, and then coming back to fix the beginning later. I’ve heard that it can sometimes help to write the beginning last anyway, since you’ll know your ending and how your theme plays out and can go full circle earlier.

So, that’s that.

Also, my musical is over (closed Sunday), so I can no longer use that as an excuse to not write. I’m hoping this means I can get a little more momentum going. I was, in theory, going to be pitching this draft at the end of April, but I’m not sure I can pull out a 100K word novel in a month and a half (or that I want to), so I may have to revisit that as well.

Musical went well! I’d do another one, if they’ll take me.

How was your weekend, Squiders?

Books!

Oh, Squiders, tech/dress rehearsal is kicking my butt. I am getting nothing else done except a ridiculous amount of laundry. I mean, I didn’t even know we owned so many clothes. I think it’s the combination of doing the laundry from the trip (cruise, so mostly summer clothes) plus clothes from before we left (mostly winter clothes, but not really because it’s still unseasonably warm in these parts). Anyway. No one cares about my laundry. I don’t even care about my laundry. It’s just neverending.

Anyway, what this mostly means is that I haven’t figured out anything profound to blog about today. I went and looked at the most popular posts this blog has had, and with the exception of the alpaca poetry (how could you go wrong there?) they’re all things like the Character Archetype or Sub-genre series, and that is more brain than I am willing to go for today.

So, I thought we’d talk about books. I’m about two or three books behind where I want to be for the year (having only successfully completed two books in February) but hopefully I’ll catch up here as soon as the musical is over.

So! Books! I started off the year with science fiction:

  • The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  • Escape Velocity (1983)
  • Unremembered (2013)

I once had a fellow writer say you should never read anything older than five years so you could get a good handle on the market, which is probably true, but I am bad at sticking to that principle, and also sometimes I feel like a lot of the new stuff reads fairly similarly, and I like some variation.

I also picked up some new fantasy books:

  • Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day
  • Wintersong

Both of which are new this year. The first is a more novella-length offering from Seanan McGuire (whom I’ve heard a lot about but have never read before) about the dead and witches in modern society, which had some very interesting worldbuilding. Wintersong I picked up because I went to a workshop in January that talked about taking your favorite stories and changing them to make something new (and also mashing two things together–I got Hamlet and Hawaii 5-0, for an example) and I had started thinking about Labyrinth, which is one of my favorite movies, but hadn’t gotten anywhere with it (see previous posts re: revision). Anyway, long story short (too late), Wintersong deals with the Goblin King and caught my interest since I’d just been pondering this sort of thing, but I had to give it back to the library and don’t find myself much motivated to go and get it again.

And then I ventured out of spec fiction, which happens occasionally:

  • The Calder Game (children’s mystery)
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (contemporary)

The Calder Game is the third in a series that I’ve typically liked, which mixes art history with mystery in a way that’s generally pretty ingenious. (The other two books are Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3.) This one was lacking both on mystery and properly integrating the artist, so it was just sad all the way around. And I read 85% of A.J. Fikry on the plane back from Florida on Monday. It didn’t get too traumatic, which I find is often an issue with contemporary fiction, where someone always seems to die even in the most lighthearted of books, so it was a win for me.

I also read a novella that was written to go along with a mobile game I was playing, but the book was awful. And I haven’t touched the game since I finished it, actually, so I guess that backfired on them.

I’m in the middle of a few books as well:

  • Timebound (science fiction, 2014)
  • American Gods (fantasy, 2001)

I’m actually making pretty good progress on American Gods, which I took with me on the trip, and, hey, it’s working better for me than Gaiman normally does. Timebound it feels like I’ve been on forever. It’s not a bad book–I’m just not drawn back to it very often. I also have a couple of nonfiction books (one random, one writing-related) that I am not really reading, but did start.

How about you, Squiders? Read anything good so far this year? Any recs for me?

Results, a Poll, and a Crazy Week in General

Good news, Squiders! I think my crazy plan of fixing the writer’s block on one novel by starting a completely different novel may actually be working. It’s a miracle, I know. I don’t have a huge amount of words on the new novel (which is tentatively titled Gabe and Rafe’s Fabulous Adventures on the Ark) but it is going, and going fairly easily, and some of the cobwebs are shaking off of Book 1 as well. Plus I think stepping away has helped me to refocus a bit, to remind myself that the characters are what are most important, and to focus on them and their specific problems, and that I can add in more stuff about the world and the overarcing plot as time goes on. Whew.

(We were on a cruise, which is why I missed Thursday’s post, and though I have been off the ship for over 24 hours it still feels like I’m on it, which is very annoying and makes me feel a little sick. But anyway.)

My general plan is to poke at the new story and let Book 1 percolate until Friday, at which point we switch back. This week is mostly a waste anyway because MY MUSICAL OPENS ON FRIDAY AAAAAHHHH.

Sorry. That’s about how I feel on the matter. Anyway, every night this week is eaten by dress rehearsals, so who knows if there will be any writing time at all. Percolating is good for my schedule.

(Also, I hope I haven’t forgotten anything since I missed a few rehearsals. I mean, it was only a few, but aaaahhhhh)

(aaaahhhh)

Anyway, for my own sanity, I’m going to do the poll for the next nonfic book subject today, and we might dive into it on Thursday, or I might talk about something else on Thursday and then start the nonfiction topics next week when my sanity shall hopefully be back to mostly full.

Anyway, please pick a topic that interests you!

Which of the following subjects interests you the most?

View Results

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Ill-advised Interludes

Ah, Squiders. I may be doing something very stupid, but I’m going to do it anyway and see how it turns out.

You guys know I’ve been working on a rewrite for a while now. Well, I worked on getting ready for the rewrite for several months, and then at the beginning of the year, I started the rewrite itself.

And you guys know it’s not been going well.

In fact, it’s going so poorly, I haven’t touched it in over two weeks. Aside from this blog, I haven’t done any writing in two weeks. (Well, I wrote a synopsis, but that doesn’t really count.) And that’s a waste and it’s driving me mad.

So I’m going to take a week or two off and work on something else, and then come back to it and see if I can’t figure out how to make it go better.

I pondered what to work on for a bit. A short story or two would seem to be the logical choice, but I’m a little burnt out on that front. It feels like, for every short story I sell, I have five floating around in limbo. Do I really need any more floating around right now?

Things related to the rewrite would be another logical choice. Maybe by working on related shorts, or drabbles, or something along those lines, I could shake loose whatever’s blocking me from getting work on the rewrite done. And I’m not against doing that, if something comes to me, but the thought of potentially hitting my head against more brick walls isn’t terribly appealing.

So, you may be asking, what did you decide, Kit?

I decided to start another novel. One completely unrelated, completely different in tone, etc., etc. I’ve been joking about writing this for about eight years now, so maybe it’s time to finally get on it. I always thought it would be a novella, maybe 30K, though my outlining is implying that that’s wishful thinking.

It’s the same universe as Shards, with some overlapping characters. It includes a frame story, which I’ve always wanted to try my hand at.

While I understand that it’s a bad idea to start another novel while in the middle of one already, I’m hoping that this will at least get me moving again. And if it doesn’t, well…

Hopefully it does.

I’m going to skip Thursday, Squiders, so I will see y’all back here next Tuesday. I hope your Feb/March cusp goes well!

Troubleshooting: Avoiding Scams

So, Squiders, this is our final post about submitting and publishing for the nonfiction book. I’ll take a few weeks off of the nonfic books after this, and then we can talk about whether or not we’d like to do another one or not.

So, today, we’re going to talk about how not to get scammed. There are a lot of prospective authors out there, and, unfortunately, there are also plenty of people willing to take money to prey on people’s dreams. While the rise of the Internet has helped authors immensely (usually a Google search can be enough to avoid some of the worst), there’s still some points to be salient about to keep yourself safe.

In Traditional Publishing, Money Flows to the Author

If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, this is essential to remember. If a publisher or an agent asks for money up front, this is a big red flag. There is no such thing as a “reading fee” or a “printing fee.” In traditional publishing, nobody gets paid until a book is published. Then the publisher takes their cut, the agent takes their cut, and the author gets their royalties.

Authors will occasionally get emails from various companies promising to publish them, but these are almost always scam companies. Legitimate publishers don’t have time to pull every author email they can find. Additionally, some agents may have connections with vanity publishers or editing services that can constitute a conflict of interest.

If you’re looking at an agent or a publishing house and something looks fishy, ask other authors. Many writing communities have spaces where authors can ask if people have used a person or a company and what their impressions were. There are also sites that keep track of potential scams, such as Writer Beware.

In Self-Publishing, Make Sure You’re Getting Your Money’s Worth

Self-publishing requires the author to be in charge of a lot of different aspects of publishing, and it can be a good idea to hire a professional for different aspects to help put out a quality product. But there are a million and a half companies out there that offer services to self-published authors, and it can sometimes be hard to tell legitimate companies from scammers or people who just simply don’t know what they’re doing.

The best way to make sure you’re working with someone with the necessary professional know-how is to ask other authors for referrals. Happy authors are more than willing to share the contact information for someone who’s done right by them, especially since many cover artists/editors/proofreaders are also one-person businesses and they like to see them succeed. You don’t need to talk to other authors directly if you don’t know many; many authors will talk about services they used on their blogs or list them in their books or on their website. Writing communities are also a good place to ask for recommendations.

Once you have some referrals, check out those people/services in depth. For cover artists, look at other covers they’ve done and see if you think their style will work for your book. For editors or proofreaders, you can ask for a sample page (or three) and see if you like their editorial style and if you think they’ll be good to work with. If you’re looking at hiring someone for a blog tour or another marketing campaign, you can normally look at campaigns they’re actively running and see how they’re going. Make sure you’re informed and know your costs/budget up front.

Self-publishing is also pretty easy to DIY these days. You’ll find services that will take over the “technical” aspects of publishing for you, such as uploading your book on to Amazon, but these are unnecessary, as it is pretty straightforward to do this yourself. A cheaper and better alternative, if you feel you can’t manage on your own, is to hire a self-publishing coach who will teach you the process so you can do it yourself in the future. Companies are willing to take money for just about any aspect of the self-publishing process. A bit of research to see if a service is needed, or if you can do it yourself, can be very helpful.

It also doesn’t hurt to be generally aware of the range of price for various services. That way if someone is much higher (or lower) than average, it can be a sign of something being a bit off. This is not always true; some highly experienced service providers may charge more because you’re getting a higher quality service, while many artists and editors who are starting out may not be aware of market prices or may be starting out at lower prices to build their client base/portfolio. Again, this is where talking to other authors can be beneficial.

Contests

It can be hard to pick out scam contests from legitimate ones, since many contests do charge some sort of entrance fee (which at least partially goes to paying out the prizes for said contest). Again, doing your research is key here. Ask other writers, make sure the organizations running the contest are legitimate and not tied to previous controversies, make sure there’s no strings attached to “winning” (a common scam is to make buying a certain number of copies of the “winners’ anthology” a requirement of publishing, and then charging $50 a book), see if they list previous years’ winners on their website, etc.

Avoiding scams across the board involves doing your research, reaching out to other authors, and paying attention to potential warning signs.

Missing anything, Squiders? Anything confusing?

Troubleshooting: No One’s Buying

Self-publishing can be a lot of work–not only do you have to write the book, but you have to be in charge of editing, proofreading, securing a cover, distribution, and marketing. So it can be depressing if sales are slow or non-existent. What are some things you can do to try and help boost your sales?

Check Your Product

The first step is to make sure you’re putting out a story that is in good shape, not one that’s riddled with typoes, stray punctuation, obvious plot holes, bad formatting, or anything else that makes your book look low quality or amateur. If you find yourself consistently getting bad reviews, or if reviews are consistently pointing out the same issue, it may be worth it to take your story off of being on sale and do another round of beta reading or editing. Some distributors will let people who have bought your book know when you put out a new version.

Check Your Market

It can be hard to know where to put your story when there’s fifteen million different categories available. It doesn’t hurt to look at books that are similar to yours and see what categories they’re listed in, and whether or not they’re performing well in those categories. With online distribution, it’s easy to test out different, related categories to see which ones work the best for your story. You can also tweak your keywords to see if that helps you gain traction. Getting your book where the right readers can come across it can be a lot of the battle.

NOTE: If you do marketing research, you’ll probably hear advice about putting your book into more niche markets to increase its rankings. While this can be a good strategy, make sure the categories are still appropriate to your book or you’re not going to be doing yourself–or your book–any good, and you might actually do some harm.

Check Your Marketing Strategy

It can be helpful–and some people would argue essential–to set up a marketing plan before you release a book. This is a place where you keep track of your different marketing techniques as well as how successful different things have proven to be. You can also keep track of reviewers and your budget, if you have one.

When I make a marketing plan, I often do waves of marketing, such as indicating which activities are pre-launch, during launch, or post launch. I also keep track of activities to try if my initial efforts don’t seem to be working the way I’d like them to. If your sales aren’t what you’d like them to be, it may not hurt to follow some book marketing podcasts or blogs, or to take a webinar or two on techniques that sound interesting to you. That way you can tweak your marketing strategy and hopefully find something that works for you.

Many authors consider marketing to be the hardest part of self-publishing, and it can be hard to find which strategies work best for you. Be open to trying new things if they appeal to you. And when doing research, try to stick to articles and books that aren’t older than a few years, as what works in book marketing changes relatively quickly.

NOTE: If you really hate some aspect of marketing–like, for example, Twitter–don’t force yourself to do it. You’ll be miserable, it’ll be a waste of your time, and your dislike will come through to the readers you’re trying to reach. It’s better to focus your time on something you like to do.

Am I missing anything here, Squiders? Anything else you’d recommend checking if your sales are low?

See you on Thursday!