Simplifying the technical

Self-publishing requires some technical skill. But, even the most basic word-processing software offers what you need.

I came across this 197-page manual written specifically to teach writers how to self-publish. Not only is it poorly done, this is the third edition.

My goal is to help you avoid this kind of publication. It is embarrassing.

Plus, this type of book gives self-publishing a bad name. If this author knew as much as she claims to know, her own book would not look like that. I will help you avoid these pitfalls.

The other criticism I have with this book is that it is largely a sales tool. The dollar sign appears 73 times in this alleged “book.”

I don’t consider that a book. But, you can certainly make a 197-page advertisement if you want.

Just, please, learn to make it without unprintable characters. Let me show you how. Register now at EventBrite.

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Stop writing! Start Organizing!

A lot of us jot down ideas and save them until the rest of the story shows up. If you have been doing that, stop writing—and start organizing.

It’s exhilarating to get in the zone and start writing. It feels good and, after all, writing is the whole point.

But, if all you do is jump from one snippet to another, it is time to stop it. Collate your ideas. Can you even find them? Collect them. Organize them. Sift through them.

Chances are there are some treasures among the note cards, Applewriter disks, stickie notes, IBM Displaywriter “toaster” floppies, composition books, Zip disks and bar napkins. But, if you can’t find them, how do you even know?

Take some time and sort through what you have before adding to your personal collection. Don’t write another paragraph until you put the existing words to work, or delete them.

Finish something. Anything. Keep working until you actually write something complete. It could just be a short story. By New Year’s, it could be a novel.

So where do you start? The simplest way is to pick a system, or create one. That’s going to take some time. But, you have to do it or you will never bring the words together that hold a story, and you will never toss out the fun ones that are taking up space but will never become anything.

The perfect system does not matter. In fact, it does not exist. Years ago, when I lived on the East Coast, I sat through an entire meeting of the Boston Computer Society that focused on the perfect way to organize a hard-drive. They were new and we were convinced there was a way to control all that data that was now stored in one place.

In fact, our final exam when I earned my Personal Coordinator Certificate from University of Southern Maine-Portland consisted of removing a floppy drive, replacing it with a hard-drive which we then formatted, installed a DOS operating system on complete with an directory system.

The BCS never came up with a solution. If our USM hard-drive functioned, we passed.

There is no perfect solution. There is only one that make sense to you and has the longest life possible.

Wait for it…let’s take a fieldtrip!

cropped-hack.gifLet’s figure out a way to collect all those words. First, pick a storage system that will have a very long life. Plain text is best. It survives. BBEdit is my favorite for the Mac and Wordpad is good for PCs.

If you are a little more sophisticated, store ideas in an spreadsheet. Create categories and label a tab for each. The more you know about how to use the Outline feature in Excel, the better. But spreadsheets are great for rearranging information.

I love me a good database but that’s probably more work than most writers want to create and work with.

Next, figure out a way to keep everything together. Most of us use clouds these days and, unlike the old BCS groups, we relish the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect organizing system. Just pick a cloud and organize any way that makes sense to you.

Then learn to use tags. You can attach tags to any kind of file. With Word, use the Tag field when you choose Save As.

addAtag

So, collect your bits and pieces. Convert them to some file you find easy to work with. Then turn your collection into a finished piece.

 

 

 

 

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Writing. Where do you start?

I was asked a really obvious question recently. “Where do you start?”

It’s not a question I think about any more. I jump in and write.

There are a gazillion ways to start writing. But, that’s not a helpful answer.

First of all, be organized. Think through your story, create your characters and your scenes. Essentially, every story from a blog post to “War and Peace” involves a dilemma that needs to be resolved. There needs to be a reason for the story to be written.

I start by asking myself what the vast majority of readers need to know. And, then I answer the question.

Second of all, ignore the organization efforts and let the story roll. That’s what makes the story interesting.

Listen to a good storyteller. They make the words in between the question and the answer intriguing.

The simplest form of storytelling is song. We sing stories all the time. Almost every culture does.

Songs have a method. They go full circle. They repeat sections. They create experience.

And, art is math. There is an entire society devoted to the subject, the American Mathematical Society. Math is about balance. So is writing.

Get to know resources. Delve into the archives of Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle at Cultural Equity.

Listen to stories, set to music. Then imagine them without the music. Now imagine them growing longer and with more detail.

Surely you have listened to the Prairie Home Companion. You get the idea.

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There are wonderful old stories like “Train Hundred And Eleven.” You don’t need a handbill to follow the characters in the story. Whoever wrote that tune makes you jump right in. “July 17, 1910…” Suddenly, you are in the train yard.

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A few years ago, I came across Joel Mabus’ The Banjo Monologues. I can’t forget his story of “Cindy, Gerald and Jerald Lee.” Like the consummate storyteller, Mabus can’t resist telling a story about his story.

 

Find your stories. Find the balance. And, yes, jump in.

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Gimme a pipe

One unresolved self-publishing issue is pipes. Browse an old copy of PC Magazine from 1993 and you’ll see that the pipe concept has been around for a long time. Basically, for those who don’t want to click-and-read, it’s a method of moving digital information from one place to another.

Whether you are self-publishing for someone else, or hiring someone to self-publish for you, pipes matter. How do you get your information into the cyber bookstore?

The person who will receive the royalties needs a self-publishing account. That person sets up their tax information, designates what account should receive the royalties, and a host of other bits of data.

The person who actually uploads the content of the book and the book cover needs access to that same account.

So if you hire someone to format your file for any kind of a book, they need to have access to your account. If you are an author, do you really want to give your Createspace or Lulu password to someone you hire? The author’s account contains credit card information, which is actually pipe in from CyberSource.com.

Once a client accesses an author’s Createspace account they have full access to edit the account so that all royalties are deposited in the client’s account, instead of the author’s.

Someone needs to invent a way for editors and layout personnel to access a self-publishing author’s account without giving them full credit card, and other payment, access.

As editors and design staff, we need to inform authors that they need to help us advocate to protect their payment data.

No client has ever asked if I am bonded before giving me their passworded information. They don’t ask for legal contract wording to protect them.

I am concerned about the liability on my part. How do I protect myself? If uploaded data is less than perfect, I need to see the online viewer only accessible via passworded access.

All self-publishing companies need to address this issue.

How do you handle this? As an author, do you give out your password to editors and layout providers?

As an editor or designer, do you log in with authors’ passwords?

#pipesmatter

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Robert Rodriguez List

Meet people. That’s the smartest thing a writer can do. And talk to them. You could be amazed at what you learn.

timm

Jester Timm Gillick

A few years ago, I met Jester Timm Gillick, an Indie film-producer and host of WTVP’s “The Screening Room,” in Peoria. I have learned a lot from Timm. Among other things, he introduced me to the Robert Rodriguez List.

The Robert Rodriguez List is a simple concept. When you come across something interesting, make a note. You never know when it might come in handy.

In the case of Rodriguez, it was generally film locations. You know Robert Rodriguez, whether you know him or not. Among his long list of credits, he produced the four “Spy Kids” movies.

Apparently, the name of the Robert Rodriguez List was coined by someone else. I have been repeatedly corrected, by the way, that it is ALWAYS called the “ROBERT” Rodriguez List. Just so you know.

The Robert Rodriguez list consists of notes about memorable vehicles, homes, animals and props. Rodriquez then creates a screenplay based on a list of these interesting things. It has obviously been a very successful technique for him considering he has 24 filmography writing credits, according to IMDB.

The first question most people have is what is the best way to keep track of your list. My well-researched answer is that there isn’t a best way.

Use what works for you. Evernote. Sticky-notes. Google Docs.

hackI rely on fact, even when I write fiction. I photograph locations similar to what I want to include in a story. It helps to realize where the alley might be, where the nearest bus stop might be, or whether it is likely the sun could shine through a particular window.

If nothing else, keep it in your head. But, give some thought to creating your own Robert Rodriguez List.

#thinkfastwritefast

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Serially, folks

Lists. They are everywhere on the internet. 7 Ways to Do This and 15 Ways Not To Do That. Are they effective?

I have created several series. The first was a few titles in Holly Lisle’s 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About… series.

I revisited the series concept when I wrote for Genealogy Today. My first series for GT was about databases. I happen to love a good database. But, I discovered that most people leave a lot of the fields blank when they use a database software program like Live Roots™ and so on.

Those fields are important. Let’s say you find two different people with the same name as your grandfather in one of the census enumerations. If you know that grandpa was a jeweler, then he probably wasn’t a coal miner or a chimney sweep. So, it can be really wise to fill in all the blanks.

As databases are shared more online, I found the issue even more frustrating. I would find really good data—but some piece of information would be missing. I really wanted to see a complete profile for every single person.

I wrote a dozen articles about databases, in serial format. Even as you read this, dear readers, I see some of your eyes glassing over.

Yes, I needed to generate some enthusiasm for reading the series. So I came up with “The Compleat Genealogical Database” and wrote a separate article on the 12 most common fields that really should contain data.

The Compleat Genealogical Database: Legal Events
The Compleat Genealogical Database: Property Ownership
The Compleat Genealogical Database: Death Data
The Compleat Database: Life Events
The Compleat Database: Education
The Compleat Database: Cultural Affinities
The Compleat Database: Citizenship Matters
The Compleat Database: DNA and Health
The Compleat Database: Non-traditional Relationships
The Compleat Genealogy Database: Compleat Names
The Compleat Genealogy Database: Names
The Compleat Genealogy Database: Religious Affiliations

Later, I wrote another series on The Genealogy of Communities. The focus there was on different groups of society, like logging camps. Yes, really. You can find the names of people who lived and worked in logging camps. That just might explain why 20-year-old Bobby was missing from the census that year. He was off in the wilderness felling trees.

The Genealogy of Communities
Genealogy of Communities: Logging Camps
Genealogy of Communities: Fishing Camps
Genealogy of Communities: Seminaries and Other Educational Communities
Genealogy of Communities: Indian Reservations
Genealogy of Communities: Prisons
Genealogy of Communities: Asylums, Hospitals, and Sanitariums
Genealogy of Communities: Prostitution
Genealogy of Communities: Faith-Based Communities
Genealogy of Communities: The Utopias
Genealogy of Communities: Intentional Community in the Next Century

So, what’s the point of a serial?

Serial readers. You want to keep your readers reading.

Tell me more.

In the articles I wrote, I had a process. I would list my topics ahead of time, before I ever started writing.

I am not that particular about the number of topics. There may be something magic to the number 7 or 13. But, I don’t actually do a count. I have read some research on this subject and have yet to read anything that says a specific number guarantees readers. I am more concerned with being thorough.

The Genealogy of Communities, had a nice flow. It began with an article that introduced the series. The name of that article became part of the title for every individual article. That way, if anyone remembered the words Genealogy of Communities and wanted to find my articles again, they could Google Genealogy of Communities.

As I wrote each article, I created a link to the previous one. That way, I could guide any reader to the previous article, just in case they started in the middle of the serial.

It’s possible to mention what your next topic is, as you are writing. But, you don’t usually have a live link to add yet. But, you can add a live link to the previous article.

When I finished the series, I went back to every single article and added live links to every article in the series. I was just being thorough.

Other Articles In This Series: 

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

 

I am a practical writer. I wanted to link to the article before and the article after each one. But, I also wanted readers to know the entire list of articles and how to find them.

The value of a serial is to keep readers reading. Not only do you need to add new material, you need to make sure your readers can find it.

Binge-watching

Binge-watching has had an impact on society. It is a new way of presenting the serial concept in one big dose. Instead of waiting for a weekly edition—and maybe missing it—now we can watch at our leisure. A new innovation is the release of an entire season all at one time. Order up the pizza and send all calls to voicemail.

A lot of writers create series. Readers like the characters or the story or the topic, and they want more.

Generally, writers release one book, make a big splash, go back to writing, release another…. But, recently, as a guest at a meeting of Writers on the River, in East Peoria, Illinois, I was surprised to hear author Amanda Meredith say that she prefers to wait until all of the books in a series are complete before she releases the series.

I think Amanda may be ahead of the curve. What’s good for Netflix is good for… writers?

wotrPhoto from Facebook. Writers on the River. Jessica Ann Clements, Amanda Meredith, Mandee Wallace Shanklin, Melinda Huff Bones,Anya Breton, Aly Grady and Judy Rosella Edwards ( a/k/a Think::Fast::Write::Fast).

 

hackAnother idea for a series is to repackage several monographs, like Amazon Short Reads, into a single volume as a collector’s edition. Maybe even sell it as a hardcover (yes, I’m talking about Lulu.com again).

Serial writing can be a good thing. It keeps readers on board. It can help you organize your writing. You have options: publish individually, or publish all at once for your binge-readers. And, you can still order out for pizza.

#thinkfastwritefast

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The Almighty Press Release

 

Continued from…

You need to write a press release. Why? Because that’s how you get your name out to the media. Don’t wait for them to come looking for you. They won’t. They don’t have time, especially since all of your competition is already getting their attention because they have written a press release.

It is possible to hire someone to write your press release. Just make sure they know how to write a press release for a book. For one thing, they need to actually read your book.

There is plenty of information out there about how to write a press release. If you look hard enough, you might even find a guide to writing an effective press release. So, I’m going to let you find that information on your own.

What I am going to talk about is who where to send your press release. Like many things, it is common sense. Send your press release to news outlets that are of interest to your potential readers.

If you write a book about business, you want business news outlets to pay attention, and so on. But, there are other outlets you need to explore.

Any publication related to your topic is a good source. Post to blogs. Post to Facebook.

hackLook for publication sites like Thunderclap. Look at the success stories, like the book launch for Leave Your Mark. The social numbers are astounding. My first Thunderclap established more than 49,000 contacts.

Ready for help? Contact me at contact@thinkfastwritefast.com.

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Get social

Continued from…

In addition to the many things you should be writing, you need to write and respond via social media. Instead of devoting all your time to posting photos of your kitten, you need to connect with your audience. Sharing kitten posts may be a part of that, but you need to have an actual conversation.

Too often we forget that social media is…social. It is a conversation. Lecturing is not social. Having a two-way discussion is.

So how do you jump in and do that? It’s easy.

You can certainly share other people’s posts. But, you need to add a note explaining why you are sharing. If you share a photo of a crocodile, is it because you love crocodiles, or fear them, or breed them, or study them, or think they are funny?

Do keep in mind that search engines crawl social media. Pasting a link into a post accomplishes nothing. You are simply reposting exactly what has appeared elsewhere. Not adding some of your own contact can actually drive readers away from you. If you post a link to something else, with no further information, your reader is going to click on that link and leave your post, possibly never to return. So, why did you post it? Were you involved in some way? Were you hoping to drive your reader away?

It’s fine to post something out of the goodness of your heart, for absolutely no reason. We do it all the time.

But, you do need to focus most of your social media presence on conversations that relate to your business and, let’s make no mistake, writing is a business. Treat your posts like an advertisement for your business.

The social media side of the business can be time-consuming. And, yes, there’s an app for that. In fact, there are several.

hackUse a social media management application to schedule posts. Write content ahead of time and then intersperse it with other content, as it appears. At 108 pages, The Definitive Guide to Social Media is twice as long as a lot of things that pass for books these days, yet it is one of the best guides I have seen—and it is FREE.

There is never an excuse for your social media to appear to be out of date. There is even less excuse for it to actually be out of date. Use whatever tool you need to in order to keep posts fresh and current.

hackI have just started using Airtable’s Blog Editorial Calendar. I can plan out my writing schedule ahead of time and fill in content when I get a chance. I can schedule when I anticipate posting something. I added columns for the various streams I use so I can track where I will or have posted. Airtable understands attachments so I can attach images or text and not have to remember where I stored them and on which server. But, a spreadsheet would do just as well for something simple, basic and already on your computer. Basically, you just need a process.

Some sites use a gimmick [I am not using that word derogatorily]. I used to manage social media for a zoo and we had a “guess what animal this is” day once a week. We knew that we could draw people on that day. Even if they had not looked at our website since the previous week, they would come on that day for the fun.

There was no prize. Just interaction. And, parents often involved their children who would, of course, want to come to the zoo to see the animal in person!

Writing has the unique misfortune of not usually having a location. It does not lend itself well to Yelp! or TripAdvisor, unless you are writing about a location. But, you don’t need a location. You need a conversation.

A common hashtag currently in use is #writerwednesday. Should you participate? You can ride on the coattails of the likes of Huffington Post—but can your content compete with the Huf, or will it swallow you? Maybe you’re better off creating your own hashtag. You decide.

Writers are often shy. We would rather curl up with a book than be the life of the party. Usually. Most of us, anyway. But, SEO and social media should be second nature for us. It’s all just words and do we ever love words?

Ready for help? Contact me at contact@thinkfastwritefast.com.

 

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