Plotting and Revising

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It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’m gonna say it’s because I found this REALLY awesome book by Cathy Yardley called Rock Your Revisions.  Her proceeding book, Rock Your Plot, detailed a first draft process that is REALLY similar to the one I already use.  That gives me all the hopes that Revisions will work for me as well as Plot does.  And we all know I’ve been looking for a way to streamline things.

So far, Revisions has lived up to the hype.  I feel much more in control of Easterbay than I ever have, and I know what I need to do to move forward.  It feels freeing, and I’m moving through things rapidly.  Yardley claims that her revision process takes twice as long as writing the first draft.  So if I go by her estimates, I should be ready for alpha reads in two months.  To say I’m excited about that would be an understatement.  All we can hope for now is that I stay motivated enough to make it happen.

I’m mentioning this for two reasons.  One reason is because if you’re looking for a writing process, Yardley lays out a good one.  The second reason is that it is Nanowrimo time, and we could all use a little extra help in the planning process before diving into a novel.

That’s basically all I have to tell you.  I’m also diving into Nano this week, and expect updates to the blog to remain intermittent until December rolls around.  We’ll see, though.  Sometimes avoiding the morass of a Nano novel leads to more blogs instead of less…

Hence the need for motivation.  As always come November, cross your fingers for me.

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Writerly Things

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It’s that time of year again when I have to decide if I’m doing Nanowrimo.  I am, as usual, swamped beyond belief.  And I am, as usual, planning to do Nano anyway.  I’m slightly worried that my loss last year broke my 6-year streak.  But since I failed due to giving birth, I think I get a pass.

How will you Nano with a small baby in the house, you ask?  Well, he’s recently started napping in his crib (!!!!!). It’s a small miracle, I know, but it has given me my life back.  Or, you know, 2-4 hours a day of my life back, depending on how much he sleeps.  I now have time for daily writing.  As an aside… I had no idea how much it was affecting me to not write until I started again.  Wow, do I feel like a human being again or what?

Besides, this year I’ve decided to be a rebel.  I won’t write a whole new novel from scratch. I’ve been thinking HARD about my writing process and how I can streamline it a little more.  Blue Gentian was five diligent years in the making and taught me a lot about my writing process.  But even if I were to get out a book a year, that’s not quite best for a Self-Published author…  I should be aiming for a book every six months.  While I’m not in it for the money, I have grand visions of bookshelves filled with my titles.  That means I’ve gotta get on it.

So, Nano this year is going to be an experiment on how I can get myself working faster.  Here’s what usually happens:

I do Nano, and then return to whatever manuscript I was working on previously.  A year later (maybe… sometimes it’s longer), I pull out the manuscript.  It’s not in order. My plot has gone off the rails from the original outline.  I have weird placeholders instead of names and the pacing on everything is Wrong.  Obscure things don’t work correctly because I didn’t do any research.  It’s disjointed and wrong. The story is also, at best, the main plot line with no other deeper meanings woven in.  And sometimes you’re like “uh, wow.  That main plot line sure took a nosedive into a dirty, dirty swamp…”

So, I do my best to take the thing about 5 chapters at a time, and basically rework those chapters until they’re polished.  Then I move to the next set.  I stop a lot of the time, sometimes for weeks, to ponder deeper meanings.  I read history books about the time period, I realize that I need xyz foreshadowed in earlier chapters or that I’m off the revised outline.  I go back and fix the beginning again before moving onto the next few chapters.  It takes FOREVER, and there’s a lot of down time while I’m faffing with things.  It results in a good book, but it takes a long time to get there.

So, for Nano this year I’m trying something else.  I’m going to print out and completely re-type a novel.  I’ll put the scenes in order and expand or rewrite when needed (without excessive polish).  I’ll add blank “scenes” in Scrivener when I need to add a piece of the story that isn’t there yet.  I’ll get from start to finish as quickly as possible.

I’m hoping this new method will do several things.  First of all, I won’t be tied to language I’ve already written.  I’ll be free to retype whatever words I want.  Second, I will have the main story line all laid out nicely so that when I do start to polish, I won’t have to worry about forgetting elements or about the story line changing on me.  Third, I will have the main story line firmly in my head from start to finish, making secondary story lines and deeper meanings easier to weave through. I can ponder that stuff while I type, hopefully doing away with the weeks of faffing.  The weeks of research will still probably have to remain…

Right now, it takes me about 6 months to go from draft 1 to draft 2.  Subsequent drafts are faster, of course, but I needed about 10 for Blue Gentian… I am hoping that I can cut draft 2 down to a month (maybe 2) with this new system.  You know, if I can make it work.

In about two months, we’ll know how I fared.  I picked Suffrage because it’s the only novel I have that’s currently untouched.  Everything else has either been through a bit of edit or I have deemed it too bad to be salvageable.

I will, as always, report on how it’s going as I’m doing it.  Cross your fingers for me.  And if you have any tips of your own on how you streamline your writing process, I’d love it if you’d forward those along.  I need all the help I can get!

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Self Publishing: September

Self Publishing Update

Well, I had a much better September than I did an August.  I realized after reviewing the data for my August ads that I was getting many more hits on keywords that tied to authors or book series that were similar to my book, instead of tags like “fantasy,” or “sword.” I also upped my bid on each keyword to be $0.76 instead of $0.66.  For some reason, that made all the difference.  Instead of being in the hundreds of views, I’m now in the tens of thousands of views and I can make some decisions based on actual aggregated data.  Amazing!

My first ad (runaway and subversive print shop copy) didn’t do so well.  People were clicking (31 of them), but no one was buying.  I actually ended this campaign early since it had cost me almost $15 and had brought me no book sales.  It seemed a waste to keep running it.

My second ad (epic fantasy with a strong female lead copy) did fairly well.  I had 42 clicks and sold 3 books.  Since almost 80,000 people saw my ad before clicking this is the data I was able to get: someone would click through to my page after about 1850 people had viewed the ad. Once people viewed the book, about 11 people visited for every one person who bought.

This isn’t great.  Most click-throughs cost me about $0.50, which means that I need my numbers to be more like 5 click-throughs for every buy to just break even.  I’m getting closer to that on my third ad.

Ad number three (LOTR/Little Women mashup copy) is almost where I’d like it to be.  I had 58 click-throughs and sold 8 books.  81,000 people viewed the ad, and so I’m looking at about 1400 people to visit before I get a click-through, and 7 people to look at the page before I get a sale.  Still not where I want to be, but MUCH closer.

I’m rejiggering a few things, per normal.  First of all, I’m only running ads 2 and 3 this month.  I’ve added keywords, too: Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown, Jessica Day George, Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted, His Dark Materials, Narnia, and CS Lewis.

Second, I have changed my book blurb to be a little more punchy.  We’ll see if that works out to equal more clicks.  The great thing about self-publishing is that I can change it all back if the other was working better.  Nice.

Lastly, I put up an ask for my friends who have read the book to please leave me a review.  I ran the free promotion almost two months ago, so I feel like people have probably finished the book and maybe just haven’t remembered to review? We’ll see if that’s actually a thing.  Over 100 people downloaded the book, and right now I have 5 reviews, so either people take a really long time to finish things or most people aren’t review-leavers, or they forgot.  We’ll see…

That’s all for this month.  I’ll report back on how that all did next month per usual.  I have modest goals.  I’d really love to have 7-10 reviews by the end of the month, sell more than 11 books, and have a better click-through to buy rate on both ads.

I hope this helps!

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Baby Racing

Last week we took the baby to the LA County Fair. And by “we” I mean my dad, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt. Brian hates the fair with a passion that is irrational, but I’m resigned to it.

Asher is pretty good in the car unless you’re stopped for any reason. Then he frets and complains, and sometimes starts to cry. On the way into the fair there were many stops and starts as we navigated traffic.

“Unghhh!” said Asher at all of them.

“What’s wrong?” said my dad.

“He’s just upset we’re waiting,” I replied.

“Oh,” said my dad. And then he started making vrooming sounds.

Asher stopped fussing almost immediately, totally content with the facsimile… “Good enough, and thank you for the attempt,” he seemed to say. “You efforts at infant placation have been accepted.”

Of course, this is not the end of the silliness. Part two of this story involves school. Both Brian and I have class on Monday nights, so Asher goes over to have a grand old time with Grandma. I don’t have enough time between drop off and school to go get food, so I usually run through the drive-through with Asher in the car throwing a fit because we are WAITING at a window, mom!

So tonight, instead of sitting through the crying, I am in the line for the drive-through making vrooming noises. My window is down, and there I am with a silent baby in the back who is unobservable because of the tinted windows, and I’m pretending to have some sort of stock car race with my mouth. I may not have been the weirdest thing those drive-through workers had seen, but I’ll bet I at least received a “you’ll never guess,” when they went home that night.

The things we do for our children…

In other news, the baby has realized that if he runs off with his pants in the morning, it takes me much longer to put him in them. He’s usually so proud of himself about it, too, waving them in the air with a smile on his face as he stalks around the kitchen and growls.

He’s trouble, but he DOES make me laugh.

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Fairyland Temptation

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I’m half-convinced that not only are there Fairies at the University of Redlands, but that they’re actively trying to get me to join them.  Observe the evidence:

Asher and I walk Brian to work most mornings.  I was walking home a few weeks ago, and I passed a tree which had step stools of mushrooms leading up to its trunk.  I thought it was funny, and it made me wonder what kind of nyad would willingly live on a college campus near Frat Row.  The debaucherous type, I suppose.

I passed by the next day and the stepping stones were gone.  Closed for business was Fairy Land, I guess.

But then the lilies started to appear in strange places, big pink clusters of them peeking out of the ivy, no visible leaves but just a stalk rising from the dirt.  There is no rhyme or reason for their placement.  We’ve seen feathers falling from the sky, and a secret mailbox ensconced in a bush by the alumni house.  Half open, for temptation, of course.

This week I found a mushroom doorstop clinging to a tree, the joint where the roots meet making a perfect semblance of a door.  It’s been tempting me every day since, and that one hasn’t closed for business yet (probably because it’s not in the path of the mowing gardeners).

All of this, of course, can’t be just coincidence.

My question is, though, what kind of Fairy thinks that a 36 year old lady with a baby would go rushing off to join them?  What would I do with the baby?  He’s formula fed, and I wouldn’t know how long until we could get back so I’d be loathe to go without some assurance that he’d be fed.  I can picture myself loading up the stroller with eighteen canisters of formula, falling out on the sidewalk as I try and inconspicuously walk around campus to the tree.

Or worse… “Don’t worry,” the Fairies would say.  “We’ll feed him.” but we ALL know what that means.  I’d never be able to take him back to the mortal realm again.

I suppose I could leave the baby with Brian and go alone.  But I’d be forlorn without that boy.  And time passes differently in other realms.  I’d never take the chance that I’d miss seeing Asher grow up.

So I’ve been viewing it all with quiet amusement before going home to get the baby a bottle and put dinner in the crock pot.  Maybe do a few loads of laundry while I’m at it.

I’m writing a book about Fairies right now.  Maybe they’re just telling me they approve of my next novel?

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Self Publishing: The First Month – Amazon Ads

Self Publishing Update

So, I’ve now been the self-published author of a novel for a month.  Aside from the free promotion, I haven’t done anything except run ads via the Amazon system.  I feel like I’ve learned something? Maybe?

I think the book is doing pretty well, actually, for being a first novel in a genre that doesn’t typically sell in the indie market.  And for being a book with only four reviews.

I have sold 4 books since I ended the free promotion.  3 of those were hard copy and another 1 was a Kindle copy.  Kindle copies are where I make my money, so it was nice to have one.  The profit margin on the print book is slim (although not nothing, and I’m not really in this for the money anyway at this point).

I also had several Kindle Unlimited pages read, though that’s also hard to break down.  The reports tell me how many pages, since I get paid by the page.  But is it the same people re-picking up the book, or is it new readers?  We’ll never know…

My ads haven’t been working okay.  I’ve never written copy before, nor do I have any experience with advertising, so I’m being gentle with myself about it.  I’ll be rejiggering the ads today to make them better.

You may already know this, but with Kindle ads, you bid on a keyword.  If you’ve bid the most, whenever someone visits a book that’s classified under that keyword, they see your ad.  You pay if they click on it, otherwise it’s free.

I currently have 4 ads running.  On the first, I let Amazon pick my keywords. Hardly anyone has seen the book on this one – about 74.  On two other ads, I have about 450 people who have viewed it, but only one person on each ad has clicked on the ad and the report estimates I haven’t had any sales.  They don’t take Kindle Unlimited into account, though, so I think this might be where I’m getting some of those extra Kindle Unlimited pages from. On my third ad, about 650 people have seen it, but no one has clicked.

I ran the same exact keywords for all three ads I set up myself, so I’m not sure why everyone’s seeing the one and not the others.

So, I have two goals this month.  The first is to re-do the book description on the ad so it’s a little more punchy.  The second thing is to pick better keywords.  Right now, the ones I’m getting the most hits on are the names of other authors.  I plan to add in a greater swath of authors who I think write things that are like this book.  I’ll leave the Amazon auto-target ad alone, probably.

That’s a rundown of the basics.  In addition to redoing the ads, I’m considering a blog tour.  Most authors I’ve seen who have done it say they basically break even – they make about as much in book sales as they paid for the tour.  Still, I think it might be worth it for me from a review perspective.  The blog tour I’m considering would have 15 stops, so that would be 19 reviews on the book once I’m done if you add the ones that are already there.  I’d definitely consider buying a book with 19 reviews, where I’d look askance at 4.

That’s mostly all I have to say. For those who want to get into the nitty-gritty with me on the ad portion, I’ll post a little more detail below.

The book descriptions I went with on the ads are as follows:

  1. What do a spy, a runaway, a subversive print shop, and a queen have in common? Blue Gentian. You won’t be able to put this book down. (450-ish views)
  2. “Love at first page!” Looking for something new to read? You just found your next favorite epic fantasy with a strong female lead. (450-ish views)
  3. Traditional fantasy gets a makeover in this epic coming-of-age tale about leaving home to find it. You won’t be able to put this book down! (650-ish views)

I went with these descriptions partly because I read a book that told me that ads with “you” in them tend to do better than ads that don’t.

In this next cycle of ads, I intend to run descriptions 1 and 2, but not 3.  I also intend to run one that says “If Lord of the Rings and Little Women had a baby, Blue Gentian would be it. You’ll love this epic fantasy about leaving home to find it.”

I ran the following Keywords:

action, adventure, caravan, coming of age, council, epic, fantasy, female voice, gentian, healer, intrigue, kwed, little women, low magic, medicine, mission, notlimah, printing, queen, quest, shaman, spy, strong female lead, sword, tolkien, traditional fantasy, travel, travelers, traveling, wise woman, young adult

BY FAR Tolkien got me the most views.  Wise woman, shaman, and travel got me the next most, although I’m not sure travel is really doing for me what I’d like it to do.

This month I’ll add:

Shannon Hale, Le Guin, Dianna Wynne Jones, Chrestomanci, Uprooted, Naomi Novik, Wheel of Time, Rothfuss, Jane Austen, Jeff Wheeler, Veronica Roth, Sarah J. Maas, Harry Potter, Patricia C. Wrede

I may also take out some of the others that are probably deceptive (like travel), although it doesn’t cost me anything to bid unless the ad gets clicked on.  We’ll see where that gets me, and I’ll report back in another month!

Here we go…

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Semester Limbo

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I finished my final class for the semester, and I’m pretty excited about it.  I loathe online classes, and although these were of the better variety I still didn’t like them much.  I just find it’s HARD to keep myself motivated to do the work without face-to-face interaction. Still, I’m now two semesters in to getting a Master’s degree.  Just three semesters left and I’m a credentialed kid.  Teaching English snobbery to the next generation of kids, here I come!

Part of the problem with the semester was that we were asked to do HARD things without a lot of prep.  One of my assignments was to come up with fifteen research articles on a single topic in prep for my senior thesis.  As long as it was related to Education, it was allowed.  I had to plan my senior thesis right now.  No guidance offered.

Too many options, man!

I did a lot of digging before deciding on a topic.  I’m allowed to write nine weeks worth of lesson plans in lieu of a giant paper, and so I plan to do a 9 week class on novel writing for high school students.  The research articles I found were fun and I think they’ll help.

I have a quick week off before I have to go back to school again.   I’m looking forward to it LOTS.  I miss my classmates, and am excited to being in class with some excellent instructors again.  My adviser and I have already been in contact about my student teaching (yay!).

It’s nice to be looking forward to the thing I’ve chosen to be my next career.  It makes me feel like I’ve finally found the right place.  Hopefully that feeling continues…

In the meantime, all my former homework time is going to writing.  Novel #2, here I come.

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Ceiling Fan Magic

This family just went on Vacation for the first time.  My Mother-In-Law had reserved a time share for a weekend up in Big Bear, but then ended up not being able to use it.  She offered it to us instead. And it was mostly a good time although VERY stressful.  The packing list alone, man… Also, Asher didn’t know what to think of it and refused to adhere to any kind of regular schedule while up there.  I worried.  Incessantly (he’s fine, of course.  He’s even sleeping soundly).

But we had good times amidst all my superfluous woe.  It was beautiful up there. And the weather was not a million degrees too hot to go outside.  We hiked, we swam, we enjoyed awesome Nepalese food at the Himalaya Restaurant, we strolled by the lake.

Asher didn’t care about any of that.  His favorite was the new and fancy suite to run around in.  New rooms with funky flooring!  Vertical blinds!  Oh, the remotes! And then there was his one true love, the ceiling fan.

I noticed it one morning when I had pulled him into bed with us.  He stood on the white comforter, one hand bracing himself steady on my hip, and gestured to the fan.  He stared at it, and his hands twirled.  His fingers extended out and then in again as he gestured, pulling his arm back, pushing his arm forward.

It looked for anything like he was performing magic on the fan.

So here is the question: what WOULD an eight-month-old want to summon from inside of a fan?  Or is he just trying to keep it running with his magic fingers?  He did this several times throughout the trip, too.  It wasn’t a fluke.

I don’t know, man.  I may be waiting for an owl to fly in my window in a few years with an epistle from Hogwarts.

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Self Publishing: First Book, First Week

First some housekeeping stuff.  I want to continue posting about how I’m doing with the book and what marketing I’m working on and all of that in service to someone else learning from my experiences, but I also realize that’s not why a lot of people follow this thing.  I’m going to be prefacing the headlines of these types of posts with Self Publishing: so you can ignore them if you’re not all about it.

That being said… here we go!  Week 1 of Blue Gentian was incredibly successful.  130 people downloaded the book for free.  It’s AMAZING that 130 people were interested enough in this thing to check it out. Thank you!

2 things I’ve learned over the last few weeks.

Thing 1: Several friends were asking me if they could actually PAY for the novel.  I wasn’t sure what to do about that, since I wanted to start running the book right out of the gate for free.  Does Amazon give pre-orderers the free price?  I didn’t know. So… it turns out that people who have pre-ordered the book pay for it, even if you run a free promotion on the day of the book’s release.  If you have people who actually want to pay, ask them to pre-order.  You can have your cake and eat it too!

Thing 2: I had originally planned to run a Kindle Free promotion, and then go for a Countdown Deal right after.  It turns out that Amazon won’t let you run those within the same KDP sign up time.  Every 90 days I can run either a Free promotion or a Countdown Deal promotion, but not both.  Boo.  But good to know for planning purposes.

Next we’re on to marketing:

Now that the book costs money, I’m wading into the area of Amazon Ads.  So far I only have Sponsored Product ads out there, and no Product Placement ads.  Product Placement got expensive, guys!  $100 is the minimum spend (yikes!). So, I’ll refine my copy on the cheap stuff and then worry about those costly ads when I have something I know probably works.

I know absolutely nothing about copywriting, and I think it shows… since the free promotion ended I have sold NO books.  I’m not terribly worried yet.  I’m playing the long game with this, not the short one.  I had also heard about this phenomenon.  Since Amazon separates out free from paid, you essentially start out at square one again when the free deal ends.  The internet warned me. But I am downloading copywriting books and faffing around with the copy on my ads now because things can always be improved.  I have five ads running right now, and they all have different descriptions enticing people to buy. We’ll see which ones actually do something.

Once I know I have copy that works, I’ll start faffing with Keywords.  That’s at least a month away, though.  I want to give the ads a chance to work if they’re going to.

Last is the bigger picture:

I’ve been thinking critically about how the book is presented and I realized today that I actually wouldn’t buy it if it came up in my feed as-is.  Everything looks great, but I always want a slew of reviews on my self-published titles to prove that they’re readable.  Right now, that’s the biggest thing I lack.  I’m discussing a possible blog tour because of it, though that’s also probably at least a month away.  I don’t want to be too annoying to my friends and family either, but I’ll also probably do a big social media request for reviews in about a month.  I’ll give everyone some time to read it first, though. And then after that, I’ll knock it off with the “please do this for me?” stuff so my friends don’t start to hate me.

What do I do while waiting for all the ads to aggregate and everything?  Work on my next book, of course!

Categories: Self Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kindle Free Deal Ending

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Just a quick PSA to let you know that the Blue Gentian free deal is ending today.  Last chance to download this thing for nothing!  Tomorrow it goes up to $4.99.  Thank you! You may now return to your regularly scheduled Sunday.

 

Categories: Fiction, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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