Writing Tools – BookFunnel

A common theme among authors, especially indie authors, is frustration of lackluster sales and exposure. Luck is the product of preparation and opportunity. We don’t know when we will “get lucky” with our marketing efforts, but we can prepare for the opportunity when it arises (or when we create opportunity through marketing efforts). There are many preparation paths.Bookfunnel

BookFunnel is an eBook distribution platform. There are several levels of membership but the basic level ($100) allows for up to two pen names and 5,000 downloads per month – that is the level I signed up for.

I was introduced to BookFunnel when preparing for my first blog tour promotion of my novel Leaving Darkness as one possible method to distribute eBook copies to reviewers. I went a different route as the $100 fee just to allow for distribution I deemed excessive. I didn’t see much value for BookFunnel beyond that – at first.

One strategy for building email lists is to offer a magnet, a giveaway that others may value in exchange for an email address. In that sense it’s not free; you are “selling” for an item of value. Publishers and agents consider email lists as one indicator of the strength of an author’s platform (and therefore marketability). I realized I needed to begin collecting email addresses.

I did not market my first two novels at all out of nativity and ignorance, and am only now working to catch up to where I need to be as an author. I’ve understood the magnet concept for most of my life but its importance from the marketing side never clicked for me until recently. I decided to offer a magnet. but what, and how?

The answer to what was easy – my first novel, Forgiveness. I wasn’t worried about lost revenue from sales impact because there was no sales to begin with (a consequence of that lack of marketing I mentioned). But I believe it is a solid novel that many would enjoy. At the very least, my exposure would increase by the dozen or two that may download it, and I’d have a few email addresses that, ideally, most would convert into fans.

The how to offer the magnet presented a challenge. I opted to try Facebook ads, as I had success building my author page following with ads several years ago (okay, I did try a bit of marketing then I suppose). I was pleased with the initial success as I began to receive signups for my email list in exchange for the download.

Up to this point, I had planned to just email the eBook in the format they specified, but I realized this would take a lot of my time, so I looked at BookFunnel again and decided to try the basic plan. In the end, $60 of ads produced 57 contacts – a nice number, but costly.

It wasn’t until the end of the ad period that I explored BookFunnel further and came upon the promotions section. One author set a promotion theme and invited others to join to fill limited spots (I believe this promotion capped at 26). With nothing to lose and low expectations, I signed up.

My expectations were not only met but exceeded. In 12 days Forgiveness was downloaded approximately 170 times. With minimal effort and zero additional capital, my email list had about quadrupled. No surprise – I’m sold on BookFunnel now. Even if there are no other features that I opt to use, BookFunnel has already proven its value, as far as I’m concerned. Note I have no connection to BookFunnel beyond the customer relationship.

Image snipped from BookFunnel’s web landing page at https://bookfunnel.com/

 

 

Writing on the Road

I find it difficult to write when on the road. I’m only referring to business trips, not vacations, because trips away are just that. But when traveling for the job, I do try to set aside some time for writing activities. Sometimes meetings, conference activities, and the like end early enough to allow for an uninterrupted block of time in the hotel room before retiring, sometimes not.luke-stackpoole-578017-unsplash.jpg

I try to write some in the morning. In addition to the #8AMPrayer tweet (that I don’t always get out at 8:00 in the morning), my goal is to publish my daily blog post by then before digging into the work day. Some days I don’t get to the blog until midday or later. I always try to post something, though, because part of this is about maintaining discipline.

That’s where part of the challenge is. When in a routine, scheduling is much easier. When traveling it is difficult to maintain a routine beyond eating three meals (and even then, sometimes a meal is eaten later, if at all). It becomes all too easy to just put the writing discipline aside.

Addressing a Work In Progress (WIP) is the hardest for me. Unlike a tweet or a blog post, I have to take a bit of time to center my thoughts, get into the story, and relax to begin the creative flow. In the rush of travel schedules, that often is not possible. In those times, I abandon the effort. I’ve tried to push through, often with substandard results. Forcing time to write then becomes a waste of time.

For me, yes, it’s about discipline, but it’s also about patience. As God has called me to write, He will also provide the situations to write in His time, not mine. While I suffer from impatience, He does not, because time has only meaning to me, not Him.

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Writing Tools – AutoCrit

Ah, AutoCrit – I have a love-hate relationship with you! No, not hate, maybe frustration at all of the possible ways you present to me that I may improve my manuscript. But that is also why I love you – and love wins out with you.AutoCrit

I need to issue a warning – AutoCrit will provide the writer with a tsunami of information. Everything from repeated words to verb tense to passivity (is that even a word?) to too many adverbs for the genre, AutoCrit is a very powerful diagnostic tool for the fiction author. And therein is one of its limitations – it is structured for fiction, not non-fiction. No, not limitation, feature – AutiCrit does not pretend to be something it isn’t.

AutoCrit examines a manuscript against industry averages to determine alerts on too many adverbs, sentence length and variation, and other variables. Is it perfect? I suspect not. But it does provide many paths the author ma choose to investigate.

That’s the key – “may choose to investigate.” Don’t choose them all, there’s simply too much information, else the writer will spend more time fine-tuning the manuscript to satisfy AutoCrit and not the readers. Never forget the readers are the primary concern.

I often say that AutoCrit has helped me become a better writer. I tend to use less adverbs and therefore produce tighter works. I also have shaken most of my passive bad habits. Not all, but I also catch them often before running an AutiCrit analysis.Adverbs, passive

AutoCrit won’t help with a bad story line – it’s not a developmental editor. Nor will it point out Point of View (POV) issues. You’ll have to diagnose and correct plot deficiencies and head-hopping yourself, or go the preferred route, hire developmental and copy editors. I did just that and learned much more, especially from the developmental edit process, but that shall be a post for another day.

Bottom line – I love AutoCrit. I have no interest beyond promoting a good product.

Screenshot from AutoCrit https://www.autocrit.com/

Looking for Followers in All the Wrong Places

Book marketing is challenging. In order to get our words read by others, we have to not only make them aware of our works but convince them to read it. That is necessary from a sales perspective. Christian fiction authors also bear the responsibility of getting their words read as we write to promote God’s kingdom. Yet often authors shun marketing.sara-kurfess-1416213-unsplash

I get it. Marketing is hard and not exciting and just not fun, but we have to put at least as much effort into marketing our books as creating them. I know that from firsthand experience. I did zero promotion for my first two novels (beyond a few lame tweets and mention on a dusty website). And I was surprised and saddened at my anemic sales! So much I had to learn (and still have to learn).

An author’s platform is, in my view, their online presence and following. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog, website, and so on make up the online presence. Constant activity in all channels is necessary, though it’s not necessary to choose all channels. Followers are also necessary, because who will care about or even read tweets to a dozen followers? Sure, hashtags ensure more visibility, but it’s a very large Twitter universe out there.

Currently in the #WritingCommunity there are numerous activities to promote increasing Twitter followers. I admit that I began to participate in these follies, essentially variations of the “I’ll follow you if you follow me.” Why am I negative about them? Because these do not result in quality followers. I could build up 14,000 followers easily but if they are all mainly authors struggling for recognition like myself, what good is that. No, we need to focus on quality not quantity with our social media engagements, else isn’t it a waste of time?

I’ve adopted a better strategy. Write well. Interact with communities I want to reach as an author, not echo chambers. I’d rather have 100 followers passionate about my works than 20,000 who don’t care about my content, just my follow back. Focusing on a quality platform is the only way I can fulfill God’s call for me as a Christian writer.

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Ethics in Leadership

No, this is not the title of my next novel (though I kind of like it). Today I’m scheduled to speak to students at Middle Tennessee State University on ethics in leadership. I’ve been thinking about what to say – often when I give these types of talks, I don’t prepare a “script” but rather go with what is on my mind. It may sound like the wrong method, but in an intimate classroom setting I prefer the discussion approach rather than following a stiff presentation march (with potential Death by PowerPoint).ian-schneider-66374-unsplash

Still, thinking about ethics in leadership has led me to certain points in my life when, in hindsight (and often at the time), I chose the ethical leadership decision. I’ve come to realize the reason for that. In reality, thee is no such thing as unethical leadership.

A leader is not someone who oversees people, a department, a squadron, and so on. Those who approach successful completion of a mission by relying solely on chain of command are not leaders, they are managers. Leaders may or may not be someone’s superior in an organizational chart. In fact, most likely not.

Leadership is about service. Conversely, true service is leadership. Ethical leadership involves using our positions of influence to achieve positive results for others. If one’s motives inherently are self-serving, how can that be leadership? One may argue that both can exist – a person may lead out of service but also desire to reap the benefits – and I would agree. But if the primary motivator is self and not others, that is not ethical leadership (and there is no such thing as unethical leadership, in my opinion).

Christian writers, fiction and non-fiction, take on a tremendous responsibility that I am not sure is often realized. As a Christian, I have the responsibility to advance His kingdom through my words (written and spoken). Yes, book sales and reputation and name recognition are important because we want encouragement that we are making a difference. But they cannot be prime motivators for creating works – He must always be first.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

My Freelance Writing Roots

Yesterday I was working on an ongoing and seemingly endless project: cleaning out my basement. I’m on a mission to simplify my life, and that means releasing items that no longer bring me joy (I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book on decluttering, but I get the core concept).Computerworld

I have an office in the basement that I don’t use much anymore since moving to a rented office (I tend to be more productive outside of the house, so it’s worth the cost). The basement space consists of a desk and table. Computers, monitors, and a small filing cabinet are gone, either repurposed or disposed of. The filing cabinet landed in my rented office, but I didn’t take all of the files with me. Those folders have sat on the basement desk for several months awaiting review.

While examining the contents of one of the folders, I found the last print copy of Computerworld, an Information Technology magazine that used to be a fixture on computer and network pros desks. The magazine launched an online presence many years ago, and eventually that resulted in the downsizing and elimination of the print copy.

I recall reading a message, whether in the print copy, online, or in email, that Computerworld was interested in freelance writers. With no such experience, I inquired and landed my first freelance writing gig. My goal was exposure and to give back, while earning a few dollars. I remember being pleasantly surprised that the job paid more than I originally believed. Earning money while writing – what a concept!

My first article, published almost exactly 13 years ago to the day, began a three-year relationship with Computerworld, where I provided content on computer networking and information security on a not-quite-monthly basis. Originally I had expected the three-part series I pitched to be the extent of the job, but I suppose that my contributions were well-received as the editorial department eventually requested more.

It was a fun experience until I received my first negative feedback. I don’t recall the details, only asking the editor how or if I should respond. Essentially I crafted a very professional reply and learned that not everyone will agree with what I write. A solid lesson that I have built on over the years.

I haven’t written as a freelancer for about a decade now, but I’m suddenly intrigued about the possibility of returning to the field. We will see.

I kept the magazine, by the way. It still brings me joy.

 

 

Scrivener, A Writing Tool

Often I listen to podcasts when I work out. It’s a great use of time, be it while out on the trails jogging or in the gym lifting. Recently I listened to an episode of Dave Chesson’s Book Marketing Show podcast about writing tools. He mentioned the writing tool Scrivener. I had never heard of this software, but then again, I had not performed much research on writing tools.scriviner screenshot

His description of the software intrigued me as I rested between sets on the chest fly machine. I have always used Word for writing, and it has served me well, but it is not designed to create lengthy manuscripts. For example, scene reordering or moving to another chapter is common. There is no easy method beyond cut and paste to do that in Word.

Based on the podcast, I downloaded a trial version of Scrivener after I returned home. They offer a true thirty day test period – use it two days a week and it will last 15 weeks, as stated on their website. That in itself is encouraging, as I have often downloaded test software with good intentions, then life happens, and upon return to test the period is over. No such risk here.

I installed Scrivener and imported my two WIPs into the same project since the first is a short prologue for the novel. I’ll eventually want to separate when it comes time to export (that combines all separate parts, chapters, and scenes into one document) but for character development and tracking, having all together for development makes sense.

I won’t go over some of the features of Scrivener that writers of longer works find useful, as I encourage you to listen to the podcast mentioned above for that information. However, I will plan to periodically provide updates here my impressions and experiences with the software. From my early experience (about an hour), I am convinced that there is value to go further with the trial.

One last point, it’s not expensive. I believe the cost is $45, but the podcast episode page has a code for 20% off.

When Not Writing is Writing

I have not put any effort into my WIP today, nor do I plan to. But that’s not to say that I haven’t been writing. No, by my estimation, I have laid down about 2500 words today. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the day writing and editing and formatting, just not Christian fiction.

A backstory is in order (yes, I know, never in chapter one, or in the blog case, paragraph one I suppose – this is paragraph two, so I’m good). A little less than two years ago, I left the corporate word to start my own information security executive consulting company, vCISO Services, LLC. We provide executive information security consulting – part-time Chief Information Security Officer services.

I love what I do, which is servingCover2 small and midsized businesses with access to quality, experienced CISO talent. Business has been solid, and we have clients nationwide. I enjoy helping businesses, plus it is a calling – check this video for my short testimony from 2017 explaining that.

However, running a business is more than working for clients. Another aspect is working to find clients to work for. Yes, that dreaded marketing aspect that is a difficult part of being an indie writer exists in all businesses. Thus, at times I have to turn off the client side and focus on marketing. Today was that type of day.

I finished the first edition of a small guide to information security for small and midsized businesses, drawing on my two years as a consultant. What I tried to do was explain the issues that most books or websites don’t address – pragmatic advice for those who need it. At about 6500 words, it’s not a long read, but it’s enough for a giveaway in return for a newsletter list sign up.

This is where my fiction writing experience helps. I’m currently running a BookFunnel promo for my first novel to build my writing email list. This will serve the same purpose for my company list (substantially larger than my author list at the moment but growth is always good). I would not have opened a BookFunnel account if it weren’t for my fiction marketing needs. Nor would I have known about Calibre if I didn’t have a need to convert my first novel to ebook.

So – no WIP writing but much writing activity. Still sounds like a productive day.

 

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block – does such exist? I can say for sure that when I finally found a moment this morning to sit down and create today’s blog post I stared at the blank wall behind my computer, then the concrete support pillar next to my office desk, then at the desk itself, then I checked email, Twitter, the weather…road-closed-sign-2079685_1920

Nothing.

Then the revelation – I’ll discuss this block thing. It’s not a topic I like to address, because you can really only do so once. Kind of like using the Go to Go card in Monopoly. You won’t have it available the next time you need to bypass your adversary’s hotel-laden Boardwalk and Park Place.

I had several topics in mind last night, a few of which I remember:

  • Information security and writing – we need to keep our IP (Intellectual Property) secure. We also need to keep our email lists secure (particularly if they contain any European Union personal data – see the GDPR). But I work in information security all day. I love what I do, but writing is supposed to be a break from infosec. Perhaps another day.
  • Bike riding – I’ve begun to ride my bike to work each day, about 5 miles each way. The threat of rain this afternoon nixed that idea. No one wants to be on a road bike on he road when it’s pouring.
  • Word count fixation – It just hit me as I began the third bullet, at 227 then and I aim for 300-500. I strive for 1000 per day for my WIP but that’s not practical some days (remember, I have a full-time job). I didn’t hit that goal yesterday, we will see what today brings.
  • Morning prayer – I’m trying to intentionally invite God into my work life by Tweeting a prayer every morning at (or around) 8AM. It helps me, and maybe it may help others. Whether it’s an ask or a praise, it is important to keep God central in my life. I use the hashtag #8AMPrayer. Actually, that is a nice topic, but maybe for tomorrow since my word count fixation just informed me I’m well past the self-imposed 300 minimum.

Pounding out this blog has presented two revelations. First, when at the writer’s block wall, just write. Babble on the keyboard on an endless stream of consciousness. The first moments of exercising when having been inactive for an unusually long period can be difficult, but eventually the expertise will flow, just like riding a bike. I needed to get a cliche in.

Second, and more important, how blessed is it to have writer’s block as my primary problem at the moment. For me, it’s time for another prayer, this of thanks, for blessings. True, it’s not 8 AM (10:51 Central at the moment), but prayer is great 24x7x365.

For the 8AM Prayer and other great content, follow me on Twitter @newtnoise – and say hello when you do!

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

Plotter or Pantser

If you’ve been writing for some time the chances are high that you’ve heard of the terms Plotters and Pantsers or at least understand what both are even if you didn’t know there was a word for it. This post at The Write Practice explains both concisely.daniel-mccullough-146145-unsplash

I’d classify myself as primarily Plotter with some Pantser elements, although I’ve approached novel writing in a variety of ways. I had a general idea of the plot for my first novel and constructed around that plan.

My second novel all I started with was the end, as it was a prequel to the first novel. A great example is Rogue One to Star Wars: A New Hope. The writers of Rogue One had the exact ending in mind (even to the point that its last scene immediately precedes the first scene in A New Hope) but had to create most of the entire backstory. For me, that was Pantser in reverse, and a methodology I will not return to. I posted about the process and lessons learned in late 2016.

My third novel, Leaving Darkness, I meticulously planned out every chapter by  first roughing out the three acts, then dividing each act by two and repeating until I had 24 chapter synopses. While the end result was not exactly 24 chapters as I opted to separate POVs per chapter after mapping out the story, I stayed reasonably true to the outline. I wrote about this process that served me well two years ago.

For my WIP, with the working title of Fatherhood, I’m blending the two much like my first novel creation process but with a much greater experience base and many more tools available. I sketched out the three acts – I think that, for me, is an absolutely necessary process, and have completed the first chapter (in addition to a 10,000-word, five-chapter prologue that I intend to release for free as promotional material at the proper time).

Thus, at this point, I have the story framed and the main characters defined. Each act I’m approaching with a heavy dose of Pantser. I enjoy the freedom to create new character and scenes that fit the moment without being constrained by a detailed outline, all while keeping within the guardrails of the plot (yes, that’s a cliche but I like it and besides this is a blog post not a novel).

I’ve concluded that the best process is whatever works best for you is appropriate, but it’s worth dabbling in both styles with different mixtures of Plotter and Pantser to find what is an individual’s best combination. I’ve also allowed myself to be flexible and change that recipe as I desire. After all, writing is supposed to be fun, right?

Leaving Darkness is available at https://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Darkness-Greg-Schaffer/dp/1973644118/

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash