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/

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

Breakthrough

I had the opportunity to attend a preview of the upcoming movie Breakthrough a few weeks ago. From the movie’s web site at https://www.breakthroughtickets.com/synopsis/:

BREAKTHROUGH is based on the inspirational true story of one mother’s unfaltering love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John falls through an icy Missouri lake, all hope seems lost. But as John lies lifeless, Joyce refuses to give up. Her steadfast belief inspires those around her to continue to pray for John’s recovery, even in the face of every case history and scientific prediction.

Sometimes Christian movies, fiction and as in this case based on factual events, can be, simone-viani-1152774-unsplashwell, sugary for lack of a better word. Being a Christian is not easy. Life in time doesn’t become sunshine and roses upon professing faith. That is the beginning of a long, dedicated walk with Jesus, one that sometimes is more difficult to traverse than others as we struggle with issues in our lives here. Sometimes he carries us (as in the famous “Footprints” poem).

Breakthrough isn’t one of those overly sentimental, sweet movies. It is a well-crafted story of pure faith, hope, and the supernatural potential of prayer. It is not without its heart-wrenching moments, and you will shed a tear (or several). But it tackles a very dark and disturbing subject quite well and leaves the viewer with powerful lessons in prayer and community.

The tie-in to Christian fiction, for me, is that this is the type of impact I hope to have with my works. I suppose it would be easier to tackle feel-good subjects that are quite popular now, such as Christian romance novels, but that’s not my calling. I have absolutely nothing against romance novels, but most often the conflict revolves around human relationships by design. I’m delving into conflicts of relationships with God.

I encourage everyone to see Breakthrough whether you’re Christian or not. Breakthrough comes out April 17, 2019. Note that I have absolutely zero connection with the movie beyond the impact it had on me as a viewer. I’m guessing you’ll have a similar experience.

Photo by Simone Viani on Unsplash

 

First Base and Beyond

“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of their Own

Yesterday was the start of the 2019 major league baseball season, and it passed me by. I grew up a Yankees fan but after major league baseball cancelled the World Series in 1994, I lost most interest in big-league baseball. But I still find baseball closer to its roots to be a pleasure to watch in person, and enjoy attending a couple Nashville Sounds games per year.mark-duffel-352915-unsplash

Hank’s character was responding to one on his team complaining that playing baseball was hard, and the quote has become a favorite for encouragement memes (seriously, just Google it). Its popularity is rooted in its simple truth. Anything that is worth attaining is going to take much effort and sweat equity.

I think some of us enter the writing trade severely underestimating the difficulties ahead. I know I did. When I proudly self-published my first novel I thought that once available on Amazon people would find it, buy it, and I’d join the ranks of other successful novelists, because in my quite-biased opinion what I had produced was simply that good. But the truth is that you can have the next Old Man and the Sea ready to upload and no one may know, or care.

That’s not to diminish the huge accomplishment of getting to that point. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess that at least 30% of people in the United States have considered writing the great American novel, and of those maybe a quarter attempt to, and of those maybe 5% reach Amazon whether traditional or independent publishing. That’s 0.375% of the population or about one in 267 (and even that seems high).

I recently attended a writers conference where Bob Hostetler emphasized that there are nine ways to reach first base, not because he was teaching the attendees the rules of baseball but to illustrate that the same line of thought applies to writing success. I had only focused on one or two ways, and my lackluster (that’s being kind) sales reflected my tepid efforts. I realized I hadn’t tried most other venues (consistent blogging, email lists, conference attendance, and so on) because, well, they were all hard. Lesson learned.

My goal is not to stop at first base. I want to score runs and win the game, because I feel I have meaningful tales that can positively change lives inside of me. I have to embrace the hard. I just hope that when the work pays off and I reach the World Series, they don’t cancel it.

For a free download of my inspirational first novel Forgiveness sign up at https://bookhip.com/XFCCLN

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

 

Authenticity in Christian Fiction

I have written three novels. The first two are best categorized as fantasy, while my third, Leaving Darkness, is my first Christian novel. I have since realized that is the genre I am called to write in.

I just read a tweet that said something to the effect that the advice to write what you know about is wrong. The implication was it limits the subject matter and thereby cannot effectively hold the interest of the reader. To remedy, you need to research to write about what you don’t know, as well.

In some aspects, I certainly agree. For example, my second novel relies upon a Soviet covert plot to infiltrate the United States Catholic Church during the mid 20th century. This was an area I had no expertise in. I realized I’d need as much realism to prop up the fantasy of such a ridiculous idea, so I Googled for facts that could have possibly been interpreted by conspiracy theorists that such an infiltration attempt existed. To my surprise, this actually occurred!aaron-burden-233840-unsplash.jpg

But there are areas I disagree, a most significant one being Christian fiction. Christian fiction differs from other genres in that its purpose is to spread the Gospel and advance the kingdom of God. Those called to write Christian fiction sense a need to use the written word to promote the path to light and salvation. It would be impossible to write authentically about the saving grace of Christ in lives without knowing that personally.

Authenticity goes further though. A Christian fiction author must live their life as a Christ follower. Obviously this does not mean a sinless life because that is impossible. However, to convey the authenticity on paper (or screen) the author needs to follow Christ not just for an hour and a half on Sundays, but rather live, breathe, and proclaim through actions their devotion to Christ.

One of my favorite ways to explain if you’re doing this effectively is if people can identify you as a Christian without you explicitly saying so (either outright or tangentially through other discussions such as church activities). Being a Christ follower changes you – not just internally, but externally.

It should surprise no one that this change is reflected by the written pages as well. Authenticity allows your love of Christ to leap from the words to the reader’s heart. And as a Christian fiction author, that is the primary goal, after all.

For a free copy of my inspirational first fantasy novel Forgiveness sign up at https://bookhip.com/XFCCLN

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash