Category Archives: General

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yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 2: Using the Novel Creator

Yesterday, I introduced you to a writing app called Fictionary StoryTeller, which functions as a developmental tool for any writer who wants to see if his or her story is structurally sound before shopping it off to beta readers or actual editors. Its purpose is to provide visual cues to any trouble spots the story may have before any living reader ever sees the flaws.

It works best when the story is finished and imported.

But, it doesn’t require prewriting to be useful to writers.

That’s because Fictionary StoryTeller also allows writers to construct the story from within the app.

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Starting a new novel in Fictionary StoryTeller

Yes, that’s correct. Building the story from within is just another feature that comes with the Fictionary StoryTeller subscription (along with the feature of paying every month to use the service, but more on that later).

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The blank canvas of doom in Fictionary StoryTeller

Now, I could spend precious article-writing real estate discussing everything that StoryTeller can do, from labeling scenes, to organizing chapters, to defining characters long before they ever enter the scene, etc. I could also discuss how the savvy writer can label plot points or scene intentions (like establishing setting, character arc, etc.) through metatags within the scene constructor itself. I could even talk about how StoryTeller allows the writer to manage each scene detail through four categories of informative story elements (giving credence to Fictionary’s boast of tracking 38 of them).

But I don’t want to do that because the app’s Web page will do all of that for me.

What I would rather do is to use this article as an opportunity to express what Fictionary StoryTeller can’t do, at least as of this writing, so that you, the writer, have a better idea whether this app is even worth your investment, at least for now.

I should also note that I have a video companion on my Zippywings YouTube channel that not only shows the app’s novel creation feature in motion, but also voices my opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and what the app still needs if it wants to be truly formidable in the war for writing software dominance. So, if you’d rather watch a demonstration than read about it, then click over to my video and spend the 15 minutes it takes to get to the end. And, if you missed yesterday’s article, it’s worth noting that I have a longer video (43 minutes) evaluating the 38 story elements that are already featured in the program (or at least the ones currently implemented).

Now, if you’ve read up on the details, then you should already get a sense of what’s missing, but in case you’re not sure, here are the top elements I believe Fictionary StoryTeller needs to truly stand out as an exceptional program for writers. Keep in mind that these elements are currently missing, or are at least not as well developed as they could be. The app may have improved by the time you read this, so you should still check it out for yourself to be sure. Also note that, as of this writing, some of the 38 story elements may actually be missing or inactive in the trial version:

Scene structure tracking. What Fictionary does well is to track and visualize the story’s global structure, but it does not accurately track how well the scene or scene unit maintains its own five-point structure, in particular when it comes to establishing conflict and resolution or scene beats. It does allow you to set certain “elements” through scene tags, like setting details and mini-descriptions, and even puts them up in a chart, which is a great start, and for anyone who wants a big picture view of his story, it definitely fills a hole that Microsoft Word cannot fill. But when it comes to tracking actual conflicts, polarity shifts, and miscellaneous scene intentions (like scenes that should only establish exposition), the program is good but not yet perfect. When it comes to scene tracking, I still think yWriter and Scrivener allow for a bit more flexibility, even if they don’t handle the visual element nearly as well. What it does track, it tracks well, but it is certainly not complete. Maybe someday it will be.

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A sample of the many scene elements at a glance in Fictionary StoryTeller

Character tracking. Again, Fictionary StoryTeller has some competency in tracking characters throughout the story, but not at the level a subscription-based app should perform to be worth the cost. What it does, and does well, is to crawl through the entire novel and extract every named character it finds and populates them inside a master character list, which you can then check for accuracy. This character chart allows you to set POV characters, mentioned characters, and combine same characters together (“the chef,” for example, may have a real name later, so both instances would be tracked to the same character). It’s a handy management tool.

But, it has major limitations compared to yWriter and Scrivener, and even, oddly, compared to itself. What do I mean by this? Well, Fictionary’s appeal is in the visuals. The two elements it tracks and converts into visuals are the character’s entrance and exit scenes (which can be accessed from the master plot graph) and the number of scenes that the character appears in. It does not actually chart which scenes the character appears in. An app like this should place dots everywhere the character appears, and allow the user to click on those dots to access those scenes. And, on these same lines, I think the character tracker is weirdly absent of character description. Unless I missed something, all you can do at this stage is to name the character and determine his importance to the story (POV only—not even protagonist, antagonist, mentor role, lover, etc.). So, the character tracker needs a lot of improvement. It also has trouble identifying merged characters as the same character. Even if it lets you combine them, it seems to forget sometimes who those combined characters are.

Character arcs. This is a separate component to story structure, but I think StoryTeller could stand to handle character arcs in the same manner: draw a line along the character’s path toward three-dimensionality. It comes nowhere close to doing this at the present. In fact, as I noted in the above bullet point, tracking any kind of character development is currently low-rate in StoryTeller. This isn’t to say that all characters need three-dimensionality (and that would be an option worth selecting: Does this character need three dimensions?(Yes/No/Let me think about it)). But those that do should have a tracker and visual component attached. What StoryTeller does do is allow the writer to set whether the scene develops the character via a simple “scene intention” tag. It just doesn’t let the writer note how it develops the character. The closest it comes is to identify what the character wants, which is still very important, and very useful. But it does not note how the character succeeds, fails, or changes. Not yet. It needs to.

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Another scene visual reference in Fictionary StoryTeller

A/B plot tracking. Perhaps a major omission to Fictionary StoryTeller, both in actuality and according to the 38 elements, is the ability to track subplots within the main story. On a similar note, it does nothing to track external and internal storylines. For any writer who wants to see if the A/B plots or the internal/external plots converge at the end of the story, Fictionary won’t be able to tell them. Right now, it’s all about the main plot.

Genre and obligatory scene tracking. This may not be intuitive to writers who haven’t studied story structure or genre development, but any story written for genre still has its particular obligations (like a romance that fails to bring the lovers together at the end is, perhaps, not really a romance), and Fictionary StoryTeller seems to leave these elements out in the cold. Even a quick scan of the 38 elements suggest that this feature isn’t on the planner. But it probably should be.

Element highlighting. This missing feature is arbitrary, but adding it would greatly enhance the user experience. In short, clicking on buttons and dots in Fictionary StoryTeller will open up whatever scene corresponds to the selected element, so that the writer can review the scene for the specific instance he wants to check. Sometimes it will even jump to a point in the scene where the element can be found. However, what this fast-access method grossly lacks is a simple highlighter that draws attention to the element immediately. I’ve found that whenever I click on the visual that opens the scene, I then have to read the entire passage to figure out where the element sits in the prose. It takes time to find it, especially when the text is small. A simple highlighter on selection of the element would make opening the scene much better. As of now, this relates to character names, but as the program evolves, it should also search for embedded tags the writer may place within the scene to identify “important moments” that link to that tag to make searching for these broader-based elements faster and easier.

And that’s for starters.

Now, in fairness, I believe these limitations are simple enough to add within the current architecture that I’d be surprised if Fictionary never addresses them. So, my belief is that this app will become quite useful for every type of fiction writer in time. But, as of my trial period, I was a bit underwhelmed by my cost-to-usefulness ratio. I’d like to see some of these elements taken into consideration before I take in consideration a subscription to the service ($20 a month or $200 a year).

But, you may feel differently, so by all means give it a go if you’re interested. You get the first 14 days free, anyway.

Also, in reviewing the 38 scene elements listed on the main page, I think it’s possible that the current version of Fictionary StoryTeller doesn’t yet have all the elements implemented (I know that’s true of two of the five senses) but will shortly. It certainly seems that some of the elements listed appear nowhere on the app, as far as I could find. Maybe they’re behind a paywall. Maybe they’re on the way. It’s worth keeping an eye on them if they are.

Anyway, don’t forget to check out my video reviews of Fictionary StoryTeller if you haven’t already.

Video 1: Overview and Review

Video 2: Using the Novel Creator

And, if you don’t think Fictionary StoryTeller is your cup of coffee right now, then check out my series yWriter vs Scrivener to see if either of those programs are a better fit for your storytelling needs.

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 1: Overview and Review

So, remember that time you told all of your friends that you’re a writer, when what you really meant is that you plan to become a writer, someday?

Well, now’s your chance to prove yourself true, thanks to a new weapon in the arsenal, a new tool in the chest, a new float toy in the pool . . .

Okay, that last one got away from me a little.

Introducing Fictionary StoryTeller, the writing app that actually helps the writer track his or her story’s development structure and informs him if he’s on the right track.

(. . . and also makes it fun to stop wasting time dreaming about becoming a writer . . .)

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The main navigation page in Fictionary StoryTeller

For the next two days, I’ll be bringing you both written and video content about this handy option for the writer’s development needs, the former which you can read right here, and the latter which you can view over at my Zippywings YouTube channel, specifically at this link (but don’t go just yet; you should read on—I’ll repost the link at the bottom so you don’t forget).

So, now that I got your interest, what is Fictionary StoryTeller?

Well, StoryTeller is the developmental tool for writers from Fictionary (see, calling it Fictionary StoryTeller is a lot like calling PhotoShop, Adobe PhotoShop) that provides structural feedback via flowcharts, graphs, and other fun visual things that would make Microsoft proud (or jealous), giving writers an opportunity to spot weaknesses from a bird’s eye point of view.

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Example of the plot structure graph in Fictionary StoryTeller

In short, it tells writers if their novels or novellas still need developmental considerations.

But, how does it accomplish that, exactly? If StoryTeller is just a piece of writing software, a measly app on the Internet, then how, pray tell, does it inform you, the writer, if your story needs more development?

I know what you’re thinking: The robot apocalypse has started.

While that may be possible, that’s not actually what’s happening here. No, what’s happening here is that you feed the app your story’s information, by scene, and based on your knowledge of structure, including inciting incidents, plot points, scene shifts, etc., you’ll essentially give the program something to track, which it can then convert information back to you via graphs, charts, and other visual matters.

So, it’s not entirely scary. It’s barely even an algorithm.

But, if that’s all StoryTeller did, just feed you visuals on the stuff you’ve already written, then it probably wouldn’t be particularly impressive. Clever writers who moonlight as Excel wizards could probably accomplish something similar on their own, for a lot cheaper.

What StoryTeller does well is convert your manuscript into indexes for easy labeling and makes those tracking adjustments on the fly, so you can always know what your development looks like at every stage of the story, even as you’re still writing it.

And what does it track, exactly?

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Using the scene editor in Fictionary StoryTeller

Well, Fictionary’s StoryTeller Web page will give you all the details, but the short version is that it allows you to check 38 different developmental categories, from the core elements of story structure, all the way down to sensory details (minus touch and taste, as of this writing).

It also, conveniently, searches your document for all known names and converts them into character lists (in some cases erroneously), which you can also adjust, reference, or delete as needed. Nearly everything in Fictionary StoryTeller that you can click will take you back to your scene of reference.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it’s definitely heading in the right direction—I’ll say that with confidence.

The question is, is it worth the price? At $20 a month (yep, subscription!), it offers writers the answers to a number of questions, such as, “Is my structure in line with proper story structure?” and “Do my scenes begin and end in different places or times?” but it still lacks the answers to other important questions, such as “Do my scenes follow an internal five-point structure?” or “Which scenes does Fred appear in?”

In other words, even though StoryTeller does track the entrances and exits of characters, and it tracks how many scenes a character appears in, it does not tell you, the writer, specifically which of those eight scenes he’s in, which would be convenient given that everything in StoryTeller can be clicked, whisking you away to the very scene you wish to explore, and this means, ultimately, that StoryTeller isn’t yet perfect.

But, it looks like it’s trying to become just that, so whatever it lacks today may likely appear as a feature tomorrow, or whenever its engineers figure out not only which good ideas need implementation but how to implement them.

Anyway, I offer you a full look at Fictionary StoryTeller in action, through the lens of my novella Gutter Child, over on my Zippywings YouTube channel. Check it out to see all of its strengths in weaknesses, as well as get my full opinion of the program (and whether I recommend it).

Then come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my mini-feature on Fictionary StoryTeller, when I review its capability as a writing substitute to yWriter or Scrivener. There will be a video on that, as well.

Now I Can Make Proper Industry-Standard Paperbacks (without using Adobe InDesign)

Just found another useful resource last night that I’m super impressed with. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe not.

All of us know about Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign. We also know that we have to spend $52.99 a month to use all three programs, which is useful only if we plan to use more than three Creative Cloud apps every month. Fortunately, we get a ton of apps for that price. Unfortunately, most of those apps are just add-ons to the big three (or four, if you include Premier). Seems hardly worth it to pay over $600 a year to rent a bunch of apps we’d hardly use.

For years, I’ve been troubled by this price point because I really wanted PhotoShop for game and cover design, Illustrator for additional vector design, and InDesign for accurate layouts for my books. In fact, I’ve often thought I needed InDesign to make my paperbacks industry standard.

Turns out, I don’t need any of them.

When I searched for “indesign alternatives” on YouTube last night, I kept seeing videos for something called “Affinity Publisher.” I’m usually skeptical of any software that claims to compete with the titans of industry, and it didn’t help that the thumbnails for these videos were amateur-looking. But I checked out what they said about it, anyway.

The first video got me curious, so I checked out the more “official” videos. Finally, I watched a 30-minute video from someone who creates books.

And each video got me wanting this thing more and more.

So I bought it last night.

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Turns out, Affinity Publisher is so much like InDesign that I don’t even know if there’s a noticeable omission. From my understanding, the user-interface is actually easier than InDesign (and the free alternative, Scribus). But here’s the cool thing: It integrates with Affinity’s other two flagship programs, Photo (the worthy PhotoShop alternative) and Designer (the worthy Illustrator alternative), by allowing you to press a button, in Publisher, and switch immediately to the profile for the other program, allowing you to access all of its tools. That means you can edit images and other elements right from the page you’re designing for your book, magazine, whatever.

It’s probably no surprise that I also bought Photo and Designer, just to maintain the entire suite.

So how close to $600 a year did I come to buy these programs?

Well, they retail for $50 each. One-time purchase. Free updates forever (I believe).

And I got them during one of their 50% off sales. So I spent $25 for each one. I never have to buy Adobe Anything now, but I can still do just about anything the Adobe products would let me do.

That said, if you’re looking for an alternative to Adobe Creative Cloud that you can own for a one-time payment at a fourth of the cost (or eighth if you get it during the same sale that I bought my copies in), I’d give Affinity a look. I’m impressed with it so far.

Seriously, these are good programs and worth the look.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Using ProWritingAid: Overview and Workflow

Are you struggling with the perfect words for your manuscript? Is your command of grammar merely adequate? Have you heard of an app called ProWritingAid?

For those who wrestle with writing perfection (alliteration!) but don’t know how to tame their bad habits, and for whatever reason don’t like Grammarly, ProWritingAid is a great (er . . . an outstanding) solution to the problem.

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ProWritingAid in action, with Realtime checker activated.

Overview:

Now, you could always click over to the website, explore it, and forget to come back to this article. And that’s fine. At least you’re taking action to improve your writing skills through the use of computer technology. And I’ll undoubtedly miss you.

But, if you’re also a reading perfectionist, then let me offer you a little more relevant information:

  1. I have a 34-minute YouTube video dropping today that covers much of what the Desktop version of ProWritingAid offers. You should check it out after you finish reading this article. I’ll remind you about it when you reach the end.
  1. ProWritingAid, like any writing assistance program, requires context to work effectively. In other words, you should still know essential writing and grammar skills before investing your time or money into it. The best programs are the ones that don’t do all the thinking for you.
  1. Most of its suggestions can be ignored. ProWritingAid’s value comes from the suggestions you shouldn’t ignore.
  1. Like any good program, it has a free version that’s as powerful as the paid version, and almost as effective. The demarcation comes in its word limits. The free version can evaluate only 500 words at a time. So, if you want to save money, learn how to copy/paste a bunch. Be warned, though, that your summary report will reflect your free choice.
  1. The web app and the desktop app are basically the same. The difference is that the desktop app can sit on your computer while the web app can be used anywhere. The web version also has a few extra bells and whistles for anyone who needs to follow a style guide. The desktop app will preserve your formatting when you export, even though you won’t see any of it in the app itself.
  1. The program still has incomplete features. This is most noticeable when you explore its “Consistency” reports. Irony!
  1. If you buy it, you should buy the lifetime option. That way you won’t have to keep paying for it. If you can wait for a sale, even better (Pro Tip: There’s a sale now, until midnight PST.)

Now, the video tie-in covers most of the features, but I’ve been using it a lot more since recording the footage and learned more about workflow. So take a pause, watch the video, and then COME BACK for some workflow advice. Or, if you’re linking to this article from the video, feel free to keep reading.

Watch the Video Here

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ProWritingAid’s summary report, or part of it.

Workflow:

Three things I’ve learned about ProWritingAid is that the “Realtime” tracker is distracting (and slow), the “Summary” is great for project overview but pointless for granular fixes, and “Combo” is cluttered with suggestions that might melt your brain.

When using ProWritingAid, it’s best to dive right into the category selections. This assumes that you’ve already completed your developmental edits, as fixing grammar, style, etc. is pointless if the content is fundamentally poor. I wouldn’t recommend it until you’re ready to publish or submit your work.

Once the document is ready for fine-tuning, I’ll start with “Style.” This looks for passive verbs, adverbs, “emotion tells” (important for identifying sections where characters should “show, not tell”), and other readability enhancements. I’ll typically take careful consideration of this report’s suggestions.

Next, I’ll use “Grammar.” This highlights possible grammar and spelling mistakes. Pretty straightforward and obvious. Again, I’ll study the suggestions before accepting them. Sometimes it misses the point of the sentence.

Depending on the work, I may use the “Thesaurus,” but only for targeted words, and only a few paragraphs at a time. ProWritingAid has an extensive dictionary of alternatives, though I sometimes question its hierarchy of suggestions. It’s best to use this feature with a dictionary nearby, as its built-in dictionary is weak at the moment.

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ProWritingAid’s Thesaurus and Word Search feature.

Overused” will highlight most of my “believes” and “thinks” and “justs” and so on. Again, I’ll give this report a cursory glance, but I won’t spend much time on it.

The “All Repeats” selection is useful for tracking repetitious phrases, though I typically ignore anything mentioned only twice, as I’ve likely intended the repetition. I also ignore most three-words-or-fewer phrases, as those usually link to common phrases like “this means that.”

I think “Echoes” is one of ProWritingAid’s most useful features, as it searches for two or more words used within a certain proximity of each other. While I’d ignore common repeats like pronouns or “this means that,” I probably don’t want to use the word indubitably twice in the same paragraph, or even within twenty lines of each other, so this is one of my favorite features when it catches what my eyes don’t.

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ProWritingAid’s “Echoes” category in action.

Structure” is practically useless from an improvement standpoint and good only for checking your “sentence starts.” For example, if you’re worried about lacking any type of sentence variety, in that every sentence begins with a subject and not a subordination, this checker will report on your fears. I rarely use it.

Length” is the better feature for reporting sentence variety, as it gives you a bar graph that diagrams your entire selection. If you see a wall of flat bars, then you’ve got hardly any sentence variety, and your text will sound robotic. But if you see wave patterns, you’ll be doing as Gary Provost says, “making music.”

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ProWritingAid’s “Length” report showing this blog “making music.”

Transitions” and “Readability” are worth skimming, but I don’t spend much time with either of them. My transitions typically reach 100% (the recommended average is 25%), so I don’t worry about them. “Readability” checks for grade level writing, which I don’t typically care about if I know a 12-year-old can still read it.

I find the “Sticky” section one of the most frustrating because it gets particular about “glue words,” or words that slow the reading down, which consist of such gems like like, which, of, about, that, etc. It’s irritating.

I’m not terribly worried about “Clichés” in my writing because I think they can sometimes get the point across better than some second-rate hack attempt I’d make to say the same thing in a worse way: “…if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things! That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice. Responsibility.” Versus: “With great power comes great responsibility.” (The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) vs. Spider-Man (2002)). But I like the cliché checker because it also searches for redundancies, which I do sometimes overlook and miss. Er . . . miss.

Diction” is another category I hate using, not because it’s bad—on the contrary, it’s quite important—but it flags words like quite for being vague, and it’s annoying to filter through all of its “vague” and “abstract” tags, and its occasional warnings about prepositions at the end of sentences, to find those words that actually need addressing because they are too complicated for the reading scale or simply overused.

Pronouns” and “Alliteration” I usually skip. The pronoun checker gives a percentage report on how many sentences start with or use a pronoun and offers a suggested target range to ensure that your nouns haven’t been entirely ignored. The alliteration checker just gives a report of every phrase that has alliteration, in case that kind of thing bothers you, or if you’re trying to make more music in your message. I’m not that concerned with either, so I don’t spend more than a minute studying either.

Homonyms” I check, but I skim for context. It’s a daunting report because, like the thesaurus, it will light your page up with so many colors, but I still think its important because—I mean, it’s important because, well, because.

Consistency” is an important checker for the same reason that homonyms are important to check—it’s easy to mistype a repeated word. However, to make best use of the consistency checker, don’t include your title in the scan (you can highlight blocks of text if your title exists on the page) because it will assume that all of your capitalizations are inconsistent when they see the lowercase common versions of the same word. It also monitors any shifts from U.S. English to British English and back again.

Finally, I’ll check “Dialogue” to make sure that all my conversations have proper attribution, that the tags are simple enough (he said, she said), and that my quotes have the right punctuations in the right places. I don’t typically use dialect in my speech, but this checker will provide a warning if it sees something that looks like dialect, and I can decide whether it’s appropriate to keep.

The tools I don’t use include “Acronyms,” because I don’t write research papers, “Pacing,” because it searches for every use of “have,” which indicates backstory and “slow reading,” and I don’t have the patience to rewrite entire paragraphs when “have” is fine, “House,” because I don’t work for a magazine or publisher, and “Plagiarism” because it costs extra money to use.

So that wraps up my overview of ProWritingAid and how to use it. Once again, you can watch the video here if you haven’t clicked on it yet.

Please remember to comment, like, or subscribe if this article means anything to you, and let me know if you want to see more like it.

And wash your hands!

General Advice for Self-Publishers

Note: I originally wrote this article for this post. I’m republishing here because I should have my best articles on my own site, and this particular article summarizes each resource I’ve found helpful in my rediscovery of my self-publishing journey since 2016. If you’re reading this, I hope you get a lot of useful information out of it:

Please note that this presentation is not extensive. Consider this a starting point for additional research.

One-Stop Shops:

If you want a one-stop shop for setting up a self-publishing business (and by business, I mean setting up a brand that you might apply to future books), I find The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing quite useful, though the most recent edition is going on ten years old now. There are newer and perhaps more relevant resources available, but this is the only book I know of that combines just about everything that’s important in self-publishing into one source. It’s a dense book, though. I still haven’t read all of it, and I’ve had a copy of it for years.

If you want free information and don’t mind going down the rabbit hole (and possibly into a black hole) a bit, I’d recommend subscribing to or at least bookmarking a website called The Book Designer. It posts topical articles about book design or marketing on Mondays and Thursdays and links to other resources for design, marketing, and writing craft on Sundays. If you have the time to dig into the last few months’ worth of posts (and all of the ones they link to), you’ll get a sense of where the trends are today, but even then, there are some gems dating back several years that are worth looking at. Get a mug of coffee and plan to spend a lot of time scouring the site for information if you choose to dive in.

Other Resources:

-Interior and Cover Design-

The Book Designer also has its own paperback called The Book Blueprint, which covers much of the technical elements behind crafting a print book. It’s especially useful for showing you what to include in the front and back matters of a book, as well as what you should consider putting on the cover. Important resource if you care about how professional your book appears to readers.

-Registration-

Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs is about what the title says. It’s a short book that includes updated registration information for 2019, as well as tips for launching your brand effectively the first time. I think The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing covers a good chunk of this, too, so it may be redundant to get this book if you get that one. However, this book is entirely about registrations, whereas the former book is about everything self-publishing, with registration being a small part of the content. It’s worth using the “Look Inside” feature to see which one you like better. But I can say that this one is more accessible given its focus, hence why I’m adding it to the list. The author has another book about creating your own imprint if you find that’s useful (The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing also provides information for that if I remember correctly).

Regarding ISBNs, everyone agrees that it’s better to buy your own ISBNs from Bowker than it is to use the freebies supplied by the distributors, as the ones you buy will have your imprint’s name as the publisher, whereas the freebies will have the distributor’s name as the publisher. Register Your Book talks more about that, but it’s important enough to reiterate it here. Likewise, no one thinks buying a single ISBN is worth the money. You should get, at the very least, a pack of ten. I plan to get a pack of 100 if I can ever manage to save up for it.

Note: You don’t need an ISBN if you plan to release your book on Amazon only. Amazon uses its own identification system called ASIN. But you should get an ISBN if you plan to release it anywhere else, and if you plan to produce it in more than one format (the rule is that every edition and every format has its own ISBN).

-Legal Information-

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook is an essential book for the bookshelf, in my opinion. It reminds you of all of the ways you can violate copyright law if you aren’t careful. I wouldn’t publish anything until you’ve read through it. It wouldn’t hurt to retain a literary lawyer while you’re at it, though I think you’ll find that they’re more important when you’re writing nonfiction. The book also covers topics like working with freelancers and the legal advantages of forming your own LLC. It’s a must-own.

-E-book Formatting and Distribution-

Amazon KDP and Smashwords both have onsite guides that can show you how to format your books for e-readers. If you plan to use either of their services (and you probably should), you’ll want to take the time to read their guides or watch YouTube videos that can show you how to format e-books for each service properly. In my experience, I’ve found Amazon much easier to use overall, but Smashwords is more flexible with fixing mistakes on the fly.

It’s worth noting that a third site, Draft2Digital, has better formatting options than Smashwords, can reach many of the same stores as Smashwords (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Rakuten Kobo), and has a sister service called Books2Read that you can use to populate all of your storefronts into a single landing page. I’d recommend using both services, as both can reach certain stores and wholesalers that the other can’t. But for the shops that both distributors can reach, you’d likely be happier linking them through Draft2Digital given Smashwords’s limited formatting options (or, if you want to maximize your royalty potential, then uploading them direct to each shop might be the best option). Check the royalty rates at each shop before committing, though.

It should be noted, however, that you don’t have to use Draft2Digital to use Books2Read. In fact, it’s not technically designed for authors but for readers who want to populate shortcuts to their favorite storefronts where they can buy e-books. Authors use it, however, to make it easier for readers to purchase their books from whichever retailer they prefer. It certainly makes it easier to manage your links if you use it.

Distribution Note: If you decide to use both Smashwords and Draft2Digital, make sure you check only the boxes that you want each distributor to ship to. In other words, if you want Draft2Digital to be your e-book distributor to Barnes & Noble, then do not tick the Barnes & Noble box at Smashwords. Only one distributor should ship to a particular storefront at a time.

Formatting Tip: E-books are called “websites in a box.” You can technically format an .epub3 file using HTML if you really want tight control of your book’s presentation. Here’s an article that shows you how to do that. You don’t have to do it this way, though. Amazon, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital all allow you to upload simpler documents straight out of Microsoft Word if you want. That’s how I create all of my e-books. But, of the three, Smashwords is the only one that makes people angry. (It’s easy to use once you know what you’re doing though.)

Important Note: Amazon KDP has a service called KDP Select. DO NOT enroll your e-book in that program if you plan to go wide (as in selling it on Barnes & Noble, Apple, Hamster Republic, etc.). It requires a 90-day worldwide exclusivity on your selected e-book title, and obligates you to the platform until the term expires (assuming you back out before it enrolls you in a new term). Its page-reads system works similar to Wattpad but, unlike Wattpad, pays you according to page reads and sales. And, while I believe the payment on actual sales is the same as it is on regular KDP, I’ve heard that it pays authors by the page a little worse each year. Payment comes out of a shared annual fund, so if J.K. Rowling ever decides to write a new Harry Potter book and makes it exclusive on KDP Select, everyone else is screwed. That said, it’s fine if you plan to keep the e-book on Amazon only (and no one pirates it and posts it elsewhere). Really, though, it’s better not to enroll any of your books in KDP Select, not anymore. Too much can and has gone wrong for authors, and some authors have even discovered that Amazon can become a bit like Henry VIII if they don’t play exactly by their draconian rules when enrolling in the program. Fortunately, if you do enroll, KDP Select doesn’t affect your paperbacks or hardcovers. Only your e-books, and only the ones that you specifically enroll. But given how Amazon changes its rules and algorithms constantly, I can’t say for sure that this will always be true. Just do your research before making a firm decision to enroll or not to enroll.

-Paperback Distribution-

The online guides will reiterate this, but you’ll want to use KDP for paperbacks sold at Amazon, and IngramSpark for paperbacks sold everywhere else. Amazon has great pricing on its own site and terrible pricing for its extended distribution. IngramSpark has better pricing systems for non-Amazon book sellers and is the standard for outside-Amazon distribution. It also costs money to use, including charging fees for uploading fixes, so you’ll want to make sure your book is set in stone the first time you upload. NaNoWriMo participants get some of those fees waived if they take advantage of the discount by March, however.

You should know that IngramSpark is your only option for getting paperbacks into brick and mortar stores. But that’s its own can of worms, too complicated to talk about here.

-Prep-

Books, websites, and YouTube AuthorTube channels all agree that you should never put a book on the market until your manuscript is solid (complete with beta reads, editor fixes, and proofreader fixes), has a genre-appropriate, eye-catching cover (front, back, and spine if you plan to do a paperback or hardcover), strong copy, and a tribe of followers wanting to read it.

You’ll want to hire professional editors and cover designers (and maybe interior designers if you don’t have the time to learn it yourself) who know what they’re doing if you want the book to get into stellar shape. Neither is cheap, but both should at least be cost-effective. Good editing will likely cost between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the size of your book (60,000 words will probably land you around $1,500). But you can drive that cost down if you give the editor a manuscript that’s already in great shape. Good genre-appropriate cover design will likely cost no less than $300. Anything less and you may want to see samples or a portfolio to be sure you’re not getting scammed.

There are a number of sites you could check out for these professionals, but Reedsy has some of the best for the price. Nevertheless, I’d do extensive research on any designer or editor you’re considering before pressing the big green button on them. They say the biggest editing and design costs are the ones where the editor or designer gets it wrong.

Regarding the true cost of self-publishing, I like this video’s breakdown of the numbers the most.

Regarding store page setup and discoverability, if you want a good Amazon keyword checker for marketing purposes, or for deciding how to categorize your book, I’d recommend checking out Kindlepreneur and its flagship software, Publisher Rocket. The software helps with determining which of your book’s keywords are the most-searched and comes with the lowest competition. It also tells you how much each of your competitors’ books makes a month. The website has some great resource articles, too.

-Craft Support-

I could post a lengthy thread on crafting tips, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say this. Writers Helping Writers has a wealth of helpful articles, thesauri, and resources worth looking into, including its flagship service, One Stop for Writers, which really should be explored if you have some time.

You may also want to look into self-editing resource, ProWritingAid, and crafting aid, Master Writer, if your budget isn’t too tight.

At some point, I’d like to write up a separate post about the topic of writing craft and development and list my favorite resources on the topic. Craft is the one thing above all else that really needs the most attention. But, this post is already too long to start listing my favorites here. Stay tuned.

-Online Courses, Marketing, Self-Editing, etc.-

I’ve spent a good chunk of 2016 and 2017 attending free webinars and receiving email blasts about “premium courses” for marketing and craft, usually priced at $#97. I actually bought two of these courses for $497 and $197 respectively a few years ago (on monthly payment plans which actually cost me closer to $800 ultimately) and thought they were fine. However, just about everything I learned in these premium courses can also be learned in a book called Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, and that’s true of nearly any premium course you might get solicited if you go down the rabbit hole. In short, unless you’re getting advice from a titan in the industry (like James Patterson, Lee Child, or George R.R. Martin), you won’t need to spend more than $75 on any one course (or $90 if you’re a user of Master Class). Anything more and you’re probably throwing your money away.

Possible Exception: Sometimes Writer’s Digest may offer a decent course taught by a reputable author/instructor for the price and format of a college class. I haven’t taken any of these classes, so I can’t vouch for their quality, but I know of at least one Writer’s Digest author whose book is very good who also teaches for Writer’s Digest University. The same author who wrote Sell Your Book Like Wildfire. Might be worth it if you have the money to spare. Let me know if you check any of them out.

Marketing is its own beast, and it really deserves some time to research, but the common response to effective marketing is to build trust, create high-quality material, and play the long game (meaning, write more books). I particularly like this book on that topic. I actually like the author of the book quite a bit, too. Here’s her website. Side Note: I watched one of her on-demand crafting courses over the Christmas break and learned stuff I hadn’t learned anywhere else. I don’t typically advise paying for information you can likely find on YouTube, but I do recommend checking out her classes (if her other courses are anything like the one I watched). Her style is casual but thorough and includes props. Take lots of notes.

Regarding self-editing, I like The Story Grid a lot. The book is a brick, but it gets you thinking about things you probably didn’t know you needed to consider. It’s another one for the bookshelf.

Solicitations:

If anyone calls you about representing your manuscript, hang up and run away. It’s probably a scam. Writer Beware is a watchdog service that reports publishing scams, and you should really consult them before agreeing to anything you didn’t seek out yourself. I’ve had one of these scam publishers contact me about Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two a couple of years ago, telling me they wanted to represent it in their catalogue (for a small fee). I kept asking them why they wanted that one and not Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One instead. They never gave me an answer. They just really wanted the second book (for a small fee). Anyway, they made Writer Beware’s list a few months later, and I haven’t heard from them since (though the woman who called me, under one name, called me again a few months later, with a different name and for a new company). Just hang up if they call. And, no, I don’t know how they got my house phone number.

Finally:

I could keep going, but the most essential thing here is to make sure you have a product that readers want to buy (and read). So, if you’re lacking in any crafting considerations (structure, genre expectations, narrative weight, proper scene development, etc.) or presentation (appropriate cover and title design, copy, author bio and photo, etc.), then I would keep working at it until the whole package is sufficient. I spent the better part of a year self-publishing old stories as new e-books in 2015 and 2016 (after some general edits) and had a shockingly lackluster reader response to them. In short, I’ve made about $10 across all of my titles. You’ll really want to take the time to get it right before you publish any of your books. It’s a pain to go back and fix things after they’ve gone public, including your author brand. My goal for the next couple of years is to reset and launch my books properly. You should do the same before you find yourself having to reset.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Cover Image: Pixabay

The Coming of NaNoWriMo 2019

I just posted a video about NaNoWriMo 2019 and how we can prep for it with Scrivener. This comes with the idea that I may actually record my writing progress this month, for those of you who want to see a story written in real-time.

Will this likely end in disaster?

Probably! So, now you gotta watch, right?

In the video, I reveal two new templates I’ve developed this year: one for planning a story (and is still a work-in-progress), and the other a basic template for NaNoWriMo that includes options for journaling, tracking progress, and writing a postmortem when all is finished.

If you’d like to use either template for your own prep or writing adventure, you can find them both here.

If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, then comment below and talk about it.

Good luck!

Of Pirates and Whales: A Tale of Corporate Glut and Consumer Punishment

Today, Google’s “Recommended by Pocket” blog roll (shown whenever a new tab is open in Firefox, as well as in maybe other browsers that I never use) showed an image of a younger Nicolas Cage holding a baby up to the camera, taken from the classic film Raising Arizona, a movie that I used to catch in syndication on my local FOX station back in the early ‘90s. The headline, “Disney Is Quietly Placing Classic Fox Movies Into Its Vault, and That’s Worrying,” worried me, so I checked it out. The article by Matt Zoller Seitz, published in Vulture, goes on to tell the tale of big corporate Disney sucking out the lifeblood from theaters who rely on classic FOX films to cover 12% or more of their annual income and eating their bacon.

The thesis is that Disney is applying its scarcity model to old FOX films that were previously available to any theater that requested them for special screenings, and it’s costing the theaters big time. For instance, before Disney acquired FOX last spring, if a theater wanted to screen, let’s say Die Hard, at Christmas time to provide some nostalgia to, let’s say, men in their mid-forties who may have seen it in theaters back when they were teenagers and were like, “Boom! Pow! Yippee-ki-yay, moth—” and, well, you know the rest, then FOX typically let them. The theaters, in return, could give these fortysomethings and their teenage sons an opportunity to relive the experience of seeing John McClane throw Hans Gruber off of the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Plaza—on the big screen!—while the rest of their family go Christmas shopping. It’s a model that boosted theater income whenever the current run of films outlived their welcome.

According to the article, Disney’s model prevents theaters from doing that anymore.

It reminds me in part of what Amazon has done to the book industry, but in a reverse kind of way. While Amazon has gobbled up the New York publishing market and spat it onto the shores of the River Styx, those stores that subscribe to the New York model, like Barnes and Noble, have taken to a standardization model that may actually perpetuate their demise.

I think the real worry here, as far as movies are concerned, is that Disney may fall somewhere in between these two models: Kill the competition, as Amazon does, but through a standardization practice like what New York and Barnes and Noble does. My question is, what happens if the whale gets super huge, and then somebody comes along and kills it? What if that somebody is consumer apathy?

In the end, I hope Disney knows what it’s doing.

Though, I guess I’m okay with the outcome either way because I don’t love movies today like I used to. I still have a few franchises that I look forward to, like Mission: Impossible, The Fast and the Furious, James Bond, and Batman. But even those aren’t enough to get me interested in movies like the ones that came out in the ‘90s did. Disney has its hand in too many of them, and it’s beginning to show, so I’m getting a bit bored. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate a good Marvel movie. I’ll stick with that series for as long as it doesn’t suck (which, hopefully, won’t be anytime soon). This isn’t even to say that I’m not interested in the Disney+ service because I sort of am. But I’m also skeptical. I don’t think I watch enough content to justify spending a monthly fee. And even if I did, I don’t own the content. If they decide I can’t watch something I want to watch, then I can’t watch it without help from a pirate, and I don’t deal with pirates. So, rather than get upset, I simply put the movie out of mind. By the time they decide I can watch it, I don’t want to. I choose when I want to watch something. Not Disney.

Anyway, here is the article about Disney.

And here is the article about Amazon.

And for kicks, here is an article about Barnes and Noble to really hit the point home.

All three are worth reading and comparing and using to draw your own conclusions about where the world of entertainment and commerce is heading. Do you care?

Comment below. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to be notified of my next article.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Fun with Cover Design Using PaintShop Pro 2020, Corel Painter 2019, and GRFX Studio Corel Edition on My Ebook “Lightstorm”

This weekend, as the title implies, I ran my concept cover for Lightstorm through another round of edits, this time by employing the services of a few new programs that I picked up in the Painter: Create with Confidence Bundle over at Humble Bundle (available until Wednesday at 1pm EST).

The bundle, which includes a number of designer products, including PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate, Corel Painter 2019, and Pinnacle Studio 23 Ultimate, cost me just $25. Individually, I would’ve spent over $250 for them, maybe much more, and finding the bundle was perfect timing, as my copy of Paintshop Pro 2019 (normal edition) kept bugging me to upgrade to 2020 for just $47.99 (a 70% discount!), which I was planning to do anyway until I found the bundle, but now I don’t have to, though doing so would’ve meant I would also get a video editor program, VideoStudio Pro 2019 (noticeably absent from the bundle, but hopefully Pinnacle Studio will work just fine), which probably would’ve been nice. But I ended up getting a lot more for a lot less, and I’m typically fine with that.

So, just to give a little backstory, I released Lightstorm in September 2015 with this cover (created with my old copy of PaintShop Pro 9, which is probably 14 iterations of PaintShop Pro ago):

lightstorm cover (title 4)
Lightstorm Cover Image

As you can see, it isn’t very good. I needed to upgrade it, but I didn’t have any software that would be particularly useful for the job.

Then last year I found another photography bundle at Humble Bundle that included PaintShop Pro 2019, and I thought, Yeah, I’ll buy that for a dollar! I think I actually paid $25 for that bundle, (a dollar would’ve gotten me just the cheap stuff) and I got a load of decent software for designers that I haven’t really used yet outside of PaintShop Pro 2019. I plan to use them eventually. Maybe.

A few months after getting that bundle and practicing my cover design on other covers, particularly Eleven Miles from Home, by locating free stock photos and manipulating and combining them for effect, I decided it was time to upgrade Lightstorm. This is what I made:

lightstorm new background 8

And when I wasn’t fully satisfied with that version, I kept toying with it until I got this:

lightstorm new background 10a

So, that’s the version I have online at the moment. I thought it was pretty good. But I still had my doubts. Compared to the original, it’s a masterpiece. But compared to other book covers, it’s meh. I figured I could do better, but I didn’t know how if all I had at my disposal was PaintShop Pro 2019 and other painting programs I hadn’t actually used yet but probably should’ve looked into. Oops.

So, then came along the Painter Bundle, and now I’ve got programs that can do more than simply adjust the visuals of an already assembled composite photo (I used four different images and a lot of blurring to make the above image). With Corel Painter, I was able to add particles, including glow brushes, make my title font (Vallen) much better detailed, and I ended up with this:

lightstorm new background 12.png

Now it’s looking more thematic, but I admit I wasn’t fully satisfied. As much as I liked the new particle effects, I worried they were cluttering the image too much.

So, I doubled-down and opened up GRFX Studio Corel Edition (included with PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate) and added a bunch of light flares:

lightstorm new background 13a.png

So, that’s the state of Lightstorm‘s cover and what I did this weekend with my new design programs. Just to recap, I went from this:

lightstorm cover (title 4)
Lightstorm Cover Image

to this:

lightstorm new background 13a

I’m sure PhotoShop and a proper graphics designer would’ve made this cover even better, but as I say on this blog from time to time, I’m not rich, and while that remains true, I won’t throw money at high-priced subscription software or someone I can’t afford.

For the resources and skills that I have, I think I did pretty well. What do you think? Can you do better? Hopefully the answer is yes. Comment below if you have an opinion!

The Audiovisual Book Experience, an Experiment

Today on YouTube, I launched the beginning of what could become my next big feature: “The Audiovisual Book Experience.” The premise behind it is that people don’t read anymore, but they do listen. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from people who listen exclusively to audiobooks and podcasts and can’t be bothered with an actual book or blog post. I think these same people watch YouTube videos on occasion.

I confess that I don’t get it. And, I do think the information is a little suspect. Of course people still read. I’m a person, and I read! I read books and blogs. I also write both. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re a reader, too. Already, you’re proving them wrong.

But, I also see the point they make. The people who prefer audio text to visual text are the people who are too busy to sit down with a good book; they probably spend more time looking through their windshields, making sure they don’t hit something or someone than they do staring at the pages of a paperback or the screen of an e-reader. Of course, they still stare at their phones for some reason, on the road and off. But it makes you wonder: Has no one told them they can read a book on their phone? What else are they going to do at a red light?

Okay, they shouldn’t read a book while driving. Point made. Audiobooks are much better for that. And they’re also much better for running. I’ve tried reading a book while running a few times. It’s definitely too shaky to concentrate. An audiobook would’ve been nicer for that scenario. If these people are so active that they can’t even spend a few minutes in bed with a good book, then perhaps the audio version is necessary.

But what of the people who want both, the reading and the listening experience? Haven’t we all started our reading lives by reading with an adult, where the adult reads out loud while we follow along and try to understand each word? Would it be so odd if we were to read along with someone else again, but as adults?

Maybe. Probably. But we’re going to try it anyway!

And that’s the point of the Audiovisual Book Experience, to allow YouTube users to read a book while someone else narrates it to them. That way, if they need to, they can do other things while the book is “playing.” Or, if they’d rather follow along, they can see each word in its book form. This gives each reader the option of reading the book however he or she wants. For free!

Is it a good idea? I don’t know. That’s why it’s an experiment. But, if it does generate interest, I’ll likely do another. If not, then I’ll commit my time and energy to something else.

I do wonder, though, how other authors with better voices than mine could make use of an audiovisual book experience. It might be worth it for them to give it a try for their own books.

That said, I’m launching my own experience with Amusement, a short story about a businessman who must confront the corporate entity responsible for the faulty product that ruined his life.

The overview video has already launched. The introduction and legal information video will launch at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday, September 23, 2019), and “Part 1: Professionalism” will launch immediately after, at 1:15 p.m., both Eastern Standard Time. Each additional episode will launch on consecutive days at 1 p.m. until next Sunday when the final episode, “Part 7: Crash,” airs.

The entire audiovisual book will be curated into a playlist that you can run at your leisure.

If you decide to check it out, please let me know what you think, either here or on YouTube. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

The Case for Leaving a Product Review

Did you read a good book lately? Review it. How about a bad one? Review it!

Why should you post a review of that book you just read?

Because we all benefit from reviews. The writer benefits because it shows the world whether he or she is any good at this. You benefit because more reviews means a higher likelihood that the author can afford to keep providing you with new stories. And, the world benefits because robots can’t yet tell the stories that authors can tell, at least not as well.

So, in short, don’t let the robots win. Leave a review of that book you just read at your preferred retailer today. I, you, other authors, and the world would be grateful for your input. But it’s up to you. Silent praise is still praise. Written or spoken praise is a little better. A wise man of undetermined time or origin once said that, probably. Remember, he is wise for a reason, also probably, so I hope you listen to the assumed wise man today. Leave that review and stick it to the robots.

Remember, you can give public feedback in the form of a review on your favorite retailer’s website. You can also review books on Goodreads (and, perhaps, network with other readers to find your next favorite book). You could also give the author direct feedback through his various contact channels. For example, here’s my contact channel in case you’d like to give me feedback.

As a writer of books that need reviews, I’ll say thanks again for the time you took to read the book, but I also thank you for the time you took to review it.

Note: Some retailers have specific rules for leaving reviews. For example, Amazon requires that you spend at least $50 that year before leaving a review. We all want reviews, but we also want ethical and rule-abiding reviews. Please familiarize yourself with each site’s or retailer’s review policies before placing your review. Violating rules doesn’t help anyone. Thanks.

(This post adapts and modifies the Review Request section of most of my e-books.)

Cover Image: Pixabay