Category Archives: Advice

This is where I have questions that need answers.

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.

affinity publisher 1

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.

ProWritingAid Companion 1
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

ProWritingAid Companion 2
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.

ProWritingAid Companion 3a
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.

ProWritingAid Companion 4
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.”

ProWritingAid Companion 5
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

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

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

Writing a Scene in yWriter6 (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 7)

Congratulations!

Yep, that’s my way of saying that you’ve made it to the end of the yWriter vs. Scrivener series. (You have been watching the videos and reading the articles, right?)

Before I close, I want to remind you that using either yWriter6 or Scrivener works only if you plan to write an actual story or, at the very least, plan a story. If you use them only for pretending to work on a story, just putting them on your screen whenever you have company over instead of writing the story, well, that’s not effective use of either program, nor is it an effective way to tell a story. So, don’t be that guy.

But, I know you’re going to use them to write your story. Why else have you gotten this far if you don’t intend to use them the right way? That would be insanity! Right?

So, to celebrate the end of the series, I want to show you what it’s like to write a scene in yWriter6. Now, if you’d rather use Scrivener, or even Microsoft Word, to write your scenes and chapters, that’s perfectly fine. Part 7 of yWriter vs. Scrivener isn’t really about yWriter6 or Scrivener. It’s about how to turn your outline into a scene by watching me do exactly that.

Yep, this is your chance to see my brain in action. It’s also a way to stand over a writer’s shoulder and watch him write (and justify his choices).

This is, by no surprise, the longest video in the series, but it’s also the one you’ll get the most out of if you care anything about writing, reading, or creating characters out of thin air. So, be sure to take some time out of your day to check it out. It’ll be worth it. Yes, I say that subjectively. It’ll be worth it if you like writing or reading. Hopefully!

Also, please let me know if you want to see more of Pop Goes the Waterbed, which is the story I’m writing in this video. I may make a separate series out of it on YouTube if enough viewers are interested.

For now, that’s it for yWriter vs. Scrivener, but I’ll be back with another article about books and book reviews soon. Subscribe at the blue button below to find out more about that. You’ll be glad you did! I say that subjectively, of course.

Finding and Using Custom Templates on Scrivener (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 6)

Once you’ve had a chance to explore the differences between yWriter6 and Scrivener, you’ll see where both programs shine, and what both programs lack. It may be that you’ll develop a preference for one of them (assuming you’re not a Microsoft Word nerd who swears by its sexy software-giant sleekness and believes that all other programs are but peons in this vast digital soup), but you’ll certainly benefit from using both (or all three, again, if you’re a Word nerd) in creating your masterpiece (or your disasterpiece if that’s the case—hey, the world needs those, too).

But, in this digital highland, when it comes to versatility—and winners—there really can be only one. Thanks to Scrivener’s template system, I’d say the winner in this battle is clearly decided.

For those who missed yesterday’s article on Scrivener templates, the short version is that Scrivener comes with a few built-in templates designed to help writers format their novels, nonfiction essays, screenplays, commercials, etc. accurately and efficiently. But, what the article doesn’t cover is Scrivener’s network of rock star-level users who have made and uploaded their own templates to accomplish development feats that range from detailed outlines, to character creators, to world-building tools, and to genre fiction beat sheets to name a few choices.

In Part 6 of the yWriter vs. Scrivener series (on YouTube), I’ll show you how to find some of these templates, briefly go over how to use them, and I’ll even show you one of my own templates-in-progress that can help manage a writing career. By the time you get to the end, you’ll see just how much more you can do with a Scrivener template than you can with just about any other document type, including anything you’ll find in that oversexed Microsoft Word program.

Granted, you’ll still have to bring your imagination with you. At the end of the day, it’s still an overview. But, it’s a fine overview indeed.

Just watch the video. You’ll learn something about planning a story if you do.

Also, don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any Scrivener templates you’d like to see. Leaving comments is a great way to make yourself even more important!

The Fiction Template on Scrivener (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 5)

For anyone who has ever explored Microsoft Word thoroughly, he or she will find that the beauty of Word is not in the user’s ability to type in a bunch of words on a document and hit save, but the ability for him to type in a bunch of words on a pre-rendered template and hit save. For students and professionals, this beauty is a hottie.

But, for the average storyteller, Microsoft Word’s templates are—how shall we say?—quite limited:

word template books

Sure, Microsoft has made the effort to recognize the average novelist by providing a manuscript template that’s great for those who aspire to publish traditionally. For a $300 piece of writing software, it had better do at least that.

But Scrivener has that exact same template, too, and it offers that template because it knows it’s made for writers, not just for business professionals and academics who think a thesis is supposed to be nothing more than a list of three arguable points and a loose interpretation of how those points fit together.

scrivener template example

Yes, Scrivener considers that writers of fiction (and non-fiction and scriptwriting) want the templates to do the job right, but they also want the tools to organize the job so that the scenes and chapters fit into the manuscript format seamlessly. They also want to do all of that stuff while having the freedom to cram all of their research materials (including character and setting sheets and templates) into its own folder where it cannot corrupt the story document, nor can it get lost through the unfortunate process of misnaming the research files and putting them in the same place where you put all of your old college literature critiques from 20 years ago, which you think might be in My Documents 1998_a2_crit lit alpha, but it could also be in that folder you refuse to open because it’s labeled “In the Event of My Kidnapping,” which you created during your intense paranoia stage (or your quarter-life crisis) in the early 2000s (not to imply that I would ever do such a thing…).

But, Scrivener goes one step further: It allows you to compile that manuscript into the appropriate format and includes self-publishing formats for e-books, if you’re inclined to skip the process of pandering to the traditional publishers.

All of this for a sixth of Microsoft Word’s cost.

In Part 5 of my yWriter vs. Scrivener series on YouTube, not to be confused with my Microsoft Word vs. Scrivener series that does not yet exist, I show off the fiction template and how it can help writers stay organized within their chosen parameters. This part will also serve as a foundation for tomorrow’s follow-up video, where I explore other templates in Scrivener.

Exploring and Using Scrivener (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 4)

Well, so far we’ve learned quite a bit about yWriter6, about how to use it, and about why we should use it. But, I think we can begin to see its limitations when we consider the things it can’t do. For example, it can’t feed the cats for you. Nor can it pay your bills. It also doesn’t do the writing for you, which, I think, most of us want in a versatile writing program.

Scrivener, on the other hand, can’t do these things, either, but it can provide a much larger viewing field with zoom options, more robust tracking analytics, greater visual and tactile control of the story’s layout, as well as plenty of other features to make sure the writing gets done, and that it gets done well.

Conceptually, Scrivener has everything the writer’s toolbox demands. It even has a built-in dictionary for checking word usage and a project manager that can track your writing progress (which is great for participants of NaNoWriMo). The more you explore Scrivener, the more you realize that, even though you never knew you needed this stuff, you know you definitely need it now!

yWriter6 can be versatile, too, but most of its special features are component-based and require additional downloads and spotty success at modding the program to get them to work properly (assuming most writers are as bad at installing components to existing programs as I am). Scrivener provides the majority of these features out of the box.

Scrivener is also the most widely recognized and trusted writing software for budget-minded writers. For $49 (as of this month), the writer can gain access to a complete story management experience that includes having a canvas to actually create the story along with organizing, structuring, and planning the story.

The drawback with Scrivener, of course, is that the writer needs to create his own resources to make the most of the software. But, that’s sort of the point of Scrivener. It isn’t about fixed rules. It’s about flexibility. Its main purpose is to give writers a place to store all of their ideas in an effort to craft the best stories they can. Where yWriter is fairly narrow in its design (you basically fill out the fields to create your story), Scrivener spreads its wings and flies, giving you the freedom to do what you want in your stories.

Really, the trick to using Scrivener well is to learn how to fly with it.

In Part 4 of my yWriter vs. Scrivener video series, I’ll show you Scrivener in action. But, I must deliver a warning: Scrivener has a steep learning curve. I can’t possibly show off everything that it can do in a single 16-minute video. To get the full picture of what Scrivener can do, I’d recommend Joseph Michael’s “Learn Scrivener Fast” to see what you’re not yet doing.

Note: There’s a basic version of Joseph Michael’s “Learn Scrivener Fast” on Udemy if you’re on a budget but still want to learn something useful. I believe the Udemy version is the first module of the complete program.

Note 2: I like Udemy. You should like Udemy, too.

Note 3: It’s my birthday today. Leave your birthday wishes in the comments below if you want.

Advanced yWriter6: Storyboards (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 3)

One of the advantages to using dedicated story software over traditional writing software is that traditional writing software, like Microsoft Word, gives you just the blank document to work with. Now, sure, that document can contain mountains of information and unlimited supplies of inserted media and special formatting to bolster that document’s information, but these elements tend to consider the needs of the student or the business professional while keeping the needs of the novelist as an afterthought.

This isn’t to say that Microsoft Word is terrible, though. No, no, no! Such an accusation is unfounded! But, it is severely limited in what it can accomplish for the novelist (or the fictionist if you want to include all types of storytelling).

For example, let’s say I want to write an article for a blog. Let’s say I want to write this article for this blog. If all I’m doing is typing my thoughts and linking them to Internet resources, then Microsoft Word is plenty fine, as is the case right now as I compose this article (on Microsoft Word).

But, what if I don’t want to write an article? What if I want to plan a story? And what if I need a storyboard for that story? Am I going to find such a luxury embedded in the $300 word processor I had to buy from Office Depot when my old computer crashed (along with my tried-and-true copy of Word 97 that I’d been using for 15 years)? No!

Instead, I’m going to get that option for free in a program dedicated to writing fiction, called yWriter6, for…er, free.

You can see how that option is true in today’s installment of yWriter vs. Scrivener, a seven-part video series I’m doing this week at my companion YouTube channel, Zippywings. Check out Part 3 to see storyboards in action. Then come back and complain about how I didn’t show off enough of it!

Note: In fairness to Microsoft Word, it does provide numerous templates for business-related documents, like letters and résumés, for example—things you’ll never find on the writing software I cover in this series. So, it’s still worth the $300 (or the subscription if you’re on Office 365). You’ll also find as you watch the series that I prefer to integrate Microsoft Word into my writing regimen, but let’s take this one step at a time.