Category Archives: Advice

This is where I have questions that need answers.

Social Media Stage Fright

I don’t get stage fright. Not usually. If I’m standing in front of a group of strangers to give some information about a service they could use or learn from (an occasional side function of my job in education), I typically turn off the part of my brain that cares what they think about me and just deliver them the info I came to deliver. Unless I’m coughing up a storm while my zipper is down, two things I tend to get under control prior to arrival at my speaking destination, usually, I don’t worry about how I’m received. The audience either cares or it doesn’t. Doesn’t affect me either way.

Yet, the reverse seems to be true about my online presence. It’s usually more appropriate to answer questions in an unbuttoned pair of jeans (especially after a big lunch or dinner) online than it is in front of a live crowd, depending on the topic, I suppose, but the words I deliver online last much, much longer than what I deliver in person, and that can be scary when the words or information matters. In front of real people in real time, most of my audience will remember less than 10% of what I say, and if they remember me at all, they’ll likely remember me as “some guy who came to my classroom to tell me about grammar or something.” I’m not threatened by that. But, when I send a message on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter, suddenly my words are permanent and have scrutiny appeal.

Frightening!

It’s a strange paradox to be sure. We all talk about how social media can mask our identities when necessary, giving room for transparency in our thoughts, especially if our name is “Anonymous” or “Some Dude,” and suddenly we’re titanium. We see it as license to spout off all sorts of nonsense because who’s going to associate it with our faces if they can’t see them? In fact, I find it especially paradoxical in the dating world (something I gave up on a long time ago), where approaching strangers for the intention of getting a date is somehow easier through a comment on a profile page and a follow-up wink (or maybe it’s vice versa—I’ve never been great at the dating thing) than it is in real life where the person of interest has to watch me stumble out the words she may never take seriously face-to-face. It’s strange how these same vehicles of delivery can suddenly flip the perception I have of people and vice-versa, depending on the topic. But masking identity isn’t always useful. In person, my audience gets to see my face. In personal relationships, that should be a perk. Hopefully. But online, what I look like doesn’t matter. What I say does, and now they have the option to not only hear my words, but to remember them. In person, I have the freedom to flub my statements. Online, I better get it right, and I better get it right the first time because they can go back and check, check, and check again, and they can fault me if they see the mistakes or inconsistencies in thought, or whatever. As a writer, it’s embarrassing if I mess that up, especially if what I say is in of itself embarrassing (or simply unimportant). Online, I have plenty of places and opportunities in which that embarrassing thing can surface.

So, social media suddenly becomes a scary thing because that Facebook post about what I had for dinner isn’t just a Facebook post anymore. It’s an admission of guilt (even though I might see it as an attempt to engage an audience). Sure, I had a salad tonight. But I also had baked fish and mashed potatoes. And a sweet roll! To anyone who thinks I should be on a diet, I may have just incriminated myself. Sweet rolls have melted sugar on top, and that’s not healthy! How dare you promote bad health? And what of Twitter and its hashtags (also not healthy)? Is it possible for anyone to use Twitter without stirring up a string of controversies? Even with 27 followers and most of them being marketing robots, the risks of shooting myself in the foot are present if not inevitable. If I confess I had a sweet roll to a live crowd, they can at least watch me wink in jest as I deliver the truth. “Yeah, I had a sweet roll last night, and how sweet it was,” I say, as I pat my belly and gesture at how much of it is now sugar. (Note: What I eat for dinner isn’t actually anyone’s business.) Online, they may not even read that far.

As a writer, I’m told I need to master social media if I want to get followers. Okay. It’s also suggested that I post regularly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace, Hotmail, AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, Reddit, AltaVista, Match.com, Yahoo, Wazoo, Kazoo, and other things I’m probably just making up now, oh, and my blog!, and it’s too much to keep up with, yet posting builds an audience of readers, and I want to be read, right??? And everything I say must be timely, yet accurate, and interesting, yet short, and if I mess it up, I’ll lose the people, but don’t worry about that because even with ten different ways to shoot myself in the head, I only have to do it once to lose them, so don’t worry about it and just enjoy the process, as even players of Russian Roulette can be successful at times!

I’m tired, and that’s just from writing the names of these platforms.

As I read about new platforms I can use to expand my readership, something I’m desperate for, as getting readers is the hardest part of the writing process, and I’d probably have an easier time running for public office based on the experience I’ve had doing this (getting a date is still tougher for some reason, though I have no idea why, as I’m smart, handsome, idea-driven, rich—no, the opposite of that, sorry—funny…okay, this post isn’t about that), I suddenly feel intimidated all over again because here’s one more service I should sign up for to give my readers even more options for staying connected with me, even though they have enough information overload from everybody else who wants their attention, and the only way any of this matters is if they really, really want to hear from me. If the students I speak to are of any barometer, I’d think even those who need to hear from me probably don’t want to hear from me. They’re probably too busy thinking about their Facebook posts, and Instagram photos, and whether anyone will like them to worry about liking me.

So, what can I say to convince them to listen? I suppose the keyword is “free money.” But, I don’t know. Social media already seems to fit that bill. If everything is free, then nothing is valuable. Including time. I value my time. And, I value my words.

To be clear, I don’t actually mind social media. I see it as a great way to find out where people I used to hang out with ten years ago are vacationing. I’m not there with them, but I can feel like I’m there with them. It’s almost as good, right? At some point, though, I want new things to talk about, and I can’t vacation every weekend or devote hours of every day sending out social media alerts to the few people who might see it to feel some kind of connection to them. At some point, it’s time to meet face to face again. Real relationships are frightening, too, but they’re real, and they feel real. That adds to their value.

The fact is, I read all the time about how important value is to people, and it’s almost scary how much that’s true. I’m not sure how valuable social media really is. My words are permanent, but are they being read? Here’s a picture of a moose you can look at while you contemplate the answer to that question.

bull-386742_1280.jpg

If you’ve read this far and want to keep reading this far, please remember to hit the “follow” button down there at the bottom of this page. And, don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d be so kind. It’ll stay online forever!

Cover image: Pixabay

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Have You Forgotten About Your Control of Information?

In two days, the European Union will be updating its privacy laws for marketers, content providers, e-commerce sites, etc. to its new GDPR standards (short for General Data Protection Regulation), and said marketers, content providers, etc. need to be up-to-date with the standards. On a quick mental scan, I don’t think I fall into any of these categories in a way that would violate the EU’s new terms, but just to be sure, I want to remind all of my subscribers that you can choose to receive updates via the “follow” button at the bottom of this page (so that it says “Following Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm”), just as you can stop receiving updates by clicking it again (so that “following” turns to “follow”). You control your information influx, and the dial for that control is at the bottom of this page.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t share your information, nor would I know how to, and that little green lock to the left of the URL is the proof that this site is secure, even if your information does somehow find its way here, which I’m pretty sure it doesn’t–not in any way that I’ve discovered.

That said, I hope you’ll continue to follow this blog, as I occasionally have awesome things to share, when I have anything to share, and I’d hate for you to miss out on important announcements, like the fact that the European Union is updating its privacy laws and heavy fines apply to any business (in Europe or abroad) that does not comply by its rules.

So, yay for information!

Just a reminder, you can follow Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm by clicking on the blue button at the bottom of this page (or unfollow if you’re already following and you decide you no longer want cool blogs like this one). Likewise, you can continue to follow this blog by doing nothing if you’re already following it.

Oh, while we’re at it, are there things I could be writing about that I’m not writing enough about that you’d like for me to write more about? For example, would you like to see more chapter excerpts from novels I’m writing? I haven’t done those in a while. I’m curious what you actually want to read about because the comments on this blog are notoriously silent and I don’t actually know what people are interested in when they find their way here. The more I know…

Anyway, I like your readership, and I welcome your feedback, so feel free to hang out here with your 1pm cafe latte if you’d like.

Image: Pixabay

Newton vs. the Machine

“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” –Isaac Newton

Deus Ex Machina: “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

At Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, I discuss a range of topics that are interesting to me, but I spend most of my energy writing about writing, or stories, or the tools that make either one easier on me. Today, I want to discuss a matter that addresses a little of everything.

As a periodic novelist, meaning I binge write between periods of general inactivity thanks to the juggling of large projects that require extensive amounts of my time, thought process, and dedicated memory (the lattermost of which I’m usually on short supply these days), I care about telling good stories, and that means I care about understanding what it takes to make a story good—no, great!

One of my consistent challenges with every story I write is figuring out its inciting incident, the moment of opportunity that kicks off the drama, why it should play as the opening gong to a crazy tale of intrigue, revenge, or ridiculousness (for example), and what to do once that action is in motion.

The concept of inciting story through an event should be straightforward. If you think about the movie The Terminator, for example, you may say that the inciting event is the moment when the hero, Kyle Reese, transports to 1984 Los Angeles from a bleak 2029 future, where the robots have already taken over (which given Boston Dynamics’s running and jumping robots, and Google’s new AI hair appointment scheduler, and, well, robots that run for public office, we may still be on track for this bleak robot-ruled future—yay!), to locate and protect the mother of the future resistance, Sarah Connor.

What follows is a series of dramatic events that leads Kyle to Sarah, leads the Terminator to Sarah, leads the characters to all sorts of conflicts and romance (the romantic part involving Kyle and Sarah, not either one and the Terminator—that would be a different kind of story), all toward a blistering conclusion where Sarah must protect Kyle from the Terminator and ultimately defeat it. Did I mention she’s just a waitress when the movie begins? By the end, she’s serving robot destruction on a platter and then rides off into the stormy sunset with the future leader of the resistance in her belly. If you haven’t seen it, you should, even though I just spoiled the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Never mind. You’ve had nearly 35 years to catch up.

For a more recent example, I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones late last year, after everyone I know has basically told me the whole plot in one form or another (and I will probably read the books at some point), and I’m currently reaching the end of Season 2, the final episode being the one episode I’ve already seen, back when it was still new, and clearly didn’t understand because I hadn’t seen any of the ones before it, so I’m essentially already caught up through that season. Even though I wasn’t much of a fan in the beginning (and I’m still kind of above meh about it if I’m being honest), the dramatic turns it takes is beginning to grow on me, enough for me to start thinking about how all of the chaos in Westeros begins. Now, we know that the story actually begins in the ages prior to the start of what we see (or read), as any story would, but the really crazy stuff begins with the invitation Ned Stark receives from his best friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as his Hand, or more specifically, when Ned accepts the invitation.

Ah, there it is: the inciting incident. Even though a lot is happening in this first part of the story, the real drama throughout the series kicks off with Ned’s decision to move down to King’s Landing to serve as the king’s Hand (an important position if you’re not keeping score), a decision that, while noble, through many actions and reactions becomes the undoing of him and his family.

And, it’s these actions and reactions that keep the momentum of the story moving. Eddard Stark (Ned) makes a series of righteous decisions, but in the depraved world of Westeros, and specifically in the depraved House Lannister, the righteous are punished, and so, too, is Ned. By the end of the second season (and the book, I believe), House Stark is fractured so horribly that the kids are long separated from safety, and their home turf, Winterfell, is vulnerable to sieges, the latter of which would never happen under Ned Stark’s watch, had he refused the invitation. His righteous loyalty to his best friend, the king, is a noble choice that, through action and reaction, also proves a deadly one.

That’s interesting, right?

What makes the story more interesting is the fact that the family is scattered because Ned Stark is foolish enough to remain loyal to his best friend, Robert Baratheon, the king, even after Robert dies, leaving his son, Joffrey (the brattiest and most disturbed kid on television), king. By doing the right thing (which is the wrong thing in the Lannisters’ eyes), Ned is given the ultimate punishment, and his family, by proxy, is upended.

Now, Ned is the hero of the opening act (the whole first season of the show, and I believe the whole first book, called A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), and any author who wants to keep his hero ahead of the villains will construct the story in such a way that Ned gets out of his predicament with the new king, Joffrey, in some clever or fantastical way. But George R.R. Martin doesn’t do that. Rather than pull a genie out of a hat, the deus ex machina way, producing an earthquake or a meteor or something to disrupt the public execution that Ned finds himself faced with, giving him a chance to escape with his family to “safety”—in the world of Game of Thrones, there no such place as safety—Martin lets his protagonist die. Yep. Axe, chop, dead. Action and reaction. The hero finds himself in an unwinnable situation, thanks to the polar shifts of positive and negative in each scene, and succumbs to his failure in the climactic event. The story’s not over, of course, far from it, but Ned’s part in the story ends via the chain reaction he ignites by accepting his role as Hand of the King.

According to Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, a story works according to how well its scenes shift in polarity. In other words, a story moves according to whether the scene ends in a different place from where it begins: a positive becomes a negative or a double-positive; a negative becomes a positive or a double-negative (not to be confused with a double negative in grammar, which I can’t not recommend you use in writing). It also depends on the narrative arc of each scene—inciting incident, rising action, etc.—but I’ll save that discussion for another time. What matters here is that every action in story has an equal and opposite reaction.

Deus ex machina ignores that structure, and that’s why readers hate it. It breaks the story.

You may be a writer; or not. I think this discussion is important, however, because it helps to know why stories work, even if you have no interest in writing one. Sometimes we see a movie or read a book and we know we don’t enjoy it, even though we can’t figure out why. We often say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s lame,” or “I’d rather go fishing in a sewer pipe than watch that garbage again,” but we don’t know what about the story drives us to think that way.

Often we can figure it out based on how well people act and react to the narrative arcs they’re given. In The Terminator, when Sarah Connor sees the rifle in Kyle Reese’s hand as he enters the night club, she could immediately scream, kick him in the balls, and run out of there, right into the arms of the Terminator itself. Just as easily, Kyle could refuse to utter the film’s other famous line, “Come with me if you want to live,” giving Sarah no cause to trust him with her life. Sure, these things could happen (or fail to happen as the case may be), and Sarah may still somehow survive the night. But, chances are, to survive, she would need a little deus ex machina on her side, like the Terminator accidentally triggering a button that causes it to self-destruct, for example, and James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, is smarter than that. No, he writes his characters in such a way that they must do specific things in action and reaction to other specific things, in order to reach a point in the story where a specific thing can either lead the characters to victory or doom them to failure.

Fortunately, James Cameron decided to make his hero, Kyle Reese, a noble guy who does the right thing. Unfortunately, Kyle’s noble act also gets him killed.

A bit of a sidebar, but what is it with righteousness and death? That’s another discussion for another day, but certainly worth thinking about.

Anyway, next time you read or watch anything, see if each event naturally progresses from the last, and if it gets there through sensible action and reaction of its characters, or if an act of divine intervention moves it forward. For that matter, see if it happens in real life. If you ask your girlfriend to marry you, see what happens next.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

P.S. It seems all of the main places and characters in Game of Thrones are so well-known that my Microsoft Word spellchecker automatically accepts them as proper spellings. Hilarious.

Interesting Article about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists

First off, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are moms. Thanks for all you do and put up with. We’d be worse off without you.

Secondly, I just read an interesting article about how books are selected for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists and thought I’d share. Whether you’re an author or a reader, I think you’ll find the article interesting, especially if you’ve ever bought a book based on the list and thought, “Why are people buying this garbage?”

Obviously, some books deserve to be on these lists, and sometimes we find our new favorite authors as a result of reading them. So, there’s no lesson here. Just an interesting read for your Sunday afternoon.

Note: This article was written a couple of years ago, but I’m sure it’s still relevant today.

Article: “The Truth about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists” by Tim Grahl

Enjoy your afternoon. Hope you’re reading this with coffee in hand. It’s raining where I am right now, so you know I’ve got mine (actually, my cup is empty, but I’m about to go for my second round).

I hope to have new and interesting content for you in the coming days.

Scrivener Recovery

So, as I mentioned in my last post, “Book Review Blitz Coming,” I suffered a power outage on Sunday that resulted in me being locked out of the file I was working on (and had been since June). Here’s what happened and how I handled it.

First off, some context. Scrivener is a software tool designed to help writers write texts and stay organized because that’s what a writer does. Its main purpose is to allow writers to write scenes in any order, shuffle them, label them, group them, whatever, so that they don’t have to write in a linear fashion or get lost should they decide that’s a good idea. It’s also a tool that can store research files, including other documents, photos, videos, spreadsheets, web links, etc. so that the writer doesn’t have to scour his hard drive for every bit of info he needs to complete his project. For a program that costs just $40-$45 (depending on your operating system), it’s really handy, as long as you don’t try to store a HUGE amount of info.

So…I’ve been trying to store a huge amount of info, and I discovered on Sunday that that’s a bad use of Scrivener.

I’ve mentioned it here on this blog, and somewhat extensively in my article “Using Scrivener for Game Design,” that I’ve been working on a computer game since 2009 called Entrepreneur: The Beginning. I’ve been adding to it for about five years when I came to the realization that the scripting was just way too messy and inefficient to continue on the path I’ve been working on. I kept working on it for another couple of years, but that was precious time spent on a task that could’ve been completed in less than a day under a different set of rules.

If I can reduce two years’ worth of work into a single day, you can bet I’ll do it.

So, in the summer of 2017, I set out to rewrite the code for Entrepreneur: The Beginning in an effort to make it more efficient and easier to update in the future. I decided to use Scrivener to handle this task, as it’s the best software I have to view things side-by-side and keep real-time backups and comparisons without having to stumble my way through the project.

I didn’t count on the program having trouble handling such a massive load. For reference, your average novel is about 50,000 – 120,000 words, split into anywhere from 20 to 100 chapters. The script for Entrepreneur: The Beginning with all of its originals and rewrites comes out to more than, well, a lots of lots of words and hundreds and hundreds of folders. It looks like it’s safe to say I’ve pushed it beyond its limits sometime in the last month.

Just to be sure Scrivener itself wasn’t broken, I tried loading up a different file, and saw that the file I chose loaded just fine. Then I tried opening my Entrepreneur: The Beginning plotscript file to watch in horror as it not only failed to respond, but actually closed the one I’d just opened. I tried reopening the closed file, just to be sure I didn’t break anything in that process, and found that it opened just fine. I tried reopening the plotscript file again, just to watch it close out all of Scrivener again.

Things were looking pretty dark for my eight months of script rewrites, but I wasn’t about to give up. Not physically, anyway.

I looked up information about document recovery, which yielded differing results, but the one I found most helpful was the one at techtoolsforwriters.com, posted here.

I took the article’s advice. I searched for my folder dedicated to backup files. I found it. I found the most recent five backups in the zip files the article talks about. The most recent was for January 22. (For reference, that’s the one I’m using to scan my word count as I type this article, and I’m still waiting for it to calculate, and I’m beginning to worry it’ll never give me an exact answer, even if it doesn’t include the last three weeks’ worth of work. Again, Scrivener is great, until you break it.)

I was grateful to discover that I hadn’t lost seven months of work, but it was beginning to look like I had lost almost one month’s worth of work. That’s especially troubling when you consider that some of the scripts I’ve revised since January 22 are headaches in digital form that I felt pretty happy to conquer, and would never want to revisit. Yet, it was looking like I might have to.

Thankfully, Scrivener also has a “doc” folder for every project that stores every piece of content in a numbered RTF file, and that folder stays up-to-date. A quick scan of that folder via arranging my search by date revealed that my most recent uncorrupted file was updated a few minutes before the power outage, which meant the only work I actually lost was the script I managed to update while I was busy frying an egg for breakfast.

In other words, I hadn’t really lost any progress, and the work I couldn’t recover from the backup can still be easily copied and pasted into a new backup project, which I’m calling “Entrepreneur Plotscripts V2,” along with a new port that includes only the modified files so that I can keep a project file that’s only half the size of the original.

Am I happy I don’t have to repeat the last eight months or even one month of my life? Well, I’d go back twenty years and make different choices if I could, but that’s another story for another day. Short answer is…well, I don’t think that’s a tough one to figure out, Sherlock.

So, that’s what happened on Sunday, and that’s how I avoided losing eight months of work in Scrivener, and that’s what I’ve learned about Scrivener’s limitations and its backdoor reliability.

Oh, and that word count calculation? Still trying compute. Maybe I’ll cancel the action. It’s not even that important.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

Cover: Pixabay

An Awesome Article about Talents and Skills

Okay, so I typically don’t reblog articles. I don’t know why. It’s a great way to share even greater information. But, today I’m reblogging “8 Qualities That Are More Important than Talent for Writing Success” by Anne R. Allen (via her blog) because I thought it was an awesome breakdown on how we conflate talent with skill and how we should probably stop doing that. If you’re an aspiring writer (or artist, musician, or ditch-digger), this article will show you how your entitlements and talents aren’t good enough and you really need to learn how to do the work. It’s also a good reminder to stop dreaming and start acting.

It reminds me that I need to work on my anthology of mullet poetry today and not play computer games instead. Yes, stop disbelieving me every time I talk about mullet poetry. It’s a thing, and I’m working on it (probably after I play some computer games because I’m a grown man and nobody tells me what to do–well, not this very second they don’t).

You can read the article here. Anne Allen, if you’re reading this, I really appreciate the insight.

Rush to Preorder: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 3

Missed a part? Play catchup here.

“Rush to Preorder”

In August 2015, I gave my novel, The Computer Nerd, a preorder date for October 20, 2015, the day before Back to the Future Day. Then I started to write it, or add to its existing short story form, rather. I thought this was a good idea. I was on such a hot streak that I thought two months was plenty of time to produce a great title. I thought wrong.

I had just finished and uploaded the revised version of The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, a novelette that I’d written as a simple short story years earlier (and am currently in the process of revising again to include more story and less fable, but more on that another time), and because I was trying to keep my release momentum up to one new title a month, it was time to get my next e-book title in motion. I was planning on revising and releasing the short story version of The Computer Nerd, which was only about 6000 words and ended with the protagonist taking a chance on his wife not murdering him in his sleep by going to bed with her, but I decided rather quickly that the story was just a first act and really needed more. So, by the second week of August, I ditched my progress on Teenage American Dream, which was supposed to be my next title at the time, and went to work crafting a novel out of that single-act short story. By September 9, 2015, I finished the first draft of the complete novel, and I was happy with it.

I’d set the preorder date for October 20th, because I thought that would give me plenty of time to revise it and get enough beta readers to tell me how to make it better, even though setting a preorder for October 20th meant I’d actually have to have the whole thing done and uploaded by October 10th. But I couldn’t get the beta readers I wanted even though I asked. I got one reader and two advisors for certain moments in the story to cover my every question. Hardly enough feedback to tell whether the story truly worked, or if it was even any good. Had I given myself, say, six months, I might’ve gotten more feedback, or even given myself enough time away from the story that I could read it with greater objectivity and see for myself what works and what doesn’t. Had I given myself that kind of time, or even a year, I’d have been able to learn enough about editing for genre that I could clearly see what was off about the story and worked to fix it before anyone in the public eye would ever see it.

But I didn’t do that. I obsess over most of my stories, which is evidenced by the fact that I keep going back to stories I’ve written more than ten years ago to see if I can improve them, but I didn’t give myself time to obsess over The Computer Nerd. In fact, as I write this two years later, I still don’t know if my ideas for improvement are actually good enough to make it worth public attention even now. All I know is that my plans for its revision are better than what I actually published in October 2015, as a preorder, in an attempt to publish something new every month.

In Part 1 of this unintended series (I thought I would tell this story in one part, not three), I mentioned my plan to rerelease this story with new content and a new title. This is why the planned update for a “finished” novel that people have bought on Amazon or downloaded for free at Smashwords during promotion seasons. I rushed the current version without giving myself enough time to really let it sit with me. I rarely rush through anything without giving myself adequate time to meditate on its details and fix whatever doesn’t work. But the conventions of indie publishing pushed me in ways I wasn’t ready for, and I broke my own personal conventions (and convictions) to see how the story would perform in the marketplace. The result of that performance was poor to say the least. I had no sales at Smashwords or its affiliates, short of a couple hundred free downloads during my I-no-longer-care phase, which aren’t sales, and may not even be reads, and only a couple on Amazon, the first of which yielded a one-star review. The print book never sold. As of this writing, I have the only print copy in existence, and I don’t get far into reading it without cringing. It’s not bad, but I know I can do better.

I intend to do better.

And I wish to do so by giving it a new identity, hence its retitle to Gone from the Happy Place. I want to make sure that readers get the story they deserve and not the one I felt obligated to rush out the door. I still have logistical questions to answer, like whether or not I want to change the opening, or even scrap the original first scene (my gut says yes), but I also have to consider conventional rules for its genre and figure out how best to incorporate those ingredients that the current version lacks, like, say, adding a new character who complicates everybody’s relationship to each other by simply being in the same room as they (because she’s trying to arrest two of the three characters while stealing the third away as a romantic interest even though he’s married to one of the two she’s trying to arrest, and you get the idea…spoiler alert).

The end result of this tale is that each of my stories are now under scrutiny, and some, like Gutter Child, as much as I like their current versions, still need more to become competitive in the marketplace. I can’t save every story or turn them all into blockbusters. But I can still do my best to give each one a proper foot forward, and that’s why I no longer wish to rush anything I write, even those stories I need to rewrite. Gone from the Happy Place is “finished” already; at the same time, I haven’t actually begun the version that will earn its new name, and I won’t start it until I’m satisfied with my rewrites for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, Shell Out, and whatever else needs my attention. And even when I do finish it, I won’t release it until I can get proper marketing in its fuel tank. I want to have a better launch for its next version.

So, if you’re wondering why my publishing pace has suddenly slowed to a crawl, or why I’ve produced nothing commercially since May 2016, that’s why. I believe in quality over speed. I ignored it in 2015. I won’t do that again. It’s the same reason I don’t blog all of the time. I’d rather spend my writing on novels than on lectures.

But thanks for reading this all the same! Please come back. Next time I’ll write about…er…stuff, I guess. You won’t want to miss it!

Note: You can find links to most of the books mentioned in this series as thumbnail images to the right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you can find the links at the top. Alternatively, you can wait until I release the revisions and just subscribe to this blog for updates instead.

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Cover image by Pixabay

The Experts Aren’t Always Right: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 2

Missed Part One? Play catchup here.

“The Experts Aren’t Always Right”

As an independent author, when it comes to writing and selling books, I have to take matters into my own hands. As much as I would love to have someone else handle my marketing, cover design, copywriting, actual writing, etc., I don’t have that luxury. If I want people to read my stories, I have to get the word out on my own, or convince others to help me by convincing them that what I have to share is worth reading. And to convince them to read my work, I have to market to them, which means, ultimately, the cycle is unavoidable, and I’m responsible for getting the word out regardless, help or not. If it’s near impossible to get any reader interested in reading my work, then it’s even more nearly impossible to get them to market for me. If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done, and the book will undoubtedly flop.

But even if I do get readers, and even if I can convince a few of them to help me get even more readers, it doesn’t mean my career is set and ready to launch. I also have to figure out how to get and retain fans, which is even more nearly impossible than the even more nearly impossible task of getting a support system to help me find those fans.

But nearly impossible isn’t the same as impossible. Fortunately, impossible is a dead adjective in independent publishing. Okay, more like an animated corpse that seems lifelike. But it’s still dead.

Through traditional publishing, authors have a chance to get their books displayed on a shelf at a bookstore, and by proxy, open an avenue for exposure that indie authors often don’t have. This doesn’t necessarily improve the author’s chances at discovery, as any book that’s displayed with the spine out is no more likely to get discovered than a specific crack in a sidewalk in the heart of a beautiful park would get discovered. But even shy people can discover that crack in a sidewalk if the alternative is to make eye contact with other people, so at least it’s an extra opportunity.

For an independent author, that chance for discovery is almost entirely limited to marketing, whether via e-mail, or word-of-mouth, or blast system like Bookbub or Instafreebie, which tends to succeed only when the author already has a following or fat marketing account and strong copywriting and cover design, and getting a sale through that market or discovery is dependent on whether or not the moon passes by the sun at the precise time a chicken crows while a dog pees on its head, which is, to say, not easy.

And that’s just for one book. What happens when the independent author writes another one? How many times does the moon eclipse the sun? (At the time of this writing, the total eclipse is scheduled to begin in Oregon and proceed through the heart of the United States and into South Carolina in a few hours, so, timely! But by the time this goes live, it’ll be long gone, so ha ha, you gotta wait another 18 months for the next one! But I digress.)

Because it can be difficult to build an audience, and even more difficult to retain one, independent authors are often encouraged to write books quickly (one every month or two) to earn enough income to write full-time. And this is assuming they have at least 3000 e-mail list subscribers who are ready and willing to buy every book the independent author writes, or tens of thousands of subscribers that can balance the odds enough to glean about 3000 loyal readers from the list. With the average $2.99 e-book earning its author 70% of its sales, 3000 loyal readers can earn him over $6000 a book. And that’s great…if he can pop out a new book every couple of months on average.

Traditional authors can’t do that because the industry takes about 18 months to contract and release a book via publisher (the length of time you’ll have to wait for the next total eclipse to happen after today, August 21, 2017, aka the day I’m writing this post, not necessarily the day I’m posting it). But independent authors can release books as quickly as they can write them, which is awesome for anyone who writes quickly and cleanly and doesn’t mind ignoring his loved ones most days.

The key idea here being how quickly one can write, edit, market, and release a full-length book of about 200 or more pages (50,000 words or more) and still be good enough to keep the reader coming back for more. Is one-to-two months for each book really long enough?

I guess it could be. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in the summers he spent at Goldeneye, his home in the Caribbean (Jamaica, I believe), and spent the rest of the year working as a real spy, leaving his publishers to take care of the rest. That’s about two months per book for his part. I don’t know if he had to do anything more than just write the books. But even still, at that rate, he produced just one book a year. You could say he spent the other ten months researching.

I’d argue that producing a new book every one or two months is beneficial for keeping readers’ attention, but it may also be too much for those who feel oversaturated by reading books only from a particular author who, for some reason, is more prolific than even James Patterson or Stephen King. Ian Fleming had a dedicated readership, and even though it took him just two months to write each novel, it took about a year for his readers to get each one. In spite of the gap between stories, they came back anyway. They had other authors they could read in the meantime.

Indie authors don’t have to wait a year to get a book they’ve spent two months writing into their readers’ hands. But is that a good thing? I have authors I’m subscribed to that I still haven’t read because I simply can’t keep up with their pacing. It seems like every time I think about starting one of their freebies, they’re pitching me a new book. I’m not ready for it yet! Of course, it’s not their fault I’m not ready for it yet. I’ve just got so much else to read. Maybe a year between releases isn’t so bad. But, for the indie author, a year between releases is the same as starving. Seems like neither party really wins here.

I don’t know how involved Ian Fleming got with his books after he submitted them to the publisher, and it may be that two months dedicated to his author career was plenty, but independent authors don’t have the luxury to stop at the writing process or spend two months a year on a single book. They have to maintain the editing process, as well, and that can cost time and money. If an editor charges between $1000 and $2000, for example, then that reduces the author’s $6000 in sales profit to just $4000. And that’s not including cover design costs ($300 on average), marketing services (conditional, but probably more than $100 and upwards to about $600), and any subscriptions to web hosting or e-mail list providers ($100 a month or more), and now the author is down to earning an ROI of about $3000 or less for his book, and that’s assuming he’s grossing $6000, and if it took him two months to produce that book from zero to hero, then he’s earning about $1500 a month as an author, which is about what I make tutoring college students how to write.

It’s not a lot when you crunch the numbers. And it takes a long frickin’ time to get enough subscribers and fans to produce those kinds of numbers in the first place.

Now, these are estimated costs based on research and not based on experience. In contrast, based on experience, each book earns about $3 a year. This is without a mailing list, or marketing system, or editing service, and so on. This is based simply on writing and uploading a book to Amazon or Smashwords and crossing my fingers (what all writers wish they could do successfully) and seeing what happens. This is based on zero reviews, or a three-star average thanks to a one-star review cancelling out a five-star review, and, while I’m at it, wishing upon a star.

And that three-star average is based on cranking out a book in two months without editing, marketing, or having any real beta reading support, save for a single reader who says the book is “pretty good,” which isn’t the same as saying the book is “freaking amazing.”

It’s also based on beating a preorder deadline on the advice of experts who say preorders increase first-day sales and that preorders should be given to all books. No, I’m gonna have to disagree here. Preorders are yet another marketing stage for increasing exposure on a title that needs marketing to get that exposure, but it’s only helpful if the author produces a book that readers would actually want to read, which usually requires something called quality, which is hard to achieve on two months’ worth of writing, marketing, etc. I’ll cover that in more detail tomorrow.

But everything about writing and publishing independently comes down to costs, both in money and time, and neither produces guarantees for success, even though more of each increases the odds.

Now, there are things in my life I wish I could reset like a videogame, most of them having to do with career choices or women, but I don’t regret giving independent publishing a chance. What I do regret is rushing through my titles in order to match the speed that some authors claim they need to produce their own success. It’s that regret that has led me to the decision to otherwise disown the current version of my novel, The Computer Nerd, and seek to revise and release the story under a new title, and to do so at the pace I need to make it worth buying and reading. This isn’t to say that it’s bad in its current form, mind you. But it is to say that it needs better.

More on that tomorrow.

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Cover image by Pixabay

Using Scrivener for Game Design

It’s been quite a while now, but once upon a time I wrote a post about a software tool for writers called Scrivener that revolutionizes the way authors create worlds. This post attempted both to inform how it works and to review it as a product, based on the lessons taught in the tutorial. I had planned on writing a follow-up post that covers the remaining sections of the tutorial, but I never tackled that post because I never finished the tutorial. I’ve since bought an online course at Udemy on how to learn to use Scrivener and haven’t looked back. I decided not to write the second half of the post because there are plenty of videos that do a better job showing what I can only write about, and my point was pretty much made in the first part anyway.

But, the moral of the story, in both my post and the many videos on the software that you can find on Udemy, YouTube, or anywhere that Scrivener exists, is that Scrivener is the best tool for writers since the typewriter, and it’s just a good idea to have it.

What none of these courses, posts, or the like will tell you, however, is that Scrivener is not just a decent world-building tool for writers, screenwriters, and bloggers. It can also be used for game designers.

What???

Yes. But to make that make sense, let me first remind you what Scrivener is:

Scrivener is a project-based design tool that keeps all of your documents, web links, video files, PDFs, etc. in one place. What does that mean? It means you can use the program to plan out your games extensively, from the journal itself, to character bios and files, to maps of your games, and so on. You can also tag your assets, keep notes on every file, view select files at once, maintain side-by-side comparisons of documents (perfect for scripting), and so on.

Here is a sample of what my game design journal for Entrepreneur: The Beginning looks like in Scrivener.

From my May 25, 2009 entry:

scrivener game design 1

Notice all of the many tabs in the left binder that have dates attached? Yep, those are journal entries. I can track my development progress, ideas, etc. by clicking on the tab for that day. Because I can tag items with labels and/or keywords, searching for specific terms is quick and easy. If I need to find out what my plans are for the trashcans west of the game’s town, I can search for the keyword “trash” and see what pops up.

Next, here’s an early version of the game map that I produced in another program. I’ve imported it as a PNG file, and here we are. If I need to get a quick reference on where a store is located, I don’t have to open the game file to find it. I can just look at the graphic I posted in Scrivener.

A visual map of Hybrid City to remind me where everything is located:

scrivener game design 2

And that’s not all. Games require a programming language specific to the engines they’re designed on, and Scrivener, while not a compiling source, and not recommended for actual coding, can still be used as a storage container for active codes or scripts, and even used as a before and after example if certain code needs revision.

Here is a sample of what my plotscript file looks like in Scrivener. This comes from HSPEAK, the scripting language for the OHRRPGCE, which is the engine I use to design Entrepreneur: The Beginning.

The script I use for starting the game:

scrivener game design 3

Because Scrivener does not work as a compiling source, you would need to copy your scripts to a text file and compile from there. Or, you could probably export your scripts into a single text file, or into a document that you can convert into a text file. It’s neither hard nor time-consuming. But again, it is perfect for keeping track of scripts and for taking notes on what each script is used for, and even where you might be using it in the game.

An example of the side-by-side view, using the search parameter “random text”:

scrivener game design 6

You can also keep a chart that tracks how you’re using your assets in case you want to make a drastic change to one of your systems.

Keeping track of game assets:

scrivener game design 4

But Scrivener is not just a place to update your design journal or list locations of assets. You can also write the story in the same file you keep graphic images, research, etc.

Here is a sample of a story script in Scrivener. The program comes with various templates to help you draft the perfect story in your preferred format. It also comes with character and setting sheet templates to help you flesh out your people and locales during the design phase.

Note: Those templates are usually located in the novel formats, but you can import and use them wherever you want.

A sample story script from the game’s introduction:

scrivener game design 5

If these screenshots don’t do enough to convince you that this program is awesome and a great tool for game designers, then check out this three-part video I recorded on the topic.

Video 1 (Design Journal): https://youtu.be/N9kcDbOBB_Y

Video 2 (Plotscripting): https://youtu.be/9DhhU0CZJCo

Video 3 (Screenwriting): https://youtu.be/YNnj6G5d8Ho

Full Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2ihfMnuinWPyDkNfgtqSotqWuonxKqWM

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding all of its possibilities. Scrivener is the ultimate organizational tool, and it can even import mind maps if you have supported software. It’s extremely versatile, and after going through a minor learning curve, anyone can find a use for it in game design planning, or any type of design, and it can even replace the need for a Trello account if you’re clever enough.

It does come with a price tag, but it’s low compared to most writing software, and probably more useful than most of them.

So far, it’s saving me the burden of getting lost in my plotscript rewrites, and it’s reminding me of all of those unimplemented features I’ve forgotten about.

scrivener game design 7

Scrivener can be bought and downloaded at https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php.

You can also try it for free for 30 days. So, if you’re on the fence, you can explore that fence without fear of falling too hard on your crotch.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Cover image from Pixabay

Bonus: In Other Programming (Software) (The Marketing Author 001, Part 13)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Bonus: In Other Programming (Software)”

Welcome back to The Marketing Author 001. This week I’m giving you a bonus chapter, which will cover some important software decisions you’ll want to make as you begin you’re indie author hobby…er, career. You won’t need them all, but you should probably consider getting them all, or similar programs, if you want to maximize your potential.

Microsoft Word:

You probably have this item already. It’s the world’s premier word processor. You probably wrote all of your English essays on it. I’m using it to type this sentence. It’s Microsoft Word. You should just have it. It’s very powerful. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. If I do, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. This is your chance to flee! Really, why don’t you have Microsoft Word yet? Is it still 1990 where you live?

Microsoft Excel:

You probably have this program, too. (Most people have the core Microsoft products, Word, Excel, One Note, PowerPoint, etc. on their computers.) Let me just offer a shortcut here: All of Microsoft’s Office products are useful for one reason or another. One Note is good for keeping all of your thoughts in one place. PowerPoint is good if you want to build an online presentation to promote your product or build a course that will get people interested in what you have to say. But what about Excel? Why would a writer need to worry about Excel? Simple. You need Excel to keep track of your sales or downloads so you can see how well your titles perform (and what changes to metadata or cover images might do to improve those sales). Here’s what my sales looked like in November 2015.

Cool, huh? Okay, those are pretty much all free downloads. But the important thing is that I can see how each book does against the other. You want Excel as part of your author toolbox if you want to keep good records and track performance, especially since most of your hosting sites, like Smashwords, will only display stats over a certain length of time.

Scrivener:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - scrivener

You want Microsoft Office for your piecemeal work, but Scrivener is the Mercedes of the writing world, and for writers, it’s the thing most likely to replace Word as the writer’s best friend. It’s got a high learning curve, but through practice or via paid courses, you can discover just how great Scrivener is for any author and why you should have it on your computer, even if you’re a casual hobbyist writer who just wants to journal.

It’s a writing tool. It’s an organizational tool. It’s a digital notebook. It’s an idea farm. It’s a research hub. It’s basically all of Microsoft Office’s programs compiled into a single program, and each “file” is actually a “project file” that stores all relevant information into a story file via folders and special categories. It’s also about 10% of Microsoft Office’s price tag, and it provides a 30-day trial if you’re not sure.

But give it a few minutes and you’ll be sure. It’s gradually replacing Microsoft Office as the go-to for writers.

Note: The Mac version has features the Windows version doesn’t offer.

Editor:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - editor

Disclaimer: I have this program, but I haven’t used it in years. That said, the reason it’s on this list is because I still think it’s useful, especially if your power of language or ability to spot grammatical or repetition problems is weak. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting problems at the local level, which is why I don’t really use it anymore, but this program has once upon a time helped me spot a page one problem with punctuation that I must’ve overlooked twenty times, which is something I never would’ve done, even in thirty or forty revisions. I had become too accustomed to ignoring that particular problem. That reason alone keeps me loyally recommending it to anyone who needs an extra boost in spotting problems, even if I don’t use it much for myself.

It should be noted that Editor is a reporting tool, not a fixing tool. Its creator is an Ivy League English professor who wrote the program to assist writers in making wise style choices, not to override their writing, like what Word might try to do. It reminds writers that no program can know all connotations in grammar. It can only make an educated guess about your usage and that you, the writer, should still know grammar.

It’s also the only editing program I know that looks for clichés, repetition, and comes with a few dictionaries, like a rhyming dictionary if I recall correctly.

The only thing I don’t like is the interface. It’s pretty raw.

KDP Rocket:

Official Website

Part of the importance of marketing is knowing how to locate effective keywords that can increase exposure or interest in your book. This program, which I just bought recently, will go to a subscription model soon, so I’d get it ASAP if you want it, as it’s still sold for a one-time only fee of $97, but its job is to report the top performing books at Amazon in that particular category or keyword you choose so that you can make an informed decision about the keywords you apply to your book. For example, I learned that my keyword for The Computer Nerd, “marital thriller,” is pretty good, while my keyword for “computer nerd” kinda sucks for a psychological thriller (though it wouldn’t be so bad if I were writing a book about programming). The things we learn when we research.

Results for keyword “marital thriller”:

Results for keyword “computer nerd”:

You can alternatively find separate programs like KDSpy and Kindle Samurai to do similar functions for less money, but the nice thing about KDP Rocket is that it does everything these other programs do, but in one place, and it does it better in my opinion.

Adobe Digital Editions:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - adobe editions

This is not essential but still highly recommended, as this program will allow you to read .epubs right on your desktop. If you’re writing an e-book and you want to see how your story will translate, this program will help you see that translation. It’s kind of like tasting the batter before you commit to finalizing the cake. You want to know that you’re about to produce and distribute a quality product and Adobe Digital Editions can help you see what your readers will see.

Amazon Kindle (Desktop App):

Official Website

author marketing 001 - kindle

Ditto as above, but for .mobi files used on the Kindle platform.

WordPress:

If you want to blog, this is probably the best platform for it. You’re reading this post via WordPress. That’s how good it is. I don’t really want to talk about something you can clearly see for yourself. But having a blog is a great way to talk to people so that you don’t have to waste your life on Facebook. Plus, you’re more likely to reach your subscribers through WordPress than you are on your friends list, as Facebook requires you to pay lots and lots of money to promote your posts. That’s how they stay afloat.

And so on.

So that covers this week’s bonus chapter. If you have a program you like using, talk about it in the comments below.

Thanks for joining me on this beginner’s journey into independent authoring and marketing. Be sure to tell me how your marketing adventures pan out as it happens. I’m sure I’ll blog about mine soon enough.

I hope to launch a new series soon about books on writing, so stay tuned for that.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.