Category Archives: Other Media

Music, games, photos, or anything that goes beyond my usual review focus can be found here.

Book Report vs. ScribeCount: Tracking and Comparing Book Sale Reports and Royalties in the Indie Publishing Market

An important part of building an author career is to track your marketing efforts against your sales and royalties. For some, this is a numbers utopia, full of such wondrous operators like plus signs and dollar symbols. For others, it’s the antithesis of using words to create a fake reality, creating instead the type of dread that only writers can fear: “Ah, numbers! Get them off of me!”

The good news for both camps is that using traditional spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel (superior) and Google Sheets (inferior) can save an author loads of headaches when the end-of-the-year financial reports are due to the accountants. As long as the author doesn’t mind spending the final week of the year cross-posting payment information and marketing bills from his bank to his spreadsheet, then this system works perfectly fine.

But the better news is that, for those who like simplicity and free time, there are apps available that you can access on the fly whenever you want a quick report on your daily, weekly, or monthly sales progress, as well as handy little CSV icons you can click to export that same information to a ready-made spreadsheet, perfect for that accountant you’d rather not talk to.

The decision on which apps to choose comes down to which platforms you want to track (like Amazon or Google Play), which information you want to collect, how frequently you plan to check, how much privacy you want as the app runs, and how much you’re willing to pay for the privilege of making your accountant’s life easier at the end of the year.

It also depends on whether you want just financial reports or if monitoring incoming reviews and ratings reports are important, too. Oh, and sweet graphics might also play a role. Both apps have that department covered pretty nicely.

Demonstration of Book Report and ScribeCount in action.

In the above video, I discuss the pros and cons of using one popular reporting app that’s been an indie author favorite for several years, Book Report, and one up-and-comer with HUGE potential for usefulness and longevity in the market, and one that I’ve become an instant fan of the moment I heard about it, ScribeCount.

If you have time, check them both out and see if they can change the trajectory of your author career for the better. Likewise, if you’re not an author but you want to know what it’s like to become one professionally, and you’re curious whether it’s a life you want, then this also applies to you.

And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add to the discussion.

Turn Your Fiction into Television, Sorta, Kinda, with Kindle Vella

Episodic fiction is hot right now. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wrapping up its six-episode run, thus completing yet another story arc for our beloved Marvel superheroes, and The Karate Kid getting its fifth series installment in the form of three seasons of television and counting (in Cobra Kai), and Stranger Things stirring up all sorts of speculation about the future of Hawkins, Indiana, it’s easy to see that telling stories in bite-sized chunks over a span of weeks, months, or even years is a great way to keep the fans fulfilled but hungry.

But has it always been the entertainment equivalent to potato chips dipped in powdered donuts?

For me, my addiction to television began as a child, watching primetime episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, The A-Team, Perfect Strangers, and Night Court (and plenty others), and continued well into my teen years, where I had the pleasure of watching Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Married with Children, and Seinfeld (and later, reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld). But then I got to college and whisked it all away.

Television stopped being fun to watch.

Sure, there were good shows on in the late 1990s, but most of them were on channels I couldn’t afford or pick up on my antenna. Everything else I loved watching had already wrapped. And with college becoming my focus, I didn’t really see much reason to give television my attention. Besides, the movies were much better. By that point, we’d gotten the summer of 1996 and the year to end all movie years, 1999 (look it up; it was a titanic year, even though Titanic was released a little more than a year earlier). What even was television by that point?

Okay, in fairness, ER was in its prime, and Alias was giving Jennifer Garner a named status. And shows like Friends and Frasier were going strong. But I wasn’t watching any of those. Each episode was just more of the same (and Alias was on the channel my antenna couldn’t pick up).

It wasn’t until 24 in late 2001 that something sparked my interest. But even then, I was busy with other matters. As much as I liked 24, I kept thinking I’d just catch it later (or on DVD, which ended up being the situation).

Then came March 2005 and the grand entrance of Steve Carell and The Office, and that was the end of my television fast. It just took two episodes to wrangle me back into a television habit that lasted for the next twelve years (and included weekly viewings of 24, beginning with the stellar Season 5, Parks and Recreation, and my new favorite, Community).

And though many of these shows maintained the old habit of introducing familiar characters to new situations without much memory of the previous episode, the seeds of serial fiction were embedded. The Office introduced “Jim and Pam” in a hopeless romantic subplot that spanned three seasons and didn’t truly reach its height until early Season 6. 24 boarded a rocket ship every season and rode it to the finale, keeping viewers invested in a single 24-part story arc, and residents of Los Angeles worried what was about to happen every time the clock hit 59 minutes on the hour (but only on bad days).

These shows each proved one thing: a good season of television is enough to keep viewers on the hook for another round, and to get a good season, television needs to come with great episodes. And unlike the chapters of a novel, these episodes can live independently of each other, but like a compelling novel, each episode must contain its own completed arc while serving the needs of the greater story.

It’s a puzzling juggling act. But it’s nevertheless important to keep the balls in the air. (Insert a Michael Scott catchphrase here.)

To get it right is a challenge and a reward.

And Amazon is rolling out a new service that gives authors an opportunity to get it right.

The “Welcome” screen for Kindle Vella.

If you haven’t heard of Kindle Vella yet, well now you have. It’s Amazon’s entrance into the browser-based episodic fiction market (like Wattpad), using their massive platform to create an experience that combines Wattpad with Medium. Its goal is to entertain readers with the gift of storytelling, one episode at a time (with episodes ranging from 600-5,000 words each), but to do so behind a paywall so that authors can earn cash for their sweet and precious words.

The catch?

Well, the requirements for entry are steep. In short, all stories posted to the platform must be original. That means never-before-published. And if there’s one thing Amazon is good at, it’s stalking the entire Internet and library database and your third grade teacher’s manila folder (that she left under the couch that one time she tried catching her cat on shots day) for your story. And THEY WILL FIND IT. So, keep it original.

They’re also available in the United States only, but that’s probably temporary.

For my part, I’ve started adapting my game Entrepreneur: The Beginning into an episodic novel, and will be posting new episodes every Friday, under the title The Hybrid City Entrepreneur. But because Vella won’t officially open to the public until sometime this summer, I’ve got time to frontload it with content. And that’s important because the first three episodes of every story will be free. It isn’t until Episode 4 of any story that readers will have to shell out their precious tokens (the currency of Vella) to unlock what’s next and find out what’s really eating Gilbert Grape.

Prepping my story for Kindle Vella.

Okay, yeah, I absolutely broke out the antiquated movie reference. And I don’t care. We’re not writing movies in Vella. We’re writing television, dangit! Well, except that we’re not even doing that. It’s the structure that counts here.

If you want to see how to get onto Vella, check out my video below. And if you want to find out more, I recommend Kindlepreneur’s and Reedsy’s articles on the topic.

If you decide to give it a try, make sure you let us know in the comments. (But don’t post samples. Again, Amazon is always watching. Always.)

In this video, I give Kindle Vella a try.

Hope it goes well.

My Author Website Devlog #1

I’ve been using this free WordPress.com blog as my online author site for years. As you can imagine, the conversion toward book sales hasn’t been great. But now I’m finally making a move to improve my online presence and build a better book shop. This video highlights my progress from Black Friday (when all I had was hosting and a newsletter) to mid-December (what I show in the video).

It’s definitely got room to grow and improve. Some of my ideas may not work. Other, more efficient ideas may come along during future development sessions. Time will tell. But this is the beginning. This is what it looks like behind the scenes at my new author site as of today.

Here are my resources if you like what I’m doing and want to do something similar:

WordPress (free)

Divi Theme Builder ($82/yr or $249/lifetime)

Note that Divi requires WordPress to work, and WordPress requires hosting to work. I’m using Hostinger as my hosting service. It’s cheap and mostly reliable.

Look around YouTube for Divi affiliates. Some of them can get you 20% off the market price. Or better yet, subscribe to Elegant Themes’s newsletter to get notices on upcoming sales.

Divi alone is good, but its extensions and layouts make it better. I will likely add Divi Plus, Divi Responsive Help, Divi MadMenu, and Divi Overlays to the first edition of my website. Eventually, I’d also like to add Divi Toolbox, Divi Mega Pro, Divi Essential, Divi Carousel Module, Divi Sumo (not on Elegant Themes site), and Divi Ribbon Module once everything is up and running and I can see better how it performs. With the exception of Divi Sumo, all of these extensions are on Elegant Themes’s Divi Marketplace, but many of them have cheaper alternatives on their developers’ websites.

So, that’s what I have so far. Tell me in the comments below if you have any website development advice or want to share your experience with these or other themes like Elementor.

I hope to open my new site in early 2021, but you can become one of the first to enter by signing up for my newsletter and looking for my announcement. (You also get free stuff for signing up, if you’re in to that kind of thing.)

Thanks for watching the video.

MasterWriter Review

Do you ever sit down to write and think, “I’m off to a bad start”? Well, I’m having one of those moments right now. But never fear, for MasterWriter is here!

Except that MasterWriter doesn’t exactly help me start.

Erm…

Okay, well, what does it do then?

It’s actually more brilliant than that, even though an app that helps you start a project is just as cool as anything that helps you improve a project. But helping you improve is precisely what MasterWriter does.

Think of it as stripping out all the grammar from Grammarly or ProWritingAid, leaving behind just the thesaurus. And think of it as stripping out everything from Scrivener but the name generator and manuscript page (and stripping out the actual name generation but keeping the name list). And if you reduce Google down to the search term “rhymes with Google,” then you begin to understand what MasterWriter is about.

It’s an all-purpose vocabulary tool that can turn your average writing into interesting writing. For example, if I write the line “I like pigeons” and think “like” is too simple of an idea, then I could use MasterWriter to find a better word. But because I could just as easily use a thesaurus, or Google, I might decide that using MasterWriter for this task at all might be overkill.

And it very well may be…

But is it though?

Well, here’s a simple Google search for “like”:

Google search for the word “like” (part 1).

And here’s what “People Also Ask” about it:

Google search for the word “like” (part 2).

You’ll see that Google gives me a few decent options. And I could probably use at least one of these options to replace my above example. But does it give me enough? More importantly, does it give me all options?

Here’s the same query in MasterWriter (under the synonyms tab):

Synonym for “like” in MasterWriter.

Now here’s the same query in MasterWriter’s word families, “primary” selection:

Word families (primary) selection for “like” in MasterWriter.

And finally, here it is under word families, “extended” selection:

Word families (extended) selection for “like” in MasterWriter.

So, as we can see, by looking up “like” in MasterWriter’s extended word family, I can change my boring sentence “I like pigeons” into the far more interesting “I drink in pigeons.”

And…okay, maybe that’s too much. How about:

“I flip for pigeons.”

Yeah, I like that better.

What about you?

So, that’s what MasterWriter is about. It’s not a traditional writing app (although it does give you the ability to write your selection inside the program), but it is an app perfect for perfectionists who have to get their words just right.

And it also includes sections for rhymes, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and other word types for poets and songwriters (and regular writers for those who like those speech types), as well as names of historical figures, places, famous cartoon characters, you name it, all with an integration to look them up on Wikipedia from directly within the app.

Which means it can still feed you ideas when you’re drawing up short of them.

So, the question becomes whether it’s worth the money because there is a cost. For monthly subscriptions, you’ll spend $9.99 a month. For annual, $99.99 a year. And for two years, $149.99. But if you sign up to their newsletter, or check back during major sales holidays like Black Friday, you’re likely to get a steep discount of up to 50% off (which is why I’m paying just $7.99 a month for my subscription). But is it worth even the $74.99 you’d pay for a biannual subscription during Black Friday?

This is where I’d issue the standard review response: “It depends.”

I’ve had my eye on MasterWriter for years. Because this is the year I’ve decided to up my game in every category from craft to marketing, I decided to add it to my list, even though I’m way over my budget. I’ve been writing for years, and I’m at a point where I want to elevate my resources.

And this is definitely an elevation.

But is it worth the subscription fee? Honestly, if not for the extended word families, I’d say no. Most of what MasterWriter offers, I can easily get in a Google search. For free.

But the extended word families feature changes the game. If you look at the screenshots, you’ll find examples that aren’t easy to come by anywhere else. Is it possible to find a list like the one in the screenshot somewhere other than in MasterWriter. Maybe. But the thing I know for certain is that MasterWriter has that list. So now I have that list.

If you’re a new writer, I’d say learn your craft first. And keep reading. You can improve your vocabulary just by reading books. But the point of MasterWriter is not just to improve your vocabulary but to also access the words or phrases on the tip of your tongue more quickly, and if you want to elevate your vocabulary and save time (because you can sound like a genius on the fly), then MasterWriter is definitely for you. If you can afford it. It’s not cheap. Not really.

And if you can’t afford it, don’t sweat it. Wait until you can. You don’t need it today. Someday, maybe. But today, not necessarily. I held off for three years, and now that I have it, I’m sure I could’ve held off for three more.

It does have a pretty sweet audio stream—

Manuscript and sound file view in MasterWriter.

Oh, never mind. It’s just a place to record your thoughts or import your sound files off your hard drive. If Audacity isn’t good enough…

I guess they can’t all be like Frost Writer.

Anyway, tell me what you think in the comments below. You can also check out my video demonstration on my YouTube page below.

My video review for MasterWriter.

Don’t forget to like and subscribe.

And if you want new updates regarding all of my platforms delivered to your mailbox (articles, videos, and books), then be sure to also subscribe to my newsletter.

And don’t forget that my official author site will be opening soon. Bookmark it today and check it out tomorrow (or as soon as it’s open) so you can be the first to see it. Thanks for reading and come back for the next one.

The Chill Writer: Using Frost Writer and Virtual Cottage

Do you find yourself getting overwhelmed by the bells and whistles that Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or other countless writing apps throw at your feet? Do you wish there was a writing app out there that could strip away the distractions and just put you in the mood for writing? Do you wish that such an app was available to you for free?

Well, there is.

Last week, thanks to an article by the Reedsy blog listing eleven apps and programs for writers, I discovered my new favorite writing mood app, Frost Writer. And now it can be your favorite, too.

What is it, exactly?

Well, it’s a website that can store your writing in the cloud. All you do is show up, pick your theme, select a music track if you want background ambience, then get to writing. There’s even an option to save your work as a text file to your Downloads page if you want to transfer your work to another app for formatting once you’re finished or want to start a new project in the same theme.

Image of Frost Writer 3.0's "Room" Theme, with a sample writing.
Screenshot of Frost Writer 3.0, using the “Room” theme.

It’s really as simple as that.

But what it can’t do is store your entire project in any meaningful way, or retain formatting of any kind, at least not as recently as version 3.0. Therefore, my advice is do your distraction-free scene or section writing in Frost, save to your drive (via text file) once you’re done with your current session, then open your note in MS Word or whatever formatting/editing tool you use for revision and storage, make your quick edits to retain your style and/or emphases (italics, bold, etc.) while you’re thinking about them, then go back to Frost, delete the session, and start over again with the next scene or idea.

Or, maybe just copy/paste your Frost writing to your MS Word document or whatever you use for formatting, since saving to a text file will also eliminate your paragraphs, which you probably won’t want to do. You could save to the text file as a backup or if you’re using Frost only to write your tweets before sending them.

It may not be the most efficient way to manage your work, but it’s a darn good way to make sure the work gets done. The music that comes packaged with Frost Writer will get you in the mood every time. Even if you write in your app of choice but leave Frost’s soundtrack on in the background, you can still get in the mood. However, the advantage of writing inside of Frost is you get to use its specialized thematic backgrounds to keep you in the mood. Are you writing a historical novel and need to write directly on the vellum page? Then Frost Writer’s “Vintage” theme is your choice. Or are you crafting your romantic scene and you’re about as romantic as a tree stump? Then select the “Love” theme and discover your attractive side with the pastel shades and romantic comedy score that makes you forget just how bad you are at romance.

I mean, if it works for me…

There’s even an RPG theme called “Room” that gives you a study room background and your choice of four individual or combined sound effects: coffeehouse background, grandfather clock, thunderstorm, and fireplace. Pick one, or pick them all. The choice is yours.

But Frost Writer isn’t the only free app available to those of you who want to write or study in the mood. There’s also a program called Virtual Cottage that you can find on the gaming sites Steam and Itch.io.*

Image of Virtual Cottage, showing how to set up the timer and intended session.
Screenshot of Virtual Cottage, at the project planning stage.

Virtual Cottage is not like Frost Writer. There’s no writing involved here. It’s strictly a background program that sets a timer and plays music while you study, read, do the laundry, or whatever you’re doing that you’d normally find boring or otherwise unappealing. Once the timer expires, it plays a sound effect, telling you it’s time to stop (provided you check the box, which I forgot to do for the screenshot).

The nice thing about Virtual Cottage is that you set the parameters and make yourself accountable to them. Do you want to read for 20 minutes? Then say so on the project page, adjust your timer, and hit “Start.” Don’t stop until the timer rings. Do you want to study during a rainstorm? Then select the atmosphere button and listen to the pitter-patter of raindrops as you hit the books. Do you want 90 minutes of uninterrupted chill music (or is it 15—I can’t remember now) while you organize your filing cabinet? Then click the music note and submerge yourself into that sweet coffeehouse vibe.

And you can do it all for free.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what you really want in a productivity app?

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used these apps and how they’ve helped you improve your productivity.

Oh, and if you want to see these in action, I’ve featured them in this week’s video review. Check it out.

As always, like and subscribe below. And if you want to stay up-to-date with all of my latest articles, videos, books, and so on, please join my new newsletter, available now. And don’t forget that my official author site will be live to the public soon.

Thanks for reading.

*To run games and apps on Steam, you need to first download and install the Steam App. Consult the header on its store page for more information on how to do that.

SendFox, Or Fun with Email Lists

A few years ago, when I started researching why my books weren’t selling, I encountered a common marketing message from every expert, guru, and wannabe (often three of the same thing, but I digress). “Get an email list!” they’d all say. They’d say it no matter what my business. Then I’d check the going rate for an email list, and I’d get tenser than a palm tree.

Sure, there are free tiers for some of them, you know, to get you started. Those free tiers usually have limited functions and low contact thresholds (most allow up to 1000 free contacts before the paid plans kick in, but some are even less). And when the paid tiers activate, the monthly costs begin to rise, and rise, and rise, bwahaha!

All the while you hope that your contacts are actually getting your email.

These were my concerns for years, and having hardly any budget available for experimenting with a mailing provider that might meet my needs before the losses are too great to continue (because ROI takes time), I just couldn’t take the risk.

Until now. Until I discovered SendFox.

SendFox is simple. It strips out many of the bells and whistles that makes email marketing confusing to newer users. This has its disadvantages, of course: Older mailing companies have turned email marketing into a science and a sport. But SendFox focuses on newsletters and content creation, or the art of getting and keeping readers. This means that its success depends on your success. So it keeps things simple. And it also boast a high delivery rate as a result.

It also considers your wallet and ROI way more than any other provider I’ve researched. Where all providers require monthly subscriptions to keep their services and your audiences, SendFox offers tiered lifetimes plans where one payment of X amount will earn you the lifetime right to email up to Y audience sizes (in the thousands, up to 25,000). If you’re like me and hate the idea of spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year to maintain a list of people who might not even get your message (like Facebook!), then give SendFox a look.

The good news is that by signing up using any link in this article during SendFox’s Black Friday sale, you can add an extra 200 contacts to my subscriber limit, and if you sign up and tell all your friends, you can get that 200 contact per referral bonus, too. And then they can get it, and then their friends can get it, and we can take over the world, and…

Okay, yes, this is beginning to sound like a scheme of some sort…

But the best kind of scheme!

Anyway, I’ll talk more about my email list and how to join it in another article. I don’t yet have any of my subscriber bonuses in place, nor am I sending out any content yet, so I’ll come back with newsletter news once it becomes more relevant.

But until then…

Once again, you can check out SendFox here to see if it meets your needs, and if you happen to join before the Black Friday countdown clock expires, you’ll automatically reward me with a 200-contact limit boost on my own contacts. And for that, I thank you. But even if you sign on later, it’s worth it. The monthly plans don’t kick in until you cross a high threshold. They also have something called Empire for $10 a month if you need extra flexibility, but that can be for any tier. Just and FYI.

Hope you’ll check it out. And leave a comment about how much you like SendFox (or not) below.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Planning a Story: Plottr Review

If you’re writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, then you probably should’ve started already. But if you’re still warming up to the idea, or if you just want to use November as a warm-up month and go for the main event in December (because why do you need a month to tell you what to do?), then you’ll probably want to start planning for it.

Unless you’re a discovery writer (or organic, or pantser, or whatever your label of choice—it’s all the same), which is perfectly fine, you may want a plotting tool to help you prepare.

That’s where Plottr comes in.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Book Series Page

Have you heard of Plottr yet? I’ve probably mentioned it on this blog already, but in case I haven’t, it works like this:

You “create a book” on a series page, give it a title, tagline, short synopsis, and series number (standalones get “1” as their number), and if you have cover art finished, you can attach it to a 3D mockup. Then you click on the book you want to work on and enter the construction zone (my term, not theirs).

Inside the construction zone, you can begin planning your book by creating a timeline, list of characters and places, and establishing keywords to mark important metadata.

Sounds simple and basic, right?

That’s kind of the point. It’s simple. But hardly basic.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Timeline

Once you enter the timeline, you can create plots and subplots, establish chapters and scenes within those chapters, character arcs, etc., but you can also color code everything, insert characters and places inside the scene cards (while also describing them), and tag to your heart’s content.

And best of all, you can import premade templates from some of your favorite story structure devices, including the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat!, and most recently, the Snowflake Method. In fact, you can also import your existing Snowflake Pro file directly into Plottr (as of October 23rd). So, if you’d rather use an established method over your own, you have plenty to choose from (at least a dozen different structure and beat types).

For creating characters, you can import a template or create (and save) your own. For places, you can do the same. For items…well, that part isn’t available yet, but Plottr is adding new features all the time, so I’d expect to see that available soon enough. You can actually see their active roadmap here, as well as post your own suggestions.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Places Designer

But since this is a review, I think it’s fair to list some of its problems:

It’s still a work-in-progress, so it’s missing some options that are sorely needed, including custom sorting inside of character and place menus, as well as the ability to update your existing template with new entries without having to create a new template (and forgetting which version number you’re saving to now). It doesn’t have features for tracking items, nor does it prepopulate with expected tags like “inciting incident” or “main character” or any of the elements that most writers would like to have available. And, well, it’s an outlining tool, not a writing tool, so you’ll still need another program to do the actual writing.

But it does have an interactive timeline with adjustable boxes, and that’s probably all you really need, especially if you’re coming from other story development software that maybe don’t have as good or intuitive of a timeline feature. It doesn’t track actual time, though, but I think it’s coming, maybe (check the roadmap to be sure). It also has an outline view that you can export to your preferred writing app, as long as it’s Microsoft Word or Scrivener, so you don’t have to worry about switching back and forth as you write.

And don’t forget to check out Plottr’s templates if you give it a try. The premade templates are there to increase its value and usefulness, and I highly recommend you look into them if you’re not sure how to start.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Outline Viewer and Export Tool

Finally, there is a 30-day trial available, and if you do commit to the purchase (and you should because it’s my favorite story developing app so far), it’s just $25 for the program and a year of free updates ($37 if you want Windows and Mac access). You’ll have to renew that fee after the first year to keep getting updates, but you’re not required to buy it a second time to keep using it. If you’re happy with its functionality by the end of your subscription period, you can keep using that version indefinitely.

So, there’s no reason not to give it a try, unless you’re really, really broke. And if that’s your situation, I hope it gets better soon.

Also, if you want a video demonstration of Plottr, you can check out its tutorials on Plottr’s website (recommended) or my review on my YouTube channel (also recommended).

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment below if this article has helped you, entertained you, or kept you from starting your honey-do list.

P.S. I may be uploading some of my own character and place attributes templates here soon.

Here’s the video again:

Planning a Story: Campfire Pro vs. Campfire Blaze

Remember the days when hunters would sit around a campfire inside a cave and tell each other ghost stories while waiting for the bears to leave camp? Yeah, me neither. But the good people at Campfire Technology haven’t forgotten. In fact, they’ve created not one, but two writing apps that can help recreate that lost storytelling moment, in a manner of speaking.

Okay, they’ve actually created one, Campfire Pro, then used it as a template to create the other, Campfire Blaze. But both apps, which are basically desktop and cloud versions of the same tool, can do a lot for your story planning. Probably more than most, actually.

And that’s why they’re worth a look.

Screenshot from the Characters tab in Campfire Pro

Screenshot from the Home tab in Campfire Blaze

But what can they do? How do they differ? Why are they worth it? I’ll highlight their key points below.

What They Do:

Both apps allow the user to create a vision board of attributes for:

  • Characters
  • Character Relationships
  • Character Arcs
  • Timelines
  • Worldbuilding Elements
  • Maps
  • Encyclopedia Entries
  • And More

What They Don’t Do:

  • Bring Order to Chaos*

*This is my snarky way of saying that the interface for both applications is quite messy and may require some handholding via their instruction manuals before diving in.

How They Differ:

Both apps do more or less the same things, but:

  • Campfire Pro is desktop only
  • Campfire Pro is legacy software, meaning it won’t receive new updates beyond bug fixes
  • Campfire Pro has a one-time charge of $50, plus $25 for the world-building pack should you want it (and you do)
  • Campfire Blaze adds a writing tool (so you can actually write your novel)
  • Campfire Blaze is module-based, meaning you only pay for what you’ll use
  • Campfire Blaze works in the cloud, so you can use it anywhere
  • Campfire Blaze has team and spectator modes for collabs
  • Campfire Blaze has a nice overview screen for progress reports
  • Campfire Blaze is subscription-based, with the option for a lifetime purchase (at the three-year price point)

I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but it’s worth taking a look at what each app has to offer. You can check them both out at Campfire Technology.

Screenshot of “Manage Attributes” under the Character Traits selection in Campfire Blaze

My Thoughts about Whether They’re Worth It:

I like what both apps bring to the table. Even though Campfire Pro is made strictly for story planning and world building, the amount of elements it allows you to customize or develop is practically unrivaled among all other writing apps, with its only worthy competitors being its successor, Campfire Blaze, and probably World Anvil, which I have not personally tried but hear is quite robust as a world builder.

Campfire Blaze takes everything that Campfire Pro can do and makes it better, especially the character and location builders. For example, Campfire Pro has four default categories for developing characters. You can add more, but it comes with four. Campfire Blaze comes with a complete flowchart of attributes, probably as many as a hundred, that you can select and populate, then answer inside of the resultant fields. It’s crazy in a good way. Most everything that Campfire Pro does competently, Campfire Blaze tries to improve on, especially in the user interface.

Except one.

Except with timelines.

Timelines in Campfire Pro are tricky to navigate.

Timelines in Campfire Blaze are ridiculous and the kinds of things the Codebreakers of WWII would’ve had trouble figuring out.

I don’t like it.

Not at all.

That’s my main gripe with either Campfire program, but especially with Campfire Blaze.

Screenshot of the Timeline tab in Campfire Pro
Screenshot of a timeline entry in Campfire Pro

Now, it should be mentioned that Campfire Pro is a legacy program, so it won’t get any new additions or updates. Campfire Blaze is essentially its successor, so any new features that Campfire Anything gets, it’ll go to Blaze. So, if you’re interested in either program, you’ll probably want Blaze, but you’ll also want to preview the instructions to make sure you understand how to use it. As far as user learning curves go, Campfire Pro and Blaze sit below Scrivener, but stand above most everything else on the market. Neither one is particularly easy to use, and unless your imagination is wild, I can’t imagine you jumping in without feeling a little overwhelmed by their available options. But if you want a program that really goes above and beyond the norm, I don’t think you’d do wrong with either Pro or Blaze. The choice comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.

Note: Campfire’s selling point above other apps is its world-building features. If you’re in the market for a story development tool but just want one, you should really take a look at its world-building tools before committing to a purchase of any writing app. It may be the game-changer you’re looking for.

Note 2: Because Campfire Blaze is coming out of beta as of this writing, it will still have a few missing or unfinished features (including the research and writing modules). The open beta will be ongoing until the end of October, so there’s still time to check it out for free. If you buy Campfire Pro before Blaze officially launches in November, you’ll also get three months of Blaze free and one module of your choice permanently free (I’d go with the character designer personally). If you already own Campfire Pro, then you’ll get a free module for however many years you’ve had it (so, one module for 2020, two for 2019, and three for 2018).

Note 3: Campfire sometimes has affiliate deals with ProWritingAid and other writer resources for deep discounts. You just have to be subscribed their newsletters to get the offer. You should sign up for any newsletter you can in the indie writer space so you don’t miss anything.

Note 4: I’ve also recorded a comparison video showing off both apps on my YouTube channel here.

Note 5: Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment your thoughts below.

Screenshot of the Relationship Web in Campfire Blaze

If you want to check out the video review:

Publishing with Google Play Books

This week, I’ve uploaded a five-part series about getting your e-book onto Google Play Books. I’ve used my e-book Shell Out as an example. I cover how to prepare an EPUB, a basic but pleasant PDF, and a fancy PDF that makes eyes happy, as well as cover how to get the book onto Google and what the results will look like once it’s online.

Here is the series and episode summary, along with resource links and action checklists. Enjoy.

Series Description:

Now that Google Play Books has reopened its service to all independent publishers, it’s a good idea to publish your books there and expand your audience reach. But how do you do that? This five-part series will walk you through the basic steps to get up and running.

Google Play Books Partner Center

Part 1: Using Calibre to Prepare Your Google Play Books E-Book

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Google Play Books requires at least one of two formats to get your e-book online and available for consumption: EPUB and PDF. It recommends you upload both. Part 1 of the “Publishing with Google Play Books Series” covers the basics for getting an EPUB ready for the service, using a free EPUB creation tool, Calibre.

Note: This episode covers the simplest method for getting an EPUB built on Calibre and ready for Google Play Books. You’ll need to learn CSS and HTML to develop a more specialized or attractive EPUB file, which this video will not cover. I’ve listed two great resources below to help you take these basics to the professional-level.

Resources:

Calibre Web Page

Calibre User Manual

The Book Designer Guest Writer, David Kudler

The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette

Checklist:

  1. Convert source document to DOCX format.
  2. Check and fix broken bookmarks.
  3. Delete drop caps unless you know how to format them properly for EPUB.
  4. Optional: Convert Small Caps to All Caps to ensure all e-readers show compatible formatting (but don’t do this for section headings—just words that characters “see”).
  5. Download Calibre (See Resources for Web link).
  6. Create blank EPUB file.
  7. Fill in title, author name, and whatever else you think is important.
  8. Select proper JPEG image for cover.
  9. Check document conversion attributes.
  10. Check EPUB file type (2 or 3).
  11. Verify table of contents.
  12. Validate external links.
  13. Open file in e-reader to check conversion state (“Click to Path”).
  14. Upload to Google Play Books if happy with results; fix HTML, CSS, or content errors if not.

Part 2: Quick but Effective PDF Formatting for Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Google Play Books requires at least one of two formats to get your e-book online and available for consumption: EPUB and PDF. It recommends you upload both. Part 2 of the “Publishing with Google Play Books Series” covers the basics of formatting a PDF for the service, using Microsoft Word.

Note: This episode covers the simplest effective method for getting a stylish PDF ready for Google Play Books. For a more complex but ultimately more rewarding result, come back for Part 4 when I talk about a program designed for better formatting.

Resources:

Drinking Café Latte at 1pm Article: “The Art of Hyphenation”

Checklist:

If Presentation Doesn’t Matter:

  1. Create or access source document in Microsoft Word.
  2. Export to PDF (from “File” tab).
  3. Upload to Google Play Books.

If Presentation Does Matter:

  1. Create or access source document in Microsoft Word.
  2. Change layout size and margins to paperback page style (5″ x 8″; 5.5″ x 8.5″; 6″ x 9″).
  3. Reposition headers, footers, and indents to half their normal distances.
  4. Insert blank page at start of book.
  5. Upload cover image to front page and resize and center to fit.
  6. Add cover image bookmark.
  7. Check all bookmarks and hyperlinks for accuracy.
  8. Check other special formatting like small caps and drop caps.
  9. Fix justification and hyphenation.
  10. Create section break between front matter and body text and anywhere that header or footer content should differ.
  11. Set page numbers in the body text section and use special rules for proper counting and display.
  12. Make sure cover and title pages don’t have page numbers showing.
  13. Export to PDF (from “File” tab).
  14. Upload to Google Play Books.

Part 3: Getting the Book onto Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Once your books are properly formatted, it’s time to upload them to Google Play Books. This video will show you how to prepare your book’s page and get it onto the service.

Resources:

Reedsy Blog Article: “How to Publish on Google Play Books in 2020”

Checklist:

  1. Register a partner account with Google Play Books (consult the Reedsy Blog article in the resources section on how to do this).
  2. Go to Book Catalog section to add a new book or access a book you want to edit.
  3. Once inside the book editing page, fill in the fields on all four tabs of the Book Info section.
  4. Use the same description as you have on the other publication sites to maintain consistency. Use bold text and italics to enhance its presentation. Use paragraph breaks to indicate new paragraphs.
  5. Remember to set the release dates: publication is for today; on sale is whenever buyers have access (good for preorders). Set the on sale date far enough in the future to give ARC readers time to read.
  6. Consult PDF version for accurate page count, or divide word count by 250 and round to nearest whole number if you’re not sure.
  7. Use as many genres as the book may occupy, especially since Google doesn’t allow for manual keywords.
  8. List all essential contributors. The author is the main contributor. Coauthors and illustrators are also essential. Editors are essential for curated materials.
  9. Fill in sample size and publisher information, if applicable.
  10. Go to Content section.
  11. Upload EPUB, PDF, and JPEG files.
  12. Go to PRICING section.
  13. Set desired price point. Set worldwide options.
  14. Return to Content section. Check conversion status. Fix errors if any appear.
  15. Provide ARC and beta reader Google emails in the content reviewer section, if any.
  16. Verify all results in the Summary section.

Part 4: Using Affinity Publisher to Create a Stunning PDF for Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Creating a simple PDF for Google Play Books is fine. But wouldn’t you rather give your readers something that actually looks nice? In this video, we use Affinity Publisher to create a more sophisticated PDF than the one we made in Part 2.

Note 1: Affinity products are cheaper, non-subscription based alternatives to Adobe products. Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher are equivalent to Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign respectively.

Note 2: All Affinity products are on sale for 50% off until June 20, 2020. Get all three (Photo, Designer, and Publisher) if you want to maximize your development. There is also a 90-day trial period in place until June 20 if you aren’t sure you want to just plop the money down straightaway.

Resources:

Affinity Publisher:

Affinity Revolution:

Checklist:

  1. Visit Affinity Web page (link in resources section).
  2. Try or buy Affinity Publisher ($50 normally; $25 until June 20, 2020)
  3. Optional: Try or buy Affinity’s other apps, Photo and Designer.
  4. Check out Affinity’s tutorials on YouTube.
  5. Learn the difference between Pages and Master Pages.
  6. Learn how to use the inspector panels.
  7. Remember to use layers for complex work.
  8. Remember to link content pages through connecting arrows.
  9. Export as PDF when finished with layout.

Part 5: Reviewing the Product Page for Your New Google Play Books E-Book

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Now that your new book is uploaded to Google Play Books and approved for sale, let’s check it out and see what the customer will see.

This episode also compares analytics between Google Play Books, Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital, so you get a bonus part-within-a-part for watching this episode. Congratulations.

Resources:

Books2Read:

Checklist:

  1. Go to Book Catalog section.
  2. Click on book cover.
  3. Go to Summary section.
  4. Click on “Google Play” or “Google Books” link to visit each respective book page.
  5. Explore each page.
  6. View or Buy book to add to library.
  7. Visit “My Books” tab to check the contents of your book (if purchased).
  8. Click on ellipses to access content within book.
  9. Select date range and parameters for analytics information.
  10. Open spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to view statistics.
  11. Upload a new book and restart the process.

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment with your e-book information if you’ve published on Google.

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