Category Archives: self-publishing

Considerations for Developing a Paperback Book (Including Creating and Revising an existing title)

As more writers eschew the mountainous path to publication via agents, editors, and traditional publishers, making wise decisions about self-publishing becomes not only more necessary than in times past, but vital if we want to compete with the million-dollar titans and their armies of production teams. And, yes, any one of us who has walked the level path around the mountain long enough has heard the cries for world-class quality by now. Fourteen years after the debut of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, the message about moving from rushed amateurism to edited professionalism has become loud and clear.

But, if we take the cries for quality seriously, then why would we consider converting the reflowable text from a KDP e-book into a crappily formatted paperback edition? Wouldn’t we want those cries for professionalism to extend to all formats, from content to presentation?

What it looks like when KDP offers to convert your e-book into a paperback.

If we care enough about our readers to give them a paperback or hardcover edition of our e-books, then we should also care enough to give them a quality copy of that paperback or hardcover edition. That means delivering the quality inside and out. And that means not skimping out on the tools that make such quality possible.

Now, for self-publishing writers who have no design or technical sensibilities, then outsourcing layouts and cover designs to a professional is the best bet. Common sense dictates this, even if the wallet screams for mercy.

But, what if the wallet is too thin? You want to get the book out to the public, but you’d also kinda like to eat a few nights this week. What then?

Well, there’s still hope. If you wrote your book on Microsoft Word or Scrivener (with Scrivener being the much cheaper yet more sensible writing tool for writers), then you could probably upload your document (MS Word) or converted document (Scrivener) directly to KDP, Draft2Digital, or whichever service you’re using to get your book out, and cross your fingers that it’s good enough. After all, maybe it is good enough. If you’ve spent any amount of time setting up sections in Microsoft Word, or establishing hyphenation rules as I’ve outlined in my 2016 article “The Art of Hyphenation,” then your .doc or .docx file may work well enough. It certainly would for a generic e-book, and there’s no reason for it not to work if your book is straightforward fiction with no special design considerations.

But what if your book is supposed to have fancy formatting? What if you want your chapter headings to have a cool shape embedded into the page behind them? Well, the good news is you can still do this. The bad news is that you can’t really do this in Microsoft Word. You’d need a special layout program for that. The worse news is that the most-used and best-known layout program for books (especially nonfiction) is Adobe InDesign, which if you know anything about InDesign, you’ll know that it’s from Adobe, the makers of needlessly expensive subscription software that has too few updates to justify the ridiculous pricing.

The better news is that Adobe isn’t the only company making software that self-published writers can use to better their products. The best news is that its strongest competitor does not require a subscription, and its buying price is very affordable.

Yes, I’m referring to Affinity Publisher, and if you’ve kept up with my blog or YouTube channel since April 2020, you’ll know I’m a fan of all things Affinity. In fact, I’ve used Affinity products (Designer, Photo, and Publisher) to redesign my paperback version of The Computer Nerd.

Now, maybe you’re happy with Microsoft Word and Microsoft Paint for your book design. I mean, if my book had this cover, it wouldn’t change a thing about the words inside.

An example of what not to do when designing a cover for your book.

And maybe that’s fine. But I don’t think anyone would buy a book that looked like that. And I don’t think they’d want a book that looked just as shoddy on the inside, either.

This means I have to consider what my readers want before constructing the paperback version, including what they may find aesthetically pleasing.

And this means upgrading my functional but basic Microsoft Word interior:

Into something more intentional, like what I can accomplish in Affinity Publisher:

Yes, after researching and practicing the self-publishing game for many years now, I’ve learned a few things about how to make a paperback worthy of seasoned readers. And now I’d like to pass them along.

Here are the considerations you might want to make before uploading your formatted document to KDP or some other distributor where readers might accidentally find you.

Interior:

(Microsoft Word)

Pros:

  • You probably already wrote your draft in MS Word, so preparing for readers is just a matter of uploading to KDP, Draft2Digital, or Smashwords, provided your document is formatted in a way that passes inspection.
  • Creating e-books in MS Word and uploading them to Amazon is really easy and intuitive. Even if you choose not to create a paperback edition, you can still create a functional e-book through minimal effort.
  • Converting text to PDF is also very easy. If you do base your paperback on your MS Word document, then you’ll want to first “Export to PDF,” as that will preserve your format.
  • Even though MS Word is not a formatting tool, it can still handle basic layouts appropriate for fiction, like headers or footers, section breaks to permit alternative headers and footers and page layouts, and page numbering within headers or footers.

Cons:

  • Microsoft Word is not technically a formatting program, which means it can’t do complex formats, including those common to nonfiction, textbooks, and magazines.
  • Fixing a typo in a formatted Word document can throw off the layout for the entire book.
  • Because pages shift around so easily, wrecking pagination and other position-dependent sections of text or images is a constant headache. Be careful not to breathe on your text too hard.
  • Hyphenation and other typographic solutions are wonky at best.
  • Special formatting like embedding shapes or images behind text, or creating special designs for aesthetic effect is impossible.

How to Use Effectively:

  • Remember that everything from your title page (front) to your promotions for other books (back) will be part of the same document. To prevent insanity from taking over your layout, remember to set up your book by sections and be mindful of how right (recto) pages differ from left (verso) pages, as well as how both differ from first pages. And remember that these three page layouts are your only considerations throughout the section. If you need a new layout, then you need a new section.
  • Convert to PDF when you’re finished.
  • Don’t upload your PDF until you know you’re finished with it. Changing anything translates into hours’ worth of revision work.
  • Check out my article on hyphenation on how to handle the nuanced elements of formatting for paperback books in MS Word.

(Affinity Publisher)

Pros:

  • Inexpensive but powerful software that you need to buy just once!
  • Integrates well with its two companion software for images and designs, Photo and Designer.
  • Allows for custom layouts via “Master Pages” that you can apply to any page, eliminating the need for sections.
  • Because it’s a layout program, it allows you to arrange your text and images however you want, including through layers. This makes it possible to create fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, and magazines—whatever you want!
  • Basic formatting techniques like custom pagination, drop caps, and hyphenation is both simple and intuitive to use.
  • Making a change to the text while allowing the document to adapt is fairly simple.
  • If Photo or Designer is installed, you can edit images on the fly using the Studio Link feature.
  • Some repetitive tasks like starting a new chapter on a recto page a third of the way down can be handled automatically (with instruction).
  • Exports to PDF.

Cons:

  • Still not quite as advanced as Adobe InDesign, especially when it comes to handling text outside of margins.
  • Just because it’s easier to format interiors in Publisher than it is in MS Word doesn’t mean it’s quicker. Revisions (if needed) go a lot faster, but the initial design can still take hours to accomplish.
  • No software is perfect. You’ll still need to review the entire document for extra pages added whenever you make changes that risk pushing the text down past the orphan line.
  • Creating and applying Master Pages can take some getting used to.
  • Not ideal for writing, just for formatting. Any additions or changes you make to the text should begin in your origin document.
  • Doesn’t allow for simultaneous bold/italics/underline enhancements to text, if you even need that kind of thing. Your font family of choice will need a version that simulates bold italics to get that effect.
  • Isn’t ideal for electronic formats. Only print.

How to Use Effectively:

  • Buy the dedicated workbook and keep it near your desk. When it comes time to design your book, refer to Chapter 5. Trust me, it’s all the advice and considerations you need. It’s what I used to remake the paperback edition of The Computer Nerd.

(Adobe InDesign)

Pros:

  • Can do most everything Affinity Publisher can do, except for using a Studio Link to swap in toolbars from its companion Photo or Designer apps (Photoshop and Illustrator respectively).
  • Can actually do more than what Affinity Publisher can do, like manage text and characters outside the margins (if I’m not mistaken).

Cons:

  • The COST!!!

How to Use Effectively:

  • For this, I defer to anyone who knows the program because I don’t. I know what it does, but I don’t know all that it can do because I don’t use it. I just know it’s powerful, if not complicated. But really, Affinity Publisher makes more sense if you’re interested in creating an excellent product for one low cost.

(Scrivener)

Pros:

  • It’s capable of creating a formatted text for publication.

Cons:

  • No one actually understands how to do this effectively.

Honestly, I love Scrivener as a writing and organization tool, but I have no interest in trying to turn it into a publication tool, even if Scrivener 3 tries to simplify it. Last time I investigated its formatting tools, my brain transformed into a pretzel. Wasn’t worth it to me. If I ever look into its formatting tools more seriously, I’ll revisit the topic. But honestly, a combination of MS Word and Affinity Publisher can accomplish everything I need to create a worthy paperback novel (or e-book).

Exterior:

(Microsoft Paint)

Pros:

  • You’re joking.
  • Okay, it’s probably already installed on your computer.

Cons:

  • It’s Microsoft Paint.

(PaintShop Pro)

Note: This is the program I’ve been using for years until I found Affinity Photo.

Pros:

  • It’s better than Microsoft Paint.
  • It’s lightweight enough to keep you from getting overwhelmed by features.
  • Can handle moderate editing through layers and brushes, including cropping, burning, dodging, and other essential modification tools.
  • Integrates well with subsidiary programs like Painter Essentials and GRFX.
  • Doesn’t require a lot of memory to run.
  • Has a user-friendly shop integration to plugins that are actually good.
  • One-time fee (per annual version).
  • Often appears in a Humble Bundle.

Cons:

  • Saves only in RGB format (making it horrible for print books).
  • Has limited features for special effects. To accomplish certain actions, you might need to use a plugin or another program entirely.
  • Doesn’t have access to LUTs, making color treating difficult.
  • Upgrades are annual and require a new payment to access (though these are still mostly affordable, especially if you wait for them to show up in a Humble Bundle).
  • Almost double the cost of the superior Affinity Photo (unless you wait for it in a Humble Bundle).

How to Use Effectively:

  • First of all, note that I do not recommend PaintShop Pro for designing paperbacks. You need the CYMK format to design print items effectively, and PSP cannot save or display in CYMK. For proof that it’s bad for print, look at the differences between my original paperback (PaintShop Pro 9) and my updated paperback (Affinity Photo) for The Computer Nerd.
  • That said, PaintShop Pro is still competent for electronic book cover or interior picture design (in RGB format), as long as you don’t need anything fancy.
  • Just remember to use layers and save in the native format before you export to JPG. This will come in handy if you need to make adjustments down the road.

(Affinity Photo and Designer)

Note: I’m including both software because you may need either a photo composition (Photo) or a vector composition (Designer) to create your covers.

Pros:

  • One-time fee of $50 (when there are no sales).
  • Single purchase includes all future updates and upgrades (at least until Affinity releases a true successor).
  • Can handle layers, blends, masks, inpainting tools (for smart erasing), LUTs, and all the things you need to make an effective cover or composite (in both print and electronic forms).
  • Can save in CYMK, TIF, and other nonstandard formats (including PDF).
  • Integrates with Affinity Publisher for on-the-fly image editing.
  • Has useful workbooks and tutorials available.
  • Can integrate with useful app plugins like Luminar 4 and Painter ParticleShop.
  • Has a built-in plugin store for easily adding new brushes.
  • Has one of the best designer communities on the Internet (and YouTube).
  • Can mimic many of Photoshop’s special tricks, like using smart objects for mockup designs.
  • Directly incorporates stock photos from Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash (though you still need to check their licensing before using them in commercial works).

Cons:

  • Still not quite as advanced as Photoshop.
  • Image filter designers rely heavily on Photoshop for designing their special tools, keeping Affinity Photo as an afterthought (though they still might work).
  • Even though it handles smart objects well, Affinity Photo still cannot replicate Photoshop’s “actions,” which renders many design tools useless.
  • It cannot yet handle objects designed for Lightroom.

How to Use Effectively:

  • Really, just do what I do: experiment, watch tutorials, study the workbook, and experiment some more.
  • LUTs, blends, and gradient tools are your friends.
  • Invest in stock photos, especially Depositphotos during Appsumo deals (in May and on Black Friday), to get the most of your image potential.
  • For more generic photos, including image filters, make use of the integration with Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash. Just remember to convert them to Raster.
  • If you’re designing a paperback, design for the front and back cover, not just the front.
  • Always start your composition in CYMK format if you expect to print it. Likewise, make sure to use “transparent background color” if you plan to use PNG images to prevent unwanted backgrounds.

(Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom)

Note: I don’t use these programs, so my perspective is based on videos and research.

Pros:

  • These are the top tools of the industry.
  • If it can be done, then these are the programs that can do it.
  • Every plugin and theme designer builds for them.
  • Finding instructions on how to use them for your specific use case is easy.

Cons:

  • Requires an expensive monthly subscription to use.
  • Doesn’t get updated nearly often enough to justify the price.
  • Adobe.

How to Use Effectively:

  • See my note above. That said, any sophisticated photo or vector manipulation tool needs layers and masks to work well, so you should learn how to use those features.

Other Options and Conclusion:

Hopefully this article and these checklists will help you make a decision on how to approach your print books, or even your e-books if you wish to keep things simple. If you want to see a longer form explanation of how these differences look, then check out my companion video on the topic, released earlier this morning.

But, if you want to bypass all the potential pitfalls that come with formatting for e-books and paperbacks, you could invest in a tool designed exclusively for formatting. The top performer in the market right now is Vellum, which boasts “beautiful books,” although I’m not sure what its record for paperbacks is at the moment. I just know it’s well-revered as an e-book creation tool. If you check out any presentation on Vellum, you’ll soon agree that the books it produces are top of the line in design. But is that you’re only option? And is it even your best option?

Other tools for exporting books include Calibre (my preference), Kindle Create, and the Reedsy Book Editing Tool.

Or, if you’re willing to wait a little longer, you might be interested in a new challenger entering the ring soon that will likely upset the competition.

Meet Atticus. Get on the waiting list. Learn more at Kindlepreneur.

But if you can’t wait for Atticus, just remember this:

Calibre is good for e-books only and works by converting your text to HTML (the native language of e-books), which you can then design as uniquely as you want, as long as you don’t have to make any drastic updates to your text after you’ve formatted it.

Kindle Create also designs e-books only, and provides just a handful of themes that may or may not be good for your book. It’s also limited in how it handles front and back matter. I think it also designs for Kindle only, which means you’re probably not going to get much out of it if you’re creating for other platforms. But on the positive side, it can create not only reflowable books like novels and memoirs, but it can also create textbooks and comics (early access feature, as of this writing).

The Reedsy Book Editing Tool is a bit friendlier when it comes to publication options (it creates both e-book and print editions), but it still struggles with front and back matter (or did the last time I tried using it). And like Kindle Create, its theme options are limited, if not too limited. That said, if you’re looking to go wide, this is your free tool of choice.

Note: Calibre, Kindle Create, and the Reedsy Book Editing Tool are all free to use, so it doesn’t hurt to give each one a try to see if they’re useful for you.

Lastly, Vellum is the big dog in the formatting space, and its purpose is to design not only the best looking interiors, but also the best organized books, which means boxsets are a specialty feature here. But it’s also expensive ($199 for e-books only or $249 for both e-book and print access), and it’s only available for Mac, which means many authors won’t get to use it even if they buy it (unless they want to spend even more money on a Mac emulator). Also, like all the other tools, it’s unfairly limited in its theme options. That’s actually authors’ number one complaint about it.

But if none of these options work for you, then consider why. Do you prefer to do things manually? If so, then I hope my checklist will inform your choices. But if you prefer using tools that do the formatting for you, but you just don’t like how limited the above options are, then get on the waiting list for Atticus. I can tell you right now that its theme options alone make it worth the wait. It’ll also be available for Windows, not just Mac. It will cost you some cash to own, but not nearly as much as Vellum. And, well, let’s just say there’s more to come.

Regardless of what you choose, though, I hope your publishing considerations go well. Even if you’ve designed an ugly book like I had back in 2015, you can still fix it. With the right tools.

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.

Book Ideas Generator: Getting Readers and Authors Talking to Each Other

Hey Readers: Do you have a book idea that you wish some author person would write but won’t because it’s “not marketable” or some-such?

Hey Authors: Do you wonder why nobody wants to read your “trending” vampire werewolf romance epic that you started writing in 2008 but couldn’t complete until now because you still had that boy magician YA series to finish (which you managed to write two and a half books for)?

Hey Readers and Authors: Is it possible that maybe you both actually want the same thing after all: a spy thriller about a supervillain poisoning the penguins and Antarctica’s one active spy being the only person able to stand in his way?

Hey Other Readers: Doesn’t that premise sound pretty cool?

Hey Editors: Did you even know that’s what readers want? Antarctic spy thrillers?*

If you all talked to each other more often, you might’ve figured that out by now.

Enter the Book Ideas Generator.

Readers and authors no longer have to be strangers passing in the night. Thanks to a simple ideas board that I’ve wanted to create for a long time and finally got the chance to do this week, readers can actually post the types of books and ideas they want to read, and authors who are looking for their next great idea can scour the board for that gem that just “speaks to them” and get to writing. Alternatively, they can just take whatever’s hot (once upon a time, Hobbits were all the rage; I think astronauts were, too).

Some of the awesome ideas you might find in your journey for the next great read (after somebody writes it, which could take a while).

The way it works is that a reader will visit the ideas page and either add a new idea, or upvote an existing idea. If he or she is feeling ambitious, he can do both. Assuming the idea is sound (and not scandalous), I’ll tag it for the “Open Topics” card, which can be viewed from the site roadmap, and anyone who wants to view topics from within the card for ideas can check it out.

On the ideas page, click “Add Idea” and add your idea.
See an idea you like? Upvote it. The more votes an idea gets, the more likely an author will want to choose it for his next book. You can also click on the idea to see if anyone’s representing it (in the comments tab).

Once it’s on the list, authors will see the idea and decide whether to choose it for their next books. Authors who want to write about that topic will then send me an email (listed in the first updates announcement and on my official author site), and then I’ll write their names and websites in the comments tab for that idea and move it to the “Ideas in Production” card. From there, it’ll be up to the readers interested in that idea to follow that author’s progress.

Where authors can find their next great idea, or readers can submit their next great idea, or anyone can vote on the next great idea, or…
Just click on the tabs inside the selected card to view the ideas in that category.

And that’s all there is to it. I also have conditions for “Hot Topics,” “Authors’ Favorites,” and “Resultant Books,” which can lead to even more interesting results. But in the end, readers can tell authors what they want to read, and authors can give the readers what they want. Everyone wins! Except penguins.

If this sounds like your ideal discovery tool, then please check it out and let your reader and writer friends know about it. It’ll eventually find its permanent home on my author website, but for now you can access it directly from its native Productstash page.

And be sure to tell me what you think.

Oh, and I’ll eventually make one of these for gamers / developers and audiences / filmmakers. Stay tuned.

If you want more information, I’ve posted a YouTube video demonstrating how to add an idea. Check it out below.

* Antarctic spy thrillers aren’t actually trending, or even in demand. It’s just an example. But if it were in demand…

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 16: Discussing “Author in Progress” by Writer Unboxed)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 16

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf, the Season One finale! In this episode, we cover a compilation of essays from the Writer Unboxed Community in a book called Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published.

In my companion video, which you should watch as soon as you get to the end of this article, I talk about its merits as a worthy addition to your writer’s bookshelf. Yes, I do that for all the books in this series, but I do it for this one, too, because it’s one of the few books that covers everything about the writing industry (or, at least for books) that you’d deem essential information, and does so from the voice of experts in their respective fields.

Then, when you’re done watching the video, make sure you come back here and subscribe for updates on when Season 2 will debut (and that’ll depend on demand, unfortunately, so make sure you like each video from this season to let me know you want more), then leave me a comment about which books you’d like to see me talk about for the next season, provided I have it on my bookshelf (or decide to put it on my bookshelf). Please note that I want to tailor my Season 2 focus on scene-setting and character development, with a touch of extras from other pots, as much as possible. If there’s a third and fourth season, I’ll likely steer those into publishing and marketing respectively.

And with that, thanks again for watching this season’s videos and hopefully you’ve gotten something out of it. Sorry again for the crappy video quality. One of these days, I hope to invest in a decent camera. But as a writer, I need to invest in my writing career over my YouTube interests first, so a better camera will come when the writing career shows more success than it has so far. You can help with that by supporting my work (as seen in the book cover images down the right-hand panel) and telling your friends and family about it (but only if you like what I write and you think they will, too).

Since this post will go live on December 25th (even though I’m writing it in mid-September), I hope you’re having a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to come. Give three cheers to 2020 coming to an end! Hopefully 2021 will be a bit more merciful.

Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published

From the Writer Unboxed Community

Edited by Therese Walsh

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 342 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1440346712

·  ISBN-13: 978-1440346712

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (November 1, 2016)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

In case you forgot to check the video:

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 15: Discussing “How Not to Write a Novel” by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 15

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. In today’s episode, I’m not going to waste your time with filler, fluff, or foolery (an alliterate abbreviation of the more commonly practiced tomfoolery). Instead, I’m going to link you right to today’s video, not because I’m lazy or have better things to do, but because I think this is the most important book on How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman that you can possibly have on your bookshelf, and if you don’t have this book on your bookshelf, then hopefully you have it on your desk or in your magazine rack. Just have it somewhere close to your computer because you’ll want to refer to it often, especially when you need a good laugh.

Yep, I said it. Good laugh. You’ve been warned. Now watch the video. And don’t forget to like, subscribe, and do all the things that YouTubers tell you to do.

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 272 pages

·  ISBN-13: 978-0061357954

·  ISBN-10: 0061357952

·  Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 3.2.2008 Edition (April 1, 2008)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

In case you forgot to check 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 Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 14: Discussing “The Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 14

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Piggybacking off of Robert McKee’s Story from a couple of weeks ago, this week we enter into a discussion about a reference book that credits Story as its primary source of information (in a roundabout way, I guess), Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know.

What is The Story Grid? It’s Shawn Coyne’s (a former New York editor) instruction manual to future editors on how to preserve the craft of editing in an age when editors know less and less of what they’re supposed to do to help authors write better books.

Find out more about it in my video, and learn why I think it’s the most valuable post-writing book you can put on your shelf, assuming you’re serious about writing good books (including nonfiction).

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know

Shawn Coyne

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 344 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1936891352

·  ISBN-13: 978-1936891351

·  Publisher: Black Irish Entertainment LLC (April 28, 2015)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

In case you forgot to check the video:

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.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 13: Discussing “Just Write” by James Scott Bell)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 13

Are you sick of writing? Do you ever wish your novels, essays, letters to Grandma would ever just write themselves? Do you often rise in the morning, look in the mirror, and ask yourself why you ever started this lame writer’s journey? If so, then maybe this week’s book, Just Write: Creating Unforgettable Fiction and a Rewarding Writing Life by James Scott Bell, is the right book for you.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, remind yourself why you write, why you love it, and why you’d rather be doing that than pulling weeds. Check out my video on today’s writing reference and why you should give it a look, even if you’ve already done so.

Remember kids, even when you hate doing it, just write. Similarly, like and subscribe to all of this stuff I’m posting. It tells me you want more, even if deep down I know you wish I’d used a better camera. I ain’t rich, okay? This is what I got. It’s either a nice camera or a stocked writer’s bookshelf. Can’t have both!

Unless you buy my books. Then I can have both.

Just Write: Creating Unforgettable Fiction and a Rewarding Writing Life

James Scott Bell

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 159963970X

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599639703

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (May 26, 2016)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

In case you forgot to check the video: