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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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”:
And here’s what “People Also Ask” about it:
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):
Now here’s the same query in MasterWriter’s word families, “primary” selection:
And finally, here it is under word families, “extended” selection:
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—
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.
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.
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).
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, 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.
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.*
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.
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!
As the title suggests, my new officialauthor website is under construction and coming soon.
But before I unleash it to the public later this month or in early January, I wanted to give readers of this blog an opportunity to join my newsletter for updates and special offers, including…
You guessed it…
Okay, let’s try that again, but without the all-caps:
Free electronic books by me.
Nah, let’s go with the first one:
Yep, much better.
So, joining my newsletter is simple. First you click on this link. Then you fill in your first name and email on the landing page. Then you check the GDPR consent box. Then you click the big button below it to subscribe. Then you check your email for your welcome message.
If you don’t see it, then check your junk mail. If you find my welcome email inside, then put me on your approved messages list. Tell those garbagebots to leave me out of their business!
Inside, you’ll get some information about me, which you’ll probably ignore, and links and coupon codes to the books I’m offering for free, which you’ll probably TL;DR directly to. From there, you’ll follow the instructions. Then you’ll get your books (The Computer Nerd and A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One: Cannonball City, if you must know)!
Early subscribers who join during the construction phase will also get The Computer Nerd: Rebooted Edition free once it’s released. This version will replace the original (what you get right now) as the beginning of a new series. This will not be offered to later subscribers (the ones who wait until after my new website opens), so it’s worth it to join now instead of waiting for the grand opening.
Remember, good things come to those who jump ahead in line!
But, whether you join now or later, all subscribers will get an exclusive novella that can’t be bought in electronic form (maybe paperback if it’s long enough), as soon as I finish writing it, so even if you miss the early bird special, you can still take part in the regular bird special.
Finally, if you’re a fan of this site, don’t worry. I’ll still be writing content for it. The difference between this site and my new author site is that the new site will be better looking and focus almost entirely on my author career. This site will focus less on my books and more on everything else. In other words, you should subscribe to or bookmark both sites.
So, with that, I hope you’ll join the fun train (that reference will make more since when you click on the newsletter).