Saturday, October 29, 2011

3 reasons I hate NaNoWriMo

[caption id="attachment_1808" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="No, I'm not participating. Should you?"][/caption]

This time of year, thousands of authors are gearing up for a month of uber-productivity. They're canceling weekend plans. They're figuring out how to re-set their alarm clocks. They're shifting work deadlines so they never, ever have to work late. At least not for the next month. And they do these things for a single purpose: to write a novel in 30 days.

Yes, next month is NaNoWriMo. And I hate it.

Sorry, but it's the truth. The mere thought of this causes a Cheney-like sneer to dominate my features. My eyes being to auto-roll at the mention, and I start looking for sharp objects to end the pain. One way or another.

On the surface, NaNoWriMo is a great idea. You join a thousands-strong peer group and achieve the unthinkable; you write your own novel, and you do it in 30 days. No editing. You just write. You shock your brain into a routine that keeps your butt-in-seat, forces you to pound on the keys, and just keep going until you hit (at least) 50,000 words. Then... you win.

All of that? I love. And hate.

I hate NaNoWriMo for 3 basic reasons:

  1. Repeat offenders. NaNoWriMo, at its core, teaches you that yes, you can put the requisite work in to write 50,000+ words. Congrats. You've done it. You know you can. You have what it takes inside you. And you did it in only 30 days. Imagine what you could do with 365 days?

    But you forget that last part. You've somehow become conditioned that the only time you can write is in November, and the only way you can complete a novel is to do it all within a month.

    What are you, Pavlov's dog? You did it! Great. It's time to move on. It's time to incorporate writing into your daily routine. It's time to move from doing a novel activity and becoming a novelist. Did you think high school was so great that you wanted to repeat it again? Of course not. So stop it. Get serious with your writing.

  2. Premature epublication. The writing process is not over when your word counter ticks past the 50,000 mark. That's just the first draft. And since every author will tell you that their first published novel sucked compared to their other works, imagine how terrible your first draft ever really is!

    This is reality. Writing leads to re-writing. Lots of it. And then it leads to editing. Which feeds back into more re-writing, more editing... Rinse. Repeat.

    You are not done when you hit 50,000 words, or on November 30th. But I will bet money that around mid-December, every eBook publishing marketplace will see a new crop of "NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner!" books show up on their virtual shelves. I know for a fact I'll be bombarded with "winners" presenting me audio book-versions of their freshly "completed" books for Hold the fort! NaNo just ended days ago! How did you go through all the revisions, editing, production, design and the rest of the things necessary to create a digital book for publication in a matter of days? Oh... that's right. You didn't. Writing is just the beginning.

  3. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. I hesitate to use the word most because it assumes I have knowledge of over half the population, and I obviously don't. But I'm going to break my own rule and say this: Most people do not possess the skills to write a cogent novel. And I'll go so far to say that most people could not be taught the skills to write a cogent novel. And of those that do, most won't put in the time, energy and effort to get better at the skill of writing. Like a never-was cover band, they'll continue to pump out the same low-level work and never, ever improve.

If you've made it this far, you're either fist-pumping in the air with me or just looking for my contact info to tell me what a giant douchebag I am. Thanks to the former, and it's under contact for the latter.

Having said all of this, I remain committed to helping indie authors and publishers be even more awesome than they already are. But that presumes a certain amount of awesomeness to begin with. And yes, I can point to a myriad of awesome indie authors. These are the people who elicit a little squee from me when they publish a new book.

So see? I'm not a cold, heartless bastard who's trying to keep you from expressing your creativity. Far from it. I'd just like you to do it better. Much, much better. If you don't know if you have what it takes to write a novel, then I highly urge you to take part in NaNoWriMo this year. Or next. And then once you've learned that you can, it's time to learn the rest of what it means to be a writer today. Because you're just getting started!

Oh, and because someone will ask: No, I've never participated in NaNoWriMo. I'm not a novelist. And I have no desire to be one. My love/hate relationship is much more pragmatic than simple jealous anger.

Let the hate mail begin.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Authors Should Attend Podcamp AZ

At the digital publishing workshop Jeff and I gave last month, a sizable portion of the authors wanted more information about making their work into audio books. As I explained to them, very good and very inexpensive pro-sumer grade recording equipment is out there. And while you may not pull off a performance of Scott Brick's in-studio caliber, many authors do a damn fine job recording their own audio books at home.

A great way to learn how to record your own audio book will be to attend Podcamp AZ on November 12th & 13 in Tempe, AZ. No, the conference isn't specifically about recording audio books. But it is a great place to get your "how do I get started" questions answered by people who are there in the trenches, recording audio every day. You can also see and get hands-on experience with recording equipment you can buy at your local music shop or on I'm telling you, this isn't rocket surgery.

And it's free!

I'm currently slated to give the following talks at the following times. This is a preliminary schedule and is subject to change:

  • Saturday @ 9:15a - Lessons From A 7-Year Podcasting Veteran

  • Saturday @ 1:30p - Podcasting Panel Discussion

  • Sunday @ 11:15a - You're At Podcamp - Let's Make A Podcast!

I'll talk quite a bit about authors and podcasting in all of my talks, as it's largely the place I've been involved in podcasting since the start.

Outside of those talks, I'm completely available to chat, give ideas or push you in the right direction. Podcamp AZ is a blast, and I think any author serious about embracing digital publishing -- even if you aren't ready to record your own audio book -- should attend.

Here's a smattering of the other talks happening that authors and publishers would get the most from:

  • Branding, Not Bragging - It's presented by Carey Pena, local TV personality and awesome person!

  • Social Media for Historical Figures - I expect great non-standard ideas authors can adapt to their needs.

  • Building Your Brand Without Being A Social Media Douchebag - Presented by finalist for Nicest Guy In Phoenix James Archer.

  • How To Pay The Bills With Your Blog - Great insights for a new outlet for you (us) non-fiction authors!

  • How Anyone Can Shoot Great Video - Book trailers are all the rage. Izzy will show you how to do it with style!

  • A Writing Panel that includes the Grammar Girl herself, Mignon Fogerty!

And that's just the start. Talks on WordPress (because your website probably sucks), email marketing, using photos in your work and loads of other information you need as a digital author or publisher is all there for the taking. Come on!

So go register. Right now. It's free. And then drop me a line. I'd love to get together!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Digital Publishing for Authors Workshop was a hit!

On Saturday, Jeff Moriarty and I talked for 8 hours. No, you're not surprised. But this time, it wasn't just to see which one of us got tired first.

That day marked the first of many workshops, classes and educational experience for a brand new company we started, ePublish Unum. The intent? To educate independent authors about the world of digital publishing. And by all accounts -- half the post-class surveys are in -- it was a smashing success. If you were one of our attendees, much thanks for coming out. We really enjoyed presenting to you.

I'm not going to wax poetically on the event here. I'm going to let Ruth and Dan do that, as they both have great posts on what the class meant to them. And no, we didn't ask them to say nice things about us, either!

If you missed it, fear not. We have many more planned. Yes, more full-day workshops like this one. Even some multi-day conferences. And a slew of smaller, much more highly targeted opportunities as well. And that's just the in-person stuff! We're scheming on a virtual options for those of you who don't live in the greater Phoenix area. Stay tuned for more.

Finally, a huge THANK YOU goes out to my lovely wife, Sheila Dee, and Jeff's lovely wife, Dannie Moriarty. Not only are they tireless (oh, but I can only be they get tired) supporters of the two of us, but they also quite literally built the workbook we used during the class. And it got rave reviews! Thank you, ladies. We could not have done this with out you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Workshop Announcement: Platform Building Tools and Techniques for Authors in a Digital World

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="bleachers full of Lego folks by Scorpions and Centaurs"][/caption]

Tomorrow, I'm teaching another workshop about digital publishing. Specifically, I'll be guiding a small class through a sort of aptitude test, helping them find their strengths and showing them how they line up with various promotional efforts. Yes, that sounds very amorphous, but it's based on solid business acumen I learned from Barbara Weaver Smith. She's the founder of The Whale Hunters, an internationally respected sales training organization. No, I have no interest in making authors into salespeople. That's someone else's job. But her lessons on key account planning inspired my workshop on helping authors choose the right "platform" with which to reach their audience. I call it Platform Building Tools and Techniques for Authors in a Digital World.

It's generally accepted that authors today must have a "platform" to help them build, communicate to and connect with their audience. It is through this platform that audience members make their decisions to buy one or more books (or other products) from an author. This platform isn't a technological build -- it's the new name for an activated and motivated audience.

There are many ways authors can build a platform. Some do it by blogging. Some do it by podcasting. Others with an active social media presence, and many prefer to "press the flesh" in person. I've identified 24different ways in which authors can build a platform. And that's just getting started. Some work better than others, but don't rush to jump on the one that is the most successful. You're missing an important part of the equation: you.

Your ability to build and leverage the "platform" matters. Complexity for you personally must be a consideration, as is your own aptitude.  Without the skills and understanding necessary to implement, even the most successful technique will fall flat. So rather than expending resources on something that doesn't work for you, this workshop helps you pick something you can do that will work for you. Once you've taken care of that, then you can start acquiring the skills to take on the rest of the techniques.
That's what I'm teaching tomorrow at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe from 6:30p - 8:30p. I know this is rather short notice, but there's only limited room, and I don't want to overload them. When I taught this class two months ago it was full without me mentioning anything. Give them a call at 480-730-0205 and see if there are spots still available. I'd love to see you there!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Being an indie author means more than just writing

I know things have been rather quiet over here. That's largely been the aftermath of launching a new venture in digital publishing with Jeff Moriarty called ePublish Unum. It combines our knack for training, education & presenting with our fascination of the changes in digital publishing. No, we won't edit your soon-to-be-penned blockbuster, but we will teach you how to go about finding someone who will. It's still in the infant stages, but is shaping up nicely.
Writer Wordart by secretagent007 on Flickr
Writer Wordart by secretagent007 on Flickr

Today as I was doing my morning reading, I came across an article written by Bob Mayer as he attended Thrillerfest, a big-deal writers conference / writing workshop event in NYC no one bothered to invite me to. Bob is a NY Times Best-Selling multi-published author and has his own publishing venture called Who Dares Wins. In that post, he was waxing poetically on the subject of being an indie writer these days. I'll dissect a key paragraph in his post:
Those who are finding success with it are finding they can’t keep it up on their own.

Here, "those who" refers to authors and the first "it" is a stand-in for publishing without the support of a publisher, big or small. I think I'll chose to read this sentence as simply "Guess what? Being a successful indie author is harder than some thought it would be." Granted. Let's move on.
Even outsourcing a lot of the work on one-time fees doesn’t really work because writing and publishing is an ongoing and evolving thing to be a career author now and make a living at it. Sure you can pay someone to do cover art, editing, formatting and uploading, but that’s only the foundation of the business.

I had to re-read that a couple of times to unpack it.1 Again I'll give Bob the benefit of the doubt and assume he's saying "Sure, you can outsource some of the things that a publisher typically does, but there's more to publishing than finding a good editor and cover artist. To have a career, you have to keep up with the changes and adapt to the industry." Granted again.

But here's where it goes off the rails for me.
Doing promoting, marketing, trying new things, foreign rights, audio, etc. etc. while still doing the most essential thing which is producing more books is almost impossible for an individual to accomplish alone.

This is a typical example of old thinking from back when publishers actually did things like promoting, marketing and trying new things. I'm sure that Bob received support like this from his publisher during his career. That's the only logical reason he assumes publishers do this for every author. They don't. While publishers may spend some energy today on their tried-and-true authors, they generally expect new and unproven authors to do the lion's share of marketing and promoting. And new things? Please. There are few industries more risk-averse than publishing.

Authors in the world of digital publishing today must do all of those things, and they are all essential. The good news is that the tools to do all of those things (with the possible exception of foreign rights, which is quickly becoming a moot point) are becoming more and more accessible to indie authors every day. Publishers won't. Authors now can. And must. And are.
... Some of the authors who have indie success are now banding either with agents, publishers or other entities to take the heavy lifting on with those things so the writers can focus on the writing. That’s simply a reality.

Yes, many collectives are forming. And it's working well. Some publishers are even responding to pressure. But the days of old where an author can simply "focus on the writing" and leave everything else to someone else are long gone. For the new author, at least. Writers must understand all aspects of the publishing world. They don't get to sit in the corner and write, feeding pages to someone else to sprinkle with magic dust so other people feel compelled to trade them for money.

You, the indie author need to recognize the new reality. Don't want to do all this? Well.. tough shit. You have to. Deal.

1. Not a slight on Bob's writing, as this is a blog post written, as I said, at a conference. I tend to spend much of my down-time at cons in the hotel bar in "business meetings", which is why you don't see much from me when I'm on-site.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

Soon ebook pricing will cease to be relevant

There has been more than a little freaking out buzz regarding ebook pricing. Specifically, this freaking out buzz is bi-directional. One side features authors and/or publishers pissed at morons who have lowered the value of ebooks by pricing them as low as $.99. The other side features consumers pissed at moronic authors/publishers who price ebooks higher than their dead-tree versions.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Image by evo_terra via Flickr"]Five O'Clock Shadow 50[/caption]

So who's right, and who's wrong?


Welcome to the world where no one controls the price. No one. Not the author. Not the publisher. And not even the customer. That world is just around the corner, where a complex algorithm figures out the right price point for the book (e, audio, enhanced, print, holographic, etc.). And that price point will be different tomorrow. Hell, it might be different five minutes from now. It's demand-side pricing, and it's dynamic. And doable. And it's coming.

So keep buzzing freaking out if that is important to you. Venting is good for the soul. But ultimately futile.

Because number of books sold takes a back seat to number of dollars earned in a post-scarcity world. Would you rather sell 10,000 books and make on average two dollars profit, or 100,000 books and make thirty-cents each on average? Do the math. I'll wait.

The good news is that you won't have to figure it out. Someone will come along and create the Google Adwords analog that works for book pricing. Its job will be to maximize the bottom line. For the author. For the publisher. For everyone.

I, for one, welcome our algorithmic overlords.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Self-publishing and big-publishing work together for one author

I'm a big fan of authors who work their way around the system. Take my friend and New York Times Best Selling novelist Scott Sigler. Even though he landed a sweet 3-book deal with a major publishing house a few years back, he didn't sit back and start smoking expensive cigars. Nor did he assume that the big publisher would be his meal ticket forever.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="It started with THE ROOKIE"][/caption]

Instead, he started working in parallel. Sure, three books were snatched up, but Scott has lots of books. And many of them just weren't of interest to his big publisher. That's not too surprising, since one of his series of books looks at professional football 700 years in the future. You know, when aliens play along side humans. Really, really big humans.

Again, it's kinda hard to fault the publisher too much for passing on that. I mean, what sort of road has been paved in that world? Will scifi geeks be able to handle the sports-talk? Will sports nuts be able to handle the scifi? And how can they get kids interested, when fans of either side at that age don't mingle all that much? So... they passed.

But Scott didn't give a shit. He already had tens of thousands -- no, I'm not exaggerating -- of fans already hooked on the first book, THE ROOKIE, released as a serialized free audio book. Many of them wanted to hold a copy in their hands, or to share it with a younger member of their family who more a reader of books than a listener.

So he did it. Though an ingenious system of pre-ordering, a dedicated team of pros to help him crank out a top notch product, and the business acumen to make it all happen, he launched his own publishing company and started cranking out limited edition hardcover books. And it's worked out. Big time.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="150" caption="... and then there was THE STARTER"][/caption]

Is he selling NYT-best-selling numbers of these self-published books? No, no he's not. But he doesn't have to. When he sells 5,000 limited edition hard cover for a premium price, he gets a premium amount of profit. Way better than typical royalty rates. And this isn't some cheap, run-of-the-mill POD pulp. This is serious quality that you can stack against any new release hardcover in the bookstore. It smells like quality.

Today, he's starting pre-order for his third book in the series, THE ALL-PRO. Order your copy here and use the discount code EVO to save a little cash. Even with the discount, it's not the cheapest book you'll ever buy. Nor is it intended to  be. But it is intended to get you thinking about ways you could work outside the system, and start making the math work better for you, too.

Way to go, Scott. Keep cranking out great titles (I think I own them all, and I know I've listened to them all) and I'll keep buying them. So will others. Oh, and when you get my pre-order notice for THE ALL-PRO, write something inspiring about me, OK? Thanks, buddy!

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