Category Archives: Choose Yourself

Lessons learned from George Lucas

I am a Star Wars nut.  I admit it.  I was four when Star Wars came out.  It apparently was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater.  From there it took over my childhood.  Now in middle age I enjoy it for the fun of it.  I have long read about George.  There is a lot there to learn from.

These are quick lessons I have learned from reading about his work.

George Lucas

1)  Own your creations

Lucas broke the mold by not accepting a directors fee.  Instead he held onto the rights.  AND THAT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

48965-lucas_destroyer

If you are an independent writer, filmmaker, musician, remember this lesson the most.

2)  Do it yourself.

Kuberick’s 2001 was the cutting edge of special effects when Lucas began work on Star Wars.  No one had ever done what Lucas needed.  When he got the first shot back he didn’t like it.  So he took over the special effects department.

 

From the need to create ground breaking special effects Lucas created ILM, Industrial Light and Magic.  ILM became the go to place for everyone else’s special effects for an entire generation of movies.

154px-ILM

Steven Spielberg uses ILM for all of his movies.  Enough said.

3) Borrow and steal from everywhere

Star Wars comes from everywhere.  I have seen a lot of references to his study of Jospeh Campbell’s work on mythology.  Yes, he studied Campbell.  Star Wars though is the intersection of Campbell, religion, Flash Gordan, Kuirosauara, and movie serials.

In one interview, Carrie Fisher described Lucas as just breathing film.  He took everything he liked and made it his own.

4) Lower expectations and then you can surpass them

For several years the original Star Wars was the highest grossing film of all-time.  Lucas though had no idea it was going to be a success.  In numerous interviews he states that all he wanted to do was to make enough to make another movie.  Well, he made another movie and then some.

5) Be independent and get outside of the group think

Skywalker Ranch not located in Hollywood.

Not only was Lucas financially independent, I would say  that he was also emotionally and intellectually independent.  He set his business, not in the Hollywood capital of Los Angeles, but outside of San Francisco, several hours away from Los Angeles.  Apparently he didn’t want to get caught up in the thinking of Hollywood.

6) Create in spite of criticism

Lucas is also famous for his prequel trilogy.  It didn’t reasonate with the original fans of the of the first three movies.  But he kept making them inspite of people’s down right hatred of them.  In many ways, The Phantom Menace, is the world’s highest grossing indepent movie.  He made The Phantom Menace with his own money that was made from his billion dollar company.  So whenever I hear someone complain about the prequels, I tend to think, “Oh, and how did your multi-million dollar independent movie do?”

Sure, I may not be emotionally as drawn to the prequel trilogy, but if anybody else made the prequels they would be a career highlight and not a side note.

I could go on.  He made the Indiana Jones movies, and others.

He owns education and software companies.

But in the end Lucas has created worlds and companies that affect us daily.

Learn from that.

Another reason why teachers should write books

I have written before about why teachers should write more books.  I had another experience today, that I wished I could share with others.

I presented to my class a couple of copies of Kevin and the Triple Creature today.  I had several students who were particularly asking me to be the first to read them when they would be ready.  I learned to predetermine who would get the books first.  I almost had a, let’s call it an “aggressive disagreement” between students, when I dropped off copies of Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien.  Lesson learned.

You could get picky and say that phrase didn't come from the above scene.  You could.

You could get picky and say that phrase didn’t come from the above scene. You could.

(Aggressive disagreements are similar to aggressive negotiations that Jedi’s have.  Just minus the lightsabers.)

How many other writers can say they had to stop an “aggressive disagreement” over being the first to read their books?

Today my two students brought their copies of the book with them to lunch.  They read them while walking to lunch.

Those copies came from this box.

Those copies came from this box.

I wish you could experience that.

This is why teachers need to write books.  I have so many teachers tell me they want to write a book.  If you could experience this, you would be motivated finish that book.  Students will be impressed that you wrote a book.  They will be motivated to write like you.  They will send you their books for you to review.

Teachers, write your books.

Making an audio book

For some strange reason I decided to turn Kevin and the Seven Lions into an audio book.  My thinking was that as a first grade teacher for years I would have a listening station in my room.  Even in the older grades there are audio versions of stories for older kids.  This year I listened to the audio version of Zathura by Chris Van Allsburg with my fifth graders during a lesson on visualization.

I have also read that when a book has an audio version listed with in Amazon it looks more professional.

"Kevin and the Seven Lions"

Now available as an audio book.

Then there is the idea of different revenue streams, with one story I can sell it as a Kindle version, a paperback, and an audio version.  One story, three different ways to sell it.

To get this done I went through ACX, which of course is an Amazon company.  You post the project in ACX with a description of the project, a script for auditions, and post your budget.  You can also share revenue with the audio book producer instead of putting up cash.  I prefer not to do that, but sometimes it be the only possible option.

When I put up the audition script I got tons of, as in, 40 something, auditions to listen to.  I’ll tell you, after coming home from the day job, it is quite something to have other people come and compete for your attention.

But listening through the auditions was enjoyable, but way more difficult then I expected.   Many people were very qualified to read the book.  Listening to other people read my work gave me chills.  That alone was worth the trouble.

ACX Capture

My inbox became full of auditions. I admit it does change your day to come home and see this.

Getting the right vibe of the story was important to me.  I realized quickly that since the story revolves around Kevin, a boy, that I was going to need a male voice.  I didn’t realize that when I was setting up the project, but after the first couple of female voices tried out I realized I was going to need to go with a male voice.  The story is about boy and all of the day dreams inside of his head.  A male voice made more sense.

I choose Ron because in his audition he automatically got the pacing of the story, and that was awesome to see.  And in some strange way his slight New York accent just brought another level of texture to the story.

Once I chose Ron to record the story, we agreed to a schedule of when the first 15 minutes of the story was due.  In this case, that would have been the whole story, as it is only about 12 minutes.  Once I got the first draft, I listened and then sent my notes back.  He quickly finished it up and got the final audio back to me.

ACX then does a final quality check of their own before it can go on sale.  And that takes several days to weeks.  That is the part that is very different from the KDP experience.  But once it does go on sale, it is for sale in three different places, Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

ACX though has recently lowered their royalty rate.  Hugh Howey has a great post on the potential problem that may cause.  In my opinion it is one of the few screw-ups on Amazon’s part.

But even with that, creating an audio book version is something to seriously consider as a way to promote your work.

Kevin and the Seven Lions is now a story written by guy in Virginia, illustrated by a woman in England, and narrated by a guy in New York.

I love the 21st century.

Click here to get the audio book on Amazon.

The first year of 1099 forms, the ladder of success, and the first fan fiction

The Money

The first year of 1099 forms from Amazon are in. In 2013, I made $516 through Amazon with Kindle and paperback sales, add in a few sales of autographed copies on the website, and it brings the first year total to some where in the $525 range.  So not quitting the day job anytime soon.

I swear, some people have inferred I make this much.  I don't.

I swear, some people have inferred I make this much. I don’t.

I guess, I am slightly above average, at least according the UK Guardian.

Others would laugh at those numbers, they make that amount of money in one day.  I don’t care.  People paid me money for stories I made up on my own, that wins.

The Ladder of Success

I think in terms of a ladder of success, each rung is a new level of success.  And frankly just getting on the ladder at first was a success.

When I finished Kevin and the Seven Lions back in January 2013 I had no idea what to expect.  My original goal was to make a paperback I could put on my classroom shelf, and to bring to educational job interviews.  That was the first rung of success, completed paperback.

“How am I different from the other candidates?  Oh, I made this book.”  Waves book at interviewer.  (Seriously that reason alone is a reason to write a book, but that is another post.)

If nothing else happened, as long as I had a paperback in my hand I liked I would consider the book experiment a success.

If people actually liked the book, well that would be awesome too.   Even more shockingly people liked it.  People I didn’t know, liked it. The second rung of success.

If I made money on the book that would be even better, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.  The third rung.

Well, shockingly it was profitable.  Seven Lions sold enough to justify paying for another book.

Success.

Now, in cold, rational, numbers, I have lost money so far on the is venture of making three books, with the expenses of illustrations, editing, and some promotion.  (Yes, this is a business.) Currently, I am okay with a loss.  The beauty of selling books is that these books will be available for along time, if not forever.  The three books I have out will still be for sale in 2014.  Plus, I will have additional work out in 2014.  As time marches on my body of work should grow.

Yes, I have other rungs I am aiming for.  Making more money every year is definitely a goal on the ladder of success.  I am human after all.

But there is more to money than this.

First, it is fun.  Seriously writing books about children’s daydreams, children finding out they have superhero abilities, and students being fun and creative, is just plain fun.

F.U.N.

FUN.

Second, it is rewarding to sell just one copy.  I know others would be disappointed.  But selling one copy is rewarding.  Maybe not financially, but emotionally it is rewarding.  Somebody has paid actual cash for my work.  That is a nice feeling.

And finally as a teacher this year, I have seen my first examples of fan fiction about characters I have created.  I have written before about why teachers should write books, this is another reason.

One of my first examples of fan fiction.

One of my first examples of fan fiction.

I have seen several Kevin books appear in my class.  I have even see the rare, Dolbin School for the Extraordinary fan fiction show up.

To know that kids like your work enough to continue it, and play in the world that you have created, makes it all worth it.

Money can’t buy that.

Plus the stories are very cool to read.

Interview with Darren Pillsbury-Author of Peter and the Monster books

I recently read Peter and the Dead People, by Darren Pillsbury. The first book in the Peter and the Monster series. I read it in Peter and the Vampires, a collection of the first four Peter stories. I found the book as a freebie on Amazon. Darren has put out over 20 books about Peter. I found Peter and the Dead People to be tightly written and highly enjoyable. The story involves Peter Normal moving into his grumpy Grandfather’s creepy house, and meeting a new friend Dill. Peter and Dill get into trouble by not following his grandfather’s instruction of “Not going into the garden!” Reading the story I felt like I was watching a good 1980’s monster movie, along the lines of Goonies. Very enjoyable.


I read the book and immediately wanted to connect with the author. That’s what I love about the 21st century, I can reach out much easier to people whose work I respect. I don’t need to track down some mailing address. Email does the job just fine. And yes, I now email people I don’t personally know and ask them questions. Shockingly most of the time they actually respond. That’s how I roll these days.  I recommend it.

I want to highlight good indie children’s writers. Most indie writers that are highlighted are, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance writers. Hello, there are good indie children’s writers out there as well.

So I emailed Darren some questions and he was kind enough to answer my questions in excellent detail.

You first self-published “Imaginary Friends” in 2007. How has self-publishing changed for you since then?

It’s gotten ten times easier, with the possibilities of gaining new readers a thousand times better than before. When I self-published Imaginary Friends in 2007, it was largely a paper-only world. The print version was difficult to set up; I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get distribution just on Amazon; and because it was printed on paper, the end product was exorbitantly priced. (It didn’t help that I tried to make a $4 profit on each book.) Who in their right mind is going to gamble $12 on an unknown author they’ve never even heard of before?

But ebooks are cheap and relatively easy to produce. You can offer them for 99 cents on Amazon, and for $0 on virtually every other retailer. (In fact, by jumping through some hoops, you can offer them for $0 on Amazon, too… sometimes.) A lot more people will take a chance on you at 99 cents or $0 than at $12 – at least a thousand times more people.

You have written 26 Peter stories so far. Where do you get ideas for the stories? Are there more Peter stories coming?

I usually come up with the monster (or villain) first… and then I think, what can I do that will make this monster different from other depictions I’ve seen? Sometimes it’s a little different, sometimes it’s a lot. Novelty isn’t the main goal – a good story is, one that either freaks you out or makes you laugh or just plain entertains you. But if I can put a twist on the monster, I prefer to do that.

Examples: usually vampires are depicted as adults, or when they are children, they are secondary characters (as in Interview With A Vampire). I thought, “What if your main villain wasn’t some scary guy in a black cloak, or a Nosferatu-looking freak, but a little girl in the same fourth-grade class as you who died and came back with tiny fangs, eyes black as a Great White’s, and the ability to fly? And what’s worse, she has a crush on you?”

Sometimes it starts with a fear I had as a kid. I saw an episode of the 70’s animated Spiderman cartoon where a bunch of mannequins come to life and attack Spidey, and it freaked me out at the time. Because, hey, mannequins are everywhere at the mall. What if they’re really alive?

A lot of times, it’s just a fantasy – a cool thing I wish I could have done as a kid. Who wouldn’t want to encounter a yeti while skiing? Who wouldn’t want to go into a hall of mirrors and see something really terrifying in the reflections? (Well, maybe some people wouldn’t. But I would.)

And yes, there are definitely more stories coming. I originally planned to do 100, but I’ve scaled that back. I think there will probably be 50-60 by the time I’m through.

How would describe your writing process?

Lots and lots of daydreaming. I pace up and down my house, just getting lost in a mental movie I create in my head.

Usually there’s an initial idea, or a specific image or scene I want in the story… and I just start daydreaming about it. Like, “If that happens, how did we get there? And what happens afterwards? And what would happen if…”

Usually I start coming up with other cool scenes or images I want in the story. Conversations between characters and bits of dialogue. After a period of time – sometimes two days, sometimes two months – I think I’ve got enough major events to make a story, so I sit down and do a brief outline. Nothing fancy, just a one-line description of four or five big scenes, along with some of the dialogue. By the time I’ve written all that down, I start getting other ideas on how to make the scenes connect, and I write those down, too. And that’s my roadmap for the rest of the story.

Usually my process is coming up with scenes A, D, F, J, M, Q, T, and X and Z… and then I fill in all the other ‘letters’ as I go, creating the connective tissue between the main scenes I originally wanted in the story.

I think the cover illustrations for your Peter collections are great! Who did those covers?

If you mean the covers for the Volumes – the multi-story collections, like Peter And The Vampires (Volume 1) with the white bat on the red background – a very talented graphic artist by the name of Ronnell D. Porter did them for me. He did them up through Peter And The Witches (Volume 5). After that, because of the economics of my situation, I started doing them for the collections Peter And The Ninja (Volume 6) and Peter And The Ghost (Volume 7).

If you mean the single-story covers, I did those. I have some background with Photoshop. Some of them are pretty good (like #25, Peter And The Kindermord, or #23, Peter And The Ghost)… and others aren’t. If you want to make a serious go of this writing thing, I recommend getting professionally produced covers by a talented graphics artist. It doesn’t have to be super-expensive – if you go to Kboards.com and look at the Author’s Café subforum http://www.kboards.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=iit2id0cnme0lqkv0amabt8r90&board=60.0), they have a resource page with sites of pre-made covers that range from $25 to $75. And you can sometimes find a really good up-and-coming artist who is willing to do quality work for $50 or $75, though the better they are, the more likely you’ll have to spend $150 or more.

We all like to say, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but that is EXACTLY what 99% of readers do. Do NOT put a crappy cover on a book you want to sell, because no one except your family members and closest friends will ever buy it.

Do you have other writing projects coming?

Not in the children’s literature world. I might do an adult sci-fi action book at some point, or something else… but the Peter series is all I’m going to do in the children’s lit world.

What is your advice to others who are wanting to self-publish?

It depends entirely on why you’re doing it, and what you want your endgame to be.

If you are self-publishing as purely creative self-expression or as a hobby – and if you don’t care if you make any money – then do whatever the heck you want. Go wild. Have a ball. Just keep your expectations very low concerning how many copies you’ll sell and how much you’ll make.

If you want to make a career out of self-publishing and eventually make some sort of money at it (whether that’s your car payment, your mortgage, or a full-time living), that’s a different beast entirely.

Your best chances to make a living at writing include doing the following:

– Write in a genre where the readers are passionate about the genre, or there are a TON of readers who read that genre. There don’t HAVE to be a lot of them, but they need to devour books in that genre. Romance is great for this – the average romance reader plows through 2 or 3 ebooks a week. Mystery fans? Same thing. Thrillers, it depends – but everybody reads thrillers. The crumbs from a humongous pie (think a pie as big as the state of Texas) are better than a large slice of a tiny, tiny tartlet.

Other genres are more difficult. You have a fairly good shot in fantasy, military sci-fi, and science fiction. Children’s picture books (for 3 to 5-year-olds) can do very well. Horror, humor, and literary? Not so much. Are there indie writers making a living in those genres? There are indie writers making a living in virtually every genre. But it’s far easier to do it in romance, thrillers, and mysteries.

By the way, children’s series – at least independent children’s series like Peter And The Monsters – don’t sell that well. If you absolutely must write a children’s series aimed at 10 years old and up, do it for the love, not for the money. I do not make enough money to live on with the Peter series, even with 26 books/novelettes and 7 collected volumes.

– Write a series. The hardest part of self-publishing (after you’ve written the first couple) is marketing yourself and finding new readers. If you get a reader hooked on the first book in the series, he’ll keep on coming back. This, incidentally, is one of the few reasons I make ANY money on the Peter series – because people who love the first collected volume tend to read all the rest of them. Standalone novels (stories where the characters only appear in that one novel) are fine, but they’re harder to market than series.

– Write a great book. Do not publish the first thing you write as soon as you finish writing it. I spent over a decade writing, on and off, before I published Imaginary Friends. Work on improving your craft.

Does this mean that you have to write a decade before you publish anything? No! All I mean is to publish the very best book you possibly can, not your first draft! In fact, I suggest you begin getting feedback as soon as you can. Publish your work on Wattpad.com, or on dozens of other similar sites on the internet, and get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. If you really, really, really want to self-publish right out of the gate, self-publish under a pen name. Or be willing to potentially start publishing under a pen name later.

– Get your book edited – or at least proofread – by someone else, preferably a professional. I did not do this when I started, largely out of economic necessity (and hubris – HEY! I was an English major!). I still cringe when I find typos rereading some of my older stuff.

– Get as cool a cover as you can. It’s the ONLY thing that will catch a potential reader’s eye and make her give your book a second look. Pay for a professional cover if you can afford it. If you can’t, get a professional pre-made cover that’s close to what you want and within your budget. Aim for simple, memorable covers with easily readable type. Don’t get some minutely rendered picture that demands a 6 x 9 inch cover to fully appreciate its beauty. On Amazon, the images range from the size of a postage stamp to roughly 2 x 3 inches. Get a cover that can be shrunk down and people can tell what genre it is, see your name (and hopefully the title), and say, “Oooh, that’s cool-looking.” And make sure your fonts are clean and easily readable. I violated this with my Peter series, and I’m probably still paying for it. The lettering on the single books looks great at full-size… but at postage-stamp dimensions, it borders on illegible. Bad choice on my part. Learn from my mistakes!

– Always make your name (or pen name) VERY BIG and VERY READABLE. You should be selling yourself as a brand. You want people to remember your name first, your book titles second.

– Have a mailing list. This means an automated service where someone can sign up and get email updates on new books you publish. I use Mailchimp. They have paid and free accounts; I recommend the paid because you get an autoresponder, which means you can send people an email automatically as soon as they sign up.

The reason for a mailing list is, if you have a list of people who liked one of your books enough to sign up for updates, you want to be able to contact them directly. You don’t want to gamble that readers will randomly stumble across your new book on Amazon and say, “Oh, wait, didn’t I read that author’s last book?” Don’t leave it to chance.

Another alternative to Mailchimp, at least in the beginning, is to register a free Gmail account and have people send you an email if they want updates. Then keep track of those addresses and email them when your next book comes out. When you get too many addresses and it becomes cumbersome to email everybody, $10 a month will be a bargain for somebody else to automate the process. I failed to start an email list until late in the game, and I am sure I have lost out on hundreds – maybe even thousands – of purchases because of this. Don’t be foolish: free or paid, start an email list with your first book, and prominently feature the link to your sign-up page (or your email address with instructions on what to do to be notified) in everything you publish.

– Once you start publishing pretty good stuff, write as fast as you can. If readers like your books, they generally want MORE, RIGHT NOW. This is a very, very good problem to have (if you’re making enough money to justify it). But if you’re doing this for love, and for love only, never lose sight of that. Rushing out books just to placate a handful of readers will burn you out and eventually make you hate writing. Know your desired end result, and write for that. If it’s more money, then speed is your ally. If this is primarily something you do because you love it, then do whatever you want.

– Be very careful on how you price your books. At Amazon, everything $0.99 to $2.98 gets you 35% royalties. (99 cents is the lowest you can officially charge, though there are ways around this, including going exclusive in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program.) $2.99 to $9.99 gets you 70% royalties. $10 and up gets you only 35% royalties again. Guess how Amazon wants you to price your books?

A $2.99 book will get you $2.00 in royalties. You would have to sell six times as many 99 cent books to make the same amount of profit (99 cents x 35% royalies = 33 cents a book, and .33 cents x 6 books = $1.98).

99 cents is good for short stories, or for first novels in a series to get people to give you a try… but in general, you’re not going to make any money off of 99 cent books. Are there exceptions? Yes. But in general, most financially successful self-publishers charge between $2.99 and $5.99 for full-length novels. Also, these days, 99 cents carries the stigma of ‘cheap’ and ‘low quality.’ Be careful how you represent yourself.

– If you don’t mind some occasional R-rated language, read J.A. Konrath’s blog. I got into ebook self-publishing because of him, and I agree with 90% of everything he says about writing and marketing. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com

– There is a very popular – and in my opinion, pernicious – theory out there that the only marketing you need to do is ‘write another book.’ You say you’re not selling any of your latest book? Just write another one and publish it. Not selling any of that one, too? Write another and don’t worry about it.

BAD IDEA. You need to do a certain amount of marketing. This doesn’t have to be complicated; it can mean writing books you give away for free to lure readers in (and advertising those free books when you give them away). It means having a way (an author’s Facebook page, a blog, and/or an email address) where readers can find you and interact with you. It means experimenting with advertising you can afford. If you’re really outgoing, it means befriending other authors and promoting them to your readers if they will promote you to theirs. Or agreeing to do ‘sampler’ books, or participate in boxed sets, or short story collections – something, ANYTHING, to get your name out there. You don’t have to do all of this at once, or even half of it – for instance, I didn’t get a Facebook author’s page until my 20th fan wrote in asking, “How do I find you on Facebook?” My resolution for 2014 is to utilize Twitter and Goodreads better. But put some effort into marketing yourself and your books, and you’ll get a lot farther than just writing book after book and praying new readers will accidentally discover.

Things that DON’T work: don’t spam people on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else with “Buy my book! Buy my book!” It doesn’t work. Seriously. Don’t be that person. If you want to use social media, put in the time to engage other people, build up real connections, be interesting… and then mention, ‘Hey, I just put out my newest book.’ People will be a lot more interested than if you tweet “BUY MY BOOK!” 270 times in a row.

Now, is it important to ‘write the next book’ as soon as you can? Yes, it’s EXTREMELY important. But put forth at least a little effort so new readers can find you, and current readers can strengthen their bond with you.

– If a reader contacts you, whether by Facebook, blog comments, or email, always contact them back. You never know when one friendly email might convert a casual reader to a fan for life.

– Consider going ‘permafree’ with your first book once you have at least two books in a series, preferably three. ‘Permafree’ means the first book is permanently free. You want people to take the free sample, get hooked, and buy the rest of your product. Without a doubt, permafree is the only reason I made ANY money on my Peter books: the first book in the series is free, which lures in new readers. It’s not always easy to get Amazon to make a book permafree – officially it’s against their terms of service – but there are ways. Google ‘Smashwords + Amazon + permafree’ to find out more.

Keep your expectations realistic, though. Only about 3 to 10% of people who download free books actually ever read them.

– I use ‘Amazon’ a lot to refer to the entire ebook market, but know that there’s BarnesAndNoble.com (they make the Nook ereader), iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play, plus ebook distributors like Smashwords.com and Draft2Digital.com that will take one copy of your book and convert it and distribute it to many, many different sites (for a cut of the proceeds, of course). Do your homework and decide what’s best for you – to go exclusive with Amazon and get 5 free promotional days out of every 90 (the KDP Select program), or go for diversity and try to reach as wide a potential audience as possible.

Whatever you do, though, PUBLISH ON AMAZON. Amazon accounts for 90% of my revenues. That’s not true of all writers, but it’s true of many. Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla of the US ebook market. Ignore it at your peril.

– Grow a thick skin. (This is one thing I continue to fail miserably at.) Listen to constructive criticism, and try to ignore the rest.

Once you are reasonably happy with your writing – and once you’ve received enough reviews that a single 1-star won’t tank the entire rating for your book – stop reading reviews posted on Amazon and other retailers. It’s basically seeking validation from other people, and there will always be people who hate your work. Some will have valid reasons, others are just jackholes. Assemble a group of people whose opinion you trust, who like the genre you are writing in, and then listen to their opinion rather than to random people on the internet. The problem is that few reviewers give truly constructive criticism on how to improve your writing. It’s usually, “I loved this!” or “It was okay” or “I hated this – there’s no happy ending!” Reviews with great advice are usually few and far between. If you think you can get insights from reviews, but you handle criticism horribly, get someone you trust to read through them and summarize the nuggets of gold. Believe me, a good review will give you a sugar high for five minutes, but a vicious review can destroy your whole day and sap your energy to write. Why do that to yourself?

Now, does that mean ignore your readers? No. If people write you emails (and you should always include your email address in your books), listen to those opinions, even if they are somewhat negative, and even if you end up disagreeing with what they say. Reviewers acting under anonymity sometimes take that license to be raging buttholes. People who write you directly usually aren’t going to be absolute jerks – they’re more thoughtful, and they have to attach a real email address to what they send you.

If you can handle criticism no matter how spiteful it is, you’re golden. If you can’t… and I certainly can’t… protect your energy and your inner writer at all costs.

– The best advice on feedback I have ever heard comes from Stephen King. To paraphrase him, assemble ten people who like the genre you write and whose opinion you trust. (These can be fans you recruit, whose emails impressed you with their thoughtfulness and intelligence, not just people who suck up to you and tell you you’re brilliant. Surrounding yourself with ‘yes-men’ will do you no favors.) Give them the book after you have finished writing and editing it and you think it’s basically ready to go. If five or more people mention something as a problem – not liking the hero, the dialogue is bad, pacing is off, the ending is flat – then it’s probably an issue you need to address with another rewrite. If everybody dislikes something, but they all dislike different things, you can safely ignore all of them.

What’s the hardest part of the act of writing?

Making yourself sit down and actually do it. The time leading up to getting my butt in the chair is the absolute hardest part, because I can always think of a dozen things I would rather do. When I’m actually in the groove, there’s nothing better than writing. But I have to keep forcing myself to do it every time, over and over and over – just get my butt in the chair and start.

What’s the hardest part of writing as a career?

If you’ve never written a book, then it’s finishing the first one. That’s tough. Don’t ever, ever go back and start revising until you’ve written the final page. I did that with my first novel years and years ago, and I still haven’t finished it. Been meaning to forever, though…

Once you’ve written a couple of books and you’re self-published, then marketing is pretty tough. At least for me. Other than giving books away and talking to fans, I don’t particularly like marketing. But you’ll go a LOT farther as a pretty good writer and a persistent marketer than you will as a brilliant writer and a crappy marketer. I wish that weren’t the case, but over and over again, I see persistent marketers end up doing well, no matter how good their writing is. There are always exceptions, but 95% of success stories lean toward people who continuously go out and try to get new readers (in non-tacky, non-spammy ways) and who interact often with their fans. Now, hopefully you’re a brilliant writer and a persistent marketer writing in a viable genre. If so, the world’s your oyster. But just know that, over the long run, ignoring marketing is a fast ticket to Zero Salesville. And even if you’re not doing it for the money, presumably you would like SOMEONE to read your books and enjoy them. So work on both writing AND marketing.

Sorry if all this advice is overwhelming. But these are the things I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out. I probably wouldn’t have listened to them… but after six months of beating my head against the wall, I might have said, “Huh, maybe I ought to go back and take a second look at that advice…”

Thanks Darren.  I think this advice is solid.

If you are interested in monster books I would definately check out his Peter and the Monsters books.

The above links take you to Amazon.  I love Amazon.  You can also check out Darren’s books on Nook:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/peter-and-the-vampires-darren-pillsbury/1100686093?ean=2940011309281&format=nook-book

On iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/peter-vampires-volume-one/id452735081?mt=11&uo=4

On Kobo:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/peter-and-the-vampires-volume-one

And lastly on Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58850

Also check out my interviews with best selling children writers, AJ Cosmo and Raymond Bean.

The math behind getting creative stuff done.

Looking at my posts I realize that I have been neglectful of this blog over the holidays.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and work responsibilities can get overwhelming.  But stuff still gets done.

In 2013 I put out three books for children.  I have a lot of teachers ask how I was able to put out three books in the past year, while also teaching.  First, let me say that there are other writers that are able to get more work out than I have this year.  I try not to compare myself to others in how much work gets down or how successful it is.  But I fail at that.  I am human.  I compare.

Maybe that is why teachers ask me how I have done it, they’re comparing themselves to me.  So here goes my plan.  And it is very simple.

Maybe I am stealing from Tim Ferris here.  I don’t know.  He advocates a 4 hour work week.  I am not even suggesting that much for a side project.

15 minutes a day.

That’s it.  That’s my goal.

15 minutes a day equals 250 words.

Just 15 minutes a day.

Just 15 minutes a day.

During a normal day I teach 5th grade.  That alone is enough.  Lesson plans, meetings, parent conferences, grading.  You know, teaching.

Then there is family time.  I have a two year old in the house.  I want to spend as much time as possible with her during this time.  So I do.

But if I set a goal of 15 minutes a day I can get stuff done.  Not blazing fast.  But stuff gets done.  And that’s the goal.  Get stuff done.

Here is the math.

For my writing speed, 15 minutes is about 250 words. 250 words is about half a regular sized paper.

With 250 words a day you can have the text to a picture book in 4 days.

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft of a 10,000 word early chapter book in 40 days.  (At that rate you can have 9 rough drafts done a year.)

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft done for a 50,000 word novel in 200 days.

But 15 minutes is the minimum.  Most of the time I go over that 15 minutes.  You get in the flow of writing and you can’t leave.  Before you know it, you have 500-1000 words in front of you.  But aim for 15 minutes or 250 words.  Set yourself up to win.

If you set yourself up, to say, I am going to write 1,000 words a day.  Well.  You write only 750 words.  You’ve failed.  Set a goal of 15 minutes a day and you can easily surpass your goal daily.

What happens when you set a goal and you consistently fail at it?

You stop trying.  You’re human.

What if you set a goal and consistently surpass it?

You keep going.  Before you know it you find that you are creating on a regular basis.

In order to help me with my goal, I am writing this on the first laptop I have ever owned.  It is my hope that the laptop will help me get more writing done.  I won’t be stuck to the desktop to get work done.  So far it seems to be working.

But ultimately we are busy.  We have work, family, friends.  But small chunks of time really begin to add up.  Before you know it you have a work of art that you can be proud of.  All while holding a day job, with family responsibilities.

The math examples are directed at writing, but the concept can be used for any sort of creative side project, photography, illustration, design.

And what happens when you finally publish that first picture, chapter book, or novel?

Well, your life changes.

And it changes for the better.

The purpose of giveaways and Dolbin School for the Extraordinary giveaway on Goodreads

First the Promotion

I’m giving away 10 signed copies of Dolbin School for the Extraordinary on Goodreads.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dolbin School for the Extraordinary by Martin Tiller

Dolbin School for the Extraordinary

by Martin Tiller

Giveaway ends December 01, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

And if you wanted to just pay for a signed copy just email me martinctiller@gmail.com and I’ll send one out. I’ve been too lazy to get a link up on the autograph page.  Eventually I’ll get one out.

Why Do This?

For those of you that follow this blog in hopes of learning about indie publishing, I have found Goodreads giveaways a decent way of getting good reviews, meeting new bloggers, and gaining fans.  As I wrote before that we need to be dandelions, you just never which thing you do will take root and spread.  Try everything and be willing to fail.

This is a wonderful review that I got on Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien.

I do recommend that when you do a giveaway that you send a personal note, both in an email and in a letter with the book asking for a review.  I started doing that with the second Kevin book and got more reviews on Goodreads because of that technique.  Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien has more text reviews than Kevin and the Seven Lions does on Goodreads, and I think that is because I started asking for reviews when I did the giveaway.

If you have done a giveaway, I would love to hear your experience.  Leave a comment sharing your experience.

PS

Join my mailing list and get the first notice on new releases.  Don’t worry I am too busy to spam.

Thankful for Technology, Creativity, and just plain Luck.

I’m 40.  I should be a curmudgeon.  But I love 21st century technology.  I love Amazon.  I love Youtube. I love Google Docs, and I love my Skydrive, since I can access Word apps on my phone.

And unlike most people my age I think technology has made life better.  A lot better.

Like most indie-writers I go through bouts of obsessively checking my Amazon numbers.  (Note to self-stop that.)  But in the midst of an obsessive Amazon checking episode I noticed that I should some ebooks in Germany and the UK this past week.  Wait?  What!

I’ve never been to Germany.  I’ve been to Oktoberfest at Busch Gardens, but not Germany.

Oktoberfest

I guess this is Oktoberfest.

I had a stop over at Heathrow airport at some point the 20th century.  But I’ve not visited England this century.

So how did I sell some books in the UK and Germany?

I honestly have no earthly idea.

Whoever bought them, I hope they like them.  Thank you for giving me a chance!

What a different time we live in.  You don’t need to throw yourself at the mercy of the gatekeepers in New York and LA.  Make your own creation and let others decide if it should live.

I am thankful for living in a time that allows me to do that.

Is Select Back? Kindle Countdown Promotions – yet another reason why Amazon continues to win.

I have tried twice to expand my horizons, leave KDP select, and sell in other stores, but I give up.  No sales in Barnes and Noble, while Amazon continues to sell.  Both times just when I thought I was out they pull me back in.  (That last sentence is to be read in an Al Pacino voice.)  Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and Apple’s only approach seems to be, “Hey, we’re not Amazon.”  Great.

Pacino

They pull me back in!

Amazon has just unveiled its Countdown Deals Promotion, and to me it looks to be a winner.  Here’s how it works, you set a discount for your book and Amazon puts it on sale.  At the same time it puts in a whole category, a category for just these promotions, yet another way for customers to discover your books. And a category that is sitting on the front page of Amazon.

Why is this different?

Before I could set my own promotion, by republishing my book by resetting the price. And within the description I state the current promotion I am running. I recently ran a promotion where the book was lowered to 99 cents and that the book would go back to 2.99 after Halloween.  But the book wasn’t put in a separate category or given special promotion, it was all on whether or not people found the book.  When doing a promotion this people will now find the book much easier, the original digital price is still visible, and there is a countdown clock urging customers to hurry up and purchase.  Wins all around.

Kindle Countdown Deal

A whole new category. A huge new level of visibility.

 

Part of the original promotion for Select was the ability to set a book free for 5 days.  That is still an option, but an author must now choose between the free days or promotion.  Amazon has been throttling free books over the last several months, thus making Select less attractive.  As authors know free books did not count in regular sales, but now these promotional sales are regular sales and can possibly help move a book back of best seller lists.  Free books only work in the algorithm after the free promotion has gone off.  I am going to assume that sales during the promotion will count immediately thus moving the book further up the best seller and popular lists.  No need to wait two days to see the results of your promotion.

The Basics

You also need to wait 30 days before your promotion begins after enrolling in KDP select.  You cannot change your price, so in others set it and forget it.  Other wise, you really don’t have a regular price.

You keep 70% royalties on your promotion if your regular price is between $2.99 and $9.99.  So you can take a $2.99 book, promote it at 99 cents and get 70 cents as opposed to the 35 cents as it used to be.

Amazon really wants books to be priced in the $2.99 to $9.99.  There is an ocean of data supporting that these prices are best.

The Other Stores

I don’t like only selling my ebooks through Amazon, but Amazon actually promotes my books.  Putting them up at Barnes and Noble, and Kobo was like putting them on an infinite pile and hoped that someone would see them.  At this point in my career, as I build my audience, I need Amazon to be promoting my books.  That’s something Barnes and Noble, and Kobo didn’t seem up to.

Trying to leave Amazon again. We’ll see.

I hate not being diversified.  I hate it.  I diversify my life in many ways.  I own several different stocks, and types of stocks in my portfolio.  I make my income from several different sources.  I diversify where I make friends.  I diversify my interests and hobbies.  Diversifying your income is a key to thriving in the 21st century.  (Read this great post from James Altucher on diversifying your life.)

diversifying

“They” always say don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Which is why I hate I don’t like being exclusive to Amazon on ebooks.

But when your other options are mediocre to terrible then, well, there you are.  I wrote about these terrible option before.

I have put my two first books up on Nook.  I was going to put my first book, Kevin and the Seven Lions, back up on Kobo.  But that was pointless.

Why?

The book was just in ‘delisted’ status on Kobo and when I tried to relist it the system got “stuck”.  Unfortunately I had experienced this before.  When I first put up Seven Lions it was in publishing status for several days.  Days.  And their support had no idea why.

No idea.

Kobo pic

Yeah. If you could get that out of “In Progress”. That would be great.

Then I reread the payment policy at Kobo.  They only pay you when you reach $100.  If you don’t reach that, then you only get paid once every 6 months.  I’m not there yet.  I like getting my $15-$35 monthly deposits from Amazon.  So this wouldn’t be a problem with someone who has a much broader audience than I currently have.  But having a broader audience doesn’t solve the problem of a system that gets books stuck in publishing.

I have put the two Kevin books back up on Nook.  And even that isn’t perfect.  They will pay you monthly with $10 thresholds.  But the uploading needs work.

I upload the Three-Headed Alien book’s epub and Nook doesn’t allow me to preview the book online.  Seriously?  I have no idea if the Nook formatted the book correctly, the only way to check it is to buy it.  I guess Barnes and Noble is that desperate for sales.  Authors must purchase their own work just to check it.  Nice.

I am not even trying Apple right now.  I feel no need to sacrifice an animal to get on ibookstore.

I have paperback versions of each of my books.  that has increased my income from books.  It has diversified who has purchased my work.  We all know people who are still “I don’t read ebooks!  I like paper!”  Great!  Here is my book on paper!

Three-Headed Alien Paperback-1

See. Book in actual paperback form.

I keep that in the back of my mind as I try selling my ebooks in other places other than Amazon.  If I go back to Amazon exclusively, people can still buy my books at Barnes and Noble and other places.

What do I get by staying with Amazon?

Right now I get borrows.  There is the key.  In August and September, payments from borrows were somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40% of my royalties.  But I had no borrows this first part of October, and the first of the month is when borrows typically happen, so I decided that it was a good time to not renew the exclusivity with Amazon.

So here I am again learning why Amazon is winning.  And winning big.  Because they deserve too.  They make things easy for authors and readers.  Good for them.

So if you’re new to my work, you can check out Kevin and the Seven Lions on Nook, and Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien on Nook, as well.

“They” always say don’t put all your eggs in one basket.   But when the other baskets have gaping holes, and velvet ropes around them, then I am not sure that advice holds, as I like my eggs safe.

If you have had different experience, please share in the comments section.