Category Archives: writing

The “spice” of Pre-Edits

This blog post is coming to you late because I’m neck deep in pre-edits. Since I signed a contract, I have had a checklist of things to get done for my publisher, Clean Reads. The most exhausting: pre-edits.

Pre-edits are an opportunity to clear away the proverbial brush. There are LOTS of things we authors do when banging out a first draft.

  • Start three sentences in a row with the same word
  • Use adverbs ALL OVER THE PLACE
  • And use that insidious word “very” WAY too much. In fact, that word is so overused (without conveying any extra meaning) that my publisher makes no promises about what will happen if she sees it in a manuscript.
  • Point of View violations
  • Commas, commas, and commas

I can tell you right now: I LOATHE PRE-EDITS! I am slogging my way through the manuscript AGAIN. Trying to polish it up. (That’s what I’ve done multiple times over the past year, if not years).

Taking a calming breath, it’s important to understand that my publisher isn’t out to get me. Instead, she wants to clean up the stuff that can be easily sifted through out of the way. That way, my editors can focus on deeper, more important stuff. Like…

  • Does the story evolve in a way that holds the reader’s interest?
  • Are there too many points of view in the story? Not enough?
  • Does the dialog balance the prose well?

Stuff like this helps take a “neat idea” and catapult it. Readers may not “know” all this writing craft, or how to name it. But trust me, readers can tell a good story from a great one. (And a badly written one as well).

So for the umpteenth time, I am walking through Darklight, scene by scene, trying to clean out obvious junk and give it a final buff before I ship it off. And considering its due in 48 hours, I even took this week off to focus!

As Baron Vladimir Harkonnen likes to remind us, he who controls the spice controls the universe. Well we are the ones in charge of the spice of our novel, and having good writing without clunky junk in the way is the path toward a universe of excited readers.

Happy writing!

I signed a contract!

Something I’ve been working on for seven years now has taken a big turn. I signed a contract with Clean Reads to publish my novel, DARKLIGHT!

I’m pretty stoked about this. Of course it will be lots of work. Not even sure if it’s coming out this year or next. Either way, it’s going to be fun.

In the meantime, I invite you to go grab my short story prequel FOR FREE.

Marketing your book with a launch group

I’ve recently been working on building up a new aspect of marketing – forming a launch group. A launch group is a close knit circle of people that help you get the word out when your book, as they say, hits the stands.

I have two fronts in progress: Darklight and Learning Spring Boot 2nd Edition.

One is my speculative fiction title that I’ve sent off to a tentative publisher. The other is my latest tech book slated to go out this September.

Getting the word out

When it comes to marketing, it’s key to get the word out. In fact, it’s so important, that I learned of an author that used Russian pirate book sites to actually distribute his novel. What had been maybe 1000 downloads per year, turned into one million downloads a year, resulting in him carrying #1 ranking on Amazon.

(I’m not ready to pull the lever on THAT strategy yet. But if you can write a fleet of books, it’s a path to consider.)

When it comes to writing, people have a rather dated concept of marketing. Perhaps some of us can remember an author visiting our hometown. We’d load everyone up in the car and drive to the bookstore to get in line, buy a copy, and have the author sign it. Sorry, but those days are long gone. Book signings draw such little attendance these days, that authors tend to lose money carrying them out.

If you’re writing a book, tech or not, you may assume your publisher will advertise and publicize it. Nein! The only marketing dollars that are getting spent are on authors that don’t need it. In other words, unless your name is Stephen King or Lee Child, publishers aren’t spending two nickels on you. You (an unestablished author) are flat out not worth the risk of that investment.

Marketing is up to the author. Each of us has to get the word out on our works. And one of those avenues can be putting together a collection of people to help share it in various circles.

Launch group, assemble!

As I said, I’m putting together two core teams of people. For each team, I have a super secret Facebook group where I share in progress work, advanced copies ahead of public release, and will host contests from time-to-time when I need help with things like character names, plot tips, and more. On the day of release, I turn to my inner circle to help blog/tweet/facebook about the title.

If you’re interested in being a part of The Undergrounders and fighting the forces that oppose Darklight‘s release, you can sign up right here.

If you’re interesting in being a part of The Turnquist Techies and helping spread the word of Spring Boot, you can sign up for that group right here.

How to write a tech book, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love writing

I just sent in the last chapter of Learning Spring Boot 2nd Edition’s 1st draft. And my brain has collapsed. I’ve been working for several months on this 10-chapter book that embraces Spring Boot 2.0 and reactive programming. There are several books out there on reactive programming, but I believe this will be the first to hit the market about Project Reactor.

I’m not done, not by a long shot. I told my publisher that we’d need at least one big round to make updates to ALL the code, because I started writing when not everything was in place. And it’s still true. But editing, polishing, and updating an existing repository of code and manuscript is easier than creating one out of thin air.

I wanted to write just a little bit about how I approaching writing something like this. Maybe you have been thinking about writing a book yourself, and your curious what goes on. This isn’t the only, but it’s the way that works for me.

Tools

Laptop on a work table with DIY and construction tools all around top view hobby and crafts concept

To write a book, you need a mechanism to capture prose and code. For fiction, I use Scrivener, but when it comes to technical writing, where the code, screenshots, and text are tightly integrated, I use Asciidoctor. With Asciidoctor, the overhead of a word processor is removed, and instead I can focus on pure content.

Also, using Asciidoctor lets me pull in the code to generate the manuscript sent in to my publisher. This way, I have Sublime Text in one window viewing the source prose and IntelliJ open in another viewing the source code. To top it off, I have a Ruby guardfile configure to constantly regenerate an HTML proof of the chapter I’m writing with it refreshing via LiveReload in my browser.

This combination gives me a quick feedback loop as I write.

What to write

This may be the biggest hurdle to some. When you’ve picked the technology, setup your tools, and finally have the editor opened up, what do you type in that black, blank screen?

Waiting for magical words to arrive? Or perhaps you hope elves will scurry in and leave something? Nope. This is where the rubber hits the proverbial road and you have to push yourself to start typing.

What do I do? I actually start earlier than that. From time to time, I have a crazy idea about something I want to show to an audience at a conference. Some demo I want to give with a few pieces of the Spring portfolio. I began to noodle out code to make that happen. Once, I asked “can I snap a picture of the audience and upload it from my phone to a webpage the audience is watching on the overhead?” Thus was born my Spring-a-Gram demo.

That demo has morphed many times to the point that I have built a full blown, cloud native, microservice-based system. And guess what. It’s the system we get to explore in Learning Spring Boot 2nd Edition.

So when I sit down to write a chapter, I first start writing the code I want to walk through. Once it’s humming inside my IDE, I start to typeset it in Asciidoctor. And pages of code fragments, I began to tell a story.

Weaving a story

When writing technical articles, getting started guides, and books, everything is still a story. Even if this isn’t a novel, it’s still a story. People that grant you the honor of reading your work want to be entertained. When it comes to tech work, they want the ooh’s and ahh’s. They want to walk away saying, “That was cool. I could use that right now.”

At least, that’s how I read things. So my goal when I write is to make it fun for me. If it’s fun for me, I trust it will be fun for others.

If I sift through a chapter, and it’s just a boring dump of code, then it’s sad. And that’s not what I want. I can’t promise that all my writing has upheld this lofty goal. But it’s my goal nonetheless.

So oftentimes, I will typeset the code, hand some descriptive details around the code, then read it again, top to bottom, and add extra stuff. Paragraphs talking about why we’re doing this. Mentioning tradeoffs. Issues that maybe exist today and where we have to make a choice. Ultimately, understand not just what the code does but why it does it this way. And what other options are out there.

Letting go

At some point, after all the writing and polishing and fine tuning, you have to turn in your work. I don’t know if there is ever a time where I’m 100% satisfied. I’m kind of picky. But the truth is – you’ll never find every typo, every bug.

My code fidelity is much higher ever since I started using Asciidoctor. But stuff happens. And you have to be happy turning in your work.

You see, if you’ve acquired enough skill to sit down a write a book without someone leaning over your shoulder and coaching you, you might have a lot of good value other developers seek. Eager coders will be able to read what you wrote, look past small mistakes, and most importantly, grok the points you make. That’s what is key.

And one thing is for certain – writing makes you better. I have found that any gaps in my own understanding of certain parts of code lead me to chase down and grasp those bits. And then I want to share them with others. Which is what writing books is all about.

Happy writing!

Dos and Don’ts of Marketing

When it comes to selling books, there are gobs of opinions out there. And there is no one way. But there are many dos and don’t when it comes to marketing. In this post, we’ll try to capture a handful of them.

Do – take advantage of every opportunity to market

Never ever EVER pass up a captive audience. When someone reads your book to the end, they will ALWAYS read the page AFTER the end of the story. (Don’t you do the same?)

Key things to include:

  • First chapter of the book’s sequel.
  • First chapter of another work if the current title isn’t a series.

After the chapter include a link to sign up for your email list. This is called “going for the ask”. It’s tough for introverts but a time tested recipe in marketing and sales.

Don’t – publish your series all at once.

“I wrote a series. Can I put it all out there at once?”

No. Don’t do this. At all.

Did you pour your heart and soul into these works? Do you want your readers to get them all? Does it give you a warm fuzzy knowing they have your complete works?

Sorry, but emotions are running rampant. I understand the excitement of wanting your audience to gobble up everything. Take a deep breath and don’t rush it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither can your following.

When publishing blog articles, it’s good to drive traffic to one place on your site. Don’t tweet asking people to visit two different parts of your site at the same time. Instead, lead them to a single page on your site talking about the first book. If they like it, the tail of the book can include the hook for the second followed by a buy link. Rinse/repeat.

Why? Because all of these leads to Amazon rankings. And it’s better to slam one title into the Top 50 for a given genre than working two titles into the Top 1000. Focusing all marketing on one title is key. As shown, rankings help Amazon show things like “frequently bought together”.

Do – seek a long term path with many works

There’s an old adage that quality beats quantity. That is quite true. To a certain point. If you can write a great novel, market it superbly, and build a fanbase, you’ll find that it can help sell more books. Many famous authors started that way. A quality novel can jumpstart your writing future.

But at a certain point, your ability to market may/may not do the trick. That is when quantity can overtake and leave quality in the dust. If you look at many historically famous authors, some of the most successful actually wrote LOTS of novels.

If you can publish a dozen novels, odds will stack in your favor over an author that only writes a single novel, and expects to make it big with that. The thing is, try to focus on marketing one at a time. If you try and market multiple titles at a time while building your fanbase, you may accidentally confuse your fanbase.

From time to time, I may mention my older titles, but in general, I pour all my marketing effort into the latest one.

Do – keep making updates to your site

Never forget – your website is supposed to help people discover you, find out that they like you, interact with you, and ultimately buy your wares. Make fluid adjustments to your site as things change.

  • Offering Black Friday discounts? Put a temporary banner ad at the top of your site.
  • Written one or more books? Create a page for each.
  • Written a series? Write a page talking about the series, with each title in order, linking to each title’s page.
  • Written a blog article series? Craft a menu and put it on the sidebar.
  • Give away handouts when you go to sell books at fairs? Put the handout on a page.
  • Want people to Tweet/email/Facebook? Create a /contact or /me page.

 

Don’t – post just to sell

Something a lot of people have a hard time getting to grips with is that blogging, tweeting, and facebooking shouldn’t be just about selling. In fact, it’s recommended to confine actual selling to less than 20%.

We can all smell an oily salesman. Don’t turn yourself into one.

People will read your blog articles if it carries information they are interested in, and if they find value in it. When you are pitching product, the perceived “info” drops quickly.

Do – use content you’ve written in the past in a conversation

Your website should be your main marketing tool, with Twitter and Facebook the place to put out bread crumbs. Don’t hesitate to share a page or a post pertinent to a discussion on Twitter or Facebook.

Don’t forget, this isn’t just about selling product. In fact, I recently blogged a fragment of an older book when the topic of test coverage surfaced.

I followed that Twitter conversation with a blog post, the flaws of test coverage.

Do you have any tips that has helped you market? Share them in the comments.

Building your platform – Part IV

megaphoneIn the previous post, Building your Platform – Part III, we discussed why building a mailing list is as important as building a site. In this article, we’ll dig into some advanced techniques where you can link together the key facets of your platform to push things to the next level.

Pages vs. Posts

I’m going to assume we are talking about WordPress here. Let’s also assume you have picked up the task of blogging with a certain frequency and posting links on social media channels. Blog articles are known as posts. They are typically displayed in a chronological order and also carry that sense of belonging to a certain point in time.

Pages are other locations where you can write content, but there isn’t the same sense of time. In short, pages of content should be written to be timeless. And if needed, you can update the pages over time. For example, check out my page for Learning Spring Boot.

When I started blogging, I only had one book with that title. This has now expanded to two books and a video. For marketing reasons, it’s best to pull this content under one page, and expound upon it. I have also updated LOTS of articles to point at this cornerstone content to help it rank on Google.

sara-turnquist-pages-1In general, I recommend that you create one page per book you write. (In my own case, I’ve consolidated multiple editions under one page). If you check out Sara Turnquist’s site (see the screenshot), she lists all her titles on the sidebar, and you can see their published status.

Click on the first one, and you can immediately see its status (published).

sara-turnquist-pages-4But if you look at the link in the browser, it just has the title of the book, making it easy to hand that link out to anyone. This is known as editing the slug.

BONUS: Edit the “slug” or the name of the link to be the title itself, but make the description anything you want like this and this.

For other key things you do, other pages can be quite handy.

  • A Bio or About Me page (either /bio or /about-me)
  • A Contact page (/contact) where you put a Contact Form so people can reach you without giving away your email address
  • A Mailing List signup page (/list)

This is generalized stuff. I have one friend that is writing children’s books. She has created some puzzles to print out and give away to kids at various shows. I gave her the tip to post it on a page. If you stop and look at that page, you’ll see that it’s cute, fun, and includes a little web link at the bottom so this generation’s Internet savvy children can say, “Mommy, I want the Skippy the Skunk book at mrbarklee.com.” Disney aren’t the only ones capable of product placement!

Marketing

An important thing to realize, is that your platform is fluid. It starts with one blog post and one page, but as you post more content, you come to understand that posting more stuff in more places extends your platform.

For example, visiting various Facebook groups once/week and posting new content helps get your name out there. I posted this particular meme for Learning Spring Boot on Twitter and about half a dozen groups on Facebook, and saw a meteoric burst of traffic to my site.

All the experts recommend having a schedule set up to post to various groups to keep generating interested. Don’t assume one posted graphic to one group does the trick. People come and go.

Visuals

Another tidbit: visuals are quite handy. If you look at my “Learning Spring Boot/Elf on the Shelf” image, I included a zoomed in shot of Amazon + my book, a dialog bubble indicating key content, and a link to the source at the bottom. A cute graphic to catch attention. Now it’s added to my platform.

I hope you have learned a lot more about various methods to build your platform. If there’s one thing I hope you remember it’s this: it’s not YOUR platform unless YOU own it lock stock and barrel. Building up a site with breadcrumbs on social media ensures you stay in control.

Good luck!

Building your platform – Part III

In the previous article, Building your Platform – Part II, we discussed how to integrate blogging with social media and why it’s good to write more on your own platform, while using social media as a channel to reach others. This week we are going to talk about building a mailing list and why it’s critical.

Blogging vs. Email

As we mentioned last week, blogging takes time. You can’t build a following in weeks or even months. It often takes a couple years to really establish a blogging platform. But guess what – building an email list is just as hard. And to top it off, it’s even more valuable. Why?

Because people still covet emails as more important and more valuable than articles from any other medium.

  • friday

    “Nothing but the facts, ma’am.”

    Email is more popular than social media (85% vs. 62%)

  • People guard their email accounts, making engagement higher (59% open rate vs. 31% click through rate)
  • Better return on investment ($40 return vs. $2-$17 return for every $1 spent)
  • Higher conversion rate (4.16% vs. 0.48%-2.64%)
  • A/B campaigns – battle tested way to improve

In a nutshell, when people launch a business, build some following over the years, they inevitably decide to create a mailing list, wishing they had started it sooner.

You can do that today. Several offer free options for small lists (first 2000 subscribers free at MailChimp). It’s easy to embed a MailChimp subscribe form on the sidebar of your site, on a page (http://greglturnquist.com/list), and through other various channels.

Another nugget of value – when you go pitch your book to an agent or a publisher, indicating you ALSO have nnn subscribers on top of your Twitter follows and monthly traffic only increases your position. You will appear as someone serious, because you have now covered the trifecta of platform building:

  • a blog site with traffic
  • social media channels with a following
  • mailing list subscribers with periodic newsletters

What to do and not do to build a mailing list

follow-meSometimes, having too many choices isn’t the best solution. It’s great when you go to the store shopping for goods. But when it comes to your site, avoid letting people sign up for too many different things. For example, WordPress has the option for people to sign up for new posts. This is a dated feature that precedes Twitter/Facebook.

It’s better to turn that option off and instead encourage people to follow you on social media while also signing up for your newsletter. Having another option means they might not take those preferred paths.

In other words, think of how you WANT people to follow you, and build your site to support that. (P.S. If you look at my site, you’ll find those bits of the sidebar pretty close to the top making them hard to miss.)

Go for the ask

email-askThis one is hard. Hard for many. In sales and advertising, it’s called “going for the ask”. It means, ask people to sign up to your email list.

I’m quite familiar with how a large number of writers are introverts, and going for the ask feels, evilllll. It’s not. It takes a little to overcome this, but do things like put a teeny, tiny link in your mail signature asking people to sign up. If one out of a thousand emails yields a potential signup, then it did it’s purpose.

When you have other opportunities (like the Bio in my latest tech book), consider putting a single sentence asking people to sign up. And in your next e-book, on the very next page after the last page of your story, ask people to sign up.

Those opportunities can pay back over time.

With great power…

doctor-strange-02-03When you build a mailing list, use it wisely, or it surely fall to pieces. Modern mailing lists must comply with anti-spam laws. All the mailing list platforms support this. Hence, if you do stupid stuff, like publish weekly (without telling people that) they will ditch it FAST. Publishing something quarterly may be more to people’s liking.

I subscribe to the Reacher Report from Lee Child. I think they publish no more than twice a year. It doesn’t intrude upon my life, yet provides value to me.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you of the value in building a mailing list. In the next posting, we’ll discuss some advanced techniques to turn your platform from a cobbled together mess into a synergetic brand.

Good luck and happy writing!

Building your platform – Part II

Last week, we took a dive into Building Your Platform – Part I. We learned why it’s important to start building our own site, yesterday. Over time, a site can turn into a key part of your platform. In this post, we can see what role social media should play with our nicely built site.

Blogging…

The-Rest-of-the-StorySo you have a WordPress site. Now what? (Sounds like some self help book). In a word: write! The idea of having a site is to build a presence, and that can only be achieved by writing, writing, and more writing.

Wait a second. Isn’t that what we all do every day on Twitter and Facebook? You bet. And those companies are making millions over the content you and I write there. So in similar spirit, we must write on our sites. But about what? Not to sell!

“It doesn’t provide a place to run non-stop commercials promoting yourself and your books. A blog has to provide value. I don’t know anyone who finds commercials (even infomercials) valuable.” —Sara R. Turnquist

remote-controlIf you use your site and social media channels to sell, sell, sell, you’ll be tuned out faster than a midnight infomercial. Instead, you must write about things that excite you. Things that interest you. It can overlap with what you’re trying to sell. But in all seriousness, selling should occupy perhaps 10% of your total blogging efforts.

There are some who disagree on blogging at all. The alternative advice is to go for real writing gigs starting with published articles on web sites. If you’re goal is to become a paid, freelance writer, that makes sense. But if you’re goal is to be a novelist with several tomes under your belt, blogging is the way to build an audience.

…and socializing

peanuts-gang-worldWhen you blog, the next logical step is posting what you blogged. In short, publish links to your works on Twitter and Facebook. Turn these social media outlets where you can link up the rest of the world as a communications channel. A channel that leads people back to your site. A site you control and can tune, adjust, and optionally list relevant things (like your latest book!)

That’s not the only thing you do with social media. People will follow you if they like your material, if they find you engaging, and if you occasionally have fun links. If it’s 100% your own stuff, people may not enjoy that at all. If you build relationships on social media AND include links to stuff you’ve written, then you’ll have the ingredients for a growing platform.

Believe me, people can spot sincere relationship building on social media vs. throwing stuff over the fence.

To tweet or not to tweet

HamletThe next time you have a golden idea for a post, stop and ask yourself, “Is this enough for an article?” If so, pause and write it down on your site and THEN tweet the link. You’ll get the best of both worlds.

There is more to blogging than this. More tips and tricks. But the core bit is to invest more of your writing in your own site and use social media as the means to share it with others.

And then stick with it. It can take years to really build a following. Certainly doesn’t happen in a few weeks or months.

Next week, we’ll continue this series by discussing the value of building a mailing list. Until then, good luck and happy writing!

Building your platform – Part I

megaphoneSomething I run into time and again is this concept known as Building Your Platform. I’ve decided to provide some useful bits of knowledge I’ve acquired through a series of blog posts.

What’s a platform?

For starters, what is a platform anyway? When it comes to writing, your platform is the place where you can get your message out there. It includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • blogging on your own site
  • social media postings
  • public speaking engagements
  • anything else you can think of where you are in front of other people

(Like that last one?)

In this day and age, if you want to put anything out there, whether it’s a novel, a tech book, or some new fangled solution, you need a means to reach other people and share it. People are really happy that compared to ten years ago, it seems like a few platforms already exist. We all rush out and jump on Facebook or Twitter, and start broadcasting our stuff. Hoping it will pick up.

Guess what? That effort may fall flat, because it’s not the ideal situation.

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” —Andrew Lewis

When we use Facebook or Twitter to put our message out there, we are confined to their rules, their look and feel, their priorities, and potentially, being shut down if we do something that violates their terms. In essence, we are not in control.

google-searchThere’s another nagging issue to deal with: SEO. It stands for Search Engine Optimization. Those are fancy words for “How Google finds you when other people are searching”. Basically, if you spend five years building yourself on Facebook and THEN decide to launch a website, you have to start over. Google won’t look at all your content on Facebook when it evaluates what is on your site.

Best thing you can possibly do: start your own website. Today. Yesterday. Get it?

Start your own website. Blog periodically. Build up your name and reputation there. Then, in five years, you won’t suffer the shock of wanting to move your business off someone else’s platform onto your own.

Building a platform

So we’ve discussed what a platform is, and perhaps I’ve convinced you that it’s time to start one. What now? The next step is build your site. Not get on Facebook. Not get on Twitter. Build your site.

Why? Because at first it will look hard, and you may put it off. I guarantee that if you put it off today, you’ll do the same tomorrow, and five years will pass by. Stop what you’re doing and build that site.

But how? See those cool ads on TV for Wix? Looks real nice. Hold it there TV advertising sucker. One must heed the ancient lessons from softwareland.

“Don’t spend effort on undifferentiated heavy lifting.” –Ancient Internet Secret

What does this cryptic, esoteric expression mean? If you’re goal is to sell books or products then don’t waste your time building a website. Instead, pick the easiest, most ubiquitous option that meets your needs and get back to your product.

Translation: Don’t waste hours/days/weeks building a site with Wix or whatnot. Instead, stand up a WordPress site and be done with it.

Around-the-webWhy the venom you ask? Wix looks great on the TV ads, but if you’re spending time moving boxes around on a site, you’re not building your product. WordPress can be stood up in hours. A handful of plugins and you’re ready to go. You can pick a freebie theme today, pick another one tomorrow, and change the theme again next year. Retooling a website using anything more complicated than that is wasting time. And it will continue to waste time for years to come.

I know how to build websites from scratch. Believe me, WordPress is the bee’s knees when it comes to standing up any sort of e-commerce/blogging platform without writing code!!

Setting up a WordPress site

Okay, I could go into the process of standing up a blog site, but guess what? WordPress is so popular that every hosting service provides as a 1-click installation option. Pick the name of your site (mine is “Greetings Programs”), the URL (greglturnquist.com), and off you go.

P.S. In the same spirit as owning your site, it’s also good to own your own domain name. Domain name is the bit before the “.com” (greglturnquist for this site). Since a “.com” domain only costs about $10/year, this is totally worth it. It will be a core piece of your brand that you own. (BTW, stick with “.com”. There are other suffixes, but they can cost a lot more or be somewhat irrelevant. Find one that’s not taken and scoop it up.)

What you will need after that are plugins. And I’ve prepared a nice list for the ones I suggest key for a decent blog/e-commerce site.

WordPress plugins

I have taught a seminar on standing up a WordPress site. I recommend it for any of my friends and readers interested in becoming a writer. In short, I highly recommend the following plugins as a nice basis:

  • Akismet – filter out spam from comments (free base)
  • Contact Form 7 – create forms so people can email you (free)
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – track/display traffic to your site (free)
  • Jetpack – stats, socialize, publicize, and lots more (free)
  • Thrive Leads – build your email list with A/B testing (one time cost of $67/one site or $97/unlimited sites)
  • Yoast SEO – helps you do SEO right (free base)
  • WP Simply Paypal Shopping Cart – if you want to sell any products directly from your site (free)
  • Custom Banners – create banners and groups of banners with hyperlinks (free)

The ones that say (free base) come free but with upgrade options. The base level may be hunky dory in the beginning. When you are raking in thousands every month, perhaps the upgrade options will be suitable.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of plugins, and guess what. You don’t need most of them. These are key. The rest is building good content over time. Learning the ropes.

In the next article of this series, we’ll dive into other aspects of your platform and how to tie them in with your site. See you there!

Writing a proposal for your novel

junior-devI’ve been writing Darklight for six years now. At first, it was things like Deep Point of View (POV), cutting out adverbs, and other bits of writing craft. Then I yanked out things like explaining too much, removing every expression, every phrase, every word that we redundant. I’ve never faced writing a proposal for my title.

Well now that I’m shooting to reach either an agent or a publisher, I must change gears and put my full attention on writing a proposal.

darklight-query-letters-piling-upThere are two key things to pursue:

  1. Don’t stop
  2. Read submission guidelines carefully.

As for the first, just go and read Steven King’s On Writing if you want to see what struggles he endured to get published.

As for the second, it’s important to know that each agent/publisher are looking for slightly different things.

So I started writing multiple query letters, each one a little different. Some people want a two-page synopsis, some want four pages. Others want a chapter-by-chapter, 1-2 sentence synopsis. And then the worst: comparable titles. You can see in the snapshot I have LOTS of query letters. I never throw anything away. And further down are my two different synopses (which, BTW, took considerable effort!)

But buried in many submission guidelines is more evil, most nefarious, most bedeviling requirement of all: Comparable titles

Stop what you’re doing and go find 3-5 titles that are kind of similar to your own handiwork in some aspect, aren’t too old that they’re worthless, illustrate that you’re book would sell well like those, and yet doesn’t trample on your own originality. (Try to read that last sentence out loud, without taking a break!)

CedricSo I have an eight page proposal written up for a nice, clean SFF publisher I feel I have a decent shot with. I have nicely listed the details of my platform, past/future published works, and the two-page synopsis I wrote a few months ago. Yet I feel blocked on coming up with three titles that I deem comparable.

I’ll figure it out. I always do. But the whole process, from beginning to end, is never easy. It’s never simple. I saw the following in a CreateSpace forum and was sad.

“Yes, I don’t like the marketing end of it at all. I just want to write and let someone else get it out there. Guess I won’t get that unless I get picked up by a publisher.” –CreateSpace forum user

It’s sad knowing this won’t work. The only people that actually get real marketing budget are, as is commonly known, only given to the authors that don’t need it. Nope, those of us that want to get into writing have to do ALL of this legwork ourselves, and it begins with doing our own research of comparables. The first signs of understanding our market, because at the end of the day, publishers are in business to make money, not publish our pet projects.

Good luck and happy writing!