Author Beware

If you're publishing your own work or planning to, there are companies and individuals out there looking to make money off of you.

That's not necessarily bad. Professional cover designers and editors, for instance, provide a valuable service that authors should expect to pay for.

Unfortunately, though, some individuals and companies offer services at prices far higher than their value, make promises they can't keep, or are out-and-out scamming authors.

That's why this Friday I'm recommending two sites to check when you're contemplating spending money on publishing, David Gaughran's website and the Alliance of Independent Authors' Self-Publishing Advice Centre.

The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) provides advice on writing, marketing, book rights and contracts, book design and formatting, and more.

You can use the Search function on the self-publishing advice page to search for a particular company or type of service, or you can click on a specific topic to scroll through information. (You can also search on the specific topic pages.) You don't need to be a member to read any of this information.

David Gaughran also regularly writes about topics to help indie/self-published authors succeed. Recent topics include improving results with ads on Amazon, scammers in the Kindle store, and the importance of making sure your book is exclusive to Kindle Unlimited if you participate in that program.

He also exposes services that are bad deals for authors. As with ALLi, you can use the search function on his site to see if he's written about a company or service you're considering paying.

Have you found a site that's particularly helpful in calling out services, individuals, or companies that may be taking advantage of indie authors? If so, please share it in the comments.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Money And Your Characters

Writing believable, compelling characters requires knowing what's happening in their minds and hearts. It also requires a deep understanding of human behavior.

One key to both is to figure out the relationships your characters have, including their relationship with money.

That's so because people’s finances hit on all the same emotional issues as family, romance, and friendship.

What Money Means To Your Character

Your Character And MoneyMoney has lot of layers.

First, it has a practical and literal meaning. Unless your character lives in a society that is all barter, she needs money to survive.

Money also places a value on things, work, and—in some people's minds—people. 

The average Major League baseball player in the U.S. earns about $4.47 million a year, while the average salary for a high school teacher in the U.S. is $47,760.

How Much Your Character Earns

You can argue about whether or not this statistic means our culture actually values ball playing more than teaching and what other factors go into those salary differences.

For the purpose of building your characters, though, it hints at many important questions.

For instance:

  • If the amount your character earns per year is zero, does that affect her self-esteem?
  • What if it's in the top 1%?
  • How about if it significantly increases or lowers one year?
  • What if it's higher or lower than the character's best friend, sibling, spouse, grown child, or parent?
  • What does the amount earned per year mean to your character?

Money might be how your character measures success. It also might be a measure of good or evil.

To one person, being well-to-do financially could indicate being a good person who is showered with the bounty of God or the Universe. To another, it might symbolize selfishness or greed and signal underhanded dealings.

Does Your Character See Money As Love?

Money can serve as a proxy for love, which is why some wills and trusts lawyers advise clients to leave an exactly equal amount to each child, regardless of circumstance.

Going back to our ballplayer/teacher comparison, parents whose only real asset is a modest house may look at their baseball player child and think it's ridiculous to leave him half of it. It will be a drop in the bucket to him. But leaving the entire house to the high school teacher child might cover a grandchild's college bills, be much needed to supplement a retirement fund, or fund a move to a nicer neighborhood.

But giving everything to one child, even when the other is in excellent shape financially, can create bitter, “Mom always loved you more” feelings.

Disputes About Money

The best way to figure out how your character feels about money is to ask what she would do in a dispute over money.

Let's say your character gave a sibling $5,000 two years ago to help pay for a child's car or tuition. Your character believes it was a loan, the sibling says it was a gift. Your character absolutely does not need the money.

(You can switch the amount to $100 or $1,000 if that's more realistic.)

  • If the dispute is never resolved, how long will your character think about it or talk about it?
  • Would your character consider talking to a lawyer or suing to get the money back?
  • Would your character ask for the money from the college student/car buyer?
  • Is it likely your character would stop speaking to the sibling?
  • If your character says, “it's not the money, it's the principle of the thing,” what is the principle?

These issues overlap into family, and that's part of the point. If money means love, success, who is right or wrong, who is honest, etc., that's magnified when it's someone with whom the character has a personal relationship.

Because of that, drawing out your character's feelings and beliefs about money reveals a lot about what matters to him and who he is.

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. This article contains excerpts from Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out, which is available in paperback and Kindle editions (and is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers).

Improving Your Dialogue

Writing dialogue is a challenge for most writers. There's making it sound “real” or “natural” without it actually sounding the way people talk, which includes constant “uhs,” incomplete thoughts, and sentences that make no sense.

(I discovered that last one in my law practice when I read transcripts of testimony. I was surprised how often people say things that everyone understands in the moment but that is confusing or incomprehensible when read later.)

Then there's the rhythm and musicality of great dialogue. Read or watch a David Mamet play (Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna) or Aaron Sorkin show (West Wing, The Newsroom, Sports Night) for great examples of that.

Also, there's character. Just as people don't all talk the same way, your characters should sound different from one another. This difference is not only about how they speak but what they say.

All of which is why this Friday I'm recommending you check out this podcast episode from How Story Works on Character & Dialogue:

HSW #25. Character & Dialogue

Have a great weekend!

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Where Does The Time Go: Tracking Time And Your Writing Life

As I talked about last Sunday in Will Eating The Frogs First Help You Write More?, it's easy for time to get away from you, especially if you're working full time (or more) in another job or profession, raising children, and/or have other significant life responsibilities. Even in a slow week, whatever time you thought you'd have to write can melt away.

So how do you hang on to that time so you can use it?

First, you need to figure out where your time–all of it–is really going. Then you can choose how you want to spend it.

Tracking Your Time

You already know the large tasks and responsibilities. It's the 10 minutes here or half hour there that's unaccounted for. It might not seem like much over the course of a morning or a day. But over a week or a month it adds up.

It's easy to track to your time. Some people use spreadsheets or apps or special programs, but all you really need is a piece of paper or a screen (on your phone or computer).

Write down or type today's date and the time. Yes, right now. Now write what you're doing. A short description, like “read blog.” When you finish, you'll write the time again, note the next thing you're doing, and when you finish that. And so on for the next week.

 

One day might look like this:

If you have kids, or you work longer hours, or you're caring for an ill relative, you'll probably have more entries, but you get the idea.

If this sounds like a lot of trouble, remember, it'll pay off. Because once you know what you're doing with your time, you can make choices.

Adding And Evaluating

At the end of the week, group your tasks into categories and add up how much time you spend on each one.

Look for these things:

  • Tasks you could spend less time on by being more efficient
  • Activities you could skip
  • Tasks you can group together
  • Time spent unintentionally
Spending Less Time

Tasks you can spend less time on each week are ones that could be done more efficiently another way without harming your life. For example, if you can take a train to work rather than driving, you might free 40 minutes a day for writing while you commute.

If you spend an hour and a half a week driving to and from the grocery store and shopping, you might be able to free half that time by shopping on line and having the groceries delivered.

If you watch news 30 minutes a night to keep up with current events, look for a website that provides highlights you can read in 10 minutes a day. That saves 2 hours and 20 minutes a week. Which means you could write for 2 hours and still have an extra 20 minutes one day if you want to read a news story in depth.

Skipping Time

You'll probably find some activities you don't really need to do. Maybe you went on-line to pay bills, which should have taken 10 minutes, but spent another 20 scrolling through social media sites or articles. Or you watch more TV than you realized.

Whatever those activities are, consider each one. All of us need time to wind down and relax, and if those activities help you do that, you don't want to cut them completely.

But be sure whatever it is actually helps you relax. Does reading social media posts help you unwind or make you angry? Does watching a talk show before you go to bed help ease you toward sleep or get you thinking too much about world events, kicking your brain into high gear?

If it is quality relaxation time, consider cutting it by half for week so you can write and seeing how you feel. You might find that works out fine. If not, you can experiment and adjust.

If the activity isn't helping you relax, cut it completely and write instead.

Grouping Tasks

When we switch from one task to another, we lose time. We spend a few minutes figuring out what to do next, putting together what we need for that task or getting ourselves situated for it, and adjusting our mental state.

By grouping similar tasks, you can cut that time without losing out on anything you want or need to do.

For example, once a week I take out my calendar, my general To Do lists, and my list of monthly goals and I write a rough schedule for each day of the following week. It takes me about 15 minutes a week but saves me about 15 minutes a day.

Similarly, if I need to shop on-line, I try to cover all my shopping for the next week or two in one 30-minute session. I visit Peapod to buy groceries and Amazon for things like office supplies, bird food, soap, etc.

If I'm working on a legal matter (which is rare, as I don't take a lot of legal work anymore), I set aside an entire morning to research, write, and make phone calls on the same case. That way I get my file materials and shift my brain into lawyer mode once that week, rather than shifting constantly between fiction and law.

Unintentional Time

All of the above should help you spot unintentional time–time on tasks that don't matter and to which you don't mean to devote minutes let alone hours.

If you're talking to or texting with your brother because you want to catch up and care about your relationship or there's something important to discuss, that's intentional. If you're reading emails with links to articles that don't interest you or answering texts from a friend who doesn't have enough to do at work and is just passing the time, that's unintentional.

With each activity, ask yourself if it makes you happy or serves a purpose that matters to you. If not, that's time you could spend writing instead.

All the examples I gave might or might not be ones you personally can use.

You may never watch news or TV. You may work a much longer day at your office or devote your evenings to your kids, only turning back to your own tasks after they're in bed. And that's exactly the point of doing the time audit. It lets you can figure out where your time is going, find whatever pockets there that allow some flexibility, and choose how best to use them.

Even if you find only 30 minutes a week, that's significant–it's a little over 2 extra hours a month that you can write. And, as we talked about in Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time, you can get a lot done in a lot less time than that.

Good luck!

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Listening To Jim And Bryan Talk About KOBO And Audiobooks

A while back I wrote about earning additional income from a book you've published in ebook format by an creating an audiobook. At the time, the only way indie authors I knew were doing so was through ACX, an Amazon-related company.

The latest option on this front, though, is KOBO. Because for my Awakening series, I entered ACX-exclusive contracts, those books will stay with ACX for seven years each.

If you're starting out, though, you may want to explore other options, which is why I recommend listening to this week's Sell More Books Show.

Each episode is always valuable, so I recommend listening to all of it. If you're short on time, though, and are particularly interested in audiobooks, you could skip to No. 2 of the Top 5 News items. You'll find it 44:51 minutes into the podcast.

But, again, definitely worth listening to the whole show. It includes Amazon's efforts to deal with scammers, info on making Amazon Ads pay, and tons of other great tips.

Episode 180 – Kobo Audiobooks, AMS Advice, and Scammer Crackdowns

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Will Eating The Frogs First Help You Write More?

You've probably had it happen at least a few times in the last few months. It's Sunday night. You look at the week ahead and think, OK, it's not too crazy. I see an hour (or maybe two) when I can write.

Is your writing a frog or an ice cream sundae?

But then on Monday your boss hands you a new project, or your child gets the flu, or the roof starts leaking. That hour or so that looked open becomes a time for crisis management. On Tuesday you really need to get caught up on what you missed on Monday.

On Wednesday, time somehow gets away from you, and by Thursday you're exhausted. You may as well just try again next week.

And so it goes when you're juggling a full time regular job or profession and trying to write on the side.

Next Sunday we'll talk more about where and how that time from Wednesday on disappeared.

But for today, let's talk about frogs.

If you've read much on time management, you've probably heard the “eat the frogs first” approach. But in case not, here it is in a nutshell.

The idea is that most of us don't want to eat frogs–the popularity of Hugh's Frog Bar in Chicago notwithstanding. The frog represents the task you dread and keep putting off. But as you push it toward the end of your day, it weighs on you, sapping your energy and making you less productive. So if you eat the frog first thing in the morning, you feel better, work faster, get more done, and, in a way, create more time for what you love.

So can the frogs first theory help you write more or at least more often? To answer that, let's first look at how you see your writing.

Is Your Writing A Frog?

First off, to you, is writing a frog? In other words, is it a task you want or need to do but dread? Or is it fun, a reward, what you long for, like an ice cream sundae? (If ice cream sundaes aren't your thing, fill in your favorite food.)

To find out if writing is a frog for you, ask yourself:

  • Do you fear doing it “wrong?”
  • Are you worried you'll freeze up and stare at the blank page for half an hour getting nowhere?
  • Does the idea of finishing a story or novel and getting a rejection or bad reviews keep you up at night?
  • Are you excited to sit down at the keyboard?
  • Does time fly when you start to write, so that you're surprised to discover 30 minutes or an hour has passed?
  • Do you feel more relaxed and energized after you write?

If you answered yes to one or all of the first three questions, writing might be a frog. If you answered yes to one or more of the second three, you might be in ice cream sundae territory.

It's not right or wrong to feel either way, and it might change  depending what else is happening in your life or what project you're working on. I feel a little froggy about non-fiction and outlining fiction. First drafting and editing (at least once I've decided where I'm going) is an ice cream sundae with super dark chocolate fudge sauce for me.

Making Good Use Of Your Frogs

For your froggy writing tasks, try eating the frog first. Yes, some days you'll need to deal with the leaking roof. But the next day, rather than diving into your catch-up tasks, unless there's a true emergency, start out with 30 minutes of eating the frog.

Choose one specific writing task or project, set your timer for 30 minutes, and do only that. See how much you get done and if the rest of your day goes more smoothly. If so, frogs first is your best approach.

If you still have trouble sitting down to write, try the bigger frog approach. Presumably you want to write or you wouldn't be reading this article or struggling to fit in writing.

So think of that responsibility or task you'd really love to get rid of so you can write, but you're struck with it. Maybe it's filling out a report for your boss or ferrying your kids to a track meet or cleaning the bathroom. That's the bigger frog.

First thing in the morning, think about that task looming over you and how you can put it off for 30 minutes if you write instead. That should get you sitting at the keyboard (assuming it won't make your kids late for the track meet.)

If that works for you, keep using the bigger frog approach.

Ice Cream With A Cherry On Top

If you love writing, if it's your catnip or ice cream sundae and you still put it off, your issue may be too many frogs. Or a too highly-developed streak of responsibility.

In other words, you feel like you need to eat all the frogs before you allow yourself to do what you really love.

There are good things about that. It's probably why you're a great parent or you excel at your job or profession or everyone turns to you when there's a challenging task that must be done.

But it's okay to spend some time on what you love even if everything else isn't finished. Because the reality is–everything else will never be finished.

How to deal with that and not feel too uneasy about your other responsibilities? Pick one day a week when it's okay to eat dessert first. Or, if that's too disturbing, to at least eat dessert mid-day.

Allow yourself Monday and Tuesday to focus only on your other responsibilities. Or pick two big frogs a day to eat first. But after those two frogs each day, or when Wednesday comes, take 30 minutes to do what you love.

Shut the door, turn off the phone, sign off the Internet, and write. Immerse yourself in your fictional world. Tell yourself that when you come back, you'll be that much more effective and capable because you'll be refreshed and energized. And you know what? It's true.

Whether you eat frogs or dessert first, I hope this helps you fit in your writing.

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

 

 

 

Character And Personality Theories

If you get stuck as you're creating your characters, try checking out some of the theories of personality and/or personality quizzes on line.

One I’ve found especially helpful is the personality type theory of C.G. Jung as used in the work of Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine C. Briggs.

The four aspects of personality Myers and Briggs talk about are:

• Extraverted/Introverted (E or I)

• Intuiton/Sensing (N or S)

• Thinking/Feeling (I or F)

• Perceiving/Judging (P or J)

Check out these descriptions of the different traits and combinations of traits. Creating characters who fall at opposite ends of the scales for them is a good way to ensure enough conflict in your stories.

Some other personality theories and inventories you may want to check out include:

  • The Big Five Personality Domains, which covers Extroversion; Agreeableness; Conscientiousness; Neuroticism/Emotional Stability; Openness to Experience
  • The Hexaco Personality Inventory, which focuses on Honesty-Humility; Emotionality; Extroversion; Agreeableness/Anger; Conscientiousness; and Openness to Experience.
  • Enneagrams, which divide people into 9 personality types such as Adaptive Peacemaker and Quiet Specialist.

Regardless whether you think these approaches are accurate for people in real life, they can help you figure out your characters.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on character development, you can check out my new release Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out.

Planning A Launch Party For Your Self-Published Book

So your paperback version of your book is almost ready. How do you let the world know?

One way is to host an in-person book launch party. (You can also have an on-line party, but that's typically directed toward ebook sales.)

In the days of traditional publishing, your publisher probably would arrange a party at several books stores in different parts of the country. Now both traditionally and independently published authors usually need to take the reins on planning.

So let's talk about the why, when, who, what, and how much of your party.

Here's one of the book release banners I created using Canva.com:

Reasons To Host An In-Person Book Launch Party

The best reason to have any party is to celebrate, and that's the best reason for a book launch party as well.

You've worked hard, you've finished and published your book, and you want to celebrate with other people. Don't lose sight of that as you plan. Have fun!

A party also helps raise awareness of your book, especially among people who don't read on ereaders.

People tend to assume if you publish your own work, you only publish in ebook editions, even if they see an ad or a Facebook message that says otherwise. But when you invite them to a paperback book release party, it sinks in. You'll be surprised how many people will attend and tell you they didn't know your books were available in paperback.

A party also gives you a reason to contact people. Very few people want a “buy my book” message in their email In Box or on social media, but a party invitation is different. It's fun.

It also gives others a reason to talk about your book. They may mention that they're going, invite others along, or talk about the event afterward.

Where To Host Your Book Release Party

If there's a bookstore that's carrying your books, you can approach the manager or owner about having a party there if there's space. A store that doesn't carry your books might also be willing to host if it will help bring new people to the store or increase sales. My view is, it can't hurt to ask.

But don't feel limited to bookstores.

It can be easier to get people to come to a bar or restaurant, and those venues make it feel more like a celebration than a book reading.

Also, a bar or restaurant makes it easier to serve food and drink. While I've been to book release parties at bookstores where they allowed the author to open a few bottles of wine, usually the snacks and drinks are pretty limited.

The easiest and least expensive places to host often are ones where the cafe, bar, or restaurant is one with counter service. Most managers or owners are happy to reserve a portion of the space for you. You handle your own book sales, and the establishment makes money off people buying coffee, drinks, or appetizers.

If you want to treat your guests, you as the author can buy appetizer or pastry trays and/or pick up the tab.

I've recently been to an evening book release party at a private room in Chicago's House of Blues and a Saturday afternoon one in a small Italian restaurant where the authors reserved the whole space. I've hosted parties in a Cosi cafe and in a coffeehouse, and I'm having one in Soppraffina Market Cafe in downtown Chicago later this month.

If you're inviting a small number of people, you can also host at your home or at a party room if you live in a multi-unit building. (The lawyer in me insists that I remind you to check to be sure your liability insurance will cover this type of event.)

Whom Should You Invite?

In person parties are about connecting with current fans and reminding acquaintances, friends, and family that you have a book (or books) out rather than bringing in new readers. That's because unless you're already famous or you've written non-fiction on a hot topic, it's unlikely people who don't already know you (at least through a mutual acquaintance) will attend your party.

One exception is that sometimes someone you invite will bring a friend, and that person will become a fan. That's always a good thing, so let people know that they are free to invite others.

Invite friends, family, acquaintances, and–unless you're keeping your writing and work life separate–coworkers and other business associates.

Also invite anyone else you're in touch with who you think might be interested, even if you've never talked about books with that person before. You never know when you'll discover that a person you've met once or twice really enjoys the type of book you write and will be thrilled to discover you're an author. Sometimes these people become your best advocates.

Remember, this is the perfect time to let everyone know you have a book out.

Don't worry, if people aren't interested, they'll RSVP No or simply delete the email or invite. As long as you don't hound them about why they're not attending, you won't offend them.

How Much Will This Cost And How Much Will You Make?

For most authors, an in-person event isn't a money maker. In fact, it might cost more than you take in. Think of it as advertising and, again, as the celebration it is.

How much you spend depends on your budget. The event I attended at the Italian restaurant had a lovely appetizer table and an open bar. I didn't ask, but it had to be quite pricy, I'm guessing at least $40/attendee if not more. The second event I attended had appetizers that were passed by servers and a cash bar, including for water or soda.

If you are on a tight budget, though, you can opt for the bookstore or coffeehouse approach and have limited refreshments or let people buy their own.

The event I had at Cosi cost me about $100 for sandwiches and pastry trays. (The manager gave my guests a 10% discount on their drinks, which was nice.) I also spent about $40 on drawing prizes. I sold 40-50 books, netting $4 per book.  So I broke even on the event, but I also added quite a few people to my email list.

For my September 21 event, I'm threading the needle price-wise. I'm having an appetizer bar and passed hors d'oeuvres as well as non-alcoholic drinks, but it's a cash bar for alcohol. (As you might guess, including an open bar would have nearly doubled the cost.) This will cost about $27 a person.

Will I sell enough books to cover that? Probably not, but it'll be a great time.

What Do You Do All Evening?

Most book release parties last a couple hours. To make it more fun for your guests, it's nice to do more than have your books available.

I usually have a trivia quiz about the events in the first 1-2 books in the series and a separate drawing for anyone who signs up (or already is on) my email list.

Prizes usually include an autographed book, a $25 Amazon gift card, an Audible download code, and having a character named after the person in a future book. (To my surprise, that last one is the prize almost everyone wants.)

It's a good idea to enlist a good friend to handle book sales so you can chat with people and sign without sitting behind a table all night.

You can also read some pages from your book. I personally don't usually do that, as it changes the party atmosphere. One author I know played a portion of his narrator's reading of the book. I'm considering asking the narrator for The Illumination how she feels about that, as she has a wonderful voice, and I'm so excited about her take on the characters.

Some authors, rather than sell their paperbacks, give them away and ask people to write reviews.

I haven't tried this myself and am a little skeptical. Some people will attend and buy (or accept) a copy of your book to support you, but they may not be big readers or may not read in your genre. So while they may mean to write a review, they may never finish the book and do it, and you'll be left with an acquaintance or friend who feels guilty every time they see you. (Sort of like when you loan someone money.)

And if it's not their usual genre, you run the risk of them disliking the book and either avoiding writing the review or writing a poor or lukewarm one. See guilt issue above.

Despite that, if you want to try this approach, my advice is to give out the books and say something like, “If you like the book, please write a review. It'll really help me out.”

Good Luck!

If you have questions or have already hosted your own party and want to share your experience, please post in the comments.

Thanks,

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you're in the Chicago area September 21, 2017, and would like to attend the book release party for The Illumination to get ideas and help me celebrate, here's the info.

Writing A Book Description For Your Sales Page

One of the toughest things for self-published writers, especially novelists, is to write sales copy for your book. I say “especially for novelists” because we're used to writing long. If you're like me, even your short stories tend to top 20,000 words.

Also, most of us never had training in copywriting, and writing a book blurb that will sell seems as foreign as being asked to come up with a magazine ad or television commercial.

That's why I recommend Bryan Cohen's How To Write A Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good.

As the subtitle suggests, the book provides clear, simple steps you can use to write a gripping description of your novel. I found the exercises extremely helpful. Best of all, the way Bryan Cohen broke the process down alleviated my anxiety about writing a good description.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly