Dealing With Tech Glitches That Steal Your Time

As a writer, even if you're not yet publishing, you're certain to run into tech glitches. A task that you thought would be quick and easy (or at least one or the other) turns out to be complex and time-consuming.

If you're like me, when that happens you probably:

  1. feel frustrated and overwhelmed
  2. find yourself running late for your next appointment or task
  3. swear at your laptop
  4. do all of the above

But none of those things makes you feel better. Or helps you get anything done faster.

I know. I've run into this problem often the last few months while planning the launch of my first podcast.

So how do you keep tech glitches from hijacking your time and your mental well-being?

Predicting Tech Glitches

Tech problems are most likely to happen when:

  1. you're dealing with new (to you at least) technology
  2. you're starting a new project
  3. a program or app needs to be updated

Anytime you try something using technology you haven't used before, odds are you'll run into trouble.

That's because until we use a new app or program, we don't know its ins and outs. A feature that looks easy to use at first glance might require a few preliminary set up steps. Or you'll need to update other software to make it compatible with a new program. Maybe you'll have to hunt for data to input that you didn't expect.

Likewise, a new project often includes steps you didn't know enough to plan for. Or requires using technology you've never used before (see above).

And then there's updates.

A lot of programs update automatically or prompt you to update. Others don't.

If a program or app needs an update, it may not work properly or do what you need it to do. If you don't realize an update is needed until that last minute, that can add a lot of time and frustration to your task.

When It All Happens At Once

My most recent tech glitch incorporated all of the above.

I finally got my first ever podcast episode (for Buffy and the Art of Story) edited. But I exported it as a WAV file, and it took up too much space. I felt so pleased when I realized this morning the reason my file was too large. I thought it would take me about 3 minutes to reexport it as an MP3.

Buffy and the Art of Story podcast coverExcept the software I'm using, Audacity, wouldn't let me.

After Googling and reading help screens and threads I discovered there had been several new versions of Audacity in the last couple months. I needed to update first (not easy in itself), then I could export.

What I thought would take 3 minutes took slightly over an hour.

Planning For Tech Glitches

Happily, there are a few things that can help you deal with tech glitches.

  1. Build them into your project timeline
  2. Carefully choose when you'll undertake any task that involves new technology or that you haven't done before
  3. Make a plan for dealing with unexpected glitches

Your Timeline

A project manager and author I heard speak said the general rule for IT is that everything will take 2.7 times longer than you expect.

He wasn't talking about technology specifically. Just the human tendency to plan our time as if everything will go right when that just never happens.

I find the 2.7 times is a good rule for project I've done before, like writing another novel in the same series.

If I'm doing something brand-new, though (like creating a podcast for the first time) instead I multiply my timeline by 10.

I hope it will take me less time.

But I know there are lots of aspects of the project that I'm completely unaware of. All that extra time gives me time the room to figure all those new things out.

Choosing Your Time

The worst time to embark on a new project is when you're facing a hard deadline on existing work or you're otherwise in a hurry. That's so because while you're dealing with tech glitches , you'll also be panicking about not getting your other work done.

For that reason, it's key to schedule brand-new projects for times when your other responsibilities are lighter.

The alternative — and we need one because most of us have ongoing work with deadlines — is to set a very soft deadline on your new project.

As an example, I had hoped to launch my new Buffy and the Art of Story podcast by the end of September. But I was also working on the launch of my latest novel, which has a hard deadline of November 4, 2019. And I was teaching a new class starting in late August that I suspected might be very time-consuming. (Spoiler, I was right.)

So I didn't announce the new podcast to anyone outside my mailing list subscribers. And with them, I let them know the release date was uncertain.

Even now, I put the first episode up on my website, but still need to upload it to iTunes, Stitcher, and other podcast services. I hope to do that by Halloween.

But I'm not promising anyone that I will.

In a perfect world for the last month I would have been sharing a specific launch date and publicizing for months beforehand. But knowing about all my other work, it was better for me to leave the release open ended.

When A Glitch Happens

When technology problems do happen, here are some steps to take:

Step One:

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you expected glitches. It's normal. You can handle this.

Step Two:

If you're worried about other work, take a moment to figure out if you are better off (a) setting aside your current project and working on something else for the day; (b) setting aside your other work for a few hours and dealing only with the glitch; or (c) alternating between trying different things to address the glitch and doing other work.

Step Three:

When you do deal with the glitch, there's bound to be down time when the software updates, your laptop reboots, or you're waiting for an answer from someone you contacted for help.

Use the time well.

Rather than drumming your fingers on your desktop as you stare at the screen (and maybe curse), turn to some task you've been putting off.

Clean out that file drawer you haven't looked at in a decade. Proofread 10 pages of your latest novel. Fill out those reports you've been dragging your feet on for your other job.

When you're done, you'll feel you've accomplished something. And odds are your computer will be ready for you to take another step.

Technology can be wonderful and it can also be frustrating. I hope the above helps it feel wonderful more often, and saves you some time.

That's all for now. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

 

P.S. Struggling with stress or anxiety as you juggle writing and the rest of life? Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life might be able to help.

Saying No So You Can Write More

If you're writing novels and doing other work as well, paid or unpaid, Saying No to other things is key to carving out time to write and to feeling happy.

For most of us, though, it's hard to do.

So instead, if you're like me, you become more stressed and overwhelmed. You might feel angry — at yourself for saying yes, at the people who keep asking you to do things, at your entire life or schedule.

So how do you say No?

Understand Your No

There are different reasons for wanting or needing to say No to another task or project. Here are several:

  1. It's something we really want to do for ourselves but we feel overloaded already
  2. Someone we care about asked us to do it and we want to help that person but we feel we have no time
  3. It's something we don't want to do but we feel we should
  4. It's something we don't want to do for any reason

It matters which of the above is true because there's no rule requiring us to say Yes or No without any conditions.

For some tasks that fall into 1-3 we might want or be able to say Yes if the circumstances were right.

So how do we do that?

Saying Yes If…

If you're already stretched to your limit (or beyond) but want to take on something new, ask yourself these questions:

  • Could you fit in the task without too much stress a week or month from now?
  • Is there a way to narrow or limit the task so that it fits your schedule?
  • Can you think of an alternate way to achieve the same goal that will take less time or effort?

For example, I adjunct teach legal writing. My students sometimes ask me if I can help with advice on preparing for interviews or go over an article they've written. The demands of reviewing class work alone often make it hard to get my own writing and publishing done. But I really want to help.

So often I answer with a condition: Yes, I'd love to review your article if getting comments back to you in 3 weeks is soon enough.

Or: Yes, I'm happy to give you advice if you can stay after class one evening (rather than needing me to meet at a separate time).

If I truly can't make time to review an entire article, I might offer to do a narrower task such as meeting to discuss proposed topics or reviewing and marking a limited number of pages with suggested edits.

At times I've also offered instead to connect a student with another lawyer who is more familiar with a particular area of law. (After I've checked to be sure that lawyer is willing to help.)

Saying No Clearly

Sometimes you just need or want to say No. But it can be tricky, even if it's something you absolutely don't want to do. That's especially so if the person asking is someone you care about.

The key is to be clear so you don't get talked out of your No.

Being clear means saying the word No without conditions. Or explanations.

Why no conditions or explanations? As soon as you add either, you're inviting the person to come back with proposed ways you could instead say Yes. Or with arguments about why your explanation isn't valid.

Here's how that usually goes:

You: Sorry, I can't come to dinner Sunday afternoon. That's my only time to write.

Family Member: That's okay – it'll only take a couple hours. You can write after. Or in the morning.

You: No, I can't. I've got budgets to prepare for work in the morning and plans in the evening.

Family Member: Can't you change your plans? And why are you working on the weekend anyway? You work too much.

You get the idea.

Instead, try saying: No, it's not possible for me to be there Sunday. I hope to make it next time.

When your family member (or friend or whoever it is) pushes back and asks why or what you're doing, rather than get drawn in, simply rephrase your answer but say the same thing.

It's just not possible this weekend. I'm sorry to miss it and look forward to another time.

If the person keeps pressing, it's time to say that you need to go (hang up/leave/stop texting) but would love to talk again another time.

The Order Of No

The order in which you give your answer can help protect your relationship.

Notice above I suggested saying No (or it's not possible) first and then ending with a statement that lets the person know you care. That's because the word “but,” even when it's implied as it is in the above examples, is very powerful.

In fact, most of us only hear what comes after the “but.”

Think about the classic “You're a great person, but…” No one thinks there's anything good coming after that. So, likewise, if you start with “I'd love to be there, but…” the listener will walk away thinking about the No.

If you flip the order, you're reassuring the person. Your words make it clearer that saying No is about your schedule, and you value and care about helping that person or being there.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on fitting writing into your schedule check out Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.

3 Readers You Need Before You Publish Your Novel

Three types of readers are key to preparing your novel for publication. These readers become part of the process after you have made all your revisions.

Their purpose is to be sure your final product doesn't contain errors that will distract from the story.

Who are they?

  • Continuity readers
  • Subject matter experts
  • Proofreaders

Consistency Is Key

A continuity reader makes sure that your writing is consistent. You ask this person, ideally someone who has not read any previous drafts of your book, to read it solely for this reason.

Some examples of consistency errors:

  • a character walking into a hospital and out of a train station
  • the same house having a ground level front door in one scene and a steep flight of steps to the front door in another
  • the same character being called by completely different names (this error happens to me because I sometimes use placeholder names during early drafts, change them later, and slip back into using an original name now and again during a rewrite)
  • changes in weather or time of day without explanation

You don't need someone with specialized expertise or editing experience to be a continuity reader. Just someone who will keep an eye out for anything that doesn't make sense.

Subject Matter Expert

As you planned and drafted your novel you should have been researching any areas that required understanding certain subjects.

For instance, the second book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series included a missing college student who may have let her student visa lapse.

I checked various online sources to make sure I understood enough about immigration requirements to be accurate.

Before you hit publish, though, you should have someone who knows key areas check to be sure that while rewriting you didn't make changes that mistakenly introduced errors.

Not all subject matter experts need to be professionals in the field. One of my friends is a golfer who tracks sunrises, sunsets, and weather to ensure that he can golf as often as possible around his work schedule.

He checked the dates and times I listed above each scene in my latest mystery novel to be sure that I didn't refer to twilight an hour later or earlier than it should be or set a scene after dark at a time when the sun would barely have begun setting.

Final Proofreads

Novels are long. It's hard to catch every error in 60,000-100,000 words.

So whether or not you've had your novel copy edited or proofread by a professional, it's worth asking a friend or fan with a good eye for detail to proofread once more.

I find the best people for this task are people who simply enjoy reading novels and catching mistakes rather than English majors or people who do nonfiction writing or editing.

That's because novels generally are written in a more conversational fashion. (That's particularly so for my current series because it's in first person.)

Someone who wants every sentence to be complete or grammatically correct will likely give you back a lot of changes you'll need to spend time reviewing but that you won't ultimately use.

It may seem like it would be difficult to find people to do this. But if you ask around among friends and fans you will likely find readers who love getting an advance look at new work and who really enjoy proofreading.

You should also ask the other two types of readers above to let you know if they happen to spot a typo, though you're not asking them to read for that purpose.

That's all for this Friday. Until next week —

L.M. Lilly

 

 

Check Your Book Marketing Assumptions (And Figures)

Understanding your long-term sales figures can significantly improve your book marketing. I say this from experience.

I spent a lot of time yesterday and today running figures. It undermined a lot of assumptions I hadn't even realized I'd made.

What might you discover by checking your sales data?

  • Sales venues that didn't work for one genre might for another
  • A book's launch doesn't dictate whether it will succeed long-term
  • Your audience is growing in unexpected places
  • You may have a surprise bestseller

Where Are You Selling?

You may think you know where your books are selling.

And you might–in a big picture sense.

I figured my sales (excluding audiobooks) for this year to date would break down around  70% Amazon/30% all other sales venues combined (Kobo, Nook, GooglePlay, Apple, Ingram). And when I checked the numbers, that's about right.

But when I looked by genre, I discovered a more nuanced picture.

My non-fiction books are 95% Amazon/5% Other, mainly because I only recently made them available on other platforms. Without a past sales history, I figured Amazon would dominate, and it does.

My 4-book supernatural thriller series, which I began in 2011 and completed in 2017, is a 60/40 split Amazon/Other.

My new mystery series is a 57/43 split Amazon/Other.

While a 3% difference for the fiction series doesn't seem like much, I find it striking because I've been running Amazon ads regularly to the mystery series and only now and again advertising by targeting other platforms.

That suggests to me that at least for now, I ought to spend more on the other platforms where the books seem to be gaining traction.

At the same time, I'll probably hold off on more Amazon ads until I figure out what targets work best. Or perhaps until I have more books out in the series.

Launch Marketing Isn't All There Is

I've been feeling a little discouraged about my new Q.C. Davis mystery series. It's had a slow start. In fact, until I looked at numbers, I thought it started much slower start than my previous series, which falls within the supernatural thriller genre.

Here's what I learned for Amazon and Kobo for the first series (Kobo is my second-best sales platform for it):

Awakening Book 1 (released in 2011, but oldest data is from 2013):

  • Best early month (November 2013): 130 sales
  • Best month (November 2014): 1176 sales

Book 2

  • Release month (October 2014): 84 sales
  • Best month (October 2015): 530 sales

Book 3

  • Release month (May 2016): 50 sales
  • Best month (May 2017): 451 sales

Book 4

  • Release month (May 2017):  506 sales
  • Best month: same

Box Set (all 4 books in one)

  • Release month (Sept. 2017): 5 sales
  • Best month (June 2019): 1916 sales

As you can see, the only book that did its best during the release month was the fourth and final book in the series.

And the Box Set was dismal on release.

This year, though, despite putting it an 99 cents for a special in June, it earned me over $1800 this year to date. This data tells me it's well worth marketing the box set on an on-going basis. And perhaps the individual books in the series, too.

Stealthy Sales

Because Amazon sales overall are generally higher and spike more with promotions, it's easy to overlook the total sales on lower volume platforms. I look at the sales dashboard on Apple and see many days with zero sales. A good day is 5. Also, I assumed Kobo would be my second-best sales platform for my mystery series because it is for my supernatural thriller series.

That's why it's important to look at actual figures and total sales over time.

For example, before I added the total sales for the 2 books in my new Q.C. Davis mystery series, I thought I was selling almost zero on Apple. I figured it broke out like this:

  1. Amazon: $300
  2. Kobo: $100
  3. Nook: $15
  4. Apple: $10
  5. GooglePlay: $5

When I added the figures, here's what I learned:

  1. Amazon: $589
  2. Apple: $169
  3. Kobo: $86
  4. Nook: $86
  5. GooglePlay: $26

As you can see, Apple was strikingly different than I expected. And Nook sales equal Kobo sales. I'd felt frustrated at getting “nowhere” on Apple because it seemed I'd only see 1 sales here and there. But those 1s were adding up.

Because of this, I will now look more closely at marketing to Apple readers.

You May Have A Surprise Bestseller

Sometimes a particular book's marketing is paying off better than you thought. Or the book simply speaks to people more than you expect.

For me, that book is The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year. I felt sure this book was only doing so-so.

Why?

Because there's so much emphasis in the indie author community on rapid release. That is, writing and releasing a book every month or at least every 3 months.

I've never done that.

When I first started publishing I was working 55 or more hours a week running my own law firm. I released books when I could, which wasn't very often.

Now I still do things other than writing, including teaching and handling law projects. I discovered I'm happier that way. So while I release a couple books a year, usually only one is a novel.

In short, I wrote the How-To book I would have liked to have when I was writing my first few novels. I wasn't sure how many other people it would speak to.

It turns out that of the revenue from my 4 non-fiction books on writing, 57% comes from The One=Year Novelist (ebook and workbook editions) and 43% from the other 3 books combined.

Sometimes it really is good to write the book you want to read.

That's all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly