A Podcast That Could Help You Start Your Novel

When you start your novel, ideally your first chapter will do some or all of these things:

  • Open With Conflict
  • Signal The Genre
  • Introduce Compelling Characters
  • Raise Story Questions
  • Provide The Necessary Backstory/Exposition

You can read more about some techniques for doing so in Writing The First Lines Of Your Novel.

I also recently found a fun podcast that can help you figure out how to do this.

What The Audience Wants

I’ve always loved learning about story construction by taking apart films and novels that work or don’t work for me. It’s part of why I love seeing movies with other writers.

Finally A Podcast does something similar with TV series, but from an audience perspective.

So far as I know, the hosts aren’t writers. To me, that makes their insight more valuable. They’re responding as audience members, not story creators.

As a writer, my first goal is for my audience (readers) to be engaged enough with my novels to keep reading and to return to my work again and again.

The Beginning And The End

The two hosts are brothers. They start by watching the pilot of a TV show they’ve never seen and share their insights.

Their reactions include what they think the show is about, how they feel about the characters, whether they find the conflicts compelling, what they understand and don’t about the story, and where they think the story will go.

On the story prediction side, they often guess at which characters will become romantically involved and which might die.

After doing that, they watch the finale of the show, skipping everything in between.

Along with a guest who knows the whole series, the hosts talk about what surprised them, whether their initial take was accurate, and whether they recommend the show.

Helping You Start Your Novel

I find this show so helpful for thinking about starting my stories. It’s most useful to me when the hosts talk about a series I know and love. (I’ve listened to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad Men episodes, for instance.)

Seeing what they don’t get about the show from the pilot is particularly striking.

It brings home to me that what might be obvious to the writer or to someone already excited about the show (maybe because a friend recommended it) could be completely unclear to a brand new viewer.

Also, when predictions are accurate, it highlights examples of excellent foreshadowing and character development.

So far, I see only twenty episodes, the last one in late 2018. It’s unclear whether Finally A Podcast will continue. But I strongly suggest checking out the existing episode list.

It’s a wonderful, fun way to examine what works and doesn’t at the beginning of a long-form story.

That’s all for this week. Until next Friday, when The One-Year Novelist goes wide.

L.M. Lilly

Advertising Books In 2019

One of my main goals this year for my author business is to advertise books in a cost effective way and increase profits. (Books includes ebook, audiobook, and paperback editions.)

As I talked about in The Good, The Bad, And The In Between Of Advertising Dollars Spent In 2018, last year I spent a lot trying different types of advertising. Thousands of dollars, in fact. While I did see some sales from some of the ads, I feel sure at least half of what I spent did nothing to increase sales.

That’s why I decided this year to be diligent about tracking what works and doesn’t and to spend far less–unless or until I figure out what ads are generating an overall profit.

Today I sat down to figure out specific goals and dollar targets. By sharing them I hope I’ll inspire you.

Setting Specific Goals

While in early January I set a budget to keep spending in check, I hadn’t really thought about exactly what result I wanted other than to earn more than I spent.

That’s the kind of fuzzy thinking that led me astray last year. I basically threw money at the wall (okay, at Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, and a whole lot of enewsletter listings). So long as my overall royalties per month exceeded my ad spend I figured I’d sort it out later.

(Not a great plan but, to be fair, I was recovering from a fairly serious injury and a little overwhelmed.)

What saved me from doing the same this year but with a spending limit was a  brand new podcast by Bryan Cohen called Relentless Authors Advertise. Bryan asked listeners what their goals were for their ads. I realized I had a budget but not a goal.

The Basis For This Year’s Goals 

I set my goals based on these theories and data:

  • My ratio of ad spend to sales was about 1:2 last year
  • By looking at what worked best last year and eliminating platforms I’m certain added no sales I should be able to spend less and earn more
  • If I monitor the ads carefully, I ought to be able to tweak them, increase my spending, and increase my profits throughout the year
  • Starting much lower than last year and increasing my spend gradually based on results should help me keep my expenses reasonable
  • I like setting ambitious goals

My initial idea for the entire year, after looking at last year’s results, was to limit my spending to $180 a month ($2,160 a year). I planned to split this among Amazon Ads, Bookbub Ads, and enewsletters, averaging $60 per month for each category.

After listening to Bryan’s podcast on scaling up his ad spend, though, I decided I ought to do that if I can figure out over time what’s working best.

I’m used to thinking about the amount of work and profit on a quarterly basis, which is what I did with my law firm. For that reason, I’m aiming to increase spending and profits each quarter.

Last year I spent 50 cents to earn a dollar in sales. That doesn’t mean I doubled my money, though, because I earn between 30%-70% of the sale price for each book. So this year my goal for the entire year is to spend 30 cents to earn a dollar in sales.

My ambitious sales goal is to double the average monthly sales each quarter by gradually increasing my ad spend but keeping it to 30 cents on the dollar.

In Dollars And Cents

In dollars and cents, here’s the plan/goal:

1st Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $180
  • Average monthly sales: $540

2nd Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $324
  • Average monthly sales: $1,080

3rd Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $640
  • Average monthly sales: $2,160

4th Quarter

  • Average monthly ad spend: $1,296
  • Average monthly sales: $4,320

In addition, any time I can get a Bookbub Featured Deal I’ll take it regardless of the spending budget. Those deals always pay for themselves for my books and earn a profit. Because I can’t count on getting one, though, I haven’t factored them into the average monthly ad spend.

Stay tuned for updates once a quarter.

Also, I encourage you to check out Relentless Authors Advertise if you’re doing any advertising of your books or plan to in the future. Bryan includes useful tips and information. And he shares in detail how much he’s spending compared to his total sales, which is invaluable information.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly 

6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full Time (Part 4 – Where To Write)

At first, switching to writing full time rather than on the side doesn’t seem like it should require changing where you write (a topic already covered in Three By Three: Creating A Writing Space).

But what works well when fitting writing in around the edges of other jobs might not be ideal when writing full time.

Physical Comfort And Well-Being

Whether you sit, stand, or walk as you write, there’s a vast difference between writing for short periods a few times a week and writing many hours each day. If your keyboard set up, for example, causes pain in your neck, hands, arms, or other parts of your body, it’ll likely be that much worse  the more time you are in that position.

Two things helped me:

  • Writing areas that allow varying positions and writing methods.

If you usually sit, consider creating a space where you can stand at least part of the time when you write.

Adjustable desks are one option, but I’ve found the mechanisms for raising or lowering tend to break, so it’s more cost effective in the long run to have one sitting desk and one standing area. (I use stacked storage cubes for my standing “desk.”)

If you always type, try working somewhere quiet and private so you can dictate. A couple options are at home if you live alone or have a room where you can shut the door or in a reserved conference room at a library or school.

As far as how to dictate, many laptops and computers now have a dictation function, as do most smartphones.

There also is specialty software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Or you can pay someone to type your dictation if you can afford that. (For tips on dictating, check out this The Creative Penn podcast.)

  • Experimenting with keyboard set up.

Having your keyboard and monitor at the correct height can ease the strain on your body. You can find advice on general rules (such as, according to WebMD, placing your keyboard slightly below your elbows and the top of the monitor 2-3 inches above eye level) on the Internet.

In my opinion you also need to experiment.

I love my desk, shown along the wall in this photo, but it’s far too high to place my keyboard on.

The table (which cost about $25) from World Market works better for my keyboard height, but when I placed my laptop directly on it I had to look down too much. I solved that by buying a laptop stand and buying a separate keyboard to place on the table.

Over the years I’ve also experimented with moving my mouse to the left, using a Microsoft Natural keyboard (which I found very helpful when my tendinitis in my hands and arms was bothering me), and connecting my laptop to a separate monitor.

If your budget is limited, you can use books or boxes as laptop or monitor stands. I’ve also used folded yoga mats to raise my standing height.

The main concern is not whether it looks good but whether you feel good when you write for hours at a time.

Avoiding Work Spread

When I worked many hours as a lawyer I rarely worked at home. I lived only a mile from my office, and I preferred to keep work at work. That way I didn’t associate being at home with working, adding stress to what little free time I had.

I don’t find writing stressful, at least not in the same way. So I figured I would enjoy the convenience of writing at home.

And I do. To a point.

The danger is that loving your work can make it easy to spread it through your entire life. For a long time I used my dining room table to write, watch videos for relaxation, eat, and visit with friends. I liked the view out the windows. (The view shown here is on a rainy day.)

But after a while I found using the dining table most of the day to work meant I always felt I ought to be writing. Or doing social media. Or watching classes on marketing.

So now I work for half an hour first thing in the morning at the dining table and then I switch to my home office. While I still occasionally work in my main living space, when I leave my office it’s a signal that I’m on a break or done for the day.

Writing somewhere other than home can also help this process, as well as help you separate writing time from writing-adjacent work like interacting with other authors on social media, taking courses online, or scheduling advertising.

You might choose to work at a library or cafe when you are actually writing and do the other tasks from home or vice versa.

Other People

As I mentioned last week when writing on emotional health, when I worked many hours as a lawyer I craved quiet time alone to write.

Now that I mainly write, I really value the hours when I teach because I get to interact with people. In the summer when I’m not teaching, I’m more apt to write in cafes simply to be around more people.

There’s no right answer for every writer as to where you will write best and how much contact you need with others. What’s best for you will likely vary over time depending on things like whether you live alone and whether your other activities bring you in contact with people.

But it’s worth giving a little thought to whether the need for contact with others will require adjusting your writing space if you switch to full-time writing.

Always The Same or Always Different?

A lot of writers ask if they should always write in the same place.

When I wrote on the side, I preferred to mainly write in one spot. It was a good way to divide writing from my other work and the rest of my life, so it helped me switch gears and focus.

There are advantages either way:

Same, Same, Same
  • The feel, look, sounds, and smell of a particular spot, whether it’s a desk in your living room or a corner in your favorite Starbucks, signals your brain that it’s time to write
  • As talked about above, it can help avoid work spread
  • It’s easier to design or create one space with your ideal noise level (or quiet), keyboard set up, lack of distraction, etc., than to create multiple ideal spaces
Different Spaces
  • Varying your writing space might help ease physical strain from being often in the same position, as noted above
  • Changing spaces can help break up your day, making it easier to write more hours
  • It might be easier to achieve whatever balance you need of being alone v. being with people, noise v. quiet, open space v. coziness, etc., if you move from place to place.

That’s all for today. Next week I’ll write more about caring for your physical well being when you write full time.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full Time (Part 3 – Mental and Emotional Health)

Maintaining your emotional and mental health when you switch to writing full time may become more of a challenge than you expect. I assumed I’d be far happier writing full time than when I worked full time at other jobs, and overall that’s so.

But unexpected issues cropped up.

Home Alone

Spending most of your work life writing almost always means spending a lot of time alone.

If you’re used to working a day job with other people around, this change can be difficult even if, like me, you’re an introvert. Granted, I’m an introvert who also likes public speaking and interacting with others, but I need a fair amount of alone/quiet time to recharge after doing either.

When I worked 40-60 hours a week as a lawyer, one of the aspects I didn’t like was that I constantly had to be “on.”

Despite that much of my practice involved writing legal briefs to file in court, it was rare to have more than 15 minutes when I didn’t need to answer client inquiries, make presentations, question witnesses, or debate points in person or by phone. I figured switching to writing for hours at a time would be nothing but wonderful.

And in some ways, yes, it is. I’m far more relaxed than when I worked so many hours in law. In ways I didn’t expect, though, I miss interacting with people.

Some things to consider before you make the switch, especially if you plan to write from home most of the time:

  • When you stop for a glass of water or cup of coffee, you may miss the chance to say hello to someone else or talk about the weather or traffic.

Those mundane interactions are low stress and add a little variety to a day.

  • Even if you like being alone, you may feel a bit blue if you spend full days without talking to anyone in person.

Most of us need some amount of interaction for balance.

  • If you aren’t talking to anyone else, it’s easier to get stuck in unproductive loops of thought.

For instance, if you’re stuck on a scene or you’re upset about a bad review and you work somewhere with other people, they can help you take your mind off it for a while. Someone else’s joke or story about the trip to work might distract you long enough to give your conscious mind a break and let your unconscious solve your issue or put it into perspective.

  • You may find fewer ideas for your fiction or non-fiction.

Interacting with other people gives us things to write about that are outside our own experience. It also can prompt us to research topics that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred to us, revamp our dialogue, or add to a character’s backstory.

How you address these concerns will vary depending on your circumstances and your needs. Here are a few things I’ve found helpful:

  • Writing one or more times a week in a local coffeeshop or library
  • Choosing options that require interacting with people rather than automation, such as depositing checks in person at the bank rather than via ATM or buying vitamins at the local pharmacy rather than online
  • Contacting 1 or 2 people per week to meet with the next week for coffee, a drink, or a meal
  • If meeting people in person is difficult, scheduling telephone calls (or video calls) rather than relying only on text and email. Hearing someone else’s voice can make a huge difference in how connected you feel.

Money Matters

Depending upon what you do now for a living and how much income you need from your writing, you may be on a tighter budget if you write full time.

In 6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full time (Part 1 – Income) I addressed the practical sides of this issue, including creating a spending plan, tracking your money, and planning for the future.

But money also is emotional.

In a literal sense, it’s nothing more than a medium of exchange. I earn X amount doing whatever it is I do and I trade with you for money you earned doing whatever it is you do.

But for many of us it symbolizes one or more of these things:

  • success
  • safety and security
  • love (for example, if we equate giving or receiving gifts with love)
  • moral goodness
  • wisdom
  • belonging

If you’ve made a choice to write and that choice includes changing your standard of living or watching your money more carefully, give a little thought in advance to what money means to you.

For instance, if earning a lot makes you feel successful, and you may earn less for a while, you may want to think about what else equals success for you.

It could be having more control over your work schedule, being your own boss, or devoting your hours to something you love. If you have all of those alternates in mind, you can remind yourself of them if you start feeling you’re not successful if you don’t match your previous income.

A New Type Of Fun

The most unexpected side effect of writing full time for me was needing to find other things to do for fun.

When I worked a ton of hours at other jobs, writing was like my vacation. In fact, my favorite thing on vacation was to spend hours of uninterrupted time a day writing. (Read more on planning writing vacations here.)

When I began spending most of my days writing, I still enjoyed it, but after dinner I’d think, okay, what do I do now if I want to relax by myself? I still did the same things out with friends or family, but my wind down quiet time now seemed empty.

After a while I rediscovered how much I love reading for an hour at a time. I haven’t been able to do that for decades, since before I went to law school. I also love reading at a Starbucks or in a park, something else I had little time for when I worked 40-60 hours at law and wrote on the side.

I’ve also start watching more movies again.

None of these activities probably surprised to you. But I pretty much forgot about them when I couldn’t fit them in for so many years. I love enjoying them again, but it took me a few months to “remember” what I enjoyed.

Consider making your own list of everything you want to do and never have time for before you switch to full time writing.

That’s all for today.

Until next Friday, when I’ll talk more about choosing where to write

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you write full time, what are some of the issues you’ve run into and how have you solved them?


Chickens, Eggs, and Sales (Advertising Your Book Before You Get Reviews)

A question I often get is how to advertise a newly-released book that has few or no reviews.

This issue causes a lot of stress for self published authors, including me, because it’s the old chicken and egg problem. It’s hard to sell books if you don’t have reviews. But it’s also hard to get reviews without a lot of sales.

The best places to advertise e-books are always evolving.

That’s why I periodically search the Internet for articles with up-to-date lists.

Best Book Promotion Sites 2018 is a good example of this type of resource. It includes descriptions of many sites as well as bonus discount codes for some of them.

Caution When Advertising

Below are some advertising options I’ve used in the past–and intend to use in the future–for new releases.

A few things to keep in mind before you advertise:

  • It’s often hard to make your money back on advertising, particularly in the beginning when your book has no reviews.

For this reason, I try to keep my advertising spending at a level I can afford even if it takes a long time to sell enough books to make a profit or cover the cost.

  • The options below are ones that I found helpful, but results vary depending on your genre, the price at which you’re offering your book, whether your cover appeals to your target readers, your book description, and how readers feel about your first few pages (among other things).

So sites that worked well for one of my books may not be helpful for one of yours, or for a different book I published.

  • Before you advertise anywhere, sign up for the newsletter or study the books listed on the site.

That way you’ll see whether the books being promoted are similar to yours.

  • I also find it helpful to see how high advertised books rank on Amazon on the day of the ad.

This gives some clues to whether the platform is effective. Keep in mind, though, that authors may be advertising on more than one platform at a time, so a book in the Top 100 overall or for a category may have gotten there based on a combination of ads.

Digital Book Today

Digital Book Today offers a New Release option for Kindle books. The feature has no minimum review requirement. For 14 days, your Kindle book will be featured on the website’s New Release page and will be included in a dedicated blog post with just 2 other books.

Right now it costs $30. 

The site also offers some genre-specific pages, including one for Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller, which is where I’ll be advertising my new mystery release The Worried Man for 30 days beginning on May 1 (the ebook release date).

While I haven’t found Digital Book Today webpage listings to be as effective as enewsletter options, which go directly to readers’ In boxes, I have seen boosts in sales when I listed my books there.

Digital Book Today also offers some listings for free.

Bargain Booksy

Bargain Booksy lists ebooks on its site and in enewsletters.

You can advertise ebooks on numerous platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and Google Play, as well as include a paperback link and an audiobook link. You can list books that are priced anywhere from Free to $5.

Bargain Booksy’s website says that it has no minimum review requirement, but “every book goes through an editorial review process. If your book does not meet our editorial guidelines, we will email you within 72 hours and issue a full refund on your payment.”

So far, I have not had a book turned down for lack of reviews when it was a new release. I suppose that might happen, but why not try and see?

The price for listing in the enewsletter varies based on genre.

For mystery, right now it is $55. (This site is the only other one so far where I’ve scheduled a new release ad for The Worried Man.)

Q.C. Davis Mysteries, Book 1

Free books can be listed on Freebooksy, a related site/enewsletter.

Fussy Librarian

Fussy Librarian is also a website and enewsletter service.

If you have a new release, you can advertise there before you have reviews so long as you have another book with an average rating of 4.0 with between 10 and 19 reviews (or an average rating of 3.5 you have more than 20 reviews).

Fussy Librarian also lists ebooks on multiple platforms and includes an audiobook link, which is one of the reasons I like advertising there.

As most of my books are wide (meaning they are available on multiple ebook platforms), I prefer advertising venues that allow me to list all my links. Also, I’ve found that when I advertise a discounted Kindle book on Fussy Librarian, I often see additional audiobook sales.

The prices for Fussy Librarian vary by genre and by whether your book is offered for free or at a discount. Right now to list a Mystery/Female Sleuth, it’s $18 if the book is offered at a discount.

Fussy Librarian also offers an enewsletter dedicated solely to free ebooks.


AwesomeGang will include books in its enewsletter that have no reviews.

According to the website and an interview I heard of the founder, that’s because he had trouble getting noticed when he had new books and he wanted to offer an option for authors in that same position.

Listings are available free or for $10.

I’ve only used AwesomeGang once when the service was just getting started, and I couldn’t tell whether or not it really boosted my sales.

For the price, though, I feel it’s worth trying again in the future.


JustKindleBooks sends out enewsletters and lists books on its site.

Despite its name, it includes links to both Kindle books and iBooks.

Listings cost between $18 and $38 depending upon the features you want.

I could not find a review requirement on the website. The site does state, however, that authors are better off launching a book promotion “after your book has some reviews.”

I agree, but in my opinion, it’s sometimes worth spending to get some initial sales. Those may in turn generate reviews, making advertising more effective in the future.

Books Butterfly

Books Butterfly provides many options over a wide range of price points for advertising your ebook in its enewsletter, on several websites, and through its social media pages. You can include links to multiple platforms.

I did not see any review requirements listed.

The cost ranges from $50 up to thousands of dollars, so I personally use some caution in using this service.

The site offers a guarantee of sorts for some of the promotion options if you don’t sell as many books as projected. Read the fine print, though, as there are caveats on that guarantee.

Book Zio

I also did not see a review requirement anywhere on this site.

The cost ranges from free to $49. You can include links to multiple ebook platforms.

I advertised The Awakening, a supernatural thriller, through Book Zio and was very happy with the sales, but at that time the book had about 100 reviews. I do plan to try for The Worried Man, but probably when I have at least 10 or 20 reviews and am offering a significant discount, as I feel I’ll get the best results then.

Ereader News Today

For me, Ereader News Today, or ENT, has been one of the best places to advertise. Through its newsletter, I have usually sold enough books to pay for the ad the day it runs and earn some extra money.

As with Book Zio, though, I have not used it when I had a low number of reviews.

Also, it’s unclear whether a book with no reviews would be accepted.

The website says “while we do not have a minimum number of reviews [that] are required, we do look at the reviews to get an idea of how well the book has been received by those that have read it.”

Further, the site says that it will accept preorders and, if those books have no reviews, ENT will consider reviews of previous titles.

Both of these comments suggest to me that you probably need to have some reviews to be accepted by ENT. Personally, though, I’d submit a book regardless and see what happened.

The cost varies by genre and by the price at which you are offering your book. For mysteries, right now it is $45-$120.

If you found other places to list books with limited or no reviews, I’d love it if you’d share them in the comments so that other readers can see them.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Getting Leverage On Yourself Can Help You Finish Your Novel

The other day I talked with a friend who fell on the ice, her second fall this winter. She’s always had trouble with balance, and she’s worried because this time her injuries were more serious.

I asked if her doctor suggested anything to  prevent falling. She said oh, yes, she has 10 minutes of balance exercises to do each day but she never does them.

Most of us have things that, if we did them regularly, would help us reach our goals. We know what they are, yet often it’s hard to follow through.

The challenge of following  through day after day and week after week to reach a long-term goal is something novelists grapple with all the time.

No matter how fast you write, it’s impossible to finish a novel in one sitting. You need a long-term habit of writing in smaller chunks over many days, weeks, or months to reach (on average) about 80,000 words.

So how can you make it more likely you’ll do that?

A Tale Of Two Friends

When I attended the Oregon Coast writers workshop last fall, Dean Wesley Smith talked about when he was a college student taking a writing class.

He and his friend both wanted to write a story every week and submit it to a magazine or other publication.

They agreed to meet for dinner once a week. Whoever had failed to  complete a new story and mail it (this was back when you had to actually print and mail your manuscripts) would buy dinner.

As both were students and neither had much money, the fear of needing to pay for dinner got both of them to finish and submit stories weekly.

The agreement between these two friends is a great example of using leverage and accountability to meet writing goals.

Leverage And Accountability

You probably first heard of leverage in connection with moving physical objects. It literally means exerting force by means of a lever. It also means to support or strengthen.

When it comes to personal habits, to get leverage on yourself means to use a consequence or outside force to exert more pressure on yourself.

In the story above, the consequence of paying for dinner on a tight budget created pressure to accomplish the weekly task of writing, finishing, and submitting a story.

Accountability also can be used to get leverage on yourself.

Dictionaries define accountability as an obligation or the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. That’s why corporations are talked about as being accountable to shareholders.

On a personal level, by telling someone you trust your goals and setting a schedule for reporting your progress (or lack of it) you become accountable to that person.

It’s much harder to skip doing something if you not only must admit it to yourself but to someone else.

Dean Wesley Smith’s story includes accountability.

In addition to the cost of a meal, he’d need to admit to his friend that he’d failed to do something he’d said he would or, on the flipside, he’d get to enjoy reporting that he’d accomplished his weekly goal.

Getting The Leverage To Finish Your Novel

The One-Year Novelist (my latest release) includes within its week-by-week plan specific ways to get leverage on yourself to finish your novel. You can adapt the methods, though, to fit your own schedule.

Here are a few options:

  • Tell three people that you will finish your novel by this time next year. (Or by whatever date you choose, just be sure to set a particular date.)

Ask each person if you can check in (via email, text, or some other type of message) every so many weeks to share an update on your progress.

If one or more of those people is willing, have a phone conversation where the person asks how you’re doing. But even if you simply report without getting a response, having to tell someone else will help you stick to your goal.

Caveat: I don’t suggest relying on posting on social media.

While it’s true that many people may see your goal and your periodic progress posts, there’s no guarantee that the same people will see them each time. Having to tell specific people who will follow your progress creates a lot more pressure and accountability.

  • Write down why you want to write and finish your novel. Be specific.

Do you love immersing yourself in a fictional world? Is it relaxing to get away from real life and write fiction?

Will you feel proud of yourself? Will you be fulfilling a lifelong dream?

Putting your feelings about finishing your book into words on a page will get you in touch with how wonderful you’ll feel if you achieve your goal, and you can look back at it when you need inspiration.

  • Now do the opposite and write how you’ll feel a year from now (or whatever timeframe you choose) if you haven’t finished your novel.

Be just as specific here.

The idea is to clearly identify and feel what it will be like if the time passes and you didn’t reach your goal. Look at these written feelings to spur you on as you write or when you’re tempted not to write.

If you want to add accountability, share both of the pieces of writing you’ve done with a trusted friend.

  • Close your eyes and imagine the moment you finish your novel.

If you like to type The End, see those words on the screen.

If, like me, you like to print out your manuscript to review, envision the printer shooting out the pages.

Get in touch with the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel.

  • Plan a reward for when you finish your novel.

It could be a weekend away, a longer vacation, or something as simple as a fancy latte at Starbucks. Whatever it is, though, it’s something you vow you won’t do until you finish your novel.

(I did this when I started my own law firm by skipping my favorite Chai Latte until I got my first check from a client. That was the best Starbucks drink I ever tasted.)

That’s all for this week, though you can always follow me on Twitter for other writing tips and ideas.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you’d like help fitting in the time to write your novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year helpful. It’s available in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Using An EBook Formatting Service

A couple weeks ago I wrote about using Vellum as a self-publishing tool. It allows you to pretty easily convert your word processing files to ebook and print formats.

A lot of writers, though, have asked me about using a service to do this instead. 

Up until this year, that’s what I did with each of my novels. It’s a good option for many writers who self-publish.

You can also check out the free formatting option at Draft2Digital. I haven’t used it myself, so I won’t comment on it.

When Should You Pay Someone Else To Format Your Book?

In my opinion, contracting out the formatting of your book makes a lot of sense if:

  • You don’t like working with software

If using new (or any) software makes you want to tear out your hair, it may be worth paying a service. While I find Vellum is pretty user-friendly, as with any software, it takes some effort to learn its quirks and ins and outs.

Also, user-friendly is a relative term.

I’ve used computer programs for over thirty years, so a lot of things that seem obvious to me could be challenging to understand if it’s your first attempt to use a program beyond a word processor.

  • You need or want to minimize the amount of computer work you do

Many writers, including me, struggle with neck strain or back strain from typing a lot. Other issues from laptop and computer use include eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and prolonged inactivity.

You may prefer to pay someone else to do the technical work so you can reserve your computer time for writing. This can be especially important if your day-to-day career also requires a lot of typing.

When I worked a lot of hours as a lawyer, I spent much of my day in front of my keyboard, as I wrote a lot of legal briefs, corresponded with clients mainly by email, and kept my books on my laptop. Whatever computer work I could outsource for my self-publishing, I did.

  • Your time is limited and you can afford to pay a service 

Sending your word processing file to a service can also save you time.

There are a few caveats, though.

You will still need to review the finished product and flag any conversion errors. This takes time in itself. With Vellum, I find I integrate this into the formatting.

Also, correcting errors directly in the Vellum file generally doesn’t take any more time than sending notes on the errors to a service.

Despite that, overall, having a service format your book is usually quicker.

All of the above, of course, assumes you can afford to pay a service. To give you an idea of cost, before I started using Vellum, I sent my files to 52novels.

Here are the prices from its website as of December 29, 2017, when I’m writing this:

Formatting manuscript into an ebook format from Word, WordPerfect, RTF, or another “readily workable native text format”:

Under 15,000 words: $125
15,001 to 40,000 words: $150
40,001 to 100,000 words: $200
More than 100,001 words: Quote, with $225 minimum

Keep in mind that if you ask for too many follow up corrections due to your own errors in the manuscript, you’ll also need to pay per-correction fee.

Print conversion has additional fees. (See the pricing page here.)

  • You’re not sure if you’ll write or publish another book

If you’re not sure if you’ll write or publish another book, it probably makes more sense to pay a service for formatting.

It’ll probably be cheaper than the cost of Vellum or a similar program. Even if it’s not, you won’t need to spend time learning a new program that you may never use again.

Tips On Working With A Formatting Service

Based on my own experience, there are some things you can do to make working with a service go more smoothly.

  • Get A Recommendation

You can do an Internet search and find plenty of ebook and print formatters.

It’s best to get a recommendation, though, from another writer.

Ask about how reliable the service is, whether there are hidden costs, whether the service keeps to the promised schedule, and if there are any reasons the writer would not recommend the service.

  • Plan Ahead

As with any business, there are busy and slow times for ebook formatters. It’s best to contact a service well in advance to find out what the waiting time is before your book can be started and how long the conversion process takes.

Be sure to check the schedule before you announce a release date for your book or, worse, set it for preorder.

That way, if the timeframe is longer than you’d expected, you can push back your dates or shop around for another service.

I’ve waited as short a time as 2 weeks and as long as 6 weeks. I’ve gotten files back sometimes in days and sometimes weeks. So far, happily, the times have always conformed with the estimates I was given or been shorter.

  • Finalize And Proofread Your File, Including Back Matter

As noted above, if you need to make too many changes after conversion, you’ll need to pay extra.

If you carefully proof your file and have someone else proof it as well before you send it, you’ll be much less likely to need a lot of changes.

Also, don’t forget to add any back matter, such as an Author Biography and/or an Also By page and provide links to your other works, your website, your social media platforms, or anything else you want your readers to find.

It’s easy to forget about those pages in your rush to get your story polished.

If you create those back matter pages quickly when the service reminds you (as some formatters do), you’re more apt to make errors that require corrections later. (At least, I’m more apt to make errors, as exactly that happened with When Darkness Falls, the last book I had formatted for Kindle.)

  • Proofread And Eyeball The Formatted Files

Carefully check the files you get back.

Doing so will help you spot proofreading errors you missed. It’s also vital for spotting conversion errors.

Glitches can happen with any conversion, and you don’t want to find out after you’ve started selling your book that certain letters were replaced with odd-looking characters or the paragraphs are running together.

The latter point is why I mentioned “eyeball” above.

It’s important not only to look at words and paragraphs but to scroll through the pages to see that chapter headings, chapter endings, and back matter all look right.

You’ll also want to check the links in the Table of Contents and in your back matter.

I hope you found the above useful!

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Promoting Your Audiobook

It’s not easy to promote audiobooks, at least those done through Audible/ACX. You can’t run a sale because you have no control over the price.

I just listed The Illumination with Audiobook Boom.

One thing you can do to help get reviews is to request free promo codes from ACX.

You will almost always be able to get 25 for a new book, and sometimes I’ve gotten additional codes down the road.

You can then submit your book to Audiobook Boom.

For $10, Audiobook Boom (if it accepts your book), sends a listing about your audiobook to its list of almost 5,000 subscribers.

How Audiobook Boom Works

Those who are interested in listening to and reviewing your audiobook request it. You are not required to send any of them a promo code, though.

Audiobook Boom sends you each requester’s name, email address, and review profile on Audible (or sometimes Goodreads). You then look at the profile and decide if you want to give that person a promo code to use to download your audiobook for free.

I just did this for the fourth (and last) book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series, The Illumination.

When I checked profiles, I looked for people who either (a) had reviewed a lot of books (many had reviewed hundreds) or (b) had reviewed at least 6 or 7 audiobooks that fell within the supernatural thriller, suspense, horror, or occult genres within the last year or so.

One person had reviewed 5 audiobooks but judging from the bare man-chests on 4 out of 5 of the covers, they all had a strong romance component.

My Awakening series has an occasional sub-plot involving a romantic relationship between characters, but it’s minimal and, for one couple, occurs entirely off-screen. So I didn’t send that person a code.

If a person uses the code to download your book, you do get some credit on your Audible sales dashboard.

It’s hard to say exactly what that translates to in dollars, but I’m pretty sure every time I’ve used Audiobook Boom it has paid for itself.

Potential Drawbacks

There are possible downsides.

(1) There’s no guarantee that your audiobook will be requested. I’ve always had at least 10-20 people request each book in my series. But even if no one does, you’ve only lost $10, so I think it’s worth a shot.

(2) Not all requesters actually leave reviews.

That being said, Audiobook Boom does ask that you report if people don’t leave reviews, and that eventually may take them off the subscriber list.

(3) Audible has changed its practices. You used to be able to use the promo code yourself to send your book as a gift to the requester. Now instead you send the person the code with instructions on how to download your book. There is nothing, though, to stop the person from using the code for a different book entirely.

(4) Finally, there is the obvious possible drawback–people are not obligated to leave a positive review.

For the most part, though, if your blurb and cover accurately signal the genre and your audiobook is of reasonable quality, most people will be fair. At worst, if they don’t like something, they’ll say why, and you may learn something for your next book.

Let me know if you try it out.

(For more on creating audiobooks see 3 Ways To Create And Distribute Your Audiobook and The Cost To Create An Audiobook Edition Of Your Book.)

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If, like me, you are posting an audiobook that is not the first in the series, you may want to make sure you have codes for previous books available as well. I’d rather give someone an extra code to try the earlier book first than to have them try to listen from the middle and not understand what’s happening.


Making Your Book Description Look Pretty On Amazon

If you’re pretty new to self-publishing or you’re planning to publish soon, you may not know that you can customize how your book description looks on Amazon.

Compare These Descriptions

Here’s a description of a Vampire Queen Saga boxset (which I haven’t read, I picked this for the typeface) that uses different type sizes, boldface, italics, and paragraph spacing.

This approach highlights the tag lines, italicizes titles, and makes the entire description appear easy to read.

The description below is from an Anne Rice book.

It includes boldface, but the paragraph of description is not broken up at all, making it a little less inviting.

Changing The Appearance Of Your Book Description

You can customize your text in your KDP Dashboard. Choose Edit Book Details for your published book.

In the description box (shown below), you’ll add some codes, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Click Save at the bottom and the next screen until you scroll down to Publish. You’ll need to republish for your changes to appear.

Adding Codes

You don’t need to know coding already or be a programmer or website developer to customize your text.

To see some of the basic codes that can be easily added, I use this blurb preview page. It lists “Allowed Tags,” such as <b>, which turns on boldface, and </b>, which turns off boldface. The <h1>, <h2>, etc., are headers.

For example, the <h4> in my Super Simple Story Structure description above makes the first two lines larger and boldfaced and adds an extra blank line after them. The </h4> turns off the header setting so the next lines are in regular text:

In the blurb previewer, you can type or paste your description into the Input box, experiment with adding codes, and see (roughly) how they will look in the Output box below.


The Output display you’ll see is not always perfectly accurate. After you change your description in the KDP Dashboard, watch for the description to update on the book’s sales page and check it so you can quickly modify it if something doesn’t look quite how you expected.

Experimenting with the codes and how they look is a great way to spend an hour on a gloomy winter day.

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Using Vellum To Create eBooks And Paperbacks (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 3)

If you self-publish your work or plan to, Vellum is a valuable tool that can make your life easier.

I used to pay services to convert my Word files to ebook and print formats, but now I do it myself. (For more on using a conversion service, see Using An eBook Formatting Service .) Doing it yourself is less expensive and it takes only a little more time than it used to take me to send in edits to files the services created for me.

It’s also is far less expensive (considering both time and money) to do updates, such as when I want to add a book to About the Author and Also By pages.

Right now, Vellum works on Mac, which is how I use it, and not for PCs.

I have heard, though, that you can use Mac in Cloud to run Vellum. (I have not tried that myself.)

Create Publishing Files Easily

Originally, Vellum created ebook files (including mobi for Kindle and epub files for other platforms like Kobo and iBooks) from your word processing files, but not print books.

Now you can create paperback editions with Vellum as well.

Here’s a screen shot of the page where I added title information yesterday for my latest book The One-Year Novelist.

Screen Shot from The One-Year Novelist Title Section on Vellum
Favorite Features

Vellum creates that column on the left automatically, listing your chapters. (For this book, I used Weeks instead.)

It also creates a Table of Contents for you.

One of Vellum’s many  wonderful features is that you can drag your word processing file into Vellum, format it quickly, and generate all the types of files you need in one step.

For print, Vellum generates a PDF you can upload to whatever print platform you’re using (such as CreateSpace). It automatically inserts headers with the book title and author, allows you to choose trim size, and sets the pages with the correct gutters.

How It Looks

There are different options for how your chapter headers look.

Below is what I used in The One-Year Novelist, where I titled each section by Week rather than Chapter. I’m hoping to finalize the print edition over the weekend and have the paperback available by the end of next week.

If you want to customize your print edition, you can use the Duplicate feature to create a new copy of your book and edit that version for print.

Cost And Ease Of Use

You can download Vellum for free and see how you like using it, which is what I did at first.

If you want to generate files to publish, then you need to purchase. You can buy a license to publish only ebooks, ebooks and print, to publish a limited number of books, or to publish an unlimited number.

Buying the unlimited license with print and ebook cost me under $300, which is about the same as I paid to have a service convert two novels to ebook formats only, so for me that was the best deal.

If you are pretty comfortable using word processing programs, I think you’ll find Vellum user-friendly. Most features are easily findable and, if not, a quick Internet or Help search usually reveals the answers.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on tools of the writing trade see Scrivener (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 1) for writing software and Canva (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 2) for creating graphics.