Tuesday, 27 May 2014

4 Episodes Down and A Side-Thought on Willpower


Can you believe it, it is week 6 of a 10 week term at school? Over halfway, and counting down til the July holidays.

I've spent the past few weeks working on more episodes for my romance serial. Episode 3 took me almost a full two weeks to write. One scene I rewrote three times before I could move on. It took me days to work out what the problem was. In the end it came down to not knowing my characters well enough. There was a new character, Timothy, who I didn't really get. So I ended up spending an hour interviewing him. I asked him all about how he felt, what he wanted, as well as a bit about his past relationships and history. Suddenly he made a lot more sense. Once I got back into my main character's eyes (it's written in the first person), it was much easier to describe what was going on as I could guess what Timothy was thinking behind his actions.

Episode 4 then came out in three days. The second day I really wanted to go see a movie (the new X-Men), but I had told myself I wasn't seeing any movies until I finished the entire series. Surprisingly, that wasn't very motivating. It was just too far off to imagine the gratification. So in the end I said I could see the movie that night if I wrote 5,000 words. 5,037 words and two and a half hours later, I was out that door!

I'm now working on Episode 5, so feel I'm getting somewhere. And just to let you all know, I still haven't worked out which guy she's going to end up with!

To break up the writing a bit, I've also been thinking about cover art (a fun diversion). Testing out fiverr.com, I got Goodaugther to do an original digital watercolour for the serial (just so you know, because I wanted it detailed, high resolution and with the psd file, it wasn't $5, but I think it was still a fantastic deal at $25). I gave her a few examples and told her that I wanted a brownhaired girl in a cafe with a laptop and a coffee. Now I just need to add the text and play with it a bit.

And can I just say that writing a serial is FUN! Each episode is short (12,000-15,000 words), so the action needs to be fast paced, and no slack sentences. But overall it is a much longer work than a novel (I'm aiming for 14 episodes at the moment), so a lot more can happen. I have characters popping in and out, situations coming up and then hiding away until a few episodes later, and lots of other excitement. Though, I do keep remembering things that I should bring in a bit earlier, or refer to again, so I'm very glad that I'm not actually publishing it an episode at a time. Maybe once I'm a bit more practiced at the artform I can do that. But for now, I want to get as closed to finish as I can.

Out of the three publishers I queried, one has gotten back to me saying it was bit too niche an idea for them, which is fair, but the other two are still out there, possibly considering it.

By the way, I've loaded the first day as a free sample on the Synopsis page, if you're interested in seeing what it's all about. 

Finally, for those who need some constructive procrastination, I watched this great YouTube video on current research behind Willpower. It is about an hour and goes through some really interest studies, and gives you five great hacks for improving your powers. Who doesn't want more willpower? So enjoy.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

What To Do With A Good Romance

Hello all.

Well, I suppose after giving you great advice regarding sending work to publishers, I should probably take it myself.

I've been so excited about my romantic serial, I hadn't actually stopped to consider whether it would be worth sending to a publishing house. Obviously it's no good for a strict publisher, but as I've found out through a bit of Googling, there are a number of romance imprints that are purely digital. If they haven't gotten into serials yet, they seriously need to. And I'm going to be the one that suggests it to them.

So, I've polished up episode 1, and am just cutting the word limit a bit as it's longer than I intended. Then hopefully tomorrow, will start sending it off to a few imprints and see if anyone's interested.
While I'm waiting for them to get back to me, it's full steam ahead with the writing. If nothing else, it'll give me time to write out more before self-publishing it myself, as well as a thought out sales pitch and description.

And of course, if some publisher did want it... well, one can dream :D

Can't believe it's Wednesday, again. As to my goals as written up last time:

- Create cover for series.
Have a wonderful girl at Fiverr working on some cover art. Will hopefully see the results by the end of the week. Might not need it, but a nice bit of cover art never goes astray. 

- Get Episode 1 out. (yah!)
Well, I'll get it out to publishers, so counting that as a win when I do it. 

- Edit episode 2 and send to editor.

- Start writing episode 3.
I've written the first scene and a half, so that counts.

I also finished 'A Tale Of Two Cities' (had me in tears) and am now halfway through 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts', very interesting both for myself and handling others.

Okay, so doing pretty well.

By next Sunday:
- Finished Quiet.
- Finished Episode 3
- Submitted Episode 1 to at least two publishers.

That would be quite nice.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Quick ROW 80 Check In

Last post I wrote about how I'd given up my Will To Fail. It was a pretty good post, and I stand by everything I said in it. However, I just want to let all other aspiring life correctors in on a little secret:

The moment you post anything like that, everything in your life will conspire to bring you down.

Throw a challenge out to the universe, and it will try to slap you down. The only thing you can do about it is tuck your head in and get on with your work.

So, I'm proud to announce that despite wanting to curl up from the light of day forever and ever, I managed to keep writing. A little bit at a time, not always the full two hours, but enough. I had wanted to get the first draft of Episode 1 of my new chick-lit serial (name still being decided. Might end up stick with 'An Ideal Boyfriend', regardless of another book under that name) done by Friday. I then planned to have the whole thing out by Tuesday. I was therefore disheartened when I was still trying to complete it Saturday morning. But complete it I did.

And the reason it took so long, it turns out, is because it was actually long enough, with enough climaxes and developments, to be two episodes. So from feeling despondent Saturday morning for being behind, I cut it in half and by Saturday noon felt satisfied that I was now ahead an episode.

I edited up the new first episode on Sunday and sent it to one of my brilliant on-call editors, Jo. She's got back to me today with the first scene, seeing if I'm happy with what she's doing (which I am), and will finish the episode by tomorrow. Another read through, final edit, and then it's ready to go. I just need to make a cover.

I contacted someone on Fiverr.com yesterday about getting a digital watercolour done for the cover, but still waiting to hear back. Otherwise, I'll pull out my developing photoshop skills and see what I can do.

I'm starting to edit episode two now, and then settle into writing episode three.

So, new goals for this week:
- Create cover for series.
- Get Episode 1 out. (yah!)
- Edit episode 2 and send to editor.
- Start writing episode 3.

As actually publishing something always takes long than I think it will, I'm not going to say 'finish episode 3', but starting it will be good.

Also should think about marketing the serial. Hmm... Any ideas?

Thursday, 8 May 2014

No More Will To Fail!

We all set goals, and 99% of the time we fail at them. There are thousands of things written out there about how to achieve your goals, and most of it we read, know to be true, and then don't do anyway.

Most People Operate Under A Will To Fail. 

We know what we need to do. We all agree that watching less TV and eating better will in the long run make us feel better and healthier. And yet we constantly fail to do these things. Why? No good reason. It seemed a bit easier, but really it's not. We put just as much effort into failing as we would need to put into succeeding.

So I'm trying to combat that.

I'm saying 'No' to the will to fail, and shifting through my life to find all the areas where I don't do what I know I should. 

Bio- Hacking:

Recently, through one of those googling chains where you look up something and follow that to something else, my brother introduced me to a website called 'Bulletproof Executive'. Now, I don't agree with everything he says, but his basic concept is very interesting. It's about how he tries everything he can to perform at his peak all of the time. Basically, he looks at how he can 'biohack' his life through diet, sleep, supplements, meditation techniques etc to make the most of his body and mind. He's spent $300,000 on finding out how to operate at a higher level of performance. Interesting, huh?

Ultimate Flow:

It also led me to a podcast where he interviews the author of 'The Rise Of The Superman'. Steven Kolter has dedicated the last number of years studying how people use Flow for all great achievements.

Anyone who has followed me for a while will know my love affair with Flow, from one of my earliest posts ever, On Creating Flow, through to more recent study into Happiness and Flow. So I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one obsessed with this concept.

One big challenge I got from listening to Steven is that he argues Flow is so important for achieving excellence, he does absolutely everything he can in order to maximise it in his life. This includes focusing only on activities that induce flow, and cutting out as much extraneous things he can. You can see why Bulletproof guy was interviewing him. 

Maximising My Life:

Luckily this came at a time when I was already doing a bit of soul searching and life rearranging (it's nice how these things work together. It just shows that taking the first step can open up new thoughts and paths that you never would have seen if you hadn't started.)

I'm dedicated to writing. I love it, and know that it makes me a happier, better person. But it's still hard at time. So, even after writing and publishing my book on creating a lifestyle of writing (which still has a lot of awesome stuff: The Five Day Writer's Retreat, available now) I am still looking for ways to improve.

So here are the things I've done recently to maximise my life. Some are specific to me, but some you might be able to use yourself.

1. Lifestyle change. The move up to Brisbane in January has made a huge difference in my life. It's not something everyone can do, but for me it has given me the following advantages:
a) a full time income so I never need to worry about money or selling out my writing.
b) a living situation where I don't need to cook, do much cleaning, do any maintenance or even pay my own bills = more time/energy to write.
c) more sunlight (which has an amazing affect on mood, and was an important part of my decision to move.)
d) a job that doesn't drain my writing resources like my last one.
e) 11 weeks paid holidays a year (being paid for school holidays is awesome!).
f) plenty of inspiration in the 170 girls that I help to look after. They are forever surprising me with their antics and ideas.

2. I've given up refined sugar and flour. Today is Day 12. (Though I haven't been perfect, there's lots of hidden sugar and flour, and when your meals are cooked for you, you can't be too nosy). For a long time people had been telling me how much better they felt when they gave up sugar and refined flour. Most of the big popular diets at the moment - Paleo, Dukan, Lean and Clean, No Sugar Diet, Low Carb - appear to agree that definitely getting rid of sugar, and possibly getting rid of refined flour, is better for our bodies.

Yeah, yeah, I thought, but I can't give up my chocolate, or my toast.

But then my little sister did it for 30 days. And honestly, if she can do it, anyone can. (I don't want to say she has the will power of a gnat, but it's pretty close). 

I have a few other things going on at the moment, so I can't say that I'm suddenly overwhelmed with energy, but I do seem to be struggling less to find words after a long day, and I definitely feel more in control. If giving up sugar and flour can make me need a bit less sleep (that's what my mother claims), can stop me getting as sick, and can help me think clearer, then I owe it to my writing to do it. 

I've started with a 30 day covenant, but I'm looking at the no refined sugar as a lifestyle after this, and probably the no refined flour as well. (Once you start cooking without it, you know what you can do and you don't feel you're missing out. Made chocolate brownies last night with almond meal and honey, and they are delicious!)

3. I'm limiting TV. We all know that it's bad for us. That if we want to relax, reading is much, much better, not just for writers but anyone who wants to look after their brains. But we all still do it.

So, as I really believe it is not good for me, I now limit it to once a week. I don't have a TV in my room, and I don't watch anything on my laptop. Instead, I go over to my brother's house, and we watch all our favourite shows together. It is saving me hours every day, which I can put towards reading and other great creativity inducing pursuits.

4. Exercise. Sitting down all day is bad for your body. Sad but true. Exercising is good for your brain. Happy and true. So, if I want my body to be able to write and think clearly, I have to schedule in exercise. Again, we all know this, but sit in front of the TV instead anyway. 

Therefore, I'm now going to a CrossFit gym and doing an intense workout 4-5 times a week. This particular style works for me, but I'm definitely not saying everyone should be a CrossFitter. I'm just saying you should be doing something. It is a will to fail that stops you from doing anything at all.

5. Sleep. This is another one we all joke about, knowing we should get more or better sleep. We've been told to turn off our computers an hour before we go to bed, and to stop drinking stimulants a couple of hours before that. But how often do we actually do this?

There's really no excuse not to build a good sleep hygiene routine if you want the best performance. So I'm seeing a specialist about getting some of my sleep issues worked out, and I've started implementing a better routine towards the end of my shift so I can get to sleep when I finish. This is starting to pay dividends, and once it's all worked out, might win me back hours of unproductive time (either sleeping badly or being only half awake).

6. Clearing Your Head. Everywhere you will see recommendations to relax, manage stress, meditate and focus on your breathing. We are made to take time out and clear our heads of ourselves. As a Christian, I believe we are meant to do this by focusing on God, through prayer and meditation. I've always kept a prayer journal where I discuss my issues with God, but now we're working on taking sometime in the morning to meditate, so I can get God's focus on things. It's hard to make myself stop what I'm doing, not rush into my day, and take a few moments breathing. But again, it's starting to pay dividends. I wait on the Lord until I feel a little push to get started with my day. Then I use that push to keep the momentum rolling. 

The Simple Version:

Here are the steps I've put together which I think are the most important for me to implement  (prioritisation, I like it)

1. Resist refined sugar and flour.
2. Go to the gym (4-5 times a week, I do need a bit of rest).
3. Write for at least 2 hours every day.
4. Meditate every morning. 

Compound Interest:

The goals I'm achieving almost daily now were individually completely impossible for me to think of six months ago. If I managed even one of these done a day I would have been happy. It shows how all the little effects build together. The more little things you do right, the more energy and ability you have to do the rest right as well. Because I'm meditating, I'm in control and can eat better. Because I'm eating better, I am able to exercise more. Because I'm exercising more, I'm able to sit down and write. Because I'm writing more, I feel happy and satisfied that I'm achieving my goals. It's a matter of identifying the smallest things that will make the biggest difference and building up from there.

If I had to say just one thing to start you off on, which is tricky because they work together so much, I would say sleep. If you aren't getting enough or good sleep, get this fixed. Everything in life is easier when you aren't tired. Then move onto diet. Putting in good foods and getting rid of bad will have the next biggest effect. Then I'd tackle your thinking, and finally your exercise. They are all a bit of a feedback loop, each becoming easier as you get another one sorted. But the most important thing is to start.

(Disclaimer: there are certain times in your life when it is impossible to start a new system or routine. I've created a new start for myself by moving, but you might not have that opportunity. But there will be some little thing that you can do to start improving. Even if it's just having a 20 minute nap.)

My ROW 80 Goals:

Right now I'm 'behind' in my serial, as I thought each episode would be 12,000 words but I'm at 21,000 for the first one and think I need another few thousand to make it work. But I'm still going to work to get this first one done within the two weeks I set myself. So, by next Tuesday, you can expect to see the first episode of The Virtual Boyfriend available as an ebook.

What changes can you make now to optimise your life, and why haven't you made them? 

Monday, 5 May 2014

Publishing Basics Part 2 Why I Write To Agents and Publishers

Red Post Box 
In my last post Part 1 on why I self-publish, I looked at the very good reasons for self publishing some of your own work. However, I also mentioned that I still do, and think you should too, send in proposals and query letters to agents and publishers. 

The first obvious reason is that anyone who refuses to do this usually cites reasons that show a lack of humility. As a Christian, I think humility is an important virtue. The act of sending off my work and waiting for someone to critique it is important in stopping my ego inflating and taking over what little talent I may actually possess. (There might be some ego involved in wanting a traditional publisher to recognise my work, but the stream of rejections keeps that in check.)

Okay, personal character development aside. The second reason that I like to send out query letters and proposals is that they force me to write engaging product descriptions. Nearly everything that an agent requires in a proposal you need to know to self-publish anyway. By putting a good proposal together, you are forced to assess your target audience and marketing strategies in much more detail than you might otherwise do.

Further, if you get rejected, it gives you an indication that your pitch may not be as convincing as you think. You might also, hopefully, get a piece of advice from a professional. People pay for this stuff.

Third, if you intend to be prolific (like I do), being a 'hybrid' author (part self published, part traditionally published) is the ideal situation. You get greater royalties by self publishing, but generally speaking a traditional publisher will have better distribution. Being a hybrid you get the advantages of both. Your traditionally published books reach a wider audience, and these readers then go and find your self-published works. And for your publisher, the works that you self-publish prove to them your marketability so they aren't taking such a big risk. 

Fourth, it makes you slow down and realise that your books should be edited, and edited again. If I had self-published the first novel I ever wrote when I thought it was ready, I never would have gotten it anywhere near as good as it is now. Because I've waited for agents and publishers to get back to me, I've worked to improve it, entered it into competitions, and then polished it some more. I've also written a few other books since then, so know what I'm doing. Conversely, writing the proposals for my first book taught me the issues I should think about while writing the rest. I now keep a note open while I write for great pitch ideas or summaries. This has saved me a lot of time and effort later on. 

So, those are my basic reasons. Got any to add?

ROW80 Check In:

How am I going with my goals? 

Well, I'm writing everyday, which is great. I don't always get to two hours, but I usually get close.  I'm currently over halfway through the first episode of my chicklit on internet dating (I'm currently thinking of calling it 'Virtually An Ideal Boyfriend', thoughts?). I had optimistically (it turns out) planned to write each episode as 12,000 words, and publish one every two weeks. So far it's 16,000 words, and I'm 4/7th of the way through (each episode covers a week, that's how I know it's 4/7th). But I like where it's going, and I should still be able to get it written and edited within the two weeks. Just need to come up with a great piece of cover art for it. 

For those who are waiting for the second Five Day Writer's book, it is coming. I'm just taking a break to do some fresh writing. I got a bit edited-out with After The Winter, which, by the way, has been out for almost two weeks. Big thanks to everyone who supported it. You are all great.

So, do you think self-published authors should take the time to write query letters?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Publishing Basics Part 1 Why I Self Publish


Exciting news; have just self-published my very first fiction book!

Yes, After The Winter is live on Amazon as an ebook and paperback.

Considering this big event, I thought I would take the time today to talk about publishing. I've self-published three of my own works now, and I highly recommend self-publishing to most writers. However, I also recommend that all writers go through the process of submitting to traditional publishers and agents as well. But I'll tell you more on that in Part 2.

Today I'm going to tell you why I self publish.

There are two facts that most writers need to acknowledge (for a very few it might not stand true, but I've never actually heard of any):
1. Your first million words (give or take a few hundred thousand) are going to be practice. 
2.  You can't make it with just one book. To become noticed, you need to write at least three books, preferably five.

Now consider the traditional publishing path.

First of all, they are expecting great quality work (which they should, don't get me wrong). If you are a debut author, you need to do the drafting and editing until it is as close to a publishable product as possible.

Second, then they will take 1-3+ years to take that almost ready to be published product and publish it. During this time you will be called to re-work, re-think, and basically chain your life's blood to this book. If you are disciplined you will be working on the next book, but otherwise you'll get to the end of the three years with nothing else ready.

Third, as a debut author, they are unlikely to do much, if any, marketing for you. It is true that they have a much larger distribution, so if people know to look for you they will be able to find you much more easily, but otherwise your one little book is going to sit on a shelf in a bookstore all alone.

So after a few years, you're not going to be any further along in your quest for glory.

However, replay that scenario this way. Think of these first three years as your apprenticeship to the art of writing.

You start your first year with a, let's be honest, reasonably rough draft (despite thinking it is ready to submit to agents). However, you know that you have to do everything yourself, so you edit it as well as you can (much better than if you think eventually someone else is going to come along and edit it) and you pay for an editor to go over it.

You then learn about marketing, categorisation, writing product descriptions, what's involved in a good back blurb and cover. In doing this you realise you've written a book that's a pain in the ass to market because you don't have a firm audience. You publish it all the same, and go through the process of getting reviews and building an audience... slowly. You sell a few to family, and through running giveaways you get a few more people interested in it. From this you get some useful (and some not so useful) feedback about your book.

In the second year you think you know what you did wrong last time. You write another book, this time making sure it's more marketable and fixing up the mistakes your editor pointed out last time. You are already thinking of great taglines and descriptions as you write. You realise now that you need an audience so you start visiting forums and blogs in your area. You get it edited again, and this time the editor can point out a whole new area you might need to work on, now that you've gotten over the basic mistakes.

When you are almost ready to publish, you contact the people who were kind enough to write a review last time and ask them if they'd like a free pre-launch copy of the second book. Some of the blogs you've interacted with ask if you want to do a guest blog post, and run a giveaway of your book. You publish your book and run another free giveaway. People see it has some good reviews, and so take the time to buy the first one and get the second for free. You then get a bit more feedback. You also try playing with the first book's description, to see if you can get it tighter. You might even republish it.

Then in your third year you really feel you've gotten this under control. Your first draft is a hundred times better than that initial book, it's market orientated and you've got a killer tagline for the series now. Also, you've got a great team who are willing to review your book and an audience who are waiting for your next book.

From this point you can choose. You could try submitting the series to a publisher, as you now have a much stronger product (you've had to re-write the first book a bit, but it's better because of it) and can point to your loyal fans. Or you love what you do and decide to keep doing it yourself.

Another option is to finish this series off yourself, and submit your next work to a publisher. The great advantage to this method is that your publisher will get the new book out far and wide, and people who like that will then go 'wow, I wonder if they've written anything else?' and find your self-published work on Amazon.

It's also good for the publisher as everyone who loved your self-published work will buy the book they produce.

Now, if you do something silly like publish three books in completely different areas, say like writing, internet dating, and romance, then it is going to take a while longer. But luckily I'm prepared for that. I think if I haven't made it after twenty years, then I'll think about changing careers.

I should also point out that despite self-publishing three books, I haven't actually published the very first book that I wrote. Or the very first three books. Those three, a trilogy, are still in the queue for a traditional publishing contract. I love them too much to bring them before I'm working at the standard of a traditional publisher.

So want to know why I'm holding onto these three to traditionally publish? Well, tune back in next time.

But so as not to leave you hanging with nothing to read, I'm going to run a giveaway of my 1920's romance.

For the next week, until the end of Thursday 8th, leave a comment with the worst line in a published Romance you've read and I'll send you a epub version of my new book; After The Winter.