Nonfiction Book Series – Britt’s Ideas

I bought Britt Malka’s “Divide and Conquer” report out of curiosity. I’ve been writing nonfiction — mostly for traditional publishers — since the 1980s. I still write a lot of nonfiction, especially shorter books that I publish myself.

Britt Malka - Divide and ConquerSo, in Britt’s report, I didn’t expect to learn much. Not much that’s new to me, anyway.

Her report was a surprise. (That’s an understatement.) It’s not the same old “how to get 5 articles/books/videos out of one idea.” Far from it.

My experience

I spent about an hour going through this report. Using Britt’s suggestions, I produced a list of 28 short, nonfiction books (in one sub-niche) that I can write with little or no research.

Many of them can be written in a single day. The others will take me three days at the very most.

Since Britt’s report is $9, the 28 book ideas works out to about thirty* cents per idea. Even better, these are GOOD book ideas… not just “sure, why not?” ideas. I won’t be writing fluff, and I won’t be repeating myself.

Readers will like these books.

My first book from Britt’s report

This past week, I wrote one in two half-days. (I worked on other projects for half of each day, and then dictated — to Dragon Naturally Speaking — for a couple of hours.)

I edited that book the next day, and created its cover. (I continued working on my other projects, as well.)

On the third day, after one final pass, I published the book. With no marketing — not even mentioning the book on social media — copies were already selling.

I won’t claim that starting with an Amazon rank of #150,000 is great, but this is a niche where I’m competing with TV stars who write their own books.

So, I was pretty happy with that rank on the first day.

Today (four days later), my book is on page one at Amazon Kindle, for its top keyword phrase. And, my book outranks the current best-sellers of two TV stars in that same niche.

I’m pleased. And, I’ll write another book from my new list, later this week.

Yes, I recommend Britt’s report.

Once again, I’m impressed by how well Britt writes reports to spark fresh book ideas and insights.

This report can pay for itself (in book profits) in less than a week… maybe much less. (In my case, it’s already a winner.)

After that, I’m confident these books will continue selling for years.

But here’s my usual advice: This only way this report is worth buying is if you actually write more books. (And, if you’re already writing and this would be a distraction, skip it… for now. Don’t get sidetracked. Finish your current books!)

Britt offers solid, evergreen book ideas. They’re different. If you’re like me, you’ll see fresh topics many authors will never think of.

When I checked my sub-niche, only three (of the 28 ideas) had any competition at all.

And, checking the competition, I thought of four more book ideas for that audience.

If you’re writing nonfiction (or have ever thought about it), you probably need this report. Here’s the link (not an affiliate link): Britt Malka’s E-Book Series Ideas (aka “Divide and Conquer”)


*When I first rushed through this article, I said three cents. That was, obviously, a typo. It should have said thirty (30) cents. Either way, this report still delivers remarkable value.

Publishing for Love, Money, or Both?

This morning, I’m inspired by Seth Godin’s latest article, Looking for the Trick.

As I see it, there are two ways to earn a good income from books. (There’s also a hybrid version, which I’ll talk about later in this article.)

The hungry audience

One way is to find a desperately hungry audience — readers who are so frantic for the kinds of books they enjoy reading, they’ll buy and read almost anything. For them, “good enough” can be good enough… until really great writers show up and offer them something better.

That’s true in fiction and in nonfiction.

The more books you publish, the more you can earn. Book quality, cover design, book title, and book description… each can be a factor, but the basic business model is, “Find a hungry niche. Publish lots of books in it. Make money.”

The only tricky parts of the equation are (a) finding a category with desperate fans, and (b) throwing enough “good enough” books at them.

And, of course, when to move on to the next hungry-but-underserved audience.

On this path, publishing books is “just business.” To succeed with this model, you MUST separate yourself from how you feel about your books. You cannot care about snarky one-star reviews, and jeers by competing authors.

Income is all that matters. As long as the money is there, don’t change anything.

The realm of your passions

The other business models relies far less on marketing.

(If you’re at all practical, category research is probably a good idea. Not imperative, but a good idea. Obviously, Neil Gaiman can write anything he wants, and his books will sell. As he describes his process, “I make things up and write them down.” But, even Neil Gaiman had to build his career, gradually.)

Let’s say you love the Victorian era. If you could “live” in that era, in your mind, and write books, that would be bliss. So, you might write Victorian romance, mysteries, adventures, steampunk, dreadpunk, or books in any other genre that can be kinda-sorta set in a Victorian context.

Maybe you’re a mystery buff. You’re as happy crafting “locked-room” mysteries as you are writing whimsical cozy mysteries, or even police procedurals.

Or, maybe you’re a nonfiction writer, and love producing books about the latest weight-loss trends, or musing about royalty, past and present.

Perhaps you wake up each day, eager to see the latest news about UFOs, reptilian aliens, or treasure hunting opportunities. You can hardly wait to share your enthusiasm with others, in your books.

If you know that there’s an audience — even a small one — and you write with passion, insights, and originality, you can build a successful career as an author/publisher. Whether it’s as fast a route to success as the first business model… that’s a coin flip.

With either of these two approaches, you don’t have to have a bazillion eager fans.

The 1000 True Fans rule applies: Produce enough things (books, audios, courses, mouse pads… whatever) that your 1000-or-so fans keep buying, and you’re set for life.

(If you like that concept, here’s Kevin Kelly explaining it in 2016.)

But, whether or not the 1000 True Fans concept seems practical, the real question is which business model will make you happier, long term.

(I’m assuming that — until we live in a Star Trek-ish reality with a guaranteed basic income — paying your bills is an essential part of “happier.”)

Each of those two business models — publishing for money or writing for love — can involve equal amounts of passion and energy. Each can be equally satisfying, depending upon your goals.

With one approach, you take pride in your ability to meet audience demand quickly, with just enough effort to see your income grow.

With the other, you’re immersed in a very personal world where you are happy. Money is secondary. You’re thrilled if you can earn enough to “live” in the world of your books, every day. Or even a few hours a day. Or on weekends.

Is a hybrid path the answer?

Many aspiring authors decide on a hybrid path.

That’s a business model that uses “hungry audience” book categories as a springboard to achieve your long-terms goals as an author.

To start, you can spend hours (days, or even weeks) researching different book categories, to find desperate, under-served readers. Then, you’ll identify the essential tropes necessary to sell to them.

Or, you’ll pay a consultant (or join a related mastermind-ish group) to identify those categories and tropes for you.

And then you’ll publish books in the recommended categories.

That income will pay the bills while you work on your true love… the books you love to write.

Fingers crossed, by the time you’ve hit burnout as a “good enough” publisher, your own books are reaching an appreciative audience and the income is good.

At that point, you no longer need the “good enough” books to pay the bills.

But, as Godin suggests in his article, that hybrid path can be the most toxic choice among the three. No matter how “quick, cheap, and easy” the shortcuts seem… sometimes, they aren’t.

Shortcuts – do they cost too much?

There’s the financial cost of business consultants & memberships, hiring ghostwriters, and advertising.

There’s the emotional cost. To be honest, turning out “good enough” books can feel like a sham. It can erode your creative soul and embitter you.

But, being practical, you say to yourself, “It’s this or working in fast food,” while you’re building the career of your dreams.

(Okay, it may not be that extreme. However, even a pretty good 9-to-5 job — more like an 8-to-7 job, now — can leave you with little energy for your own writing. “Publishing to market” — as some call the first, hungry market business model — can be a far better alternative.)

On the flip side, if you pour your heart and soul into your own books, you run the risk of not being recognized for your work… not in your lifetime, anyway.

(You may also pour buckets of money into high-priced editors, cover designers, and book marketers.)

You can feel just as jaded as the “I’m in it for the money” indie publisher.

So, neither path is a sure thing. Even the “it’s just a business” approach can fall flat, if a book category isn’t as viable as it looked… or if (and when) too many others start exploiting it.

Sometimes, decisions aren’t easy

If you’re trying to earn a living wage from books, trial-and-error may be necessary.

I’ve been a full-time writer/author/publisher for over a dozen years now. I used to write for sites like Suite 101 and for Write For Cash, earning $15 per article. I averaged about $10/hour, and supplemented it with Google AdSense income, back when that was viable.

I still work with traditional publishers. I’m still under contract, but only for books I write in a specific nonfiction sub-niche. I also write large portions of seasonal, traditionally published anthologies.

And, I’ve been self-published (indie) for decades.

My current business model (late 2016)

Right now, my hybrid to-do list includes a tangle of book projects. Over the next year, I hope to narrow it to two main categories.

  • As of September 2016, I’ve spent months writing short fiction in “hungry audience” sub-genres. Fortunately, I like these sub-genres. (This route isn’t as easy as it sounds in sales letters.)
  • I’m writing nonfiction in a niche I love, and where I have some fame. But — to be honest — that audience tends not to buy books. (I absolutely love my fans. Thank heavens for Kindle Unlimited “pages read” income, and libraries that buy print copies of my books.)
  • I’m publishing coloring books and related nonfiction, which provides a little more income each month. They’re fun, and the fan mail is wonderful.
  • I’m writing the occasional topical book (my fast nonfiction) for quick cash. It’s exhausting but profitable… in spurts.
  • And, I’m working on short fiction in sub-genres that I’m more-or-less making up. They’re what I enjoy, but even those short books take time… lots of time, as I weave story threads in my mind. I scribble long passages on pads of lined, yellow paper. And then I rewrite them the next day. Gradually, those stories take shape.

With lots of different book projects providing income, I’m able to put any one kind of work to one side, if I need a break from it. I’ll return to it, weeks or months later, with a positive outlook and fresh energy.

However, books and creative projects are my “day job.” Every morning, I can choose what to work on. I know that I’m lucky/blessed in that respect.

Are you making great stuff?

So, I’m looking at Seth Godin’s article, and nodding my head in agreement. Making great stuff is the best path of all.

The challenge for most of us is: finding a personal path that’s practical, but leaves us enough energy & enthusiasm to pursue our great stuff.

The answer is not one-size-fits-all. Some false starts may be involved, and a few glimmers may fizzle out.

Of course, guard your bank account. Investing in every “shiny thing” that shows up in your mailbox or in conversation… that’s a Very Bad Idea.

But, more importantly, guard your creative soul. If you’re doing anything that puts it in jeopardy, look for another, better path.

“Overnight success” may not be on your menu of options.

Find a path you’re contented with. Find one that — even if it meanders — is leading you in the direction of your dreams.

And, if you have a minute or two, let me know what that is. Leave a comment. I’d love to know what you’re working on, and what you’d love to be writing.

Nonfiction: My One-Day Book, and How I Wrote It

Yesterday, I woke up with an idea for a new, nonfiction book.

Since I’ve spent the last couple of months refining my fiction-writing process — and feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels — I desperately needed to publish something. Anything, really.

So yesterday, when I sat down at my cluttered desk, I gathered up all the papers, reference books, and stray Pringles potato chips (guilty pleasure), and put them on top of the nearest bookcase.

I decided to write and publish a book in one day, even if it meant going without sleep to complete it.

The process took 14 hours. That includes two walks — for exercise and to clear my head — time spent browsing the Internet for references for a totally different book, and several breaks in front of the TV.

alarm clockHere’s what I did, hour-by-hour.

4 AM – 5 AM

  • A brief breakfast.
  • Jotted notes and a mini-mindmap of the book idea.
  • Checked my email and Facebook to see if anything needed urgent attention. (Only a couple of things needed my attention.)
  • Researched the book topic and printed a few references to look at, later, as I was writing.

5 AM – 6:30 AM

  • Created my book cover. I always start with the cover. When I don’t, my books don’t seem to have enough focus. For me, the cover is what the book is about.

Supplies & tools I used:

  • A cover illustration from I have an annual subscription. I think this is my second year with them, but it might be my third. They’re good, not great, but certainly useful enough for my purposes.
  • Fonts from They’re free and safe for use in commercial projects.
  • Photoshop. I’m using Photoshop CS3, bought from eBay. (Yes, I know the risks of that. My original, legal copy of Photoshop didn’t transfer well to my new computer, and my original CDs are in storage in NH.) This copy isn’t perfect, but it’s more than enough for my needs. Support from the seller (an authorized Adobe seller) was excellent, the one time I had a question.

6:30 AM – 9 AM

  • Gathered my notes. Set up my computer for writing.
  • Started dictating my book, and completed the first 1,692 words of it. That’s about 800 words/hour. Not bad, for first thing in the morning.

Tools I used:

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking (Version 11, already on installed my computer). When I upgrade, I’ll get the Premium edition, so I can dictate books into a voice recorder when I’m on the road or taking a walk.
  • My microphone, an old Samson Q1U mic that seems to work better than my Blue Snowball, for dictating to Dragon. (I also have a standard foam cover for the mic, which helps filter any pops or sputters.)
  • The hands-free hardware that holds it so I can lean back in my chair and look out the window, and talk.
  • I dictate into Notepad. It uses the fewest computer resources, and seems to play nicely with Dragon. Better than OpenOffice does, or Scrivener.
  • All of those tricks (and more) came from reading The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon.

9 AM – 10 AM

  • Took my morning walk to clear my thoughts, and to come up with fresh ideas to include in the book, or at least improve it. (And, oh yes, the exercise is good for me.)
  • Had an opportunity to promote my coloring books to friends-of-a-friend that I saw during my walk.

10 AM – 11:30 AM

  • Tweaked the book cover. (During my walk, I’d come up with a better title.)
  • Talked with my husband.
  • Corrected and lightly edited what I’d already written.
  • Did more research online. Well… to be honest, I got sidetracked. I probably spent an hour reading news stories, catching up on friends’ blogs, and watching ridiculously cute animal videos.

11:30 AM – 4:30 PM

  • Wrote, and wrote some more. (All of it via Dragon.)
  • Went through the usual phase of “I hate this book, it’s awful, no one will ever read it, and I’m a terrible writer.”
  • And then I got past that.
  • Kept writing, taking 5 or 10 minute breaks every 45 minutes or so. (That’s not enough. I should be taking more frequent breaks, and a longer one every hour or so.)

4:30 PM – 5:30 PM

  • Went for another walk. Had another “ah-HA!” idea to improve it.
  • Took a break for dinner, and to catch up on what’s new at Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. Added far too many things to my queues.

5:30 PM – 7 PM

  • Completed my book. Before edits, it was around 7k words. Maybe a little less.
  • Edited the book with the desktop version of the Hemingway Editor, formerly called the Hemingway App. I edit inside the editor, and then cut-and-paste the results into Scrivener. (I could not use that software until I took David Lee Martin’s course, Scrivener Unleashed. He was the first person to explain Scrivener in a way that made sense to me.)

7 PM – 8:30-ish

  • Re-read the book and edited it again. Fixed typos that Scrivener pointed out to me. The final version was around 5,000 words. That’s a “short read,” exactly as I’d intended.
  • Formatted the book in Scrivener. (It took me about four tries to remember which settings do what. I need to jot them down, so I don’t do this with, oh, every single book.)
  • Published the book in KDP.
  • Sat back, then went to the kitchen to make dinner, and spent the rest of the evening flipping through our Roku channels, deciding what to watch.

Around 9:30 PM, I realized how exhausted I was, and my husband convinced me that I needed sleep. (He was right.)

But, I woke up this morning with another book selling at Amazon. That’s a victory. I feel UNstuck as a writer/publisher.

Okay… it’s a kind of embarrassing book (but not porn), with a throwaway pen name I’ll never admit to, but it’s a book. And, for the intended audience, it’s a pretty good book.

I set it to sell for 99-cents (US), and it’s in Kindle Unlimited. I know that the intended audience tends to borrow books (via Kindle Unlimited) rather than buy them, so that’s where I expect to see the most income from it.

So… that was my day. I’m pleased with the results. And, I hope those insights and tips are helpful to you and your writing.

Puzzle Books – Fun or Folly?

crossword puzzlePuzzle book courses seem to be trending, for good reason. The market isn’t the “hot, new thing,” but if you publish lots of puzzle books, the income can be steady.

And by “lots,” I don’t mean five or six… I mean dozens. Perhaps hundreds, if you expect a living wage from these books.

If you’ve always dreamed of building a puzzle book empire, that may sound okay. Maybe even fun.

However, solving puzzles is one thing; designing them — by the hundreds (for just one book) — and then preparing the pages for publishing… that’s something else.

Even after the book looks ready to publish, your work is far from over. You’ll still need to complete every single puzzle yourself (or hire people to test-drive them) to be absolutely, positively certain every puzzle can be solved.

The good news is: Once you create systems — and make use of available software (and perhaps some outsourced help) — puzzle books aren’t quite as arduous as they may seem, at first.

But… is this the best use of your time & resources?

Sure, puzzle books can provide steady income — a little here, a little there — IF you publish enough really good puzzle books.

To earn enough to quit your day job… that’s another matter.

How much can you earn?

When I look at a new publishing niche, I study the numbers.

I focus on two things:

  1. Can I break into the top 20 for that category? That is, can I get my book on the first page buyers see at Amazon when they search for a book like mine.
  2. If I manage to reach #20 on that page, are the earnings worthwhile?

You can read the details of my analysis, at the foot of this article (below the horizontal pencil graphic).

Here are the cut-to-the-chase insights:

First of all, I would not try to compete at the top-level category, Books > Humor & Entertainment > Puzzles & Games. I’d be competing with 54,544 other books.

I’d aim for something like the Sudoku sub-category. There, I’m competing with closer to 11,000 books.

If I publish a 140-page Sudoku puzzle book (around 125 puzzle pages) and price it at $5 to compete with the best-sellers, and I achieve a spot on the first page of Sudoku puzzle books, I’ll earn between $3.76 and $31.96 per day.

That’s between $112.80 and $958.80 per month, before taxes, for a book that’s outselling the other 10,530 (or so) in this category.

If my only reason to create puzzle books was to earn money, this would not be a field I’d get into.

For me, writing fiction and nonfiction is a far safer bet.

Still interested?

But… let’s say you don’t care about the money. And, perhaps your brain is already wired for puzzles, so you’re eager to leap into puzzle book publishing.

If so, create a few puzzles to see if you enjoy this.

Search for “free [kind of puzzle] creation software” at Google or any search engine.

Here are some links to get you started. Frankly, I just did a quick Google search, and haven’t tried any of these.

(Of course, free software rarely performs as well as programs that, you know, cost money. If you decide to publish puzzle books, you’ll probably want to invest in really good software that produces reliable puzzles.)

Do you need a course?

For most people, some training is necessary before you even try to get into the puzzle book field.

Really, there are nuances involved… things that never even crossed my mind. You’ll also want the latest software advice. Personally, I wouldn’t even try to publish a puzzle book without a great mentor, how-to guide, or course.

I haven’t seen the September 2016 course that’s offered by Shawn Hansen. In the past, she’s been a star when it comes to delivering insightful, geeky goodness in her courses & reports.*

Also, her course is about tactics to succeed in the puzzle book market. She doesn’t teach how to create the puzzles. That’s a different topic.

I’ve heard that Shawn’s course will start at $67 when it launches. After that, it will go up in price, at least twice… dramatically.

So, I recommend buying that course early if this looks like a match for your interests. (And, my usual advice: Be sure any course, report, or product comes with a money-back guarantee, unless you read a very positive review by someone you trust.)

If you’ve read this far, here’s what I suggest.

  1. Test-drive free puzzle-making software, first.
  2. Create at least two dozen puzzles.(I suggest creating 50. Then, if you go ahead with this project, you have at least half the puzzles you’ll need to publish your first book.)
  3. Print those puzzles, take out your pencil & eraser, and solve them.
  4. Decide if this is fun or merely mind-numbing work.

Then, if publishing puzzle books seems to be one of the coolest things in the world, take a good course. Otherwise, it’s like jumping in at the deep end of the pool. You’ll spend far too much time & money, trying to publish that first book.

Courses I’ve tried

As I said, Shawn’s course is one of the latest in this field. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say whether it’s a “must buy” for serious puzzle book publishers. (At this point, I’m unlikely to buy it.)

UPDATE: I watched her free webinar, and she mentioned something important — a tip I’d picked up, years ago, from a no-longer-available course called “Kindle Rockstar.”

That tip was kind of important. Not necessarily for puzzle books (which I still think are a ho-hum way to make money), but for my other book research.

In addition, Shawn reminded viewers that her branding is kind of brilliant. She gets branding for these kinds of books (including coloring books).

To be frank, I don’t. My coloring books sell pretty well, but I need her insights. She said she talks about branding in the first lesson of the puzzle book course, and — at the moment — that’s far less expensive than her coloring book course.

So, though I’m still skeptical of the viability of puzzle books, I did buy her course, about an hour before she raised the price higher than $67.

I haven’t watched the lessons yet, so I can’t say whether this was a great purchase or a waste of $67. However, I’m fairly confident I’ll get enough from her advice, to tweak my coloring books and earn back what I spent on the puzzle book course.

In the past, I liked Andy’s guide* to creating Sudoku books, and gave it a rave review (mine is the fourth comment on that page). I received it as a review copy, but I would have liked it anyway.

Andy’s course provided a wealth of information. If you’re a Sudoku enthusiast and would love to start creating puzzles for others, that’s a solid starting point.

Important: That course is only about Sudoku puzzle books, not other kinds of puzzles. However, many of the concepts can apply to crossword puzzle books, word search puzzle books, and so on.

I’ve also seen another, more recent “puzzle publishing profits” course by someone else. The basic $17 report tried to cover far more puzzle book options than Andy’s course. Perhaps too many. In addition, you’d need the $37 upsell to learn about the best resources.

For a truly dedicated puzzle book publisher, that cost might be worthwhile. I wasn’t comfortable recommending it, so I didn’t review it, and won’t link to it, here.

So, those are my thoughts on this field. Whether you see it as fun or folly will depend upon your reasons for publishing puzzle books.

*The only affiliate links at this website are Amazon links. I don’t earn a cent if you buy a report, course, or other product that I recommend.

In other writing news (FICTION)…

In the past week or so, I’ve created some new writing systems to streamline my time at the keyboard.

Yes, I’ve been working on templates and systems, for months. Now, after lots of trial-and-error — and progressively simplifying my templates — I think I’ve found what works for me.

The ingredients:

  1. An expanded GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) grid. (Actually, at least two per story: One grid for the person’s life goals at that point in time. Then, a second grid for the person’s goal/s after the “inciting incident” changes everything. That is: the person’s goal within that story or series.) If you’re a fiction writer and haven’t read Debra Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation & Conflict” book, ask for it at your public library. If they don’t have a copy, order directly from the author. (Amazon stocks only used copies, and they’re ridiculously overpriced.)
  2. A story template based (mostly) on Try-Fail cycles (and one Try-Succeed). The template is loosely structured on Dan Wells’ story outline, or — if you can deal with really NSFW language — Chuck Wendig’s What Exactly Makes A Damn Good Story?
  3. Dragon NaturallySpeaking (I’m using version 11), following the exact directions I learned in Scott Baker’s “The Writers Guide to Training Your Dragon…” (I’ve been using speech recognition software since the 1990s, and tried Dragon about a year ago. It was okay, but not great. Now, using the advice in Baker’s book, my writing speed doubled the first day, and doubled again the next day. Go ahead. Spend the $2.99 for his advice. You’ll thank me, later.)

Yesterday, I completed the first draft of a book I’d been wrestling with for weeks. And, I easily met my word count. All of this is equals a major breakthrough for me.

I’m taking today off, and will start editing the book tomorrow.

If this system continues to work well, I’ll happily share my methods with you. For now, those starting points — GMC, Try-Fail cycles, and the book about speech recognition software — may be all you need to increase your productivity.


Just for geeks: Here’s how I evaluated the puzzle books marketplace at Amazon

To decide whether an Amazon category is worth my time, I use KD Spy to see Kindle numbers, even if I plan to publish a printed book, not an ebook.

(Most puzzle books are printed. Amazon frowns on publishing a Kindle book that requires a later download — even if it’s free — from your website.)

This morning’s KD Spy summary for “puzzle books” isn’t encouraging. In the lower right corner, their analysis suggests only so-so popularity (yellow), with not-great (red) potential, and lots of competition (also red).
However, as I said: KD Spy is designed to evaluate Kindle books, not printed books.

puzzle books - summary of oppty

warning!So, my next step is to check printed puzzle books, manually.

Once again, I’m looking at the top 20 books that Amazon displays when I search for “puzzle books.”

The top-level category, Books > Humor & Entertainment > Puzzles & Games, has 54,544 books competing for the first page. I wouldn’t aim for that level. Not at first, anyway.

Instead, I’m looking at Sudoku puzzle books. In that niche, I’m competing with 10,479 books.

Since I’m a Sudoku fan, I already know that a lot of those books were published using really bad software that turns out as many as 50 puzzles with one click.

So, if I publish a genuinely good book, I might be competing with 5,000 other good books. Maybe fewer. For me, those numbers are okay.

The current #1 book in Amazon’s Sudoku category is ranked #1,903 in Books.

That translates to 68 copies/day, earning 47 cents per copy in royalties, or about $31.96/day income. In a 30-day month, that’s less than $1,000 (US) income, even before I subtract expenses and what I’ll set aside for taxes.

Can I actually break into that category? Maybe. That #1 book is indie published via CreateSpace, so the category isn’t tyrannized by the big publishers.

Getting back to Amazon’s first page for Sudoku books, I want to see how well I could do if I clawed my way up to the lowest-ranked position.

The #20 book in that category is ranked #61,157 at Amazon.

Err… that’s about three books sold, per day. Worse, it’s from a mainstream publisher, who can afford to sell the 320-page book for $7.73. (If you tried to do the same thing as an indie through CreateSpace, you’d lose money on every copy sold.)

But let’s say I publish a book with about 125 puzzles (140 pages) and it reaches the midpoint on Amazon’s first page of Sudoku puzzle books.

The #10 book is currently ranked #26,430, so it’s selling about eight copies/day. If my profit is the same as I calculated for the #1 book (47 cents/copy), I’ll earn $3.76 (US) per day, or $112.80/month, before expenses & taxes.

I can earn far more money from fiction and nonfiction, especially if I publish printed books (via CreateSpace) and in Kindle (and allow my books to be borrowed).

The bottom line: Unless you’re rabidly enthusiastic about creating and publishing puzzle books, this niche is strictly for fun & to cover your Starbucks tab, or something like that.

Advice for a First-Time Indie Author

Curious George toy

The following is edited from PMs I’d exchanged with a first-time fiction writer. Much of this probably isn’t new for anyone regularly reading my blog, but it may provide others with some fresh insights.

Here’s the backstory: Earlier this week, I’d read a friend’s wife’s historical novel. She’d published it in Kindle herself. I was impressed by her writing skills.

As we swapped messages, she asked if I write outlines for my books.

I replied:

Yes, I do outline. I work with a few things, starting with a page of notes (on yellow, lined paper), then I use the “middle school” outline:

After that, I fill in Larry Brooks’ old tent-style story structure form, to figure the story beats: (Explained here: )

And then, I write my outline. If it’s a romance, I use Katherine King’s “Love Plot” but a lot of friends like Gwen Hayes’ “Romancing the Beat.” There are other options, as well.

Then, seeing her Amazon rank (and what it meant, in sales), I suggested a few marketing tips that might improve her visibility and sales.

Here’s what I recommended:

1. Use the Hemingway Editor on the first five or so pages, to make the “look inside” easier (meaning: simpler phrasing) to read.

After readers have read more of your book, and they’re used to your writing “voice,” readability and sentence lengths are less important.

However, for marketing, your text needs to be super-simple for readers to get into. Even on the Amazon sales page, you want readers to be caught up in the story from the very start.

I have the Hemingway Editor on my desktop, but you can use it, free, at the website. <— Just highlight their sample text, remove it, and paste in part of your opening. (The software was originally called the “Hemingway App,” and a lot of long-time writers — including me — still call it that.)

2. [She had published using her real name.] Add a co-author name — one you make up — that will be your future pen name, and republish your book.

So, at Amazon (etc.), the authors (two names on the cover) will be your real name, with a second, co-author name you choose, as well.

(I like to find interesting names in my family tree, from the era I’m writing in, and select one as my pen name. Sometimes, book sales will improve with a pen name that’s related to the genre or time period you’re writing about.)

That way, people who know you (in real life) can find this book, but your fans will start following your pen name… and you keep most of your privacy.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of setting up boundaries, early, to protect your privacy and your family’s. Trust me on this. Please. Fans can be a little overzealous. Sometimes in scary ways.

3. Add a subtitle, saying what the book is about. Tell people the time period, and what the genre is. For example, I’m working on Regency romances right now, so my titles (with subtitles) will be something like “The Dangerous Duke – A Regency Romance.”

4. If you can, hire someone to design a professional-looking book cover. The right book cover will pay for itself, quickly.

I recommend going to and hiring vikncharlie. (That’s her username.)

You can hire her at the lowest price and get something pretty good, but I give her about $35 and she creates something amazing for me. In addition, I can use the cover on my Kindle (etc.) books, as well as my printed (CreateSpace) books.

And, any graphics she uses… you can be certain they’re legal to use. (I can’t say that about all Fiverr cover designers.)

Those are the basics, as far as I’m concerned. You can follow-up with more professional marketing, including help from Fiverr book marketer, bknights, and some well-targeted Facebook ads.

A good book deserves the best marketing you can give it. Of course, your marketing efforts shouldn’t compromise your time (or budget) for actually producing books.

Nevertheless, if you’re publishing books at all, they should be good books and have enough marketing to be discovered by hungry readers in your sub-genre.

photo courtesy and J Aaron Farr

Writing Plots with Movie Story Beats

Earlier this month, I talked about creating story beats and plot templates from movies. Several people wanted to know exactly how I do this, and then use those beats to craft plots.

If “story beats” aren’t familiar to you, a three-act version is at Live, Write, Breathe. Personally, I like Larry Brooks’ beats,  featured in one of Jami Gold’s spreadsheets. Or, you could just watch Dan Wells’ videos — at this website — and learn almost everything you need.

(Only for plotting geeks: Larry Brooks’ Beat Sheet Basics 101.)

What I Do

movie ticket
photo courtesy FreeImages and Kevin Abbott.

It’s especially easy to find story beats if you watch movies from the late 1990s through the present day.

These are the steps I use:

  1. I select a movie with a theme that appeals to me as a general plot premise.
  2. If I haven’t seen the movie before, or if I haven’t seen it in a long time, I’ll sit down and watch the movie from start to finish. Sometimes, I take notes about important moments in the plot, as they occur.
  3. After that, I figure the length of the movie, in minutes. (Usually, this includes the opening titles and closing credits, but your results may vary.)
  4. I divide that in half. That tells me — usually within two or three minutes on either side — where the story’s Midpoint is.
  5. I divide each of those sections into three exactly equal (in minutes) parts. The first “break” in the pre-Midpoint section is the First Plot Point, and it’s usually within three minutes of that break.
  6. At the second break, you’ll usually find the First Pinch Point. That’s the twist in the plot, and it’s followed by the Midpoint.
  7. After that, the breaks will be at the Second Pinch Point (another twist to increase story tension) and the Second Plot Point (a somewhat dramatic change)… and then you’re at the Resolution, followed by the closing credits.

In most modern, American-made films, you can practically set your watch by those points. I’m not kidding.

However, the big variable is whether you’re counting from when the movie starts to when the screen goes dark, OR if you’re counting from when the opening titles conclude, to when the closing credits start.

From what I’ve seen so far, at least 80% of the time, you can safely measure from the moment the film starts to when the closing credits conclude.

Example: While You Were Sleeping

The movie, While You Were Sleeping, is 1:42 long, which means 102 minutes.

I’ve seen it many times in the past, so I just skipped ahead to see the story beats.

First, I fast-forwarded to the halfway point, at 51 minutes. Bingo. It’s where Jack & Lucy slip on the ice and nearly kiss. That’s the Midpoint. No doubt about it.

Going back to find the First Plot Point, I can argue that the First Plot Point is at the 14-minutes point, where Elsie needs her nitroglycerin and Lucy finds out she “saved the whole family.” (No pressure, right…?)

However, the First Plot Point is probably right where it should be, around the 17-minutes mark, where Lucy can’t sleep and confesses everything to Peter (in a coma), and Saul overhears her. A lot of the remaining plot is based on Lucy’s assumption that Saul will tell the family the truth.

At the 34-minutes mark…? Joe Jr. tells Jack that he’s “dating” Lucy (with a rude gesture to make his point clear), and Jack really starts suspecting that Lucy is conning everyone.

After that, I already know the Midpoint is at the 51-minutes mark, so I keep fast-forwarding.

At the 68-minutes mark, Peter wakes up and doesn’t recognize Lucy. (Ouch!) That’s the Second Pinch Point.

And then, at the 86-minutes mark, Peter proposes to Lucy and she accepts. That’s the final big change (Second Plot Point) before the Resolution.

Except that the proposal is about a minute late (which I can forgive), this is a movie that fits the pattern, perfectly.

I haven’t built a generic plot from this, yet. Nevertheless, I used some of those beats in a recent story. They were heavily mixed with beats from another film, and from a TV series.

That’s because I rarely use a single generic plot (based on a recent movie) for my stories.

… And that leads us to the topic of originality.

Copyrights, Intellectual Property (IP), and Story Beats

First of all, the disclaimer: though my MIT years involved lots of legal work involving copyright and plagiarism, and weekly consultations with copyright lawyers (to be sure I was getting everything right), I’m an editor and writer, not an attorney.

So, the following is not legal advice; it’s just my understanding of it. Double-check everything, if you have any questions at all.

With that in mind, I think the most important point is: No one can copyright an idea. If someone’s general (not specific) idea seems like a great premise — a brilliant start to a story concept — you may be able to use it in your own, very different story context.


(Keep reading. I’ll explain.)

Copyright law falls within the larger topic of intellectual property.  However, when writers talk about “intellectual property” (aka, IP), we usually mean property (an actual thing, like a book or a movie or a game) that results from original creative thought.

As the University of Huddersfield (UK) explains, “The basic idea behind IP is… to ensure that a creation is not copied or used without permission and to protect the economic rewards of the creators.”

That part can be complex, and the issue has been debated for decades.

From Hammer Film Productions‘ remakes to less obvious uses of others’ IP, the practice of using others’ stories isn’t new. In some cases, lawsuits result. In others, they don’t.

(Tip: Don’t think about blatantly copying anything from Harry Potter books. However, you may find a different popular “world” you can safely write about, at Kindle Worlds.)

Of course, public domain movies and stories are fair game. Just be certain they’re actually in the public domain. (For example, some rights to Peter Pan are still protected in the United States and some other countries.)

From Disney’s Snow White and Cinderella, to TV series like Once Upon a Time to Grimm, old stories and tropes can be revised for success.  (Even Disney’s hit, Frozen, was based on one of The Snow Queen stories.)

And then there are mashups, like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

However, I don’t advocate closely copying any existing story or film plot. Not unless you want your readers to get to page three and say, “Wait. I already know how this will end. It’s the same as the [fill in the blank] story.”

Morphing Generic Story Beats

For fun (and possibly profit), I like to take story beats, like those in America’s Sweethearts, and distill them down to a series of plot points that are plain-vanilla and very generic. In many cases, those general plots could match any of a dozen films, and perhaps more.

Then, I make some changes… big changes. They could be shifting the time period. Or, I might switch genders, so the female role in the film is the male in my story, and vice versa.

Or, more often, I do a mashup of my generic story beats.

I’m not unique. For example, I can see a mix of The Ugly Duckling and (even more obvious) Cinderella in the film, The Devil Wears Prada. That’s the tip of the iceberg. There are even quizzes that mashup movie plots.

My point is: If you’re going to use this movie approach to plotting, it’s a good idea to start with the most generic story beats possible. Make sure you’re using conceptual points, not anything that points to one — and only one — movie. Then mix two or three sets of them.

Use the general premise from one, the First Plot Point from another, and a twist (Second Pinch Point) from a third.

(If you’re writing genre romance, the Midpoint is often the kiss or near-kiss, so you don’t need to “borrow” that from anything. It’s a classic romance trope.)

This can save a lot of time, and result in a great, timeless plot that you can use over and over again, in several different novels.

I hope that’s helpful. And, if you don’t want to sit through a bunch of movies with a calculator, pen, and pad of paper, remember that you can get story beats — as “beat sheets” — from Blake Snyder’s site.

If you have any questions, let me know. I can’t give legal advice, but I’m happy to explain how I work with story beats in my own books.

Movies as Story Beats / Plot Templates

heart of heartsI’m working with a premise that’s very loosely based on the 2001 movie, “America’s Sweethearts.” To simplify the plotting, I created a quick story beats summary, I took the key transitional moments (as I saw them) in the movie… and then I made them generic.

I’m sure I’ll use this as a template for several books.

Please don’t share these links. (And, I may delete this article in a few days.) I’d rather not see a bazillion books that are more-or-less the same story, over & over again.

(Yes, many successful genre fiction stories are the same few stories, told different ways. I just don’t want this particular story/theme to show up in a dozen-or-so books in the same sub-genre I’m writing in, all at the same time.)

The following PDFs show how I’m working with this concept. And: full credit goes to Geoff Shaw’s “Reverse Engineering” method taught in his superb Udemy course.

Also, if you haven’t seen the movie (which I recommend to romance writers), my PDFs contain spoilers. The film is on Netflix right now, so you may want to watch it, first. It’s a romantic comedy with some suggestive jokes, but no nudity.

P.S. Some of these plot points are similar to story elements in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park.” Mary Crawford is a lot like “Mary” in my 2nd PDF. I didn’t realize that until I re-read the PDF.

And now… back to writing!

Product Reviews for Authors – July 2016

hand_writingIt’s been awhile since I posted my product recommendations. Here are some recent writing-related products that have stood out, as great, pretty good, … or not worth the money.

*Britt Malka’s course, Socrates Plotting, is a winner. You’ll start with an idea. Not a full premise, just a line or character or idea that you like, but don’t know how to develop into a scene, much less a plot.

Using Britt’s “Socrates” method, I came up with four great plots in under an hour. (And that was at the end of a long day, when I was almost too tired to think.)

So, I recommend her report.

Speaking of plotting, since I’m working on some romance novellas, I’ve been scrambling to find good plot templates to work with. For full-length romance stories (40k words or longer), I recommend The Love Plot, by Katherine King.

Romancing the beatAt the moment, I’m trying to merge her advice with tips & templates from Quickies: Writing Short Fiction for the Romance Market, and Romancing the Beat.

I laughed my way through Romancing the Beat, and Gwen Hayes has a great (free) Scrivener template you can use, too. It’s designed for full-length romances, but it can work for shorter books, as well.

If you’re writing romance of any kind (or word count), I think her Romancing the Beat book is a must-read.

Quickies Short Fiction Romance MarketBy contrast, Quickies… is specifically for those of us writing shorter romances, and I like the simplicity of her concepts. However, some are a little too simple for my taste. Also, the book has some obvious typos and regrettable editing, but I could overlook them.

I strongly recommend Quickies… if you’re trying to plot a compelling romance for a book that will be 15k words or less. She offers some really useful tips to get the most emotional impact into shorter-length works.

Also, for all kinds of books (not just romance), I’m a major fan of K. M. Weiland’s advice, so I love her article, How to Write the Perfect Plot (in 2 Easy Steps).

And, if you’d like to see a template I’m developing, specifically for Regency Romance novellas, see my article, A Typical Regency Romance Template? (Don’t expect much. It’s still a work in progress.)

Also, since I first recommended it, the out-of-print book, How to Write and Market the Regency Romance, has become very expensive. (It’s $47 or more, as I’m writing this.)

I bought my copy when the price was under $20.

It’s a little dated, but it’s still one of the very best books you’ll find about writing Regency Romance books that will please readers and continue to sell for years to come. So, I think it’s worth owning, even at a high price… but only if you’re serious about writing Regencies.

RomanceNovelsForDummiesIn addition, I like Writing a Romance Novel, for Dummies. It’s by one of Harlequin Books’ most respected editors, and she definitely knows romance. At the moment, you can snag a used copy for around $1.50 plus shipping. I recommend it.

Getting back to course reviews: if you’re tempted to take the Udemy course, “Short Story Outlines – Romance Book 1,” don’t bother. The instructor probably had some good ideas to start with. However, the content was so strange, disconnected, and confusing, it’s the only Udemy course that’s been so awful, I asked for a refund. (The money was back in my PayPal account within minutes.)

If you like Udemy — and I’ll admit I’m not thrilled with their new interface — I enthusiastically recommend any course by Geoff Shaw. I think I’ve taken every Udemy course he offers, and love every one of them. I’ve gone through his Short Reads course at least three times, and keep learning more from it.

His Reverse Engineering for plots course was also excellent, but some people won’t get what he’s talking about. If you’re the kind of person who sees patterns in things (and can apply those patterns to slightly dissimilar things) I think you’ll like this.  Otherwise, the value of that one course might elude you.

Everything else Geoff has at Udemy… it earns my unqualified praise.

And now, a few products I’ve seen in the past week:

*Britt’s Female Character Sketches are reports based on genre fiction archetypes. They’re also part of the easiest and best mix-and-match system I’ve seen for creating female characters with depth.

I saw her product before she released it, and I’m not sure it’s available yet. But, if/when you see it, if you’d like a sweet, simple shortcut to creating female characters… snag Britt’s system.

I strongly recommend it.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the course called Book-A-Day Kindle Short Reads. I think the guy’s basic ideas may have been good, but the product was a huge disappointment. It’s not well-organized, and many of his suggestions were copied directly from articles easily found, online.

Worse, there’s no refund if you don’t like the Book-A-Day course. (I’m usually wary of any product that doesn’t come with a guarantee.)

If you’d like to write short books, fast, here’s where you can find very similar advice, free:

Michael Moorcock’s 3-Day Book Plan:

Lester Dent’s pulp formula: (This is almost identical to the “Book-A-Day…” advice, which the product author admits.)

2k to 10k words a day delivers some of the best advice if you’d like to write more, faster:

And, if you’d like to try the Pomodoro Technique, you don’t need to spend a cent for that, either:

Shifting gears a little, let’s talk about book marketing resources.

If you’ve published books and you’d like to promote them, I’ve joined some expensive ($$$) groups that have been… well, only okay.

I like Bill Platt’s course about writing book descriptions, particularly for nonfiction. I think I’ve mentioned it before.

(For fiction, especially romance, I’m seeing studies that say a 150- to 250-word book description is ideal. You may or may not need a course in book descriptions for such a short blurb.)

However, the very best all-around book marketing course I’ve seen is Geoff Shaw and David Lee Martin’s *Author Email Recipe Book. I also like the “recipe cards” they offer as an add-on. (These “recipes” are step-by-step guides to marketing your books directly to readers, especially through mailing lists… the non-spammy kind.)

Yes, you do need a mailing list to keep in touch with your readers and fans. Otherwise, you’re relying on Amazon (etc.) to tell your fans when you’ve published something new. (And, if Amazon close your account for any reason…? You could be out of luck. Do not take that chance!)

Had I bought David’s course before the pricier ones I’ve signed up for… well, I could have saved myself over $500. Really. David’s “Author Email Recipe Book” includes better information, more clearly explained.

And, since I know at least one of David’s pen names (and can check his book sales with KD Spy), I can personally confirm that his advice works.

So, when you’re ready to market your books, David’s is the course to get. (Just don’t think it’s about cookbooks. It’s not. His course is about promoting all kinds of books, both fiction and nonfiction.)

And finally, before I close this: K-lytics remains a great resource for finding out which Amazon book niches and genres will produce the best income with the least competition. I’ve just provided them with a testimonial, because — for the price — their individual reports deliver some amazing insights. I’ve bought several, and refer to them over & over again.

So, that brings you up to date on what I’ve liked (and haven’t), very recently. I hope it’s helpful!

This is a free clipart divider.

*Products with an asterisk are those I received as review copies. That never influences my reviews.

Also, the only affiliate links I ever use are to Amazon products. I’m uncomfortable recommending products — especially expensive ones — if I’d earn money from the sale. When I write reviews, I like to avoid any conflicts of interests.

Coloring Books – My Experiences

crayons - artistIn 2015, I hopped on the coloring book bandwagon.

It was a logical match for my skills, since I’m — first and foremost — an artist and illustrator. I can draw my own coloring pages. (In fact, I do. They’re what I doodle as I’m unwinding with the latest episodes of my favorite TV shows.)

How I Started

First, I took two courses.

One had some good information, but most of it was so preposterous… well, to this day, I’m not sure if the instructor deliberately recommended bad (and convoluted) graphics techniques so he’d have less competition in the field. It wasn’t a very good course, but it helped me realize that I could do this. So, I don’t regret taking it.

The other course I took was Coloring Book Profits, originally by Alessandro Zamboni, and then — due to vicious (and very public) pettiness by a competing instructor — Bill Platt got involved, so Alessandro wasn’t the steady target of unfair criticism, legal threats, and other childishness.

If coloring books intrigue you, I recommend Alessandro’s & Bill’s course. It’s brief, but it provides the basics you’d need to get involved in this field. (You may need more or less info, depending on your art/graphics background. You’ll find plenty of free, more specific instruction at YouTube.)

What I Did

Over the next few months, I focused on coloring books, almost to the exclusion of all other projects. I knew I had the skills; I needed to see if coloring books held my interest and were profitable.

Since then, I’ve produced over 50 coloring books under three pen names.

Pen name 1 was a name I’ve been using online since 1995, and it’s an “oldie but goodie” in the mixed media arts community. More than half of my coloring books are written in that name. They provide the vast majority of my coloring book income.

Pen name 2 was a throwaway name, testing some techniques based on advice in the first coloring book course I took.  I published several books following that instructor’s general advice. Only one of those books has done well. The others sell one or two copies per month.

Pen name 3 was created for a sub-niche outside the general coloring book category. I’ve produced just a few books in that sub-niche.

Note:  If you haven’t read my articles about pen names, do. I use pen names to protect my privacy and my family’s.

In some coloring book forums, self-appointed “experts” insist that everyone should publish using their real names. They talk in lofty terms about being “authentic” and “not hiding behind a pen name.”

I don’t know if they’re naive, inexperienced, or deliberately misleading people.

Never publish under your real name. Not if you can avoid it. (Also, while you might think it’s cute to put your child or grandchild’s photo on your book cover… don’t do that, either.)

My Results

So far, my top three coloring books earn a comfortable three figures each, per month. Some months are better than others, but the income is fairly reliable.

Nevertheless, with over 50 coloring books selling at Amazon, I average $20 per month in royalties, per book title.

Books under pen name 1 — over 40 books — are varied. Most appeal to two different, specific coloring book sub-niches. Royalties average $20 per book, per month.

Books under pen name 2 — about 10 books — appeal to one narrowly targeted audience. It’s very different from those under pen name 1. Royalties average $20 per book, per month.

Books under pen name 3 — four books — are in a quirky self-help niche. They’re not bought as “coloring books,” per se. Each book sells equally well… and royalties average $20 per book, per month.

I have no idea if that $20/book figure is something cosmic or what. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very, very weird. I’ve never seen a pattern like this in any other book category.

But, since I’d draw these designs anyway, that reliable income is pretty good.

Note: The coloring book trend won’t last forever. Whether the field reaches a saturation point or enthusiasm wanes, I’m not convinced my current coloring book income will continue, indefinitely.

For now, it’s pretty good.

And, before leaping into the coloring book field, carefully consider these other points:

  1. I didn’t see much per-book income until I’d published more than 10 coloring books. I saw a second income leap at about 30 coloring books.
  2. My best-selling books are unique. Most of them are entirely hand-drawn by me, with pen & paper, and tweaked in Photoshop or Illustrator (or both) to improve the final illustrations.  (I have 20+ years experience with Adobe software. I will not claim “anyone can do this.” Not the kinds of books I create, anyway.)
  3. My worst-selling books are based on graphics you can find, create, or buy online… the kinds of coloring books recommended in the first course I took. (I’m talking about public domain images, purchased graphics that aren’t significantly altered before use, and software that turns out ho-hum illustrations.)

Your results may differ. However, I’m not sure I can recommend this field to anyone completely new to art or illustration.

On the flip side, keep in mind that — so far — I’ve done almost no marketing at all. No ads. Just a couple of blog mentions via Fiverr. That’s it. Everything else has been word-of-mouth.

Tools and Tricks

I draw my original illustrations on the same paper I use in my printer. Generally, that’s the huge package of HP Everyday Copy & Print paper sold at Target. (There, it’s about $7 – $8 for a 500-sheet package.)

Most of the time, I use LePen drawing pens. My usual pen size is 0.8, but I’ve worked with 0.3 and 0.5. (That link takes you to Amazon, so you can see the pen I use. However, it’s smarter to buy those pens in bulk if you can afford it, or shop at Jo-Ann Fabric, if one is nearby.)

I also work with a Pigma pen, size Graphic 1.

My earliest books were created with a Zig Writer pen (double-tipped); the ink doesn’t last as long as I’d like, but it offers a nice, fine line as well as a broader one. I think I buy those at Michaels Arts & Crafts shops.

(All of my pens come from Amazon, Jo-Ann, or Michaels.)

The Process

I create templates — basic design ideas, sizes, and shapes — with the thick Zig Writer pen. Usually, I place one of my templates on a clipboard, underneath the plain sheet of paper I’ll draw on.

My main template is a rectangle in the size of the finished coloring page. That allows for a one-inch margin at the center of the book, and about a 3/4″ margin on the other three sides.

My second favorite template divides a similar rectangle into “slices of the pie.” I put a dot in the center of the rectangle, and draw lines out from it — in an asterisk-type (or star) shape — to the edges of the rectangle. That template is for symmetrical designs.

After I’ve drawn 5 – 10 coloring pages, usually with my LePen pen, I scan them with my DoxieGo scanner. It saves me so much time (compared with scanning with my all-in-one printer/scanner), I’d have to say it’s the #1 reason I can turn out so many quality coloring books, quickly.

Looking back, if I had to choose between buying software to produce coloring books, and my DoxieGo scanner, I’d make the scanner the top priority.  No contest.

I’ve also used that scanner to scan thousands of family photos and papers, while sitting in front of the TV.  It’s really easy to use, and — for me — it’s peace of mind knowing that, if anything happened to the original photos and papers, it wouldn’t be such a tragedy. Everything is backed up on my hard drive and in the cloud, as well.

I create mandalas with Kaleidoscope Kreator, but you can find similar software — with fewer options — online. (Search for “free mandala software.” You’d find things like and

However, I’m not convinced the mandala market will remain strong in coloring books. In fact, some Christian audiences specifically avoid mandalas, and that may be a sub-niche to consider.

I fine-tune my drawings and designs in Photoshop. Sometimes, I use Illustrator for vector work, and I’ve also used Vector Magic.

Lately, I’ve used the latest version (free) of Irfanview to tweak my line drawings, per the instructions at this article about enlarging images. (I tried the other software recommended in that article. Not impressed.) For me, Irfanview’s results have been superior to Vector Magic, at least for line drawings.

Steps to Publishing

I always publish my books with images on just one side of the page. I publish via I’ve been publishing with them since around 2009 and strongly recommend them to all indie authors and publishers.

I don’t buy ISBNs. I use the free ones offered by CreateSpace; then, my books can sell to schools and public libraries.

I create the final version of my coloring pages in Photoshop and save them as PDFs. Others like to create their pages in Word, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, and save them as PDFs.

Then, I assemble them with Adobe Acrobat Pro. (You can find free tools to do the same things, and you can compile your book in something like OpenOffice, etc., as a single, multi-page PDF.)

Most of my books have 35 to 50 individual coloring pages.

Initially, I created my books in both right-handed and left-handed versions. (Add one single-sided blank page near the front of the book. That shifts all the following pages to the left side.)

At first, the left-handed versions sold well, even better than the right-handed ones, but that interest fell off dramatically after about three months.

Now, I rarely bother with left-hand editions.

I do include a few sample pages (from my other coloring books) at the back of most books. I can’t claim it’s led to lots of extra book sales, but I think it has helped a little.

And, I’ve tested hand-colored cover illustrations and digitally-colored cover illustrations. It’s a little early to be sure, but — to my surprise — I haven’t seen a major leap in sales among my coloring books with the hand-colored covers.

Regarding pricing: I test my prices over several months. I also keep checking Amazon to see if they’re discounting my book prices.

Once I settle on a good price, I may revise my book cover with a printed price on the back. That increases the likelihood of a brick-and-mortar store stocking my books.

Other Sales Options

I never publish my coloring books in Kindle. Though (as of this writing) some people are doing well with that approach, I firmly believe it’s against Amazon’s policies to do so. I think Amazon will (eventually) shut down everyone offering coloring books via KDP.

I don’t sell through Etsy or my own website, either, but that’s because I like everything as hands-off (passive) as possible. I know that some people are selling lots of coloring books and coloring pages at Etsy, and they say they’re doing well.

My Future Coloring Book Projects

Yes, I’m about to start marketing my coloring books via Facebook ads. That may change my coloring book income significantly.

But, as I said earlier, I think coloring books are a fad that will wane over the next few years. So, I’m looking at longer-lasting writing and publishing projects, for more reliable, long-term income.

Also, I’ve tried to create content that’s almost identical to my three, top-selling coloring books. So far, the clones haven’t achieved anything close to the income of the original three.

(For example, I tried five different variations — each a different book — duplicating different aspects of one of my best-sellers. So far, only one of those clones has done well… but the income from it is only about 25% of the book it mimics. So, I’m baffled and can’t say what makes one coloring book sell better than another.)

For me, coloring books are fun. They’re based on doodles and designs I’d draw, anyway.

However, if I look at the big picture and the $20/book per month (average) income… I wouldn’t continue to create coloring books if they were anything except fun.

If you enjoy drawing or digitally creating designs, you may want to test-drive this niche. You might stumble onto a coloring book concept that does really, really well.

Or, if you’re like me, you might think of this as a really cool way to share art you’d create anyway… and earn some income from it at the same time.

Novellas and Short Reads – Putting the Pieces Together

Recently, I posted a rave review for David Lee Martin’s “… Self-Publishing Trenches” reports. As of Monday, 25 April 2016, that’s no longer available, but for those who did buy it, here’s what I’m doing with his information.

This is important: You don’t need to buy anything else, to make good use of David’s advice. I’m simply telling you the array of ingredients I’m mixing in my writing, in case you already have any of these, or want to add them. They are not necessary.

puzzle pieces
photo courtesy Martin Boose and

First of all, I’m taking David’s advice seriously. He’s not the first person to recommend this kind of approach to publishing, but the way he put his information together… that impressed me. And, he included insights I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

As I said in my review, I’m choosing sub-genres based on Chris Fox’s advice in Write to Market. I’m also consulting the newest advice offered by K-Lytics’ reports.

I have “second opinions” from Neil Bakewell’s videos in the Modelizer course he put together with Ryan Leonard. (I’m pretty sure that’s no longer available, but it may return.)

I’m fairly certain Neil and David draw from some of the same resources, as a lot of their advice — but not all of it — is very similar.

I’ve added suggestions presented by Geoff Shaw (known for his “Kindling” training) in his Udemy course, (Look for coupons for discounted Udemy courses. At the time I wrote this article, you can use GOODRITER30 to get 30% off most Udemy courses.)

If plotting isn’t your strong suit, but you’re good at taking a story idea and seeing how it could have been written differently, I also recommend Geoff Shaw’s Reverse Engineer Riveting Fiction course.

And, while you’re there, be sure to get Geoff’s free Udemy course, Helping Writers to Write and Keep Writing.

If you struggle with plotting, and — despite Geoff’s great insights — you couldn’t turn Cinderella into anything like Ever After, even if your life depended on it, you may need other plotting tools. (Worst case, you can purchase pre-written plots or hire a freelancer to craft them for you.)

Or, you might be able to start with prompts at sites like Seventh Sanctum (click on “Generator” at the top of the page), Chaotic Shiny (scroll down the left column), and Plot Generator.

I also like RPG guides. You know, the ones with lots of plot options and you roll the dice to select one. I get mine from Drive-Thru RPG.

If you have plot ideas, but can’t seem to turn them into anything, I like Lynn Johnston‘s advice and courses (the most basic is From Idea to Premise), and her series course comes with some pretty great templates to get you through your book. (The videos for that course…? Take them slowly. They might make your brain explode.)

Or, if you have a bunch of great plans for a story, but have no idea how to put them together, I highly recommend Dan Wells’ class in story structure. (You can watch all of the videos, right here at my website, free.)

Why should you write a series? Well, in addition to what David suggests in his report, take a look at Genre Hobo’s 1/1/5 advice; that may be where many writers learned the basics of what works.

And, if you’re writing books as a career — not simply publishing to get yourself out of the cubicle job, or for other financial reasons — I strongly recommend getting Holly Lisle‘s How to Write A Series course… which, as I’m writing this, doesn’t seem to be available. (However, I suggest writing at least three books before committing to writing series for a living. So, you probably don’t need Holly’s info immediately.)

As I said at the beginning, David’s information is pretty much everything you need.

Also, from free resources, online, to books you can find in the “how to write stories and books” section of your public library, you don’t need to spend a cent if you need more insights about writing and publishing.

However, for those who wonder what I’m doing… well, now you know.