Blogs to Books – A Few Tips

If you’ve been following my new “just links” blog, you know that I’m using some of my old blog articles as the starting points for books.

Yes, some of this comes from my growing ambivalence about how I share information, online, especially in social media. Also, Jaron Lanier’s TED talk had a big impact on me.

I was so impressed by that, I went back & re-read Kill Your Blog, by Buck Flogging (aka Matt Stone).

  • Yes, that book has a terrible cover, and yes, his pen name is kind of clever but – when you switch the B & F – it’s more than a little vulgar. So is some of how he talks in this and other books. (So far, I don’t recommend the latter.)
  • Yes, his KDP numbers aren’t red-hot. In fact, they’re kind of horrible, as “Buck Flogging” and as Matt Stone.

Despite that, I think he makes some excellent points in Kill Your Blog. If you’re serious about turning your blog articles into books, it’s probably worth the $3.99 (or whatever it’s selling for, now).

Putting This Idea to Work

A couple of my blogs include 500+ articles, each. So, I’m turning some of them into book series.  I’ll break each site’s articles into bunches that total around 10k to 20k words. Most of these will be “Best of ____” books, with a subtitle identifying the focus.

Blogs to Books - for indie authorsIf you like this idea, I recommend reading the great how-to article, From Blog to Book, at SmartBlogger.com.

But now I’m faced with the mechanics of this process: First, getting my blog posts organized by topics. (I’m starting with WordPress blogs, not HTML sites.)

Then, copying & pasting the selected blog posts into Scrivener or a word processing program.

(Initially, I thought I’d just publish my blogs as printed books, through CreateSpace. For me, that means using a word processing program. Because: I’m a control freak when it comes to formatting, and I don’t yet have Vellum. Or a Mac.)

Is This Legal? Answer: Yes

I’ve heard mixed opinions about whether blogs can become Kindle books. (Years ago, it looks like Amazon actually encouraged it.)

Also, at their Content Guidelines page, Amazon said, “We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content.” (emphasis added)

So, this morning, I wrote to Amazon’s customer support for clarification.

Here was Amazon’s reply (in less than an hour):

Hello Eibhlin,

You can publish your blog as long as you hold the copyrights. There are no restrictions on it.

Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, found here:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A3KIRDTX1UQJX0

Content that is in violation of these guidelines will not be offered for sale.

Thanks for your interest in Amazon KDP.

Converting Your Blog to a Book

Anyway, copying all those blog posts could be tedious.

I’ve looked at several approaches.

The first were BookWright, Blurb, and blog2print, and similar companies. Generally, you have to publish your book on their platform. That might be fine for some personal projects, but not for what I have in mind.

Then I tried BlogBooker. (Some instructions are at Edublogs.) It didn’t work for my site with about 150 articles. I got an error message. But, my computer or browser may have been the issue. It’s kind of old, and running Windows 7. So, BlogBooker might work for you.

You might be able to use a simple PDF plugin… maybe. The problem is the lack of control. I want to publish a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback, and plugins don’t give me many options. Here’s a pretty good article (at wpmudev) that lists several free plugins you can use.

However, I use Print Friendly as a browser plugin, to print and save PDFs of articles I’ll refer to, later. The ads are annoying at times, but the plugin usually works perfectly.

I’ve had the best luck with a free WP plugin, Anthologize. It’s kind of clunky, and I don’t recommend it for books that will include more than, say, 30 of your articles.

However, if you have more patience (or perhaps a better computer) than I do, the free version of Pressbooks might be worth trying. It’s open source. People have created lots of free, really attractive templates for your final/printed book, too. But, for some reason, it didn’t play well with my exported blog files. (Yes, I need to spend more time figuring it out.)

Also, there is a paid Pressbooks option. I used that when it was still free, and it did a very good job.

The Clunky, Manual Approach

Because I’m rushing to get one blog – a small-ish one with about 150 articles – into a book, I’m manually copying-and-pasting from the website.

Here’s my process:

  1. Use my website’s Sitemap to copy a list of all the article titles. Then, alphabetize the list so it’s easy to correlate with the actual website.
  2. Decide the main topics. In other words, how I’ll organize the book’s articles, so they flow logically, from one to the next.
  3. Use a printed list (and, in my case, highlighter pens) to indicate which article (on the alphabetical list) belongs in which chapter.
  4. Set up Scrivener (or OpenOffice or Word or something similar) with those headings and article/chapters.
  5. Go to the website, and cut-and-paste the articles into my manuscript.
  6. Edit the book, removing all hyperlinks (at least for the printed book).

You may think of a better system. For now, this is working for me. It’s a little clunkier than I’d like, but I’m rushing through this project.

If you have a large blog or two, consider turning it into a book. I hope my insights are helpful. (Yes, I’ll update this article as I learn more about the fastest & most elegant ways to turn blogs into books.)

If you have suggestions or questions, be sure to ask me in comments.

TED-ish Talk Tips – and a question

Lately, I’ve been creating YouTube videos to promote my nonfiction books. Often, I share one or two tips from a book, and then point viewers to it at Amazon.

TED-ish Talk Tips for Video Book TrailersThat presents some slight problems.

First of all, there is no way I’m stepping in front of a camera. That’s a privacy issue.

So, my presentation has to be compelling.

The second issue is a quirky one. I’m kind of famous in one niche, and people know my voice from lots of radio shows, public appearances, podcasts, and so on.

(I was on the History Channel once, as well. It was less fun than I’d hoped.)

But this means I can’t sound like myself in videos under another pen name. Someone is sure to notice the voice and say, “Hey, wait… I know that voice! She’s [pen name]!”

So, my presentation has to say everything in text, usually in slides, right there on the screen.

(I use music for the backgrounds. If you’re doing this, I recommend getting the 7-day free trial membership at AudioBlocks.com. You can download 20 audios per day. It’ll save you money while you’re deciding whether you want to continue making videos.)

Anyway…

To keep my slides interesting, I’m studying TED Talks.

As a shortcut to understanding what works – and doesn’t – in related slide presentations, I like a book called How To Design Ted Worthy Presentation Slides, by Akash Karia.

If you don’t mind reading an older version of that book – it’s shorter by about 35 pages – you can find a PDF of it here: http://communicationskillstips.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/How-to-Design-TED-Wothy-Presentation-Slides.pdf

He links to some great resources.

Meanwhile…

Like many people, I’m stepping away from Facebook. Not entirely, because – for now – it’s still useful for connecting with fellow writers. And for advertising, maybe.

(Seeing how wrong Facebook got my interests, I’m not as enthusiastic about their “targeted” ads, now.)

I might just use HootSuite to post quick links at my Facebook page. It is a convenient way for people to see them.

Or, I’m considering doing that at a blog (maybe here), and people will see those posts if they’ve subscribed to my emails (in the right column on this page), or if they use an RSS reader. (Yeah. I know. That’s very old-school, but it’s something I may go back to, myself.)

So, I’m interested in your reactions. How would you feel about a mix of quick, short links-plus-blurbs here, in addition to my usual everything-but-the-kitchen-sink posts?

Or, should I set up a “just the links, ma’am” kind of blog, for those posts?

UPDATE: The response was almost immediate. Many of my readers made it clear that they prefer infrequent, personal, sometimes-long articles. So, I’ll be setting up a separate micro-posts blog for links, trivia, and the occasional/fleeting bright idea.

Relay That! – Reviewed for Authors

Relay That - reviewed for authors“Relay That!” may be exactly what you need, if you’re managing your own social media marketing… and it’s taking far too much time.

I bought a lifetime membership (it’s software you’ll use online, in the cloud) for $49 through a special AppSumo.com deal. When I saw what the software did, I didn’t even hesitate.

(If that link doesn’t work, it’s because it’s AppSumo’s “share at Facebook” link. And, when the deal is over – or perhaps sooner – that link may not work.)

Since I started using it, I’m even more glad that I bought Relay That!

Basically, it streamlines the process of creating original, unique social media graphics. (You can also use it for PowerPoint slides, and for Kindle book covers… sort of. I’ll get to that in a minute.)

The Importance of Pinterest

Recently, I tested Pinterest for marketing, and I was kind of amazed at the surge in traffic to my sites, and a related increase in my book income.

So, I put a free WordPress plugin on all of my sites, and I bought a license to place Tasty Pins on my biggest, book-related website.

  • The free plugin is Pinterest Pin It Button On Image Hover and After Post & Page Content.  Yes, that’s it’s full name. Yes, it hasn’t been updated in some time, so WP says it may not be compatible with current WP installs. It’s also the best of the free Pinterest plugins I’ve tried. (I’m using it on this site.)
  • The Tasty Pins plugin… well, yes, it’s designed for people with recipe blogs. The plugin happens to be the only one I’ve seen that actually does what it says.

(When you’re adding WP images, the Tasty Pins plugin gives you an extra section where you can put the exact text you’d like displayed when someone Pins your post/image. The non-plugin alternative is to put the text in the “Alt” section for the graphic… and hope for the best.)

NOTE: That Tasty Pins plugin is sold with a single-site license. Unless your site and books are earning money to justify this expense, the price – I think it was $29 – may not seem worth it.

Anyway…

I was designing my own Pinterest graphics – generally 600 x 900 pixels.  In WordPress, people see reduced versions inside each article. (When someone Pins the image/article, the graphic will display full-size at Pinterest.)

But, those graphics were taking me an hour (or more) to create and tweak… and tweak… and tweak. (Have I mentioned how finicky I can be? Or how much perfectionism gets in my way?)

So anyway, I took a quick glance at “Relay That!” and knew it might save me time. And, since AppSumo.com deals can vanish in a blink, I bought the software right away.

My Review of Relay That!

A review of the WP plugin, Relay That!This product is a gold mine, on many levels, and not just because it can save a lot of time. Like a slightly confusing mine tunnel, the deeper you go into Relay That’s options, the more useful tools and designs you’ll discover.

It’s not perfect. There are some features I’d like to see added, soon.

One of them is the ability to choose font sizes. At the moment, the software works best in “dummies mode,” so you can choose different fonts & font colors… but the size (in points) remains the same.

Another is the option of moving some of the design elements, even a little. Right now, the layout you see is what you get.

But, even with those kinds of issues, I’m happy with this software. I spent about 15 minutes (maybe a little less) creating the graphics for this article.  Past, similar efforts – before Relay That – took me at least an hour, and didn’t look as polished.

Yesterday, I turned out seven Pinterest graphics and posted them with (existing) articles. Then I designed a book cover in Relay That, too. All in less than two hours.

You can use Relay That right out of the box.

  • You can use their graphics (over 250k of them) or upload your own.
  • Choose the finished image size (generally designed for specific social media sites, from Twitter to YouTube to LinkedIn to… well, you get the idea).
  • Change the text to fit your needs.
  • Then, download the finished graphic.

That’s it. It could take you five minutes, and the finished product could look pretty darned amazing.

Or, you could let perfectionism slip in, as I do.

My process involves using my own photos, or finding one online. (Lately, I rely on sites like Pexels and Pixabay, and my annual membership to Storyblocks.com‘s images.)

But… a lot of those sites provide photos larger than 10MB, and 10MB is the current per-image upload limit at Relay That.

So, I add a step: I reduce the image in Photoshop, with a simple “save for web…” at medium or high levels. (You could do the same thing with Gimp or any free graphics program.)

Then, I’m ready to create an “ooh, shiny!” social media graphic at Relay That. 

The learning curve is pretty mild. I recommend going through the Relay That tutorial (it’s 11 easy steps) and actually doing what they’re demonstrating, as you follow along.

Tips:

  • I think the Font 1, Font 2, and Highlight tabs need more explaining. I recommend experimenting with them to see what they do.
  • Also, using brackets – { and } – around ANY section of the text, even an entire section (like your URL), makes it a “highlight.”

So then I create my graphic. That takes minutes. 10 – 15, at the very most. (The one at the top of this page took under a minute in Relay That!)

After that, if I’m going to post at several social media sites, switching graphic sizes and design styles is really easy. Click, click… and done!

All with the same basic image/s & text. (It’s ridiculously simple. It’s what I did for the graphics on this page.)

Then, after downloading the finished social media graphics (I download as JPGs), I go back to Photoshop and tweak. (Because: finicky.)

What do I tweak…? Well, for Pinterest, I start with Relay That’s 800 x 1200 Tall Post template, and reduce it to 600 x 900 (so it’s a smaller file size), and then “save for web” to reduce the file size even more.

For Facebook posts (like the one at the top of this page), I just “save for web” at full size.

I love how easy this is. And how fast.

Relay That also offers templates for book covers (1410 x 2250 pixels). However, they’re pretty ho-hum (Relay That says they’re expanding their design options) and frustrating since I can’t tweak the font sizes.

So, don’t buy this with immediate plans to design all your book covers in Relay That.

However, for simple books – the kind that take a day or two to write – those covers may be good enough. Later today, I’ll be publishing a book with a cover I designed in Relay That. All it needed was a really simple cover.

Also, Relay That has templates for things like Facebook Covers, which – at 1920 x 1080 pixels – are ideal for slides in my YouTube videos. Wheeeeee!

Then there are some quirky bells & whistles like can’t-miss-this watermarks, for anyone selling their photos or artwork.

… And probably a bunch of other features I haven’t discovered in the two days since I bought Relay That. (I’m also writing a book right now.)

So, that’s my review. I wanted to throw this together right away, while AppSumo is offering such a great price for Relay That.

(As I’m writing this, AppSumo’s deal is $49 for a lifetime membership. If you buy a membership at the RelayThat.com site, it’s $25 – $97/month, depending on the level of membership you want.)

Personally, I’m delighted with RelayThat. It’s already saved me a full day’s time (working on Pinterest graphics)… which leaves me more time for writing. And it opens opportunities to expand my marketing into other social media.

Links for Indie Authors – A Few Goodies from Feb 2018

IndieAuthorToolsLinks-Mar2018Want to start March with more focus and energy? Shaking off the winter doldrums?

Here are my latest favorite resources & tips.

And – just so you know – I’m so busy with other projects, I don’t follow many blogs or YouTube channels.

(Oh, I receive the email notification… I just don’t click very often. Unroll.me keeps my emails under control, and I can go for days – sometimes more than a week – without opening any of those collections.)

So, what I’m recommending here are the few articles, etc., that I consider worth your time, even if you’re super-busy.

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – the Book Designer blog is usually useful. This article finally explained to me why some authors use Ingram Spark instead of (or in addition to) CreateSpace. In a way, it’s a clunky solution and has some clear drawbacks. But, as a solution to a specific problem – pre-sales of printed books – it may interest you.

Next topic… Pinterest.

For far too long, I’ve thought of Pinterest as just another time-sucking social media site. I haven’t used it.

Then, I did.

Oops.

Yes, it does generate traffic and interest. If your audience is a match for Pinterest – 80% women, generally from the USA – consider making Pinterest part of your marketing strategy.

Note: I did not say “get on Pinterest and start pinning.” That may be a smart choice for you. Me…? At the moment, I’m too busy to add that to my to-do list.

Instead, I’m making sure all of my book-related blog posts are Pinterest friendly.

This means I’m including a 600 x 900 graphic – with text – that someone may decide to pin. And that can lead to more traffic.

(Like I said: So far, to my absolute amazement, it’s working. And not just in niches related to cooking, weddings, and party planning. In fact, Pinterest is driving traffic to my completely unlikely niches.)

Do you need a 600 (wide) x 900 (tall) template to work with? Click here for a GIF you can use. If you’re using Photoshop or other software that can read PSDs, click here for a layered template that may be useful. (Note: the fonts are Thirsty Rough, Museo, and Museo Slab… in case you’re interested.)

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Be sure your website is Pinterest friendly. For me, that means using a free WordPress plugin so it’s easy for visitors to pin my shiny new 600 x 900 graphics. I’m using Pinterest Pin It Button on Hover…
  2. Depending on your blog’s aesthetics, you may want to change how that 600 x 900 graphic appears on your website. (It’ll still show up, full sized, at Pinterest and in emails sent via Feedburner.) Here are some ideas (some are better than others, and – like everything else online – the rules can change in a blink): How to Create Super Stealthy Pinterest Images for Your Blog. Cruise her other articles and notice what she’s doing to help people share her posts, too.
  3. If you’re a graphics geek like me, invest in templates to make designing easier. Frankly, I’m using the 50 Instagram Stories Bundle, from Design Cuts. I bought it on a great sale, but even at $20 (price as I’m writing this), it can be such a time-saver, it’s worth it.
  4. Learn to combine fonts in interesting & attractive ways. I’m using cheatsheets I printed, online. You can search images for “font combinations,” “font combining,” or “font mixing” and see what looks good. Or, you can go to a Pinterest board like Font combining… and click through on anything that appeals to you.  Among the 10 or so I printed, one from Imgur has been the most useful. (Also, I still rely on free font sites like FontSquirrel.com and Google Fonts.)

Speaking of fonts, my friend Milan told me about a great site for font addicts, and people willing to try beta-ish versions of new fonts: Future Fonts.

Other resources that have been helpful (in above-and-beyond ways) this month:

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few resources, but this should be enough to keep you busy for an hour or two. And, really, I carefully chose these links. My goal was to provide time-savers, not shiny object distractions. (In other words: don’t get sucked into Pinterest… okay?)

And now it’s time to get back to the books!

Fixing Failed Fiction

True confession: Yes, I still have far too much failed fiction – novels, novellas, short stories, and half-baked plots – on my hard drive.

And yes, I even published some of it, and instantly regretted it. The reviews were ugly, when anyone even bought one of those books.

It’s been embarrassing. Frustrating. The kind of thing that wakes me up at 3 AM, and I stare at the ceiling, convinced that my successful books were just flukes.

(Hey, at 3 in the morning, anything can seem like high drama, and I can awfulize with the best of them.)

So, yeah. I’m not sure I’m the queen Fix failed fictionof failed fiction, but I’d certainly rate highly on the runners-up list.

Then, last month, when Bonnie (Lynn) Johnston offered me an opportunity to beta test her new Manuscript Magic course, I dropped everything and rushed to try it.

I’ve always liked her advice, and own lots & lots of her reports & courses.

So… let me tell you about Manuscript Magic.

It’s not often I can give a course (or a book, or anything, really) an unqualified rave review, but that course deserves it.

Yes, it’s $197. If you have fiction ideas, plots, half-baked books, or published books that failed… the course is worth at least twice that.

(Seriously, I expected her to charge at least $350 – $400 for this course. It’s that comprehensive, original, and brilliant. No matter what is wrong with your story, she has at least two or three different ways to fix each area where it falters.)

It’s like a university course. The kind that would take at least a semester, and possibly a full year.

But, you get to work through it at your own pace. Lots of videos. Lots of PDFs. Lots of useful information.

So, if you’re at the point where you have books (or book ideas) and you’re not sure why you’re not finishing the book (or why it got snarky reviews), get this course.

In my opinion, it’s worth eating ramen or pb&j sandwiches for a month, if that’s the only way you can afford it.

I’m not kidding.

Take a look at the course.

And, if you want to see a free sample of one lesson, watch this. It’s a 9-minute explanation of what exposition is, and how to use it (and not use it).

In addition to that, I’ve stumbled onto a few other things that are kind of amazing… for me, anyway.

Horwitz kick-started my editing binge

I mentioned this before: Stuart Horwitz’s Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. (Go read my articlescroll down to “Editing Discoveries” – before buying that or his other book, Blueprint Your Best-Seller.)

His book still seems to be amazingly weird, but his advice was what I needed to hear.

I made some great progress, fixing things that were broken in my books. But then, I stalled. (This was before I took Bonnie’s course.)

Meshing character arcs and story arcs

One thing that continually slows my plotting is trying to mesh character arcs and story arcs. Even before taking Bonnie’s course (the one I talked about, above), I knew that something wasn’t clicking in my brain, in that area of plotting.

Then, Chris Fox posted a related video. It was a huge ah-HA! moment for me. Here it is:

(All of his YouTube videos are very good. I don’t always agree with him, but since his book income – and productivity – are light years ahead of mine, pay close attention to everything he says.)

Anyway, after watching that video, I scrambled to find (and print) Dan Harmon’s advice. You’ll find it here: Story Structure 101.

(That’s the first in a series of how-to articles in a multi-part series. And yes, his language can be NSFW. Combined with how Chris Fox explained this… well, I finally have a clear understanding of how stories can work.)

I strongly recommend it.

With this information, I can see a clear path to relaunching older, failed books, and getting stalled books back on track.

Relaunching = Revisiting categories & keywords

In other news… Dave Chesson’s KDP Rocket software has been updated with some very sweet bells & whistles.

See, I’m working my way through Chris Fox’s Write to Market (again), after getting into his Relaunch Your Novel book. I realized I needed to review his Write to Market research tips, to be sure I was current about book categories and keywords.

So, I turned on my copy of KDP Rocket and – initially – thought my favorite book genre as an absolute no-go. The competition numbers (confirmed with KDSpy) were insane.

That’s when Dave’s updates to KDP Rocket made a world of difference. I found three sub-sub-genres that would work for my books. I can compete for those keywords, and in those sub-categories.

And, since I’m rewriting those books anyway, tweaking them to become exact matches for those sub-sub-genres… well, I can’t quite say “easy-peasy.” However, between Bonnie’s course and Dan Harmon’s plot circles, this actually looks like fun.

(If you know how much I hate rewriting anything, you’ll understand: that’s major.)

So, those are my best, most current tips for fixing failed fiction. I hope they’re helpful.

If you have any questions or suggestions, I hope you’ll leave a comment. I’m always interested in your thoughts on these topics.

Newspaper Resources for Nonfiction Research

Using Newspapers for Book ResearchIf you’re writing books related to current news headlines or pop trends, newspapers can be a great resource.

The problem is: Finding the right articles in the right papers.

Basically, if you’re using current-ish newspaper articles for your research, NewsLibrary.com is pretty powerful. But, their annual membership is around $200.

Yikes.

That’s a lot, unless you’re often knee-deep in newspaper research. If that’s your career – and how you spend far too much time, most weeks – the $200 could be worth it. (Or, you can watch for special deals and coupons. During a past special, in February 2018, you could get a year for $30.)

For me… I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’m still thinking about this.

For one thing, I’m writing less nonfiction now.

And, though much of my work focuses on historical fiction, including real people in my stories has always seemed too “cutesy” for me.

HOW I USE NEWSPAPERS FOR FICTION RESEARCH

If something significant happened the (historical) year my story takes place in, I’ll certainly want to know about – and possibly include – cool historical trivia that might affect my story’s world. For that, I start with The People’s Chronology.

If you write anything historical, that book is invaluable. At the moment, you can snag a used copy for under $2.

If you’re thinking about buying that book, get a copy now. In the past, when I’ve recommended hard-to-find books, the prices soared after I talked about them, here. Sometimes, those prices never came down again.

How I use that book: I start with the year or era I’m interested in. Then, I find something topical in The People’s Chronology. After that, I research it in old newspapers for supporting information.

In addition to NewsLibrary.com, here are two more (of many):

Also, GenealogyBank.com is great for researching people. As the site name suggests, it’s for people researching their ancestry.

But – for your books and stories – if you don’t have a person’s name (or the person was in the news, often), I’m not sure it’s practical to manually search their resources. It can be feast or famine, and sometimes – when it’s in the “feast” category – the vast number of newspaper articles can be overwhelming.

Meanwhile, if you’re working with recent, old, vintage, or antique newspapers, and you’re not sure about copyright, keep international laws and public domain guidelines in mind. (The Legal Genealogist had something to say about this, too.)

I’m dashing back to my books now, but wanted to share these resources because I rely on them to enrich so many of my books – fiction and nonfiction.

If you have questions, leave a comment. I’m always happy when I can help others succeed as writers, authors, and indie publishers.

Research Tools and the Expanding Nature of Nonfiction Research

waking up and writing, earlyOn my side of the keyboard, this is a busy research-and-write week. So, even though I haven’t had breakfast yet, I’m flying through another quick post.

(Btw, feedback about Facebook – and the number of people who prefer to hear from me via blog posts – has been surprising. Well, maybe. I kinda-sorta knew that a lot of friends were phasing out Facebook. The feedback confirmed it, big time.)

KDP Rocket or KDSpy?

First up: People are asking me whether they should buy KDSpy or KDP Rocket first.

It’s a coin flip, and if you haven’t written and published at least one to three books, I’d say: buy neither. You can manually research nearly everything those tools do.

(Yes, it will take you time. Yes, it will be tedious. It’s also what most of us did before this software was available. And, unless you can throw money around with wild abandon, you’ll do better to invest in editing, proofreading, or a good book cover. Once you have actual book income, you can dedicate some of it to time-saving tools.)

But anyway… I rely on both KDSpy and KDP Rocket. Both save me so many hours of market research, I can’t imagine being so productive without them.

But, I also understand a limited budget, even after your books start selling.

A lot of writing (and self-employment, in general) can have a feast-or-famine swing, at times. That’s especially true if some of your income is from seasonal books, or you’re paid by traditional publishers just twice a year. (That’s typical in trad publishing.)

So, my answer to the question is: It depends on what you spend the most time on.

If I’m looking for a new or better category for my existing (or planned) books, and I want a better understanding of the easiest markets, KDP Rocket wins, hands down. The new features in the software (updates are always included free, for all of Dave Chesson’s customers) are breathtakingly good.

See… I’d been holding onto old blog posts, planning to use them for some short, topic-specific books in one niche. But, that niche looked crazy-daunting saturated. There was no way I’d waste my time on related books.

Then the new features in KDP Rocket showed me an Amazon category where books (on the same topic as my old blog posts) are selling well, even in short reads, and I can compete, easily.

So, yeah… pretty cool. KDP Rocket just sprinted to the front of the pack, as my go-to tool for Amazon category research, as well as competition research.

But, in categories where I already have books – or, especially in fiction, where my category choices can be limited (sometimes) – KD Spy shows me the current market, the page count, the pricing, the keywords, and more, all in one go. It’s a great, fast trends-checker.

So, if you can only afford one tool at the moment, understand the differences between them. Especially when you’re a new indie author, only invest in what you really need.

Keyword Research

Speaking of keywords, here are a few free tools (and tricks) I absolutely love.

For keywords, I rely on Scientific Seller. Sign up for the free account for the best results.

I’m also dazzled by Answer the Public. It’s insanely good and it replaces several research tools/software I’d been using. Export the CSV file for future reference, and print the individual pages if you’re a visual learner.

And then there’s the manual approach, which – sometimes – can’t be avoided. Or shouldn’t be. (KDSpy will tell you the major keywords, automatically.)

Basically, you’ll identify the best-selling books that target your exact sub-genre or niche, and are selling to your exact target audience.

You’ll cut-and-paste their Amazon book blurbs into a word (or phrase) frequency counter. Here’s a free one: Word Frequency Counter.

Then, if you’re like me,  you’ll look for what I call “duh!” words and phrases. They’re usually obvious ones I’d omitted.

You’ll also look for outliers – odd phrases that may or may not make sense to you – and consider why they’re being used. (It may just be bad copywriting.)

Compare the results with book titles & subtitles that are selling well. Decide if you should incorporate those words & phrases into your book titles, subtitles, descriptions, or advertising.

Easy-peasy, but time consuming. And it could be one of those make-or-break points in your indie publishing career.

Crazy, Expanding Nonfiction Research

This week (and probably next), I’m blasting through a couple of trending, pop culture books.

They’re the fast, trend-grabbing books I explain in my book, How to Write Fast Books…, which is now available through Kindle Unlimited. Ahem.

The book I’m researching now (or should be, but I’m writing this instead) has a lot of related, “everyone knows” material. But, as a fanatical, thorough researcher, I started double-checking a bunch of those “everyone knows” facts.

I figured most of it would be confirmed with one or two clicks, right…?

Wrong. (I’m sitting here, doing flashing-light hands and making the “bwwaaahhh” buzzer sound with my voice. Because, even at my keyboard, I feel like I’m still talking to you, the same as I would in real life.)

That’s why the two hours’ research I’d planned for those facts, have now expanded into two frustrating days.

Because those “facts” were fiction. And I have to rule out every possible, obscure resource, before I debunk those “everyone knows” items in my book/s.

So, I learned to allow about 10x as much research time for topics where fact-checking might be a rabbit hole.

But… the cool part of this story is: my readers will have new information they can be utterly snotty about, as they talk with friends and preen as authorities.

Because my books help people do that. And that’s one of the big reasons many of my fans buy (or at least read) every book I publish.

So anyway…

I just flew through a bunch of points that I think are important. And, since I haven’t had breakfast yet, and this is a rush-rush article, I hope you’ll overlook the typos. Or, if I’ve said anything utterly appalling, post a comment (or reply, if you’re reading this in email) to tell me about it.

And, oh yes, I hope you have great fun (and success) with your writing & publishing. Being an indie can be the best career choice!

Paul vs. The Publishing Gurus – Review

This is another quick review, in lieu of a Facebook post about it… since Facebook is being difficult when I review anything and add a link.

Also, I’m rushing through this, because this report is brand new, and the information could make a big difference in how you market your next book.

I’m recommending Paul Coleman’s latest report, Paul vs. The Publishing Gurus. It covers the most important tips and trends for book marketing. If you want a more successful 2018, I recommend getting a copy of it.

The report price is currently $19.97, and it’s 20 pages long. It covers a wide range of book marketing topics, from the importance of the first two pages of your book, to storytelling as marketing, to the freshest (and most compelling) book cover designs to… well, lots more.

For me, this report is valuable because it sums up some powerful marketing information in a no-fluff, no-nonsense style.

Also, I think a lot of the value is in the links (generally to free resources, though I’ve only visited a few so far) which expand the concepts Paul shares in the report.

Just one of them provided an “ah-HA!” realization that – for me – made this report worth owning, reading, and putting to use.

If you haven’t actually written a book, or you’re too busy to pursue writing & publishing right now, you don’t need this report yet.

Like nearly everything I recommend, the only way this report is valuable is if you actually use it.

This is delivered as a PDF, and there is no upsell. Everything is in the report.

Link: Paul vs. The Publishing Gurus

(As usual, that’s not an affiliate link. I review products to help others find good resources, period & full stop. I don’t earn a cent if someone buys what I recommend.)

Free Lesson – Writing Powerhouse Scenes

In the very near future, I’ll link to Bonnie (Lynn) Johnston’s new editing course. I had a chance to preview it, and I’m so very impressed!

It’s like a full-semester college course and one of the best writing debug tools I’ve ever seen.

In the first lesson of that course, I immediately saw why far too many of my novels and novellas failed… if I even completed the first drafts.

The answer was so simple, I’m still amazed I didn’t see it. Apparently, I needed to take this course and, y’know, actually follow the steps in it.

So that’s exactly what I’m doing, instead of just breezing through the course thinking, “I’m pretty sure I did that step that during the outline process.” (Evidently, I didn’t.)

The rest of the lessons in the fiction editing course – around 50 lessons, I think – cover nearly every problem a story could have, and how to fix each of them.

Meanwhile, she’s is giving away a free, sample lesson from one of her earlier, shorter courses, Write Powerhouse Scenes. (I tried to link to this at Facebook, and they refused the link, even though I don’t use affiliate links. It’s one of many reasons I’m not posting so often at Facebook, and I’ll probably share more reviews & links, here.)

MB-Sample Lesson From How to Write Powerhouse Scenes: How to Write a Great Scene Opening – 2018-01-24 20:31:56

I liked that course, too. It’s not in the same league as her fiction editing course, but it’s very good. Take a look at the free lesson and see if it’s information you need.

Short-Short Reads, Too

Hagrid2017 was quite a year. I’ve been in hyper-focus for months, and haven’t updated this site. To quote Hagrid, Sorry about that.

But seriously, there are so many other authors, forums, blogs, and groups sharing such good information, much of what I say is kind of redundant.

(Well, that’s how it feels when I see the truly wonderful information others share. I’m in awe of their work and generosity.)

Mostly, the past six months have been about revisiting marketing ideas, and realizing I need to build a broader foundation for my most successful pen names.

That’s been a lot of work (and I’m still putting the finishing touches on one site, with another in the wings), but important.

For one thing, it’s forced me to look at my numbers and weed out the “fun, but not profitable” pen names. They’re hobbies, and I needed to recognize that, so I schedule my week appropriately.

That said… almost any hobby has enough of a following that you can make it your sole income source and do well. It’s just a matter of finding your 1,000 True Fans, and maximizing that base.

I know: that’s easier said than done. Hence, my weeding-out of the less-exciting, less-profitable pen names.

Using free tools like Book Report, my financial realities are clearer. I can see what needs to be improved and what’s best as a spare-time interest. I look at the fun. I look at the profits. And I’m doing my best to understand how to budget my resources, including those pesky, limited hours during the day. (Sleep…? Who needs sleep…? LOL)

For me, this also involved taking a look at my fans and what prompts them to talk about my books.

WHAT CREATES THE MOST WORD-OF-MOUTH MARKETING?
  • Among some of my readers, it’s a great freebie. Freebies come naturally to me. I’m still kind of a hippie, and want to give everything away. I could probably do that every day of the week.
  • Other audiences respond better to a related, curated site, especially when the news is kind of viral. That’s where I tap into my innately geeky nature. I love research.
  • Still others just want a fresh, new book that’s kind of “more of the same,” but also freshly energized with a new angle… or something. That involves actual work, but – of course – it’s part of being an indie author. When I publish a new (or “new & improved!”) book, enthusiastic fans & readers tell their friends.

So, I’m making sure it’s easy for my readers to find whatever-it-is they’re most enthusiastic about. Often, that involves a website I promote via a Facebook group or mailing list.

EDITING DISCOVERIES

My biggest breakthrough in the “new & improved” category: Reading Finish Your Book In Three Drafts, by Stuart Horwitz. It showed me how to edit my own books in the least time, with the most dramatic results.

Yes, Finish Your Book… is a very weird book. Don’t even think about trying to understand it as a Kindle book… get it in print, or see if your public library can loan you a copy.

Even then, I’m not sure what he was thinking about when Horwitz illustrated it. The free videos that go with it… they make even less sense.

To really wrap my brain around what he was saying, I needed to read parts of his incredibly boring book, Blueprint Your Bestseller.

You can read that in Kindle, but it’s probably cheaper to get a used print copy at Amazon, or – again – ask your public library if they have it (or can get it for you).

So, why do I recommend those books?

Because after muttering to myself (for days, maybe a couple of weeks) about how bizarre and worthless they were… something clicked.

I tried his approach and it worked.

I then modified it to fit how I work, and it still worked well.

So, I’m now a firm believer in red-pen editing, but with a twist.

Then there’s the second big breakthrough as I’m revising almost all of my old books (the ones from the popular/lucrative pen names, anyway):

PROOF COPIES

After years in publishing, most of my books look fine when I submit them to CreateSpace. If the digital (online) proof looks good… that’s good enough. Seeing the printed proof only delays how soon my readers can get their hands (literally) on my books.

But recently, I produced an illustrated book. The photos in it had to show some very subtle details, so I ordered a proof copy.

Most of the photos were fine. Whew!

I was ready to hit the “approve” button so people could buy it.

But then, I took a second look. That’s when my stomach sank and my eyes grew wide.

The book that had looked “pretty good” as a digital proof… it wasn’t as good as I’d thought.

What shook me up was browsing the book, and seeing a few layout issues. They really detracted from the the flow of the book.

But that wasn’t all.

On paper, in my hands, the reading experience was very different from how it looked on my computer monitor. For example, the chapter headings looked odd. Kind of misplaced, in a way. (It’s difficult to articulate this. A lot of it is aesthetic, and how I think my books should look.)

Even worse (or better, in the long run), as I skimmed the book, I realized my chapter organization could be a lot better. (This gets back to Horwitz’s Finish Your Book… concepts.)

I’m still editing that book, but it’s at least 150% better than it had been.

The bonus is: this book is likely to sell well in print, in specialized bookstores. So, it’s in my interest to be sure the visual impression and browsing experience is at its very best.

But, after this, I’m likely to review each and every one of my nonfiction books as a printed, proof copy, before publishing.

Printing it at my desk and editing homegrown “galleys,” I was missing too many things I could radically improve.

Would I do that for fiction…? Probably not. Most of my fiction fans buy Kindle editions, and – using my own Kindle readers (one old-school Kindle reader from years ago, and also a shiny new Kindle Fire 8HD) I can see what the reader experience will be.

That’s good enough, at this point in my career.

WORTHWHILE, FREE RESOURCES

In general, I’ve been drawing inspiration – and making career improvements – based on advice from many people. Some of the best advice has been free. That includes:

  • David Lee Martin‘s blog & reports. (His posts can be tremendously inspiring. Don’t let the religious slant put you off. I think his core concepts translate into any spiritual or New Age context… because they’re true.)
  • Alex Foster’s Writing a Book a Week and all of his writing-related books. They’re short and, as I’m writing this, all of them are free. (But even at 99-cents, I think they’re a steal. Some of his advice is a little dated, but the core information is superb.)
  • Despite my usual lack of enthusiasm for many of Rob Howard’s past products, one of his recent blog posts is brilliant and worth reading: Issue #4: Building Systems. (I have hope that he’s turning out better products now, but – until I have more confidence – my recommendation is limited to that article.)
  • The Facebook group, 20BooksTo50k. Read everything in the sticky post document, and follow the links.
  • The 20Books… Las Vegas conference. It’s on YouTube, and the recording quality is so-so, but some of the information… wow. I’m particularly intrigued by Kat Lind’s “fat outlining” concept video.

  • I was also dazzled by her first book on the topic (not free), but not so charmed by the second one. (The second one had some good points, but not enough to recommend it, even for a voracious data enthusiast like me.)

I can see real value in her approach, but I’m still trying to understand how it fits with the traditional, “story beats” method of outlining.

(Despite that, seeing the quality of writing in the example in her first “fat outlining” book… wow. I want to include this in my work.)

SHORT BOOKS?

Meanwhile, I’m seeing lots of reports, courses, and forums talking about the trend towards shorter books.

This works best for “one problem, one solution” nonfiction.

It’s also ideal for fiction written for the lunch-break reader who just wants a quick escape to romance or adventure. They don’t expect Great Literature, but they do want a good, engaging story.

I’ve taken those insights to heart, and realized that some of my longer, stalled novels might be better in parts. I don’t mean serials with cliffhangers. I mean complete, short books that can stand alone, but don’t have to.

Basically, if you’re working with a three-act (Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, Act 3) story, each of them could be a complete book.

Here’s a template I created, to break my stalled books into three-book series: A generic, boilerplate, short-short fiction template. (PDF)

So, those are some of the high (and low) points of the past few months. I hope your writing & publishing careers are going very well, and that 2018 is your best so far!

Fan art representing the character Rubeus Hagrid from the Harry Potter saga, made with charcoal and watercolours by Mademoiselle Ortie aka Elodie Tihange http://mademoiselleortie.deviantart.com