Monday, June 27, 2016

July Camp NaNoWriMo

July Camp NaNoWriMo
July's session of Camp NaNoWriMo is almost here! I first participated this past April, check out my stats here, and I'm excited for round two! I joined a cabin for the first time, so I can't wait to see how that goes.

What is Camp NaNoWriMo? Practice for NaNoWriMo! Which is basically just a fun way to say a plan to write a novel in a month. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is November, but for those who don't want to wait, there's Camp!

I had so much fun with Camp NaNo in April and I think that it is something that every writer should participate in at least once. And I really surprised myself with how much I actually accomplished.

I tried to do my own NaNo in both May and June and somehow I just never managed to get it going.

The Plan

The typical NaNo is to write 1,667 words a day and have a 50,000 word first draft done by the end of the month.

My goal is to write 2,000 words a day, because it's a nice round number and it makes me feel better, and because then I have a little cushion in case I don't make my goal everyday.

What I did in April was write 2,000 words Monday-Friday and take the weekends off to give myself a little break. And I made my goal - or more - everyday.

This time I'm going to try to write 2,000 words every day and finish on the 25th. That way, even if I don't make my goal everyday, I will have a few extra days to catch up.




So who's ready to join Camp NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How to Self Publish a Paperback for Free

Self Publish a Paperback for free
My last post was about self publishing an ebook, so I thought I should follow up with how to get your book in print.

Publishing your book through CreateSpace (a site associated with Amazon) is super easy and it's totally free.

How to do it

  1. Create an account.
  2. Under "My Account" on your "Member Dashboard" click "Add New Title."
  3. Enter the title of your book, and I recommend selecting the "Guided" option. It breaks everything down into easily manageable chunks.

Setup

  1. Title Information. Here is where they ask for you to fill in all the information for you book.
  2. ISBN. Then you get to the ISBN screen and here is the only place where you may consider  spending some money. But it is completely acceptable to go with the free option here. Scroll down for more of a discussion on ISBNs. 
    • One thing to note is that you must be absolutely sure before you select one of these options. The ISBN selection cannot be changed later.
  3. Interior. Next you get to upload your book file. Acceptable formats are .pdf, .doc, .docx, or .rtf. This page has a Word Template you can download and compare with your .doc file. It's going to take a few minutes for this process and they even tell you that you can continue on to cover set up while you wait.
    • This is also the page where you decide the size you want your printed book to be, if it's black and white or color, and if you want the pages printed on white or cream colored paper.
    • One thing to note - you can edit this later, even after it is officially been published. So if you find you have a bunch of typo's that somehow got missed, you can go back and upload a new file. It will just have to go through the review process again and may take a few days before it is available on Amazon.
  4. Cover. Now, if you already have a cover design here is where you upload it as a single page PDF with the back, spine and front cover as a single image. There are guidelines for how to make sure you have the correct dimensions. They sound overwhelming, but they really are not.
    • You also have to option to use their cover designer. This designer is free, and provides you with a few different styles that you can then customize, slightly. You are able to upload your own images and change the text and background color, but are otherwise pretty much unable to fully customize their designs. Which isn't so much of a bad thing, because they really do have some good starting points.
    • With the cover designer, you are also provided with some stock photos, absolutely free. So if you don't really have an idea what you want your cover to be, this is really a good tool.
  5. Complete Setup. You can't do much here, just check and make sure everything looks right and hit submit. Your files will have to be reviewed to make sure that everything is acceptable. They say to give them 24 hours, but it is usually less than that. You will get an email once they are done reviewing.

Review and Proof

Now you get a chance to check over what you have done. You are able to view a digital version for free, and you are also able to order a printed proof for you to look at before the book is made available to publish. 

The proof is going to be the "author price" for your book, which is to say that once you publish it that is the price that you will pay if you want to order copies. That price depends on the size of your book. That is not the price that your book will sell for. You will set that up later. The Shrine of Arthis was around 480 pages as a 6 x 9 book and the proof copies were around $6.70.

You can either order a proof copy, and wait until you get that before officially publishing, or take a look at the digital copy and approve that, then your book will be immediately available for purchase through CreateSpace. It takes a little longer for it to show up in the Amazon store, but not more than a few days. I recommend ordering a proof and making sure everything is formatted correctly before you set it out there to sell.


Distribute

Here is where you select the sales channels that you want your book to be distributed in. Selecting all the options under standard distribution isn't going to change anything.

The expanded distribution options, however, will affect the price that you can sell you book for. If you hit save and continue, the following page will show you how these channels will affect your price. 

I would also like to note here that the only way that all of these channels will be available to you is if you have used a free CreateSpace assigned ISBN. 

Why would you want to select any of these options? Well, because it get's you book out to a larger audience. These are the channels that some of the bookstores will buy from. My local book store refuses to purchase books from Amazon. However, by distributing to these other channels, the royalties that you make from them are significantly reduced. I believe when I had The Shrine of Arthis listed at 17.99, distributing to these channels would only give me $.40 for each book sold through them.

So is it worth it to reduce your royalties to get your book available in more places? I can't answer that for you, but for me, the answer was no.

This section also has you confirm your cover finish and add a description for your book. The description is important, that's what people will see when they view your book's Amazon or CreateSpace page. What I used for that is what is the description off of the back of the book.

They also show you what they call an option to "Publish on Kindle." However, all this page does is allow you to download your file and your cover file as formats that you can later use when you go to Amazon to publish for kindle. It doesn't actually do anything for you except give you a few more files to keep organized. So I would basically ignore this option. Check out my post on publishing an ebook for a walk through of publishing for kindle.

Making Your Book Available for Purchase

Once your book has been accepted, the last step that you have to do is approve your proof. That's it, once you do that, it is available for anyone to buy from the CreateSpace store, and within a few days it is on Amazon.

And that's how to publish a paperback for free. 


Some Things to Note

While you can do this 100% for free there are still some things to consider. I talk about these things at the end of my post on ebook publishing so head over there to read more about it. Here I'll just sum it up.
  1. Author Website
  2. Editing
  3. Cover Design.
I would also like to add for the print book, ISBN. It's something that's not really required for an ebook, so I did not discuss it there so I will discuss it below.

ISBN

Should you pay for an ISBN or use a free one? I am somewhat divided on the answer to that. Using a free ISBN is easy, it's free and it seems to be accepted most anywhere. Some of my research I came across said that some of the local bookstores will not accept a CreateSpace ISBN, but my local bookstore only said that she would not purchase form CreateSpace or Amazon. Her reasoning was that Amazon is killing local bookstores and artists. She had no problem buying the book from me, however, even though I purchased it from CreateSpace and CreateSpace and Amazon make it about the easiest thing in the world for an author to publish a book... 

But anyway, I can see that the big chain bookstores would have a problem with the free ISBNs. So if you have dreams of seeing your book in a chain bookstore, (of course, what author wouldn't?! So what I should say is if you think it might be realistic someday...) then I would suggest purchasing an ISBN for your book. 

But don't buy it from the site that you are publishing on - ie don't pay the 100 to buy it from CreateSpace. Because that's basically the same thing as using a free one. You still technically do not own it. 

So what you want to do is go directly to the source and buy your own. You want to buy your ISBN's from Bowker. This way you are buying directly from the source, no third parties, and you are able to retain complete control of how your book is presented. You do have to do a little work for this, but their website walks you through everything.

So from Bowker, one ISBN actually costs $125. But your best bet, if you intend to publish more than one book, is to buy 10 of them for $295. That's what I did. And then I ended up using one for the ebook version too, even though you don't have to. But if you do want to assign an ISBN to your ebook, it has to be one completely different from the one you assign to your printed book. Also if you decide to publish a hardcover version, it must have it's own unique ISBN.




I hope that I have at least been of some help here, and I hope that you see how easy it is to publish a book. The hard part comes from actually getting it to sell...

Any thoughts or suggestions? How did you go about getting your book published?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to Self Publish an eBook for Free


self publish an ebook for free
I have recently helped my uncle self publish his novel The Shrine of Arthis, and I keep seeing things about how much it should cost you to self publish an ebook. I am honestly surprised by how high some of the numbers are that I've been seeing.

Because the answer should be simple: $0.

It is 100% possible to publish an ebook for free. I will tell you how I did it.


Amazon

Self publishing an ebook for kindle on Amazon is probably the easiest way to go.
  1.  Create an account. Start at Kindle Direct Publishing. You can sign in with your regular Amazon account (the same one that you use when shopping with them) or you can create a new account if you don't have one or want to keep them separate for some reason. I created a new account so that my uncle and I could both keep track of the sales without having to share one of our Amazon accounts, but I don't recommend creating a whole new account if you already have one and are only publishing your own work.
  2. Start a new title. Once you log into your account you are going to click on the plus sign that says create a new title. I was confused how to do this at first, somehow I kept overlooking this section of the page. It just blends in for some reason. It should look like this:
  3. Fill out your book's information. At the top of the page you get a message about signing up for KDP Select (more on that later), but just scroll down and now you can fill out all the information you have about your book. It looks like a lot, but just take it one piece at a time, and it is really all quite simple.
  4. Create a cover. If you have a cover designed, there is a button to upload it. If you don't have a cover yet, there is actually a cover creator that will help you. It even has some stock photos available for you to use - for free.
  5. Upload your file. They actually recommend a Word Document as the preferred format. Which I think is probably what most people will have their novels written in. Or at least the easiest available format for pretty much everything. Also acceptable is a PDF, Rich Text Format, Plain Text, MOBI, ePub and HTML. It's going to take a few minutes to upload, and then the file is converted into I think a PDF (but when I tried submitting my file as a PDF I think they converted it to a Word document and then back to a PDF, or something strange, so I just decided to sick with submitting a Word document). A box will pop up to let you know that it's doing something, but just be patient.
  6. Decide on your pricing. The next screen wants you to set up your pricing information. Most of this can be ignored, just choose your royalty option (it has to be between $2.99 and $9.99 for the 70% option) and type in the price you want to sell your ebook for. The rest can be pretty much ignored, so scroll down to the bottom and click the box that says you agree to the terms and click save and publish.
  7. Now we wait. There is a box that pops up to tell you that your submission will need to be reviewed before it will officially be published. I think it says that it can take up to a day to be approved, but I've found that it was usually done within a few hours. If you do this at night before you go to bed, in the morning when you wake up it should be live.
And that's it! That's all it takes to publish on Amazon. I don't see anywhere in there where I needed to pay for anything. You just self published an ebook for free.

KDP Select

So, I just want to briefly touch on what KDP Select is.  This is an option that Amazon offers when you publish on kindle, and they really try to sell it to you. 

What it means is that you will be able to discount your book for a period of time, and a certain number of times a year. You can also participate what they call "Cooldown Deals," which are sales that slowly increase in price at specific times that you set. Your book is also listed on a special page some where that features all these deals.

The down side? You must publish exclusively with Amazon. If you wanted your book to be available on other platforms, like nook or iBooks, you can't do that if you sign up for KDP Select. It will only be accessible to readers with a kindle. If that's not a big deal for you, then go for it. I would love to be able to offer those sales on The Shrine of Arthis.

If you do decide that you want to sign up for KDP Select, the good news is that it isn't permanent. After 90 days you have the option to re-enroll. By then you should know if it's worked out for you or not, and if you decide you want to expand to other platforms you can.

Smashwords

If you decide that you don't want to be limited to just readers with a kindle, Smashwords is the other site I would recommend publishing your book on. 

If you have never heard of Smashwords, it has a very large community of independently published authors. It is also where lots of readers go to find new books. It's not for everyone, I think you have to be a little tech savvy to figure out how to actually get a book onto your chosen device, but after you've done it once it isn't that hard.

The really great thing about Smashwords is that they will distribute your book to virtually every different place there is to purchase ebooks, including nook and iBooks. (Amazon has some restrictions which is why I published through Amazon separately. Amazon seems to really not like Smahswords, from my experience.) Most of the sites they distribute to I haven't even heard of. And the best part about that is that you only have to sign up for one account and you can collect payments from all of those sites. And you've gotten your book the maximum amount of exposure.

So how do you do it? This one was a little bit more fussy than Amazon, but for the most part just the same. They have a How to Publish page that has some tips.
  1. Create an account. Start at the sign up page and fill out the information. you might have to confirm your e-mail before they let you finish.
  2. Publish. Once you've created you account, there is an option along the top menu that says "Publish." There's a big long page where you fill out all the information for your book just like on Amazon. They have a few more options here, like which formats you want to be available. I just left all of that alone and said do everything. But you also have to option here to choose your release date, which I thought was pretty cool. That way you can make sure that everything is all set before you start telling people you published your book.
  3. Upload your files. Their preferred file format is also a Word Document. However, they have a few more restrictions that can make getting them to accept your formatting annoying (more later).
  4. Confirm. They for some reason ask you again which formats you want to convert to, so just confirm all, and then there will be status bars for when each format is finished converting. Sometimes you get a message that says "You are #X in the queue." Just let it go and it will tell you when it's done. I think after this point it is immediately available for Smashwords users to download.
  5. Wait. Your file has to be checked and approved in order to be included in what they call their "Premium catalog." That's just what they call the other sites that they submit to, like nook and iBooks. Even once you've been accepted in their premium catalog it takes a few days before you can find you book on all the other sites, but it will show up eventually.
And it's that simple. You have found another way to self publish an ebook for free. Hopefully your documents were accepted, but I don't think I had that happen a single time that I submitted to them. Even when I submitted just corrected typos they gave me a difficult time accepting the file.


If your file was rejected, here's a few tips that I found to check before you submit, to try to save the headache:
  1. Make sure your document is a .doc and is save as a Word 97-2003 Document. For some reason they like that better. To do that, go to file and hit "Save as" and then underneath the file name there is a drop down menu that asks for the file type.
  2. Table of Contents. The real annoying thing is that they don't accept an auto-generated Table of Contents. You have to manually link your Table of Contents in your document. How to do this:
    1. Go to the beginning of a chapter and highlight the title. 
    2. In Word's top menu go to "Insert" and click "Bookmark."
    3. Type a name in the box that pops up and click add. (I used c1, c2... so I knew it was one that I had created and not auto generated.)
    4. Do this for all chapters.
    5. Go back to your table of contents, if you already have one I recommend just deleting it and typing in the chapter titles manually.
    6. Highlight the chapter title and go back to the top menu and click "Insert" and "Hyperlink."
    7. From the pop up select "Place in this Document." You may have to scroll down to where it says "Bookmark." If that section is not expanded, click the plus sign next to it and then select the bookmark you created that corresponds to the text you have highlighted in your table of contents. Hit "Ok."
    8. Do this for all chapters.
  3. Tips for Images. If you have lots of images in your book, good luck with that. I only had one, and for the first few submissions, I just got rid of it because it seemed like there was nothing I could do to get them to accept it.
    • For whatever reason, I kept getting an error message saying that the image was the wrong file type. So if you only have a few images, try deleting them and going to the top file menu "Insert" and "Picture" then navigating to the proper picture from widows explorer.
    • Make sure the image is formatted to be "inline with text." To do this, right click on the image select "Format Picture" then the tab for "Layout" and under "Wrapping style" make sure that "In line with text" is highlighted.

Where is it Okay to Spend Money?

So maybe you're not too concerned about your budget, you just want to make sure you aren't getting ripped off. That's me for sure, I don't mind spending money if I know that what I'm getting is going to be worth it, or if it's something that I just can't do on my own.

1. Author Website

You might decide that it is worth it to you to invest in a domain name and an author website. I have to say that an author website should be considered essential, but there are free ways to do that. Take a look at my post on DIY Websites if you aren't sure how to get started on that.

For a free site you can try starting out with something like WordPress or Blogger, I did a review on Blogger here, but it you are willing to put in a little bit of money, I highly recommend eHost. It cost around $80 for three years and it is just so simple and easy to use. I go into more detail in my eHost Review.


2. Editing

Getting your novel professionally edited and proofread is not a bad idea. There are lots of places that will do that, but I have no experience with that, so I have nothing to recommend. But relying on just your friends and yourself to proofread, doesn't usually result in a quality product. I just went back and re-read my uncle's book, which I had read once to proofread, and I still found so many mistakes that I, and quite a few others had missed.

3. Cover Design

This is something that I could see most people paying someone else to do for them. You want your cover to look good because it is such an important image for promoting your book. You want it to be done right, and you want it to be high quality.

I did the cover for The Shrine of Arthis and I'm still not entirely happy with how it turned out. I feel like it could have been done better, and I had to overcome a huge learning curve just to get it to where it is now. But if you feel like your up for the task, there are a few tools to help you out.

For The Shrine of Arthis I used a combination of actual photos, Photoshop and a 3D modeling program called Daz Studio for the figures. 


What to Never Spend Your Money On

  1. Formatting and ebook conversion. I've seen a few breakdowns of where and how much people spend money self publishing and somewhere in that list is formatting and ebook conversion. In my mind I'm saying, I don't know what this is. This is something that is done for you when you upload your file. So what are you paying for? What are you converting to? All the sites that I've seen ask for Word documents. And I thought that both Amazon and Smashwords had some pretty good material to help walk you through any spots that you might be having trouble.
  2. Publishing packages. When I first started looking into self publishing I looked at sites like BookBaby that sound like they have a lot of great features. But then you look deeper and it's a $300 charge for them to publish your book. Why? What are you paying them for? You can absolutely do all the things that they say they are going to do for free, and it really takes very little effort. All they are going to do is upload your book to Amazon and to some of the places that Smashwords will do for you. So any of these companies that say that charge you a fee for their services, just move on because what they are doing can absolutely be done for free.



I hope I've given you some helpful tips on how to self publish your ebook for free. But the most important thing should be knowing what you're spending your money on, because one thing that I really hate is seeing people get ripped off, so I just hope that I can help you avoid that.


Care to share any of your tips for self publishing? Anything that you learned along the way that you would like to share? What would you have done differently if you could do it all over again?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How to Write an Awesome Antagonist

Write Awesome Antagonists
I've been working on my April NaNoWriMo, and I've started questioning how I would continue to reach my word count goals. I was also struggling with finding ways to bring in more scenes with my antagonist. So I decided that I would write a backstory for him. And as I thought about what the backstory should be, I suddenly realized that I was not writing a backstory, but I was basically starting a whole new story with my antagonist as the hero.


For your next novel, think about it this way: you are not writing one story, but two.



 Give Your Antagonist His Own Story

I've always believed that the antagonist should be treated just the same as the main character, but when I thought of the antagonist's story as something unrelated to the main story, a whole new realm of possibilities opened up. I had loads of ideas and suddenly the character became very real, and something very different from what I had originally envisioned. But in a good way, because there had really been no characterization there before.

The important part of this is to make sure that he is treated as the hero of his story.


We are the hero of our own story


Make His Story Compelling

Just like the main story, the antagonist's story should be well thought out and developed. If you view your story from the perspective of your antagonist, it should still make sense. But even more than that, if you took away your main story, your antagonist's story should be able to stand on its own.

So doesn't it make sense to treat your antagonist's story as an entirely separate entity?  If you look at his story alone, he should have just as clear a goal as your protagonist does and his plot line should be clear and easy to follow.


Make Your Antagonist Likable

  1. Make him the hero. Treat your antagonist the same as you would the hero of your story. Develop the character just as fully. Take a look at my post on Protagonists for some ideas if you don't know where to start with that.
  2. Give him good traits as well as negative ones. Make him someone the reader can relate to instead of some shadowy figure or a purely evil cliche. Thinking about him as the hero of his story gives a better perspective of how it is he could display positive traits. 
  3. Sympathize with him. Show the reader why he does what he does, and why it is that he thinks he is doing the right thing. Because no one ever does anything that they personally believe is wrong. Even if he's doing the most horrible things, how does he justify it in his own mind? Find ways to make the reader sympathize, and maybe even convince them why all those evil things actually could been seen as doing good.



So the next time you approach a story, think about it this way, you are not writing one story, but two. Because your story should not be just about your protagonist, but your antagonist as well. Sometimes the antagonist is more compelling than the intended main character.


What do you think? Who are some of your favorite antagonists, and what is it about them that makes you love to hate them so much?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

4 Ways to Find Story Ideas and Inspiration

Ways to find story ideas
So I used to think that writers without story ideas didn't exist. If you don't know what you want to write about, you can't possibly be a writer, right? I remember watching the Deep Space 9 episode "The Visitor" where Jake is a successful writer in the future and some aspiring writer comes asking for advice and says "I'm doing a lot of reading trying to figure out what I want to write about," or something like that. And I remember thinking, well then you just failed as a writer right there cause that't not how it works.

But that was a long time ago. And I was just a kid.

Now I get it that you can't always know what you want to write about. Sometimes you just run out of ideas. And not having an idea does not take away the desire to write. While I do think that you should at least have a general idea about what you want to write, if it's novels then a genre, and that some of the best ideas come without trying, I don't think you should let anything stop you from writing.


We Are Writers



So here's where some of my ideas have come from:

Characters

Since characters are the main focus of most stories, having an idea for a character is a great place to start. Thinking about character motivations, who they are and what they want can sometimes lead to a story without even realizing that it happened. My post about protagonists has some character worksheets and links to find more if you need a place to get started building interesting characters.

The best stories have compelling believable characters so building a story around a character is usually the first place that I start. An interesting character can create his own story that just demands to be written.

Scenes

Sometimes I see a scene in a movie or a book and I think, that is not the way that scene should have played out. Or I loved it so much that I wanted to find a way to make it happen in a story, and suddenly characters are created and a plot is needed.

Other times a scene will evoke an emotion that I want to find a way to recreate. And then that leads to characters and a story begins.

Or to start with, try thinking of one scene as a single short story. Maybe later you'll end up going back and deciding that there's more of that story to tell than just the one scene.


Images

Similar to a great scene, an image can tell a story all on it's own. I never thought about images as being a source of inspiration until I began working on creating a cover for The Shrine of Arthis. Through a combination of searching through images and experimenting with creating some of my own, I came across an image and I thought, Wow this would make a great story. And slowly, the ideas formed, the characters took shape and a plot began to come together.

If you find a compelling image think about the story behind the image. What is going on? What events lead up to this? What happens next?

I have to go back to characters again because all good stories have a major focus on characterization. So images of people can also lead to an idea for a story. Who is the person in the picture? If there's more than one person, what is their relationship?

If you find an image that makes you pause, either an image of a scene or a character, what does this image make you think about? Ask yourself, how can I use this image to tell a story?


Dreams

Another great place for inspiration, though not always a reliable one, is from dreams. I had one dream, a long time ago, that was so unique and compelling that I decided I would have to write it down one day. This was when I was in high school, and I did write it down then, but it was absolutely terrible. I came back to it in college and used it as a short story for a creative writing class. It's still an idea I have to develop into a full novel one day.


What do you think? Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How to Create Unique Protagonists

Creating unique protagonists

I've been prepping for my personal NaNoWriMo challenge and while sorting through the different story ideas that I have, I have realized that my protagonists are all basically the same person. So I'm thinking to myself, what can I do about this?

I guess I never really imagined that anyone would actually read all these different stories, so I never really thought about the fact that I always used the same default as the main character.  Lots of times I even think about the characters by the same name.  Now that I'm thinking I might actually try to get some of these published, I should probably make sure the characters are unique and interesting in their own ways.

Here's a few things that I did to try to differentiate my protagonists:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a breakdown of 16 different personality types based on Carl Jung's theories. It's actually a test your supposed to take to determine your own personality type, but it is also something authors use to determine their character's personality types. This site had a nice breakdown of what the different types are:


I also liked looking through this chart:


It's the same kind of idea - to get you thinking about different personalities and really narrow down the differences between different characters.  If you can put them into different general categories, then you can start narrowing down the differences and developing more diverse and complex characters.

Flaws and Quirks

Every good character needs a flaw, and quirks make them interesting. Thinking about their quirks or flaws is like thinking about what makes them different from others.  Through Pinterest I found a really nice list of character flaws and it even has definitions for each:


Reading through this list I got to thinking about what flaws sounded interesting, and what characters I could make fit with some of those flaws. 


Writer's don't quit


Appearance

Do your characters all look the same?  Cause they probably shouldn't.  Give them different hair colors, different styles and see what happens. 

Pinterest is also a great tool for thinking about character appearances.  My board, Character Inspiration, I have ideas for outfits, poses and faces. She's Novel has lots of different boards devoted to different types of character inspiration. 

Worksheets 

Yay worksheets! There's lots of different worksheets out there to try to help you get to know your characters.  I've compiled a few myself, that's kind of a mishmash of all the different ones I've found (see below).

Here are some of the sources for my worksheets, and they have some good ones too:

     Blank Character Cheat Sheet
     What do you know about your characters?
     Gotham Character Questionnaire

She's Novel has loads of great worksheets for writers but here's one in particular on characters:
    33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters


And here are a few I have compiled after looking through all of those and more:

General Overview

Appearance

History

Personality - 2 Pages



Any one else have trouble creating unique protagonists?  Any tips to share?

Monday, March 21, 2016

April NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo
What is NaNoWriMo? Basically it's a plan to write a novel in a month. The national NaNoWriMo is November and the idea is to write somewhere around 1,667 words a day so that by the end of the month you have a 50,000 word beginning for a novel.

I have never participated before, and I actually only learned this existed a few weeks ago, but I have decided I am going to implement my own version in April. I have been looking for motivation to write down some of my stories and this is it.

Help the cause by donating here!

Check the bottom of the post to follow my progress.


My Plan

Not quite the typical NaNo but the goal of writing some bizarre number like 1,667 words every day for 30 days just seems impractical to me. Some days you won't be able to make your goal, and some days you won't be able to write at all.

So my plan is to aim for writing five days a week and to set a goal at a nice round number. Because, let's face it, the word count really doesn't matter. What matters is getting the story on paper. If the first draft doesn't end up being 50,000 words, who cares? This is just a place to start. I usually write first drafts on paper, so I'm not sure how the word count thing is going to work anyway. Maybe I'll try typing and see how it goes.

So basically, I'm using this month and the idea of NaNoWriMo as motivation to get a story on paper. Not entirely sure what I'm going to write yet, I have a few thoughts and I intend to spend the week before finalizing and seeing what feels like it's ready to be a story. Or maybe a re-write of one that I started a few years back and never quite finished. No matter what I'm fairly certain it will be fantasy, sci-fi takes too much time doing research.


I did sign up for camp NaNoWriMo but I'm not really participating in the official things just yet, I think I want to try this one on my own so that I am prepared and will participate for sure in November. Some of the official stuff:

     Camp NaNoWriMo
     NaNoWriMo
  

Some other helpful links:

     Novel in a Month Notebook - Eva Deverell
     7 Strategies for NaNoWriMo Prep - Maris McKay
     NaNoWriMo Checklist - Author Zoo

And this, which is possibly the best idea I've ever seen for combating writer's block:

     My NaNoWriMo Jars! - Rachel Rose


Anyone want to try this one with me?

Here's an image of my calendar if you'd like to print one out for yourself.




Current Progress

Date Day Total Goal Final Word Count Goal Met
3/2812,0002,300
3/2924,0004,238
3/3036,0006,201
3/3148,0009,476
4/01510,00011,147
4/04612,00013,230
4/05714,00014,191
4/06816,00016,220
4/07918,00018,030
4/081020,00020,006
4/111122,00022,103
4/121224,00024,042
4/131326,00026,038
4/141428,00028,095
4/151530,00030,043
4/181632,00032,000
4/191734,00034,048
4/201836,00036,049
4/211938,00038,112
4/222040,00040,076
4/252142,00043,308
4/262244,00044,026
4/272346,00046,075
4/282448,00048,455
4/292550,00050,029






Monday, March 14, 2016

5 Reasons Blogger Could be Right for Your Blog

Blogger right for your blog
The first time I looked at the Blogger interface I had never seen a blog from the inside before. It seemed so confusing and difficult to navigate and I was so turned off by the experience that I went and got a WordPress account. However, what I found was that it was just the same and possibly even more confusing. The only thing I liked about WordPress was what seemed to be the immense customization that they offered. Something that, I thought, Blogger had nothing to compare to.

I think it was probably through WordPress that I figured out the inner workings of a blog and blog design, though I never actually used that account for anything. So, when I decided to give Blogger another try, it made much more sense and is actually pretty easy to navigate when you know what your looking for. 


Why I decided on Blogger

  1. Free. I'll be the first to admit that I am super cheap. So anytime I can find something at a low price - or free, even better - then I will at least try it and see if you get anything of value for it.
  2. Convenient. Everything I use is google. Using Blogger puts everything in once place and it is quite nice to only have to sign into one account for everything.
  3. Easy. Google really knows how to make a great user experience and make things easy for you to accomplish. If you don't know how to do something, they probably have a how-to page to walk you through it. Try a google search, and it's usually a google help page that pops up first.
  4. Custom Templates. So I thought that one of the downsides to Blogger was the very limited template options that you had. Not true at all. The amount of templates that are available is just unbelievable. And lots of them look like they could rival those provided by WordPress.
  5. Custom Domain Name. The fact that Blogger is free and they let you use a custom domain for free really is the best part. WordPress wanted to charge me $18 just to use my domain name that I already purchased. And purchasing a name through them was just way too much.

Custom Templates 

After spending several days attempting to customize one of the standard Blogger templates into something a bit more elegant (and less obviously Blogger), I discovered that there are loads more options available.

A google search for "blogger templates" brings up tons of free options and Gooyaabi Templates has a wide variety of free designs for your blogger blog. The site might not be quite the easiest to navigate, but the content makes up for it. It's also super easy to install one of these templates, and there is no coding knowledge necessary. You can, of course, customize these templates the same as the basic ones, through the html file, if you would like.

     Instructions: How to install Blogger Template

Pretty simple. Browse their templates and when you find one you like, hit the download button below it and it will download a zip file. Go to your downloads file on your computer and unzip the file. Then on your blogger account go to the template page and in the top right corner it says "Backup/Restore." Click that and then in the box that pops up click "Choose a file to upload" and navigate to the extracted .xml file and upload it. Now view your blog with the new custom theme. Done!

You can customize the file the same way you would a standard template, if you want to get into the css side of things. Some templates don't end up looking quite right when you upload them, but there's lots to choose from so you can always try another.


Using a Custom Domain 

I purchased my domain name through Google Domains for $12. After lots of research I decided this was the best option. Check out my post on Web Hosting for more on this.

When you buy a domain through Google Domains there is the option right away to connect it to your Blogger account. I don't remember the exact specifics, but I remember it was a relatively easy walk through. I remember being amazed that it could be so simple.


The Trade-Offs

While I do really love the features and the customization options that Blogger has going for it, I'm still not entirely sure that it is the best platform to host a blog. I was pretty much against using WordPress when I started out because everybody uses that, but then, everybody uses it. And that means that the potential for connecting with other bloggers and growing your own blog seems like it would be a lot better than the potential that Blogger has. The Blogger community doesn't seem to be quite as involved as the WordPress community does.

I did a little experiment and I started a new blog on WordPress, and I posted most of the posts that I have done on my Blogger account (it's only been up for a few months anyway, so there isn't very much) and I changed the dates so that they all matched and all that. Almost instantly I had a comment on one of my posts on my WordPress account because I linked to another blog that was also a WordPress blog. WordPress lets you know when other blogs on their site link to your posts. Blogger does not do that. 

So it's the little things like that that have the potential to increase your exposure just by choosing WordPress. And that makes me think that when I eventually decide that I want to pay for a hosting account, I will probably end up hosting my domain with eHost and setting up a WordPress account as my main blog. It is something that is really easy to do, and my eHost Review discusses how that works and also why I think eHost is a great option for hosting a domain.

If you are looking to start a website, or trying to find a good hosting site, I highly recommend eHost.



Useful links:

     THE EPIC GUIDE TO START A (LOVELY) BLOG ON THE CHEAP - Design Your Own Lovely Blog



 Anyone have thoughts on why WordPress is better than Blogger, or vice versa?

Monday, March 7, 2016

DIY Website Hosting - Don't be Intimidated

DIY Website Hosting
So you're finally ready to get your own website for your business, author platform or whatever. And you want it to be "yourwebsite.com" not something with all kinds of additional junk in there. And you don't want to spend a lot of money.

But you're not really a tech person, or you never really got what all the internet jargon meant. Even more than that, there are so many options out there, how do you know if you're getting ripped off?

There are two really important components to consider when starting a website and those are a domain name and a web host.

What is a domain name and what is a web host and do you need both? The answer is yes, but there are some relatively inexpensive ways to get there.

Domain = name

This is what most people think of when they think of building their own website. The domain name is your unique web address, it's what you type into the bar at the top of the web browser to take you to a web page.
But that's all it is - a name. You purchase the right to use this name, usually for a year at a time. Some places offer discounts if you purchase more than one year, so if you plan to be around for a while, it's probably the best way to go.

What about free?

You see lots of places advertise for free domains, $.99, $.01... But what they really mean is that it's free or discounted if you purchase a hosting package from them (more about that later). And even then, it's usually only free for the first year, and after that the rates go up to, in some cases, around $30 a year. Where they get you is on the renewal fees.

Privacy

Privacy means that your personal information will not be listed in the domain registry where everyone can find it.
You need to look if the site where you are purchasing your domain name from offers privacy for free or if it is an additional charge. Usually these sites where they offer free or discounted domains do not offer privacy and will charge $9.99 or more a year to keep your information private.


DIY Website

Hosting = place to put name

So you get a domain name, now what do you do with it? Having a domain is only having the name, you need a host to put your website out there where people can find it. 

Using a hosting service is like renting an apartment, or a storage unit. They are storing your website (domain name)  somewhere where others are able to view it. So, of course, to do this, they have to charge you a monthly fee.

The fee for a web host can start around $2 a month or go as high as $100 or more. Why such a dramatic difference in price? Services they offer, I guess. Depending on what you need them for, the added services can be a benefit, but if you're just starting out, most likely you don't need any of them so then the $2-$10 per month price range is pretty standard.

You can usually find a discounted rate if you sign up for a long period of time and pay it all upfront, so from the right host that takes you to just below the $2 per month mark.

What about free?

There are free web hosts around, but free is never free.  Most of them will offer you free hosting, but you get adds on your site, which can be really unprofessional and the whole reason your purchasing a domain name is to look more professional.

Buying Domain Name from a Web Host

Places like Weebly, WordPress and all those other big name sites will offer to host your custom domain, and they will even sell you a domain name, but they will usually charge quite a bit for it. They even sometimes have additional costs if you purchased you domain name somewhere else.




I did a lot of shopping around back in December and this is what I found to be the best deal:

eHost.com*


eHost looks a bit like a sketchy site, but I have been using it since December for TheShrineOfArthis.com and I love it.

I got a hosting package for under $2 a month when I paid for 3 years upfront.

They also offer a free domain name for life. This means that for as long as I host a site with them, I will never have to pay for a domain name, only for the hosting package.

However, they do charge an additional fee for privacy, which was $9.99. It said per year, but there was only one charge of that amount on my account. Maybe they will take out another next year, but still, I feel that is a great deal.

For $80 I have a domain name and a place to put it for 3 years.

eHost also has some great features, especially if you are not familiar with websites. They have lots of custom templates and a drag-and-drop interface, similar to what you would find with Weebly or those other sites. I will post a review of my experiences soon.

*Marks affiliate Link

The Free Hosting Option

Of course, I'm super cheap and always looking for the best deal, so I've got to try out some free options right? What's the harm, it's free!

I did still have to purchase a domain name, there really is no way to get around that. But I didn't go with those super cheep $.99 godaddy.com or whatever it is you keep stumbling across when you look for domain names. I am cheap, but I want to get a good deal.

I purchased my domain name from Google Domains

For $12 a year I have a custom domain name. Privacy is included for free. They give you the option to turn it off but... who the heck would want that? It is also (as far as I could tell) $12 to renew next year.

For free hosting, I am using Blogger.

Blogger offers to redirect its blogspot site to your custom domain. They even offer detailed walkthroughs to help you out:

     Change to a custom domain
     How do I use a custom domain name for my blog?

The only downside is that you are a bit limited in customization. You have to use Blogger's interface and it really treats your site as a blog. I am finding though, the more that I use it, that Blogger has a lot more options for customizing than I thought, but you have to know a little bit about html and css to make it happen. Check this post for my thoughts on Blogger.

UPDATE: I just discovered that there are lots of free templates that can be added into Blogger so you are not limited to the 5 styles they offer.  And some of the templates are comparable to the WordPress designs, and maybe even more customizable  if you know a little css. I got mine from Gooyaabi Templates.


There are other "free" hosting options as well, but they all seem rather sketchy and don't really deliver on what they promise.

Freevar. I tried freevar.com, and even though that looks like the sketchiest one out there, I was happy with it up until I tried to install WordPress, and I started getting all kinds of popup ads on my site. I blamed myself because I did do a little modifying of some files, changing permissions and such that would have just been asking to be hacked, but then I deleted that site and started over with everything. And again, as soon as I added WordPress, the popups were back. So maybe you'd be ok with it if you dont want Wordpress...?

Freevar is also not very user-friendly. I tried it because I wanted complete control over my site, right down to making my own html pages, and with freevar you really have that option. It's kind of the only option, actually, though they do say that they are working on a drag-and-drop website builder. So from a developer standpoint, it was a really exciting free option. But...disappointing.




Any better options that I missed? What budget-friendly options have you tried?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tips to Grow a Meaningful Twitter Following as a Real Person

Grow a twitter following
Recently I've been trying to build an author platform and one of the things I have been doing is to try to increase my twitter following. I am by no means an expert at this considering my following is still very small.  However, I started with 10 followers and in about a week got over 300. And I haven't really been doing all these things consistently everyday.

I think it might be worth giving a shot if you're serious about growing a meaningful following.

Besides, isn't there some saying about how the best time to teach is right after you learn?
Or something...

Here's a few things I've found:


Fill Out Your Profile

Make sure your bio is filled out. Be as specific as possible and make sure you add all the important details that you think people should know about you. If you don't know exactly what that is yet, start with generalities and you can change it later after you read other profile and see the things you like which you will be doing a lot of.  If you are a writer, make sure to indicate which genre you write in.

Pictures help also. Having a profile picture and a meaningful header photo lets other people know a little bit about you, just like filling out your bio. It doesn't have to be a picture of you, just something to get rid of that egg.


Follow Others Within Your Target Audience.

  1. Search for hashtags that relate to the type of people you want to interact with. #amwriting #amreading are good places to start with for writers.
  2. Follow others that do lots of re-tweeting. You'll find that there are people that basically only re-tweet certain hashtags. I found that by following some people that re-tweet #amreading it gave me a great start for a variety of people who like to read. @AdamSanto was who I started with.
  3. Follower lists. Find someone within your target market who has a lot of followers and start following the people on that list. There's lots of those for writers, look at publishers, indie author promoters or just other authors with lots of followers.


How to Pick Which People to Follow

A few things to look at:
  1. Their profile. Is it full of hashtags or does it actually say something about the person? Based on that description, does that fit your target audience? Here's when you can go back and edit your own description based on what you've found you like from other peoples descriptions that make you want to follow them.
  2. Their feed. Is it full of plugs for their own product or does it look like they are really using the account? If they're doing nothing but trying to advertise their own book then they are just going to fill your feed with their ads.
  3. Number of followers. If you are just starting out and have very few followers yourself, start by following others that also have a low number of followers. Sure it won't get your reach out as much as if they had a million followers, but I've found that they are much more likely to follow you back if they have fewer followers themselves. You can move on to those with more followers later.
  4. Followers to following ratio. This one I feel is really important. Does a person have 100K followers and is following 1K themselves? And even if they don't have a huge following, if it's only 2000 and they are only following 100 then they aren't likely to follow you back unless you've got something really big going for you. Maybe someday down the road, but for now, I would move on to someone else unless you really like the things they have to say. I especially like to find people who are following more people than they have followers.
  5. Time. When was there last post? I like to try to follow users who have recently posted. It just means that they are likely to follow you back quicker because they are currently online.
  6. How much and how often do they post.  If they post several times every hour, then they likely have some software creating those posts. It can also get rather annoying having that one person always filling your page every time you log on.

Most important: like or re tweet something they have posted when you follow them.

And when someone follows you, follow them back.

Remember that these are not just numbers on your account, but these are people and your ultimate goal is that you want to build a relationship with them.


Some Don'ts

A few things that I've noticed that really bugged me:
  1. Automated messages thanking me for following. Sometimes it's a plug for their product, sometimes it's just a link to check out their blog, but when they end with a "via @crowdfire" or something similar it has just taken what could have been a personal message and made it impersonal. I get that not everyone will have time to personally thank all the people who follow them, but in my opinion, if you can't make it look like a personalized message then just don't.
  2. Thank you for following tweet containing multiple @'s. Ex. Some one tweets "Thank you for the follow @--- @--- @--- @kt_gustafson @---- @----" Not only does my name get lost in there, but it is so impersonal.  Even tweeting to an individual and then looking back on their timeline and seeing that their last 10 tweets were the same thing just to a different person is still impersonal.
  3. Message plug for products. After following someone I got a lot of private messages saying "Go check out my blog!" and "Go buy my book!" and a link. You should have the link that you want people to check out listed on your profile. If I want to visit your site, I will click on that. There is no need to send it to me personally, and it is likely an automated message anyway.  I have already followed you, which means I am already interested in you or your product, so I don't need to be bashed over the head with it.


 Some Things That Were Really Awesome

  1. This guy is awesome. Go follow him, send him some #rtok because he does for everybody else and I'm sure he could use some: @TRUE_BOHEMIA  Sending perpetual Random Tweets of Kindness = #rtok
  2. Here is something that I thought did really well at addressing the issues I listed above. It's personal and it really gets to the whole point of why I'm trying to do this in the first place which is to try to build relationships with other writers and people that would be interested in reading my work.


This is just my "getting started" point. Once you get a base group of followers, you should be able to keep getting followers without doing so much work. Having quality content, not just promoting yourself, and interacting with other people should keep it rolling.

Anyone else have any tips? I'd love to hear what worked for you.


Other Related Links:
4 Ways to Grow a Twitter Following That Matters
How I Went From Zero to 380,000 Twitter Followers Without Spending a Dime
9 Ways to Streamline Your Social Media Profile
5 Things For Authors To Tweet About (That Aren’t “Buy My Book!”)
The Days of the Week According to Twitter

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Shrine of Arthis

The Shrine of ARthis
I've been helping my uncle self-publish his epic fantasy novel The Shrine of Arthis.

I've helped with cover art and website design as well as all the steps involved with actually getting a self published novel out there where people can get at it.

The Shrine of Arthis is an epic fantasy that is broken up into two ebooks or a single paperback.
The story centers on the Foedan people and their struggles against soul destroying creatures who threaten their way of life.  The setting is a medieval world where people use earthpowers to live in close affinity with nature. It centers upon messages of perseverance, self-sacrifice and forgiveness. It’s a story that will be appreciated by anyone who loves a wholesome tale of good versus evil.


Check it out, it's (mostly) available now!



Book One free on Kindle
Book Two 2.99 on Kindle

Paperback 17.99 on Amazon







Follow me on social media: