The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

"Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing"

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

Publisher: Randy Ingermanson ("the Snowflake guy")
Motto: "A Vision for Excellence"
Date: March 6, 2015
Issue: Volume 11, Number 3
Personal Site:
Circulation: 11,645 writers, each of them creating a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
"Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing"

What's in This Issue

1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine! 
2) Organization: Will I Save Your Life?
3) Craft: Super Structure
4) Marketing: How To Track E-book Sales
5) What's New At 
6) Randy Recommends . . .
7) What Randy is Reading
8) Randy's Deal of the Day
9) Steal This E-zine! 
10) Reprint Rights

1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!

Those of you who have joined in the past month (375 of you signed up in February), welcome to my e-zine!


If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at:



2) Organization: Will I Save Your Life?

A couple of times per year, somebody emails me to say, “You saved my life!”


It’s a metaphor, of course. I didn’t really save their life.


I saved their writing life. Over the past few years, I’ve run several columns here urging my readers to backup their computers. Why?

  • If your computer gets stolen and you don’t have backups, then you just lost years of your work.
  • If a fire burns down your house and you don’t have backups, then you just lost years of your work.
  • If your hard drive fails and you don’t have backups, then you just lost years of your work.

There’s a common thread here, and the solution is very simple.


Backup your work.


You need two kinds of backup—an external hard drive and online backups. Neither one is good enough by itself. You need both.


Why You Need an External Hard Drive Backup


You need an external hard drive backup because it’s very fast and very cheap. Here’s what to do:

  1. Buy an external hard drive at MacMall or PCMall or your favorite computer store. (You can typically get a decent one for under $100 and a large one for under $200. Your manuscripts are probably worth vastly more than these price-tags, right?) Make sure that the drive comes with a cable that will connect to your machine.
  2. Hook up your external hard drive to your machine.  
    • If you have a Mac, it will immediately ask if you want to use the external hard drive for “Time Machine Backups”. You do. “Time Machine” is the automatic backup system that has come standard on Macs for a long time. Tell your Mac to use the external drive for backups. In less than an hour, your entire hard drive will be backed up. Every hour after that, “Time Machine” will back up any changes you made in the last hour.
    • If you run a Windows machine, there is a similar procedure for you that is just as easy, but it depends on which version of Windows you’re running. Google “how to backup microsoft windows x” where “x” is your version of Windows. 

That’s it. 


If all goes well, you’ll never need your backups. I hope so. I hope you have a perfect life where everything always goes right every day.


But someday you may turn on your machine and it just won’t boot up. Or you’ll hear terrible grinding noises coming from your hard drive. Or you’ll have your machine stolen at the coffee shop. Or whatever. 


It’s happened to me. It’s a horrible, terrible feeling deep in your stomach when you realize that all your data is gone, just like that.


If that happens, of course you have to replace your stolen machine or the dead hard drive, and that’s a hassle. But those are commodities, easy to replace. 


Your data is not a commodity.


Your data can’t be replaced unless you have backups. If you have backups, then it’s fairly quick and easy to restore your data. Do this:

  1. Plug in your external hard drive to your new or repaired machine. 
    • On a Mac, it’ll ask if you want to restore everything from the external drive. Tell it you do. In less than an hour, your computer will be back the way it was. I’ve done this. It’s a wonderful feeling when you restore all your data.
    • On Windows, again, there’s a similar procedure for restoring your data and it depends on which version of Windows you’re running. Google is your best friend. If you have any questions, ask your best friend.

That’s it.


Let’s review. Using an external hard drive is cheap and fast. 


But it’s not foolproof. A thief could break into your house and steal your computer AND your external hard drive. Or a tree could fall on your office and crush them both. A fire could destroy your house. An earthquake. A flood. A tornado. These are rare, but they happen to nice people every year.


So you ALSO need off-site backups. Backups that a thief can’t touch. That a tree can’t fall on. That a local disaster can’t destroy.


Why You Need an Online Backup System


You need an online backup system because it’s cheap and it’s off-site. 


Here’s what to do:

  1. Choose your online backup service. I use CrashPlan, because it had the best reviews when I was looking for a good service. Here are several common choices, but there are plenty of others, and you are smart enough to do your due diligence to choose the best one for you:
  2. Create an account with the service you like best. Depending on your plan, this might start at about $60 per year and on up. The price is probably vastly less than the value of your data. 
  3. Start the backups. You can choose what files you want backed up. You probably don’t want to back up every single file on your machine, because that might take weeks or even months. So focus first on your most important data. (Your novel, right?)

That’s it!


If all goes well, you’ll never need your online backups. You need them only if you lose BOTH your computer AND your external hard drive. That can happen. It does happen to many thousands of people every year. You can’t prevent it, so instead be prepared.


If you need to restore your data, your backup service will tell you how to do it. The exact procedure depends on the service. You should make sure you keep the login information ON PAPER somewhere—not just on your computer. You’ll only need this info if your computer is lost or destroyed.


What about security? Should you be nervous about letting your data be transferred over the internet and stored “out there”?


I don’t worry about this at all. CrashPlan encrypts my data on my machine before it transfers it over the internet to their servers. They don’t store the key on their servers. (So don’t lose your key, because if you do, they can’t unlock your data.)


There are questions about whether the NSA can decrypt your data. (Actually, this question is at the heart of my novel DOUBLE VISION.) Maybe they can, maybe they can’t. But it’s a good bet that if the NSA can’t read your data, nobody can. 


At some point, you need to make a decision to worry about risks that you can do something about, not risks that are outside your control.


A Word About Costs


Backups aren’t completely free. That’s too bad, but let’s get real.


Think about your data for a minute. How many weeks or months or years have you been working on your novel?


Imagine that your novel suddenly disappeared right now. How much would you pay to get it back? Hundreds of dollars? Thousands? Tens of thousands? More?


It depends on how much time you’ve put into it, and how much your work means to you.


If it means nothing, then no worries. Don’t bother to backup anything.


If your data is worth thousands to you, then don’t hesitate to spend a hundred or two to make it vastly safer.


You do have a couple of free options. These are not great backup options, but they can work to backup small amounts of data.


Some writers use DropBox or some similar cloud-based syncing tool that lets you work from several machines on the SAME data. DropBox is fantastic for syncing data. My thinking is that using DropBox as a backup tool is like using a screwdriver as a hammer to pound in a nail. Great tool. Bad use of it. But DropBox is free for small amounts of data, so if you’re flat broke, this is better than nothing.


Some writers email their manuscript to themselves on their Gmail account. Then it’s stored on Google’s mail servers. This works if you remember to do it. It’s free, but the same story: Screwdriver. Hammer. Nail. Use this method if you have to. Don’t if you have a better option.


And Then Stop Worrying


Yes, there are other things that could go wrong:

  • The world could be destroyed by a nuclear holocaust.
  • Ebola could wipe out all humans.
  • A cosmic phase transition in the Higgs field could turn the universe into oatmeal.

If any of these happen, that will be tragic, but you won’t be needing your backups.


You can’t possibly prepare for all possible outcomes. 


You can prepare for some—loss or destruction of your data. 


It’s easy to prepare for these. It’s cheap. It’s fast.


Do so.


And maybe next year, you’ll be emailing me to say that I saved your life.



3) Craft: Super Structure

There’s an idea making the rounds these days. Allegedly, there’s a thing called “story” and another separate thing called “structure” and “story” is somehow more important than “structure.”


I can’t make sense out of this notion. 


When somebody says, “story trumps structure,” this sounds to me like saying, “the body trumps the skeleton” or “the toolbox trumps the hammer.” It sounds to me like what philosophers call a “category mistake”. 


The term “category mistake” was introduced by Gilbert Ryle in his 1949 book THE CONCEPT OF MIND. 


Imagine a very young boy going to a football game. His father points out the quarterback, the running back, the linemen, the tight end, and the wide receivers. At which point the kid asks in some frustration, “But which one of them is the team?” 


That’s a category mistake. The players and the team are different kinds of things. They’re in different “categories.” A player is a component of a team. A team requires a certain set of players.


Structure is a component of story. Story is important. Structure is important. But you can’t compare their relative worth, any more than you can compare the worth of the team to the worth of the quarterback. They’re both important, but at different levels. The quarterback is there to serve the team. But without a quarterback, there is no team.


That’s a long prologue, but I think it’s necessary because this point is currently causing a lot of confusion among writers.


It was with great pleasure that I read James Scott Bell’s latest book on fiction writing, SUPER STRUCTURE. 


I’ve known Jim for many years. Met him at a writer’s weekend where he taught a workshop on three-act structure that opened my eyes to one aspect of how story structure works. 


Jim is a no-nonsense guy and his teaching is always practical and clear. And he’s not confused about what story structure is or how it relates to story.


SUPER STRUCTURE is a short book. You can read it in an hour or two. 


It starts out with some basic thoughts on what structure is and why it matters. In a few pages, Jim demolishes some of the myths that you hear about how structure allegedly stifles creativity. 


The main part of the book is titled “The Fourteen Signposts” and it contains fourteen chapters. Jim’s identified fourteen very common types of scenes that come up in most books. Not all books. Most books. These are signposts along the way that signal to the reader where she is on the emotional journey the author is creating.


This part of the book is gold. If you’re wondering what’s missing in your story, browsing these chapters might very well show you the emotional hole in your novel. And if your story structure is sound, browsing these chapters will confirm that you’ve done all you can at the macro level of story structure.


There’s a chapter titled “The Disturbance”—about the importance of starting your novel with trouble. Maybe not with the ultimate trouble, but with some sort of trouble. With the day that’s different. This can be the “inciting incident,” although often the inciting incident comes later. But a good story starts with trouble. A disturbance. And there’s a reason for that, which Jim explains.


There’s a chapter called “The Argument Against Transformation”—about a scene near the beginning of many stories in which the lead character makes his case against the theme of the story. Early in Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick claims that “I stick my neck out for nobody”. Rick is watching out for #1, and there isn’t any #2. But by the end of the movie, Rick has changed his tune. He sticks his neck out to do something noble. The emotive power of the ending is set by Rick’s earlier claim about who he is and what he stands for.


My favorite chapter in Jim’s book is titled “Pet the Dog.” I’m actually not a dog person, I’m a cat person, but it’s the principle of the thing here. Petting an animal is a completely useless activity that makes you feel happy anyway. A pet-the-dog scene is a scene in which the lead character takes time out from his dangerous life to do something nice for somebody who desperately needs help, somebody who seems unlikely to be able to return the favor. Think Katniss and Rue from THE HUNGER GAMES.


SUPER STRUCTURE is a good book and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t cover everything there is to know about story structure. But it covers a lot, quickly and well. If you can’t learn anything from this book, then call the mortician, because you have no pulse. 


The e-book version is currently priced at $2.99, and it can be had on several online retailers:







4) Marketing: How To Track E-book Sales

Knowledge is power.


Knowledge about how your books are currently selling is marketing power.


But right now, getting that knowledge is a hassle. If you’re traditionally published, you have to rely on your publisher for sales information. In recent years, some publishers have created online portals that give you some information. My publisher lets me see my monthly sales totals. That’s interesting, but not terrible useful if I want to measure my book’s daily sales to test a marketing strategy.


Indies have things vastly better. If you’re an indie author, you can log into each of the retailers that sell your books and get a daily accounting of sales for each title. 


The problem for indies is that you still have to work too hard to figure out the total number of copies you moved and the total revenue you earned in your own currency. And if you have your books on multiple retailers, you have to manually add up all the numbers. Many indies have their books on Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and Google Play. And each of these has its own way of giving you your data. This is a major speed bump on your road to marketing nirvana.


I’ve got no suggestions for the traditionally published authors on getting better data.


But for indies, I’ve got a great suggestion. A year ago, I wrote a column about and its nice tool for adding up all the data. But unfortunately, Vook ended that service last fall. For a month or two, I went back to doing it manually. That cost me an hour or two each month, and it was an hour of desperately dull drudge work. 


Then I talked to Lauren Royal at the Novelists, Inc. conference at the end of October. Lauren is a New York Times best-selling novelist. Her husband and son are the creators of a tool named that does what Vook did—only better. 


Lauren gave me a quick demo at the conference, and it convinced me to try out BookTrakr. I went home and signed up for the service. This cost me nothing—BookTrakr is currently free because it’s still in beta testing.


And it works like a CHAMP. BookTrakr is amazing. I gave BookTrakr the login information for each of the retailers I work with. Then it went to work. Within a few hours, BookTrakr had scanned through three years of records from the retailers and compiled a database of all the e-book sales I’ve ever had. (Except for Apple iTunes, which doesn’t store records forever, so BookTrakr can’t go all the way back to the beginning with them.) It also loaded in my paper sales from CreateSpace.


Once the data was in BookTrakr’s database, I can look at it any way I want. Every day, BookTrakr logs in to each retailer and updates its database with the sales for the day. This happens automatically. I don’t have to do anything.


I can ask BookTrakr to show me a daily or weekly or monthly sales record for any book or any retailer, and it spits out the results in a graph and in a table of numbers. I can look at the results for a single book or for any set of books. I can set the range of dates to anything I like. There’s a one-page summary that shows me each book’s performance yesterday and all-time.


The two numbers I care about most are the copies sold and the revenue earned. I can get these easily and quickly for any book, for any time period, in a form that’s clear.


Every day, BookTrakr sends me an email that summarizes sales for the day before. It tells me how many copies of each book I moved. Also how much each book earned. And the total I earned for all titles. It’s all automatic. It just shows up in my in-box and I see how things went. If I tried some marketing tactic the day before, I can see how well it worked. If there’s a problem with one of my books, I can see it right away.


One problem I face is that I have a co-author on some of my books. For some reason, that pesky guy wants to be paid his fair share of the earnings. BookTrakr makes it easy to figure that out, to the penny. That saves me an hour every month.


BookTrakr distinguishes between free copies given away and paid copies sold, which is convenient if you’re using a permafree strategy to help promote your books. (I consider a permafree strategy to be a best practice for marketing books. I know some people think free books are a terrible idea, but I have the numbers to prove that permafree works well when the free book is the first in a series. Those numbers come from BookTrakr.)


BookTrakr also tracks your rankings and the number of reviews. This can be useful information, but I tend not to look at this data much. 


What about security? This is a question that always comes up, and security is certainly a major concern of mine. I’ll refer you to the FAQ page for BookTrakr, which includes a section on security and how BookTrakr handles it:  


One reason for my success as an entrepreneur is that I have automated systems to do most of the boring repetitive tasks in my business. Automation is power, because it frees you up to do the creative stuff. You only have 168 hours in any week, and you spend a big chunk of those hours eating and sleeping and living your life and serving the cat. Your working time should be spent on the high-value creative tasks that you excel at. Automation takes care of the boring, repetitive tasks that you hate.


The bottom line is this. BookTrakr does exactly what I need. It tracks all my books and lets me get any data I want, quickly and easily and accurately. It does the accounting work I hate, which frees me up to do things I like doing. And it’s currently free, while in beta testing. I will definitely pay for this tool when beta testing ends. 


Just to be clear, I get no referral fee for recommending BookTrakr. I recommend it because I like it. Check it out at



5) What's New At

Writing Schedule


February has been a month of editing for me. I am working very hard on revisions on the first in a series of novels about one of the most influential humans ever to walk the planet—Jesus of Nazareth. It’s tough enough to tell a story when you can just make stuff up. It’s a lot tougher when the story is already there and you have to put it all together into a sound story structure. It’s toughest of all when no two sources on the planet agree on what the story actually is. But I’m making good progress. 


Teaching Schedule

I normally teach at four to six writing conferences per year. In 2015, I’m currently scheduled to attend four conferences, though I won’t be teaching at all of them. I will not be accepting any more invitations to speak this year.


Why don't I teach at more conferences? Because teaching is an incredibly demanding blood sport and it sucks a huge amount of energy out of my tiny brain. I prefer to put my absolute best into a few locations than to muddle through at many. And this year is tricky, because I’m planning to work on an archaeological dig this summer, which is going to take a huge chunk out of my schedule.


Here’s what my calendar shows me for 2015:

  • March 27-31: Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference near Santa Cruz, California. I’ll be teaching two workshops on indie authoring. Details here.
  • August: Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. I’ll be teaching a major track on being an indie author. A few details here.
  • September: American Christian Writers Conference, in Dallas, Texas. I’ll be co-teaching a workshop on the incredibly sexy topic of “metadata” and I’ll be on a panel about indie authoring.  Details here.
  • October: Novelists, Inc. Conference in St. Pete's Beach, Florida. I will not be teaching. I’ll be learning. This is a conference for professional novelists only, and it’s outstanding. And it’s on the beach, so it’s a place to suffer for your art.  Details here.

If you'd like me to teach at your conference in 2016 or beyond, email me to find out how outrageously expensive I am. Just be aware that I often have to say no because I only have a little time allocated in my life for teaching.


If you'd just like to hear me teach, I have a number of recordings and e-books that are outrageously cheap. Details on the products page of my web site.

6) Randy Recommends . . . 

I don't take paid ads for this e-zine. I do, however, recommend people I like.
I'm a huge fan of Margie Lawson's courses, both the ones she teaches in person and the ones she sells on her web site at
Margie is a psychologist who applies what she knows about human psychology to writing fiction. I believe her material is brilliant. Check her out on her web site!
Please be aware that in this section I ONLY recommend folks who have never asked me to do so. Tragically, this means that if you ask me to list you here, I will be forced to say no. 

7) What Randy is Reading

You might be interested in some of the books I’ve been reading recently. Then again, you might think some of them are terribly dull, since I’m still reading a lot of research books.  


As always, I’m omitting books I started and didn’t finish. I’m also omitting books that were horrible but I read anyway. (There are certain aspects of the craft of writing that you can only learn by reading really wretched fiction and asking yourself what makes it so bad.)


Here are the ones worth reporting from February:


The Thought Readers, by Dima Zales. Imagine that you have a special talent—you can stop time anytime you want. You just freeze the rest of the world. While they’re frozen, you can do whatever you want. Look at their poker hand. Take a look at the test your professor is going to give tomorrow. Check out the filing cabinets of the CEO you’re negotiating with. You can pretty much cheat your way through life, because you’re the only person on the planet with this gift. The problem comes when you discover that the gorgeous girl across the poker table from you has the SAME exact talent. Uh-oh.


Take Down, by James Swain. Billy Cunningham makes his living scamming casinos. He leads a team of seven, and they’re always three steps ahead of the cops. Then he gets lured into a scam that isn’t, and before you know it, he’s been blackmailed into helping an evil casino owner prevent the crime of the decade by another team of scammers. If Billy cooperates, he’ll be violating the scammers code. If he doesn’t, his whole team goes to jail. But there’s a third option—Billy can pretend to help, while planning the biggest casino take-down ever attempted. If you like twisted crime capers with lots of bad guys to be ripped off, this is your book.


The Ruby Circle, by Richelle Mead. This is the last in a series of YA novels about good vampires and the “alchemists” who hate them. Our heroine has been raised an alchemist and is assigned to help protect a vampire princess, but she’s slowly come to see that her own alchemist society is far worse than the vampires she hates. This six-book series is a spin-off from the brilliant Vampire Academy series. Well worth reading.


Why Science Does Not Disprove God, by Amir Aczel. I saw this title on BookBub and recognized the author—he also wrote the critically acclaimed book FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM. Aczel has a masters degree in math from UC Berkeley and a PhD in statistics from the University of Oregon and has taught at several universities. He’s a well-known science journalist. He does a nice job explaining the fine-tuning problem in modern science and the quandary it leads to—do we explain the observed fine-tuning by appealing to God … or to the multiverse? This is not a science question, it’s a philosophy question. 


Super Structure, by James Scott Bell. Jim is a good friend of mine and a prolific novelist and author of books on how to write fiction. I buy every book on fiction-writing that he publishes. This one is well worth the price. Even advanced novelists with many published titles will learn something from this book, and beginners will learn a mountain. Get it. Read it.


Healing the Gospel, by Derek Flood. I read this book a few months ago, and re-read it this month after having read a lot more on the subject. The book is about the various “theories of the atonement.” What is it that Jesus actually achieved? What was he trying to do? Why did he take that approach? Since I’m writing a novel about Jesus, I have to understand his motivations, so these are critical questions. This book is the clearest and shortest explanation of the “Christus Victor” theory of the atonement that I’ve seen. He does an extremely good job of explaining the difference between retributive justice and restorative justice. You can decide for yourself whether Christus Victor is a better explanation than Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory, Abelard’s Moral Influence Theory, or Calvin’s Penal Substitution Theory. 


The Fire That Consumes, by Edward William Fudge. This was another research book for me. You can’t read far in the gospels without running into a number of disturbing comments about “hell.” Thanks to Augustine and Calvin and Dante and Milton, the definition for this word is fixed pretty tightly in the western mind. But what did the biblical writers mean by the various Hebrew and Greek words that were later rendered as the English word “hell?” And what did Jesus mean? That’s not so simple. Fudge published this book in 1982 and it became an instant classic. He argues for the annihilationist interpretation of “hell,” as opposed to the traditionalist interpretation (a place of eternal conscious torment.) His book comes with forewords written by three notable biblical scholars. 


That’s all for February. Three novels, one philosophy book, one how-to-write fiction book, and two books for my inner theologian. Not a bad mix this month.



8) Randy's Deal of the Day

In recent months, I’ve been offering a special “Deal of the Day” for one of my books.


This month I’m running a deal on my e-book Double Vision. It’s on sale for only 99 cents. This deal ends Sunday night, March 8, at midnight, Pacific Time. 


There’s a Code Even the NSA Can’t Crack

But Dillon Richard can. Dillon is a straight-arrow genius with Asperger’s syndrome. A few things you should know about Dillon:

Dillon’s never told a lie.

Dillon’s never been kissed.

Dillon’s never owned a badass quantum computer.


Until now. 


Dillon is days away from finishing the software for a quantum computer that will crack the “unbreakable code” used by banks, criminals, and terrorists.


But oops, it’s the same “unbreakable code” your web browser uses when you buy things online. Well, crap.


Dillon’s about to throw a giant monkey wrench into the world economy.


Everybody’s going to want a piece of Dillon.


The mafia.


The NSA.


And his two beautiful co-workers—Keryn the conservative novelist and Rachel the physics hippie.


Who’s going to get Dillon first?


Find the e-book on Amazon: 99 cents   

Find the e-book on iBooks: 99 cents  

Find the e-book on B&N: 99 cents   

Find the e-book on Smashwords: 99 cents    


Usual caveats: The 99 cent price ends Sunday evening, March 8, at midnight Pacific Time. Online retailers outside the US may sell the book in local currencies, and the price may not be exactly 99 cents. 



9) Steal This E-zine!

This E-zine is free, and I personally guarantee it's worth at least 1.4142 times the price. I invite you to "steal" it, but only if you do it nicely . . .
Distasteful legal babble: This E-zine is copyright Randall Ingermanson, 2015.
Extremely tasteful postscript: Yes, you’re allowed to e-mail this E-zine to any fiction writer friends of yours who might benefit from it. 
Of course you should not forward this e-mail to people who don't write fiction. They won't care about it.
At the moment, there is one place to subscribe:

10) Reprint Rights

Permission is granted to use any of the articles in this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site, as long as you include the following 2-paragraph blurb with it:
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 11,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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