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: October 1, 2013
Issue: Volume 9, Number 10
Personal Site:
Circulation: 6206 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: Why Word Count Matters
3) CraftDon’t Waste Your Disasters
4) MarketingAre Author Web Sites Worth It?
5) What's New At 
6) Randy Recommends . . .
7) Steal This E-zine! 
8) Reprint Rights

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

Those of you who have joined in the past month (436 of you signed up in September), 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: Why Word Count Matters


I’ve noticed an interesting fact about my successful novelist friends. 


Word count matters to them. A lot. 


They may have a daily word count quota or a weekly quota. But they have a target. 


When you have a target, you have a chance of hitting it. If you don’t have a target, you’re guaranteed not to hit it.


Word count matters because that’s what gets you to the finish line of your novel. 


You can have all sort of amazing plot twists for your story. You can have brilliant characters. Snappy dialogue. A dazzling theme.


None of those will do you any good unless you get them on the page. As words.


A short novel is around 60,000 words. A medium length novel is around 90,000. A long one might run 120,000. An epic could go 200,000 or more.


You don’t pile up that many words without putting down some serious word count on a regular basis.


My friend James Scott Bell used to talk about the “nifty three-fifty.” The idea was that you sit down to write and you don’t stop until you’ve got 350 words. 


That may not seem like a lot, hardly worth doing. But at least it’s a very doable target. I can drill out that many words in about 20 minutes at my usual pace for writing first draft copy. Even a slow writer can produce 350 words in an hour.


So a “nifty three-fifty” target is easy to hit every day.


The thing is that once you’ve written 350 words, you’ve got yourself rolling. That’s a page and a half. It’s enough that your scene will be heating up nicely. And you might very well go on to write the rest of the scene. 1000 words. Maybe 2000.


The “nifty three-fifty” is a way to underpromise and overdeliver. It’s a great goal for a novelist just starting out, still trying to shoehorn some writing time into a busy day.


If you write 350 words, 5 days per week, for a full year, you’ll have 91,000 words at the end of the year. That’s the first draft of a typical novel. That’s doable and it’s pretty decent production for a new writer.


If you’re a professional novelist writing books on deadline, then you need to shoot higher than that. Typically, you’re writing one or more books per year and you have to meet the schedule laid out in the contract. If you don’t, very bad things happen to your book and to your career.


This means you need to write the first draft in a few months or maybe even a few weeks. So you have to put out a certain number of words every day. If you miss one day, then you need to make up for it later on.


Say your book is targeted to be 90,000 words long and say you write 5 days per week.

  • If you give yourself a quota of 2,000 words per day, you’ll be done in 9 weeks.
  • If your quota is 3,000 words per day, you’ll be done in 6 weeks.
  • If your quota is 5,000 words per day, you’ll wrap it up in 18 working days, which is less than 4 weeks.

I’ve known writers with quotas of 7,000 or even 10,000 words per day.


All of those are reasonable goals for professional novelists whose main job is writing. 


What’s the right quota for you? That depends on a lot of things, so there’s no easy answer. Different writers write at different natural speeds, so it really doesn’t make sense to set an unreachably high quota. 


Look at how many words you produced in the last month. Did you feel like you were productive or were you slacking off?


If you felt productive, then divide that word count by 20 and set that as your daily goal for next month. (There are 22 working days in a typical month, and you have to figure that you can’t work every day.)


If you were slacking off, then make your daily word count 350.


In a month, review how well you did. Maybe you’ll decide to change your quota if it was too easy or too hard for you.


This is very important: You need to track your progress. 


You can do that any way you like. Your word processor should be able to tell you the total words in your manuscript at any given time. Write that down every day. 


I recommend saving it in a spreadsheet that shows you the date and the total word count. Then you can easily subtract today’s total from yesterday’s to work out how many new words you wrote today.


You can also track how many minutes you worked each day. Then you’ll know roughly how many words you generate per hour.


Why do all this?


Two reasons:

  1. To keep you motivated to keep writing.
  2. To let you make predictions for the future.

The motivation part is clear. If you promise yourself you’ll hit your word count quota every day, you’re more likely to actually do so.


The prediction part is important after you eventually get published. If an editor buys a multi-book deal and you’ve only written the first book, she’ll want to know how long it’ll take you to write the other books. If you know that you can reliably write a certain word count day, you can make a reasonable estimate. (You should add on some padding so your estimate is conservative, because you really don’t want to ever miss a deadline.)


A word count quota is a powerful tool for helping you generate your first draft.


It’s not so useful when you’re editing, because a lot depends on how much revision you’re doing. When I’m editing, instead of setting a word count quota, I like to set a target of a certain number of scenes per day. 


If a novel has 100 scenes and you can edit 2 scenes per day, then you can figure on being done in 50 working days. 


All of this assumes that your life is normal. If you’re on vacation or it’s a holiday or you’re gone to a conference or you’ve just had a disaster in your life, then you probably aren’t going to hit your quota.


That’s fine. Give yourself a little space for the abnormal times in your life. 


But during normal times, a good solid word count quota will make you amazingly productive.


Try it for the next month and see.




3) Craft: Don't Waste Your Disasters


Bad things happen all the time to novelists.

  • You get in a car accident. 
  • Your hard drive crashes. 
  • You lose your job.
  • Somebody in your family dies.
  • You get robbed at gunpoint. 
  • A fire breaks out in your apartment building. 
  • You break a leg.

The list is endless. Most of these are very bad, and some of them are incredibly awful. You can’t make them go away. You can’t make them less bad.


But when bad things happen to you, there’s one thing you can do to extract a little profit from a horrible situation.


You can store it away in your mind to use someday in a novel. The crucial thing is to save the memory of how it felt when that bad thing happened to you. Emotions are the currency of fiction.


A novel thrives on setbacks and disasters. In a typical novel, your characters are going to have all sorts of horrible things happen to them. 


If you want their emotions to feel real to the reader, then you need to have some sort of emotional memories to tap into.


You don’t have to have experienced everything your characters will experience. You just need to have experienced something that will create a similar emotive experience.


Maybe you haven’t been sent to jail for embezzlement. But you might have been caught cheating on a high school chemistry test. 


Maybe you’ve never been in an airplane crash. But you might have been in an auto accident. 


Maybe nobody’s ever fired a gun at you. But you might have had a baseball thrown at your head.


When you’re writing your novel and something terrible happens to a character, ask yourself what emotion they should be feeling. Then ask yourself if something bad has ever happened to you that caused that same emotion in you.


If so, then relive the bad memory and use it to power up the emotion in your character.


The longer you live, the more bad things will happen to you, or to people you love. You can’t avoid them.


But you can put them in your emotional bank account to use in a novel someday.




4) Marketing: Are Author Web Sites Worth It?



My author friends are buzzing this week about an article that recently appeared on DigitalBookWorld about whether author web sites are worth it.  


The rather curious conclusion reached by some of the experts quoted was that most author web sites have very little value and therefore authors should spend their marketing efforts on social media.


The article quoted other experts who took exactly the opposite viewpoint—author web sites are more valuable than social media.


My own opinion is that it’s more complicated than that.


It’s true that most author web sites have very little value. But it doesn’t follow that authors should be spending their time on social media instead.


Based on my conversations with many authors, it’s clear that most of them believe they’re incompetent marketers.  


Ask them. Most authors will tell you they don’t really know what they’re doing with their marketing. Most authors will tell you they can’t prove that any of their marketing actually works.


Assume they’re correct. Assume most authors are as incompetent at marketing as they think they are. 


Then it follows that most of them have incompetent web sites. 


But the same logic implies that most of them are incompetent at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, and any other marketing method you can name. 


The problem here is that you can’t judge the value of a marketing tool by asking how well it’s used by incompetent marketers. 


The better question is how good a marketing tool is in the hands of a competent marketer.


But the best question is what an author’s marketing goals should be in the first place. Until you know that, any questions of goodness or badness don’t have any meaning. 


A little analogy might be helpful here.


Dogs are incompetent drivers. Therefore, a Ferrari is useless to a dog. 


But it doesn’t follow that a dog should forego the Ferrari and drive a Jeep instead. 


A Jeep is also useless to a dog. So is a minivan, a Yugo, and a bicycle.


The question isn’t whether any of these vehicles is useful to a dog. Dogs have no business driving any of them.


The question is which of them is most useful to you as a trained driver.


Before you can answer that, you first have to define what you mean by “useful.”


If you’re trying for raw speed, then the Ferrari is the most useful.


If you’re trying to travel over rough roads in winter, the Jeep is probably your best bet.


If you’re trying to take a bunch of kids to soccer practice, go with the minivan.


If you wanted some fun and exercise, try the bike.


Avoid the Yugo at all costs because it does nothing well.


Now how does all this apply to you as an author who wants to market your work?


That depends on your level of marketing skill. Are you a competent marketer or are you incompetent? (Your first reaction to this question is probably correct.)


If you’re an incompetent marketer, then you’re not going to do a good job with anything—a web site, Facebook, Twitter, or anything else. None of these will do you much good, so first get some training in marketing. 


What if you’re a competent marketer? What’s the right marketing vehicle for you? That will depend on what your marketing goals are. 


Here are my thoughts on that, and you can take them or leave them.


Generally, your customers go through three distinct phases in becoming your fan. Initially, they don’t know who you are. First, they have to become aware you exist. Second, you have to get them interested in you or your writing. Third, you have to make the sale.


Your three main marketing goals are therefore these:

  1. Attract people who don’t know you.
  2. Engage their interest so they do know you.
  3. Convert them to paying customers.

Any marketing strategy that focuses on only one or two of these phases is doomed to fail. 


A competent marketer is somebody who can execute all three phases well.


Social media tools focus on the Attract and Engage phases. But they don’t do that well at the Convert phase.


The evidence I’ve seen tells me that there are two things that Convert very well:

  • E-mail announcements of new products. 
  • Sales pages on web sites.

So if you’re going to be a competent marketer, you need at least a web site that collects e-mail addresses of your fans and that shows sales pages for all your books. If you’ve got that, you’ve done most of your effort for the Convert phase.


You will also need something to help you Attract and Engage your fans. You can do that with social media or with your web site or with paid ads. Your choice. 


There’s one issue that you need to always keep in mind. That’s the issue of permanence.


Your author web site is the only piece of real estate on the web that you control. It’s the only one you can guarantee will always be there.


Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest all own the land that they let you use. They can take it away. They can change the rules. (Facebook seems to change every few weeks.) They can go out of fashion. (Have you been on MySpace lately?)


Every year, there’ll be some new social media gizmo that everybody says you should be using. Every year, there’ll be some old social media gizmo that quietly fades away. Some of these may be useful to you for a few years. Pursue them if they are. Abandon them when they lose their glitter.


But your first goal is to control your own land on the web and use it to build your tribe. That would be your web site. With a good professional e-mail list service provider. 


Everything else is optional. The web site and e-mail list are not.




5) What's New At


Writing Schedule

I’m currently at work on my next novel, Triple Cross, which is something of a follow-on to the book I just released, Double Vision. This time, a likable rogue of a con man falls in love with the wife of the Baptist minister he’s ripping off for nine million dollars.

Due to the craziness in my life, I’ve missed all my personal deadlines for this book, so all I can say now is that it’ll be done when it’s done.


Teaching Schedule

I normally teach at four to six writing conferences per year. This year, I'm easing off some -- I'm currently booked to teach at only three in 2013, which should give me a bit of breathing room.

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.

I've already taught twice this year, so I have only one more to go. Here’s what my calendar shows me:

For October, I've agreed to teach a workshop on "passive marketing" at the Novelists, Inc. conference in Myrtle Beach.

I am currently booked to teach at 3 conferences in 2014, and will be attending 2 others. I’d be crazy to go to any more conferences than that in one year, so 2014 is full. If you'd like me to teach at your conference in 2015 or beyond, email me to find out how outrageously expensive I am.

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!
I've also become a fan of Thomas Umstattd's terrific uncommon-sense thoughts on internet marketing. You can read Thomas's blog at:
Thomas and his crew at AuthorMedia are the folks who reworked my web site recently, and I'm extremely happy with the results.
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) Steal This E-zine!

This E-zine is free, and I personally guarantee it's worth at least 625 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, 2013.
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:

8) 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 6,200 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

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine is Published by:

Randy Ingermanson 
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