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: December 4, 2014
Issue: Volume 10, Number 12
Personal Site: www.Ingermanson.com
 
Circulation: 10,666 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: Make Your Annual Plan Now
3) Craft: Music and the Muse
4) Marketing: Is Blogging Dead?
5) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com 
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 (295 of you signed up in November), welcome to my e-zine!

 

If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/

 

 

2) Organization: Make Your Annual Plan Now

Nothing is more important to your writing business than making an annual plan.

 

Even if you don’t follow it completely. (You won’t.)

 

Even if your year takes a drastic left turn. (It will.)

 

Even if you bite off way more than you can chew. (You greedy dog, you.)

 

Those pesky motivational geeks constantly tell us that “if you don’t have a target, you’ll never hit it.” It’s a platitude, but they’re right, curse them.

 

It may take you five years to do all the stuff you foolishly cram into your annual plan. That can be frustrating, but so what? Life is full of frustrations, and then you die. Being frustrated is better than dying, so don’t sweat the frustrations.

 

First Things First

 

There’s one thing you should do before you make that annual plan for next year. Haul out the one you made last year (if you made it), and look at it. Read the whole thing. 

 

What went right for you this past year? Was that part of the plan, or was it one of those serendipity things that fell into your path? 

 

What went wrong? Was that something you could have predicted, or did it just come out of left field?

 

Did you achieve everything in last year’s plan? If so, then bravo. If not, then you may have aimed too high. That’s not so tragic. Aiming high is a good thing.

 

Did you make a reasonable effort to execute your plan? How many hours did you actually put in? (If you don’t know, then now would be a good time to set up some kind of tool to track your hours. A lot of writers use a spreadsheet, and that works pretty well. I use an online tool at HarvestApp.com that makes it easy to track my time and pay myself an hourly wage for every different kind of task. This costs me $9/month, but I think it’s well worth it.)

 

Looking back at 2014, I see that I only accomplished a small fraction of the things in my plan. But they were the right things. I edited and rereleased three books from my backlist and wrote one new book. As a direct result, my writing revenue for 2014 shot up rather drastically over 2013. I averaged about 90 hours per month on my writing work, which was more than I averaged at my day job. 

 

I’d rate the year a success, even though I only completed 4 of the 14 items on my list. The important thing is that I worked hard and felt happy working on the projects I chose. It’s a bonus that my revenue took a leap upward.

 

One Thing to Remember

 

Bear in mind that there are things you have control over and things you don’t.

 

You can’t control whether some publisher somewhere decides to buy your work. (This is why indie authors like being indie—they don’t have to depend on what a publishing committee decides.)

 

You can’t control how many people are going to buy your book.

 

You can’t control sickness, family problems, and all the random stuff that happens to you.

 

You can control (mostly) how many hours you put into your writing. 

 

You can control what projects you work on. 

 

You can control what sort of marketing plan you make and whether you execute it. 

 

Now Make Your Plan For Next Year

 

Let’s keep this simple and shoot for the sure thing first. Write down the answers to the following questions:

 

  1. What’s the one fantastic thing you’d like to achieve next year that’s actually in your control? 
  2. What sort of outcome do you expect from it? (That is, will it likely earn you money and if so, what’s a reasonable amount to expect? It’s okay to guess here.)
  3. How much time and money will it reasonably cost you to achieve this goal?
  4. Do you actually have that much time and money available in the year? If you have time and money left over, then go ahead and repeat the above questions as many times as you want, until you’ve run out of time or money to execute them all.

That’s your annual plan for the year, in a nutshell. It won’t hurt to write it up in a document. It won’t hurt to put your major goals on a sheet of paper and post them over your computer, so you see them every day.

 

I did the above steps just now and immediately saw that I was hoping to do far more than is humanly possible next year. I can’t do ten major projects next year. I can do two. 

 

I also realized that my #2 project has a predicted return on investment that’s massively higher than the ROI for my #1 project. 

 

So I’m rethinking things to move the bigger revenue-generator closer to the beginning of the year. Money is time. The more money you earn, the more time you free up to do what you love doing most. 

 

In 2015, track your progress and review it monthly. Are you putting in as much time as you thought you would? Are things taking longer than expected? 

 

If you do your annual plan now, well before the New Year begins, you can hit the ground running on January 1. And have a great year.

 

 

3) Craft: Music and the Muse

When you’re writing a full-length novel, you’re going to spend a lot of time typing your first draft. Probably at least 100 hours, and possibly much longer.

 

Anything that makes you more creative during those hundreds of hours will pay off hugely. It’ll take you less time to write your first draft. And your first draft will be better.

 

I recently asked a number of writers if they listen to music when they write. The reason I asked is because I’m convinced that music makes me write faster and better. (I can’t prove this, but I feel more creative and more productive when I’m writing to music, and that has to count for something.)

 

I got back four different kinds of answers:

 

Silence is Golden

 

For some writers, any kind of music is a distraction. They need silence. If they could get a sound-proof room, they’d hide away there to write.

 

I was surprised at this, because I hate silence. But this may have been the biggest group. 

 

Nature Sounds are Magic

 

Other writers thrive on nature sounds. A babbling brook. Waves. Rain. 

 

If this is your thing, you can find online sound-generators to give you whatever kind of nature you need.

 

And some writers like the sounds of a coffee shop, whether a recording or the real thing. I know a few writers who use the local Starbucks as their office, because the atmosphere puts them in the mood to write.

 

Instrumental Music Sets the Mood

 

A number of writers love instrumental music. Often, they listen to a movie sound track. What they’re looking for is music that puts them in the mood for the kind of scene they’re writing.

 

Of the music lovers, it seemed that most of them prefer instrumental music only—absolutely no vocals.

 

Vocal Music to Suppress the Voices in Your Head

 

A few writers do best with vocal music, and I’m in this crowd. I’ve always been bored to tears by instrumental music. If I’m going to listen to music, it needs a voice, even if it’s in a language I don’t understand. 

 

But this group seemed to be the smallest, so I’m very much in the minority. Most of the writers who liked music said that vocals prevent them from working.

 

I have a theory that the vocal track engages the analytic side of my brain and keeps it from interfering with my creative side. We all have an inner editor who wants to shut off that messy creativity thing. But I suspect my inner editor gets sidetracked by the words, leaving my inner eagle free to fly. Or maybe my inner editor is just lonely.

 

If You Like Music
 

One great tool for music discovery is Pandora.com, an intelligent music streaming service. You tell it some songs or musicians you like, and Pandora will play music that it thinks you might like. You can click a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on any song, and Pandora will learn what you like and what you don’t.

 

Eventually, Pandora will be playing mostly music you like, and you may discover some great new groups that you’d never have found on your own.

 

We’re all wired differently, so what works for one writer might not work for another. But if you’ve never thought about it, this might be a good chance to experiment a little. Maybe you’ll find a method that works better than the way you’ve been doing it.

 

 

4) Marketing: Is Blogging Dead?

A friend of mine recently told me she thought the era of blogs is over.

 

Which came as a surprise to me, since I subscribe to a couple of dozen blogs and read them every morning during breakfast. As far as I’m concerned, blogs are as valuable as they ever were for learning new stuff.

 

But maybe my friend meant that the era of fiction blogs is over. I was never convinced that a fiction blog had much value, so in my opinion, the era of fiction blogs never really began.

 

The blogs I read tend to focus on nonfiction topics that interest me. Topics big enough to have a never-ending supply of possible blog posts.

 

Blogs about publishing or the craft of writing or business or marketing make total sense. There’s an endless amount to say about any of these.

 

The question is whether a novelist has any business running such a blog. Obviously, many novelists do exactly that. And when they’ve got a new book out, they make a pitch for their novel. But my bet is that very few of them sell many novels that way. Here’s why:

 

Marketing anything has three phases:

1) Attract

2) Engage

3) Convert

 

In the Attraction phase, people who never heard about you discover that you exist.

 

In the Engagement phase, people learn that you have something they want.

 

In the Conversion phase, people make the decision to buy what you’ve got.

 

The problem is that these three phases are consecutive. You need to Attract people whom you can then Engage and ultimately Convert. Or reversing the chain, you will only Convert people whom you’ve already Engaged and whom you’ve originally Attracted.

 

Now let’s imagine you write political thrillers and let’s work backwards up that marketing chain. Since you’re selling political thrillers, you are only going to Convert people who actually like political thrillers. Which means you need to be Engaging people who like political thrillers. Which means you need to be Attracting people who like political thrillers.

 

Suppose you have a blog that focuses on how to get traditionally published. That’s great—there’s a lot of people who want to get traditionally published. Blogs are great at Attracting people if you use good Search Engine Optimization techniques, so over time you should Attract quite a crowd.

 

But it’ll be a crowd not well-aligned with your product. Most of the people you Attract won’t be interested in political thrillers. (Some of them will, of course, but only a small fraction.) Most of them will be interested in romances or mysteries or SF or fantasies or historicals or some category other than the one you write. Every fiction category is a niche category. Every one. Even yours.

 

This means that no matter how well you Engage your blog readers, you won’t ultimately Convert a large fraction of them, because they don’t overlap much with your target audience, which is people who like political thrillers.

 

Now it’s possible to succeed this way, of course, but you’ll need to Attract and Engage a very large crowd, because your Conversion rates will always be low.

 

The mistake a lot of novelists make is that they blog about writing or marketing or the publishing industry, which means they Attract a target audience that really isn’t aligned with their type of fiction.

 

Of course, it can make total sense to blog about the publishing industry if you sell books or other products about the publishing industry. In that case, you’re Attracting and Engaging people who are likely to Convert. That’s good sound marketing.

 

So should a novelist have a blog?

 

Sure, if you want to and if you do it sensibly. If you’re writing political thrillers and you blog about political conspiracy theories, you’ll Attract and Engage a crowd of people who’ll be interested in your novels, and then when you release a book, you can expect to Convert a decent fraction of them.

 

Likewise, if you write hard SF and you blog about current cool science stuff, then you’ll Attract and Engage people who should Convert well.

 

And if you write Amish fiction and you blog about the Simple life, then you’ll Attract and Engage people who will be well-aligned with your efforts to Convert them.

 

So if blogging appeals to you and if you can blog about a nonfiction topic well-aligned with your fiction, then go to it. 

 

The nice thing about a blog is that it uses one of the key principles of great marketing: 

 

Give away free stuff that’s similar to what you’re selling.

 

Nothing Attracts like free. If the quality of your blog is good, you’ll Engage many of the people you Attract. Then when you release a book and write a blog post using sound sales principles, you’ll Convert like crazy and your book will have a good launch. A book that launches well tends to have a nice life.

 

But the question is whether that’s a good use of your time.

 

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. There’s a simple way to tell.

 

First, you need to ask how many hours you spend per year blogging.

 

Then ask how much revenue you earn per year as a result of your blog.

 

Divide the revenue by the hours to calculate your Return On Investment—your ROIin dollars per hour.

 

If your ROI is good, then blogging’s a good use of your time. Otherwise, it isn’t. Simple enough.

 

Readers of this e-zine are exceptionally intelligent. Therefore, you can easily see how the above principles apply to several other obvious questions you could ask: 

  • Is Twitter dead? 
  • Is Facebook dead? 
  • Is Pinterest dead? 
  • Is Goodreads dead? 

You can answer any of these questions by asking yourself the exact same questions I’ve asked above. In a nutshell, here they are:

 

With any of these marketing tools, are you Attracting and Engaging people who are likely to Convert when it comes time for you to sell something? 

 

If so, how well do each of these tools work at the Attraction, Engagement, and Conversion phases? 

 

At the end of the year, what’s the ROI you’re seeing out of each of these?

 

 

5) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com

Writing Schedule

 

November has been a month of planning for me. I’m creating the timeline for a series of novels about one of the most influential humans ever to walk the planet—Jesus of Nazareth. Is there anything new to say about this mysterious man? I think there is. A whole lot, in fact. Stay tuned…

 

Teaching Schedule

I normally teach at four to six writing conferences per year. In 2015, I’m currently scheduled to attend four conferences. It’s not yet clear what will be the exact lineup of workshops I’ll teach, but I should have that nailed down in another month or two.

 

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.

 

Here’s what my calendar shows me for 2015:

  • March: Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference near Santa Cruz, California.
  • August: Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon.
  • September: American Christian Writers Conference, in Dallas, Texas. I serve on the Executive Board of ACFW, so this is my one mandatory conference every year.
  • October: Novelists, Inc. Conference in St. Pete's Beach, Florida.

If you'd like me to teach at your conference in 2015 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 travel.

 

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 www.MargieLawson.com
 
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 they’re research books. I’m including them here because otherwise my reading list would look totally lame this month. 

 

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 November:

 

 

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I saw this on BookBub and grabbed it at a super-low price. This is an extremely well-written suspense novel that completely sucks you into the story. A guy comes home and discovers his wife has disappeared, but there are signs of a struggle. He calls the cops and soon becomes the main suspect in her murder. This novel takes a huge twist at the mid-point, and becomes steadily darker. I hated the ending and also found it unbelievable, but the first 90% of this book is amazing.

 

Zero Day, by David Baldacci. If you like the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child, you may well like this novel, which is the first in a series of thrillers about an Army cop working in the Criminal Investigation Division. A family of four has been murdered in West Virginia coal country. The father worked in the Pentagon and had access to top secret information. So why is the Army sending in only one CID investigator with no techie support? Something is wrong, bad wrong, and it’s up to John Puller to figure it out before he gets broadsided by forces way above his pay grade.

 

Whiskey Rebellion, by Liliana Hart. Addy Holmes is a high school history teacher. She’s flat broke, so she spends one miserable afternoon trying to make some extra cash as a stripper. She’s so awful, she’s fired on her first day, but not before she spots her principal in the audience—taking a movie of her on his phone. Humiliated, she goes rushing out to her car…where she trips on her principal’s dead body. Huh? Who killed him? What was he doing there? And will Addy ever convince the cute cop who’s investigating the case that she’s not a complete idiot?  

 

I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, by Rene Girard. This is another in an endless stream of research books I’m reading for my novel about Jesus. Rene Girard is an emeritus professor of anthropology at Stanford University. His mimetic theory of violence is the key to understanding his celebrated scapegoat theory of the atonement, which he believes explains most of mythology. The New Testament portrays Jesus as locked in combat with Satan. But who or what is Satan, and in what sense did Jesus win? And why in heck does it matter? Girard writes clearly and well and this book was a pleasure to read.

 

The One by Whom Scandal Comes, by Rene Girard. “Scandal” is a key concept in the thinking of Rene Girard. This book is a compendium of previously published articles and interviews on his favorite topics—mimetic violence, scapegoats, and the atonement. 

 

How Jesus Became God, by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman grew up a Christian fundamentalist and is now an agnostic and a well-known professor of religion who writes best-selling books about the history of Christianity. This book is his most recent, and it tries to answer the question of how a human named Jesus of Nazareth became so quickly accepted as divine, when all of his earliest followers were monotheistic Jews. Getting crucified has to be the worst possible career choice for a wannabe messiah. You may agree or disagree with Ehrman, but you’ll appreciate how lucidly he writes.

 

That’s all for November. Three novels and three research books. Not a bad balance.

 

 

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 best-selling e-book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. It’s on sale for only 99 cents, which is the lowest price ever. This deal ends Monday night, December 8, at midnight, Pacific Time. 

 

What’s different about this book? That’s simple. This book uses a story to teach you how to write a story. 

 

Why use a story? Because stories are fun. Stories get under your skin. Stories build your emotional muscle memory.

 

So when I’m teaching about the importance of the first major disaster, I throw in a major disaster right at that point. 

 

When I teach about the Moral Premise and why it needs to appear at the midpoint of your novel, the explanation happens right at the midpoint of the story, when the main character discovers that her own Moral Premise is fatally flawed. 

 

The Snowflake Method is my wildly popular method of writing a first draft. It assumes that you want to design a strong story structure and fully-developed characters and a solid theme before you write the first draft of your novel. This is not the only way to write a novel, but it’s working right now for many writers all around the world.

 

Even if you’re not a Snowflaker, you will of course be interested in the principles of story structure, characters, and theme. All writers need to know these principles, even if they don’t plan them in advance. This book is a fun way to lock those principles into your DNA.

 

The lead character is a young mom named Goldilocks. She’s wanted all her life to write a novel, but her family kept pressuring her into being practical. So she’s put off her writing and put it off and put it off.

 

Now, Goldilocks can’t stand it any more. She’s fed up with being practical. She won’t be put off any more.

 

She’s going to write a novel now, no matter what her family tells her. 

 

So she goes to a writing conference to learn how it’s done. A teacher named Papa Bear gives a workshop on outlining, but Goldilocks finds that too boring for her. Then Mama Bear teaches a class on writing organically, but Goldilocks can’t make that work either.

 

Finally, Goldilocks tries a workshop on the Snowflake Method by the young and energetic Baby Bear. With a little coaching, she starts to find her story.

 

Then she meets a literary agent named The Big Bad Wolf who seems interested in her work—but does he have an ulterior motive? Is it true he’s done time for … murder? 

 

Will Goldilocks learn to unlock her creative genius? Or will she make a fatal mistake?

 

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method is on sale as an e-book for 99 cents at most of the usual online retailers. It’s also available for $9.99 in paper. If you’ve already got it, the book might make the perfect gift for one of your writer friends.

 

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  

 

Find the paper edition on Amazon: $9.99  

Find the paper edition on B&N: $9.99  

 

Usual caveats: The 99 cent special price ends Monday evening, December 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. These things are above my pay grade.

 

 

 

 

 

9) Steal This E-zine!

 
This E-zine is free, and I personally guarantee it's worth at least 3.14159 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, 2014.
 
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: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com
 
 

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 10,000 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 www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
 
 

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine is Published by:

 
Randy Ingermanson 
 
 
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