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: August 6, 2013
Issue: Volume 9, Number 8
Personal Site:
Circulation: 5436 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: Dealing With Overwhelm
3) Craft: The Elements of Surprise
4) Marketing: How Content Marketing Works
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 (several hundred of you signed up in July), welcome to my e-zine!

In July, I finally transitioned my e-mail provider from 1ShoppingCart to MailChimp. Thousands of you who originally signed up for this e-zine on 1ShoppingCart have now resubscribed on MailChimp. Thanks for taking the time to do that!

Of course, there were thousands more who didn’t transition over, so my circulation numbers have taken a dive. But that’s OK. I prefer not to clutter up the in-boxes of people who are no longer interested. All that matters to me is that you are getting what you need here. If you ever decide that this e-zine isn't for you, there's a quick unsubscribe link in the upper right corner. 

Unfortunately, those of you who transitioned over to MailChimp this month also got the 5-Day Course on How to Publish a Book all over again. I didn’t realize that would happen when I asked you to resubscribe, but once I started hearing from some of you, I realized that this was inevitable. There was no way for MailChimp’s system to know who is totally new and who was just resubscribing.

Sigh. Technology is great, but sometimes it does things you didn’t think about. 
If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at:

2) Organization: Dealing With Overwhelm

Once in a while life feels overwhelming. It feels like everything is crashing in on you at once.


Like you're spinning your wheels. Going nowhere.


I learned a neat trick a few years ago from Eben Pagan on how to deal with this. Eben teaches productivity techniques, and he's good at it.


Today, I desperately needed Eben's trick. When I logged onto my computer this morning, it told me that my external hard drive (the one that contains all my backups) was having problems. I ran some diagnostics and concluded that the hard drive really couldn't be saved.


This meant a trip to town to get a new one. Since I live quite far away from civilization, this meant taking hours out of my day. Hours I didn't have.


By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty depressed. I'd burnt a lot of time on an emergency and now I was way behind. And I had already been feeling stressed when I woke up, because there are a ton of things on my plate for this week.


I felt horribly overwhelmed.


So I tried Eben's trick. Here it is, and it might work for you on a day when you feel like you won't ever get caught up:

  • Open a new text file and start spilling your guts. Write down EVERYTHING on your plate right now. All the things that are stressing you because they need to be done today or tomorrow or yesterday. Don't get fancy here. You don't need an outline. Just dump it all on the page in whatever order things come to you. You can also write how you feel about each thing on your plate. If you're dreading it, say why. If you're mad at somebody for pushing this task onto you, say so. Get it out.
  • Stop when you run out of things that are overwhelming you. This will typically run a page or two. You might be surprised that your feelings of being overwhelmed tend to decrease with each item you write down. Mine do. It's a nice feeling to move the anxiety from your mind to the document. When you finish, your mind should be clear and you'll have a document that contains all the things that are making you crazy. Yes, it's a big horrible plate. Admire just how horrible it is for just a minute. Be astounded at what a tough life you live, you brute, you.
  • Find all the tasks in your document that you can reasonably knock off the list TODAY and put each one on a new line and mark it with one asterisk. You might want to pick out all the crappy little tasks that you've been putting off that really don't take much time. Knocking off a bunch of those all in one day really feels good, especially if they're things on your Dread List or your Hate List.
  • Find all the things you can reasonably get done this week and put them on their own line, marking them with two asterisks. Don't get too optimistic here. If you KNOW they have to be done this week or you're certain that you can work them in, then mark them. Otherwise, don't.
  • Everything else is stuff you aren't going to do this week. Either it's not important or it's not urgent or it just can't be done this week. Put each of these items on its own line and mark it with three asterisks. Now give yourself permission to forget about all the three-asterisk tasks for this week. Don't worry about losing them. You've got them all written down. Next week, when you look at this document, a LOT of things will be crossed off. Your plate will seem a lot more manageable.
  • Now collect all the one-asterisk items together into a single list and promise yourself that you'll do every single one of them today. This should be a much shorter list than the original big horrible plate that you started with.
  • Do everything on the short list today. It's a short list. You constructed it to be precisely the things you can reasonably get done today. So it's doable. Go do it. When you finish the list, you're done for the day, even if you finish early. Reward yourself with something nice — a walk or some reading time or the magic beverage of your choice.
  • Tomorrow, look at all the items with two asterisks and choose a few that you can reasonably get done in one day. Then do them. You know the drill here. Don't overbook yourself. Keep the list reasonable. Do it all. Reward yourself. Keep doing this every day for a week.

By next week, your dark and dreary world will look a little brighter. You'll have knocked off a lot of the riff-raff stuff. You'll be ready to tackle some of the longer-term items. You'll feel like you're finally getting some traction in your life.


If you're still feeling overwhelmed next week, repeat the process. But I would bet that you'll feel LESS overwhelmed next week than this. After a few weeks of this, you may actually start feeling human again. And your plate will start looking less ridiculous.


Remember that you aren't ever going to get it all done. Modern life is too crazy for that.


You may find that some tasks keep getting three asterisks week after week, forever. If they aren't really important to you, then why keep lugging them along? At some point you might want to cut their vile throats. When the time is right for this, you'll know it. Keep your knife sharp.


If you're wondering whether this actually works, all I can say is that it works for me. This article was one of the things that got one asterisk today.


Now it's done.


It feels good.


I'm going for a walk.



3) Craft: The Elements of Surprise

Picture this scene from the movie STAR WARS:


Luke Skywalker is approaching the thermal exhaust port of the Death Star. He's got a proton torpedo ready to go, and the only problem is that Darth Vader is right behind him in a Tie Fighter, locked on his tail and almost close enough to take a shot.


Luke can't fire yet. He's not close enough. Darth Vader is gaining on him rapidly. Luke is going to lose this race. Darth Vader is ready to fire. He's closer. Closer ...


Wham! Darth Vader's ship is hit by a blast from Harry Potter's wand. Vader spins away crazily out of control. Luke is free to launch his proton torpedo. And the Death Star goes up in smoke.


Does that sound about right? Great surprise, wasn't it? 


No and no.


Sure, this plot twist is a surprise, but it's a stupid one. Harry Potter came out of nowhere. He's not part of the movie. We've got no foundation for Harry entering this movie.


In a word, Harry's appearance at the crucial moment is IMPLAUSIBLE. 

Injecting him into the story to save Luke is a terrible, ridiculous surprise.


Okay, fine, so let's backtrack a bit and try that again. 


We still see Luke zooming toward his target, armed with the proton torpedo. And we still see Vader on his tail, ready to knock him out. And this time we also see Han Solo on Vader's tail, closing in on Vader even faster than Vader is converging on Luke.


We watch as Solo closes in and fires his laser cannons. 


Wham! Darth Vader's ship is hit by a blast. Vader spins away crazily out of control. Luke is free to launch his proton torpedo. And the Death Star goes up in smoke.


Better this time? A somewhat more plausible surprise, right?


No and no.


Sure, this plot twist is more plausible. But there's no surprise at all. We saw it coming. We watched Han Solo all the way in. When the WHAM came, we were expecting it. 


Surprises are good in your fiction, but a surprise needs to be two things to be a true surprise:

  • Plausible
  • Unforeseen

When you fail to provide any sort of foundation in your story for a surprise, then it's implausible.


When you telegraph what's going to happen, then when it actually does happen, it's foreseen.


Here's how the surprise actually plays out in the movie:


Before the final battle, Han Solo and his trusty Wookiee friend Chewbacca leave with enough money to pay off Jabba the Hutt. Han has a price on his head, and he won't rest easy until his debt is paid. Luke calls him a coward, but Han just laughs him off and leaves. Because he values his life, and he knows he won't live long if he doesn't pay off Jabba.


But we also know that Han Solo is no coward. He thinks of himself as a cowboy. He does crazy things for his friends. We've seen him do so the whole movie. So if he were to come back and join Luke for the battle, that would be plausible. 


We just don't expect him to do that, because we saw the man leave. Then we saw a long, brutal battle, in which several of Luke's comrades are blown to bits. We've seen Darth Vader arm for battle. We've seen Luke make his first attempt with the proton torpedo and fail. We've seen Vader close in on him.


It's a long battle scene, an exciting one. It's long enough that we've forgotten about Han Solo.


And the story focus now zooms in tightly on Luke and Vader. It's a race to the death. One of them will win and one will lose. These two fill our entire attention. Nobody else exists.


So when the WHAM! hits Vader's ship, we've forgotten about Han Solo. But an instant later, we realize that we should have seen it coming.

Solo's reentry into the fight is plausible, AND it's unforeseen.


It's a surprise.


Surprise is good in fiction, but it's like perfume. A little goes a long way. A few great surprises in your story are probably better than a thousand small ones that become so regular that your reader starts expecting them. 


Now let's look at the current story you're working on right now. Is there a major surprise somewhere in your novel? How well is it working for you? Is it both plausible and unforeseen?


If it's not plausible or if it’s too foreseeable, then you have a problem.

How do you fix it?


You make your plot twists more plausible by putting in all the key facts earlier in the story. Preferably, a LOT earlier. 


J.K. Rowling is a master at seeding in the key facts for her big surprises very early in her stories. In her novel HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, she gives you all the crucial facts about Sirius Black, Severus Snape, and Peter Pettigrew early in the story. Yet at the end, she gives you a massive surprise by combining all those facts in a way you don't foresee.


That's quite a trick, because readers are smart and if you highlight those facts too much, some readers are going to put things together and see exactly where you're going. 


So you make your surprise unforeseen by using misdirection. You throw in a ton of other facts. You focus your reader's attention on those. You don't lie to your reader, but you give her facts that she will put together to make a wrong prediction about what's going to happen next.


If you cheat here, then your reader gets angry. Cheating means that you hide crucial information. Or you give wrong information. 


When you put all the information in plain sight but misdirect the reader's attention and then hit her with your surprise, she likes that. Because you fooled her. And when you do that in a way the reader can respect, she thinks you're a genius.


And maybe you are.



4) Marketing: How Content Marketing Works

A classic way of marketing your products is to give away free samples. The nice lady who gives you free samples of cheese at Safeway isn't just being nice. She's promoting cheese.


When your product is information, this kind of marketing is called "content marketing." You are giving away free content to promote your paid content.


The sample chapters on most Amazon book pages are an example of content marketing. So are free book promotions, book trailers, blogs, podcasts, and author web sites. This e-zine is an example of content marketing.


Content marketing is a great way to get the word out about your products. 

You can do it well or you can do it badly. 


I believe that the way to do it well is to give away content that is all of the following:

  • Valuable
  • Unique
  • Understandable
  • Entertaining


Why give away valuable content?

Because it's really poor advertising to give away mediocre content. If the lady at Safeway gives you a piece of moldy cheese, are you going to buy any of that brand of cheese ever in your life?


You don't want to receive mediocre freebies. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated. 


If you give something away, make it the absolute best quality you can. Give away your gold.


If you give away your copper in the hopes that people will buy your gold, you're fooling yourself, but you aren't fooling anybody else.


Why give away unique content?

Because if you're giving away freebies that they can get pretty much anywhere, then there's no reason anyone would come to you to get the goodies.


But if you're the only game in town, then that's a different story.


A few years ago, my friend Perry Marshall ran a major marketing conference in Maui. Perry’s a marketing guru, and his teaching is top-quality. As an incentive to register for his conference, he gave away brand new Mac laptops to everyone who came. Not just any laptops. The latest model. You could barely find them anywhere in stores yet. But you could get one free by going to Perry's conference. Perry made a special deal with Apple to get them early.


Think he made a splash? Better believe he did. Valuable AND unique.

Of course, that was Xtreme, but Perry knows that his content is good, so he’s not afraid to go way out on a limb to promote his stuff.


Why give away understandable content?

Because nobody wants complicated. Your free goodies may be brilliant, one-of-a-kind stuff, but if nobody can figure out what you're saying, then you might as well be mumbling Sanskrit. 


Keep it simple. Don't make people feel stupid.


Why give away entertaining content? 

Because nobody likes boring. Even if it's valuable, unique, and understandable. 


Even boring people don't like boring people. Yes, that’s tragic, but there’s a magic fix. Don’t be boring. 


But isn’t free bad?

I often hear from authors that we're training readers to expect everything to be free. That nobody is going to want to pay for books in the future. That we're cutting our own throats by giving away our fiction or other stuff.




Giving away free samples is a quick way to tell the world who you are. Just be careful that you send the right message.

  • When you give away mediocre stuff, you are telling people that you are mediocre.
  • When you give away things that people could get anywhere, you are telling people you've got nothing new to say.
  • When you give away ten cent ideas dressed in ten dollar words, you are telling people you don't know what you're talking about.
  • When you give away boring stuff, you are teaching people to hate you.

When you give away valuable, unique, understandable, entertaining goodies -- when you give away your gold -- you are telling people that your paid products are EVEN BETTER.


Sure, there will always be people who only want the free stuff.


But you will never run out of people who are eager to pay for the best you've got. 


Don't be afraid of content marketing.


Be afraid of content marketing that is not valuable, unique, understandable, and entertaining.


If you run a free promotion on Amazon, make it one of your best books.


If you create a book trailer for your book, make it a fantastic one -- or don't do it at all. Because you really don’t want to be the Trailer of the Day on


If you blog, make every entry the best idea you've got on that particular day.

If you podcast, ditto.


Likewise for every page of your web site.


If you’re terrified that you’ll end up doing fewer things so you can do them better, then quit worrying. That’s a brilliant strategy. 


Valuable. Unique. Understandable. Entertaining. 


Four words to live by.



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. 


The cruel taskmaster who creates my schedule tells me that I will be finished with Triple Cross by the end of August. The horribly overworked peon who types my words thinks this schedule is pure fantasy, but he is pretending it's rock solid truth in hopes of avoiding another flogging. I'm curious to see which of them is right.


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.

In August, I will be teaching a six-hour class on marketing for writers and a one-hour workshop on "E-book Success" at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland. 
I'll be attending the ACFW conference in September, but will do no teaching, although the powers that be are scheduling me for a few “dementoring” appointments. I’m practicing my wicked laugh now.

For October, I've agreed to teach a workshop on "passive marketing" at the Novelists, Inc. conference in Myrtle Beach.
If you'd like me to teach at your conference in 2014 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 144,000 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 over 5,000 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

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine is Published by:

Randy Ingermanson 
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