self-publishing

Writing Mission Generator: My Latest Motivation Tool

This isn’t very polished, but it’s fun and it nearly doubled my writing speed on the spot and I wanted to share it with any authors out there who get into this kind of thing. It’s a writing mission generator. You give it an amount of time, and it will give you a word count target, and you see if you can beat the target.

The clever bit is that it will slowly nudge you faster and faster while adjusting to your actual performance. The target words per minute (WPM) it picks is a random number between 80% and 130% of your average WPM so far. So sometimes you get a break and sometimes it really pushes you, but on average it’s making your target pace 5% faster than last round.

Here’s the Microsoft Excel file: Writing Mission Generator

Writing Mission Generator

It’s simple to use, though, as I warned above, I made it in about 4 minutes and it’s not very polished. I didn’t put in any protections, so I recommend storing a blank backup copy just in case you write over the wrong cell accidentally.

The blue cells are the only ones you should enter values in. Enter the amount of time for your next writing burst under Min and Seconds – I usually use the length of the next song on my playlist. It will generate a target WPM, and you’ll need to enter the same number in the same cell so that it doesn’t keep regenerating new numbers and screw up your stats. This also gives you a chance to manually tweak your target if you want to. So if it puts a 22 under target WPM, go to the cell that says 22 and type 22. (Like I said, not polished. Sorry.)

Then get writing! Write as quickly as you can, and when your time is up enter your total word count under Actual Total. Note that this is a cumulative total, not the number of words you wrote in the latest burst. (If you find it easier to think in single-burst word counts, you can use the Target Session and Actual Session columns.) Day Start is just for reference, so I can see my starting word count for the day.

Once you enter your new total, it will show your session stats, your actual WPM for that session, and how far above or below target WPM you were. Then move down a line and repeat. Since I use songs, I do this in 3-5 minute increments and it really gets rather addictive. Here’s the workflow I’ve settled on as my favorite – Spotify at the bottom so I can immediately see how much time I have left and how much to enter for each session, Excel at the far right–I duplicated the Actual Total column at the far right for easy reference–and Scrivener front and center. (Forgot to include it in the screenshot, but I’ll also hit Ctrl-Comma in Scrivener to show my project stats, including overall word count.)

Writing Mission Generator - Sample Workflow

At the end of the session I flip to Excel (Alt-Tab), enter my new total word count, go to the next line and enter the length of the next song and confirm the WPM target, and flip back to Scrivener to keep writing. It takes me about three seconds so I don’t lose much momentum, and it’s one of the most reliable ways I’ve discovered yet of getting into the groove.

Final note: I’ve found I actually don’t do much stat-tracking with this. I just use it as an ephemeral tool. I don’t save it, and I just open a fresh copy each day. If you want to use it to actually track your writing stats over time it will probably need some modifications to optimize it.

If there’s enough interest I’m definitely up for making a tidier or otherwise improved version of this. Just let me know how it works for you and what would make it better.

Cheers!

—Ben

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Wrangling Your Author Platform

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a dilemma. The more immersed I get in doing a high volume of high-quality, interesting work, the more I totally forget to come up for air and share the latest news with anyone else who might be interested.

I’ll look up and three weeks went by and not a peep from me. And I’ll realize I should make a blog post or a friendly note to my mailing list or…you know, a Facebook post or something.

I feel like I’m alone in this—I mean, who has to make a discipline of Facebook in this day and age?—but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you’re never the only person who has a certain problem.

I’m a systems guy, and this dilemma has been simmering in the back of my mind for a while, and I think I’ve finally developed a bit of a possible approach. I’ve been getting to the point where I feel an increasing need to wrangle or systematize my author platform a bit, given that I have presences all over the place and am intermittent on all of them and need to update several of them to, for example, indicate that I’ve published more than two things, or that Hubris Towers exists.

Here’s the approach that’s brewing for how to develop my author platform a little more strategically:

  1. Figure out all the places I communicate with readers. This includes my websites, mailing lists, author bios in various places, Wattpad, Patreon, social media, as well as things like calls to action (CTAs) in the backs of books.
  2. Decide what the point of each of them is and how often each one needs to get updated. For example:
    • Author bio in the back of a paperback probably never really needs to get updated. It’s clear it was written when the book came out.
    • Widgets on the side of my blog with links to buy my books should get updated when a new book comes out.
    • Facebook could use a couple updates a day, presumably.
    • Blog maybe every time I have something useful to say, though even that depends on what counts as ‘useful.’
      • Part of the question here too is whether blog is mainly for readers or mainly for authors or just for me and whatever I’m thinking about. Any of those could be valid, but as long as I’m not sure, I won’t be using it particularly well.
  3. Set up a quick schedule for when to touch each thing. This could get ridiculous really fast, so I think a light touch is important. But I have an (admittedly intermittent) system for tracking what I need to do and by when and such, so once I’ve figured out that I want to post to my blog once a week (or day or month or whatever), there’s no reason not to put that into the system. I’m a big fan of not having to remember stuff manually.
  4. (Optional ninja level) Make a list of topics to rotate through or provide inspiration and guidance for each thing. Speaking for myself, part of my real problem is that I don’t know what kinds of topics and scope are appropriate for each given platform. Do I tell my mailing list I’m having a baby? Do I spin out intriguing theories about the spirit world on my blog? Can I tell Facebook I’m feeling depressed and bad at writing, or do I need to keep on message? It may sound a little control-freakish, but I really think it would help me to be able to just look at a list of the 12 things I talk about on my blog/mailing list/Twitter and pick one, or (even better) have a few simple guidelines that help me pick through the thousand things on my mind and figure out which one(s) will be interesting and worthwhile to a given audience in the context of a given platform or medium.

What about the rest of you? For the authors and bloggers and brilliant social media-istas (?) out there, how do you keep track of what needs to be kept up to date? Do you keep lists of ideas for what to write about next? Do you write on a schedule or as your whimsy takes you?

Cheers!

—Ben

A Special Delivery For You (+ Shiny New Website!)

Ok, so the first big news item is that you can now get free early access to my new novel, The Dream World Collective. It’s about five friends who quit their jobs to chase what they love, and it’s funny and geeky and romantic and friendly. Perfect autumn reading.

It’s in post-production now, but I want to get you in on the fun early.

Get FREE weekly deliveries!

Second big news is that ClickworksPress.com is live! Right now it’s just simple and pretty, but I still think it’s really cool that there’s an actual place to buy Clickworks books directly.

Go check it out! (And if you’re an author who’s interested in publishing with Clickworks, let’s talk. Drop me a line at byfaroe at gmail.) 

Finally, I’m trying to come up with fun book-related questions for a future phase of the website. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Examples:

  • Which minor character do you relate to most?
  • What’s a place or thing in the book that you really wish existed in real life?

If you have good ideas for questions that would be fun to answer about the books you love, let me know in comments!

Cheers,

Ben

First 1,000 Copies!

I started consolidating my book sales numbers the other day and discovered something cool. Looking across platforms and counting free promos, I recently distributed my 1,000th book!

Thanks so much to all of my lovely readers for buying, reading, reviewing, spreading the word, and sending your love and support and encouragement. I say it all the time, but you are truly the best!

Cheers,

—Ben

PS – For the curious, here’s a breakdown:

  • About 75% of those copies were free to the readers, either as free promos or downloads of Hubris Towers Episode 1, which is perma-free. The rest have been paid sales.
  • The Stone and the Song accounted for about 70% of the sales and 55% of the free promos. This surprised me a bit since there are three HT books and only one S&S. Some factors:
    • S&S generated a big surge of interest pre-launch and got nearly 100 pre-orders.
    • The first free promo for S&S got over 300 downloads with almost no publicity from me. Still not sure why.
    • S&S has been available twice as long as the average HT episode.
  • In-person sales of Hubris Towers pocket editions have provided just under a third of HT’s sales and just over half of HT’s profits. This makes sense because most online sales are ebooks, and all in-person sales are paperback sales where CreateSpace doesn’t take a cut.
  • Excluding free copies of HT Ep1, we have about a 74% read-through rate from Ep1 to Ep2 and 31% from Ep1 to Ep3 (so far – one thing I’ve realized is that readers often take a few months to get to a book they bought.)
    • If we include free copies of Ep1, rates drop to about 9% Ep1 to Ep2 and 4% Ep1 to Ep3.
    • Currently we have about 42% read-through from Ep2 to Ep3.
  • The land speed of an unladen (European) swallow appears to be 24 mph.1

Birthday Reflections + 6 Months as a Self-Published Author

I turned 32 on Friday and, as most things do, it got me thinking.

  1. I’m just a few years away from being twice as old as all the college freshmen.
  2. I’ve been married for over 20% of my life. (FTW! Best. Wife. Ever.)
  3. I’m a dad. Still not used to thinking of myself that way. The other day in church our pastor asked all the parents to raise their hands and it took me a second to realize I was a parent.
  4. It’s been six months since I self-published my first book. This one totally blew my mind. Since then my books have hit #1 Free in Humor and Top 10 Paid in Fairy Tales and we launched PintsAndProse.com and published 3 episodes of Hubris Towers and I’m on the verge of a brilliant new adventure with Clickworks Press. Wow. Six months. What can we do in five years?
  5. It seems I am now at a point in life where an hour and a half to hang out at Starbucks and write is an annual celebratory treat. (Cf. #3)
  6. We have another baby on the way! I’m really excited to meet her, and also worried about what this will mean for my capacity to build my writing career as I continue my regular career.
  7. I think I’m officially past the age threshold for most things being impressive due to the age at which I did them. Unless it’s stuff like becoming President, which I don’t really want to do.
  8. I really feel like I’m reaching the beginning of my prime. I’ve been hitting a new stride in life: more confident, making visible progress toward long-held goals, better established than I ever deserved. God has blessed me so richly that it’s honestly taking a lot of thought and strategizing just to figure out how to make the most of what I’ve been given.
  9. That said, I’m clearly at the front end of things. I don’t know what things will look like in 10 years, but it’s plausible to think that by then I’ll be writing full time and doing a lot to help others get more better stories into the world. I can’t wait to see it unfold.

All in all, I’m enjoying growing up. Yes, there are a lot of trade-offs. Yes, it’s way harder than it used to be to get stuff done. But I also find myself stepping up to the challenge. And my daughter is one of the most incredible people I know, and my day job has taken a real turn for the better, and my wife is a fountain of ever-flowing blessing and beauty, and my friends are delightful and challenging and brave and supportive, and I can drink coffee and tea and whiskey and eat at restaurants sometimes and support incredible groups like Kiva and Feed My Starving Children.

And I can have as many cookies as I want.

PS – An amazing, free, easy birthday present is reviews on my stories, especially Hubris Towers Episodes Two and Three. Reviews are a quick, permanent way to majorly increase my visibility on Amazon and other platforms. Thanks!

Inside the Mind of an Author Entrepreneur

Hi friends!

Today I’d like to let you in on my master plan, both the dreams and the practicalities. I’m a little nervous about this because my plans are, frankly, grandiose. I usually tone down the vision when I’m around the normals, but today you get an undiluted look at the layers and layers of vision, planning, and execution that fill my head most of the time. Or at least as many as I can get to in a reasonable amount of time.

This is me.

(On a personal note before we get started, June was crazy. We had a birthday, an anniversary, a hospitalization, a job change, and a book launch in the same weekend. More on that here if you’re interested.)

The Big Picture

I’m an author with a day job. I believe stories shape people and people shape the world, so I care intensely about getting more great stories to the people who will love them. Also I just love love love writing. So I want to make a full-time career out of writing and publishing.

So Many Books

The top layer on my mind is the books I’m writing and want to write. So far I’ve self-published a fairy tale and the first episodes of a comedy series, Hubris Towers. They’ve done moderately well, but they’re just a start. I’m 100k words into a Discworld-esque fantasy mystery and finishing up edits on The Dream World Collective. On the back burner I have drafts of a psychological thriller and a standalone comedy, and concepts for a YA series and more. I’m trying to keep this relevant, so I stripped out a couple paragraphs of details, but there’s more at byfaroe.com/projects if you’re curious.

This is me back when I was cool.

So those are, to varying degrees, in my head all the time. I’m always working on worldbuilding and ways to tighten the plots and show off the characters and find cleaner, richer ways to immerse readers in my worlds, and always thinking ahead to the next story.

Beyond that are the hundred and one tasks that go into creating the actual book. I’m always teaching myself more about print layout, ebook layout, typographic design, cover design, copyrights, ISBNs, book distribution, marketing copy, etc. Each of those could be a course in itself, but I’ll move on to the fun stuff.

A New Kind of Publishing House

For me it’s not enough to just write my own stories. There are too many other talented authors who have world-changing stories in them that may or may not ever get seen. I want to help get those stories out into the world, too, so I’m in the early stages of creating a publishing house called Clickworks Press. I want it to take the best from traditional and indie publishing, to support authors’ interests and maximize reader delight, and to think hard to build a new kind of publishing house from scratch, one that takes advantage of the fact that this is the future and we have amazing new technological and social opportunities that can drive a whole new kind of experience for storytellers and audiences.

This isn’t pie in the sky. I’ve got a couple other local authors already moving forward with publishing their books through Clickworks Press, and it’s really, really exciting. They’re not just random people I managed to wrangle in. These are talented authors with legitimately excellent books, books I’m thrilled about and believe in deeply, and I’m really excited to do whatever I can to get those books into the world. But it’s just the beginning.

Beyond Books

You’ll notice I said “storytellers and audiences,” not “writers and readers.” That’s because the vision goes beyond books.

I have no idea who this is. How did this get here?

I have no idea who this is. How did this get here?

Novels are my main medium, but it’s stories that change the world, and stories can take many forms. My co-author Bill and I are already discussing the possibility of a Hubris Towers audiobook done as an old-school radio drama, and we’re experimenting with narrating our own and each other’s books for audio. I’ll also be looking into professional narration for some of my upcoming books. So there’s the seed for Clickworks Audio.

When I get a little free time (heh) there are two podcasts I’d like to launch, one for authors starting from the ground up (“no real budget, no real platform, just lots and lots of words”) and one for a wider audience, about enjoying the good life of wisdom, contentment, and interdependence. I’ve recorded a pilot episode for the former and it’s looking plausible. It’s just a matter of setting up a sustainable routine of recording when the time is right.

I know a few others who are interested in podcasting, too. They’re interesting people with good ideas and fun personalities. With a little attention and effort, we could build a podcast network that’s really worth listening to. And some of them are making pretty solid strides in acting and filmmaking. Some of us create games. Some of us are developers. With my (and others’) writing and design chops and their film skills and a little more experience under our belts, I see exciting possibilities for the formation of Clickworks Studios and/or Clickworks Game Labs.

Live a Better Story

My amazing daughter being amazing.

My amazing daughter being amazing.

But it’s not just about telling better stories. It’s also about living better stories and helping others live better stories. As we continue to tell smart, funny, deep, moving, life-giving stories, I trust that we’ll grow into a huge family of people bonded by the worlds and characters and stories we love. And huge families of people bonded by love can do incredible things. Good stories inspire and energize and unify the people who love them.

For this one, I want to wait and see what we come up with together, so specific plans this early would be jumping the gun. But I’ve seen the first hints of what’s possible. A while back I started an experimental Kiva team with a few fans of The Dream World Collective, back when I was posting it as a serial on a blog. That team of seven people has disbursed over $3,000 in microloans to help people around the world. We’ve helped a Jordanian woman pay for higher education and Kyrgyz widows buy livestock and a Honduran single mother of four invest in her coffee crop and many others.

That was seven people and almost no coordination or effort, back when I was completely inexperienced at this sort of thing. Now imagine what we could do with a few thousand people and some real thought and effort.

Better Worlds Through Better Stories

Getting more great stories out into the world isn’t just about storytellers who are already great at what they do. I also want to help promising storytellers become great. I’m currently developing a prototype of a writing tool that could end up nothing short of revolutionary. It’s designed to help harness your intuition and creativity to help you bring out the heart of your story and really make it shine, whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, whether you’re writing deep literary fiction or crazy laser-action sci-fi. I’d like to make this and other tools and courses available to help bring out the potential in anyone who wants to write great stories.

My lovely, brilliant wife.

The lovely, brilliant love of my life.

I also want to bring people together to support and build up each other’s skills and projects. Now that Clickworks Press is expanding beyond me I’m putting deep thought into the website. I don’t want it to just be a random little e-commerce site that does no real business because Amazon exists.

Instead, this is our chance to continue extending that new kind of experience to connect storytellers and audiences. The simple part is things like rewarding readers who help spread the word, or encouraging people to buy good books for their friends and read them together, or setting up writing challenges and reading groups and fun things for people to join into together.

I think we can take it to the next level, though. What if we became a micropatronage community with a focus on apprenticeship and mentoring? What if we used incremental challenges, badges, and leveling up to train the next generation of creatives and help the best get discovered? This is yet another part I could go on about forever, but I won’t here. Short version: imagine Patreon meets Khan Academy meets NaNoWriMo. Drop me a line at byfaroe at gmail dot com if you want to help me hash out the long version, or sign up for my friendly updates to quietly watch from the shadows as the adventure unfolds.

Scrunchy faces are important.

Back To Reality

So all of that is in the back of my mind most of the time, and I’m constantly thinking through strategies and next steps. Which brings us back to the practicalities. The execution has enough layers and details that it turns out it gets long and (perhaps) boring to talk about in depth. It’s a little mind-boggling even in brief.

I’d be happy to share concrete steps on any of this if you guys are interested. Just let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here’s an overview of what I’m working on or about to be working on in various arenas.

Making More Excellent Books

Hubris Towers – Write Episode 3. Make the paperback and ebook covers for Ep. 3. Create new back matter in Ep. 1 to point to Ep. 2. Update it on CreateSpace, Google Play, Nook, Kobo, and Kindle. Ditto to make Ep. 2 point to Ep. 3 after 3’s release. Update the landing pages here and on Pints & Prose.

Me and my co-author on Hubris Towers

Me and my co-author on Hubris Towers

Dream World Collective – Finish entering the plot into my prototype plot-hacker for analysis and improvement. Edit the last third of the novel. Set up an option for people on my mailing list to get it free in weekly chunks delivered by email. (Sign up here to get in on this when it arrives.) Finish the cover design. And the paperback cover design. And the hardcover-with-dust-jacket cover design. And the print layout.

Frobisher – Write more!

Building Ways To Connect With People

Clickworks Press Website – Pick a host and a URL for preliminary simple website, probably a WordPress.org site. Set up site structure (how to display books, purchase links, author bios, etc.), hopefully including author patronage options, probably via Gumroad. Also learn Python (at Codecademy.com, which rocks) and look into Jinja2 as a possible route to developing a cooler interactive site later.

My Mailing List – Set up introductory welcome emails. Set up auto-delivery of free story to loveliest readers. Set up ways for readers to help/get involved. Possibly send pictures of sea monsters and/or cute animals.

Hubris Towers Mailing List – Set up introductory welcome emails and free book as welcome gift. Set up other free book as enticement. Take over world.

Elsewhere – Write semi-regularly for this blog and for Pints & Prose. Learn what Twitter is.

Building Ways To Get Others’ Stories Found And Loved

Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara. Origin of the phrase

Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara. Origin of the phrase “like a boss.”

Clickworks Press Business Model – Figure out how to maximize my authors’ sales and audience connection in non-evil ways. Figure out how to collect money and then get it to authors. Figure out tax stuff. Figure out awesome surprises. Figure out whether it’s better for newish authors to get paid double for a direct sale or to get exposure on other platforms. If former, figure out how to set up direct sales. Start thinking through workflow for a call for submissions.

Pints & Prose – Build out the projects page. Keep writing better pieces. Solicit great work from local creators.

Back Burner/Future Awesome

Podcast – Sketch out my experiences so far this year preparatory to sharing said experiences in an engaging and transparent manner on a podcast. Look into podcast hosting. Set aside times to record.

Future Books – Finish draft of Carsick, maybe for NaNoWriMo. Finish plan for The Clockwork Tower, a YA series. Rework frame narrative for the psychological thriller. Start planning the next couple books in the Hastily Dobbs series.

Games – Keep learning how to create interactive story games on StoryNexus. Look into what it would take to get custom Knight’s Bridge boards and pieces created. Possibly start a Kickstarter project for this.

So There’s a Lot Going On In My Head

It’s probably too much for one person. But the thing is, all of this is possible. It’s big and there’s a lot of it, but it all boils down to real steps we can take. I think we can really do this, and it could be awesome. Sure it’s a ton of work, but it’s so worth it!

Behold!

Behold!

A big source of my drive is that I’m deep-down convinced my stories are really good and will really improve peoples’ lives, and I’m going to run out of days a lot sooner than I run out of stories, so the sooner I can get to writing full-time, the more stories I’ll be able to get into the world. And stories can last generations, so every one I can finish means more lives changed for years and years to come.

I didn’t start this post planning to ask for money, but if this excites you and you want to help free me up to get more of it into reality faster, the two best ways you can help are by spreading the word (e.g. by sharing this post) and by clicking below to give a monthly (or single) gift to help me cover the costs of production, distribution, experimentation, and getting more awesome.

Thank You

I’m surrounded by incredibly supportive, interesting, generous people and I’m so grateful to each of you who have helped me along the path. I say it all the time, but it’s true. You’re the best!

Cheers,

—Ben

Also, while we’re at it, here are a few other author entrepreneurs worth checking out:

Rachel Aaron – Finally someone who understands that analysis isn’t soulless. Nerdy and funny and smart. Beautifully insightful thoughts on the craft and business of writing. Made me feel I’m not alone in the world as an analytical creative.

Self Publishing Podcast / Sterling & Stone – A trio of highly prolific storytellers with great vision, strategy, and experimental chutzpah. They set a really high bar, and then do everything they can to help everyone else get over it too.

Kate M. Colby – Super-useful writing resources, a new vlog, and an upcoming novel worth watching for.

Libbie Hawker – Author of historical fiction and helper of authors. Brilliant at breaking down the process of writing (and selling) your books into clear steps you can act on now.

Rocking Self-Publishing with Simon Whistler – A very approachable, useful, and fun podcast interviewing successful self-published authors.

Kara Jorgensen – Author of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. Creating and growing at an impressive rate.

Ani Alexander – Author and podcaster working to inspire and encourage other writers and provide useful publishing resources.

Bookshelf Battle – Wildly creative and prolific humor writer. Really almost manic in the quantity and diversity of the properties he’s created in very short order. But in a good way.

Pints & Prose – A creative laboratory I co-founded with a few other Baltimore writers, thinkers, and creators. Worth checking out (though I say it who shouldn’t).