The Fictorians

Toolbelt roundup

29 May 2015 | 3 Comments » | Frank Morin

This month we’ve seen a huge number of tools presented to help in every phase of producing a great story, from brainstorming to writing that first draft, to producing an ebook. The wealth of knowledge shared was simply amazing. Some of those tools included:

Protecting your work:

Getting started, research, and choosing a writing platform:

  • Ace Jordyn shared an excellent list of How-to-Write books
  • Katie Cross shared the mind-blowing coolness of Novamind for brainstorming
  • Evan Braun discussed the treasure trove that is research with Google Street View
  • Doug Dandridge discussed the wonders of building your own sci-fi universe with Orbit Xplorer
  • Jace Kilian discussed ways to Research
  • Joshua David Bennett shared a plethora of amazing tools that can be used in world building
  • Mary talked about finding meaningful names
  • Colette shared the pros and cons of Scrivener

Collaborating:

Generating that ebook:

  • Colette Black discussed the Magic of Jutoh

Promotion:

  • I shared ways to find Images without running afoul of copyright infringement
  • Emily Godhand explored using Wattpad to interact with readers in a unique and interactive way
  • Tim Reynolds shared an excellent, economical way to make a multi-use banner
  • We even fit in another great article from Guy Anthony De Marco on the tricky copyright world of DMCA
  • Greg Little discussed ways to best manage and keep track of multiple submissions
  • And Nathan Barra walked us through the process of using statistical analysis to help us target promotional and marketing efforts

I’m planning to investigate some of these and potentially add them to my writing tool belt.

Which ones intrigued or excited you the most?

Advanced Google-Fu

28 May 2015 | 1 Comment » | Guy Anthony De Marco

Anyone can go to Google and search for a particular piece of information. Sometimes they luck out and find what they were originally looking for, while other folks end up getting sidetracked by a website full of cute fluffy kittens.

As authors, we tend to have limited resources, particularly time. Using efficient search techniques, our precious time can be spent on writing the next chapter instead of searching for details on how you remove the clip from an AK-47 assault rifle.

Google engineers and coders included many advanced search operators when they built their search engine. Using operators, we can focus our search on very specific terms or files.

Here are a few of the common operators:

  • + The plus sign indicates something is required.
  • – The minus sign indicates something is to be excluded from the search results.
  • (x|y) Groupings – in this case, “x” OR “y”, are acceptable.
  • inurl: Something that is part of a website URL.
  • intitle: Something from the title of the web page
  • filetype: This indicates the result should be a particular file type.

Going back to our example, I put in the following search term:

filetype:pdf +(ak47|ak-47) remove clip

In English, the search term means:

Find an Adobe PDF file that contains either AK47 or AK-47, plus the words “remove” and “clip”.

On the first page of the results, I discover a PDF document that not only shows how to remove the clip from an AK-47, but how to do a complete teardown for cleaning (with plenty of photographs for those who are not familiar with the rifle.) Excellent! Now your zombie killer can clean her AK-47 properly.

Let’s try something that can be useful for the average author. I want to find pirated copies of a novel. We’ll use Stephen King’s novel, “Under the Dome”, as our test subject.

My very focused search term is:

inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:”index of” +”parent directory” +description +size +(mobi|pdf|azw|epub) stephen king under dome

What this means in English:

Looking on web pages that have “htm”, “html” or “php” in them, make sure the title of the web page is “index of”, and make sure the web page has the terms “parent directory”, “description”, and “size”. Also, make sure there are ebook files on the page (mobi and azw are for Kindle; PDFs; or ePub ebooks for the Nook, Sony or Kobo reader). The specific thing I am looking for has the words “stephen”, “king”, “under” and “dome”.

Most of the pirate dump sites are just a plain automatically generated web page with links to the files. These pages usually contain common terms like “index of”, “parent directory”, and “size”, which makes it easier to find the pirate sites.

Running the above focused search term, I get three results. The second one has a freely downloadable pirated copy of Stephen King’s novel, “Under the Dome”.

Personally, I use the filetype: operator almost daily. I can pick the exact file I want to find, usually a PDF or a Microsoft Word “.docx” file by typing filetype:pdf or filetype:docx in the search window.

Another operator I use all the time is the “-“, or NOT, operator. If I was searching for Rocky Wood, an author and HWA president who passed away last year, and Horror, I may end up with links to all kinds of unusual things, such as Rocky (the boxer), Norwegian Wood, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can tailor my search like this:

+”rocky wood” -boxer -“rocky horror picture show” +horror

In English:

Find instances where the words Rocky and Wood are together, but ignore any pages that have that goofy musical and any references to boxers. Also, please make sure the word “horror” appears on the page.

Note that it is easy to get so focused that you end up with no results. Running the above query, I get only five pages back. If I wanted more pages, I could try this query:

+”rocky wood” +”horror writers association”

I get seven times more relevant pages using the second query. If your results are too small, try making your query less restrictive, or try using other key words that are apropos to your searching desires.

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award®; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at WikipediaGuyAndTonya.com, and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Business by the Numbers

27 May 2015 | 1 Comment » | Nathan Barra

In order to be a professional author, to make enough money to live off your art, you need to treat your writing career with the same respect and diligence as you would any other type of business. Though it is possible to make money following intuition alone, it is very difficult to make consistent profits off feelings and hunches. For me, it seems like putting on a blindfold and stumbling around hoping to fall into a pot of gold.

Instead, businesses need to be able to quantify their success or failures objectively in order to make informed and useful decisions. Large corporations hire fleets of analysts to do this work for them. However, don’t let the math intimidate you! Writers, especially indie authors, typically don’t have nearly enough data to need someone devoted to the math. Additionally, there have been some very smart people who have already done most of the work for you. All you really need to do these days is to know which tools to use and which numbers to pay attention to.

Even still, I know how trying to dig into data can be intimidating. However, if you break the process down into 5 easy steps, it all becomes a whole lot more approachable.

STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES
The first thing you need to do when approaching any statistical analysis is define what you care about. There are ways to quantify just about anything you want to know. In fact, sorting the useful information from the noise is often the hardest part of any analysis. Approaching your pile of data with specific questions will help you get specific answers. So, what is it that you hope to get out of your career as an author?

STEP 2: PICK YOUR TOOLS
There are tons of statistical tools choose from. Some are more intuitive than others, some more flexible, and yet others more comprehensive and powerful. Unfortunately, the more powerful the tool, the more difficult it is likely to be to use, and the more interpretation the results will require. Though it is a constant give and take, there are a few pieces of software that I think achieve a good balance and that I would recommend even for people who hate math.

One of my favorite pieces of statistical software is Google Analytics. I believe it to be one of the more powerful, flexible, and user friendly options available. Most importantly, it is free. After all, Google is the company made their fortune off being able to quantify the Internet. So, it only makes sense that their statistics software would also be top notch. Need help installing and configuring the software? The Google Analytics community is fairly robust. I’d recommend starting HERE. On the other hand Google Analytics has a lot of data and power. It can get quite involved and distracting if you let it. Be cautious as obsessively monitoring every page view can easily become a time sink.

Additionally, if you use Word Press for your website, I’d also recommend installing Jetpack. It comes with all sorts of useful widgets, one of which is a basic statistics program. Though you won’t be able to do any manipulation or dig into the data very far, it’s often good enough to give you a general idea.

Finally, most publishing platforms come with some sort of basic statistics modules. This will allow you to track sales, geography of purchases and several other metrics. One of the limitations here is that you track exactly what the distributor allows you to track. Almost always, their statistics are better than what you are given access to.

STEP 3: TAKE A STEP BACK, WAIT, AND LOOK FOR PATTERNS TO EMERGE
Chances are that you already have an audience that is interacting with your web page. So, the very first thing that you’ll need to do after installing any new statistics software is to allow for time to pass. Initially, I’d recommend continuing as you were for three weeks to a month so you can get a feel for how your business runs before you make any changes. Without a baseline, you’ll have no idea what is “normal” behavior and what is a reaction to a change you make. I’d also recommend establishing a new baseline each time you make a major alteration to to your business strategy.

Once you get to the point where you start running social experiments (Step 4), you’ll need to be willing to take a step back from the keyboard. Statistics takes patience. You can’t reasonably expect your consumers to respond immediately to your actions. Also, the initial reaction of a consumer group isn’t necessarily going to be their long term response. I’ve spoken to several indie authors who have tried raising the price on their books only to see an immediate drop off in sales. At that point, many of them lowered the unit price in a panic and swore they’d never ask for more money. However, *some* of the authors who stuck it out and let their new price stand for a few months noted that their sales returned back to their original baseline or even increased! Patience is key. So is being willing to risk and knowing how much you are willing to risk.

XKCD_CorrelationSOURCE: http://xkcd.com/552/

The bulk of statistics is finding the long lasting, consistent patterns in the noise. You want a change you can believe in. Just because you see a big spike, doesn’t mean that one event was caused by the other, nor can you even say that the spike is significant. Let’s say you spend $100 on advertising and sell 15 more books than your baseline sales. The next week, you spend another $100 and sell 2 more books than your baseline sales. Chances are that there is some deeper explanation in the first spike that differentiated it from the second. Any consumer group is going to have patterns in how they choose to spend their time and money. Find those patterns that represent a real response and you’ll be able to take advantage of them.

Let’s take my own website, www.NathanBarra.com, as an example. When I first looked at my own baseline, I noticed spikes of activity first thing in the morning, for a couple hours around lunch time, and in the evening. Additionally, I tended to see a spike in views on Mondays. Over the course of the week, the number of page views slowly died out until no one visited over the weekend. These patterns repeated over a the course of the month, so I had faith that they were a true look at my audience. Once I had the baseline, I needed to understand what the patterns meant.

STEP 4: INTERPRET THE PATTERNS
Now it is time to go back to the goals we established in Step 1. Are you into writing to make money? In that case you should be tracking the Number of Units Sold and how many visitors Click Through from your website to a point of purchase. Additionally, you can gain some insight if you pay attention to your Audience’s Geographical Origin. If you plan to do a book tour, make sure you go to the places where you have lots of fans. If you have no readers in a particular region, try to find out why. Are your marketing dollars beings spent to reach the widest audience possible? Are your books even available to that audience? Do you need to devote more advertising money to that demographic? Additionally is your marketing proving effective? Do you see any spikes up to a new plateau or steady growth in purchases following a marketing push or promotion period?

Are you the kind of writer that just wants to get your stories in front of as many eyes as possible? Then focus on driving up the Number of Visitors (number of unique individuals that loaded any page on your website) and Number of Page Views (the number of total pages that were loaded). When combined with your web site’s Bounce Rate (the percentage of visitors who look at exactly one page before leaving), you can understand how your readers interact with your website. Additionally, you want to pay attention to your largest sources of visitors, particularly your referrals. These days, much of your audience will likely come from somewhere else, be it social media, Google, or a link a friend emailed them. These people are your Referral Visitors. They represent how often and how widely your links have been shared. If you can understand your biggest sources of referrals, you can know where to focus your efforts to get the biggest return.

Instead, are you trying to build a steady and faithful audience? If that is the case, you need to encourage Repeat Visitors (people who have been to your page before) and Organic Visitors (those who typed your URL into their browser directly). You want the ratio of repeat visitors to new visitors (called your audience’s Rate of Return) to be as high as possible while you minimize the Days Since Last Page View.

Keep in mind that you won’t often be able to manage to make progress on all your goals simultaneously. When I first started NathanBarra.com, I wanted to get my page out in front of as many readers as possible, with the long term goal of establishing a steady audience. To that end, I started experimenting.

STEP 5: DESIGN AN EXPERIMENT AND RETURN TO STEP 3
Now that you have an idea of what “normal” is and what it means, you want to try to rock the boat a little and see what sort of waves you can make. Going back to my NathanBarra.com example, the first thing I did was change the amount of lag that I allowed between when I scheduled a post and when I first advertised it to my target audience. In the beginning, I saw that almost all my audience came from referrals that occurred after my media blast. I then went back posting and advertising near simultaneously. After a while, I started to wonder if I had become better established with a larger group of readers. I once again started delaying my media blasts and found that I had a steady flow of readers visit my page after I posted, but before I advertised. The things I had been doing to boost my audience had been working!

The key here is to change as little as possible and to wait long enough to observe meaningful results. If I were to spend see a spike in sales after a blog tour during which I also ran a BookBub campaign, which source of advertising should I focus on next time? There’s no real way to know.

Once you’ve made a change, return to Step 3. Wait, gather data, and then interpret the results. I would always recommend repeating any experiment at least twice. If you repeat your actions and see the same result, you can be confident that what you are seeing is real. If the results are different in consecutive experiments, then try to find out what is really causing your audience to react the way they did. Additionally, you need to take time to evaluate if the change you made supports your goals. If so, consider permanent implementation. If not, lesson learned, don’t do it again.

The key to any good statistical analysis is good interpretation. Take your time to think through all the possible reasons for the change, suing your experiments to hone in individual elements and actions. The longer you work at it, the more you’ll be able to determine from your results. Eventually, you will be so in touch with your audience that the statistics will just be a spot check to ensure that your audience is reacting the way you expected they would. Once you get to that point, you’ll understand why businesses focus on the numbers and leave the hunches for the amateurs.

About the Author:NathanBarra_Web
Though Nathan Barra is an engineer by profession, training and temperament, he is a storyteller by nature and at heart. Fascinated with the byplay of magic and technology, Nathan is drawn to science fantasy in both his reading and writing. He has been known, however, to wander off into other genres for “funzies.” Visit him at his webpage or Facebook Author Page.

Favorite How-to-Write Books

26 May 2015 | 3 Comments » | Ace Jordyn

Sometimes, the best solution to a story or writing problem is to sit back, read a how-to book, think and then write. No one book has a solution for every problem and for that reason, I have several in my library. I find most books on writing more useful AFTER the story is written. Once you’ve read applied some of the techniques and lessons in these books to either an outline or a revision, your skill as a writer grows and subsequent first drafts become richer and better written.

My five go-to books are:

RandThe 10% Solution: Self Editing for the Modern Writer by Ken Rand
Are you saying what you intended to and are you using the best word choices? Use the ACBs of editing – accuracy, clarity and brevity. Rand lists the syllables (such as -ly) and words which may signal a writing problem. This systematic approach is good for line edits because it allows you to see the words without getting involved in the story.

21stWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Story Telling by Donald Maass
This book is great for both brainstorming and examining the first draft’s effectiveness. The chapters provide a good foundation for all the questions Maass suggests writers should consider when writing about a character or scene or the plot. I must admit that it would be too much for me to apply all the questions to an entire novel, but addressing even one or two of them, I have found can enrich a scene or the story immensely.

DummiesWriting Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
From fiction writing basics, to what makes a great story, to creating compelling setting and characters, story structure, theme and getting published, this book is a great how-to for beginners and a good reference for everyone.

 

The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! By Nina MunteanuNina
Take every workshop you’ve attended, develop cheat sheets for quick reference, and you’ve got The Fiction Writer. This book focus on the writing side of getting published with tips on everything from world building, to the hero’s journey, plotting, writing query letters and synopses to the zen of passionate writing.

BellRevision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells by James Scott Bell
Written in two parts, Self-Editing, and Revision, this book is a compendium of the items that are non-negotiable in writing a novel. It’s written concisely and filled with great examples. The chapter “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” has great points to strengthen beginnings, middles and endings along with scenes, setting, theme and how to polish your manuscript.

Other books recommended by my critique group (thanks everyone!):

FarlandWriting Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
This book is part of David Farland’s Million Dollar Writing Series. Learn how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership and become a bestseller.

ThesaurusThe Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Designed to enrich your ability to express emotions on the page, this thesaurus tackles 75 common emotions by defining them, listing physical signals, internal sensations experienced, mental responses and cues for suppressed or long term encounters with the emotion.

McKee 2Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
It may have been written for screen writers but the elements of story, the principles of story design and the elements of craft used to tell a good story are universal. It explains the principles that shape the art of storytelling and the realities, not the mysteries of writing.

KingOn Writing by Stephen King
Entertaining and empowering, Stephen King not only teaches about writing, but provides a practical view of the craft and a writer’s life.

 

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence BlockBlock
A fun approach to writing and the writing life chapters include: Washing Garbage (revision), Creative Procrastination, and Creative Plagiarism.

 

Damn good novelHow to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, Parts I and II by James N. Frey
Filled with down to earth basics, principles, and suggestions, this book helps writers recognize, analyze and correct problems in their work.

The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by TrubyJohn Truby
A story consultant for the film industry, Truby challenges writers to dig deep within and explore their own values and world views. From making an audience care to making characters grow in meaningful ways writers will learn how to move an audience.

BulliesBullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction by Jessica Page Monell
The title says it all! From moral codes and personality traits, every character needs a specific level of integrity, decency and honesty filled with complicated yet believable motivations.

CardHow to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
A long standing favorite, the MICE quotient – milieu, idea, character and event- will help you structure a successful story. And if it’s science fiction or fantasy you’re writing, you’ll learn enough about the genre to ensure your stories are publishable.

This list is by no means comprehensive, so please share your favorites with us. Which books do you recommend?

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