Tag Archives: self-publishing

Experiments in Fiction: Fiction Unboxed

If you like to see the bleeding edge of fiction, check out the work of Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David Wright.

These guys host the Self-Publishing Podcast and write a lot of books. They follow a serial format—think of a TV series for books. They release individual episodes, collected into a season that makes up each series. And they’ve done a ton of different series.

Platt and Wright have the successful Yesterday’s Gone series, Truant wrote Fat Vampire and Platt and Truant wrote Unicorn Western.

Now I don’t think these guys are perfect. They’re on the bleeding edge, and I think it shows. Yesterday’s Gone is weird. The setup is so bizarre I didn’t get past the first season, but the suspense was pretty great. Fat Vampire is a hilarious concept and I liked the first one, but the sequels fell flat. Unicorn Western is another great concept, but I wasn’t hooked.

That’s just my opinion though. Yesterday’s Gone has nearly 700 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.5 stars. And these guys crank stuff out. Yesterday’s Gone has four seasons out and Unicorn Western has something like nine, and it only started in early 2013.

Now these guys are taking the experiment further and trying to write, edit and publish a novel in 30 days. It’s National Novel Writing Month on steroids. They’re also offering to share the process with the world, thanks to their Fiction Unboxed Kickstarter project.

They’ve got all kinds of rewards (including a free copy of the Scrivener writing software that I highly recommend), but the main idea is that you can see nuts and bolts of how they crank out stories so quickly.

It’s kind of a cool concept. Plus, the project has already met its goal, so it’s going to happen. If you want to support it, jump on board and reap the rewards.

I’m not in love with everything these guys crank out, but they’re out there and doing it. That’s impressive. And it’s worth watching.

Dangerous: More Books!

Yesterday I released a new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It’s a collaborative effort published by one of my clients in cooperation with another awesome organization, Creative Missions. I got to work with some great contributors and some great co-editors. You can read more about the basics of the book over at Church Marketing Sucks.

I’ve done enough last-minute marketing about the book. Rather than do that here, I’d rather just talk honestly about it. Four quick lessons from this project:

1. I didn’t want to do it.
When the idea was first pitched we had about three and a half weeks to pull it off. Honestly, I’d had the same idea months earlier but I kept it to myself. Why? I don’t know. It seemed like something we could do eventually. I knew it would come down to a rushed project and I dreaded that. I think deep down I wanted someone else to come up with the driving vision and make it happen. Let someone else take the responsibility. That’s about what happened. (Confession: I’m not a leader.)

Now that’s it’s over, I’m glad we did it. We’ll see what the results are, but I think it was a smart move. It’s well-timed to be a good resource.

2. Fast is good.
This project happened fast. Like, 20 days fast. That’s a little crazy. But sometimes I think we need that. Too often we over-think ideas and turn them into these big huge things that can’t stand up on their own and collapse under all our expectations. Sometimes it works better to shut up and crank something out.

3. Help is good.
We had a lot of great people helping on this project. We had a team of three people giving editorial direction. We had more than a dozen contributors. We had someone do the layout. Someone else did the design. Someone else got the ebook working (long story). Collaboration is an amazing thing. Sometimes I wish we had more. (Marketing plan? Oh yeah, I guess we could use one of those.)

4. Scared.
I’ve published several books now. I’ve got a once-a-year streak going that’s kind of fun. You think I’d be used to this by now. But to be honest, I’m scared. I’m a little panicked about how people are going to respond to this book. Are they going to hate it? Did I forget something? How many horrible, ridiculous typos are there? Did I make some huge mistake and I should be embarrassed to call myself an editor? Will they be mad because it’s too short? Will they be annoyed that the content is available elsewhere? Will it be worth all the effort? So many doubts. So many fears.

I think that’s part of being a writer. I think that’s part of being creative and putting yourself out there. It’s scary.

Book #50 of 2013: The Martian

Last night I finished my 50th book of 2013. I read a lot, yeah, yeah, yeah, wrote a book about it. Book #50 was awesome. It was The Martian by Andy Weir and it’s a contender for my favorite book of the year.

It’s a Robinson Crusoe type story where an astronaut is abandoned on Mars. But he’s a mechanical engineer and botanist who puts his know-how to work to stay alive and wait for rescue (which will take years). He has to use spare parts, his own excrement and controlled explosions to create water, grow food and keep himself going. It’s an incredible work of seat-of-your-pants engineering, and yes, duct tape plays a role.

The main character, Mark Whatley, has a self-effacing, sarcastic style and records his experience in a journal. We also get glimpses of Mission Control back on Earth trying to sort things out and the crew that abandoned him. Much of the story is Mark figuring out how to do things, like create more water from the chemicals on hand so he can grow food. Just when the explanation starts to get too scientific, he cracks a joke and moves on. I have no idea if all the science know-how would actually work, but it sounds totally believable to a non-scientist like me. Andy Weir did some incredible research. Even if he’s wrong, he does a great job faking it.

While cataloging how much air, water and food he has and thinking through how to grow a garden on the harsh environment of Mars could potentially be boring, it’s not. It’s gripping, has plenty of ups and downs and is funny enough that it’s not at all a story about a loner on Mars trying not to go crazy.

It’s a pretty sci-fi heavy book (uh, Mars, hello!), so I’m not sure what kind of mainstream appeal it would have, but the sci-fi folks are going to love it.

And you better act now to get it. The book was picked up for major publication, which means the digital version is going to disappear soon. Soon as in April 30. You’ve got less than a week to grab the digital version, otherwise you have to wait until the print version comes out in February 2014. As if you need any further prodding, the digital version is only 99 cents right now. That’s an absolute steal. But get it now (even if you won’t read it for months), cuz it’ll be gone April 30.

Yay for awesome books that got their start and attention through self publishing.

Using Scrivener to Write & Publish Books

When I wrote 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading I tried a new writing software. I used to stick with Microsoft Word for everything. But I’ve been increasingly annoyed with it lately and I’ve experimented with some other options. I eventually landed on Scrivener and I’m not going back.

Scrivener is designed for writing book-length projects, whether it’s a novel, script, nonfiction or something else. It allows you to rearrange chunks of text as you go. You can switch to a corkboard view with each chunk of text on an index card with a title and summary. Then just move the cards around if you want. It makes organizing the structure of your book a whole lot easier.

You can also tag and index things like crazy, so for a novel you could note which chunks of text which characters appear in and easily find all those places.

You can also keep everything related to your project in one spot, whether it’s notes, research or drafts. When I’ve done books in Microsoft Word before I’ve always had a growing pile of supporting documents—an outline, a timeline, a list of characters, a list of things I need to tweak, etc. With Scrivener you can keep it all in the same spot. You can tag things and quickly view only what you need to.

If you’ve ever had to write a project of any length you’re probably starting to see the possibilities. And I’m just scratching the surface of Scrivener’s features.

But perhaps the best part of Scrivener is when you’re done writing. It allows you to export your work to whatever format you need in a process known as compiling. This is where it rocks. You can export to vastly different formats with completely different layouts and looks, all using the same source material.

So with 137 Books in One Year I spit out a CreateSpace-ready PDF for my 5×8 print version of the book, as well as a Kindle-ready ebook file that I could upload directly to Amazon. That would require two separate files in Microsoft Word, which would mean making any further changes in two places. Lame. Nevermind that setting up those kind of files in Word will make you want to punch someone. It’s not completely perfect in Scrivener and I’m still learning, but it’s light years better.

I originally heard about Scrivener from this post on how to create a book from idea to Kindle in 29 days, but since then I’ve seen other writers talking about it, including Jeff Goins and Michael Hyatt.

My New Book: 137 Books in One Year

137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With ReadingI read a lot of books last year. A lot of books. 137 to be exact.

So I put together a little booklet sharing some tips and ideas for how to read a lot. It’s called 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading. You can go ahead and buy it for the Kindle or the print version, but when I officially launch it on Feb. 5 the digital version is going to be free for a few days. So you might want to wait.

The booklet includes 10 tips for how to read more, with practical ideas like taking a book with you everywhere you go and reclaiming idle moments. It’s basically examining my reading in 2012 and trying to figure out how I read so many books. I’m sharing what works for me and it might work for you.

While the title feels like a lot of bragging, the booklet also includes an interview with someone who read even more books than me.

I hope you’ll check it out on Feb. 5 and help me spread the word.

Sharing The Stephanies

Since The Stephanies came out last month, Lexi and I have been having fun sharing the book with as many people as we can. Here are three great examples:

Letter from Denver
One of the incredible backers of our Kickstarter campaign turned out to be a teacher at Metz Elementary in Denver. She shared the book with her third grade class and then sent Lexi a letter. Lexi has fan mail! She included a letter from one of her students. Beverly writes, “I think that your story is very awesome.” Lexi was pretty excited to get the letter and now we’ll be writing back to Beverly and the third grade class at Metz Elementary.

Here’s Beverly’s letter:

Lexi’s letter from Beverly.

South St. Paul Reading
Last week Abby had Lexi come to her second grade class and read The Stephanies. I was a little unsure how this would go. I thought second graders would be put off at being read to by a first grader. I thought Lexi would clam up and be too shy. Good thing it wasn’t my plan. It went great. The class loved Lexi. She did an amazing job reading the story and answering questions. While she’s often shy in situations like that, she figured out how to rise to the situation and shine. We’re pretty proud of her.

Here are a few pics from the reading:

Lexi reading to Abby’s class.
Lexi with Abby’s class.

Nigerian Reading
Then on Sunday we did a Skype call with another incredible backer of our Kickstarter campaign. These were friends living in Nigeria, so it was a great chance to connect, be goofy and read The Stephanies. Perhaps the best part of this international reading was that our friends in Nigeria had literally spent the day on the beach while we were bunkered down in the midst of a 10-inch snowfall.

Here’s a glimpse of that reading:

Skyping with friends in Nigeria.

You Can Make It Happen
All of which is pretty awesome. It kind of sums up what a recent review had to say about The Stephanies: “I love it because they made it happen.” That’s the cool thing about The Stephanies. We didn’t do anything outrageous or nearly impossible. New technologies have put this stuff in reach of the common person, and we just pulled it together to tell a fun story. You could do it too!

If you haven’t picked up your own copy of The Stephanies yet, you can get all the details and versions available here.

Stephanies & First Book Update

Screenshot of donation confirmation page on First Book's site.We launched The Stephanies last month and promised to share half our profits for the month of November with First Book. November is done and gone (and with it all those great Movember mustaches!) so it’s time to tally our sales and make a donation.

We sold a whopping 7 print copies and 8 digital copies, for a grand total of $30.38 in royalties. So we’ll make a donation to First Book for $15.19. Doesn’t sound like much, but it will provide six new books to kids in need. That’s pretty cool. Thanks to everyone who bought a copy!

Those sales can be combined with the 36-some odd sales from our Kickstarter campaign and that’s pretty great for a self-published book written by a 6-year-old. How many books did you sell as a first grader? I’ve got a big ol’ nothing in that count. Creating this book, sharing it with the world and giving back in a tiny little way has been pretty awesome. The numbers don’t sound like much, but we weren’t in it for the numbers.

More than anything I had a blast doing it with Lexi. I now owe Milo a book project of his own. And this is a great test case for how kids can make their own books (not to mention how to use Kickstarter).

While we’re no longer donating our profits (we’ll now siphon the cash straight to Lexi’s college fund), you’re welcome to grab your own copy of The Stephanies. We’ve got the original paperback, a “Color-Your-Own” paperback, and digital versions for the Kindle, iBook & Nook, and the standard PDF version. It’s a great little gift for the kid in your life, no matter how old they are.

Open Our Eyes: Sales Report

Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of HomelessnessThis fall I released the book Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness. The little book tells the stories of homeless people—families, kids, grandparents—and supports the work of homeless advocate Mark Horvath and his site, InvisiblePeople.tv.

All profit from the book goes to Mark. All of it. Here’s a quick report on book sales so we can be an open book:

  • October sales: 2 copies, $7.68 profit (we didn’t launch until November, so you folks were ahead of the curve)
  • November sales: 57 copies, $218.88
  • December sales: 30 copies, $77.59

These are only numbers for print copies and we earn roughly $3.84 per copy from Amazon sales (the numbers don’t add up because sales through other channels have a lower royalty rate).

Ironically, payments for digital versions come later, and I received the first one today:

  • November sales: 30 copies, $99.20 profit.

So far I’ve sent Mark two payments. The first was for $226.56 at the end of the year (October & November physical sales) and the second was for $176.79 that I sent this morning (December physical sales & November digital sales).

So to date Open Our Eyes has earned $403.35 to support InvisiblePeople.tv. We’ve also sold 119 copies, which puts us in the top 21% of books published. It’s not vast riches to solve all Mark’s problems, but it’s something. And hopefully it will grow.

Thanks for your support and thanks to everyone who made this book happen. I’d love to keep these payments going for a long time, so please buy a copy if you haven’t already and spread the word.

Open Our Eyes: One Week

Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of HomelessnessLast week we launched Open Our Eyes to lots of rave reviews. It’s been a busy week and very exciting because all the profits go to homeless advocate Mark Horvath and his nonprofit InvisiblePeople.tv. It’s been fun to see so many people come together to support the book.

I know it didn’t mean anything, but it was especially cool to see the book climb to #7,864 on Amazon’s sales rank and #3,680 on their Kindle store.

In reality, we sold 44 print copies and 21 digital copies. That works out to something in the neighborhood of $220 for Mark Horvath! (I’ll have exact numbers later, but the Kindle royalty figures are current through Saturday, which missed a few sales)

Those numbers may sound small, but that’s quite a launch for a self-published book. My hope is that momentum will continue to build and books will continue to sell, raising more money for Mark.

A big thanks goes out to everyone who helped make this thing possible. Now we just have to keep pushing it and build on this success. So you if you haven’t bought a copy yet, do it today.

Go Buy Open Our Eyes

Help the homeless: I wrote a chapter. You can buy a copy.Back in January I pulled the trigger on yet another book idea. I loved the work Mark Horvath was doing to help the homeless. I hated that Mark was nearly homeless himself (again), living in a cockroach apartment with nothing in his fridge but a discounted vegetable tray and a bottle of water. He was eating his meals at the homeless shelter.

It was stupid (and it still is). Somebody should be supporting Mark and making sure he can do this work without working himself to death. But nobody had stepped up. So I did. I couldn’t do much, but I figured I could put together a project that produces something people might be willing to buy, and we could give the money to Mark. So that’s what we did.

I got a whole bunch of Mark’s friends to contribute—people like Trust Agent author Chris Brogan, mom blogger Jessica Gottlieb and Ford’s social media guru Scott Monty (and 21 others). We wrote up stories of homeless people from Mark’s travels across the country, telling the stories of moms and their kids, people who had been homeless for days and 0thers for decades, people from Seattle and Florida. The result is a manual to motivate action. It drips with Mark’s attitude and passion, the way he used what little resources he had, plugged them into social media and turned this thing into a real movement.

I hope you’ll check it out. It would mean a lot to me and it would support Mark.

Today’s the day, folks. Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness launches today. Please go buy it:

Then tell your friends to buy it, review it on Amazon, like it on Facebook, whatever you can do. I need your help. Mark needs your help. The homeless out there need your help. Thanks.

Remember that all profits go to homeless advocate Mark Horvath and his nonprofit InvisiblePeople.tv.