Become a Better Storyteller

Become a Better Storyteller

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something on Amazon after clicking the link below I’ll receive a small commission that will help support my work, at no additional cost to you.

Recently, there’s been a lot of debate among Writing Twitter about whether or not writers, particularly indie writers, should invest in professional editing, and how much editing is needed. I address some of that in my book, Self-Publishing for the Broke Author, and I plan to go deeper into that discussion in the future. But the short answer to both of those questions is, it depends.

One way that you can both improve as a writer and reduce your need for professional editing help? Become a better storyteller. While that’s not something you can do overnight, it’s definitely an achievable goal, which you can reach by taking the time and effort to learn the mechanics of good storytelling, what makes stories work, and honing your story instincts by  exposing yourself to well-executed stories until these things become second nature.

Here are just a few ways you can start building your storytelling skills today.

  1. Start reading. A writer who doesn’t read is like a doctor who’s never dissected a cadaver or a mechanic who’s never looked under the hood of a car. Reading is the best way to learn how books are written and how stories work well. Read widely, both in and outside of your preferred genre, as much and as often as you can, and you’ll absorb a good instinct for story by sheer osmosis.

    “But I don’t have time to read,” you say. To which I say, if you’ve got time to read this post, you’ve got time to read a book. Even if you can only squeeze in a few minutes of reading time a day, you’ll be way ahead of the curve. Remember that you’re not in a race or a competition to see how many books you can read in a year. Carry a book with you — you have access to entire libraries on your smart phone — and instead of scrolling social media whenever you’ve got a few minutes with nothing to do, spend that time reading your book. And yes, audio books do count.

  2. Consume stories in other media. You can actually learn a lot about writing and storytelling by watching TV or movies, but only if you actively engage in the stories being told and don’t just turn off your brain and passively watch what’s happening. Don’t just pay attention to the plot, but ask yourself questions like, “Why was that such a great scene,” or, “why didn’t that scene work for me,” or, “what made that such a memorable line?” Pay attention to things like pacing, plotting, dialogue, character development, and season-long story or character arcs, and think about why they do or don’t work.
  3. Learn the structure and mechanics of good storytelling. A lot of young writers feel stifled by things like rules and structure, but these things exist for good reason, and they’ve been developed and honed over millennia — ever since the first time a human decided to sit down and tell their story to another human. This doesn’t mean you need to go back to college or enroll in an expensive online course. A great place to start is How Story Works, a podcast by bestselling novelist and college writing instructor Lani Diane Rich which is basically a free masterclass in storytelling. Each episode is only 10 to 15 minutes long, so this doesn’t even require a huge time commitment, and your writing will definitely be all the better for it.
  4. Or you could read about it. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee is a book I’ve recommended here before, for good reason. Although the focus is on screenwriting, just about everything the book covers about structure, pacing and mechanics also applies to novel writing. This textbook is basically the bible of how story works, and I refer to it again and again to help me write engaging page-turners with well-developed characters.

The more time you spend exposing yourself to well-crafted stories and learning the toolbox that makes them work, the more you’ll hone your instincts for what is or isn’t working in your own stories. This can not only eliminate the need to hire a professional developmental editor to help sort out why your story might not be working, but it can also better equip you for parsing feedback from your beta readers and deciding with more confidence whether or not you disagree.

And if you can only do one of those things? Read! Reading the type of thing you want to write is second only to actual writing practice in helping you develop the skills and knowledge you need in order to write well.


Jean Bauhaus is a hybrid fiction author and the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. She loves to share her knowledge of both writing and self-publishing, but doing so takes time away from her livelihood, so she can’t do it as often as she’d like. If you found this post or this blog helpful, consider buying Jean a coffee to help make it easier to keep this content coming. Or you can make a small, one-time donation in an amount of your choosing by going to https://paypal.me/jmbauhaus. Thank you!Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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Self-Publishing for the Broke Author by Jean Marie Bauhaus

Self-Publishing for the Broke Author Workbook Now Available!

The paperback workbook edition of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author is now available! It has all of the same great info on how to self-publish a professional quality book with little to no money that you’ll find in the ebook, plus workbook pages you can fill out to help define your self-publishing and marketing strategy. And when you order the workbook for $14.99, you can also get the Kindle edition added on for free with Kindle Matchbook pricing!

Head here to order your workbook today!

6 Ways to Boost Writing Productivity

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Indie author and self-publishing luminary Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been doing a series on writing with chronic illness, a subject near and dear to my heart. This recent post on productivity has inspired me to step up my daily writing output. One thing I realized while reading her post is that it’s not about how much time you can make for writing each day — it’s about getting the most out of the time you’ve got.

So how can you do that? Well, here are a few tricks that usually work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

  1. Make an appointment with your writing, and keep it. Even if you only have 15 minutes. Even if all you do in the beginning is sit in your desk and stare at the screen. If you make a commitment to showing up to your writing each and every day, sooner or later your muse will start showing up to meet you there.
  2.  Make a playlist. Until recently, I’ve resisted the idea of making a playlist for my works in progress, partly because it’s hard for me to write to music with lyrics, and partly because I’m kind of terrible at curating music. But then I discovered that Spotify makes it easy by suggesting similar songs and artists — all you have to do is come up with the first song to get started. And I also realized that creating the perfect soundtrack for my story is not the point. The point is to set the mood that will trigger your brain to think about that particular story. And then, even if you can’t actually listen to the list while you write because it’s too distracting, go ahead and make time to listen to it while actively thinking about your story. I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to mine while I eat breakfast and drink my morning coffee, so I’m ready and rarin’ to go by the time I sit down at my desk to write.
  3. Develop a ritual. I make a cup of tea, and then sit and drink it about halfway before I set it down and start writing. Some people light candles or use aromatherapy. Listening to your playlist might also be part of your ritual. The point is to come up with something you can do to signal to your brain that it’s time to get into that space where the words flow.
  4. Listen to something that will help you focus. If your playlist is too distracting, try classical music, or white noise, or binaural beats. If you like electronica, I’ve got a writing playlist you might enjoy. Sometimes, simply wearing headphones to muffle the noises around me can considerably boost my ability to concentrate.
  5. Set a timer. You might try the pomodoro method, in which you set a timer for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break before starting again. Feel free to experiment until you find your sweet spot. For me, the magically productive amount of time is 45 minutes, followed by a 15 minute break until the next writing session. But however long you’re able to sit down and write, setting a timer will help you stay focused on your writing for that amount of time.
  6. Give yourself permission to suck. Your job during this time is to get the words down. Let go of any notion that they have to be good. Making them good is what revising and editing are for. Embrace Anne Lamott’s advice to write a sh***y first draft and set your muse free to fly.

By employing these tricks, I can usually start writing almost immediately when I sit down at my desk, and I can accomplish about 2,000 words in two 45-minute sessions. But even if you can only carve out 15 or 20 minutes a day for your writing, you’d be amazed at how much you can get done in that amount of time, especially if you practice consistently. You’ll also be amazed at how quickly it adds up.

Do you have any tricks to hack your brain and increase your writing output? Leave a comment and tell us what works for you.


Jean Bauhaus is a hybrid fiction author and the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. She loves to share her knowledge of both writing and self-publishing, but doing so takes time away from her livelihood, so she can’t do it as often as she’d like. If you found this post or this blog helpful, consider buying Jean a coffee to help make it easier to keep this content coming. Or you can make a small, one-time donation in an amount of your choosing by going to https://paypal.me/jmbauhaus. Thank you!Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

What does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

When you think of what it means to be a successful writer,  you might think of things like selling your book for a huge advance, or making the NYT Bestseller list, or winning prestigious awards. Or maybe making a six-figure (or higher) income from your writing.

I haven’t accomplished any of those things. But here’s what I have achieved:

I have three traditionally published novels and a number of independently published books. I have a very large portfolio of articles I’ve been paid to write, and a smaller portfolio of books I’ve been paid to edit or critique.

That might not sound like a big success, but it all depends on how you define success.

I don’t have a huge following. I don’t sell a ton of books. I’m not hugely popular on social media. I’m not an “influencer” by any means. Attaining the “swipe up” feature on my Instagram stories is not even on my radar. Heck, my books don’t even earn four figures, let alone enough to let me quit my freelancing day job.

But here is how I define success:

I’m a working writer. I get to write fiction every day. I make a living with my writing, and occasionally get to use my skills to help other writers get better at what they do.

I have the freedom and flexibility to put my family and my health ahead of my work, and I’m able to make time every day to do something that brings me joy. I’m living a full and creative life in which I do what I love and love what I do.

That’s how I define success. And going by that definition, I’m an extremely successful writer.

How do you define success? Might it be time to rethink your definition? Are you letting other people define success for you?

Just something to think about.


Jean Bauhaus is a hybrid fiction author and the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. She loves to share her knowledge of both writing and self-publishing, but doing so takes time away from her livelihood, so she can’t do it as often as she’d like. If you found this post or this blog helpful, consider buying Jean a coffee to help make it easier to keep this content coming. Or you can make a small, one-time donation in an amount of your choosing by going to https://paypal.me/jmbauhaus. Thank you!Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Self-Publishing for the Broke Author by Jean Marie Bauhaus

It’s Broke Author Launch Day!

It’s finally here! Self-Publishing for the Broke Author: How to Edit Your Manuscript, Format Your Book and Create a Killer Cover on Little to No Money is out in the world, and you can read it as quickly as it takes to download it to your favorite e-reader.

If you prefer your non-fiction in physical book form, sit tight — the paperback version, complete with workbook pages, is coming soon!

Click here to order your copy of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author!

Self-Publishing for the Broke Author by Jean Marie Bauhaus

Preorder Self-Publishing for the Broke Author!

Self-Publishing for the Broke Author by Jean Marie BauhausIt’s almost here! Self-Publishing for the Broke Author is set to release on February 11th — but you can order your copy today!

Producing a publishing-quality book can be expensive. Editing, formatting and cover design can all add up to quite the hefty chunk of change.

But does it have to?

Indie author Jean Bauhaus shares the methods she used to produce no fewer than six self-published books without spending a dime–including the novel that got her noticed and landed her a three-book publishing contract. This is a comprehensive guide for bootstrapping do-it-yourselfers and for the would-be indie who thinks she needs a big platform and a successful Kickstarter campaign before she can get started.

And she doesn’t stop there. Jean goes beyond the basics of e-book and paperback production to walk you through the publishing and distribution process and educate you about your options so you can develop the best publishing strategy to serve your long-term career goals. She also explores your options for publicizing your book and helps you determine where to focus your marketing efforts at this stage of your author career.

If you think you can’t afford to get started with self-publishing, this book is a must-read. It will give you all the tools you need to launch your first book and set your publishing career on course to reach the stratosphere.

Click here to pre-order!

Do You Have a Business Plan for 2019?

Happy new year, fellow writers!

As you sort out your goals, resolutions, intentions and/or theme words for 2019, it’s likely you’re also thinking about what you want to accomplish in your writing and publishing career this year. Whether you’re just starting out and trying to write your first book or you’re a seasoned pro with several publications under your belt, whether you’re traditionally published, self-published or some combination of both, it’s necessary to have some kind of plan in place to help keep your career on track.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled with goal setting and business planning. If you’re a goal-oriented person, this probably doesn’t apply to you, but setting goals usually tends to make me feel overwhelmed and anxious, and I have a hard time sticking to a rigid plan that feels like it’s set in stone.

A few weeks ago, I listened to an old episode of The Creative Penn podcast featuring Johanna Rothman that really helped me with this. Like it or not, one thing that’s true in 2019 is that writers no longer have the luxury of simply being writers. Regardless of the path we take to publication, it’s necessary to treat our writing like a business if we ever hope to derive an income from it.

This particular podcast interview laid out a method of creating a yearly plan for your writing business that really clicked for me. I think what clicked was the notion of aligning your goals with your values and identifying the mission you want your writing to accomplish, and coming up with strategies, rather than SMART goals, that will help you stay on mission. For some reason, thinking in terms of strategy rather than concrete goals made it a lot easier for me to come up with a plan that I’m happy to follow.

Inspired by this interview, I put together a set of worksheets to help outline and create my own business plan, and I want to share them with you. If you want to deep dive into this method, I encourage you to click through and listen to the podcast (or read the interview transcript at the same link). In the meantime, click here to get your free set of Business Plan for Writers worksheets!

I’d love to hear from you! What’s your approach to planning and goal setting? Do you have any big writing or publishing goals or plans for 2019? Have you downloaded the worksheets, and did you find them helpful? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!


Jean Bauhaus is a hybrid fiction author and the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. She loves to share her knowledge of both writing and self-publishing, but doing so takes time away from her livelihood, so she can’t do it as often as she’d like. If you found this post or this blog helpful, consider buying Jean a coffee to help make it easier to keep this content coming. Or you can make a small, one-time donation in an amount of your choosing by going to https://paypal.me/jmbauhaus. Thank you!Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Read an Excerpt of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author!

So I wrote a non-fiction book! Self-Publishing for the Broke Author: How to Edit Your Manuscript, Format Your Book and Craft a Killer Cover on Little to No Money is a guide for would-be indie authors who are intimidated by the book production costs reported by many a self-published author and self-publishing expert. In this book, I break down the steps involved in self-publishing and show you how it can not only be done, but done well–all on a shoestring, and even without spending a dime.

Broke Author should be available at your favorite e-book retailer by February, but here’s the (unedited) first chapter for you to read right now.


 

Chapter One: Editing and Proofreading

I can’t stress enough how important a good edit is for your book. I tend to raise an eyebrow when I see independent authors publishing a new book every couple of months or so. I can’t help but wonder how much time they spent editing those books. And when I bother to read them? Often the answer appears to be, not very much time at all.

Look, I get it. The competitive nature of self-publishing tends to reward those who can crank out the most books in the least amount of time. And a lot of readers, depending on the genre, don’t really care how well a book is edited as long as it entertains them or has good info.

But there are also a lot of readers out there who DO care, and who won’t hesitate to shred a badly-edited or, worse, completely unedited book in the review section.

I also concede that there are authors out there who can pull off such a fast draft-to-publication turnaround without compromising on editing. Some such authors have a good rapport with their editors and have a carefully-honed and smoothly-oiled system in place for producing books quickly without compromising on quality. And there are some authors who are simply good at producing clean first drafts that don’t need that much editing to begin with. I’ve even managed to be such an author once or twice in my career.

But most of the time, my own manuscripts require two to three times as long to revise and edit as they did to write in the first place, and they are always, ALWAYS better for having gone through the editing process.

If you want to be the kind of author who consistently gets positive reviews and has a devoted readership who is happy to evangelize about your books to others, then don’t skip or skimp on the editing process. And if you have any money to spend on book production, this is where I most recommend you spend it.

Does this mean you have to spend money to hire a professional editor? No, it does not. But before I get into the budget-friendly options, let’s first talk about the stages and types of editing.

Stages of Revision

Ideally, a manuscript will go through several stages before it’s ready to be published. The first, of course, is the drafting stage, wherein the book actually gets written. No duh, right? Let’s move on.
The second stage usually encompasses your own revisions. This is the part where you read through what you’ve written—preferably after you’ve had enough of a break from looking at it and thinking about it that you’re seeing it with at least semi-fresh eyes—and fix the problems that you yourself are capable of spotting and identifying, and polishing your prose as you go. By the end of this stage, you’ll have what amounts to your second draft. Simple enough.

Now this is where it can tricky. Do you send your second draft to an editor, or do you send it to beta readers first? Or do you show it to a trusted first reader and complete a third draft based on their feedback before showing it to anyone else? Depending on how much time you have and on the budget editing strategy you settle on, there could be any number of additional passes at this stage. Let’s say, at a minimum, you want to have beta readers look it over before you send it to an editor.

Why not just send it to the editor first and let them fix everything? Because regardless of whether you are paying cash money for a professional editor’s services or you’ve convinced your high school English teacher to look it over in exchange for helping her grade essays, your editor will be able to do a better job if you have already cleaned up your manuscript as much as possible on your own. Speaking as someone who has done her fair share of freelance editing, I can promise you that an editor is better able to focus on what can improve your story and the overall quality of your prose when she’s not bogged down in correcting grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.

Also, contrary to popular belief, it’s not actually an editor’s job to fix your book. It’s an editor’s job to point out problems and, when appropriate, offer suggestions. It’s still your job to fix said problems. Exactly how much hands-on revising an editor does depends on the type of edit she’s been hired to do, which we’ll get into in the next section.

But the point is, between the second draft and final pass of your manuscript, you want to have as many eyes that are not yours on your manuscript and gather as much feedback as possible—all of which leads to the final stage: proofreading, which should be the absolutely last pass of your manuscript, after all other revisions have been done. Why? Because every new revision and editing pass creates opportunities to introduce new errors and typos. The final proofreading pass is for the purpose of hunting down and zapping these errors out of existence, as far as humanly possible.

Types of Editing

A lot of writers aren’t aware that there are different types of editing, each of which serves a different purpose. Let me break them down for you.

Developmental Editing – Also known as substantive editing, this type of editing is typically done early on. It looks for potential problems with the story itself: pacing, plot holes, inconsistencies, lack of character development, scenes that put the reader to sleep, that sort of thing. A lot of these problems can be identified and worked out with a good team of beta readers; but if you’re stuck and feel like you need professional help to get yourself out of a hole, this is a good type of editing to invest in.

This type of edit can range from a critical analysis of your manuscript, in which the editor simply makes suggestions and leaves it up to you to make the changes; to hands-on editing that rips out the parts that aren’t working, rearranges scenes or sections for better flow and also offers suggestions that you, the author, can choose to implement.

Copy Editing – Also known as line editing, this type of edit looks at the writing: sentence structure, awkward phrasing, grammar and syntax issues, etc. If you invest in this type of edit, look for an editor who is willing to provide a sample edit and make sure they will actually improve your writing and not simply stomp all over your voice and style. Ideally, a professional editor will simply point out things that need to be fixed and, although they may offer suggestions, ultimately they’ll leave how to fix it up to you.

Proofreading – This type of edit searches your manuscript with a fine tooth comb to spot and correct errors of spelling, typing, punctuation, grammar, syntax, formatting, etc. As mentioned previously, this should be the absolute final edit, and it should be done by someone other than yourself, and it should involve more than simply running spell check.

How much can you expect to pay for these types of edits? It will largely depend on the type of edit you’re getting, the size of your manuscript, the quality of your writing to begin with, and the experience and reputation of the editor. In general, for a full-sized novel or non-fiction book, you can expect to spend anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Obviously, if you’re reading this book, that’s an unrealistic proposition. Before we move on, I should point out that most freelance editors worth their salt will let you pay in installments, and some even offer financing. However, I don’t recommend or advocate that you go into debt in order to get your book edited. The sad reality is that, unless lightning strikes and you turn out to be the next E.L. James or Hugh Howey, you won’t make your money back—at least not on this one book.

So where does that leave you? Fortunately, with a few options.

Editing on a Budget

Whether you’ve got a little money to invest in editing, or you’re working with no money at all, don’t fret. Editing is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You’ve still got options.

If You Have a Little Money…

  • Ask for a partial edit. Most freelance editors will be happy to edit a single chapter or even a few pages. Send in the roughest or most problematic section of your manuscript and request a line edit. You can then use that edit as a guide as you self-edit the rest of your book.
  • Ask for a professional critique, which typically costs substantially less than an edit. If you can afford to send in the entire manuscript, great, but if not, again, most editors will be happy to provide a partial. I’ve worked with critique clients that have sent me one or two chapters at a time, as they could afford it, which I critiqued and provided feedback as we went.
  • Give a new editor a chance. Someone who is just starting out and trying to establish an editing business, who doesn’t yet have a body of work or experience in this field, will likely charge much less than an established editor. Depending on how eager they are to build their portfolio, they might even be willing to work for free in exchange for referring their services to other writers in your network.
  • Try Fiverr. Fiverr is a freelance marketplace that got its name from the initial idea that freelancers would provide their services starting at only five dollars. The site has grown up quite a bit since then, but while you can expect most service providers to charge substantially more than a fiver for their work, you can find a wide range of services and experience levels that make it fairly easy to find editing and other publishing-related services that fit your budget (side note: if you have some kind of service to offer, Fiverr could also be a good way to start your own side business that will help pay for your editing). Click here to check them out. [Disclaimer: These are affiliate links and if you use them to sign up to Fiverr I’ll get a commission. But I’m a long-time Fiverr user and I recommend it because I love it — I even sell services there.]
  • Save your money for the proofreader. If you feel confident that you’re able to work out story issues with the help of trusted beta readers and polish your prose to a level that leaves both you and your readers satisfied, then you’re better off hiring a proofreader anyway. And proofreading typically costs quite a bit less than substantive or line editing.

If You Have No Money…

  • Join a writing or critique group. Whether you meet with one in person or online, a writing group can provide valuable feedback on your manuscript. While it won’t cost you any money, it will cost quite a bit in time, as you’ll be obligated to return the favor by reading and providing feedback on the other members’ work.
  • Assemble a team of trusted beta readers. Look for people who not only have a good grasp of grammar and sentence structure, but who are well-read and familiar with the genre in which you’re writing. Be sure to recognize that they’re giving up their valuable time to do you a favor, even if they seem excited to read your book. Provide them with deadlines, but don’t hound them or guilt them if they’re not able to deliver. And be sure to compensate them in some way, whether that’s thanking them by name in the book’s acknowledgments, providing them with free copies of the final book, or baking them cookies to show your appreciation. For more information on working with beta readers to edit your book, download my free booklet, Seven Steps to Self-Editing for Indie Authors on a Shoestring.
  • Barter or trade for editing services. Do you have editing skills and know another writer who does editing on the side (or vice versa)? Offer to swap manuscripts—you’ll edit hers if she’ll edit yours. Editing skills isn’t the only thing you can trade. Can you help a freelance editor improve her website? Is there someone local to you for whom you could provide a more hands-on service such as yard work, house cleaning or babysitting? See also my previous example of helping your old English teacher grade papers. Get creative. There are a lot of different ways to “pay” for editing services that don’t involve money.

As you can see, not having a budget set aside for hiring an editor is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your self-publishing ambitions. With a combination of creativity, time and sweat equity, there are plenty of other paths you can take to achieve a polished, publishable book.

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Jean Bauhaus is a hybrid fiction author and the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. She loves to share her knowledge of both writing and self-publishing, but doing so takes time away from her livelihood, so she can’t do it as often as she’d like. If you found this post or this blog helpful, consider buying Jean a coffee to help make it easier to keep this content coming. Or you can make a small, one-time donation in an amount of your choosing by going to https://paypal.me/jmbauhaus. Thank you!Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

My Favorite Books on Writing

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after following these links, I’ll receive a small commission that will help support this blog.

There are basically two ways to keep growing and improving as a writer. One is to keep writing–keep putting in those ten thousand hours of practice that will help you master your craft.

The other is, unfortunately, often overlooked–and that is to read. A lot. Read widely and read voraciously, both within the genre you write in and without, absorbing the elements of good writing and good story as you go.

Reading books about writing is the best of both worlds. With tens of thousands of books on writing covering everything from grammar to story structure to characterization to outlining and plotting and beyond, a comprehensive writing education is practically at your fingertips–literally, if you have a smartphone or e-reader.

But with so many writing books out there, where do you begin? Lest you succumb to decision paralysis and never get started, let me narrow it down for you by sharing my favorite writing books–books that have not only helped to strengthen and improve my own writing, but have also given me the encouragement and motivation to keep going. Each of these books would make an excellent gift for any writer on your list–even if that writer is you.

 

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Whatever your opinion of Stephen King or his work, one thing can’t be denied — the man knows writing. This book is about two-thirds memoir about his writing life, starting with his childhood and advancing all the way up to when his life and career were waylaid by a careless driver, and it’s inspiring, encouraging and entertaining to read. The last third or so is a practical manual on how to write well. Even if you skip the memoir, these last chapters are worth the price of the book, and are essential reading for anyone who wants to learn to write better.

 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Another book that combines memoir with practical writing advice, Bird by Bird provides a witty look at the writing life along with stern-but-compassionate instruction and encouragement to help you keep going and build a writing career. “Small assignments and sh*tty first drafts” is both an instruction and a philosophy that has helped me get started on projects I didn’t want to start and keep going on projects I longed to abandon. This one mantra has become so integral to my ability to sit down and start writing that I literally stitched it, framed it and hung it over my desk.

 

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Although it’s focused on screenwriting, Robert McKee’s Story is an indispensable textbook on story structure and pacing that applies to writing novels as much as it does to films. This book explains how story works and the various story structures that work best and dissects classic screenplays such as China Town to examine why they work so well. It also takes you step by step through the building blocks of an engaging story from beat, to scene, to sequence to story act. If you want to understand the mechanics of writing and crafting a story that will keep your readers turning the pages, read this book.

 

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner

A grammar book that’s not dry and boring! If you need to brush up on the rules of English grammar, this book explains them in ways that are easy to understand and that won’t make your eyes glaze over or give you unpleasant flashbacks to Composition class. This is the book our editing team refers to when we need to settle a question about grammar or punctuation. Whether you read it cover to cover or simply keep it on your reference shelf for grammar emergencies, it will make a great addition to your writing library.

Need more hands-on help improving your writing or beefing up your prose as you revise your manuscript? Click here for our FREE e-course, 5 Days to Stronger Fiction!

Do you have a favorite writing book that isn’t mentioned here? We’d love for you to share it in the comments.


Jean Bauhaus is a hybrid fiction author and the author of Self-Publishing for the Broke Author. She loves to share her knowledge of both writing and self-publishing, but doing so takes time away from her livelihood, so she can’t do it as often as she’d like. If you found this post or this blog helpful, consider buying Jean a coffee to help make it easier to keep this content coming. Or you can make a small, one-time donation in an amount of your choosing by going to https://paypal.me/jmbauhaus. Thank you!Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

KDP Select vs. Publishing Wide: Why I Enrolled my Short Fiction Back in Select

Photo by Aliis Sinisalu on Unsplash

Last year around this time, I was busy moving all of my shorter indie books — my short stories, novellas and collections–out of Kindle Select (for the uninitiated, that’s Amazon’s promotional program for self-published e-books that requires you to publish exclusively to Amazon, but which also makes your books available to Kindle Unlimited and Prime Lending subscribers) an into the worldwide e-book marketplace.

This week, I delisted them from all those other markets and moved them back to Select.

While going wide with my short fiction was a worthwhile experiment, I believe it was also a failed one. In the beginning, it seemed like the right decision. The books sold a few copies on iTunes and Smashwords and, while the royalty deposits were small, I was being introduced to new readers outside of the Amazon eco-system, which is a worthy goal all by itself.

But sales petered out fairly quickly, and I didn’t have the time to constantly promote these titles in order to keep them going. I participated in a couple of sitewide sales on Smashwords, but that didn’t do much to breathe new life into them. And as I got busy writing a new novel, plus the upcoming Broke Author, plus doing a revised edition of my first indie novel in preparation for releasing the sequel, these shorter books became an afterthought.

Afterthoughts don’t help indie careers grow.

And so after a lot of thought and some research, I decided to move them back into Select — and into Kindle Unlimited — based on the following logic:

  • Short fiction seems to do better in KU than in wide release. This has, at least, been my experience. When my shorter books were in KU before, I got a small but steady stream of revenue from Amazon, and I also got the occasional unsolicited review. This has not been true since taking them wide. Here’s a good post from Hugh Howey about other benefits of having your short stories in KU–it’s a few years old, but I think a lot of it still holds up.
  • KU readers seem to be more willing both to take a chance on new authors and to read shorter works. This makes sense considering anything they choose to read is already paid for, which makes it all feel like free.
  • KDP Select provides tools that make it easier to run regular promotions to keep drawing attention to your books. It’s also a fairly simple matter to go in reguarly and tweak categories and key words for each title in order to improve visibility and discoverability with new sets of readers. This episode of The Creative Penn discusses that process in depth (transcript included for those who prefer to read).

With all of that in mind, it seemed like a pretty obvious choice.

I’m still working out my business and publishing plan for 2019, but I’m pretty sure that in the coming year I’m going to be experimenting with a model of continuing to release short fiction exclusively in KU (perhaps after first sharing it on Wattpad or with my author mailing list subscribers) while releasing full-length novels and non-fiction books to a wider audience.

What about non-Kindle readers who want to read my short fiction? Eventually, when I’ve got enough of them to justify the printing cost, I’ll collect them into a paperback edition, which won’t be seen as competing with KU.

At any rate, that’s the plan for my current self-publishing model. I’ll keep you posted and let you know how it goes.

Questions? I’d love to answer them in the comments. I’d also love to hear about your own experiences with KU/Select vs. publishing wide.


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