Writing, Iguanas, and Electronics

Writing Tools

Most of you will be familiar with MS Word, but if you are not an author you might not know about Scrivener, New Novelist, or The Novel Factory. I do not plan on writing a detailed review or comparison of these three pieces of software, but I am going experimenting with each of them to see which will work best for me. I already own a copy of Scrivener, but I do not really like it. Part of the problem might be that it is primarily targeting Apple users, so the PC version is a bit clumsy, but it is

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It has been a while...

My writing career was put on hold in 2018, and I am just getting back to it now... during the 2020 pandemic. As part of my reboot, I have scrapped all of the existing outlines and drafts... time to start over.

Here are my preliminary writing plans for 2020:

  • I am working on zombie-related horror novel now, partially to get back into writing, and partially because I am really enjoying it. I hope to have the first draft completed in July, and the second draft a month later. I am not sure if this novel will go further than that, but we will see.
  • Tom and Piper Adventures will be a multi-book series, and I will start writing the first book in August, 2020. The goal will be to complete the first draft in two months, and have the second draft ready for a developmental editor no later than November, 2020.
  • I have been working on two science-fiction and one fantasy outlines for years, and will try to get these outlined by the end of May. I do not have a schedule to start writing either of them, but I expect to start writing one before the end of 2020.

I will be working on a few short stories as well, mainly to experiment with some ideas I have for full length novels. I might post them here, or use them to start a short story collection at some point, but who knows.


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Before You Publish

I want to go over some of the things that self-publishing authors need to learn to be successful. I am a long way from being successful in my own writing career (I have yet to finish a single book), but I have learned a great deal that will help my books become successful when I do actually finish them. Also, some of this (like free ISBN numbers) might only apply to Canadian authors, but I am sure most countries will have similar programs or nominal fees. 

Do Your Own Copyright Registration

This one is optional, as the author you are protected, but if you do decide to register a copyright then you need to do it yourself. In Canada I can perform a free search and register a copyright for $50, but a quick google search will show dozens of services that handle that for prices as low as $100. I am sure this is similar in most countries. Do not be afraid to register your own copyright, the forms are not that difficult and you will need to supply all the same information to a service anyway. 

Do Not Overspend On ISBNs

You might not even need an ISBN if you are only publishing a digital version of your book, but you will need one for print. CreateSpace will give you a free ISBN if your are willing to accept their restrictions, otherwise they charge around $100 for each one. Other services will sell ISBN's for as low as $25 each, but there may be a better option if you are not in the U.S.

In Canada (and perhaps your country has a similar government service), ISBNs can be acquired for free at ISBN Canada, so do some research before buying ISBNs through a third party service.

Setup A Book Or Author Website

Getting a website setup for a book might seem like overkill, but it is a powerful way to boost the visibility for your book. Domains and web hosting can be very inexpensive (particularly compared to professional editing or running ad campaigns). If nothing else, the website may drive traffic to the sales page for your book on sites like Amazon.

You are on my author website, and I have a separate site for my The Tom and Piper Books.

Put Your Book on Preorder

Your book is not going to sell a lot of copies during the preorder months, unless you are established and have fans waiting for it. When your book is listed, even if it is not for sale, you have time to work on the sales copy and setup links to the sales page. Most promotional services need to be booked in advance, and none (?) of them will accept a book that does not have a sales page. I would not recommend driving a lot of traffic to a preorder page

Free (Advanced Reader Copies) Books

The biggest hurdle a new author has to face is to get readers to take a chance on their books. How you give it away is up to you, but if you hand out 500 or 1000 Advanced Reader Copies you might get ten or twenty reviews. If you want a lot. of paid sales from strangers, you need reviews. Do not think of free copies as lost sales or under-valuing your hard work, this is a marketing technique.

Giveaways and free copies will continue to be an important aspect of marketing after the book launches, bit it is extremely important as you head toward release day.

Use Beta Readers

Beta readers are basically just people who are willing to read your book before it is ready to publish, with the hope that they give you valuable advice about the book. I plan on using a few immediate family members for the first draft, then strangers for later drafts. 

Hire (Hopefully Professional) Editors

If you cannot afford professional editing, try having a trusted family member or a teacher critique your book for plot problems, grammar issues, and typos. No book is perfect, but you do not want to launch your book to a dozen 2-star reviews that complain about "cringy" plot-lines or terrible spelling. Your story deserves to be read, so please make sure people actually can!

In my case, I am not getting a full suite of editing (I cannot afford 4 or 5 passes at $500 each), but I will get the following two services:

  • A "Developmental Edit", to find the high-level issues in the novel. This should find problems like subplots that go nowhere or characters randomly changing birth dates.
  • A "Line Edit", to fix spelling and grammar issues.

Avoid Vanity Press

This is a given, with the success of platforms like amazon new authors should not be turning to glorified print-shops to order boxes of books that they will never be able to sell. A real publisher will handle things like ISBN numbers and barcodes, print your book, store it in a warehouse, and fulfill orders for it. A vanity press will try to up-sell you on a lot of services before charging to print and ship a box of copies to you. 

Go Digital

This is pretty obvious, if you are writing it is probably because of digital, but it is worth mentioning here. Whether you stick with amazon or go wider, you want go go digital for your work. Print (though something like IngramSpark) and audio book versions can be important too, but they are optional at the very beginning... the digital version is not. Once you are established, or have an audience, this may change, but as a first-time author the digital version is going to be how you reach the most readers.

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Writing Update & Plans

I am working on my daily writing prompts as well as outlining three adventure novels and working a full time job, so my original publishing date plans have changed. Book one was planned for early December, book two for late January, and book three for March or April. Very optimistic, but I was expecting to have a final draft of book one go to editing by early October.

I want to start writing the first draft of book one on September 1st, with a goal of a complete first draft by the end of October. I will write book two in November, for NaNoWriMo, and then I plan to spend a few weeks in early December rewriting the first draft of book one. I will pass that off to some friends and family before I create a "final" draft and send it off for developmental edits. I should have it back by the end of January, with rewrites and beta readers taking up February and March of 2019. Line editing, followed by proof reading should occur in April, but may take two months so I will probably schedule formatting for June, and a July launch for book one.

During this time, I will be working on book two as well, with it lagging a couple of months behind book one for each step. This means that if book one is published in July, book two will be sent for line edits and posted for pre-order at the same time.

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Official Website

The Official Tom and Piper Adventures website has been setup, a design is in place, and I have been experimenting with various forms and page content. I am happy with the design, but writing good content is difficult when the books are not complete and the author does not want to give too much away. The main landing page will include the sales copy from the first book, so it may be the last page to be completed. The "Their World" page will discuss the character's world and will feature are from the first book. There will be a "give-away" section for ARC registration and a "contact the author" page. Other pages, like privacy policy , about the author, blogs, etc will be tested but may not still be there when the first good goes on sale.

I have a fun plan related to newsletters too, but I do not want to give away the surprise.

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Domain and Website Update

I registered a pair of domains today, and had them point to my existing hosting account.

The Official Website for Tom and Piper Books:

This will be a marketing website, primarily to promote the books among potential readers. I have a lot to learn about publishing, but most successful authors say that marketing has to start long before the book releases. I do not have any content or a design at the moment, but that will change as I work on the site over August. My goal is to have a basic site ready in September so that the official website is well established before anyone starts to look. 

The main sections for the site will probably be something like this:

Home Page

The World of Tom and Piper

Other Tom and Piper Books

Registration for Advance Reader Copies

Eventually, I will want to have Excerpts from the books, giveaways and contests, etc. For now, I have setup some placeholder pages and am working on design. With a basic design in place I can start working on decent content.

Parked short domain:

Both domains point to the same website for now.

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Tom and Piper

I have been giving a lot of thought to the title of my "untitled middle-grade" adventure. I did not worry about it before; I always assumed the title would jump out at me as I wrote. Adventures for children, even older children, need to have a title that clearly tells them "Read me, I am exactly the kind of book you want."

The original story was going to center on a male protagonist named Bill, but when it became an adventure for younger readers I felt I could write about a boy-girl team more effectively. A coworker suggested the name "Piper" for the girl, and I had already kind of settled on "Tom" for the boy.

The Adventures of Tom and Piper: Ghost Ship

Tom and Piper Adventures: Book One, The Ghost Ship

Tom and Piper in the Adventure of the Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship: A Tom and Piper Adventure

Ghost Ship: A Tom and Piper Novel

Ghost Ship: A Tom and Piper Book

The Ghost Ship: A New Tom and Piper Adventure

Keywords are an important aspect of naming a series (less so a standalone novel), and "adventure" is more descriptive than something like "novel" or "book", so I wrote off the titles that did not include "adventure".

I put Tom's name first in the title for a few reasons, but mainly because I am male and feel like it will be easier for me to write from that viewpoint (I am an aspiring author with no experience writing from a female POV as I write this). I have not done the research yet, but I feel like young boys are going to be a bigger market for these adventures and I fear that "the adventures of Piper and Tom" might not sound as interesting to them. I never liked Nancy Drew novels when I was a child, but I loved Hardy Boyse, for example. 

A Tom and Piper Adventure

The Tom and Piper Adventures

The Adventures of Tom and Piper

The question is, will readers a year from now like any of these?


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Sunset Scene & Writing Update

Illustration number two, a cheerful sunset.I placed my second order with the artist, and once again he did not disappoint.

The illustration turned out much more cheerful than I expected, and it did not really match how I imagined the scene, but I was blown away nonetheless. To my eye, this is the kind of art that sells books to children and young teens.

I am left with a dilemma, though.

My book was really targeted at adults and young adults. By leaving out swearing, sex, and unnecessary violence, I thought I could appeal to a wider audience. I started reading adult science-fiction and fantasy at the age of twelve, and children that age are bright enough to understand adult fiction. Unfortunately, the artwork is more suitable to pre-teen adventure novels than grim young adult post-apocalyptic fiction. Yes, it was not going to be too grim, but how can I possibly have artwork like this in a book targeted at jaded young adults?

I love the art direction, so I think I am going to scrap the outline I have and start over as a dedicated adventure series for middle-grade readers. I have no idea what this means for my market as I was researching adult science-fiction categories on amazon, but I think it will work for my debut series. I still plan on launching the first book with book two on pre-order and having book three ready to go before book two launches.

My original plan was to launch book one in December, but the extra six months should result in a much better book.

Amazon allows a three-month pre-order, so it will be safe to put it up in May. I will be concentrating on amazon for this series, so the books will not be available on other platforms for the first six months to a year.


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Artist Selected!

Winning artwork for the centipede attack scene I have selected an artist to work with!

The winning entry is pictured here, and I was very happy with how it turned out. The centipede is larger and more menacing than I planned, clearly showing the danger. This artist uses an anime-like style to his work, which suits my taste and should make the illustrations appeal to a wider audien

I will not post the losing entries because one of them was terrible. Well, terrible is probably unfair, but it appeared to be targeted at a pre-school audience. The other losing entry is quite good, so I will probably work with the artist on some different books in the future.

The winning illustration is one of many I will need for the current book. I have not broken the story into chapters yet, but I imagine there will be at least fifteen. I will also need chapter images for the second book because I plan on having book two available for pre-order when book one goes on sale.

I should discuss the finances a bit, since my original budget of $1000 per book was grossly optimistic. Roughly speaking, I need to budget $400 per book for interior art. Editing will cost around $1000 per book, perhaps $1500 if I order a full developmental edit. Professional covers are going to cost about $400 per book, and formatting (for print and kindle) another $100 per book. This means that I will need about $2000 to publish each book, not counting any overages, promotions, or ad spend. I plan to dedicate a few posts to detailing the financials in more detail.

Anyway, I ordered another illustration from the winning artist, and plan spread the orders out to one per week so that the artist is not overworked between now and December.

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Artist Contest

I have spent a few days looking at sample illustrations on a few online marketplaces where artists can be hired. I am planning on ordering chapter illustrations, so the artist I work with will need to be able to draw a basic scene from that chapter, then do it again for twelve to twenty more chapters. And perhaps as many as eight or ten books in the series. I may need a single artist to commit to creating two hundred illustrations, so hiring the right artist is critically important.

Why a single artist? If I write a series of novels, I want the illustrations to be consistent throughout them. This probably means a single artist, but I could hire a team and still have consistency in tone, in how characters look, and in how the theme is approached. I also do not want to micro-manage the artist because I believe they need creative freedom to do their best work. And let me be honest, I am no artist, and I will not know how to illustrate better than any artist I hire.

Artist Contest

I hired three illustrators to create a scene from my first novel. The cost, a little over $100, is an investment that I am happy to spend to sample their work. 

I gave each the same somewhat vague criteria (a child, dressed in rags, is attacked by a giant centipede), and I am now waiting to see what they come up with. If none of them "win," I will contact three more artists and do this again. If one of them stands out, I will start ordering illustrations based on my scene list. If more than one of the artists stand out, I will use them on different series or perhaps to create promotional artwork.

So far, all three asked me questions about the background (they are in a basement of an abandoned building), props (they can be holding a burning torch, they do not wear shoes), and about the centipede (no violence, the image needs to show the scene before the centipede attacks). And now, we wait for results.

I have to admit that I am very excited to take this step, particularly since I am personally very busy this month and am not able to make any progress on the actual writing.

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Daily Writing Prompts

First, some news and updates.

I will not have much time for blogging or working on my novels until early August so that this site will be inactive for most of July. I do have some plans for this time; however, and thought I would share them with you.

  1. I am starting to research book cover artists and will continue to look at the options through July. I do not have a title and will need a completed first draft to write the sales copy for a cover, so this is just research. 
  2. I am starting to search for an artist for the interior of my first fiction novel.  Illustrations are rare in adult fiction, but hey can add to the work if done correctly. I have a lot to learn in this regard, and it was not something I considered until just recently. 
  3. I am reconsidering the target audience for my, as yet, untitled adventure series. I think adult fiction is a better market, but I want to write this series for older children (something in the 10-14 age range). I was always planning to write without swearing, sex scenes, or overly graphic violence, but the structure of the story would have to change. I'll think about this over July and make my decision.
  4. I am planning to write a blog post per week, outline a novel a month, and post a daily writing exercise for the next year!

I can create a rough outline in a day, so one detailed outline per month should be attainable. The daily writing exercises will be more difficult, but I am dedicated to doing them for the following reasons:

  • It is important for an aspiring author to get into the habit of writing every day if they want to finish anything.
  • Writing something that is not connected to the current project can help break writer's block and motivate the writer.
  • Short random stories can be fun to write (this is how I started writing in elementary school).
  • Writers get better with practice so doing any creative writing will help.
  • Writers tend to be perfectionists, which can cause paralysis when the rough draft is terrible (and the rough draft is always terrible). Writing intentionally bad story fragments can help the writer get past their inner editor while working on drafts.
  • The writer can always look back at old daily stories to look for inspiration for plot points, characters, dialogue, locations, etc. Just because these are terrible and unedited does not mean they are necessarily useless to the writer.
  • Finally, writing and sharing these may help motivate another aspiring author to start some sort of daily writing exercises. 

I hope to start the daily writing exercises by early August, so in about a month, and plan on limiting them to a range of 500 to 1000 words. I will write them in sprints, as quickly as possible and without any plan or development before I start, or editing after. I will edit them to correct obvious spelling errors before I post them to this site, but otherwise, they will be very rough story fragments, outlines, descriptions, partial scenes, etc.

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Writing vs. Dreaming



I wanted to follow up on the topic of index cards this week. I spent years struggling to write effectively, and it usually started well and died after a few pages. Why did this happen? I felt like I had an amazing story in my head, but when it came time to put it on paper it was broken and terrible. I decided to try outlining my novels, but I invariably ended up getting stuck because the process was the same series of "what comes next?" that I struggled with when writing without an outline. I already tried to explain this in the previous post, but it is such an important concept I wanted to reiterate. Using index cards, I write down all of the "events" I want my story to have. It may be incomplete, some of the "events" may be chapters instead of scenes, some of them may be grouped to make one strong scene... but I get them written down and then I can start moving them around. The moving part is key because reordering two events can suggest new scenes or events between and around them.



I guess what I am saying in a very round-about way is we think we have these perfect stories in our heads, but they are more impressions of stories. We might have an interesting character or location or crisis, but that is more inspiration than content. Writing out the parts we know will help us to see gaps in the story, and having those pieces easy to move around helps us to write the best story. That's my experience so far, but I am writing my first novel, so your experience may be different.

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Outlining using index cards

The writing process is something that everyone has to figure out for themselves. For me, as a computer professional by day, it turns out that handwritten index cards are the best way to flesh out a scene list or outline. Part of this may be age, but I spend so much time with computers that outlining manually with cards allows me be more creative. There is something "real" about physically writing on cards/

I thought I would describe my experience working with index cards, as I am starting my first novel and am excited to see how using index cards speeds my process.

I wrote out a scene list a few days ago, with four early scenes as follows:

  • A visitor brings rumors of people mysteriously disappearing in other communities.
  • The protagonist is on top of a tower in the evening and sees the lights of distant villages go out.
  • The protagonist's father and community defenders travel west to investigate.
  • One member of the expedition returns with horrible news, but no knowledge of what happened to the others.

The idea is that a problem is introduced and then quickly escalates to the point where the protagonist has to act. With a word processor, I have to think about what I want to do, how I want the story to flow, but with index cards, I can jumble things around quickly and repeatedly to see if something I did NOT think of stands out. I have reordered scenes numerous times and found some interesting combinations. The current order of the four scenes is:

  • A visitor brings rumors of people mysteriously disappearing in other communities.
  • The protagonist's father and community defenders travel west to investigate.
  • The protagonist is on top of a tower in the evening and sees the lights of distant villages go out.
  • One member of the expedition returns with some horrible news, but no knowledge of what happened to the others.

I love the extra tension that the scenes create in this order.  Part of the creative process is changing order, and these scenes might end up as flashbacks later in the book or dropped entirely, but that is a subject for a different post.

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Starting a novel

I have wanted to write for most of my life, starting with handwritten stories I shared with my elementary school friends. I joined NaNoWriMo in 2010 and successfully wrote 50k words once in 2013. While this was a great experience and led me to the decision to write seriously, it showed me how difficult writing could be given our busy lives. To that end, I have given myself some deadlines, which I will discuss in later posts.

What I want to discuss today is planning. When I made my NaNoWriMo attempts, I wrote without outlines and quickly ran into issues where I was unsure were to take the story. I was doomed before I started. Now, I do not want to say that everyone needs to outline, but for me, I need to have a plan, or my story meanders into dead ends that require rewrites to fix.

I am currently pre-outlining a bunch of books; in fact, I am pre-outlining everything I can think of. Space Opera, Zombie Apocalypse, Post-Apocalypse Horror, High Fantasy. I want to get all of it written down in synopsis form. I will then pick a few appear fun to develop, and I will go ahead and outline them in full. Outlining will be discussed in later posts, but basically, I will write a sentence for each of the main scenes, then I will work on filling the story between them. At some point, I will have enough story, character, and world to write the full outline. The full outline will be my guide for writing quickly and efficiently, but it will not be used to limit the story if I think of new events or characters while writing the first draft.

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