Life After NaNo – Start Planning 2013

KickStart Progam and Strategic Planning for SelfOkay, so NaNo didn’t work out for me. Too much to do; not the right time… Right now I’m packing to move house for the second time this year, and believe me, I don’t plan on moving again for a loooooong time. If ever!

Next year I’ll have another shot at NaNo, but I’m not too downcast. NaNo didn’t work out for a lot of others, either, and it’s not because we’re lazy or not committed enough to finishing a book. The goalposts just had to be moved along a bit.

Since the next thirty days includes a house move, Christmas parties, birthday parties, Christmas Day and the week leading up to New Year, I’m not going to punish myself any further by desperately trying to get things finished in a week, or two weeks, or a month. Instead, I’m going to use the opportunity to clear the decks and get organized for 2013.

I love the thought of a bright, shiny new year coming up, ready for me to make it mine. It’s even better when I have a whole month of the old year left to think about what I want to do, make plans, and – probably most important of all – get rid of all the dead wood that might stop me from getting a running start.

I plan on working on several projects, so it’s necessary for me to be well-organized. (Good job I’m one of those boring people who loves systems and planners.) I’m going to use Microsoft’s OneNote to keep all my files/notes/lists for various projects neatly organized. (I’ve written a post, Wearing More Than One Writer’s Hat, that talks about different software you can use.)

Two e-books that can help you get ready for success in 2013

The Busy Writer’s KickStart Program – This was specifically written to help writers clear the decks and make it possible to succeed – whether you have stalled on a current project or just don’t know how to get started.

Strategic Planning for Self – This quick-and-easy read shows you how it is possible to create a strategic plan for your own life, so you can get what you want. Not just by positive thinking, but by paying attention to hard data.

Who’s Up for NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo2012This is just a heads-up.

November is National Novel Writing Month. You can sign up for the 2012 challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month by going to the NaNoWriMo website. Sign up for your country and region, and start thinking about your story and plot NOW. Then, when November 1 rolls around, you can hit the ground running.

The Facts:

50,000 words in 30 days = 1,666 words per day or roughly 12,500 words a week.

1,666 words a day is…

  • 833 words per hour if you have 2 hours a day to write.
  • 555 words per hour if you have 3 hours a day to write.
  • 416 words per hour if you have 4 hours a day to write.

OR… if you want to write 5 days a week and have the weekends off, then you have to write 2,500 words each day.

OR… if you have to work every day and want to write only at weekends, then you have to turn out 6,225 words on Saturdays and another 6,225 words on Sundays.

Crunch the numbers however you want. The bottom line is: at the end of 30 days your aim is to come up with a 50,000 word draft of your novel.

Are you game?

If so, then head on over to NaNoWriMo and sign up. You can keep a word count, get a NaNoWriMo badge for your website, and best of all… start preparing NOW by thinking about your plot and characters. (BUT – no cheating. You can’t write the first word until November 1st.)

Weekly Challenge: Hook Your Reader

Hooking the ReaderI’ve written a blog post here about hooking the reader. Read that first, and then come back here to take part in this week’s challenge.

You can address any part of hooking the reader, or you can address all four parts. You can apply some of this to books already published (e.g. work on writing a better book description) or you can apply it to a work in progress.

1. Your Book Cover

If you haven’t yet commissioned a book cover, or begun creating your own, then think about what is most likely to hook the reader. You should think about these things:

  • Your Genre – what kinds of covers do your readers expect? Does your book ‘telegraph’ that it is a mystery, a horror story, a romance? Will readers know at a glance the kind of book it is?
  • Your Title – does it tell readers what the book is about (if it’s non-fiction)? Does it promise a good read (if it’s fiction?) Does the title suit the genre? Does it stand out against the background? Can it be read easily in thumbnail size?
  • Your Cover Images: Do they fit the genre? Are they clear and uncluttered?

Tip: if you are using a cover design service for your book, take the time to browse around Amazon or type something like ‘romance book covers’ into Google images. [You would type your genre instead of 'romance', of course.] Get screen captures of the ones you like and send them to your book designer saying ‘something similar to this’. That way you and your designer will be on the right path right from the beginning.

2. Your Book Description or Book Blurb

Write this carefully. You are trying to hook the reader into buying your book. Spend time looking at book descriptions on Amazon as a guide. Which ones capture your interest? Which ones tell you little or nothing about the book? Which ones are boring? You are going to write the very best book description you can. This WILL take time. It could take days. But it will be SO worth it.

3. Your First Sentence/Paragraph/Page/Chapter

This is the big one. If someone read your first sentence, would they want to read more?

  • If they read your first paragraph, would they want to read the second?
  • If they read your first page, would they want to turn the page?
  • If they read the first 10% (Amazon) would they want to buy the book?

That’s your challenge for this week. Work on your cover, your book description, and the opening of your book.

You are aiming to HOOK THE READER.

Make Your Characters Work for What they Want

Make your characters work for what they wantThis week, you’re going to get your characters to work harder to get what they want.

When you’re typing away madly, eager to finish a scene, it’s oh-so-tempting to let your characters get what they want without making them jump through too many hoops. (Then you can finish the scene before dinner time, or before the kids get home from school… or maybe you can actually get to bed before midnight.)

Well, much as I hate to be the reason that you don’t get dinner on the table, or that you ignore the kids as they barrel through the door, or that you’re yawning all over your colleagues because you’re sooooo tired… too bad. This is tough love. You’re just going to have to take longer with that scene, because you’re going to put lots of obstacles in your characters’ way.

Especially the lead character.

Here’s what you’re going to do:

Sit down and plan a way for the hero to get what he wants. (Or what she wants. “Hero” applies to both sexes, here.)

Then you’re going to think of a way to prevent him from getting it. You’re going to jump into the Bad Guy’s mind and come up with a deliciously nasty result for The Good Guy.

Back to the Good Guy. Thwarted, he’s going to have to come up with another plan.

But… The Bad Guy is on the job. He’s going to counterthat,as well.

See what is happening here? You’re adding much more tension and conflict to your story…and your readers are going to love it.

I’ve written a blog post on the process here. Take a minute to go and read it, then undertake this week’s Challenge – MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS WORK FOR WHAT THEY WANT!



Review Your Needs – Software

Software and graphicsLately I’ve been sending out a lot of emails about the various programs I use to create graphics for my websites, blogs and products. To save time I’m going to list them here in this blog post, and then as time permits, I’ll do quick posts reviewing each one in more detail.

And the challenge? I’ll just make this a weekly challenge, although you could probably do it in a day. Simply do a review of your software and your needs, and decide whether you need to buy anything extra or upgrade the software you have. You may well have other programs you can’t do without. (I also have more software programs that I use from time to time; I’ll put those in another post.)

Microsoft Office

This is probably the one thing I absolutely could not do without (if someone were to ask me to nominate just one!) I know that some people swear by Open Office, and for a free program it’s excellent. However, I’ve used Office for years, and I know my way around it – so I’m not going to start with a new program now!

The three parts of Office that I use most are Word (naturally – to create all my books!), PowerPoint, and OneNote. If you have the 2007-2010 version, you’ll find that the picture tools are very powerful – you can do a lot of what you need with Word, and save grouped graphics as single images. I have to admit, though, that I find it easier to manipulate text and images in PowerPoint, so I use this rather than Word to create composite images.

OneNote is invaluable for keeping your research in notebooks. When you copy and paste information from the Internet, it records the URL.

I rarely use Excel, but it is handy to have. (Amazon KDP sends monthly reports in the Excel format.)


SnagitSnagit is a screen capture program that you can use to capture (for example) the grouped images you create in PowerPoint, then save them as one flat image. You can add text, shapes, and more with Snagit. I have my version set up so I simply hit CTRL + F12 and the screen capture cross-hairs appear, ready to drag them across any image to capture exactly what I want. I can also add edge effects, shadows, and curled corners.

The LogoCreator

The LogoCreatorI use this to create blog images, Facebook headers, website headers, and images for book covers. You can import images and layer them. (Hint: use .png files with a transparent background to layer over backgrounds.) Here’s an example of some things I have created with The LogoCreator:

Clipart.comAnother site I signed up for years ago, and pay a yearly amount to stay in. Any time I want a piece of clipart or a photo, I go to and type in some keywords to find what I need. Here’s an example of a piece of clipart I got from and used on this site. (Once I sign in, I can view images with the watermarks removed, so I often find it easier to simply use Snagit to do a screen capture of an image, add any text (e.g. the ’1,000 words a day’ that you see on the computer screen) and then upload it to the blog.

1000 words a day

I also have Photoshop, but you will find that you can do most tasks with PhotoShop Elements, which is much cheaper and much more user-friendly for most people. However… I do find that because I own the LogoCreator and Snagit, 99% of my needs are met.

That Thing You’ve Been Putting Off

one item goneYou know that thing you’ve been putting off, like, forever?

The thing that you put on your to-do list, but keep shifting to ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week’ because it’s either not urgent enough or it’s too much work or you just can’t be bothered?

Yeah, that one.

Well, this week you’re going to do it.You’re going to identify that ‘thing’ and bump it up the list. You’re finally going to assign it TOP PRIORITY.

And DO IT!

(Okay, we’d love to know. What IS it you’ve been putting off? And why?)

I’ll go first. I’ve been promising myself for weeks that I’ll open a GoodReads account in the name of my pseudonym. Now I’ve finally done it!

Week 4 Write a Kindle Book

Wow. Week 4!

By now you should have finished writing your book (or editing/polishing an old book that you’re resurrecting) and you’re ready to format it and upload it.

Some people say that formatting a book for Kindle is simple. Others say that although it should be simple, it is actually a lot harder than people make out to get it right. Generally, fiction is relatively simple – even simpler if you are writing short fiction to start out, because you don’t need a table of contents.

Step by Step:

Formatting. The KDP site will give you information on what you need to do to format your book for upload. Warning: KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you’re writing fiction, just use a H1 style in word for your title, and keep the rest in a simple, common font like Times Roman or Arial. Kindle will use one of their set of fonts anyway, so there’s no point in searching for something ‘pretty’. The idea is CLARITY. They use fonts that the reader will be able to read easily.

When you have saved your story in Word, save it again as an HTML FILTERED file. This strips out most of the Microsoft coding that can stuff things up. You can upload the HTML file.

You will be able to see what your book looks like in the Kindle previewer after you upload your book, before you click the button to ‘save and publish’. However, it is a good idea to download the Kindle Previewer from the KDP site, so you can check it on your computer first.

This page has some links that will help you, including a Kindle Publishing Kit that has more detailed instructions if you feel you can’t do it using KDP’s instructions:

[Note: If you bought the Kindle Publishing Kit and are still confused about how to use the template, I have created an additional 'how to guide' that explains about using Microsoft Word's 'styles' function. If you're a newbie when it comes to using styles, just email me and I'll send it to you.]

Your Book Description: important tip – write this before you start the process of uploading your book. The book description appears immediately underneath your book image on the Amazon sales page, and is one of the chief ways that people decide whether they want to buy. Many people forget about this, and quickly type in a short paragraph in the box provided as they are in the middle of the uploading process!

Make sure you have written a GOOD book description (think: ‘sales blurb’!) that tells people what your book can do for them (if nonfiction) or make it sound intriguing (if fiction).  Make sure you appeal to the reader’s emotions. It’s fine to touch on the main points of what is in your book, but avoid a dry ‘list’ or an intellectual-sounding treatise. Don’t sound boring. Don’t waste this opportunity to promote your book.

Here’s a tip: Click through to the sales pages of other books in the same genre or on the same topic as yours. Which book descriptions make you want to buy? Which sound boring? Spend some time on this and make your book description as good as you can. (Better than other books in the same category!)

Write your book description in plain text. Leave spaces between the sentences so it doesn’t all run together on the page. Have it open in a separate window ready to copy and paste into the ‘book description’ box when you are uploading your book.

When your book goes live and your book description first appears, it will be plain vanilla text, but you can go back and edit it later via Author Central. You should do this once your book is live anyway, because you can use bold, italic and bullet points to make your book description look much more attractive and easier to read.

Edit Author Description for Kindle

Upload Your Cover: Visit the KDP site and read through the instructions, and make sure that your cover is the right size for your book. If you have commissioned the cover from someone who is used to creating Kindle book covers, it should be the right size. (Note: you no longer need to include your cover in the manuscript you upload – the cover you upload is automatically added to the front of your book.) You can change the cover later if you create a better one.

On the Resources page for the 10-Week Challenge you’ll find a book on Kindle Publishing. This has some more ideas for you and will help you with Author Central.

This could be the week you see your first book up on Kindle! Several people have already done it. I hope they’ll add the book link to the comments section here so you can go and have a look – and ‘like’ it!

Which reminds me of one more thing. If you scroll down to the bottom of an Amazon book page, down past the product description, the reviews, and ‘also recommended’, you’ll see a list of TAGS. Make sure that you add some tags for your book, because these are related to the ways people search for your book. (e.g. I write books on writing. I add tags that are related to the content of the books.)

You can (and should) add tags to your own books, or to other people’s books. You can also ‘agree with’ the tags on other people’s books. The more that people agree with your tags, the higher your book moves up the rankings for searches associated with those tags. So do it! Here’s a quick screen capture of the tags associated with my Busy Writer’s One-Hour Plot:

Note that I’ve also added ‘write a romance book’ and ‘write for kids’, because people searching for info on these topics also want to know how to plot a book.

I know there’s a lot to take in when you’re new to this. Just go through it one step at a time. Create the best possible product you can to begin with, and take care with the formatting. Upload it and create your Author Central account. Get your book listed – you can go back and tweak later!


Super Simple – 1000 Words a Day – Ongoing!

1000 words a dayI got an email today from someone who has been assigned to write 1,000 words a day.

“Is anybody with me?” she asked.

Well… yep. As many people as want to join in!

This challenge will continue forever. On and on and on. You can join in for as long as you need to commit to 1,000 words a day to finish your story. If it’s a 10,000 word short story, you’re obviously going to finish before someone who is writing a 100.000 word novel. On the other hand, you can just keep rolling it over – until your books take over the world!

If you have any useful tips on how you are managing to write 1,000 words a day, add them to the Comments section – and every so often, I’ll add them here as “Tips to Keep You Going.”


  • Edit the previous paragraph / page as a way of getting back into the story.

This week, Do the Impossible

achieve the impossibleSome weeks, you look at your to-do list and it seems insurmountable. There’s so much to do, you feel overwhelmed.

Or maybe you’ve got a deadline (self-imposed, or imposed by someone else) and you have NO clue how you’re going to make it.

Or… you’ve reached a certain point in your story, and when you look back, you know that you’re going to have to re-write a huge chunk of it before you move on. To get back to where you are now, you’ll have to rewrite the first 5,000 words, maybe, plus insert new material.

That’s why this week’s challenge is called ‘Do the Impossible’.If you can, try to complete it within 7 days. (You’ll come out at the end feeling triumphant and full of joy that only a week has gone by and YOU HAVE CAUGHT UP!) If that’s impossible, give yourself the tightest possible deadline. This is, after all, about achieving the (seemingly) impossible!

Here’s what you do.

  1. Drill down until you know exactly what you have to do to get back on track. (If it’s a monstrous to-do list, get rid of EVERYTHING that’s not urgent. If it’s a major re-write or a deadline, estimate the number of words and possible hours involved.
  2. Dump whatever you can in your life to carve out the time you need.
  3. Get your family and friends onside. Explain that this is a major catch-up, and you will be head-down, tails up until it’s done. Delegate everything you can. (If nobody else can cook, then it’s fast-food-week.)
  4. Divide your week (or the time period you choose) into segments. If you need to, plan to work on into the night. (But if you do that, schedule breaks from the computer, and make sure you get adequate sleep. And note that I said ‘adequate’, not ‘optimal’.)
  5. Save the hardest stuff for when you’re freshest. (You should know whether you’re a morning person or a night owl.)
  6. HIT IT. Work away at whatever the task until it’s done.
  7. When you’ve finished, take another look at your workload and modify it so you don’t end up in the same boat again. Well, not on a regular basis, anyway.

Here’s another article that might help: Writers in Lock-down Mode.


Week 3 Write a Kindle Book

Edit and Polish Your Kindle BookIf you are writing a 10,000 word book and you’ve opted for 1,000 words a day, you should be getting close to the editing and polishing stage now.Ditto for anyone who is resurrecting an already-written manuscript.

If you are close to this, for this week I would recommend:

  1. As soon as you finish writing your first draft, give it some space. If you can, send it away to friends, family or writers for some feedback. Another set of eyes might well pick up what you’ve missed. Stay away from it for at least a few days, and start laying the foundation for your social networking: e,g, blog, twitter, facebook.
    1. Set up a blog. There is info on how to do that here if you want to use WordPress on a website. OR, just visit Blogger and follow the steps to set up a blog in the name of your book/series or in the name of the author. If you already have a blog, and you’re writing the book under your own name, start blogging about it. You want to set up some buzz.
    2. Create a Facebook page in the name of your book, series, or new author name. You need to have a Facebook personal account first. Here is information on setting up a Facebook page.
    3. Set up a Twitter account in the name of the author. Here is an interesting article by Lee Patrick or you can download Twitter for Beginners (free on my Resources Page for the 10-Week Writer’s Challenge.

Here’s an archive of more info on social networking.

The other thing you can do this week (and this is FUN!) is either create or commission a cover for your book. That means you have to decide on a title and, if you are not using your own name, a pseudonym. (You’d have to have the author name ready for social networking, anyway.)

If you want to have a shot at doing your own cover, go ahead: that’s certainly the cheapest option. Go to KDP on the Amazon site and make sure you understand the size they want the cover to be. I’d rather spend my time writing than creating a cover, because I know it would take me all day and I still wouldn’t come up with something as good as a professional.

If you want to outsource your cover, here’s a list of designers who can do it for you.

The NEXT STAGE will be formatting and uploading your book, and starting the book promotion process. If you want to do some reading ahead on the book promotion process, there’s a really comprehensive course (21-Day Book Promotion) that I list here on this site’s Resources Page.

Good luck!