How to do a Kickstarter

Professional Appearance is a Big Deal: I thought I had put a great amount of effort into making my Kickstarter look like a quality production (and I did put a lot of time into it), but there are some others out there that clearly put mine to shame. Having skills with graphics tools to generate quality artwork for your Kickstarter is critical (this usually comes in handy when making banners for your section headers).

The Message in Your Video Has to Be Powerful: When I created a video, I just wrote an outline of what I thought I should say and then winged it. I don’t recommend this. Put lots of thought behind exactly what you want to say. Also, I had to find a friend with Final Cut Pro X in order to help edit my video.

Choosing the Minimum Funding Goal is Important: If you don’t reach the minimum within the defined timeframe, then nothing happens. No money changes hands and all you’ve achieved is lost time. I’ve also learned that if you choose Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter, they have a “flex funding” option that lets you keep the money you raised even if you didn’t reach the minimum. Some people will tell you that’s a sure sign of a scam, but I don’t know.

I should have chosen $3,000 as my minimum (instead of $3,500) and I’ll tell you why. My editor is my largest expense at $2,500. Then, you must keep in mind that Kickstarter charges 8-10% (including fees for processing credit cards) which would have been up to $300. That would have left me with only $200 to pay all the printing, shipping, ISBN, and formatting costs – which is nowhere near enough. So I chose $3,500, but as it turns out, that goal was a bit high. Assuming that you are okay with putting in a few bucks of your own, it would have been better to aim low and ensure a funding success, and then hope that you receive pledges above your minimum.

Two things I didn’t know: You can have a Kickstarter employee review your page and give you feedback before you start your campaign. This takes about 2 business days. If you want to do this, be sure to plan in advance because it is best to let your Kickstarter begin on a Monday morning. Secondly, you can make a preview of your Kickstarter and share the link with friends and family to get their feedback. I didn’t know about this feature either, but in a way, I think it was better to just launch my Kickstarter without their involvement.

Reasons my Kickstarter was a Success: Having people with major influence tweet about it. Additionally, here is a list of sites that I used to market my Kickstarter

Additionally, to state the obvious, I think my project was a success because I had been writing for a number of years, which clearly showed my commitment and determination. Also, I had already written the book and had cover art designed. I’ve seen some authors go on Kickstarter without having a completed work. Ensuring that you are far enough along in project where you can’t go any further without financial backing is a good sign that you are ready for launching a Kickstarter campaign.

DRM – should you use it?

Whether you are published or self-published, you have choices to make about the Digital Rights Management (DRM) of your ebooks. DRM, if enforced, helps you protect the copyright of your work. Logic would tell you that if you protect the DRM of your novel, then it forces people to purchase your book instead of share it and sales should go up, right? Then why did this July 2014 Earnings Report just reveal that indie authors without DRM sell twice as many books compared to indie authors with DRM?

Disclaimer: Just because you turn off DRM for your ebook does not mean you will automatically double your sales. (Note: Amazon does not let you change your mind about DRM once you’ve published your book.)

book sales with and without DRM

This issue isn’t localized to the publishing industry. It has dramatically affected the music industry as well. In fact, the two industries are more alike than they are different, which suggests that the book industry should learn from the mistakes that the music industry made. But, what is at the core of the DRM issue that makes non-DRM novels sell better? Are consumer’s even aware if a title is protected by DRM before purchasing? I looked everywhere on the Amazon page for my short story (The Ravenous Flock), but did not see anything that mentioned DRM. That means that user’s are the ones that spread the word about a specific title having DRM protections. However, Kindle readers can still lend my ebook to other users for a short period even though I have DRM enabled. Additionally, they can still purchase the book as a gift for another user from the Kindle store.

As a side note, it’s also important to point out that DRM only applies to the ereader format that you selected it for. If I were to sell The Ravenous Flock on the Nook, I could set it for non-DRM.

So is DRM actually the root reason why sales were lower? Or is that just a correlation that was made? The folks that created the sales report believe that it is more than a strong correlation since non-DRM indie books sell better at almost every price point. But all that tells me is that price isn’t a factor. While I trust the fact that non-DRM books do sell better, (and is echoed in the music industry) I can’t help but question the reason why. According to the logic of the report, the answer lies in the behavior of the Kindle users. Apparently, the Kindle readers that purchase indie books must somehow find it easier to share the book when DRM is not enabled, and therefore become a word-of-mouth marketing machine for those books. Perhaps that is what is occurring, I can’t be certain. But whether or not we understand the true reason of why, it would be wise of us to learn from the music industry that has suffered from this same issue in the past, and would behoove us to follow the path that successful authors have already blazed before us.

What are your thoughts on DRM? Please your opinion in the comments below.

Developing the “Inner-Story” of your Chapter

In the way that I design my stories, I want every chapter to have a purpose, to have its own spotlight, its own conflict and drama. I refer to this as the chapter’s “inner story”. While chapters are the framework of a story, I argue that a chapter is more than just a mechanism of format.

Too many times I’ve read chapters where the only purpose they served was to describe time pass as the protagonist went from A to B. If you find yourself writing a chapter that really lacks a prominent point, then most likely, your readers will think that the pace of your story will slow. This can be prevented if the author focuses on developing the mini-story within each chapter. Sometimes we authors are too close to notice it. Usually, one would have to take a step back from their writing and think like a critic in order to realize it, but I believe I’ve found a better way.

It’s one thing for an author to outline their story from start to finish. But it’s another if the author can take the planning to another level of granularity by architecting the framework of each chapter. Just describe the key story element for each chapter so they each drive toward a distinct purpose that supports the flow of the overall story. I’m convinced that this approach prevents pace & flow issues, generates more memorable qualities throughout your story, and keeps readers engaged. These key story elements can be:

  • Events that motivate your protagonist, such as the 12 steps of a hero’s journey
  • Events that force your characters into a certain decision
  • Chapters that revolve around your theme
  • Critical moments of character maturity (for coming-of-age type stories)
  • A new mini-conflict is introduced (that supports the overall story) and must be resolved

If you interested in giving this a shot, try out this exercise. Review your outline (hopefully it’s structured so you have some idea of what’s happening in each chapter) and write a synopsis of each chapter. Are all of your synopses exciting or intriguing? Do they serve a purpose in your story? If you can’t summarize your chapter by describing its reason for existence in an exciting/intriguing manner, then that chapter should be analyzed until its “inner-story” is found.

Here’s another way to look at it: If the reader could only sum up each chapter with one sentence, what would be the dramatic or exciting key story element that you’d want them to takeaway from it?

How do you outline your story? Do you think this technique could work for you? Let me know your thoughts.

Speed Reading Techniques

I don’t consider myself a fast reader by any means. I am slow, methodical, and like to savor every word. This can become problematic considering the general wisdom that the more an author reads, the better a writer they become; or as Stephen King puts it: If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.. This is compounded especially when you have a busy schedule. I often find myself in a situation where I only have enough time for 1 activity left in the day and I have to ask myself: “Should I read, or should I write?” And that’s not a situation that I want to be in, so I did some digging on speed reading techniques.

  1. Eliminate subvocalization. This is where you say the words aloud inside your head as you read. Your eyes can read faster than your brain can pronounce words. This will take practice, but we conscious of it and force yourself to quit this bad habit.
  2. Read multiple words at a time. As we first learned to read as kids, we read one letter at a time until we could read an entire word at a time. To continue this trend, we must learn to read multiple words at a time. This could be solved by what your vision is limiting you to see. Try holding the book further away from you so that your eyes can see more than a single word at a time.
  3. Avoid rereading. We’ve all done it, where we’ve had to go back and read the passage again. Regardless of the reason, you can try to minimize this bad habit by finding a place to read with very little distractions, and/or visually guiding your eye with either your finger or a pen.

The end-goal is to of course, increase your reading speed, but maintain your reading comprehension. For those that care, the average reader reads at 200-230 wpm and maintains a solid level of comprehension. I just took this free speed reading test and got 207 wpm and a comprehension of 91%. Apparently, the world speed reading champion, Anne Jones, can read 4,700 wpm with a comprehension of 67%. That’s insane! My goal is to try the techniques outlined above and move up to the next level at 300-400 wpm.

What did you score on the test?


World Building Tips when Writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy

We all know the importance of world building. Even if only one aspect of your world is what grabs at your reader’s attention, such as your world’s rich history, or your unnavigable galaxy, or its wounded deities, world building demands that the author invest time into the development of all its characteristics if you want to create a beautiful, realistic, and enthralling setting. However, what one may forget is how to weave your world into your story. Now you may be thinking, “Of course it’s in my story! It’s the world!” So let me ask you this: Is your world just present in the story (i.e. just scenery)? Or does it cause real problems for your characters? Does it effect/impact the decisions or outcomes the way other characters do?

I previously spoke about my experience working with an editor, and realized that I need to treat my monsters in the same way that I would with a character. With world building, you should be doing the same with your world: Treat it as a character in your novel.

The other night, I had reached an impasse in my story, so I began brainstorming ways in which to influence the outcome that I desired. I immediately began deep diving into each of my character’s motivations to explore how they should react in this situation and came up with a number of good choices. But I was thinking inside the box, and thus my options were inherently limited. It wasn’t until I tried bouncing some ideas off of a friend that he expanded my vision and made me realize that I should also consider global/environmental/non-character factors, such as weather or lunar events, too.

So, as you continue your story development, I strongly encourage you to make your world an active participant in the story. Questions you might want to ask yourself to analyze whether or not your world is integrated with your story:

  • Is there a time limit associated with your world (like a volcano about to erupt, or a prophecy that is destined to occur)?
  • Does the environment create treacherous or unfavorable events (such as the full moon turning men into werewolves, or the night making magic become unpredictable, or constant earthquakes)?
  • Are there agricultural/weather factors that influence your character’s decisions (such as a drought, or a food shortage, or a heavy storm)?
  • Do the deities interfere with the outcome of the story?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should be on the right track in terms of utilizing your world like a character. How have you used your world to interact in the story?

Helpful Writing Tools & Tips

This post is meant to serve as a simple tool box for writers. It’s an assortment of various writing tips, tables, and wheels. Use it as a place for future reference or to keep in your back pocket.

1) Below is a useful chart to clarify the confusion between the often misused words: Lay vs. Lie. There are many other similar instances to this, such as Who vs. Whom.

2) To the right is a word wheel that allows you to explore a range of emotions that stem from a core of six. This could be useful when trying to get inside your character’s head, or to possibly help burst through writer’s block when describing a scene. How often do you have the Thesaurus open when you write?

3) As a common rule of thumb, it is recognized across the writing community that adverbs are frowned upon. The word “very”, is especially so. Below is a table of ways to avoid using the word “very”.

4) Check out the Period Table of Storytelling chart found here.  Each box represents a story element and can be combined to make a story molecule. Some of the Trope Names for the elements are obvious in their meaning, but others require an explanation (such as “Woobie” and “Squick”). Take a break and try to analyze your story, it may help you when it comes time to write your synopsis. What is your simple story molecule?

On Deviating From Your Outline (and why you should do it)

Writing is an art form, an extension of our vibrant imagination put into the written word. Writing is a artistic expression of ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings, where the turn of a phrase can excite an audience and a fictional character can tug at our hearts. There should be no doubt that the art of writing is intertwined with an author’s muse, inspiration, and creativity.

But when a writer first conceives of a story, what does he/she do? Create an outline of course! But when we generate outlines, we are putting our story into a box. Albeit, the author pours his/her creativity into the outline, but I fear that for some the creativeness of their ingenuity stops there.

As a writing exercise, try thinking of an alternative plot point from what you currently have planned, and begin outlining the events that would occur from this new pivot point in your novel. Then compare the two story paths (original vs. new); which one was better for you?

I recently did this and was thrilled with the results! My original outline didn’t capture all the particular details that lead up to Chapter 9, so upon my arrival at this point in my story, I realized my characters were stuck. There was now an obstacle that wasn’t there in my outline. I was forced to improvise – and that is when I had this epiphany!

The more I write, the more I favor organic character development – and by extension: story development. I am usually a big planner, down to every detail, so I know how important story outlines are, but now I try to keep my outlines at a high level so that I won’t stifle my creativity as I write.