Getting Started: Writer Problems Edition

Why do so many people who talk about one day writing a book fail?

Because finding those first words to mark on an otherwise empty page is a thousand times tougher to do when you decide this time you are going to start getting serious. Instead of writing anything, you simply sit there, staring at a white screen or a blank sheet of paper until you either get too frustrated, bored or otherwise called away by the real world. It can be brutal.

It’s not quite as hard as it is to stick with a novel weeks and weeks later when you’ve reached that saggy center typically devoted to world building, supporting character development or introducing the occasional red herrings, and all you want to do is move on to the next big idea, but pretty darn close.

But back to the empty page.

One of the reasons it is so difficult to get started is that many writers, myself included, feel pressure to shine with the very first line. There are a hundred, gazillion articles and pieces of advice out there (that’s likely an underestimate) on what you should do or not do when opening your story.

Don’t start with your character waking from a dream.

Do start with a flashy first hook of a line that will make the reader want to continue.

Failure to follow these rules, or open your story right will cost you, readers. credibility, sales. The love and respect of your family (who you suspect secretly wish you’d abandon this whole writing for a living dream and focus your effort on something more realistic – like getting the kids to school on time or paying bills). So, there’s no pressure to get it right or anything.

It took me a couple of tries, but eventually, I figured out a trick for getting over this fear –

Write the ABCs. Write your grocery list. Write absolute garbage. Just write something. I’ve found that words are like guests at a party. No one wants to be the first on a dance floor, but once one or two are out there and appear not to have a care in the world, the rest will follow.

That being said, I am now faced with an entirely new and unexpected writer problem.

You see, one of the benefits of my nice shiny new home is the fact I now have my own dedicated office where I can do all sorts of writerly things rather than force-fitting a forty to sixty-hour working week into a two-foot by two-foot square, partitioned from a larger room. The drawback is I haven’t had a clue what to do with all this extra space. It’s like the blank page staring at me, and I’m having a difficult time knowing where to get started.

The desk my other half so painstakingly made for me was built into the walls of our last place. Meaning, I am working with a relatively blank slate at the moment as far as furnishing goes. More specifically, I’m working off a card table.

Oh, and the zero key is still missing. Yes, its nothing but the best for me.

Logically, I know I solving at least one of those problems should be easy. I just have to find a desk I like and hope that the rest of the room’s design will soon follow. However, this is proving to be no simple task. It needs to be wide, but not too wide, as I want to be able to walk around it. With storage for my style guide and other tools, and I want it to be made of wood, but not the manufactured wood that falls apart the second you try to move it.

In short, I want it to be perfect. Hence, here I am, weeks later, paralyzed by indecision, still writing out the word zero and trying not to jostle the surface too much so as not to knock my coffee over. Even so, I’ve somehow managed to write close to 70K words on my latest work in progress (the third and final book of my Project Gene Assist series).

Part of me now worries changing my setup now will upset the creative muse (she is a fickle thing indeed), while another part is pretty sure I would be further along if I’d made a decision sooner. In either case, while I still have a long way left to go before I can say I am finished with this one, it’s, at least, a start. And the start is the hardest part indeed.

5 Free Alternatives to Vellum – The Ebook Conversion Edition

Vellum Alternatives for Ebook Conversion - www.alliepottswrites.com

While downloading ebooks to your reader is simple, getting them up on the cloud in the first place requires some work. I write my books using Word, however, just because you can import your manuscript’s formatted-for-print-ready Word document into Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

For example, you may want to include a table of contents in your ebook for easy navigation, but don’t want one in the print version, or you may want to include links in your ebook pointing readers directly to your other books, making purchasing faster. There are also other distributors besides Amazon that require a specific format for ebooks called epub. This leads me to the next step in the book publishing process – ebook conversion.

Vellum

Vellum offers formatting for print as well as ebook conversion. However, lacking a Mac or a bottomless checkbook, I’ve only been able to appreciate its service as a reader. I can tell it must be awesome to use though based on the number of books I’ve read featuring one of its telltale templates. Don’t get me wrong – it creates highly readable ebooks. I’ve just seen enough of the same decorative flourishes to recognize a Vellum ebook as soon as a chapter opens.

  • Pro: Super easy to use
  • Con: Costly at $199.99, it’s not available for non-Mac users (unless you go through a third-party service like MacinCloud), and your book looks like dozens of others making it more difficult for your author brand to stand out from the crowd.

Smashwords

Smashwords is an ebook conversion service and distribution channel. It is also one of the most difficult ebook conversion tools I’ve ever used. This is because Smashwords distributes your book to channels like Apple books, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble for you, and those channels may have slightly different requirements for an ebook’s file’s layout. Therefore, Smashwords is VERY particular about how your manuscript is formatted prior to releasing it to partner sites and works best with Word files. Fail their checks during the process they call “the Meatgrinder” and your book goes nowhere.

  • Pro: Converts to all major ebook formats including mobi, epub, and pdf for free
  • Con: I am serious when I say this service is NOT recommended for people who don’t know how to use Word styles or are unwilling to read through an entire book of “style guides” prior to attempting to convert their file. Also, once your book passes inspection, it is put up for sale without going through a secondary preview approval step. This means there is a risk your book could be published with typos or with a missing chapter as long as stylistically it fit within the Smashwords Style Guides.

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital is like Smashwords in that it is a distributor that also offers ebook conversion. However, it is much, much simpler to use. Upload your word doc, select a template, and then add in things like your social media links, mailing list link, or author page, and Draft2Digital spits out a book file you can either take and distribute through other channels yourself or distribute through them for a portion of future book sales.

  • Pro: It is fast, simple, and lets you download mobi, epub, and sample length versions of your ebook for free – even if you don’t choose to distribute with them.
  • Con: You can’t edit your file once it has been uploaded and table of contents are created automatically which may or may not always match up with what you expected. Therefore if you do see issues such as funky chapter breaks or incorrect chapter headers, you have to correct the error on the word doc and upload again.

Kindle Create

Kindle Create is still in its infancy, in software terms, and therefore is somewhat limited in what it can do compared to some of the other ebook conversion programs out there. For example, there are only a handful of templates to choose from and it only exports a special non-mobi kindle-ready format. It also requires you to download the software rather than work online. However, it’s another free option that produces nice, clean ebook files, and unlike Draft2Digital, gives you the ability to tweak your ebook’s appearance without leaving the user interface.

  • Pro: It’s even easier to use than Draft2Digital, includes a kindle previewer tool that lets you see how your book will look on multiple device sizes, and free!
  • Con: It doesn’t export to epub or mobi file, which limits your ability to use it to create advance copies of your ebook that can be sent via email or service like Instafreebie, Bookfunnel, or via email to early reviewers.

Reedsy

When you format a book with Reedsy (affiliate link) you have the option to either have them email you a print ready file or send you an epub or mobi file you can then take to the ebook distributor of your choice. Like Kindle Create, you can edit your ebook’s appearance in the user interface, which is a great, but unlike Kindle Create or Draft2Digital you have to copy and paste each chapter individually.

  • Pro: The ability to edit your book without leaving the user interface is a big plus over Draft2Digital the fact you can download in both epub and mobi is a great benefit compared to Kindle Create
  • Con: Reedsy requires significantly more time to initially set up a book and downloads aren’t as instantaneous as the other options. Also, there are currently only three templates to choose from.

Calibre and Sigil

While you can technically use either of these programs by themselves, they really work best together. Calibre has the ability to take a Word Doc (saved as HTML) and turn it into epub or mobi file using the headers, fonts, or other decorative touches you specify. This makes layouts more flexible, and gives your books a more custom look than what you can do with the other programs.

Sigil is more of clean-up tool than a conversion program. You can import an epub file you created with Calibre or with any of the programs above (except Kindle Create as it doesn’t offer epub), then tweak it until it looks the way you want, giving you the ability to customize the files generated by other programs. It makes fixing those pesky typos that somehow managed to sneak past your edit process super fast once you get the hang of it, but until then…

To be clear, neither of these programs are for the technologically challenged, and both require some comfort with programming. Personally, I love Sigil now, but it was a hard-won love.

  • Pro: This combination gives you the greatest range of customization for your ebook’s appearance and both programs are free to us
  • Con: Both programs have a rather steep learning curve and may cause a person to shake their fist in the air, sob into the phone while wondering what they ever did to deserve such agony, or be driven to drink.

I am sure there are other programs out there, but these are the ones I’ve used the most. Now, one step done, one million other little things left to go.


Rocky Row Novels - www.alliepottswrites.com

An Uncertain Confidence: Coming soon to a device near you

Miles yet to travel

out of focus road

Image courtesy of Unsplash

From the backseat, Kiddo asked, “how many more minutes?” We’d been on the road for the last three hours, so the bigger surprise was the fact that he hadn’t already asked the same question a million times already.

“We still have a ways to go,” I answered, not exactly excited to reveal that we still had another two hours of windshield time ahead of us.

“But how many minutes until the TV can come back on?”

The in-car entertainment system had only been powered off for a second or so, but the boys were clearly missing the distraction. “Eh, a couple of minutes honey. Maybe three. However long it takes for Dad to fill the car up with gas.

“How many seconds is three minutes?” Kiddo asked.

“One hundred eighty.”

Kiddo paused to take in this information. “Ten, twenty, thirty” I heard him begin.

The boy is feeling clever this morning.

“One hundred sixty, one hundred seventy, one hundred eighty. There. One hundred and eighty seconds. Now can we turn the TV back on?”

Sigh. I was going to have to explain to him that time wasn’t moving any faster for the rest of us just because he had figured out a faster way to count to one eighty. Welcome to Relativity 101 Kiddo. Just then the pump clicked, signaling our tank was full. Before long, we were back on the highway with the sounds of Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse playing over the speaker system. Now I am thinking I am the one in need of a lesson in the manipulation of space-time, because it feels very much like I’ve been here before.

And yet, I feel as if I have gone so very far.


My thanks to everyone who helped make last week’s launch so very special either by checking out my book links, sharing my posts, or simply offering your words of encouragement. I am hopeful that the experience I’ve gained will help me complete my next project that much faster, but I also know not to expect the process to be any easier. I very much appreciate your support.

Execution is equal parts dream, deadline, and determination

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleo...

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleon Hill (Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting)

Nine months ago, I was finalizing my debut novel, An Uncertain Faith. It was a story that I had toyed with in my mind for several years. I was fortunate enough to have a sabbatical from the day job during which time I wrote until my fingers hurt.  My youngest hadn’t started walking yet and was content to sit in a corner of the room playing with his toys.

I had dreamed of being an author and now I had a book to my name, but I wanted more. I didn’t want to be considered a one and done writer. I self published. I didn’t vanity publish. I was going to have to follow-up my first book with a second.

My next book idea hit me in a few months later. I eagerly fired up my computer and began plotting the outline and character notes. I had to record the dream while it was still fresh in my mind.

The problem is outlines don’t exactly fly off bookshelves. You have to actually add content. I knew how many words had gone into An Uncertain Faith. I was going to meet or exceed that quantity before I could say the work was complete. Unfortunately, if finding time to continue writing outside of the demands of the day job wasn’t difficult enough, I was also going to have to fit in time to promote the first book. Additionally I now had to keep up with two very mobile, and very active young boys.

I expect that no one would have faulted me if book two never made it past the outline stage, or if I continued to work on it as the mood hit until I was gray and the kids were out of school. My dream of being a multi-credited novelist would remain that. An unrealized dream.

I had to transform my dream into a goal.

I set myself a deadline. Combined with my word count total, I was able to determine how many words I needed to write per writing day. I will admit that the juices flowed better some days than others, but I kept writing anyway until I hit my daily quota, otherwise I feared writer’s block might set in.

My deadline for the first draft is June 1st, and I am pleased to say that while it is definitely still a rough draft and lacks a sticking title, my manuscript has a beginning, middle, and end.

Now I am ready for my next challenges. I need to polish this draft up, re-writing whole sections. Then I need find another batch of readers willing to see past the grammatical errors and run on sentences, but just as willing to tell me exactly where the story needs more work. I will have to remember that just because I spent the last six months living with these characters, others might not see them quite the way I do. This last step is never easy, but typing the first chapter wasn’t either.

It’s time to reset the clock.

Determination

Determination (Photo credit: Dana Lookadoo – Yo! Yo! SEO)

 

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