Daily Archives: August 27, 2015

Outlining – Why Bother?

Finding time and energy to write can be difficult enough. If you’re going to add a step to the creative process–one that itself has some disadvantages, as I discussed last week–you’re going to need to get some serious benefits from it.

But in this case, outlining has a ton of things going for it, and some of them directly counteract the effects of the disadvantages. A good outline makes a better book, and makes it easier to get the damn thing written. An outline is a good deal all around.

The number one advantage of an outline is that it is the number one way to defeat writer’s block. Now, I’m one of those who refuses to buy that writer’s block even exists; it’s a convenient excuse, and one that I’ve readily used myself in the past. But when your writing is stalled, I think it’s a sign not that you’re blocked, but that you need to do more thinking.

And that is exactly what the outline forces you to do: get your thinking out of the way early on. You have already gone through the process of figuring out who does what, and when, and why. You’ve already got those scenes mapped out, to some level. And by separating the thinking from the writing means that instead of getting blocked, you can get to the fun part of making the scenes come alive.

But an outline can do even better than this. You have probably had the experience of sitting down to write, and watching the cursor blink for a few minutes before you really get down to the business of making another cup of tea. And maybe petting the cat for a while, and doing some dishes, and painting the porch.

What I’m saying is that writing is often a matter of momentum. When you sit down, it can be really hard to get back into the scene, and to remember what the next paragraph, the next line, the next word was going to be. Each time you return to your manuscript, you’re resetting your mind completely.

An outline gets you past that. It was written by you, as a guide to writing the book; it’s probably the best possible way to get your mind back into the groove. I found that my writing speed picked up immensely without having to wait for the right idea to reintroduce itself to my frontal lobes.

I’m not the only one, either. An outline is the number one piece of advice from SFF Rachel Aaron, who created a sensation a while ago with her blog post (and later e-book) about going from 2,000 to 10,000 words a day. Read it, and check out her e-book as well. If you’re struggling to increase your output, you’ll definitely want to take a look at her advice.

So outlining helps with the day-to-day task of putting words on the page. But it is also, of course, a big picture tool. How many times have you found yourself halfway through a novel, wishing you’d taken just a slightly different approach to that character? How many times have you had to go back and shoehorn a brand new scene into an already completed part of the book?

If you’re outlining, it’s easy to do those things: you go back to the earlier part of the outline and change it. Add a chapter, add six chapters, move things all around if you like. And if you discover that you could add something awesome but that would need wholesale changes throughout the manuscript, you can do that too.

So the outline has a lot going for it: it can make you a better writer in many, many ways. However, as we’ve discussed before, an outline can also have its disadvantages. So next time I’ll tell you the secret to outlining, the thing that made me the outliner I am today: finding your outlining level.

E-book Redistributors: Disadvantages

Cross-posted from the Calamus Communications blog.

 

E-book redistributors (start here if you’re not familiar with the term) make a compelling case for independent authors: they are an easy and cheap way to get your e-books up on multiple platforms, which can mean higher sales and visibility. There are plenty of other advantages, too. But it’s not all good news.

The main problem with any one-size-fits-all solution is that the size may not fit everyone exactly right, or in exactly the same way. This is definitely the case when you publish an e-book once to get it on a multitude of different sites.

All of the e-book sales platforms require mostly the same basic information about the book, which is why these redistributors work at all. But they also might use this information differently. For example, Amazon allows only seven keywords, and in some cases they have specific uses (for example, the keywords might determine which sub-categories a book goes into).

And some authors have found ways to supercharge their Amazon keywords too – ways that might cause issues on other sites. You want to maximize your sales on all the different sites where your books are sold. For the ease of publishing on multiple sites at once, you could be trading away significant royalty dollars in return.

Another problem is the follow-on sales from e-books. One tried and true means of boosting sales is to include links to other books in the same series or by the same author at the end of every book. If a reader just finished your book and is desperate to read another one, putting a link right there in the e-book might lead to a second sale.

But using a redistributor means that you can’t add those links in. You’ll only be able to put the links in for one site at a time, and some sites, if not all of them, will simply delete links to their competitors’ sites. (Why would Kobo want you to go to Amazon to buy the next in the series?)

Another trade-off is control. You can’t tweak your book to look its very best on every device; all your content has to be at the lowest common denominator among the different sales platforms. And to make sure that your images and content look right, you’ll have to publish the book, and then test it out on each platform or device separately.

It’s always the same story: the trade-off between convenience and perfection. If you’re just starting out with e-books, and you aren’t doing anything complicated with them, you might be fine with the redistributor approach. But you also need to think about what the convenience is costing you, not just in their commission, but in potential sales as well.

In the last post in this series, we’ll look at some of the redistributors who are out there – and recommend our favourite!