The secret to writing a novel a month #WBC2

Ok folks, so this is Week 2 of Writing with Baby Challenge.

This week, I will give you the secret to writing a novel in one month (or in my case, 20 days). But let me warn you, there is no secret.

Writing with Baby Challenge, Week #2

So this week (over last 6 days) I wrote 5317 words. I’m hoping to average around a 1000 words a day. I use iDoneThis to track my word count- it’s pretty cool. You get an email everyday, and you reply to it saying how many words you typed. Saves the I forgot to note my wordcount excuse.

At this rate, will finish my current book in 2 months, which while slower than my previous pace of a book a month, is still faster than what, 90% of the writers out there.

Here’s a graph of how much I wrote:

wc1

Topic of the Day: How to write fast

I know the title says a novel a month, but you don’t have to be that fast. Even if you finish a novel in 3-6 months, you are still faster than 90% of writers who take years to write a book.

So what’s the secret to fast writing? It’s my secret sauce, which you can have for 6 monthly payments for $99.99!

The truth is, there is no secret. Sure, you can learn tricks like how to type faster. I can type 2000 words an hour (only when I’m in the middle of the book and in full flow). Before the baby, I was writing for an hour and a half a day (in 2 sittings), and easily typed 3-4000 words a day. Since I go for short novels (55-60k) words, that means a whole novel in 20 days.

But even if you are a fast typist, you may still take ten years to write a book. The reason is very subtle, but the reason most writers fail. Not fail to write a book a month (or every 3, 6, 9 months whatever), but fail completely. They give up and go back to potato farming, or whatever it is writers that give up writing do.

The reason is this: They don’t trust their creative side. Their critical side, which is the side that has been trained in school to find fault with everything, to analyse and rip apart rather than build, is the part that takes over. The critical side is never happy with anything. No matter what you write, the critical side will find a fault with it (in the voice of your worst teacher).

If you want to write fast, there are no shortcuts. You just have to trust your creative side, and just damn type (this is a good point to mention: You have read my last blog, right, where I say that you should stop setting goals, like I will write 2000 words a day, because setting goals is for losers).

Trusting the creative side means: You don’t constantly second guess yourself. You don’t go back to your book and attempt to fix it the way your English teacher would like it. You don’t rewrite your book based on some stupid advice in an bad grammar book that everyone loves.

It means trusting yourself, trusting that the creative side of your brain, the one that has been listening, reading and enjoying stories long before your first English class.

What does it mean in practice?

All this is very well in theory, you might say, but what does it mean in practice?

Taking my own example, I finished a novel in June-July 2014. And from July 2014 to end November 2014 (about 5 months), I did not finish a single book.

Why?

Because I was trying to make it perfect.

I had swallowed all the BS all these two-book-success-stories had taught me. I wanted my story to be perfect. I wanted it to be in a genre that was selling. I wanted to write a series (because this is the new religion of writing) You MUST always write in a series. Otherwise, the locust swarm will hit your village and eat all your cows. If you don’t write in a series, the Choopacubra will eat your laptop and destroy all your work.

In those 5 months, I started and finished many projects, but abandoned them. I was beginning to get sick, and thought of giving up writing.

That’s when I had my F*&@ it moment.

Partly, I blame Dean W Smith (see links below).

I said, bleep this. I don’t care what other people think, I’ll write what I damn want.

And I did. I’ve already shared my list:

Nov 2014: Watcher’s Day Out

Dec 2014: All Aboard, the Zombie Express

January 2015: I Hate Zombies (actually started this in December)

End Jan- Mid Feb 2015: Achtung! Nazi Zombies

The last two books were finished in 20 days, plus 4-5 days revising, mainly typos, small plot errors. That’s it. And then straight to editor.

Many people will say, Oh, but if I don’t spend years and years revising my book, it will come out to be a turd.

Well, this is a myth that has been busted by those smarter than me, so I will merely link to them in the end. I will add this gem I read in Dean’s blog:

No matter how much time you spend polishing a turd, it’s still a turd.

If you want to write fast, you have to trust your creative side. I spent months plotting, and then months revising each draft. I would analyse and think about each minor plot point, which meant I would grow bored and abandon dozens of projects midway. And the books still sucked. They sucked because I didn’t have enough practice. I didn’t have enough practice, because I spent all my time thinking, and not enough writing.

For I Hate Zombies, I decided not to do any plotting at all. I just typed whatever came into my head. (Note: I’m not saying you don’t need to plot.  Each person is different. But unless you give in to the creative side, you won’t know what your best method is).

Some of this will be offended by this, so here’s a photo of a baby to compensate:

oj

So I just sat for an hour or two, and typed. Without thinking, or analysing, or trying to fix my grammar.

Did it work?

I find it easier to write books now. I don’t spend hours struggling with minor plot points. I never go back and change my language/tone (and my editor agrees with me). I never say, “Hey, I could rewrite this better”. Because I can’t.

And that’s the secret to writing fast. Creating discipline (write daily, for a fixed time, every single day), and trusting the creative voice.

Told you, there was no secret.

Right, till next Sunday.

Reading List:

If you made it this far, chances are you have already the articles below. In case you haven’t, here are the links:

1. All the articles here, http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-sacred-cows-of-publishing/

but especially this one.

2. Perfection by Kris Rusch, one of the best articles on writing (and any other creative art), and it’s two followups (here and here).

This post is a part of my Writing With Baby Challenge, where I try to finish a novel while taking care of a little baby.I will give an update every weekend. If you want to follow along, either follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to my mailing list.

Writing with Baby Challenge: Week #1

Last November, I decided to take part in Nanowrimo, where you try to write  a novel in a month.

Already a fast writer, I found the process very easy, and decided to continue with a novel a month:

Nov 2014: Watcher’s Day Out

Dec 2014: All Aboard, the Zombie Express

January 2015: I Hate Zombies (actually started this in December)

End Jan- Mid Feb 2015: Achtung! Nazi Zombies

Mid Feb: Unnamed Project (incomplete)

As you can see, by Jan, I was writing a book every 15-20 days. This was while working a full time job, by the way. There was a reason for my hurry: I knew I was about to hit by an atom bomb.

The bomb hit 19 Feb:

Ojas1I didn’t write anything for the 1st 3 weeks. Last two weeks, I’ve written barely 2000 words, most of which I will throw away. I have lost touch with the book I was writing, and am too tired to concentrate anyway. It doesn’t help I have to do the typing with one hand:

150321-174353

But hope has not been lost. I don’t think I can manage a book a month (at least, not just yet). But a book every two months? That should be doable, provided I can get into a rhythm and keep going. The trouble is getting some sort of a habit going.

I’m going to publicly blog about my attempt, giving at least one update a week.

If you want to join me in my journey, please watch this space. I will discuss the techniques I used to finish a book in 20 days, how to edit etc. Obviously, those techniques will have to be updated to cope with a baby screaming in my ear.

If you  have kids (any age) and want to join me, you are welcome.

Topic of the week: Goals vs Systems

I’ll also try to write about a topic each week. This week, I have a saying by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. It gives you the mindset you need to succeed:

Losers have goals, winners have systems.

The reason I was on a roll was because I had a system. Losers set goals like “I will lose 10kg weight in a month” or “I will write a book this year”.

Winners don’t set goals, they create systems. So a system might be: “I will go to the gym every morning before work” or “I will write for an hour before sleeping.”

Every year in January, my gym gets super full, full of all the New Year revolutionists, trying to lose weight. I wait for February, so all of them can vanish (which they usually do: So much for goals). And that why I get really pissed when some asks me what my new year resolution is. The answer is simple: Only losers think about setting goals, winners try to create systems that will help them accomplish the goal.

The great thing about a system is, you don’t have to feel guilty about missing a day or two. Once the system is in place, it takes of itself.

So if you want to accomplish something, don’t waste time by creating a goal that you will miss anyway. Setup a system, and stick to the system.

That’s what I am trying to do: Try to setup a system that will help me write a novel while still taking care of the baby. Will I succeed? You’ll find out, won’t you?

Right, see you next week.

This post is a part of my Writing With Baby Challenge, where I try to finish a novel while taking care of a little baby.I will give an update every weekend. If you want to follow along, either follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to my mailing list.

New book: All Aboard, the Zombie Express

FBSAll_Aboard_the_Zombie_Express

The New Orient Express: The world’s first nuclear powered train, moving non-stop from Moscow to Alaska, it carries one thousand passengers.

Today, it carries a thousand and one.

A medical experiment gone wrong, a creature so foul it shouldn’t even exist.

And then the train breaks down in the middle of Siberia.

And someone sets the creature free…

New book: Watcher’s Day Out

 

FBSWatchers_Day_Out small

Who wants to be a Millionaire: Terrorism Style

Terrorists have a new tactic. They kidnap your loved ones and give you twenty four hours to carry out a terror attack. If you succeed, you get a million pounds and your loved one back.

If you fail, your loved one is killed.

Soon, the whole of London is burning with terror.

But then the terrorists make a mistake. They pick a fight with the wrong man: Gus Wheeler is crazier and more dangerous than any terrorist you know, and he just loves a dirty fight.

Dreams of a Nobody released

The 3rd book in the Cookie science fiction series is now out.

FBSDreams_of_a_Nobody_small

Synopsis

Welcome to the planet of Prometheus.

A planet whose sun is made of ice.

A planet where war destroyed ninety percent of the population just a few years ago.

A planet where dreaming is punishable by death. A planet where your dreams can come true, and then kill you.

A ghost train turns up in town, with everyone except for thirteen year old Sakura dead. Everyone suspects Sakura, but Dyom already knows who committed the murders: The man known as the Dream Lord.

And now, he has one week to stop the Dreams, before they destroy the planet and kill everyone living on it…

Get a free copy of my book on Goodreads Giveaway

I am giving away 5 copies of my book, the Shatterer of Worlds, on Goodreads. It’s only available to readers in the US and UK.

If you don’t live in these countries, or you just don’t want to wait, contact me directly, and I can send you a review copy as well.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Shatterer of Worlds by Shantnu Tiwari

The Shatterer of Worlds

by Shantnu Tiwari

Giveaway ends May 30, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

Why self publishing is for little girls

Hey you! Yes you. come here. I wanna talk to you.

Do you self publish? Do you think that going via the evil puppy hating Amazon is as good as going via the puppy loving traditional publishers? If so, you are nothing but a sissy little girl. Shame on you.

Real Men (or Women) (TM) traditionally publish. Got that, you sissy?

Publishing is about danger

Our society has become weak and soft. We are surrounded by hipsters, wearing their hippy clothes, drinking their overpriced coffee, and writing their novels on their iMacs (instead of typewriters). In such times, we need to feel danger to feel alive. And publishing via a traditional publisher gives you that thrill.

Self publishing is so easy, it’s insulting. Pushing a button to publish! Seriously??

push

Now compare that with traditional publishing. It’s like playing Russian roulette. But with the gun Arnonold Schwa-whats-his-name-nager from the Terminator:

arnie

 

Imagine playing Russian Roulette with the gun above. Except that half the bullets are loaded. And you are drunk, and you just got stung with a lot of poison ivy. And you know that as soon as you press the trigger, you will most likely face a hail of ten thousand bullets. That’s the fun traditional publishing is. And if you survive, you might even win $5000! (the most common advance)

See what you are missing, you cowardly self publishers? What do you do? Sit at home in your underewear and push the publish button when you are free? How does that even compare?

Hunting for clues like Indiana Jones

about-indiana-jones-42

Not only do you face constant danger, like Indiana Jones, you have to be constantly searching for clues. Which genre is hot now? Which books are selling? This can change any minute, so you have to constantly be racing around, in case you miss the stampede to the Latest Cool Thing (TM). This hunt is even more exciting that stock trading. Especially since, unlike stock trading, you can make a few thousand dollars, which makes it more fun. Fun! I tell you.

Between a rock and a hard place

Another way traditional publishing is incredibly exciting is the fact that your agent and your editor and the publishing company will constantly try to squeeze you, and crush your soul. Surviving this requires great courage. It’s a real character building exercise!

tankhang

Pictured: The most common experience of legacy publishing

Do you see now why I say self publishing is for little girls? Where is the thrill, the adventure? Where is the character building? Where is the years of struggle to win a few pennies in traditional publishing, and a pat on the head? No wonder the terrorists are winning.

The question is: Are you a sissy girl, or a Real Man (Woman) (TM)?

Google Adwords for Authors- An experiment

Summary: In this article, I try to look if using Google AdWords is a good strategy to drive customers to your website, and hence mailing list. I will explain what AdWords is, how it works, and whether it is useful for writers.

Like many people, I have an email list for people to hear about my new books (I  no longer call it a newsletter, as it’s such a boring term, and no, I have no intention of sending people crap very week just so they can read my “newsletter”).

But no one had signed on to my list. Which wasn’t surprising- I get 4 visitors a day, out of which 2 is my mother in law (Hi mom!). The other visitors are from random Google searches. Back in the day, when I was still drinking the Kool -Aid from all these social media “experts” (you know, the ones who haven’t published a single fiction book, or don’t make a living from fiction, yet think they are qualified to give us advice?), I thought that blogging would be a good way to bring people to my blog. And it was. I get 4-5 people from Google everyday, to my blogs like this one (keyword search: Do bankers deserve high pay). Now the article I linked to, Why CEO’s deserve their high salaries, is funny, but that’s all it is. The people come, they laugh, and they leave. So even though I’m getting visitors from Google, it’s a waste of time, as they are not looking for books to read. I’m not L’Oreal, I can’t spend millions on raising my profile. I am totally not worth it.

Google Adwords

I decided to give Google Adwords a try. For those who are not aware, Google makes most of its money from ads. Anytime you search for anything, Google displays an ad at the top and bottom, as well as the sides:

GoogleAd

The important thing is, most non-technical people, a good 60-70%, donGoogleAd‘t know that the results on the top are also ads, which is fine by Google. That top line is hence very important, as if you can reach there, many people will click on your link thinking they are clicking on a Google search.

Even if you can’t reach the top, Google ads are still useful; as long as you get your keywords and description right, people might click on your ad if they find it useful.

Google Adwords: The basics

GoogleAdSo I decided to get some people in via Google Adwords.

Google adwords is a real beast. It is not easy to get started with, and if you don’t know what you are doing, you can lose some money. If you want me to write a blog on how to use Google adwords, let me know.

Google makes most of its money from Adwords.GoogleAd GoogleAd If you ever tried to contact Google (because they were harassing you, since you made the mistake of using Google+, and broke one of their ten million terms and conditions) and got sick of their terrible customer service, let me tell you a secret: The reason Google don’t give a crap about you is because you are not their customer.

To see Google customer service in action, create an ad, and then don’t activate it. The customer service reps will falling all over themselves to give you good service. Your emails will be answered in no time, your problems will be fixed pronto.

So people like me (who buy ads) are the customers, while you are the poor sods Google has to tolerate. You know, like your crazy aunt Martha, who doesn’t bathe, and lives with a hundred cats? And every time you meet her, you are trying to be polite, all the while you want to throw up and leave the room? That’s how Google sees you. Now you know.

 How Adwords work: The theory behind Adwords is simple. People search for things. You can pay to have your ads displayed when they search for certain terms, like “free books”.

Google doesn’t charge a fixed price for these ads- rather, it uses a bidding system. You bid how much you want to pay for a certain term. The more you pay, the higher your ad will be. But that isn’t strictly true. Google prefers to place respectable companies at the top. So if two companies both bid X$, the one that is older and has more links will be placed higher.

How much do these bids cost? It depends on how competitive your keyword is. You can spend anything from $0.10 to $100 per click (or even more). That’s per click. So every time someone clicks on your ad, you owe Google money. Not everyone who clicks will buy. Some people will click by mistake, and immediately press the back button, but you still get charged.

Google allow you to place a maximum budget per day. This is very important, as the costs can very quickly escalate. You might have put a bid for just $1 per click, but Google might get thousands of hits a days for your keyword, and you might be facing a bill for $1000 in a single day, with no sale to show for it.

When setting ads, you can also check where you want the ads displayed. For example, US, UK, etc. Even within countries, you can set it so your ad displays only in certain cities, like London and Edinburgh.

Who is AdWords best suited for?

AdWords aren’t for everyone. To get the most of it:

  1. Your target market must be online, and use Google for their problems (only Google counts here, as it has the biggest market share).
  2. Your keyword must have thousands, if not hundreds of hits a month.
  3. Ideally, you should have a product that can sell itself, so you can track how many people clicked on the ad, vs how many bought. Software is a good example of this, as are books (especially eBooks).

The second point is important. My wife runs cooking courses. When I first set her ad up, I forgot to set the country. I soon got hundreds of clicks, from places like Singapore and Tokyo. Luckily, I had placed a very low bid, but I still lost money. I set the search area only around nearby cities. The problem now is, only 10 or so people search for the keyword we advertise for. So even though I got her website on the premium top location, it doesn’t help much, since so few people are searching for it:

cookingGoogle

Note, this might still be justifiable, if you charge enough to cover your costs. So even with low clicks, it may still make sense for me to continue the ads. It won’t work for something like ebooks, where you may only be making a few dollars.

Enter: Google Adwords for Writers

All that was theory, but how does it work in practice?

I wanted to find people who were looking for books online. So I searched for keywords like “free books” “Free kindle books”, “download books”.

These keywords get thousands of searches. The keyword “free books” alone gets 5000+ searches a month. You can setup AdWords, so Google will either only look for the exact term, or a variation of it, like “free books online”. I chose 10-12 keywords which were getting the most hits.

The next thing is to create an ad. This is a bit of a trial process. The best way is to create at least two ads with different words. You then see which ad was more successful, and use that. Then you create another two ads, based on the winning ad, with slight modifications. This is called A/B testing. The theory is that you run this for a fairly long time (a few months, and thousands of conversions- people clicking on your ads, not just viewing them). I only went through a few iterations, as the process can be very expensive, but I did increase my click through rate very slightly. Here are the ads I used:

GAds

There is a third greyed out ad up there- that was the one I was using originally, and getting almost zero clicks. Be warned: Google wants to make money, and if no one is clicking on your ads, it stops showing it.

How much to bid: Google wants you to bid as much as possible, as that’s how they make money. But like I mentioned before, this can very quickly bankrupt you. I set a of bid of £0.10 (Around $0.15). Google moaned that this was too low, my ad wouldn’t show on the first page, etc etc. But the keywords I was using was getting thousands of hits, I didn’t care. I set a daily budget of £1 ($1.5 at the time), and let the ads run for a few weeks. The 1st week I didn’t get any clicks, as my ads were bad, but I slow improved them, till in the second week, I had around 6 clicks. Of these, 4 people signed up to my list. This was from almost a 960 impressions. The most popular term was, of course, “free books”.

ga3

Click to see a larger image. I got 6 clicks, which meant almost £0.60. Not bad, but not great either. I decided to really push it. I increased my click cost ten times to £1 ($1.50). This would blow my budget in one click, but hopefully, my ad would now be placed higher, instead of the 2nd or third page.

And it worked. Within one week, I went from 3-4 clicks a week to 10-20 clicks a week.

But here’s the kicker. The people subscribing to my newsletter went down. I only got 2 subscribers from those 20 clicks, while previously I had gotten 4 from 6. The only reason I can think of is: When I was on the 2-3rd page, only the very serious people were there, and they really wanted a book.

On the front page, people were more likely to click on impulse, and immediately click back. I had installed analytics (quick tip: Never use Google Analytics. It’s as fun as shoving a cactus up you-know-where), and they told me people were staying for a very short time. I improved my page and wording a little, but it had no effect. This is the final count:

 

GAds_final

13000 people saw my ad, of which 50-60 clicked on it, and only 6 actually subscribed. For a total cost of £5 (around $8). Roughly £1 a subscriber. Is it worth it? I don’t know. But most of the £5 was in the last week, which meant that if I had continued this experiment, I could have been spending £10 or more a week (as I was improving my ads, and more people were clicking on them). For free books, from which I wasn’t making any money. So I decided it wasn’t worth it, and cancelled the project.

What I could have done better

I could have spent more time optimising my ads and landing page. However, I didn’t want to spend too much money on it. The proper way to run GA is to let it run for weeks, getting thousands of impressions, and hundreds of clicks, making small changes to test what people prefer more. However, I’m not Facebook, I don’t have black hole of VC money to draw upon.

Final thoughts

In retrospect, the experiment was doomed to fail. But in retrospect, we are all geniuses. The problem with the experiment was, the people searching for “free books” were doing just that. They didn’t care about me or my books, they would have been happy with books about zombies, Fifty shades of Gray, or my Lord of the Rings parody. Hell, they would have been happy with a Fifty Shades of Gray type erotic story where zombies do it with computer programmers (and if that interests you, do contact me. I’m totally your man).

I think that was the biggest problem. Serious readers don’t type “Free books” on Google, and click on the first link. Maybe if I had been a household name, or at least a best seller, this might have worked. But if I had been a household name, I wouldn’t be using Google in the first place. I’d be too busy sitting on piles of gold and laughing evilly, like that dragon from the Hobbit.