What next after completing my 100X100 challenge?

A major reason for challenging myself into writing 100 words a day for 100 days was to get myself into a daily habit of writing.

I was extremely tired after editing the final draft of Fallen Warriors and for over two months had been spending all my time proof reading and formatting. I had fallen out of the habit of daily creative writing. This challenge seemed like a great way to force myself back into that habit and to that extent, it has worked.

However, I’ve noticed that writing this blog has taken up time that I could have been working on the sequel and I can’t have that continuing. So, I’m now considering switching to a weekly blog post that will be linked to my mailing list, with maybe the occasional mid week post if there’s something urgent to share.

I’ll still be writing, it just won’t be visible immediately.

Kick-Starting Your Blog

Do you struggle to regularly post to your blog? Would you like to blog more consistently?

If so, setting yourself a challenge to write and publish 100 words a day for 100 days may be helpful.

Today is my last day working towards this challenge. When I hit 100 words on the counter (and press the Publish button) I’ll officially have completed my challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days.

It’s not easy. 100 words a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re trying to come up with a brand new post every single day, one that will be interesting to your readers, it requires a lot of discipline (you really need to follow the B.I.S method… 😉 )

[Editor’s note: you’ve reached 112 words!]

On the other hand, it has been easy. 100 words is a tiny amount. Unless you’re writing poetry or ultra flash fiction where you have to carefully consider every single word. I knew I could write 100 words a day as I’ve done it before while writing the first draft of Fallen Warriors.

Perhaps it seems too easy. Not worth your while? Consider the traditional newspaper columnist who has a limited space. They will have been given a topic to write on, each and every day. Maybe some of those columns are longer than 100 words: 200, 300, but regardless, they will be unable to go over as there is only so much space on a page.

Now, I’ve not limited myself to only writing 100 words. My longest post–10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book–came in at 2,172 words. My goal was to discipline myself to regularly publish, not to keep within a word count.

You could take this challenge further and try publishing exactly 100 words for 100 days, but I would recommend being clear about why you would want to achieve that.

You must have a theme

I probably have had too many themes over the last 100 days. I wanted to break down the 100 posts into ten categories in the hope I would find it easier to find topics to keep posting on. Having pre-thought themes has helped. Those have been churning away at the back of my mind throughout the last three months.

Yet I think I would have done better sticking to one theme and building on that throughout the challenge. I’ve seen wild fluctuations in views for each post as I’m targetting a different readership with each one.

Know your target audience

The most popular posts on this challenge have been writing related where I’ve offered useful information to fellow writers:

1. Making sense of chaos with Scrivener 501 page views
2. Amazon Academy The Detail 136 page views
3. 10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book 78 page views

Ultimately though, I want to find readers who will want to buy my novels and when I get round to completing them, my other books.

But, if that is my aim, then probably a daily blog is not the way to go. I’m seeing limited success with my limited marketing efforts and increasing marketing is more likely to result in increased sales than continuing a regular blog that few readers are finding. It wouldn’t make sense to focus on advertising this blog so I can find readers for it, when what I want to do is sell novels.

Spend time planning in advance

One hundred days is a long time to commit to a new project. As I’ve posted before, I haven’t always managed to write 100 words towards this blog each day. What I have managed to do is publish at least 100 words each day. I’ve done that by trying to plan out in advance what I wanted to write and by building up a buffer of scheduled posts.

Set a specific time to write

I’ve found over the hundred days that when I know in advance when I will be writing and stick to that, keeping my commitment is a lot easier.

Schedule in rest days and holidays

I originally planned to write two posts each Saturday so I wouldn’t have to blog on a Sunday. I wasn’t able to keep to that every week and sometimes ended up writing on a Sunday.

But, I believe that we need time off each week to recover, to be renewed, to allow our creative reserves to be refilled. I would encourage you to plan in time off each week for those reasons.

Also, be aware of the time of year you are planning to take on your 100 day challenge. I took mine over the summer and had a full week away at one point and a long weekend afterwards. It really helps during those times if you can switch off completely, but in order to do that, you will need to have a sufficiently full buffer of posts ready to publish.

Choose your pictures

It’s generally accepted that people are more likely to write a blog or online article that is presented with a relevant image.

I’ve not managed to be as consistent with that as I’d have liked, but I’ve started to become more comfortable using sites like Pixabay that offer a selection of free searchable images. Just type in the theme of your blog post or relevant keywords and you’ll get a range of images that might be suitable to use. Like the one at the top of this page. I searched on keyword: kick and ended up selecting this photo by nuzree. I edited the photo to add some text and then set it as a Featured Image which means it is automatically displayed when sharing your post to certain social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Final word

If you want to kick-start your blog, then taking up the 100 words a day for 100 days challenge may be helpful. Why not give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Seven grams

As I gradually start to get orders from bookshops for Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab, I’m learning how important packaging and delivery choices are.

I went to post my latest order from The Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall yesterday. Two copies each of Fallen Warriors and Land Grab. I’d placed the four books in a box, put the invoice in along with some flyers for Land Grab and wrapped the whole thing in brown paper. I weighed the parcel before I left home: 1.992 Kilos.

I got to the post office only to find the parcel actually weighed 2.007 Kilos…!

That’s a big deal. Currently in the UK we can post under 2 Kilos for £2.90.

Because of the size of the parcel and those extra seven grams, it was going to cost me £13.75! That would have wiped out all my profit and put me at a loss for the sale.

I asked for the parcel back.

I actually went to a second post office in the mad hope that maybe there was some difference in the scales that would have got me under the limit. Nope. Exactly the same weight. At least UK post offices are consistent in their scales!

Flyers. I’d put flyers in the parcel… I asked if I could borrow a pair of scissors, cut open the parcel, removed half the flyers and then asked for it to be reweighed. 1.940 Kilos.

I had been thinking I needed to buy more tape, so happily bought some, retaped the parcel and was able to post it at the expected rate.

Seven grams… It doesn’t seem all that much, does it. Crossing some boundary lines can be very expensive…

My Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) Analysis

How does a writer find people who want to buy their books?

It’s the question keeping many writers up at night, myself included. I had dreams of being the next big author when I published my first novel (The Great Scottish Land Grab) which slowly, but surely faded as I realised the enormity of the task before me. Publishing Fallen Warriors this year, I’ve set out to learn from my mistakes and experiment more.

One potentially useful tool to help writers sell books is Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). In America they are currently offering $100 free advertising to new sign ups until 30th September. There are terms and conditions which aren’t 100% clear whether the offer is open to Kindle authors (On the front page of their website it states “Amazon Marketing Services is currently available to Amazon vendors and KDP authors” but the terms and conditions at the bottom of the page only refer to vendors.) If you sell ebooks through KDP in America then I recommend signing up and asking if the offer applies to you – what could you lose?

So far I’ve only tried using AMS in America. It may be possible to use in the UK, but that’s another blog post…

I have a tiny marketing budget, but have been experimenting over the last few months to see whether I can use AMS to get the word out about my novels.

I believe Fallen Warriors has a better chance in America than Land Grab. There are more Christians in America than Scots so I’ve primarily focused on Fallen Warriors as I’m marketing it as a Christian thriller.

Here’s the high level view of what I’ve done, all nicely laid out on AMS’s dashboard:

If you’ve never heard of AMS, basically it allows advertisers to advertise their product (an ebook in my case.) I can select keywords that I think people will use to search for books (author names, book titles, themes etc) and I set a bid price I am willing to pay up to to get my ad shown when someone uses those keywords. I only pay that bid price if someone clicks on my ad. All advertisers are competing to see if they pay enough to display an ad, but Amazon only charge 2 cents above the next lowest bid so in theory you shouldn’t pay more than you need to.

I started in May with a toe in the water $5 a day campaign. It ran for five days, appears to have been shown 66,862 times, clicked on 43 times with an average cost per click of $0.13. It cost a total of $5.55, but appears to have resulted in $9.98 in sales.

Amazon actually take 30% margin as their profit from my sales so I netted $6.98 giving a profit of… $1.43.

Well, that is $1.43 I probably would not have made if I hadn’t experimented.

Excited by the possibility I could maybe make some more sales and find more readers I tried again.

I wondered if my timing was wrong and so this time ran the ad over two weekends thinking maybe people are more likely to buy then.

Eleven days later I only had the ad shown 46,087 times. Quite a drop. I only had 20 clicks at an average cost of $0.17 costing a total of $3.34. I had no sales…

That was discouraging, but only a little. I’ve been following the SPF Podcast and that has been useful for understanding the fluctuations that can occur.

I then wondered if it made more sense to send people to my free ebook: Fallen Warriors Episode One. If I could get them to download that and hopefully read it, would it result in more sales? Here’s what happened:

I had been averaging around 6 downloads of the free episode a week. After that short campaign I saw an extra 30 downloads. That was interesting.

The AMS stats are also useful:
Impressions (when the ad is shown): 120,406
Clicks: 88
Average cost per click: $0.12
Total cost: $10.60

I can’t tell if I had any follow on sales of the later episodes or the full novel, but the hope is that once people start reading, they’ll get hooked and I’ll see sales over time.

I then decided to try a more radical experiment. I signed up for a $20 a day maximum spend, campaigning with the free first episode again. I upped the bid price on many keywords and let the campaign run for a full two weeks. The results?

Impressions: 303,834
Clicks: 295
Average cost per click: $0.29
Total cost: $84.38

Over those two weeks I had an extra 118 downloads.

I would need to see 72% of those downloads convert into purchases before an ad campaign like that was worth trying again. (Though I confess it didn’t cost me anything…)

My total American sales over this period looks like this:

The spikes are less grand than they appear, those are mostly for individual episodes which earn me a much smaller royalty at 30%.

However, it suggests that people are slowly going on to read the free episode and buying either the full novel or the individual episodes.

I’m planning to start a new campaign soon and will be experimenting more. I need to be careful that I take into account what I’m actually selling and whether the advertising I’m doing is providing a return.

What are your thoughts and experiences with getting the word out to readers?

Making sense of chaos with Scrivener

I switched over to using Scrivener as a tool for writing and editing books a couple of years ago. It’s taken me a while to get familiar with the interface, but I stuck with it as it seems to be a much more suitable environment for editing complex stories than my previous favourite: Microsoft Word.

I took one of the Scrivener for beginners courses a while back and noted it should be capable of enabling you to keep track of which scenes contain characters and locations, but at the time, couldn’t get my head round how to actually do that.

I should have made more of an effort to learn how! Fallen Warriors has an element of complexity to rival a standard Tom Clancy. A dozen characters in multiple locations with events happening simultaneously. It was a struggle to keep track of what was going on.

I resorted to sticky notes, spreadsheets and elbox grease to get the novel completed, but was determined that I would suss out how to use some of the more advanced Scrivener features.

Tagging characters and locations in a scrivener scene

I’m indebted to Rog (@pigfender) for his post: Tracking characters with Scrivener keywords

It’s actually really easy to do and I’ve started tagging characters and locations in the scenes I’ve written for the Fallen Warriors sequel.

I won’t rehash the pigfender post here as Rog does a really good job of explaining it, but here’s some insight into how I’m actually following his instructions:

I needed to do two things to make this work, first add a tag for each character who appears in a scene and one for the location(s) in the scene to the Document notes section of the Inspector window:

And also create Project Keywords (from the Project menu) to match those tags exactly:

Now, if you’ve read Fallen Warriors then you might notice a couple of reveals in the pictures above… Shhhh (I’ve blanked out the working title as I’m still not fully sure if I will use it.)

The really cool bit is once you’ve got that all in place, to find all the scenes with a character or multiple characters in them, you can search and you get those scenes back… In order!

This is really helpful for me for so many reasons. One of my characters full name and title is: Detective Inspector Daniel Martin. But he is referred to as Danny, as DI Martin, as Daniel etc. By setting up the tags, I can search using one term and always find him.

Take a look at this clipping from my Scrivener Fallen Warriors manuscript

Now, I don’t want to give too much away from either book in case you’ve not read the first and certainly don’t want to give any plot away from the second, but I set up some keywords in my first manuscript and then did a search for “Emma_Present” – this is what was returned:

I reveal these events in the book description, so hopefully no spoilers there!

If you haven’t struggled to find characters in a long manuscript this maybe won’t be as exciting as I find it, but just getting those three results back is amazing for me. I spent hours each week for weeks just having to find where I’d written about a character. This is a game changer for me!

How do you make sense of the complexity in your books?

The B.I.S. Method

Following the patented B.I.S. method (Trademark pending) I hit my 3,000 word goal on Friday. It took most of the day to do it, but if that’s what it takes then that’s what I need to keep on doing.

B.I.S. or Bum In Seat for the uniniated, is a tried and trusted method for getting the job done. Some fields use similar methods such as T.U.F.W. (Turning Up For Work), K.O.D. (Knocking On Doors), or even the slightly outdated, but still respectable M.A.E. (Making An Effort).

Sometimes methods can be so simple that their power can be overlooked.

Just Do It…

The messy middle

I’ve struggled this last week to make any real progress on the sequel to Fallen Warriors. At last count I was at 23,892 words.

I have a beginning and the start of an ending, but have found myself bogged down in what writers technically know as “The Messy Middle”.

I had the same problem with the first novel. Too many characters and an uncertainty of how best to bring them together. I had a look at how many characters I’m planning to work with during the sequel. Eighteen! Eighteen characters for whom I want some sort of character journey, some interaction with other characters.

You know that mathematical issue where you increase the number of participants and get an exponential growth in terms of interactions? I think that is part of the problem. There is a reason why writers who are starting out are advised to stick to simple plots.

Anyway, there is a simple solution to the interaction growth issue and the messy middle problem. Technically this is known as “Bum In Seat”.

In theory all I, or any writer facing a similar problem, needs to do is place bum in seat and keep writing. Gradually the problem is resolved, one scene at a time.

It’s a solution that can be adapted to many issues and problems. One’s bum does not have to be in a seat – it can be standing at a workshop bench, or running another mile. Sonetimes the only way to resolve a problem is to keep working towards resolving it, no matter how messy the middle may be.

Back to work?

I’ve been in the fortunate position this summer of being able to stop looking for work, to spend more time with my family and also work on my next novel.

I knew I only had a limited time, but am now wondering if that time needs to come to and end sooner than expected.

I had two phone calls yesterday, both asking if I was interested in contracts. One was only a short job – a couple of days working for an organisation to modify an application I developed. The other role could go up until March next year. There’s no guarantee I would get that role if I went for it, but I’m also very aware that there is no guarantee another role will become available.

If I start work in the next week or so, it will take me longer to finish the sequel to Fallen Warriors. That might not be a bad thing. I have been wondering if I need more time for research.

I’ll need to make a decision today whether to apply for the second role or not…

Going backwards

Well, yesterday was a bit of a disaster writing wise. I’d been going so well, 3,000 words a day on the Fallen Warriors sequel for a whole week and then – bamm! 789 words. Not only that, but I’ve decided I need to delete 300 words from another section.

On the plus side, I think that loss of 300 words allows me to do something that will be much better in terms of plot, making the story more interesting. I’m going to try and write some more today (Saturday) so I may yet get closer to my target. I’d hoped to be at 25,000 words by yesterday and I’m still 2,000 short.

So what actually happened? Why did I fail to hit my word count goal?

I did what I promised myself I would not do, I spent time on admin in the morning and got caught up in that, putting off writing until I knew I was going to struggle to hit my goal. Then when I started writing, I felt under such pressure that it took me longer than it should have to write anything.

Yet, I’ve been putting off the admin all week and I really needed to do some advertising. I called some more book shops and while I didn’t get any sales yet from those calls, I also had a followup from a previous contact which is looking promising.

I’m not going to spend all day writing to try and catch up. It’s the weekend and I’m in one of the most beautiful villages in the world on Regatta day. I’ve got kids to look after, ice-creams to buy and water to avoid falling into…

3,000 words

I woke up this morning, as usual thinking that I needed to tweet the scheduled blog post and share it on Facebook, only to remember I didn’t write a post yesterday…

That’s the third day I’ve missed so far. I had intended to write a post yesterday afternoon, but I’ve been working to a new target of completing 3,000 words on my Fallen Warriors sequel each day and yesterday it took me to after 5pm. I started at 9am…

That’s a full on normal working day to produce 3,000 words.

I started this new regime–for want of a better word– on Friday last week. Friday, Saturday, Monday and now Tuesday I’ve managed to hit 3,000 words each day. The only problem is that I seem to be taking longer each day to actually do it!

Admitedly, I’ve had a few distractions. My mind was elsewhere for chunks of time, and sometimes my body as well. Kind of hard to write when you’re not sat in front of your computer. (well, for me anyway.)

So, I don’t feel too bad about missing my 100 word target yesterday. Continuing Fallen Warriors is a more important goal. And to be honest, while I have now missed three days on my 100 words in 100 days challenge, I’ve never failed to write and publish at least a 100 word blog post each day. Today, I’ll need to write two posts, this one and tomorrow’s. Just need to think what I’m going to write for that…