The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine
“Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing”
What’s in This Issue
3) Craft: How to Make People Hate You
7) Steal This E-zine!
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
Those of you who have joined in the past month (287 of you signed up in November), welcome to my e-zine!
If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at:www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/
2) Organization: Why Scrivener Rocks
If you’re a writer, one of your most important tools is your word processing software.
For quite a few years, the de facto standard in the publishing industry has been Microsoft Word. If you’re traditionally published, anything you submit to an agent or publisher needs to be in Word format. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
In the indie world, you’re not quite so locked in, but you may still need to generate Word documents if you work with a freelance editor, or if you decide to typeset the print edition of your book using a Word template.
But that doesn’t mean you have to use Word to actually write your novel. You can work with any tool you want, as long as you can export and import Word documents.
Some writers still use WordPerfect (on Windows) and some use Pages (on a Mac). Both of these can easily read and write Microsoft Word documents.
In the last couple of years, a lot of novelists have switched to Scrivener. It’s easy to read a Word document into Scrivener. It’s a bit more work to learn how to write your Scrivener document into Word format, but once you get the hang of it, you can do it quickly and easily.
More than two years ago I switched to Scrivener. The compelling reason at the time was that Scrivener can produce e-books in either the .mobi or .ePub file formats. But there are a number of other good reasons to love Scrivener.
Here’s what I consider the most important reason: In fiction writing, the fundamental unit is the scene. Scrivener makes it incredibly easy to work with scenes as your basic unit. Whereas Word makes it impossible. In Word, the fundamental unit is the letter (or more correctly, the glyph, which can be a letter, a digit, a punctuation mark, or any of the special symbols).
An example will make the difference clear. Suppose you want to delete a scene from your novel. What steps do you have to take?
In Word, you follow these steps:
- Open your novel document and wait for it to fully load into memory. This may take some time, if your novel is long.
- Scroll down to the beginning of the scene, which may involve scrolling through hundreds of pages.
- Begin selecting the scene, beginning with the first letter of the scene.
- Scroll down to the end of the scene.
- Finish selecting the scene, ending with the last letter of the scene.
- Press the “delete” button.
It’s somewhat more complicated to do it than to explain it, because you have to select thousands of individual glyphs from one large document composed of about a million glyphs.
In Scrivener, you follow these steps:
1) Open your novel document. It loads much, much, much faster than a Word document.
2) Scroll down the “Binder”, which is a list of all the scenes in your novel, until you see the icon representing that scene. This involves scrolling through a few dozen lines.
3) Click on that icon.
4) Click on the Trash icon.
It’s easier in Scrivener, because you only have to select one icon from the Binder, which is composed of about a hundred scenes.
Suppose you want to move a scene. In Word, the process is similar to the steps I sketched out above. But instead of deleting your selection, you have to cut it. Then you scroll through your document (this may be many pages) to the new position of the scene and you paste it back in.
In Scrivener, you just drag the scene’s icon from one location in the Binder to another.
It’s much easier in Scrivener.
Scrivener is designed to make it easy to work with blocks of text. Each block is managed as a small text file. All the text files are visible as icons in the Binder, and you can easily drag them around to rearrange them. Each text file has a name. You can group them in folders. And the folders can be grouped in folders. You can see all the items in a folder, or you can collapse a folder down so that its contents are hidden from your view.
This makes it brain-dead easy to organize your novel. A novel typically is organized as follows:
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
The Front Matter may include a Title Page, a Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, a Preface, an Author’s Note, a Dedication, a Copyright Page, etc. (In e-books, most of these are moved to the Back Matter).
The Story may be organized as a long sequence of Chapters, each of which contains multiple Scenes. But some authors like to group the Chapters into several Parts. And sometimes, the first Chapter may be a Prologue and the last may be an Epilogue.
It’s ridiculously easy to make your Scrivener document have the exact organization you want. Here is a screen capture of the Scrivener document for Transgression, the first novel in my City of God series.
- Manuscript—containing the full novel and some of the front matter and all of the back matter.
- Front Matter—containing the rest of the front matter
- Metadata—containing all the marketing copy and other metadata that I use when I post the book online.
- Images—containing any images I use in the book.
- Trash—temporary storage for things you delete. You can recover them if you need to later.
Notice that the Manuscript has some structure. It contains:
- Author’s Note
- Several folders containing Parts 1 through 5 of the novel
- Several back matter documents
The central part of the window is the editing window. Any text file that you select in the Binder is displayed here, and you can edit it. If the text file is short, then you can see the whole thing. If it’s long, you may have to scroll down a few pages. But you don’t have to scroll down hundreds of pages. The Binder lets you do the large-scale navigation.
What if you want to see the whole document? Maybe you want to read your entire book, and you want it all visible in one giant scrolling window.
That’s easy. Select the Manuscript in the Binder and then set the Group Mode icon so that all the contents of every folder and every text file are displayed all together as one giant document in one very long scrolling window. This is the ONLY way you can view your manuscript in Word. In Scrivener, you have the option of viewing the whole manuscript or any parts of it. The parts that you view don’t even have to be next to each other. You can select just the parts you want to view and Scrivener will display them one after another in the editing window.
Scrivener has the reputation of having a steep learning curve. It can take a long time to learn all of its features, but hardly anybody uses all of its features (just as hardly anybody uses all the features of Word). If you need a tutorial, you can find a fair number of them online.
If you’ve already started writing a document in Word, it’s easy to import it into Scrivener. This operation can take a few minutes and at the end, you have your Word document in a single (very long) text file in Scrivener. At that point, I recommend breaking this up into shorter files, one for each scene. Scrivener has a simple command to split a file, so it’s just a matter of working through the document and splitting it at the right places. At the end, you’ll have all your scenes showing in the Binder, and then you can organize them into folders representing Chapters and Parts.
If you’re starting a new document fresh in Scrivener, then you can start with a template for the type of document you want. There are a couple of templates for novels, and you can customize these if you want.
Scrivener lets you do all the usual formatting things you need to do: indent paragraphs, set line-spacing, use italics and bold and underline, make lists. You can highlight any sequence of text and attach a comment to it, just like you do in Word.
There are some very nice features that Scrivener lets you do that you just can’t do in Word. Any text file in your Binder can be moved around easily, as I’ve mentioned above. But you can do much more than that. You can:
- Make a “snapshot” of a text file and then write a new version. You can keep any number of snapshots, all in the same Scrivener file, and you can revert back to any of them. So if there’s one particular scene that you want to experiment with, you can. If the experiment goes wrong, you can get back to the original with a mouse click.
- Attach “metadata” to the text file. This might be a time-stamp or the name of the point-of-view character or a color code. It might be some notes about the text file. It might be the revision status of the file (First Draft, Revised, Final, etc.)
- View all the comments for just that text file.
- Write a Synopsis for the text file. If you use the “cork board” view in Scrivener, you can display your entire document as if each text file were a 3×5 card on a cork board, with the title of the text file at the top of the card, and this synopsis in the body.
When writing your novel in Scrivener, you don’t need to be too fussy about formatting things. The reason is because most of the formatting can be set when you export your novel to Word format (or .mobi format or .ePub format or whatever). The process for doing that is called “compiling.”
To compile your document, click on the Compile button and then fill in all the many options. Your choices are vast. The Scrivener manual on compiling is about 100 pages, in case you need it. It can take some work to figure out the right set of compile options. You don’t need to remember all these options. You can figure them out once, and then save them all and reuse them later.
Scrivener comes with a set of standard compile options for the most common purposes—an e-book, a paperback, a nonfiction manuscript, etc. Most Scrivener users start with one of these, tweak the settings to do exactly what they need, and then save those settings to be used over and over again forever afterward.
When people talk about a learning curve, this is where most of the learning needs to happen. There are a huge number of compile options. Some of them may be “obvious” to you, and some of them may not. One important set of compile options are the formatting options for files and folders at each level.
Let me explain what a “level” is. Scrivener lets you create a manuscript that contains text files and folders. These are called Level 1. But each of those folders can also contain text files and folders, and each of these would be at Level 2. Text files can contain other text files. So you can have a hierarchy of text files and folders that goes down as many levels as you need.
Scrivener lets you set the formatting for files and for folders at each level. This is extremely cool. You might choose to have all your Parts be folders at Level 1. They would contain all your Chapters as folders at Level 2. The Chapters would contain all your Scenes as text files at Level 3. Then you could set the formatting for every text file at Level 3 to be the custom format you want for a Scene. And you could set the formatting for every folder at Level 2 to be the custom format for a Chapter.
This allows you to customize the formatting for all the parts of your book. The back matter files are generally text files at Level 1, and you can set the custom formatting for these (which might well be different from the formatting for your scenes, which are at Level 3).
You might ask what happens if you want to format some of your back matter files at Level 1 differently. For example, you might want the formatting for the Author Bio page to be different from the Copyright Page. Both of them are text files at Level 1. What do you do?
Scrivener doesn’t let you handle this very easily. You can always set the formatting for any block of text within a text file, using the “Preserve Formatting” option. You format things exactly the way you want in the text file, and this format overrides the Compile format settings. But then you have lost the thing that was cool about the Compile feature in the first place, which is the ability to save a different set of formatting options for different purposes (e-books, paperbacks, etc.)
When I mentioned last month in this column that Scrivener has a design flaw when it comes to producing e-books, this is the flaw. There is not quite enough flexibility in setting up the formatting Compile options. You should be able to assign more than one set of formatting options to files and folders at a given level. You can usually work around this flaw, but it’s a hassle.
Scrivener was originally written for the Mac and was eventually ported to Windows. I’m told that the Mac version is “better,” although I don’t use Windows so this is hard for me to gauge.
What I know is that Scrivener has made it vastly easier for me to manage my writing. I do just about all my writing in Scrivener:
- My novels.
- My blog posts.
- This e-zine.
- My work journal, which also serves as a daily planner.
Where do you get Scrivener? The Scrivener Web site is here:
Final note: I’m not an affiliate for Scrivener, so I get no referral fee from the Scrivener people. I recommend Scrivener because I consider it the best writing tool for novelists.
3) Craft: How to Make People Hate You
If you aren’t getting enough conflict in your life, there’s a simple recipe to make people hate you.
I’ll tell you the secret in a minute, but first, here are some simple examples of the method in action. You may have already seen statements like these on the Web, or heard them said:
- “Global warming is obviously a lie. There’s no possible way humans could affect climate. The whole thing is a conspiracy to destroy the economy.”
- “It’s a scientific fact that God doesn’t exist.”
- “Statistics prove that illegal immigrants are ruining the US and the only possible solution is to ship them all home.”
- “Evolution is mathematically impossible. Therefore, it didn’t happen.”
Did any of those get you riled up? Why? They’re just opinions, aren’t they?
Yes, they’re opinions. But they’re dressed up to look like facts. And that’s the problem.
When An Opinion Is A Lie
Most of don’t get irritated when we hear an opinion we disagree with, as long as it’s clearly marked as an opinion.
But we do get irritated when it’s claimed to be a fact. Because then it’s a lie.
And we get really riled when we consider the opinion to be dangerous, because now a lie is being used to do harm. The more harm we see, the more angry we get.
The issue of global warming is a scientific question that has to be settled by a combination of empirical evidence and theoretical analysis. This requires the hard work of doing science. Saying the words “there’s no possible way” is just a way of avoiding that hard work.
The question of God’s existence falls under the subject of philosophy. It’s an unanswered question, with strong philosophical arguments offered by both sides. While science can contribute some data to the philosophers, science itself is not designed to settle the issue.
The matter of undocumented workers is a question of economics, which is a notoriously difficult subject. Even if you could settle the question of whether they are a net benefit, you would still have the gnarly political problem of what to do about it, if anything. Opinions vary widely, but that’s all they are—opinions.
As for evolution, nobody actually knows that evolution is mathematically impossible. Any “proof” would depend on assumptions, and those assumptions would have to be known with certainty. Evolution is a science question, and in science, you’re looking for the best natural explanation of the available evidence.
So a basic rule for living: If you want to get people to hate you, then constantly state your opinions on important issues as if they were known facts. The more absolute you can be, the more hate you’ll arouse.
The converse is not necessarily true. Even if you preface your opinions with markers like “in my opinion,” there are always going to be some people who will take offense. These are typically the people who can’t distinguish between fact and opinion, and you can decide for yourself whether you want to get along with them.
Using This in Your Fiction
Now what does this have to do with fiction?
Fiction is all about characters in conflict.
You need every tool you can get to legitimately enhance the conflict in your fiction.
The key word here is “legitimately”. We have a tool for increasing conflict—have a character assert an opinion as if it were a fact.
That works if the character genuinely doesn’t know the difference between a fact and an opinion. In that case using the tool is legitimate.
It also works if the character knows the difference, but has some good motivation for being a troll.
It doesn’t work when the character knows the difference and has no reason for being a troll, other than making it convenient for you, the author.
What this means is that you need to know your characters. What are their blind spots—points where they genuinely think they “know” something that they don’t actually know? (Most everybody has these blind spots.) What might motivate them to intentionally be a troll? (Most everybody can be moved to do something naughty when there’s a good enough reason.)
Note that every community has its own set of common assumptions and beliefs that it treats as facts. A minister preaching a sermon in his own church doesn’t need to say “in my opinion” before every sentence. Neither does a football coach when he’s telling the team how they’re going to dismantle their opponents next week. Neither does a politician when giving a fund-raising speech to his party faithful.
But when you bring in an outsider who doesn’t share the community beliefs, you get instant conflict for that outsider. He may well disagree with everything he hears. Does he speak up, and make himself the target of the community’s rage? Or does he shut up, and boil silently inside? One way or another, he’s going to have conflict. The only choice is whether it’s external or internal.
- When was the last time you heard an opinion that infuriated you?
- What made you so angry about that opinion?
- Was there a way that the speaker could have expressed the opinion to make it less antagonistic?
- Was there a way to make it even more infuriating?
4) Marketing: Your “Dear Reader” Letter
Successful novelists frequently say that the best way to market your books is … to write another book.
Because books sell books.
This truism requires that your books be good, because bad books won’t sell books. A bad book will convince your readers to never read anything else you write.
Let’s assume your books are fabulous.
Does it automatically follow that writing another book will help market the others?
Yes, a good book will help sell your other books.
But you can help a good book help you.
Many very successful authors put a “Dear Reader” letter at the end of each book. There’s no single format for how this should be constructed. You can write it as an actual note to the reader that begins, “Dear Reader.” Or not, if that sounds hokey to you.
The important thing is to get the content of the Dear Reader letter right, and to put it in the right order.
What Goes In Your Dear Reader Letter
You need these three things in your Dear Reader Letter, in this order:
- A Call To Action to buy your next book.
- A request for a review.
- A link to your e-mail newsletter signup page.
Your Call To Action
Your Call To Action comes first, immediately after the end of your novel. Your reader will never be more in love with your story and your characters than at this exact moment, having just finished the novel, desperately wishing the story wasn’t over yet.
So the reader turns the page and sees that the story isn’t over. You’ve written another novel that takes the story further. Or that tells a similar story with some of the same characters. Or that tells a similar story with similar characters.
Give the reader one or two sentences to hook her interest.
Show the reader the cover art for the book.
Invite the reader to buy it. (In an e-book, you can include a link direct to the sales page for the book.)
You might object here that readers like choices, and so you should provide info on all your books.
No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’ll refer you to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s remarkable book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which has many insights into how people think.
One of the most interesting finds was that there is such a thing as too many choices. Kahneman describes an experiment in which researchers gave away free samples of jam in a supermarket. At the same table, they also laid out jars of jam for sale in 6 flavors. The question was how many people would buy jam after getting a free sample.
Not surprisingly, the answer was, “Lots of people.”
Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but this time, they put out 24 flavors of jam for sale. Would this generate even more sales?
No. Fewer people bought jam when they had 24 choices.
Too many choices paralyze people into indecision.
If you’re writing your books in a series, then the one best book you can recommend to your reader is the next book in the series.
If the reader has just finished the last book in the series, then you want to recommend the first book in some new series—the series that’s most closely related to the one they just read.
Your Request For a Review
Reviews sell books. The more reviews you have, the more likely people are to buy your book.
Most readers never write reviews. I’ve asked some of my author friends, and the consensus is that you’re doing well to get 1 review for every 100 copies you sell. If your book is free, the ratio is even lower, because most free books never get read.
But you can boost your review percentage a bit by asking for a review. Nicely, of course. You’re asking for a favor. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a favor, but it just makes sense to ask politely.
Thank the reader for reading your book. Tell her that if she enjoyed the book, you’d really appreciate her helping to get the word out by writing a review. Remind her that a review doesn’t have to be long—that it’s perfectly fine to just say a sentence or two about how the book made her feel.
In an e-book, you can include a link to the review page on the online retailer where the reader bought the book. If the online retailer doesn’t have a review page, then link to the book’s Goodreads page.
A Link To Your Web Site
As I’ve discussed at great length over the last few months, your e-mail newsletter may well be your most powerful marketing tool.
The purpose of your e-mail newsletter is to notify your most loyal fans when you have a new book out.
This benefits your reader, because she loves your books and of course she wants to know the instant you’ve got another book available (preferably at a low introductory price).
It also benefits you, because you can use your e-mail list to spike your sales during the launch of your book—giving it visibility on the best-seller lists and generating reviews from your most avid fans.
An e-mail announcement list is a win-win.
So you want your most loyal fans to know it exists and to sign up.
Don’t be shy. Tell your reader that you’ve got an e-mail list that will alert her as soon as your next book comes out. Provide a link to your Web site. Your list will grow and grow. As it grows, each book launch will be better.
A Word About Links
Links in printed books should be as short as possible. You don’t need to provide links to retailers in print books, because your reader knows how to find the retailer and use the search function. But you do need a link to the main page of your Web site.
Retailer links in e-books should go directly to a sales page or review page.
Obviously, you should never link to any retailer other than the one where your reader bought your e-book. Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo would all be highly offended if you sold e-books in their stores with links to any other retailer. And rightly so.
This means that you need a slightly different version of your e-book for each retailer. That’s a hassle for you, but the payoff is pretty big, so take the trouble to do it right and reap the rewards forever.
Note also that many people read Kindle books on their tablets or phones, not on Kindle devices. And that’s a problem for you, because a link to Amazon will not work on an iPad or iPhone or Mac. These devices intercept the links to Amazon and give you an error message.
Yes, this is more hassle for you. You have a bit of work to do once. Forever after, that work will pay off. So do it.
Take a look at some of the books you’ve bought recently. Do any of them have Dear Reader letters? How effective do you think they were? Can you see ways to improve them? Do they give you some good ideas for writing your own?
5) What’s New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com
This month I continued work on revamping my marketing machine. And I’ve been working on a tricky math problem. Having an unsolved math problem is like having a knife in my brain—I can’t rest until I’ve worked it out. So I’ve been working it out, and that’s been consuming most of my time.
I recently decided to take a sabbatical from teaching. I’ve taught at many, many conferences over the last fifteen years, but the time has come to focus on my writing. So I’m no longer accepting requests to teach at conferences. I have one more teaching commitment on my calendar, and that’s it.
Here’s what my calendar shows me for 2016:
- March 18-22, 2016: Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, near Santa Cruz, California. I’ll be teaching a major track on “How to Be An Insanely Great Indie Author.”Details here.
6) Randy Recommends . . .
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