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My New Book on the Snowflake Method

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.Why are so many writers around the world using my Snowflake Method to write their first drafts?

Because it works!

Let’s be clear that different writers are different.

Some writers thrive on the “seat-of-the-pants” method. Stephen King is a pantser. So is Anne Lamott.  They write great fiction and SOTP works for them.

Some writers work from a highly detailed outline—a synopsis that may be 50 to 100 pages. Robert Ludlum was famous for his long outlines.  He was a great writer and outlining worked marvelously for him.

But some writers love the Snowflake Method—a series of steps in which you start with the germ of a story idea and build it out bit by bit.  Some writers’ brains are wired to work this way.  And many of them write great fiction.

About the Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method doesn’t make you more creative. You already are incredibly creative.

The Snowflake Method just suggests where to apply your creativity next.  It makes Snowflakers more efficient in writing their first draft.

There is no one method that works for everybody.  The Snowflake is the method that has worked Xtremely well for me.  And it’s been thrilling to hear from so many writers around the world who say that the Snowflake works for them too.  The Snowflake page on this web site has been viewed more than 4 million times.  Every month, it gets about 50,000 more page views.

Several years ago, I heard from a writer in Nigeria who had visited my site that January and got inspired. By July she had written her manuscript (about Nigerian scammers), got an agent, and sold her novel to Hyperion. A couple of years later, that novel won the Africa Commonwealth Prize.

Your mileage will vary, of course. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani brought a ton of talent, drive, and creativity to the table. The Snowflake Method gave her a simple path to follow to get her story written. But she had to walk that path.  You have to walk your own path, and it won’t be easy.  But the Snowflake Method is designed to guide you along the way, to shorten the path.

My New E-Book

I’ve been working really hard for months on a new e-book solely dedicated to the Snowflake Method, and I did something different this time.

I wrote the e-book as a story—about a young writer with a dream to write a novel.

All her life, she’s been doing what other people tell her to do, putting off her dream and being practical.

Now she’s tired of doing what other people want.

She wants to follow her dream.

But she doesn’t know how to get started.

She needs a little direction, so she decides to go to a writing conference.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1. You’ll see right away that this story is quirky, zany, and over the top.  As you get into it, I hope you’ll find that it goes deep into the art of story.

You’ll see that the story itself practices what it preaches.  In the chapter on Disasters, there’s a disaster.  In the chapter on the Moral Premise, there’s a Moral Premise.  The chapter on Reactive Scenes is a Reactive Scene.

My goal is to make learning simple and easy, by showing you a real live example of how it’s done.

Excerpt from “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method”:

Chapter 1:  The Impractical Dream

Goldilocks had always wanted to write a novel.

She learned to read before she went to kindergarten.

In grade school, she always had her nose in a book.

In junior high, the other kids thought she was weird, because she actually liked reading those dusty old novels in literature class.

All through high school, Goldilocks dreamed of writing a book of her own someday.

But when she went to college, her parents persuaded her to study something practical.

Goldilocks hated practical, and secretly she kept reading novels. But she was a very obedient girl, so she did what her parents told her. She got a very practical degree in marketing.

After college, she got a job that bored her to tears—but at least it was practical.

Then she got married, and within a few years, she had two children, a girl and then a boy. She quit her job to devote full time to them.

As the children grew, Goldilocks took great joy in introducing them to the stories she had loved as a child.

When her son went off to kindergarten, Goldilocks thought about looking for a job. But her resume now had a seven-year hole in it, and her practical skills were long out of date.

The only jobs Goldilocks could qualify for were minimum wage.

She suddenly realized that being practical had made her horribly unhappy.

On a whim, Goldilocks decided to do the one thing she had always wanted more than anything else—she was finally going to write a novel.

She didn’t care if it was impractical.

She didn’t care if nobody would ever read her novel.

She was going to do it just because she wanted to.

For the first time in years, she was going to do something just for herself.

And nobody was going to stop her.

* * *

About the Book

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.The first 18 chapters of the book are the story of how Goldilocks takes her dream from a wispy idea all the way to a very concrete plan for her story that she can write right now.

The 19th chapter is a quick summary of the Snowflake Method.

Chapter 20 shows the complete Snowflake document  which I used to write the book. A Snowflake about the Snowflake! Very meta.

I’ve just released this e-book on all the major retailers.

Amazon has a cool new tool that suggests the price that will earn me the most money. They suggested that I price the book at $5.49. But I rejected that suggestion.

My goal right now is to get my book into the hands of lots of writers, so I’ve slashed the introductory price to $2.99.

See the e-book on Amazon$2.99

See the e-book on Barnes & Noble$2.99

See the e-book on Apple iTunes$2.99

See the e-book on Kobo$2.99

See the e-book on Smashwords$2.99 (any electronic format, including PDF)

Please note:  Prices outside the US may not be exactly $2.99, but I’ve done all in my power to get them as close as possible to that price on as many retailers as possible.

Will There Be A Paper Edition?

Yes, there will be a paper edition very soon. I’ve submitted it to Amazon’s CreateSpace service and I’ve jumped through all the hoops. I’ve ordered the proofs of the paper edition, and they should be arriving shortly. It will take me a day or two to check through them, and then there’ll be a short delay to complete the process. I hope the paper version will be done within about a week. Paper costs more than electrons. At 233 pages, the book will have to be priced at $9.99. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

The Death of “Self-Publishing”

It’s time to just say it. “Self-publishing” is dead. I’m not talking about the act of self-publishing a book. I’m talking about the phrase itself. “Self-publishing” now means two different things that are miles apart. It’s time to kill this useless phrase.

Barbara posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

I am confused by all the different terms in current publishing. Like “indie publishers,” “traditional publishers,” “ebooks,” “ebook indie publications,” “small presses” “small publishers,” “independent publishers,” “print on demand,” “hybrid authors” and whatever it is that Amazon does.

I am former Washington, DC newspaper reporter writing a novel about the newspaper business. Though I have finished a first draft and am working one revisions, I am not quite ready to submit a manuscript yet. But I need to know what all these terms mean and how to go about deciding where I belong. Thanks always for your great blog and for answering my question.

Randy sez: Let’s start with the most confusing term of all—“self publishing.” This used to have a single meaning. But in recent years, it’s come to mean two massively different things:

  • Vanity publishing
  • Indie publishing

Let’s look at these and define them clearly.

Vanity Publishing

“Vanity publishing” means that you pay somebody to publish your work. You typically pay them a flat fee and with that money, they then hire editors, proofreaders, typesetters, graphic designers, marketers, and whatever else. They take care of the printing, warehousing, shipping, distribution, sales, etc. If there are any profits, they distribute them to you, usually taking a cut.

In vanity publishing, you do the writing and you take all the financial risk. The vanity publisher does all the other work and takes none of the risk. The profits can be divided up various ways.

It should be obvious that vanity publishing is wide open to abuse. When you are fronting the money and taking all the financial risk, the vanity publisher has little incentive to keep costs down or do a good job or give you a fair shake.

It is possible for a vanity publisher to give you a fair deal, but most professional authors, editors, and agents will tell you that vanity publishing is almost always a terrible deal for an author. David Gaughran does a great job of explaining why on his blog, so I’m just going to refer you to him. Here’s one of his articles to get you started.

Indie Publishing

“Indie publishing” means that you act as your own independent publisher. You write your book. Then you do all the tasks that a publisher would typically do, or else you find a specialist who can do the ones you can’t. These tasks are:

  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Cover design
  • Typesetting (for print books) or formatting (for e-books)

Indie authors often do all of the above themselves. Then they upload their finished book files to the various online retailers—Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, etc. Or they may work with a distributor, such as Smashwords, who will deal with some or all of the retailers.

The key thing here is that the author gets a large percentage of the money—typically between 35% and 70% of the retail price of the book. The indie author takes all the financial risk and gets most of the rewards, so she has a high incentive to keep costs down and do a good job.

As it turns out, indie publishing can be a great deal for authors. The very best-paid indie authors are earning millions of dollars per year, and a surprising number are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. For a superb analysis of how much indie authors can earn, see the Author Earnings web site run by Hugh Howey.

Why “Self-Publishing” is Useless

“Self-publishing” used to mean essentially the same thing as “vanity publishing” and very few professional authors would have anything to do with it.

In recent years, “self-publishing” has also come to mean “indie publishing,” and a great many professional authors are doing it very successfully.

It ought to be obvious that “self-publishing” is a term that is too ambiguous to be useful. It needs to be thrown away.

We have two other perfectly good terms we can use instead: “vanity publishing” and “indie publishing.” So use whichever is appropriate, and nobody will be confused.

Let’s remember that there are some other publishing options. Let’s look at those.

Traditional Publishing

“Traditional publishing” means that you work with a publishing company that puts up all of the money to publish your book. They pay you some money upfront as an “advance” in exchange for the rights to publish your book for a certain length of time. They also pay for all the editing, proofreading, typesetting or formatting, printing, warehousing, sales, and distribution. They collect all the money earned and pay you a percentage as royalties.

In traditional publishing, you do all the writing and the publisher does all the other work and takes all the financial risk. You split the rewards with them.

What’s not to like with this arrangement?

Let’s be clear that this can be a great deal for authors. Until very recently, most of the really famous authors worked with traditional publishers and made great boatloads of money. There are a couple of thousand authors currently doing very well under this system.

The problem is that in recent years, the deal has gotten substantially worse for authors. Here are some of the friction points that authors have:

  • Advances have gotten smaller.
  • Authors are expected to do all or most of the marketing.
  • Royalties on e-books are low—typically 25% of the wholesale price of the book, which works out to about 12.5% of the retail price. This is very much lower than the 35% to 70% earned by indie authors.
  • Many publishers require option clauses that lock in an author to working with the publisher on the next book.
  • Many publishers require no-compete clauses that prevent an author from working with another publisher (or from indie-publishing) during a certain window of time.
  • Traditional publishing takes a long time to move a book from concept to final published book. It may take a year or two or longer.
  • Traditional publishers often can’t handle all the books that an author can write, and this is a huge problem if there are option clauses or no-compete clauses in place.
  • Traditional publishers decide what will be published and what won’t, and this often feels arbitrary and unfair to authors.
  • Traditional publishers hold all the high cards in negotiating.

There are probably other friction points, but these are the most glaring. These are the reasons why so any professional authors have simply walked away from traditional publishing and gone indie—they believe they’re better off on their own. These are the reasons why so many indie authors have refused contracts offered by traditional publishers.

Some authors use the term “legacy publishing” to refer to traditional publishing.

Hybrid Authors

“Hybrid author” is a term coined by Bob Mayer. It means an author who chooses to publish some books with traditional publishers and some books as an indie author.

Hybrid authors are looking for the best of both worlds, and this can be a reasonable choice. I’m a hybrid author, because I have some books still in print with traditional publishers, while all my current projects are in indie publishing.

Small Publishers

“Small publishers” are traditional publishers that are small—typically just a few employees. Small publishers often give better royalties on e-books. They may give more attention to new authors. I’ve worked with a small publisher, and it can be a sensible option.

Small publishers seem to be fading as more authors go indie.

E-books and Print-On-Demand

E-books are electronic books that are sold and delivered electronically. In some categories of fiction, most of the books sold are e-books.

“Print-on-demand” books are paper books that are printed and sold only when a customer orders a copy. Traditionally, publishers printed thousands of books in a large print run and then warehoused the books. This kept the cost per copy low, but if the books didn’t sell, that was a problem. The unit cost of a print-on-demand book is fairly high, but the risk is zero because you don’t print it until you’ve sold it.

Amazon has made it easy for indie authors to create and sell e-books and print-on-demand books. You can upload your e-book at kdp.amazon.com. You can upload your print-on-demand book at createspace.com.

Numerous other online retailers let you upload and sell e-books, including Barnes & Noble (at nookpress.com), Smashwords (at Smashwords.com), Apple (at itunesconnect.apple.com), Kobo (at kobobooks.com).

The publishing world is changing fast. Traditional publishing used to be the only game in town for authors who wanted a fair shake financially. Now indie publishing is an exciting option. Indie publishing gives authors some negotiating power with traditional publishers, because now they have the power to walk away.

Barbara, I hope that answers your questions. I won’t tell you what you should do, because every author is different. But now you know what your major options are. Good luck!

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.

 

Smashing The Fiction Writing Bottleneck

So you’re writing about six different novels all at the same time and none of them are getting done and you just can’t decide which to work on next. What do you do?

Katya posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

I am 22 year old college student. I am immensely in love with creating my own characters and worlds. Currently I have six projects, most of them more than one novel. The trouble I am having is picking the right one to work on. Sometimes I work a bit on this one, a bit on that one, but that does not help me finish any of my projects. I want to sit down and just finish one crappy first draft so I can polish it and be proud of finally finishing my first novel.

Do you have any tips when you are stuck with several projects and do not know which one to go with?

Thank you for your time,

Katya

Randy sez:  Katya, the good news is that a lot of writers would pay to have your problem, which is that you have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to ideas.

The bad news is that you have a bottleneck in your writing process. That bottleneck is strangling your production. You are spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.

The good news is that you can break that bottleneck right now.

But first you have to identify it. 

Let’s start by identifying what you’re doing well. You’re generating ideas. Lots of ideas. So many that they’re competing for your attention, and you’re afraid that if you don’t work on them all right now, you’ll never work on them.

That’s an illusion. The reality is that by paying attention to all of them all at once, you are preventing ANY of them from ever getting published.

The Fiction Writing Bottleneck

That creates the biggest problem most novelists have: the fiction writing bottleneck.

What’s the solution?

Let me tell you a little story. About 15 years ago, my buddy John Olson had that same problem. I asked him what he was working on and he gave me a list of 10 different books he was working on. All at the same time.

I pointed out that he was working a full-time job and writing in his spare time. Even if he had 40 hours per week to write, he’d only be able to spend 4 hours per week on each book, and he was competing with professional writers who had 40 hours per week to commit to a single book. So John didn’t have a chance.

So I told John he had to pick one, any one of the ten, and commit to it. He picked one and agreed to make a firm commitment to write it, but only if I’d coauthor it with him. As it turned out, I really liked that idea, so I agreed to work on it. The result was our award-winning novel Oxygen.

Breaking the Bottleneck

Now how do you commit, Katya? There are two things you need to do, and these have to be firm decisions that you won’t back down from under any conditions:

  1. Pick one novel–any one of them. If you can’t decide, then flip a coin. Seriously. It truly doesn’t matter which you choose now, because ultimately you will choose all of them.
  2. Join the 500 Club. That means you commit to writing at least 500 words on that novel EVERY DAY until it’s done. No excuses. No rollover words from yesterday. Every day you have to put down 500 new words on that novel. You can write more words, but under no circumstances are you allowed to write fewer. You can edit some words from previous days, but that editing time doesn’t count. The only thing that counts is new words.

How does this solve your problem?

The answer is simple. At 500 words per day, minimum, you will finish that novel in just a few months. You can afford to set aside everything else temporarily because you are guaranteed to be done in a few months and then you can pick up the next project. And the next, and the next.

The fact is that just about every commercially successful novelist on the planet has a word count quota. Some of them have a time quota, but word count seems to me to be better, because you can waste 30 minutes staring at the screen, but you can’t write 500 words staring at the screen.

The Magic of the 500 Club

There is nothing magic about 500 words, by the way. Maybe you want to join the 250 Club instead. Maybe you can join the 1000 Club. Or even the 2000 Club. But whatever club you decide to join, make it a hard commitment. Absolutely no excuses unless you’re unconscious or giving birth or at the top of Mount Everest. And even in those cases, some writers would drill out their 500 words.

The magic comes from being totally committed. The bottleneck for most writers is the actual production of first draft copy. They don’t spend enough time on that. Which means they don’t have enough to edit or sell or promote.

Stephen King used to tell interviewers that he writes every day except Christmas, the Fourth of July, and his birthday. But he notes in his book On Writing that this was a lie. Because he writes every day including Christmas, the Fourth of July, and his birthday. And he’s in the 2000 Club. That is part of the reason he’s successful.

First draft copy is your number one priority as a writer. If you get that habit right, everything else will tend to fall into place.

The Fiction Writing Challenge For You

Katya, I challenge you to join the 500 Club for one month and then report back to me. Leave a comment here on this blog.

And the rest of my Loyal Blog Readers, I’ll give you the same challenge. Try the 500 Club for 30 days and report back to me in a comment here.

If you do that, one month from now you’ll have AT LEAST 15,000 words, and possibly much more. And 15,000 words per month, every month, is two full-length standard-size novels per year. Every year, for the rest of your life.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

 

The Big Marketing Hatchet Man

So you published your novel and now you’re trying to market it and it’s going slow and you suddenly realized that you hate marketing. How do you get the word out when you don’t know anything about marketing fiction?

Sharon posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

So I’ve written two books. And most of the readers who own the books have liked them. (Not all of course, none of us will write a book that every reader falls in love with.)

But still the big marketing hatchet man hovers over my head. Why does marketing have to cost more than book sales? Or does it?

And Jonna posted a similar question on the same day:

I have indie published the first three novels in a series, all available in print and for Kindle, and have gotten good reviews from readers, but my marketing skills are pretty bad. You recommend sending out review copies. I’ve seen some sites offering reviews for a fee. That seems a bit dodgy to me. My question is, to whom should I be sending review copies and should these always be print copies or can I submit digital files for review?

Thanks for all your great advice, Randy.

Randy sez: Sharon, I love that phrase, “big marketing hatchet man.” It conjures up an image that resonates with just about all fiction writers.

Jonna, your specific question is about review copies, and I can answer that very quickly. Don’t pay for reviews. Indie authors will do best by getting reviews on the online retailers–Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc., along with reviews on Goodreads and other social media for book-lovers. But the more general question that you’re really asking is the same as Sharon’s: How do you market fiction?

Let’s be clear, right up front, that this is a very hard question. A very big question.

It’s a little bit like asking, “How do you play chess?”

Sure, I can show you what moves each of the chess pieces is allowed to make, and once you know those, you technically know “how to play chess.” But you will play like a beginner.

This is the way people usually teach marketing. They show you how to do a tweet or how to post on Facebook or how to pin on Pinterest or how to post a blog entry or whatever. And technically, now you know how to market. But you will market like a beginner.

If you really want to learn to play chess well, then you need to get some training from somebody who knows how to play chess. Either you find a mentor or you learn from books or from software. But you need to get training.

And then you need to play chess. Lots of it. If you want to become a grandmaster, you need to put in about 10,000 hours playing chess. That’s 5 years, playing chess 8 hours per day, with a couple of weeks vacation per year. That’s a lot of chess!

Do you have to become a “marketing grandmaster?”

NO!

No, no, no, no, no.

You can do that if you want, but very few novelists ever do. I would say that James Patterson is a marketing grandmaster. And he gets the kind of results you expect from a marketing grandmaster.

But you don’t have to be a grandmaster to play a mean game of chess. You just need to master a few tactics, such as the pin, the knight fork, the skewer, the double-attack. And you also need to learn basic chess strategy, including king-side attacks, queen-side attacks, defense, and the end-game. Each time you add one of these to your arsenal, you become a strikingly better player.

Likewise, you don’t have to be a marketing grandmaster to do well as a novelist. You need to master a few basic marketing tactics. And you need a marketing strategy.

I could write a whole book on this. In fact, I am writing a whole  book on this.

I can’t possibly put everything into one blog post.

But I can tell you the essentials, and they’re pretty simple.

Let’s start by asking why you need marketing. Then we’ll ask what marketing is.

The reason you need marketing is because most people on the planet have never heard of you. (There are seven billion people on earth, and none of them knows everybody.)

Marketing means taking people through three distinct phases:

  1. Attraction–they learn that you exist
  2. Engagement–they learn that you write the kind of fiction they want
  3. Conversion–they pull out their wallet and buy your book

Each phase is essential. Nobody will buy your book unless they want it. Nobody will want it unless they know it exists.

So you need a marketing strategy that will first attract people (to your web site or to the sales page on Amazon or some other retailer); then you need to engage those same people long enough to figure out whether they like your kind of fiction; finally, you need to persuade those same people to buy RIGHT NOW.

If your marketing strategy fails in any of these points, then almost nobody will buy your book.

If your marketing strategy is designed to attract one kind of person, engage a completely different kind of person, and convert a completely different kind of person, then almost nobody will buy your book.

If your marketing strategy succeeds in all three points, then a growing number of people will buy your book. Then if it’s good, they’ll talk about it and word-of-mouth will take off and your sales will grow exponentially.

Those are the essentials.

That is the big picture.

Filling in the details will take a whole book. I can’t change that fact. Marketing is complicated. The best I can do is to break it down into a series of simple tasks, and I’m working on that right now.

I don’t want to discourage either of you, Sharon and Jonna.

So let’s end on a happy note. This is critical for your long-term success, so start with this key principle:

The best marketing tool for any book is another book by the same author.

If you’ve got only one book on the market, then it’s one book out of ten million on Amazon. A few people will find it by chance and buy it, but if they like it, they’ve got nothing else to read. They might tell a friend, but that’s it.

Whereas if you’ve got 100 books on the market, then 100 times as many people will find them by chance and buy them, which means you’ve now got 100 times as many sales. If they like one, they’ll buy several, so now you’re getting several hundred times as many sales. And with each book, they’ll tell a friend, so you’re getting tons more word-of-mouth.

If you look at the successful authors, most of them have a lot of books published.

So it may very well be that the absolute best way to market your novel is to … write another novel. And another. And another.

Of course, people will tell you that you “must” be on Twitter. You “must” be on Facebook. You “must” be on Pinterest, on Goodreads, on the blogosphere. You “must” do this, that, and the other thing. You “must” be on the marketing treadmill ten hours per day.

Really? Seriously? These people know this for sure? Or do they just think it?

I’ll agree that it’s POSSIBLE that some of those things might help market your work.

But you should always ask whether they’ll help MORE than just writing another book.

If you don’t KNOW  that the answer is “yes,” then the answer is probably “no.”

There are certain things that I KNOW work. I know, because I’ve tried them and measured the results. I know when they work and why they work. I know when they don’t work.

Blogs can have value, under certain conditions. E-mail lists can have a lot of value, under certain conditions. Ditto for all the various things people do.

But here’s the thing that has the MOST value: Writing another great book.

Right now, I’m doing almost nothing to market my fiction. Instead, I’m putting my effort into getting my back-list of books back in print as e-books. That should be done fairly soon, and then I’ll have six books that I can market all together. And I’ve got another two books that are partially written–books that publishers had issues with, so they never got published traditionally. Books I believe in and plan to publish as an indie author.

My focus right now is on production, not on marketing. Most of the successful indie authors say that they started getting traction only after they had 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 books out. So that’s my goal.

Jonna and Sharon, go write some more books! This is an exciting time to be an author. Few of us will have success like James Patterson, but that’s OK.

Today, I read that there were 150 authors on Amazon’s KDP program this year who each had sales greater then 100,000 copies.

And thousands more indie authors sold thousands of copies apiece. (I was one of them, without doing much at all to market my books.)

You can too. Write more books. And stay tuned, because I’ll have more to say on how to market fiction effectively in the coming months. But I won’t be able to fit it all into a blog post.

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.