Category Archives for Author Tools

Should I Keep the Receipt?

April 18, 2016

If it’s connected to your writing business (because, yes, publishing is a business) then yes, you probably do need to keep those receipts. And records of your expenses, because how are you going to know if that advertising made you money?

Now, hold on. I know I’m probably losing you, because this is starting to sound like accounting.

Don’t cringe. It’s not that bad.

(Disclaimer–I’m not a tax attorney, or a CPA or any fancy lettered money person. For tax advice, see a properly licensed professional. This is just a few ideas to explore to help you find a way to better organize the business side of publishing.)

Accounting programs are not what they were ten years ago, where you practically needed a degree to understand them. They’re very user friendly, and are designed to help people who likely don’t want to spend their days stressing over expenses and income data, but get back to what they love to do, which is run their business.

Or in a writer’s case–write their books.

But, ugh. Bookkeeping has to be done.

Never fear!

Keeping track of income and expenses can seem daunting, especially if you’re not that organized.

Fortunately, there are several different options out there to help you keep track of all that paperwork (digital and printed) for your business.

17 Hats — $$$ A very all-inclusive cloud software that allows you to manage income, expenses, invoicing, along with calendars, email sync, and to-do lists. There isn’t much this won’t do for you.

Freshbooks — $ Cloud based software that starts at a small, reasonable monthly fee, and allows for bookkeeping and a small amount of invoicing. As the fee goes up, you get more features. .

Quick Books — $ From the makers of Quicken, Quick books is accounting software that has a version specifically designed for the independent contractor in mind (no employees), as well as for small businesses, with several tiers of pricing.

Wave Accounting — Free. Online cloud software that can be used for many small business needs, including accounting and expense reports. If you’re just starting with a bookkeeping program, this one is nice for testing the waters.

Shoeboxed — $$ A digital “shoebox” of your receipts, it scans physical receipts and digital ones, and integrates with programs including Quick Books and Wave to help you track your expenses.

Live Expenses — Free. An iTunes App that allows you to track expenses on your Apple device.

Neat Desk — $$$ A physical scanner that scans your receipts for you, as well as software to keep track of your expenses as they come in.


Many of these options have free trials that allow you to experiment with them, and see which one is the right fit for you and your business.

There are others out there, because there’s always new, exciting things to try all the time. Feel free to check around. This list gives you a starting place.

Stepping into the bookkeeping side of publishing can seem daunting, but you can do it. If you can track your sales easily through all the different dashboards out there for publishing, you can do some basic accounting. It’s really not that hard.

So yes, you do have to keep that receipt.

But it doesn’t have to be a massive headache when you do.


Trajectory: Discoverability for a New Age

The following post is a report on the Trajectory session at the 2015 Novelist Inc. conference. Sessions are not recorded and tapes are not made because it’s believed this encourages a more free flowing, honest conversation and candid replies to questions. However, because NINC understands not everyone can go to conference, every session is reported on by a member, and the reports are published int he NINC newsletter. This report was published in the October 2015 Novelist Inc Newsletter.

Trajectory: Discoverability for a New Age — Be in On the Ground Floor!

Speakers: Jim Bryant, Scott Beatty
NINC Reporter: Sasha White
Trajectory was a super information packed session. So, in order to give you as much information as I can, this is goign to be very concise and condensed.
Trajectory is a relatively new company, founded in 2012, in Marblehead, Mass, and it’s run by veterans of the publishing industry who all share a passion for problem solving and a drive to have significant impact on the word. Every week they’re discovering something new that keeps them constantly evolving. Whihc makes them both awesome, and hard to define.
On the Trajectory website it says that they ‘tirelessly seek to create more relevant, useful, and improved offers for the publishing community.’ And Jim Bryant and Scott Beatty did just that. After speaking with some NINC members, they reworked their presentation overnight, for us.
What Trajectory does is mine data from books and use that data to offer publishers unique insights and opportunities for discoverability and distribution, and to help retailers market the books they provide or recommend. Trajectory is all about deep learning algorithms that are used to analyze and recommend books. You, (a publisher) upload your book to their database, and they scan it and apply all their neat little techie things, and then it shows up on their website with all this awesome information. Recommendations are generated by comparing unique characteristics of one book to the other Writing style, words, subjects. Basically, it’s Moneyball for books.
Example: A library in Midwest is looking for books that deal with specific crops. The data Trajectory provides would help them find those books instead of having to read/scan the books to see if the topics were mentioned.
Below is a very basic rundown of some of the data it mines, and ways it can be used.
Trajectory’s Index – the index shows up on the right side of the page when you select a title. It shows a wide variety of signals and stats that include number of words, number of unique words, parts of speech, nouns dominant, certain use of adjective, average reading time and so on. It also shows the Goodreads rating and number of Goodreads reviews. Some reviews do show on the site as well.
Another interesting thing, how many SAT words are in the title. These things might sound useless, but think of it this way, if you want your book to look good to foreign language libraries/sites for their readers who want to use them to learn /better their english, they’ll be more likely to use books with a high rating of things like SAT and TOEFL words. When you are on the site, and you click on a subject in this area, there is a brief explanation of things, so I won’t go over it all. We don’t have enough room.
While the Index shows you the above things in a percentage form, Trajectory’s Interesting Facts and Data Visualizations section, which is beneath the title, shows it to you in word clouds and graphs. This is where comaparing books gets very interesting.
They have this thing called a Sentiment Graph (also the Intensity one works this way too). What they do is divide the book into 100 equal parts and compare them. They assign each part a sentiment (or intensity) value between +5 and -5 according to what happens in that part. (+ 5 beg something spectacular – 5 being something tragic.)Then they chart the path of the book using these values.
This is just one signal that can be looked at when evaluating books, particularly fiction.
When evaluating words Extreme happiness is 5. Catastrophic is – 5. Then there’s a graph that shows the ups and downs in a clear, easy to understand way. One of the most interesting things is that once a book is up on the site you can compare it to another simply by selecting the Compare this book to another. That is in the top left hand corner of the Interesting Facts and Data Visualization area.

Example:Here is a comparison between Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, and Ninc member Cathryn Fox’s Pleasure Control.

Kinda cool, hmm? Imagine comparing the ups and downs of your books intensity and sentiment to classics, and blockbusters. That alone is cool information, never mind that you can compare the words in a book to SAT data base, TOEFL words and the IELTS words.
What Trajectory offers is hard numbers and data that can help us to see how one book can compare to another. What they do is help facilitate the global book supply chain where the publisher would be paying to supply their own books or retailers using them to find books for their clientele.
What they want to do is help everyone sell more books, and they see us, publishers, authors, and readers as their partners. They need our help to help them evolve into the best use for authors, and they are very open and eager for feedback, so feel free to contact them with feedback to help them make it better.
They encourage us to see Trajectory as a tool to be used in conjunction with other tools. The data they provide has many uses. Retailers today are using keywords you provide to them. Their scan will show you want words are showing up the most in your booksThis will help identify popular keywords in your stories, and help with discoverability. It can also be useful to an author who is unsure how to categorize, or market a book. You can use the data to help your web designer use keywords to drive traffic to your website. Also boughts in online stores are social driven, the secret sauce that each place has, that we have no access to. However, with Trajectory people can use these comparisons to find books that really do compare to the ones they love.
Trajectory has always mainly worked with large publishers to get their books into new markets. The original intention was not for the public. Supply chain was the goal. NINC has helped them to see that authors are not just writers anymore. We are publishers, and suppliers as well, and they are completely open to working with individuals. If you would like to work with them on distribution they ask you please be patient as it takes as much time for them to set up an account for one person as it does for a large company. They like to work with other organizations systems and connected networks. Which brought up the appealing idea that if some were interested in distribution with them, it might be a thought for some authors banding together to submit books for distribution as a group.

TOEFL-Test of English as a Foreign Language
IELTS-International English Language Testing System

Project Management For Writers

February 29, 2016

Did you know a writer’s career can be summed up as mini-projects from start to finish? Author and project management are two terms that rarely go hand-in-hand. There are thousands of ebooks out there that will tell you how to write, how to market, and how to increase your word count. Trust me, I know. I’ve read most of them. What I’ve yet to find is a comprehensive guide for effectively managing multiple author projects, website updates, marketing, money, contracts, etc. and still manage to get your writing done.

Many years before I took the plunge into full-time writing, I was a project manager for large military hospitals at various sites. Fifteen billion dollars in products and services passed through my hands during those years. It was a high-stress job with micromanaging at an epic level (for good reason! That’s a lot of tax dollars!), and keeping track of my daily to-do list was a nightmare all its own. Our base had become a joint venture with our sister services as well as the VA so there were a lot of eyes on our new program.

My job site sent me to shadow three project managers of the largest accounts in all of Pacific Air Force. For one week, I’d be at their side, learning the ins and outs of time management in the midst of turmoil. Each project manager taught me valuable lessons that I’m going to share with you. If they don’t make sense, no worries. I’ll expand on them in a bit.

  1. Your daily list is the most important list you’ll ever have. If you’re not a list maker, then you need at least a primary goal in your mind.
  2. If you don’t hold yourself accountable for your time, you will constantly feel as though you will never catch up.
  3. Document your time. And BE HONEST. Don’t exaggerate how you did. Later on, when you’re really struggling, you’ll need to see this wasn’t the first time you’d hit a snag.
  4. Effective time management means balancing the project legs (parts of the project) with the appropriate amount of time and attention. That means cutting your big projects down into manageable chunks.

The life of an author has taken a fascinating turn these past few years. We’re expected to do more with less, market harder than the person next to us, and still write gripping prose while maintaining optimism. It’s enough to overwhelm a person.

Each book you write, edit, upload (or submit), and publish is a project. A book can be broken down into four main project legs: writing, editing, publishing, marketing. If you have a publisher, the publishing section would be what you have to do in order to get your book ready for submission and will include the submission process. Maintaining your financial records is an ongoing project that requires a scheduled update. Website design and maintenance are a project all its own (though creating a new lead page for your latest release could technically fall under marketing for a book project). Blog posts, like this one, need to be scheduled and promoted. These are important aspects to our career that we have to pay attention to.

So how do you set up your project management tracker?

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The Ugh! I Hate Tracking Reader Engagement Tool

February 8, 2016

So, I have a fantasy. It’s a very dark and dirty fantasy where I get lost in the sheer bliss of organization. I seduce myself with thoughts of plots, outlines, and tracking every single piece of data I can get my greedy little fingers on.

This cycle sends me tumbling into the corners of the scary and often thrilling, corners of the Internet. Google. Youtube. Forums. Pictures. I search out tools that will fulfill these twisted needs of mine, downloading with abandon. With breathless anticipation I open them up only to remember that… yeah, well, I kind of hate tracking. Especially when if I used this spreadsheet I’d never get any actual writing done because it would take me ten years to manage. I promptly lose all interest.

But see, here’s the thing, I am a businesswoman as much as a writer. I spent the last ten years as a management consultant I know tracking is important. I’ve managed projects—you have to know what works and what doesn’t. You need to know your ROI. But every tracking tool I’ve ever opened up is a BEAST, clearly made those of you that love and have inappropriate feelings toward tracking.

So using my businessy skills I started to create tools that will help me track the vital parts of my business without driving myself crazy. My criteria was simple: It had to be easy, and take me less than 30 minutes a month to complete. I’d like to share one of those tools with you today.

For you data queens, this isn’t going to be enough, but there’s tons of stuff out there for you, this is for the rest of us—that really, really want to track those necessary things, but can’t wrap our heads around a twenty-five tab workbook.

Tool: Reader EngagementContinue reading

Get Started On Your Book!

January 10, 2016

Before we start, if you're here looking for a magic pill to make this all happen for you and a hand holding step-by-step guide, you've landed at the wrong blog post.

Looking for a list of recommended reads to help you not only get started on your book but develop your craft as you go? Welcome! It should also be noted that this page and its contents may often change so be sure to bookmark it. Interested in writing a book, but don't know how to go about doing it? Have no fear. I asked some of today's best selling authors to recommend books to help you get started.

Wait? I have to read books about the craft of writing? Yes. While we don't mind offering a direction to get started, we don't have the time to offer much beyond that. Also, all of us have had to do the legwork and the research as well to develop our craft.) In addition to the suggested reading material, the biggest piece of writing advice that came from the authors was "write the book". Put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and write.


Recommended Reads:

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Authors, now we can still work and get off our lazy…erm…Fitness Desks

Over the last year, I've noticed more and more people discussing the multi-tasking phenomenon of work and exercise. As authors under what now seems to be a constant deadlines in the fast paced, pump out a ton of books a year market, exercise seems to be one of the things we need the most...and one of the first things to get knocked off our list of things to do in a day.

It doesn't have to be that way. Here are several options for you to check out to stay healthy and on work track.​

The Treadmill Desk

This was the first version of work while working out that popped up on all the author groups I belong to. There are several versions on the market from models like (listed cheapest to most expensive as of the time of this post) TrekDesk Treadmill Desk (left), the Exerpeutic 2000 WorkFit High Capacity Desk Station Treadmill (right), or the LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 Treadmill Desk.

Each of these options come with various features, from desk size and position to type of treadmill. I recommend using those links as a starting point and to shop around before purchasing to make sure you get the price and the features you personally need.

For those of you who are too clumsy for the walk and type, these following options offer a nice alternative:

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How to Make Your Boxed Set a Success

Boxed sets are a great way to boost your visibility on ebook retailers and can be a good source of extra income, but what does it take for a boxed set to find success? I’ve been in boxed sets since the beginning and I’ve had flops as well as wild successes. Here’s how to avoid flopping.


1.High concept drives sales.

Gone are the days of slapping any ol’ group of stories together. For a boxed set to sell well now, it has to have a hook beyond the fact that it is a 99 cent mega deal. There are enough boxed sets for sale that readers can be picky. Give them a reason to pick yours.

My last boxed set (now unpublished) was a mash-up of the Outlander trend with shifter romance. Titled Highland Shifters, the set hit the USA Today bestseller list and part of its success was due to having a very tight concept that was instantly communicated via the cover.

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Vellum – Ebook Formatting for Authors

Interview with the creators of Vellum: Brad Andalman and Brad West by Michelle M. Pillow

Book formatting has improved by leaps and bounds over the last several years for DIY authors. In 2008 I remember staring at html coding to fix book errors, and utilizing multiple book generators to get all the formats I needed for all the vendors who had different requirements. It could be a time consuming nightmare. (Let me just say, zipped html file to make a kindle mobi). Then, I had to hope that the vendor's grinder took the book and didn't mess up the tweaks I'd made. And then, I'd have to hope that a vendor didn't suddenly change a requirement or a device feature that made me have to go re-format backlist all over again. Yes, that nightmare happened on a couple occasions. Nothing like three straight days reformatting 75 gazillion books. (I may be exaggerating a little on the number)


Luckily, times they are a changin'. I've used darn near every program that's come on the market over the years, and (if you happen to be a MAC user) Vellum is one of my favorites.  It's fairly simple to use, has a fast learning curve, and the best part is they continually do updates to the program to keep it up-to-date with vendor standards. So, say Amazon decides they suddenly want all the TOCs (table of contents) to include a picture of a peanut butter sandwich, I'm pretty sure the Vellum guys would make that update happen. Why is that important? Because instead of my having to redo an entire book or mess with html coding, I simply open Vellum and re-generate the book file in a matter of seconds, upload and done!

Another thing worth mentioning about this company: The few times I've had questions or concerns, their customer service has been great about getting back to me with an answer.​

The two creators of Vellum were nice enough to answer some questions about their software.

Thank you, Brad and Brad, for taking the time to talk to us.

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Let’s Talk Office Chairs…

September 28, 2015

Almost every author I know says they need a new office chair. It makes sense that after spending hours day-in and day-out in front of a screen it’s not just our hands and eyes that start to feel the pain, but also our derriere.

First, what do you want to look for in a chair? Let's refer over to Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for their workplace tips.​ To paraphrase, basically they advise:

  • ​Backrest - follows the curve of your spine
  • Seat - comfortable and at a height you can rest you feet flat on the floor or a footrest
  • Armrests - Soft, and allow for shoulder relaxation
  • Base - 5 legs with wheels for easy movement

​Source: "Computer Workstation ETools." US Department of Labor. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Web. 25 Sept. 2015 

I have the AmazonBasics Mid-Back Office Chair (pictured to the right). I like it and it's held up well when compared to other chairs I've had in the past. Plus, it has some decent online review ranks, but I’m not sure it’s the best option out there. To help me, I asked the RAMN group of authors what chairs they thought were the golden ticket of backside comfort.

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