Jan 252018

Short stories are making a comeback. This is no doubt due to the advent of ebooks and self-publishing. And although I personally rather read longer stories, I thought it a good idea to try writing a short story myself. Once finished it would be a good marketing tool, as free short stories are often used as reader magnets for a mailing list sign-up.

And how hard can it be to write a short story? It’s usually not more than 15,000 words and it can be a spin-off or part of an ongoing series, meaning that your characters and world are already developed. Easy peasy, or not?

I started writing my short story in November 2016 and wrote an optimistic blog post about it. Now 14 months later, the short story still isn’t written. Why not? Because I discovered that writing a short story is exactly the same thing as writing a long story, with the difference that it’s even faster paced.

Structure is very important in the writing of a good story. And as it turns out, it doesn’t matter if this story is 8k or 80K in length.
I’m a plotter, so I love structure, be even I didn’t realise that it was an integral part of a short story as well. So when I started writing the short story in 2016, it didn’t feel right and I abandoned it for more urgent projects. But last December I realise that having a short story as reader magnet was now the priority, so more than a year after I started it, I decided to revisit my short story.

Not only did I need to come up with a proper structure for it, I also wanted to fit it within the existing set-up for my series. For although it is a standalone story which can be read, or not read, without influencing or losing track of the rest of the series, I did want those fans who took the time to read it, get that same feeling they have when they read my 80K books.

I even wanted those loyal fans to find hidden Easter eggs, little things that hint towards upcoming books, but also slightly look back at the books that came before. Things that won’t matter if you don’t read them, but give this extra dimension to the series as a whole for those who recognise them.

It took me six weeks to come up with a proper plot and structure and last Sunday, I started to write. It’s so much fun ‘being back’ in Milbury and follow the adventures of Paddy and Vinnie. And although not a full blow ‘murder’ mystery, there is a mystery for Paddy to solve.

Keeping it short
My biggest challenge now is to keep the story moving forward. As I ‘only’ have 4000 words for each of the four acts, it’s vital to keep only those bits that keep the pace in the story. Not that easy as this morning I discovered that I had already written 4000 words for the 2nd act, while there are still very important plot points to write about.

Where I normally have about 20K words for each act, I now need to be very strict and cull all those things that aren’t moving the story along.
I’m starting to realise that writing a short story is a craft, just like writing a full-length story is. It’s a craft that I will have to keep practising, to perfect it.


If all goes according to plan the first draft of Peanuts! the 16K short story will be finished before the end of January and ready to go to my editor on the 1st of February.

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Nov 162016

beachchair_01This week I have taken a few days off from my day job, giving me a leisurely eleven days of freedom to do whatever I want.
Initially I was planning to use this week to write parts of the How To book my friend Eva and I are co-writing, but we’re still in the plotting phase of that, so I needed something else to do.

Marketing Course
Luckily there was still Nick Stephenson’s marketing course Your First 10.000 Readers, of which I have so far only done the first two modules. Well, only…
Each module exists of about four to six videos, each between 15-20 minutes long, packed full of information that the student, me in this case, can implement right away. And instead of watching all the videos in one go, I decided early on to take it a step at the time to avoid getting inundated with information and loosing track (and will-power) along the way.

The fun thing of Nick’s course is that students can join a member’s only Facebook group, where they can ask questions and support each other. Nick often joins in the conversation on Facebook, giving more in-depth information, also about his own experiences as a successful indie thriller writer.
Many students on the group have shared that implementing the whole course took them close to a year, so I am feeling I’m doing the right thing by taking it slow and doing the homework as I go along one video at the time.

Existing Books
So far, my writing career has produced five non-fiction books in two very different genres. Over the last few months I have tried to implement a few of Nick’s marketing ideas for those books, but last weekend I had a brainwave.
Interesting as those books are, and proud of them as I am, at this point in time they are not going to help my author-entrepreneur business. The first two books are sold out and near impossible to turn into ebooks, so there’s no money in that. The last three book need additional editing, specially as the dialogue in them is quite bad. But is that worth it at the moment?

I thought about this for a while and realised that no, it’s not worth it at the moment. Editing those books and re-publishing them would take a lot of time, on top of which they are in a very specific niche, which will never sell hundreds of books a day. Also, I know that I will in all likelihood never write another book in that genre, so why should I want to build a mailing list for them?
Again, fun as those books are, they are too nichy to help me further my business at the moment.

Mailing List
Setting up and growing a mailing list is the core of Nick’s course. In actual fact, it should be the core of any business.
Last Saturday I watched the first video of Module Three, called: Convert traffic into subscribers. In other words, how do you get readers to give you their email address, so that we can contact them again about the new books we have written?
Video One of Module Three was all about setting up a so-called book funnel, ‘trapping’ readers and asking them to give you their email address for some extra exclusive content.

I thought perhaps I could to implement this with my existing non-fiction books, but then realised it wouldn’t help as they are too nichy and I don’t need mailing lists for them.
I realised that what I needed to do was setting up a funnel for my new cosy mystery series, of which only Book 1 is written, but still in the editing phase. Luckily I have enough feeling for marketing that I knew I should implement this book funnel as soon as Book 1 comes out in May 2017, so that I can reap the rewards as soon as possible. But how?

Book Funnel
Book funnels are often used by indies who write series to draw in more readers. But those people have existing series of five or more books.
In such a case they make the first book in the series cheaper, or permanently free, and offer the second book for free to anyone who joins their mailing list. But my Book 2 isn’t coming out until December 2017, so that means that if I used Book 2 as a ‘reader magnet’ for my book funnel, it wouldn’t be set up until then.
And that is out of the questions, as I want my funnel to start as soon as Book 1 comes out.

magnetShort Story
I soon realised that I needed an extra story, a relatively short one, set in the same world, that I could write within a few weeks and publish at the same time as Book 1. This short story would then act as the reader magnet, attracting people to my mailing list, after they have bought Book 1 for only 99 cents. On top of that the short story would only be available to the people who subscribe, so not actually be for sale on Amazon. It would be exclusive content that not everyone has and therefore more appealing to acquire by surrendering an email address.

I have always envisioned that Book 1 would be sold cheaply, and when more books come out, become permanently free, so realising that I could use it as a book funnel together with a short story, wasn’t that much of a shock.
What of course was a shock, was that I needed to write an extra story pronto, so that it can go through the proper channels of editing etc. before being published alongside Book 1 in May. Suddenly I realised what I would be doing with my week off from my day job. Where I thought I would get ahead with Nick’s marketing course, I now realised I would again do more homework; this time writing another story.

It’s now Wednesday and I have five days left until I go back to my day job. So far the plotting of the short story is coming along nicely and I hope I can start the actual writing this weekend. It seems that Module Three couldn’t have started at a more opportune time and I’m going to make the most of my holiday in the coming days.

Related blog posts:

  1. Help! I’m Writing a Short Story
  2. Making a Full-time Living with Writing
  3. Learning a New Craft


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Oct 152016

tomboySTORY ENGINEERING – Mastering the 6 core competencies of successful writing
By Larry Brooks

While maybe not entirely my how-to-write-bible, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is one of my favourite books on the subject of fiction writing, and I learned a lot from it.

Story Engineering is a plotters dream. In six topics Brooks takes the writer past the most important parts of how to set up a story. He calls them the Six Core Competencies.

  1. Concept
  2. Character
  3. Theme
  4. Story Structure
  5. Scene Execution
  6. Writing Voice

While not every writer is a plotter, I firmly believe that more writers could benefit from a bit more knowledge about story structure and character building. If not just for the benefit of the story (it will have a better flow), but also for the speed of creating and writing it.

Being a rather structured and organised person myself, I found the in-depth chapter on Story Structure in Brooks’ book the most helpful. I now live by the 4-Act structure and try to write the precise amount of words to end up with equal quarters in my books, interspersing plot and pinch points at the right places.
I must confess I even check other people’s books when I read them, to see if they have their plot points in the right places…

Another very helpful chapter was Brooks’ explanation of Character, where I learned that to create interesting heroes and bad guys, you simply need to give them three dimensions; what they look like, how they think and what made them what they are today, also known as backstory.
I had a very enjoyable time setting up the main characters for my Jacob Hick Murder Mysteries, thinking up things that could have happened to them in the past. Things that likely never make it on to the page, but that hopefully have created three-dimensional characters.

While Brooks’ chapters are very in-depth and full of information, he does have a bit of a tendency to waffle on about baseball in his examples. But it’s easy to read past that and take out whatever you find the most helpful.

I recommend Story Engineering to anyone who wants to or has written fiction, whether they are plotters or pantsers. I know that the confirmed pantser will scream at the thought of having to structure their thoughts and writing, but if you only think you’re leaning that way, it might well be worth it to test Brooks’ methods. You might even come to the conclusion that you’re actually <gasp> a plotter.

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Sep 012016

TrackIn a recent podcast Joanna Penn looked back on her indie career in steps of four years, like Olympic athletes do. This because moving forward with self-publishing often doesn’t happen in a year, but lots of things can change in four years.

Inspired by this I thought it would be fun to see how my own ‘Olympic’ career as an indie author has changed over the years and look forward to the future.

2008 (Bejing Olympics)

In 2008 I lived in York, England and worked part-time at a local delicatessen shop. I had self-published my first book, Romans, Vikings, Churches and Chocolate in 2007. Ebooks didn’t exist yet in those days, except in PDF-form, and I had done a short paperback print-run of 3000 copies. Consequently in 2008 my house was still full of boxes! I had managed however to get my book into all the local bookshops, including Barnes & Knoble and Waterstones and, it being interesting for tourists, in all the museum shops as well. In 2008 I sold my 1000th copy, so at least some of the stockpile was going down.
Early 2008 I wrote my second book, From Dissenters to Fire Engines and did a short print-run of 1000 copies. This added to the pile of boxes in my attic again, but later in that year, I moved back to the Netherlands and all the boxes moved to my distributor’s house. She took over the distribution of my books, sending me my royalties every so often.

2012 (London Olympics)
In 2012 I was back in the Netherlands and worked part-time as a receptionist at the town hall. In 2010 I had written my third book, Time Zones, Container and Three Square Meals a Day. This book was published as ebook and also available as paperback in Print on Demand, saving me from having a house full of boxes again. By now my distributor in York let me know that Romans, Vikings, my first book, was sold out.
I had written and published a sequel to Time Zones in 2011 by the name of More Stories of Time Zones and Containers. This book was available in the same way as Time Zones, as ebook and Paperback.
In 2012 I translated Time Zones into Dutch and next to having it published as ebook, I did a short print-run of 250 copies.
Although I didn’t make millions with selling my books in 2012, I was able to pay some monthly bills and even give myself a tiny ‘salary’ as well.

2016 (Rio Olympics)
In 2016 I still live in the same town as in 2012 and still work part-time as a receptionist. By now my second book in York is sold out, while the three books I had in 2012 still sell as ebooks and paperback. In 2014 I decided to try my hand at fiction and via a certain set of circumstances, I reconnected with my friend Eva, who became my developmental editor. She helped me develop my fiction into a cosy mystery series, of which the first book, Don’t Feed the Rat! is now finished and in the editing stages.
In the summer of 2016, I decided to properly set myself up as an author/entrepreneur, a process which is in its early stages, but moving along by leaps and bounces.
During our ruminations over my fiction, Eva and I developed a new writing technique, which we decided was special enough to share with the world. So currently we are co-writing a How To book, which will be published in June next year. Just before that Don’t Feed the Rat! will also be published.
The rest of 2016 I will be busy setting up my writing business, and plotting Book 2 of my cosy mystery series, currently going by the working title Sewer Mayhem.

2020 (Tokyo Olympics)
By 2020 I have implemented my author/entrepreneur plans and am quite far along in being able to earn my keep with writing and publshing. I am nearly finsihed with writing the nine-book cosy mystery series and perhaps am contemplating a new series.
Of course the How To book I wrote with Eva will have done really well and we both will have become experts, having co-written a sequel. We are both blogging about our writing technique and perhaps even have set up an online course for people to buy.
I hope that by 2020 the Dutch self-publishing world has matured and is now taken serious by Dutch athors, who flock to my website for advice on self-pubbing and marketing. This has therefore become a third stream of income for me, revolving around a number of How To books that I wrote about the subject and perhaps some more online courses.

So far my Olympic career. What suprises me most looking back is how much the self-publishing world has changed in a relatively short period of time. Hard to believe that Amazon launched KDP as a self-publishing platform in 2009, which is only seven years ago!
This gives me hope for the future as a lot can change in four years time, so my predictions for 2020 don’t sound that farfetched at all!

To hear Joanna Penn about her own Olympic career, listen to her podcast of 29th of August 2016.

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Aug 242016

000014-0020-000001Five weeks ago, I wrote about my plans to become an author/entrepreneur and a lot has happened since then. It’s quite amazing how fast things can move, once you set your mind to something.

To get a better grip on how to turn myself into an author/entrepreneur, I am now following the steps in Joanna Penn’s book Business For Authors. How To Be An Author Entrepreneur.
I have set up a business plan, in which I have broadly sketched what my plans are for the next five years. Time for a little update.

Plans for 2017
In 2017 I want to publish Book 1 and Book 2 in my cosy mystery series, start podcasting about self-publishing for the Dutch writing market and publish a ‘How to self-publish’ book for that same Dutch market.
Unfortunately the Dutch market is stubborn, so after talking to my developmental editor Eva (who happens to know a lot about the Dutch writing market as well), I set myself a maximum of two years to make some inroads there. After those two years, I will review if it is still feasible to continue my efforts to penetrate that market, or if it’s better to focus on other things.

Co-writing new How To book
In the meantime, Eva an I have embarked on an exciting new project, which will give both of us some scalable income (read: a book to sell)!
During the last two years that Eva has been my developmental editor, we have created a new fiction writing technique together. We both have tried and tested our method for our respective writings and feel that the technique could help other writers plot and write their books easier and faster. It’s not a technique we have come across in the hundreds of books and blog there are on writing, so we truly feel we have developed something unique.
We are currently working on writing this book together and plan to have it published in June 2017.
This is a new venture, which I now have realised also fits perfectly into my author/entrepreneur route.

Online courses
Besides all this, I have started doing two online courses.
First a course to learn how to use the writing software Scrivener. I bought Scrivener about four weeks ago, as one of its features is that it can be used to compile ebooks in different formats, like e-pub and mobi. I have always found it quite a drag to create ebooks and in Scrivener it’s supposed to be a breeze, thereby making my life as an entrepreneur easier.
The second course is about online marketing and how to build a mailing list even before you have any books published. This is an in depth course and I am expecting to learn a lot.

Both courses cost money, but I am willing to pay and invest in myself. In my current day job, I also at times have to follow courses, which in those cases are paid for by my employer. In the case of my author/entrepreneurship I am my own employer, and spending money on becoming an expert is a must.

For the rest of 2016 I have the challenge to find a new balance between my writing on one side and the courses, blogging etc. on the other side. I have a good feeling about it all. As long as I still have time go to the gym and watch the odd sit com on TV for leisure, it will be okay.
Busy, but exciting times ahead! :)

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