Tracking Word Count

I’ll be doing my Thursday posts about writing and publishing again, although they’ll be less about changes at the portals now and more about resources and strategies for indie authors. They’ll now be tagged Author Resources instead of Wild West Thursday. We’re in the midst of a fabulous time for writers, filled with both opportunity and challenge. I find it exciting, but sometimes overwhelming, too. So, on Thursdays, we’ll talk a bit more about that.

There’s a new tab on the menu bar called Author Resources. I’ve added two tutorials there, as of now: one explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet for tracking book sales by month, year, etc., and the other explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet to track the results of a shorter promotion. Of course, there are other ways to track both of these items: I’m just sharing my method (mostly because writers in my local group asked me to do so.) You need Excel or another spreadsheet program to set up either or both, and a little bit of time.

Of course, there are more things to track, and one of them is daily word count. How long does it take you to write a book? This is a particularly important piece of information to have when planning a publication schedule. I’m in the middle of planning the next few years of work, since I’m finishing up a lot of series.

Earlier this year, I recognized that my idea of how quickly I write was formed when I was writing for traditional publishers, which meant I didn’t have all the extra jobs of being my own publisher, too. These days, I can spend an entire week updating files or metadata or websites – especially when republishing a backlist series – and not write one word of new content. That happened with the republication of the eight Dragonfire novels and the three Dragon Diaries books. Even on a daily basis, there are publishing crises to solve and jobs to get done, all tasks that distract from the business of creating new stories.

It was clear that I needed to recalibrate my expectations. How fast do I write, in this new situation?

The easiest way to do this is to – surprise! – keep track of daily word count in a spreadsheet, then total the word count of the month. Since there will be variations over time – as I attend conferences or have other obligations outside my office – it’s best to track over a number of months, then average out the results to get a more accurate picture of what’s happening.

I started to keep track in the middle of May, and am pretty tough about counting only net word gain. If I chuck 4K words and write 5K, my count for the day is only 1K.

My results look like this:
May – 37,000 (a half-month)
June – 33,000
July – 43,000
August – 40,000
September – 37,000

That gives me an average word count per month of 38,000 words, and I’ll use that as a working number, even though May was only a half-month. I used to write closer 50,000 words a month – plus I spent a lot less time in my office – so that’s a big difference.

There are two things that shake out of having this number. Let’s talk about the first one today.

1. Now, that I have a number and it looks pretty consistent, I can use it to plan my production and publishing schedule for the year(s) ahead. 38K words a month is about 450K words per year. That’s five 90K novels or nine 50K novels – or eighteen 25K novellas. You get the idea. I can look at my book plan and decide how many titles I can realistically write per year.

I also can balance out my content. I know, for example, that you all prefer my longer books. I know this because they sell better and have better reviews. And the truth is that I’d rather write a short story of 5K to 10K or a book at 90K to 100K, and not mess with the lengths in between. This market is skewed to more frequent publication, so there’s a balance to be struck. If I write five 90K novels and nothing else, will I lose visibility (especially if they’re divided between author brands)? How can I do a fast-release launch of a new series with this productivity level? I’ll have to stockpile books until I have a few completed. Hmm. Can I balance long and short stories in the same fictional world?

Should I write in fewer fictional worlds? This is the inevitable question, but I like writing all the things. I think it keeps me fresh creatively to move between sub-genres, so you can see that there are other considerations as well as raw word count. Planning a publication schedule is not for the faint of heart, but when you know how quickly you write, it’s a lot easier to make a plan you can keep.

The other obvious thing to talk about is how to improve current productivity. I’m going to save that for a separate post, since this one is pretty long already. Next week, I’m going to tell you about an exciting book I’ve just read, so we’ll talk about improving word count in two weeks. Happy writing!

Novelists Inc 2018

©Deborah A. CookeLast week, I attended the Novelists’ Inc conference, which is held each year. This year (as in many recent years) it was in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida. This conference brings together a lot of incredible people and is a terrific gathering of ideas and energy—plus it’s at the beach.

These beachy pix are from recent years. This year, I didn’t take more because they would have been similar, but also there was a red tide. This is an algae bloom which is detrimental to fish near the beach and I believe it had begun after hurricane Florence. At this particular point on the beach, there weren’t so many dead fish—they do clean them up every day—but a lot of dead crabs. While it was intriguing to see how many kinds of crabs there are in the gulf, it was sad to see them when they were dead. There were also a lot fewer birds, probably because the death of the fish meant there was less (or nothing) for them to eat. I love seeing the pelicans and they were a bit scarce. I didn’t see any dolphins this year either, but that might have been timing – in previous years, I saw them in the afternoon or early evening. I walked first thing in the morning, and the smell from the red tide wasn’t too bad. Mr. Math suggested that the algae needs the sunshine and warmth of the day to bloom, which would explain why people had troubles later in the day with eye and throat irritations.

©Deborah A. CookeAnd then there was the conference itself. As always, NINC brings together an amazing group of workshop presenters, but this year it was particularly hard to choose between sessions. There were four tracks and it seemed that I wanted to attend two workshops in every time slot. I learned a tremendous amount and made a huge To Do list (this is typical). Highlights for me included David Gaughran‘s workshops – because no matter how often I go to his workshops, I always learn more. (Plus he has a wonderful Irish accent 🙂 that would be easy to listen to forever). He taught about BookBub ads and more about Amazon’s algorithms. Joanna Penn taught two fantastic workshops, one about content-based marketing and the other highlighting global English-language markets for books and strategies for reaching them. I learned a lot in Mark Dawson‘s session on strategies for AMS ads. A surprise hit for me was Dr. Jennifer Barnes and her workshops about the psychology of fiction and of titles. Representatives were also in attendance from almost all of the portals, and all of them had interesting information to share. It’s a fantastic conference to discover new opportunities and strategies.

Jewels of Historical Romance at the Novelists Inc conference September 2018The truly fabulous thing about this conference, though, was that this was the first time I attended as one of the Jewels of Historical Romance. This fantastic group of historical romance writers invited me to join them last spring, and I was thrilled to do so. Although I knew most of them from online, I hadn’t met many of them in person – and there was going to be a big confab of Jewels at this conference, so I went. Here are nine of us at the gazebo in the hotel courtyard. From the back left, that’s me (not smiling. LOL) then Erica Ridley, Lucinda Brant (who came from Australia), and Cheryl Bolen. In the front from the left, Lauren Royal, Darcy Burke, Tanya Anne Crosby, Glynnis Campbell and Cynthia Wright. Brenda Hiatt was also at the conf, but isn’t in this picture. Kimberly Cates and Jill Barnett were the only two Jewels not in attendance this year – there are plans for all of us to make this conf in 2020. Meeting these women in person and having the chance to not only get to know them better but to plan some joint promotion for the future was certainly the highlight of the conference for me.

And then there was karaoke night… This is the second year that Draft2Digital has hosted this event, and it wrapped up the conference this year. It was such a success that I suspect they’re going to need to do it every year.

I suspect I need to go to NINC every year, too.

Another Month of Walking

It’s been four weeks since I told you about my new walking plan. Last time, I did my 4.5km daily walk 20 times in 28 days. This time, I did it 24 times, which means I missed 6 days.

On one of those days, we went to Ikea and parked at the far end of the lot. Between that and walking around the store, I was only 1km short for the day, which is funny. So, I’m counting 25 days of walking.

I also went to a conference last week (more about that in tomorrow’s post), and ended up with two travel days. On both of them, I managed to fit in my walk before going to the airport. Both of those days, I doubled my walking distance for the day, which tells you all you need to know about Pearson International Airport in Toronto. While at the conference, I walked on the beach each day, which was a lovely change of scene. Those days also had more distance – the walk down the beach was 6 km, then there was all the running around the conference hotel. In the end, I’m probably not short 5 full days if I add up the distance, but we’ll call it 25 days of walking and aim for improvement.

Autumn has arrived here in Canada, and I enjoyed seeing the changes on my daily walk over the past month. The leaves on the trees are changing colour, of course, and are just beautiful. They haven’t fallen yet, but I’m looking forward to walking through them. (The urge to kick them never seems to fade.)

I’ve also been noticing how the wildlife is migrating. The cormorants arrived on the lake a few weeks ago. They’ll stay until the water gets colder or freezes over, since they need to catch fresh fish every day. The Canada geese started to fly their practice flights: they fly shorter circuits, probably working up their strength. At first you can watch them fly the entire circle and they’re airborne for only ten minutes or so. Within days, they’re flying huge loops and disappear from view before returning. They tend to hang around until the first hard frost, but are becoming more numerous as more northern flocks arrive and take a break here. The blue jays are back in larger numbers again—although they’re often noisy birds, in flock, they’re quiet. It’s common at this time of year to glance out the window and discover two or three dozen blue jays looking for food, silently, before they all take flight again.

Have you been walking this month? Are you seeing the change in the seasons where you live?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a bit more about attending the Novelists’ Ink conference this year.

20 Days of Walking

Since 2011, I’ve been spending a lot more time at my desk, getting this indie publishing thing squared away. It’s been a lot of work, plus details kept changing so the work had to be updated and done again. (And again and again and again. Gah!) I’ve also been writing new stories at the same time and publishing them myself. Right now, there are over 80 books on my dashboard at any given portal. That’s a lot of content and a lot or work. Moving to indie meant not just long days at my desk but every single day at my desk, which meant I was feeling a lot less healthy.

I tried a number of different things over the past year, none of which seemed to stick. But on August 6, I decided to walk. I’ve always liked walking and I’ve always – at least until 2011 – walked a lot. I used to walk with my dog, but she’s getting older and doesn’t always want to walk a second time each day. (She goes for a run with Mr. Math every day.) Also, she tends to dawdle on her second walk, so I decided to walk by myself. I picked a route and walked it. My phone says it’s 4.5 km, or about 5600 steps. My phone also says that it takes me between 42 and 44 minutes. That’s not even an hour. I figure I can invest an hour a day in my own well-being.

Beginning August 6, I walked that route every single day, rain or shine, for two weeks. (It was actually quite nice in the rain.) I changed the time around a bit, experimenting with what worked best for me. The next two weeks were very hot and sticky, so I only walked it six times in those 14 days. I also had my annual canning to complete during those two weeks, plus I did a lot of weeding and mulching in the garden. I was still active, just not walking every day. So, I walked my route 20 times in 28 days, which isn’t bad for a new habit. I’ll try to improve on that in the next 30 days, and do my walk every single day.

And what’s the result? I have lost a couple of pounds over the past month, which isn’t epic but is better than gaining a few. 🙂 I haven’t changed my eating habits, so didn’t expect otherwise. (I might be eating a bit more – ha! – because walking makes me hungry.) The more important thing is that I feel better. I’m sleeping better. I feel less stressed and more organized.

And the most exciting thing is that walking for 45 minutes daily is a marvelous way to unravel plot tangles. I feel joyous about writing again, and I feel creative. This next year is going to be very exciting for new stories – and maybe I’ll even lose a few more pounds.

Have you started any new habits lately and stuck with them?

 

Writer Resources

Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of blog posts about writing and publishing. When I went indie in 2012, though, I wasn’t sure how applicable those posts would be to our new world (which felt a little wild for a few years there.) This past weekend at my local writers’ group, though, we started talking about resources and I realized that a great deal of that information would still be useful to writers.

I’m sifting through it in my spare time (ha) and making it live again.

I will also be doing more teaching next year, and have started to muster my support materials. I use Excel spreadsheets a lot to track results, and I don’t want to spend workshop time walking through the set-up of each one. So, I’m creating some tutorials here on the site. These aren’t the only way to do things: they’re just my way, and might be useful to other writers.

All of this lives under a new tab called Author Resources, which you can find on the menu bar. You can also search in the blog for posts in the categories Wild West Thursday, Indie Publishing, Publishing, and Writing. There is also an archive here of the blog posts I did for the writer-in-residence program at the Toronto Public Library in 2012. You can find those in the Writer-in-Residence category.

ORWA Workshop in 2019

Update – this workshop has been cancelled.

Ottawa Romance Writers AssociationI’ll be teaching a workshop at the Ottawa Romance Writers Association in Nepean, Ontario on May 5, 2019.

Switching to Glide:
Join Deborah Cooke for a workshop on targeting opportunity, managing back list, and ensuring your own productivity to create a steady revenue stream from your writing. Whether you’re indie, hybrid, traditionally published or an aspiring writer, you can use these techniques to plan for success.

This is exciting, since I haven’t taught for a while. It’ll be a totally new workshop.

Visit their website for more details about this group and their meetings.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

What a crazy year this has been. 2017 seems to have gone by at warp speed. I had all these plans…some of them happened, but some didn’t. And here is – the eve of the weekend of Christmas. I still have some pictures to take for the next Fiber Friday, so we’ll do that next week. 🙂

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with your friends and family, and lots of good cheer. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a great weekend.

I’ll be back next week on Boxing Day as there are new releases coming out next week – and I have a 99 cent sale next week, too.

So, stay warm, be happy, enjoy the blessings of your life, and I’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

Building a Book Tree

Deborah Cooke's Book TreeA couple of years ago, I built a book tree for Christmas in our dining room and decorated it for the holidays. There were some questions about how to do it, so this year, I took pictures of the tree in progress.

You can read that old post right here.

That’s the tree from two years ago on the right. I built the new one in the same spot.

Book Tree Base, built by Deborah Cooke 2017

I started with eight books in a circle on the floor. Because book trees tend to be a little tippy near the top, you want the base to be as stable as possible. (A book tree might not be a good plan if you have acrobatic cats.) Choose books of similar or even the same thickness, and start with big books at the bottom.

I apologize for the picture quality. I started to build the book tree at night and the lighting in the dining room was…atmospheric.

We have a lot of coffee table books, and they found their way into the tree this year. These two cookbooks are exactly the same format as well as large, heavy books. The circle is about three and a half feet wide at the outside edges and I built it on a piece of carpeting. (The rug we used last year is now at a window where the New Girl keeps an eye on the world.) The red books are Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, which is a good foundation for many things. 🙂

The book tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017Then you start building. Angle the next layer over the gaps, so each book on round two rests halfway on one book in the first level and halfway on the adjacent one. Again, keep an eye on the book thickness and use hard covers for best results.

Here’s the tree after about four rounds. Inevitably, books end up being of differing thicknesses and sizes, so it all starts to get less mathematical. Angle the books over the gaps, stack books to make up the thickness of their neighbors—and when you do stack books, twist them at slightly different angles.

After four or five layers, it’s good to check that things are lining up. Get down on the floor so the base of the tree is at eye level. Check that things are lining up vertically. You don’t want to be drifting to one side or the other!

Book Tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017In this shot, you can see that the tree is rising vertically on each side and just starting to cant inward a little bit. This is a good point to start making the diameter of the tree smaller. You can also see where I’ve stacked three books to make up the height of a big fat one, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I also checked this from the other side to make sure those sides were rising vertically. If you don’t build yours against a wall like mine, walk around it. When I get about this far, and have books stacked all over the dining room table to sort them, Mr. Math usually shows up and starts reading. 🙂

Completed book tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017From this point, there’s just a lot of stacking to be done. Gradually, change to smaller books because that will make it easier to taper the tree to a point. I always top my tree with some small leatherbound editions of classics (Dickens is there) and a leatherbound copy of Grimms Fairy Tales at the summit. On top is the little tree my SIL made for my husband’s apartment many years ago.

Here’s my finished book tree for this year. Just a little picture because it’s not as sharp as would be ideal—plus you really want to see it tarted up. I think it’s about a foot taller than last year’s version.

To decorate it, I used two strands of Ikea LED snowflake lights again. The lights are easy to add: you just push the wire between two books to hold it in place. Round and round, from bottom to top. It works out perfectly each time.

Once the lights were in place, I added lot of ribbons, berries and flowers in red and gold. (My book tree has a palette. Ha.) Maybe you’re like me and have a box of shiny trinkets from Christmas packages or floral arrangements that are shiny and festive so you save them, but you aren’t quite sure what to do with them. (I even have three glittery pomegranates, although I’m not sure why.) The book tree is a great destination. Tuck those ribbons and berries into the gaps between the books. There’s some gold bead garland in my box of tricks, too, and it goes on this tree.

Here’s this year’s finished book tree:
Book Tree built by Deborah Cooke 2017It looks even more sparkly and festive in real life. I’m pleased with it. 🙂

Have you built a book tree yet? Are you going to?

NaNoWriMo 2017

National Novel Writing MonthI often participate in NaNoWriMo (which is National Novel Writing Month) and this year is no exception.

The fact is that every month of my life is NaNo, since the goal of NaNo is to write 50K words in a month. That’s not a novel in my corner of the fiction market, but it’s about half of one. Most months, I write new content at this rate, so November isn’t anything special. I’m using working on multiple projects at a time, as well, although I only list one on the NaNo website.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a good way to cross check my productivity, though. I tend to keep track of my page count on Post-It notes on my desk, and I do update my wall calendar each week with my progress—right alongside my goals for the week. Keeping track on the NaNo site makes me feel more accountable, and it also makes me more aware of what else is placing demands on my time. What’s interfering with writing? What am I doing instead? NaNo provides a little productivity cross-check for me each year, and helps me to refine my process.

In the Midnight Hour, book #3 of the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeThis year, for example, I’ve written 13,000 words through Saturday. (Still taking Sundays off.) That’s not bad, but it’s less than I’d hoped to achieve in four days. I aim for 3K to 5K per day of new word count. The fact is that there was been a LOT of publishing stuff happening behind the scenes last week, so I wasn’t even starting to write until after 2PM. The problem is that mornings are my most productive time.

This week, I’m not going to check my email until lunch.

One of the speakers at NINC made an interesting comment that has stuck with me, that email is a means for other people to offload jobs to you. His strategy was to do what was important to him first, then see what other people wanted to hand off to him. It’s good advice. I just have to break my habit of checking email while I have my second cup of coffee. 🙂

You can find me on NaNo here.

Home with Lists

The exciting thing about attending a conference like Novelists’ Ink is that I always end up with so many action items. Novelists’ Ink is also unusual among the conferences I attend because it’s only for published authors, most of whom write genre fiction. (A high percentage of members write either romance or mystery.) So, there are no reader events like booksignings during the conference (although Jodi Vaughn and I made an exception and met with some readers for lunch on Saturday. It was such fun – Jodi is lovely and it turned out that her fans were also some of mine!) So, NINC is about the business of publishing. In this still-changing market, there are not only new options available, but better ways evolving to get things done. I always end up making lists on the flight home. You’ll notice some changes happening as a result of what I’ve learned this past week, although a number of them will happen behind the scenes.

You’ll notice some changes happening as a result of what I’ve learned this past week, although a number of them will happen behind the scenes. For example, I need to review my notes from Erica Ridley’s wonderful session on newsletters, and decide what to improve first with my monthly newsletter. (There are LOTS of things to be improved there!)

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeI’ll also be changing the numbering of the Dragons of Incendium series. Amazon doesn’t allow incremental numbers on series pages and I’ve been stubborn about changing my idea of the book numbers to fit theirs. 🙂 In talking to other authors, though, it’s clear that there are tangible benefits to having all of the books on the same product page. I’ll make them the same at all portals once they’re reformatted. The short stories will be given whole numbers in this arrangement, so the book order will become:

  1. Wyvern’s Mate
  2. Nero’s Dream
  3. Wyvern’s Prince
  4. Arista’s Legacy
  5. Wyvern’s Warrior
  6. Kraw’s Secret
  7. Wyvern’s Outlaw

Love Potion #9, a paranormal romance and romantic comedy by Claire DelacroixI’m going to commission new covers for my time travel romances, and probably move Love Potion #9 over to the Deborah Cooke side of things. It is a contemporary paranormal romance, after all. I do love the cover image, but it doesn’t communicate the subgenre clearly enough to do its job well – if you love this cover and want a print copy, grab it soon!

There are dozens of other tweaks and changes to be made. I attending workshops with tips on productivity and on strategies for publishing. I learned about conferences that I haven’t attended before and revisited the idea of attending some others again. I’ll let you know when any of these items impact what you see on your end of the publishing biz.

The second exciting result of going to conference is meeting new authors. I always meet some authors I haven’t met before and learn a bit about them during the conference, then come home with a huge shopping list so I can become acquainted with their books. No matter how avidly I read, there are always new voices and new fictional worlds to be discovered – that I’ve sat with the author in a workshop or had lunch with him or her is icing on the proverbial cake. I’ve already added a dozen books to my reader and am looking forward to digging in. When I find some I particularly love, I’ll share them with you here.

The third and maybe the biggest benefit is creative. Walking the beach is certainly a contributing factor, plus I went offline for the week. I came home from NINC recharged, with my imagination full of new stories. I did a lot of plotting, which surprised me but that’s all good. I also have more ideas to connect my existing stories with each other. I have started to do this (as some of you have seen in A Duke By Any Other Name) but the possibilities multipled for me when I gave them the opportunity.

Whisper Kiss, #5 in the Dragonfire series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeIn the Midnight Hour, book #3 of the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeFor example, I need a tattoo artist based in New York for the Flatiron Five series and realized that Rox’s tattoo shop, Imagination Ink, which we encountered first in Whisper Kiss, is in NYC. Rox has a partner and friend named Chynna (as well as one named Neo). I decided that Chynna would be perfect. She’ll turn up at F5 in Damon’s book, In the Midnight Hour and become a continuing character in that series. Flatiron Five doesn’t have any paranormal elements, but Chynna isn’t paranormal. Even Rox isn’t paranormal herself—she’s just partners with Niall, a dragon shifter. This kind of cross-pollination between series is particularly fun—I went back and read what I’ve said so far about Chynna and got excited about the possibilities. I remembered writing a scene with Chynna that didn’t make it into the final book and had to hunt it down. I posted it as an out-take right here so you can meet Chynna. (She doesn’t actually appear in Whisper Kiss.)

There are wonderful plans in the works already, and I’ll share them with you as soon as I can!

Since we’re talking about conferences and reader events, tell me whether you attend any reader events. If you don’t go to reader conferences or events, is there a reason why? (Some readers like to save their money for books, which is good, too.) If you do go, where are the events located? Do you attend for workshops or signings or both? What’s your favorite part?