The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine
Publisher: Randy Ingermanson ("the Snowflake guy")
Motto: "A Vision for Excellence"
Date: April 30, 2021
Issue: Volume 17, Number 3
Follow Me on Amazon’s Author Central: http://amazon.com/author/randyingermanson
Recent Blog Posts of Interest:
- The Success Equation
- How to Make an Action Plan
- Your Minimum Viable Product
- A Virtuous Cycle for Marketing Your Books
Circulation: 5451 writers, each of them creating a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
"Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing"
What's in This Issue
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
2) Organization: Your Daily Planning Time
3) Craft: Some Thoughts on Deliberate Practice
4) Marketing: Choosing an E-mail Newsletter Service
5) Randy Recommends ConvertKit
6) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
Those of you who have joined recently, welcome to my e-zine!
If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my website at: http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/
This is issue #3 in 2021. Normally, I’d have sent it out in March, but that was a chaotic month here, due to a death in the family, so I decided to not publish the March issue of this e-zine.
As a reminder, we’re doing things somewhat differently in 2021. My goal this year is to teach you, my Loyal Readers, how to be more successful.
Daily planning is crucial for your success, and in the Organization column just below, we’ll talk about the two key aspects of daily planning.
Last month, we talked about the importance of deliberate practice for improving your Craft. This is an open-ended topic, and every writer is different. But I’ll give you some ideas on how to get started.
The most important part of your marketing efforts is your e-mail list. In this month’s Marketing column, I talk about how to choose an e-mail newsletter service.
And an extra goodie for you: my wildly popular book How to Write Dynamite Scenes Using the Snowflake Method will be turning 3 years old in May. This is the highest rated book I’ve ever written, with a 4.7-star average rating on Amazon.
To celebrate the book’s 3rd birthday, I’ll be running a $3 sale on the e-book version for the next week, starting today and ending very late at night on May 7.
If your scenes aren’t packing the punch you want, you may find the reason after reading this book. It’s a short book, because writing dynamite scenes isn’t complicated, once you know the secret. A little dynamite goes a long way.
2) Organization: Your Daily Planning Time
Life happens, and it has a nasty way of getting in the way of your plans.
You can’t do anything about the curveballs life throws at you, but you can stay on course.
I talked about creating a Production Plan in the January issue of this e-zine. That issue is archived here, so if you still don’t have a Production Plan for 2021, take a look at that article and consider making one. It’s never too late to make a Production Plan for the year.
Staying on Course
The key question is how you stay on course. My answer to that is in two parts:
- At the start of every week, I make a complete list of the tasks I want to complete and the projects I want to work on in the coming week. I rarely have more than 15 items on this list, and it takes me about 15 minutes to put together my This Week List.
- At the start of every day, I choose the items from my This Week List that I’ll work on today and I put them on my Today List. Unless something incredibly urgent has suddenly come up, the ONLY things I consider for my Today List are things on the This Week List.
It always takes me less than 5 minutes to put together my Today List. Often I can do it in less than a minute.
Why is it so fast to make a Today List?
Limiting Your Options
The key thing that makes it work is that you consciously limit your options at the beginning of the week.
If you build a good solid This Week List that’s neither too easy nor too hard, then every day, you don’t have to think about the thousand things that you’d like to do “someday.”
You only have to think about the 15 items on the This Week List.
You’ve narrowed your focus to the things you already decided were important.
And you made those decisions on what’s important before the week started, when you don’t have to actually do them.
It’s much easier to put unpleasant things on a list for the future, rather than a list for right now.
But I’ll say it again, because this is important. If you want to make good decisions on what to do each day, limit your options to just a few things. That way, you don’t get paralyzed by all the many things on your “someday list.”
Decisions are fast when you only have a few options.
Schedule Your Planning Time
My experience is that this planning time doesn’t happen unless I schedule it.
Schedule time at the start of each week to make your This Week List. 15 minutes should be enough.
Then schedule time at the start of each day to make your Today List, choosing only from things on the This Week List. 5 minutes should be enough.
And of course, if something urgent comes up in the middle of the week, add it to your This Week List. You’re flexible, and you can deal with curveballs.
- Do you already have a weekly planning time?
- If not, what day and what time could you schedule it, and where could you do it, and what tools could you use to make your list, and how long would it take?
- Do you already have a daily planning time?
- If not, what time of the day could you schedule it, and where could you do it, and what tools could you use to make your list, and how long would it take?
- If you really want to make this happen, one easy way is to set an alarm on your phone for each of these planning times, to make double-sure you’ll remember.
3) Craft: Some Thoughts on Deliberate Practice
In the February issue of this e-zine, I talked about a startling book I read several years ago, Talent is Overrated. See the article “Why Quality is Not About Talent” in the archives here.
The book claims that your skills are not the result of some magical talent that you’re born with. Instead, you develop skills through a painful and difficult exercise called “deliberate practice.”
I hope you’ve had time to read the book Talent is Overrated.
In this article, I want to lay out some thoughts on that dreaded thing, “deliberate practice.”
How, exactly, do you do “deliberate practice,” as a writer?
In my own life, here are the three key ingredients that go into my deliberate practice:
Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.
Let’s be clear upfront. Getting critiqued is one of the most painful things you’ll ever do.
Do it anyway. Because you don’t know what you don’t know.
And you don’t even know that you don’t know what it is that you don’t know.
You really can’t critique your own work. I have a best-selling, award-winning writer friend, James L. Rubart, who keeps reminding me: “You can’t read the label when you’re inside the bottle.”
And it’s true. You’re too close to your own work. You need an outsider to tell you what you’re doing wrong. But it’s best if you lay down some ground rules before you get critiqued.
Such as, you want to hear what you’re doing right first, before you have to hear what you’re doing wrong.
And more importantly, you only want to hear “just one thing” that you’re doing wrong. Because you can only fix one thing at a time, so it’s pointless and overwhelming to hear about everything.
If you can find somebody to point out “just one thing” you need to work on in your writing, that’s gold. It’s not fun. I guarantee it will be painful.
But if you want to get better as a writer, this is how you get better.
Studying the Theory
Once you realize that you’re doing something wrong, your first instinct is to panic.
Because once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Now, everywhere you look in your work, you’ll see that “horrible one thing” that you’re doing wrong. And you start to imagine that you’re the world’s worst writer.
No worries. You’re not. The world’s worst writer is much worse than you, because they have no idea what they’re doing wrong, and they don’t care.
You know and you care.
Now you need some sort of understanding of what “the right way” is.
Here, the internet is your friend.
You can go to your favorite search engine and ask it a simple question about how to improve your craft. And you’ll get a bunch of web pages that might answer your question. Or they might not.
Or you can go to your favorite online retailer and search on the element of craft you’re doing badly. And you’ll get a bunch of books that might teach you the theory of how to do it better. Or they might not.
Study these sources of information. Decide which you agree with and which you violently disagree with. (They can’t all be right.)
Now you’ve got a handle on how to write better.
In theory. But that doesn’t mean you can do it in practice. It’s much easier to know the theory of “how to swim” than it is to actually swim. To really learn to swim, you need to get wet in a real, live pool.
To really learn how to write, you need to get wet in a real, live manuscript. You need to rewrite a scene, possibly many times.
Writing is Rewriting
It may be that you can just pick up the scene for which you received that painful critique and immediately improve it, based on what you learned.
But if you’re early in your career, rewriting your own writing may not be the quickest road to nirvana. So let me suggest another approach.
When I was 13 years old, I visited the Louvre in Paris and saw Leonardo’s famous painting, The Mona Lisa. A young artist sat at an easel, making a copy of the masterpiece. Not because he wanted to improve on Leonardo. (That way lies dragons.) His goal was to learn the master’s tricks by reproducing them in his own style. And thereby to become his own best self.
I would bet that a good way to test your new-found theory of craft is to try it out in reworking some scene from a famous, best-selling author.
That author is undoubtedly good. So you’ll learn an amazing amount by taking a scene from their book and trying all sorts of tricks to rework it. This will be extremely difficult, because the scene is already excellent. And that’s the point. Trying to improve on excellence makes you strong.
So here’s a suggestion you can try.
- Buy an e-book by an author you admire who writes the way you would like to write in the same category that you write.
- Export the first scene (or any scene you especially like) to your computer. If you don’t know how to do this, see this recent blog post I wrote that tells you how to export a segment of an e-book, step by step.
- Now apply the theory you learned to this scene. Does the scene follow the theory you learned? Would applying the theory make the scene even stronger? Try it and see. If it does, you learned something. If it doesn’t, you also learned something. As you do this, you’ll see that the author made some stylistic decisions you prefer not to make. They’re not necessarily “wrong.” They’re just not you.
Your goal here is not to become arrogant about “improving” a bestselling author. (I already warned you about those pesky dragons.) Your goal is to learn by hands-on practice what makes one bestselling author excellent. And to learn by hands-on practice (deliberate practice) how to create your own unique style.
- Can you handle the pain of applying “deliberate practice” to your own writing?
- Where could you go to get a critique of “just one thing” you need to improve?
- Where could you go to learn the theory on how to do that one thing better?
- What best-selling author could you study?
4) Marketing: Choosing Your E-Mail Newsletter Service
You may think that e-mail is a pretty boring marketing method, and therefore it’s maybe not worth as much time and effort as the latest cool social media thingie.
But I’ll remind you that some people I know have had e-mail accounts for more than 30 years. During that time, a wide variety of social media platforms have come and gone. (Remember when Facebook was cool? There will come a day when nobody remembers what TikTok is. But 30 years from now, I suspect everyone will still have e-mail.)
I wrote a recent blog post on the critical importance of e-mail for an author’s core marketing machine. You can read it here at “A Virtuous Cycle for Marketing Your Books.” It’s about exponential growth, which is the kind you want.
Here’s the key point, and I’m going to put it in bold red letters:
An e-mail newsletter is 1/3 of your core marketing machine.
Later on this year, I’ll discuss how best to actually run an e-mail newsletter. But let’s first get the horse lined up before we worry about attaching a cart.
To run an e-mail marketing newsletter, you need to set up with an E-mail Newsletter Service.
Why You Need an E-mail Newsletter Service
An E-mail Newsletter Service does the following key services for you:
- Automates the process of adding new subscribers to your newsletter.
- Automates the process of removing unhappy subscribers from your newsletter.
- Keeps records verifying that people on your list really signed up.
- Automates the process of giving away electronic freebies to new subscribers.
- Automates the “on-boarding” of new subscribers by sending them a sequence of e-mails over their first few weeks, to make sure they remember who you are and why they’re really glad they decided to follow you by e-mail.
- Gives you tools to put newsletter signup forms on your website.
- Gives you tools to easily create e-mails to send to your True Fans.
- Deals with all the things that can go wrong when e-mails go out—bounced e-mails, dead e-mail addresses, user complaints.
- Tracks how many people opened your e-mails, how many clicked on your links, and gives you that information so you know when you did well and when you didn’t.
In principle, you can do this all yourself, if you have the right technical skills.
But most authors just pay for this service, because it’s vastly more cost-effective for most authors. Your time is limited and valuable.
When You Most Need Your E-mail Newsletter Service
You’ll need your E-mail Newsletter Service most during Launch Week—the short period of time just before and after you launch each book.
In fact, if all you have is a large e-mail list of True Fans, you can run an amazing launch for your book. Once upon a time, I sat down with the marketing team for my book Writing Fiction for Dummies. They had many years of dynamite marketing experience, and they gave me a long list of things they thought I should do. I smiled and said I was going to focus all my efforts on my e-mail list. To their great credit, they believed I knew what I was doing, and they gave me their full support. We ran a book launch that knocked their socks off.
So one of the very best reasons to build an e-mail newsletter is to run an amazing launch. One that removes socks from feet all over your publishing house. You want a great, wonderful, fantastic Launch Week.
But Launch Week is a busy time. The best time to get your E-mail Newsletter Service up and running is long before Launch Week. (Preferably a few months before your first book. If that’s not possible, then definitely you would like it in place many months before your second book. If that's not possible, then today is a great time.)
Things I Look For in an E-mail Newsletter Service
I’ve worked with several E-mail Newsletter Services over the years. None of them was perfect, but all of them have continued to up their game, year over year. The level of service you can get today is wildly better than what you could get 20 years ago.
Here are some features that all E-mail Newsletter Services give you:
- Tools for making signup forms.
- An editor for creating your e-mails.
- An editor for creating an automated sequence of e-mails.
- A delivery service so that when somebody signs up for your list, they can click through to get a free download right after they confirm their subscription.
- “Integrations”—easy ways to hook up your newsletter to your website, Facebook, Paypal, Calendly, and zillions of other online tools.
- Reports so you can see how your e-mails perform after they go out.
Here are some features that I consider big selling points:
Tags. These are labels you can easily attach to individual subscribers so you can send them more customized content. As a simple example, if you run both a newsletter and a blog, you can have one single list with tags named “Newsletter” and “Blog” so you can send newsletters only to those tagged “Newsletter” and blog posts only to those tagged “Blog.” But you can also tag people with “Downloaded Free Book” to make sure you never offer them that free book again. Tags are a fairly recent addition to e-mail marketing lists. ("Recent" means roughly in the last 10 years.) Most all the services now have them, but some of them make it simple to tag your subscribers and some make it harder.
Free Trial. You shouldn’t have to pay while you’re getting your newsletter setup and rolling. I like an E-mail Newsletter Service that gives you free service for at least the first few hundred subscribers. The free version may not have all the bells and whistles of a paid version, but it should be enough to let you learn how things work and start building your list.
Simplicity. Setting up your E-mail Newsletter Service can be a pain in the neck. Or it can be simple and easy. I’ve seen both kinds, and I prefer simple.
Free Migration. What is “migration?” It’s when you already were using some other E-mail Newsletter Service, and now you want to switch to a new one. This can be a mess if you don’t know what you’re doing. I like E-mail Newsletter Services that will do this work for you—preferably free.
A List of E-mail Newsletter Services
You have a choice of many excellent E-mail Newsletter Services. Here is an alphabetic list of a few that are popular among my writer friends. This is not an exhaustive list, and if I leave off a favorite of yours, it’s because there are a large number, and I’m mainly listing the ones used right now by writers I personally know:
There are many, many others. You can spend all day finding more by using your favorite search engine to search for “email newsletter services”.
A few years ago, I decided to switch E-mail Newsletter Services. The one I had been using was just too clunky for my taste. I wanted something simpler.
I spent about a week looking at a wide variety of services and decided on ConvertKit, which I’ve been using ever since. If you read the “Randy Recommends” column below, I’ll sketch out why I went with ConvertKit, when I had many other excellent options.
- Do you have any books already published, or are you planning to publish your first book in the next year?
- If so, do you already have an E-mail Newsletter Service that you’re working with?
- If not, this is an excellent time to start gearing up. It will take you months, because there is a lot to learn. You can start by reading the book Newsletter Ninja, by Tammi Labrecque. It’s awesome.
5) Randy Recommends: ConvertKit
I don't take paid ads for this e-zine. I do, however, recommend products I think will have value to my readers. Usually these are other people’s products. Once in a while, I recommend my own.
This month I’m recommending the e-mail newsletter service ConvertKit.
If you’ve read this month’s Marketing column on choosing your e-mail newsletter service, you know how important it is to have a powerful, easy-to-use e-mail newsletter service in place. All by itself, a good e-mail newsletter can give you a fabulous launch for your book.
A few years ago, I switched to using ConvertKit. I had many, many options, and I gave the leading contenders a hard look. Here’s why I chose ConvertKit:
Simplicity. This is important. If a tool isn’t simple, you might never get around to using it. And if you don’t use it, that’s time and money wasted. Simple is good.
No “Beautiful E-mail Templates”. That’s right—I don’t like “beautiful e-mail templates.” Most all e-mail newsletter services provide them. ConvertKit doesn’t. Because e-mail templates make your e-mails look “markety”. You’ve seen that kind of e-mail—from your car dealer, your insurance company, your bank. They look like a slick, polished sales brochure. Do you read those e-mails? I never do. So I don’t want to send e-mails that look like a brochure. I want to send e-mails that look like a friend wrote them.
First 1000 Subscribers are Free. Get your newsletter running first at no cost. Once it’s working, then you can pay. That’s a fair deal, to my mind.
Easy Hookups to Your Website. Enough said.
I switched to ConvertKit in the late summer of 2018. I’ve never looked back. I adore ConvertKit. After I’d been using it for several months, I was absolutely sure I wanted to recommend it to others. So I signed up as an affiliate.
Here’s a link to the ConvertKit website. (affiliate link)
6) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com
A couple of days after the February issue of this e-zine went out, my wife’s dad died. He had lived in our guest house for more than 12 years, and was 96. My wife’s mother had already died about 11 years ago, and all our kids are living on their own, so our nest is now empty for the first time in a third of a century.
The last four years have been increasingly difficult as my wife’s dad slowly declined. In the last three months or so, both my wife and I dropped the ball on a fair number of things that needed to be done. We are now catching up on some of those things, but it’ll take a while to dig out. In the meantime, I’m taking on an ambitious new project that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Because I’m crazy. And because it should be a lot of fun. If it amounts to anything, I’ll mention it here.
I’ve been working now for several years on a series of novels about one of the most influential humans ever to walk the planet—Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve now received my editor’s comments on the second draft, and I have an Action Plan for the next round of revisions. Revisions are fun. Or so I’m told.
I love teaching at writing conferences, but I just can’t fit them into my schedule right now. My life is complicated, and I’ve pruned all teaching duties from my life until things get less complicated. This won’t last forever, because I have a game plan. But the plan says I can’t do everything all at the same time.
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine