Productivity Tip: Have a Monkey Week

Two months ago, I started a new way of handling my monthly calendar that worked well over the holidays and I thought I'd share it with you, Dear Reader.

(That link reveals my Franklin Covey planner, I've used one of their planners for years.  Along with my online calendar. I like having stuff online, but I can't give up the paper and pen.  It's too much fun.)

Monthly Scheduling Time Tip

The tip?  It's my Monkey Week.

I schedule things that I have to do during the month for the first three weeks, leaving that last week of the month blank.

Everything that has to be done gets stuck somewhere.  This can can be anything, from a work project (e.g., revised outline to client) to getting an oil change for the car.

But nothing gets stuck into that last week.  Nothing.  It's pure.  That block on the calendar has nothing entered into it.  Zip. De Nada.

Then, when that last week hits -- whammo!  I have a week to get all the month's tasks finished before month end.

If I am swinging around from tree to tree like a monkey because I've procrastinated during the first three weeks (or I was sick, or I got bogged down in client emergencies, or I fell behind binge-watching Major Crimes) then so be it.

And I did.  Monkey-crazy in both in November and in December.  (Though it got better.)

Fresh Start in the New Month Feels Great

Here's the thing, though:  this means that I have hit two months without that burden of knowing I've got stuff on my plate from the prior month that still has to be done.

In my little Reba World, that has been an amazing feeling.  I like it.

So, I'm going to keep having my Monkey Week each month in 2016.  And I'm looking forward to discovering what the heck I will do with myself if I hit that last week, and I don't have a bunch of stuff to do because I already got it done.  Wowzer, that's gonna be great.

Maybe this will work for you too, if you tend to procrastinate like me.


Publish Your Book: Self-Publishing or Using a Publishing Service

Today, you can publish your own book. Opting out of the traditional publishing route, you become your own publishing company. Or maybe you hire a publishing service to help you. Here’s some information that I’ve collected which you may find helpful if you’re ready to share your writing with the world.

(Oh, and congratulations to you if you are ready to publish! I think it’s a big (HUGE) accomplishment to write and finalize a book, any kind of book. Getting tens of thousands of words down on paper (well, on the screen) and then editing, organizing, and finalizing that work product is a big deal. No one appreciates that more than those of us who have done it. Kudos to you! I wish you much success!)

1. Self-Publishing 

Once you have your content ready to go, it is possible to take that Word document (or Scrivener file) and turn it into a book on paper or in an electronic format. E-books, of course, are sold in several different formats that depend upon the e-reader that will be used.

Kindles will not read e-books sold on Barnes & Noble, for instance, because Amazon sells the Kindle e-readers and Amazon wants you to buy e-books from Amazon, not its competitor. Of course, Amazon also offers a free downloadable software program so you can read their e-books on other devices.

All this because Amazon e-books are published in one kind of proprietary format. For Barnes & Noble, another format is used. Apple, ditto.

A. The Four Major E-Book Sellers in the United States 

(1) There are four major e-book sellers right now. These are the websites where you want to place your e-book for sale. They are:

(2) Each of these online e-book sellers offers their products in a different format. So you have to provide your book to them in the electronic format they require. Yes, this means that your book will have to be formatted several times, in different ways, if you want to cover all the major selling sites. 

Fortunately, these sellers will guide you through this process for free. Kobo will take your Word document, for example, and convert it to its preferred sales format as part of the steps you take to upload your book to their site for sale. Kindle Direct Publishing guides you through the process as well, converting your document into an .AZW3 format for placement on Amazon.com. Apple really holds your hand, helping you to add images and graphics as you build your e-book for their sales site.

B.  The Four Big e-Book Formats 

1. .AZW3 

This is the format required by Amazon.com (Kindle Format 8 aka .AZW3). It is used on all Kindle e-readers, and with the new reading apps provided by Amazon, these .AZW3 formatted e-books can also be read on smartphones, tablets, PCs, etc., via the free software provided by Amazon.

2. .iBook 

This is the format used with the free iBooks Author software. It’s based upon the .ePub format but it’s proprietary to Apple Inc. You agree to sell books in the .iBooks format through Apple exclusively.

3. .ePub 

This is an open software format. E-books formatted as ePub works can be read in e-readers like Kobo Readers and Barnes and Noble’s Nook as well as on iPhones and on PCs with things like the Firefox add-on, “ePub Reader.” Sony has changed its e-reader formatting from its proprietary BBeB format to .ePub. Barnes & Noble sells e-books via NookPress in an .ePub format. Kobo will take your content and publish it in an .ePub format, too.

4.  .PDF

This doesn’t mean that you cannot offer your ebook in a published, professional way that is outside these sales formats. Portable Document Format (.PDF) is a popular format for e-books that many people use because PDFs are so easy to view on so many different devices and platforms. Most e-readers, smartphones, and tablets can display .pdf formatted e-books. You might choose to offer your e-book as a .pdf on your website, for instance, and invite your readers to upload it to the e-reader, smartphone, or tablet of their choice.

C. Print on Demand for Paperbacks and Hardbound Books 

Some of your readers will want to read your books in print, not on a screen. You can do this without printing an inventory of books (and incur that expense) like traditional publishers do by choosing to “print on demand.”

Amazon.com provides this service with CreateSpace. You can also choose to print your work as a paperback or hardback through Barnes & Noble’s NookPress or through third-party services like BookBaby, IngramSpark, Lulu, or Blurb.

These are not necessarily services where a buyer requests a printed product and then the book is printed for them so much as avenues for you to print your work as a hardbound or paperback book which is then sold on the various web sites. Read the fine print on each site to learn more — and compare the costs! These services aren’t cheap!

2. Publishing Services 

If this seems complicated or overwhelming to you, there are businesses out there ready to help. They will take your raw word count in its Word format (or Open Office, or Scrivener, whatever) and they’ll do everything necessary to convert it into a finished product.  They will also help with marketing your work to readers in various ways.

Some will also submit your work to all the different sales sites (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) as a distribution service. Some stop before distribution, but still offer help on things besides publishing the book, like marketing your work.

For instance, Lulu.com offers support for things like helping you market your book, including things like press releases and business cards.  Popular publishing services that include distribution, etc., include Smashwords, BookBaby, IngramSpark, and Draft-2-Digital.  

3. Royalties: How Much Profit for You? 

Different places offer different royalties to you. If you are writing these books for profit, then you need to analyze how each seller takes their cut and how much profit you can make at each site. Royalties are the buzz word here.

Compare royalties that are offered both for e-book sales through Amazon.com (and other sales sites) to you directly as well as royalties offered via these publishing service companies.

Remember, if they are helping you with marketing tasks or distribution jobs, then they will need to be paid for their work and you’re choosing less profit here for not doing these things yourself as an indie publisher. So, it’s important in your analysis to keep track of the costs you may have incurred in hiring an editor, paying a designer for the book cover, and other costs you’ve incurred in getting your product ready for sale.

These costs need to be tallied alongside any publishing expenses as well as marketing costs and monies paid to get the book into the marketplace. The hard thing about writing books for sale is that you start at that keyboard as a creative artist, but at the end of the process, you evolved into a business owner dealing with a bottom line.

That’s the choice you’ve made by going the independent route: being both (1) a writer and (2) an independent publisher of books.


Editing Software: Lessons From My NaNoWriMo Fever Over Online Grammar Tools

It’s time for NaNoWriMo again this year: National Novel Writing Month began a minute after midnight on Saturday night. Day 2, and I’m right on track. You betcha. If I write 1700 words each day, seven days a week for the entire month of November, I’ll meet my 50,000 word count deadline, no problem-o.

It’s fun. It’s crazy. It’s overwhelming and exciting and I highly recommend you try it if you haven’t done so before.

Word of warning. There are lots and lots of promotions that go with NaNoWriMo. Some are great: for instance, Scrivener (the writing software) can be had for a bargain this month. Then there are all those not so great deals.

I can’t tell you, Dear Reader, how many invitations have arrived in my Inbox tied to NaNoWriMo, tempting me to buy books or to purchase software aimed at writers. Oh, so enticing: “Write a Novel in a Day!” “Buy Software that Will Proofread and Finalize Your Draft in 30 Seconds!”

Even better, the package deals. That’s where they really get ya. (Writer’s Digest had a particularly interesting collection.)

Okay. Fine. Truth be told, I bought some stuff. I had the fever! I wanted to be PREPARED! I had to be RTW - Ready To Write!

I kinda went nuts on editing software. Now, before I start delving into this stuff, please know I already had editing software on my machine. Stuff I use regularly; in fact, I have used editing tools for years. YEARS. Long ago, I relied on Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar tools, and I had been known to use SmartEdit occasionally as well. I think I’ve been using Natural Reader, a text to speech program, for almost a decade now (I like the voice of “Anna”).

So before this frenzy began I was already happily using Hemingway together with Natural Reader (text to speech) on my Scrivener content.

But I’m only human and that NaNoWriMo time ticker was ticking -- and I had already bought my cool new mouse pad (isn’t it GREAT?). So, over the weekend I installed After the Deadline (AFD) because it seems to work well with WordPress blogs. Grammarly is lurking on my computer somewhere, too, because I received my first weekly report card from them today. (I made an A. I’m so proud.)

All of this after checking out Ginger and several others; asking the Scrivener Community on Google Plus their preferences; and reestablishing my friendship with Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar tools (after pretty much dumping Word for Scrivener).

Today I bought the premium version of ProWritingAid. It’s got a 14 day trial period, so we’ll see. 

Bottom line, I went a little nuts with editing software on the eve of NaNoWriMo. I read a couple of books on writing, too. Not that I’ve changed from being a pantser, but I like to think about outlining. 

Things to Consider When Deciding on Editing Software 

Do I need all these editing tools? No. Of course not. I have learned some lessons from trying them out, though. Here’s a couple of things about all this editing software, from me to you, Dear Reader. 

1. Editing is different for fiction and nonfiction. Most editing software targets the fiction writer. 

Hemingway, of course, targets fiction. There’s no non-fiction option with Hemingway. ProWritingAid (Premium version) offers the options of “business,” “technical,” etc., albeit nothing more specific — you won’t find “legal” or “medical” there. If there are editing packages targeting those niches, I didn’t find them.

2. Most of these options are web-based. You cannot download the software, you have to insert your content into their website and hit the button. 

I don’t like it. I want the software on my machine (one of the reasons I like Hemingway). Sure, downloading any program is scary because of the threat of malware, but a quick scan of the file by your anti-virus before installation should protect your machine.

I’ve got two reasons that I prefer to have the software on my machine.

First, I can use it without accessing the web. I don’t like being forced to go online to edit some content. Second, I don’t like having to paste my content into a window on a webpage and crossing my fingers that they’re being honest about not keeping my stuff and not sharing it.

3. Most of these editing tools do not differentiate between grammar, style, and usage. These are three different things, people. 

When your edit appears in the software, don’t be surprised to see a rainbow of colors staring back at you. These are not all grammar errors. You didn’t forget how to write. You write well. Look carefully — if you’re like me, what you’ll find are issues of style and usage, not grammar. This can be very, very frustrating.

For more on this, read Michael McDonagh’s post “Grammar, Style, and Usage are Three Different Things.“ 

4. These editors apparently find some of my favorite writers are in desperate need of help, as well. 

I love how Peggy Noonan writes. Politics or religion aside, check out her alliteration. Sigh. If you paste one of Noonan’s columns into Hemingway or ProWritingAid, you’ll get a rainbow reaction.

Ditto for Sharyl Attkisson. Or the Miami Herald’s Dave Barry (oh, how I love how Dave Barry writes).

Apparently, all the writers I love tend to use long sentences. They will scatter the passive voice into their stuff. Occasionally, they will use (wait for it) an adverb!

Sometimes, the grade level of the reader is estimated to be at a high school level, but they may get to grade level 12 or 15 on occasion (and I’m looking at you, Sharyl Attkisson).

5. Take these editors with a grain, Dear Reader.  These are tools.  Not professional proofreaders. Don't take these edits as commentary on the quality of your writing. 

I suggest that you take some content of your favorite writers and use it to test the editing software you are contemplating using.

For one thing, you’ll get a good laugh or two. For another, you may find as I did, that you may not write exactly like your writing role models, but it’s encouraging to find that in the Editing Software World, you are making their same errors.

Makes you feel like you’re in the same club or something.

And it helps you remember that these editing software gizmos are tools. Just tools.

Spelling and Oxford Commas are one thing. Style is another. Usage, too. Shake your head and move on.