Productivity

Motivrite 2: What makes a career author?

In the second episode of Motivrite I do a dive into what it takes to be a career writer. There’s no one path to making a writing career, but there are some skills and habits that will make it a lot easier for you to take your writing from hobby to career. I talk a little bit about what it takes, and how you can get there!

Show Notes

0:27 – What makes someone a practitioner of an art?

Is it the act of doing, or is it getting paid? Is it getting paid or is it getting paid enough to do full time? Which gatekeeper is right?

1:40 – What is a career writer?

Career writers are working towards or making enough money to do this as a full time job. What does it take to hit this goal?

2:50 – What makes a career writer?

I talk about some of the skills and habits that career writers all have in common.

  1. Be a reader
  2. Be able to write
  3. Be disciplined
  4. Have a desire to learn
  5. Have ambition that’s paired with a work ethic and a desire to make it
  6. Treat writing like a job if you want it to be your job

13:20 – It’s not as difficult as you might think!

If you’re listening to this podcast then you’re taking the first step towards achieving what you need to make writing your career.

 

Introducing Motivrite

I’ve been wanting to do a podcast about writing since I first went full time back in 2015. I’ve dabbled in it here and there, but a variety of things kept me from actually hitting the publish button. Until today.

That’s right! I’ve finally got the time to put together some podcasting, and after a year of spending time here and there putting together a home studio, Motivrite is finally ready to go! You can hit play up above to listen to episode 1, or have a look at the show notes below. Thanks for listening!

Show notes:

Episode 1 is a quick introduction to Motivrite that talks about what I see the podcast covering, including:

Business tips

The career indie author has to be a businessperson on top of being a writer these days, and Motivrite will help with that.

Advice for newbies and pros

There’ll be advice in Motivrite that will help people just getting started and people who have been doing this for a few years and are old hands at the business.

Health advice for writers

Writers aren’t slaving away in the word mines, but there are health pitfalls associated with this sedentary job. I’ll have health tips, tricks, and advice for the career author.

Inspiration

Everyone needs a little inspiration, and Motivrite will occasionally feature inspiring stories of authors who made it!

Productivity

Productivity is tough. Motivrite will help with tips and tricks I’ve learned doing this full time for four years that will hopefully help you out and help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made!

Writing tools

Sure writing can be done with a pencil and a notebook, but the modern indie author is going to have to be a lot more high tech than that. Motivrite will cover all sorts of nifty tools from the absolutely necessary to the stuff that’s nice to have but not a must have.

 

Progress update: 10/29/2018

I’m going to start a new thing where I do a quick update at the end of a work day talking about everything I accomplished that day. I figure it’s a way to keep myself accountable while also providing some encouragement to get my butt in gear and get stuff done.

Today I wrote 11,941 words across seven projects I’m currently working on. I had a bunch of outlining in there as I’m currently outlining one book for my pen name, and another that I plan on releasing under my name.

I also revised 9,086 words on a project for my main pen name that I’m putting the finishing touches on. I’m a little behind on that one, but what can you do?

I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the sprawling 200,000 word doorstopper GameLit novel I’ve been working on for almost a year now. Even when I finish that there are going to be heavy edits to be done, but simply being close to the end on a project that’s the longest book I’ve ever written feels pretty good. I’m going to have to bust my butt on revisions to get it out by the holiday season though.

I also made progress on the Dice Mage podcast audiobook experiment I’m going to try with that book. Everyone keeps talking about how audio is the new hotness, and I figure I’ll give it a try and see if it’s any good for audience building. I finished editing chapter 5, and recorded, edited, and finished chapter 6 as well. I plan on releasing that to the world now that I have six episodes banked to get those download numbers up when it goes live on various podcasting services.

I also started, but didn’t finish, a couple of blog posts. One about making dining reservations at Disney World, based on a recent experience I had dealing with that frustration, and another about my experiences with the Sega Genesis on the occasion of that system’s 30th birthday.

That’s it for today! Time to hit the sack and prepare for another full day tomorrow.

Finding a cover artist and covering your butt

Today I’m going to cover something that’s been on my mind because of a situation I’m dealing with: finding a cover artist.

There are a lot of resources out there for finding cover artists. A lot of author databases that you can go through and hope to find someone who’s good. I don’t bother with any of that stuff though. Not when I know of a great artist community that has a job board specifically designed for people seeking commissioned art.

That site? The Deviant Art jobs forum!

Finding an artist

This is the easy part. Create your own account on DeviantArt and post on the forum letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll quickly be inundated with artists who are looking for work, and they’ll continue to stream in for a couple of days as people check the forum.

From there it’s a matter of sifting through the various offers you get. I maintain a note that I’m constantly updating when I find an author who looks promising. In that note I include the artist’s name, a link to their profile, and information about what they charge if they make that available.

You’re going to get some people who clearly aren’t up to the standard of what you need for your cover. You’re going to get people who are amazing and clearly out of your budget.

Here are a few things I look for when settling on an artist:

  1. What kind of styles do they work in? Is it cartoony? Full realistic renders? Realistic but with some exaggerations? Does their style fit what you’re looking for?
  2. Does the art flow? Are they able to do multiple poses and different scenarios? Is it stiff at all? Are they able to do men and women or is it clear that they’ve been drawing sexy ladies or sexy men since middle school and never bothered to learn how to draw anything else?
  3. Do they have a lot of work on display? I’m wary of artists who have newer profiles or don’t post all that much on their DA profile. Not all of them are scammers, but it is suspect.
  4. Do they have comments on their profile from people who’ve worked with them? Are those comments positive or are their complaints that they’re scammers?

Those are just a few things to consider. Look for an artist who has a varied portfolio and clearly is good at what they’re doing. Compare between several artists until you find one you like, and then start negotiating the price.

Settling on a price

Give serious thought to what your budget is for this project. I wouldn’t recommend including that budget in your initial post because that’s going to encourage people to come in at whatever price you offer even if they would’ve started lower. This is a negotiation even if you are going to pay the nice artist what they are worth.

We’re looking for a sweet spot. Someone who clearly has the ability to do what you need but comes in at a price you can afford. You need to go into this with the attitude that you’re paying a business associate for a service. You want to get paid for your writing, and you should be willing to pay a reasonable sum to an artist as well.

I can’t reiterate that enough. Good artists who are responsive and deliver good work in a timely manner? They’re unicorns, and you should treat them like the precious and valuable resource they are.

If someone is amazing but they’re a little out of their price range then don’t be afraid to ask them to come down just a little. This is a business transaction, after all. The worst they can say is no.

Don’t be afraid to work with someone from halfway around the world. If you’re in the U.S. or Europe then that exchange rate is pretty favorable if you’re working with an artist in, say, Asia or another place where USD or GBP or the Euro stretches pretty far.

If someone is coming in with a quote that seems too good to be true then that’s probably because it is. I’ve been burned a couple of times by artists who had amazing work but ghosted once they got their payment. Again you’re looking for a sweet spot, and someone who comes in too low is probably trying to lure you in.

Covering your ass

There’s no way to guarantee completely that you don’t get scammed, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself while searching for an artist.

Social proof – A serious artist is going to have lots of happy comments from people who commissioned them. Look for these. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist for references. This is a business transaction, and if they aren’t willing to provide references then you should run for the hills.

Half and Half – Whenever I make a job offer I make it clear that I’m paying half up front and half upon delivery. This makes the cost of the commission hurt a little less, and it also is likely to scare off some scammers. Not all, but some.

Use protection – A lot of people will want you to pay with a PayPal money transfer. Don’t do this. There are no buyer protections built in with money transfers. What you’re going to insist on is that the artist invoices you via PayPal, and only then will you make your payment. This means you have PayPal’s buyer protection if they ghost you.

Other considerations

Contracts – You can do a contract if you want. There are indie author sites out there that offer boilerplate contracts. I tend not to mess with them. I have a paper trail of email conversations where expectations are clearly laid out and make sure the invoice include exactly what’s being bought and paid for. Including considerations like copyright transfer. If a contract makes you feel better then by all means go for it, but I’m not an IP lawyer so I’m not going to comment on them other than to say I don’t use them.

Copyright – One of the conditions of commissioning your work should be that all copyright to the work transfers to you. Full stop. I wouldn’t work with anyone who isn’t willing to do this. Some people will charge a little extra for this and some will throw it in. I’d recommend indicating you want the copyright transfer in your initial post and seeing what the artist says.

This is something that you need to have spelled out in your conversations with the artist and in the invoice so it’s clear on the off chance they try to come after you later. It’s also an area where it might be helpful to get a boilerplate contract from somewhere on the Internet, but again I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

Price Increases – I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years about artists who commissioned a cover, then when their book did very well the artist turned around and jacked up the price for future covers. This can lead to situations where book releases are delayed while things are renegotiated.

I’ve never had this happen to me before, but if it did then I would politely tell the artist to go and pound sand. I believe that artists deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work, but if someone raises the price by some exorbitant amount because they think an author can cover it they’re essentially trying to hold future releases hostage. That’s not someone I’d want to work with, and there are plenty of other artists out there who’d be able to do a new cover.

Having said that, there are instances of artists who raise their fee as they get more popular. That’s to be expected if they’re making a go of making a career as an artist. In that case you’ll have to decide whether or not the slowly increasing rate is worth it, but that’s a completely different scenario from someone trying to extort an author because of some success.

Lettering – Cover artists make cover art. Letterers do lettering. There are some people who have both skills, but not necessarily. Ask your cover person if they’re comfortable doing lettering, and if not then look for someone who can do this and expect to pay a little bit for it. Good typography on a cover is every bit as valuable as the art beneath it.

If the artist can do typography then be sure to get a copy of the art without all the lettering on it.

Timeliness – Figure out what your release schedule is going to look like. Then figure out whether or not your artist can keep up with that schedule. Art can take time to complete just like it takes time to write and edit a book, and if you have a release schedule that doesn’t match up with what your artist is able to do then it’s time to find someone else for your project.

Wrapping up

Finding an artist! There’s a lot of stuff to consider if you want to find someone who’s good, reasonably priced, able to complete their work in a timely manner, and isn’t out to scam you. The good news is that it’s not all that complicated so much as it’s time consuming. That’ll be time well spent when you get that perfect cover that drives the sales to you though!

Get Book Report

Are you an indie author? Primarily publishing your stuff through Amazon? Are you interested in up to date reporting on what you’re earning?

You need Book Report.

What is it?

Book Report is a third party reporting software that takes all the sales and page read data Amazon gives you and puts it in a readable format going back for as long as you’ve been at the self-publishing game. It looks a little something like this:

As you can see it gives you a nice daily readout of what you’ve earned that is way better than what Amazon offers. It also gives a dollar amount based on sales and page reads. The good people at Book Report update the page read amount very month to reflect last month’s number, or you can go in and custom define the page read payout amount based on what you think Amazon is going to do.

What does it do?

I remember the bad old days of trying to figure out my numbers. This was in the 1.0 days of Kindle Unlimited when there was a fixed amount paid per borrow. Back in the Wild West of KDP when erotica and short serials reigned supreme and authors of longer works griped mightily.

Every month when the sales numbers came out I’d go through my spreadsheet and then type in the amount I got into Google so it could do the conversion from all the various currencies into USD. Which was, understandably, very annoying and inconvenient.

Book Report eliminates the need for any of that. It allows for a ridiculous level of customization in reports. If you want to know what you earned daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or going back to when you started writing that information is all there based on existing Amazon reports. There are a large number of customization options beyond date ranges including by book and pen name. Mostly I just use it for the current or previous month, but there are times when it’s useful to go back and learn at earnings over all time or for a particular month and pen name.

What does it cost?

The great thing about Book Report is it’s free! Or at least it’s probably going to be free if you’re just starting out. Anyone who makes less than $1000 a month gets to use it free of charge, and if you make more than that then you’re charged the very reasonable $19 a month. That’s up from $10 a month that it was until June of 2018. Either way, it’s a steal for the reporting information you get.

I remember the bad old days when you had to dig through spreadsheets and do currency conversions yourself. The small cost of Book Report compared to the annoyance of having to do that mental conversion and never being quite sure exactly what I was making in a month is well worth it. If you’re at all interested in becoming a working indie author then you need Book Report.

So what are you waiting for? Get Book Report!

Note: I’m not being paid by the good people at Book Report. I’ve merely been using it since some of the early builds and find it to be an invaluable tool that everyone should be using. This is all a personal recommendation based on how much I love this thing.

A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking

There are times when I feel like I’m not giving Dragon Naturally Speaking a fair shake. I see so many people out there who swear by it. Who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

My experience with the software has never backed up those glowing recommendations, but I figured maybe I should give it a try. So I was going to do a new feature. A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking. A year where I used the software and really dedicated myself to getting the most I could out of the software. See if it made a difference in my productivity.

So with that in mind I busted out my recorder over the weekend and dictated some stuff. I did it in four minute increments which I’ve discovered yields about 500 words when I transcribe the file. I plugged those in and got to trying to correct them.

The only problem? Nothing was working correctly. I started correcting one four minute file and everything was fine. Then I did a second file and started working, but the whole thing froze. Dragon refused to respond for a couple of minutes. Everything else in Windows worked fine, and clicking out of Parallels showed that my Mac was working just fine as well. It was only Dragon that had completely shit the bed.

Finally it came back up and ran through all the commands I’d given it while it was frozen and I was trying to get things to work. Which resulted in a mangled mess. Dragon told me it had encountered a problem and I needed to restart.

No fucking shit.

So I restarted Dragon. I tried using it again. Only this time after doing some transcription I ran into an issue where I couldn’t correct anything. A weird error manifested that I’ve seen a couple of times now. The upshot is that I’ll tell Dragon to select text, but it selects the wrong text. It’s as though where Dragon thinks the dictated text is and where it actually is in Dragonpad gets out of sync because it always selects a part of the text that is the same distanced away from what I’m trying to select.

Needless to say this renders any corrections completely useless.

I figure maybe the problem is that I’m trying to do all of this in Parallels on my Mac. Maybe there’s something about the virtual machine that isn’t playing nice with Dragon. So I dust off my old Surface Pro and try to get it working, only to be confronted with the same out of sync text/dictation error I was getting on the Mac in Parallels.

Huh.

Finally, in desperation, I trued running Dragon for Mac. It gamely loaded up and then promptly crashed and asked if I’d like to send in an error log.

The one bit of text that I managed to go through and edit/correct using Dragon took me about twenty minutes to get through on top of the four minutes I spent dictating it into a recorder in the first place. I could’ve typed that out in twelve minutes. The errors and troubleshooting I went through trying to get Dragon to work correctly on my Mac and Surface ended up wasting a whole morning.

Needless to say my “year of Dragon Naturally Speaking” has ended before it could really get started.

Why I don’t use Dragon Naturally Speaking for writing

The way you hear people talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in writing circles, you’d think it was a magic productivity bullet that lets people write tens of thousands of perfect words a day. Well I’m here today with a dissenting opinion.

My Dragon background

Let’s get something out of the way first. I’ve been using Dragon Naturally speaking for a long time. Like we’re talking my dad used the first versions of Dragon back in the late ’90s for dictation in his law practice. From those early days and on through college I worked with the program fixing transcriptions for extra money here and there. When I started self-publishing in 2014 I used Dragon as a productivity booster that allowed me to bang out rough drafts by dictating into a recorder on my commute.

The point is I’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a long time. Whenever I say a bad word about the program there are inevitably people who come along and tell me I’m not using it correctly or I’m not training it or blah blah blah. I’ve been using this program since the beginning, and I spent a good year training it when I first started making money from my writing.

And I’ll never use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate something that will eventually land on someone’s ereader as a finished draft I’m selling.

Why not Dragon?

I have a few reasons. Some are particular to me. Some are things that every writer should think about before using Dragon to create a finished product.

Dragon will never be perfect, and you’ll never catch all the errors it introduces

This is the big one and this is the dealbreaker for me. Dragon is great and it’s always getting better. What you get today is so much better than what it was back in the good old days. It is impressive.

The problem is it still isn’t close to perfect. I spent a year working with Dragon and training it. I’d dictate on my drive to and from work and then I’d spend my lunch hour and evening hours after the wife and kid went to bed going through and painstakingly correcting all the errors Dragon made.

I’m not talking about things like homonyms either, though that was an annoyance. No, Dragon had an annoying habit of inserting random articles into the text. So I would say “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and Dragon would give me “the a quick brown fox the jumps over the lazy a dog.” No matter how many times I corrected these errors, no matter how clearly I enunciated into my mono mic placed at a uniform distance from my mouth attached to a recorder with six stars of compatibility on their list, they cropped up.

Errors like that are a real bitch to ferret out on an editing pass. I have stories that I’ve gone over a couple of times, sent to alpha and beta readers, had an editing pass done, and I can still go back and look through them and find Dragon’s random words inserted here and there. Compare that to typing where I can bang out a clean draft on the first try and it’s a no-brainer to move away from Dragon for anything that’ll ever see the light of day on a paying fan’s ereader.

Are you really saving time?

I’m meticulous about tracking everything I do for work. I’m constantly looking to improve my process so that I can maximize the amount of work I get done when I’m writing. I’m usually juggling a couple of projects at once and writing thousands of words a day so a good workflow is a necessity for me.

So I tracked how long it took me to dictate something via Dragon versus how long it took to type something out. With Dragon I spent roughly eight minutes dictating for every thousand words put to the page. I dictate into a recorder because I find it’s better to get my thoughts out without worrying about going back and correcting them, and that going back and correcting adds about another ten minutes per thousand words.

So already we’re talking eighteen minutes spent to get a thousand words down on the page. Then there’s another editing pass eventually which takes roughly another ten minutes per thousand words. So I’m spending roughly a half hour for every finished thousand words of product before it gets sent off to readers.

For some people that might be fast. For me it’s not. I can bang out a thousand words on my keyboard in ten minutes, and I know it’s clean copy that doesn’t have any of the aforementioned Dragon-induced typos or homonym errors. Add on another ten minutes in an editing pass and it’s twenty minutes per finished thousand words. An extra ten minutes per finished thousand words might not seem like much, but if you’re doing this as a living day in and day out for years that starts to add up and hit you right in the productivity.

Of course I’ll be the first to admit I type ridiculously fast and I write very clean first drafts. That’s not going to be the case for everyone and there certainly are authors who would benefit from Dragon. If you’re a fast typist then you’re probably not one of those authors. Getting your butt in the chair and hitting the keys will be a far greater productivity boost than using Dragon.

Dragon for Mac is a terrible overpriced alternative

I switched to Mac a couple of years ago. Most everything in the creative-industrial complex seems designed for Mac first, plus I love Vellum, so it was a no brainer. I love my Mac and for the most part everything is better than the PC version.

With one exception: Dragon for Mac. It sucks. It’s overpriced at $300. It’s not even a shadow of the program that’s offered on PC for twice the price. I got it for $150 since I called Nuance and told them I’d purchased a previous version for PC and switched to Mac, and even then I feel like it was too expensive.

Here are a list of some of the frustrations, though it’s not a comprehensive list by far:

  1. Dragon for Mac won’t accept DS2 files from digital recorders, which is pretty much the standard for dictation.
  2. Dragon for Mac doesn’t have the ability to train a mobile voice profile so your recorder transcriptions are never going to get better.
  3. Dictating directly into the computer is slow and prone to errors. I have a top end MacBook Pro with plenty of RAM and a powerful processor. Nothing should be lagging on this machine, yet Dragon does.
  4. As of their most recent update (from 2017 to when I’m writing this in mid 2018) the transcription functionality is completely broken and the program crashes every time I try to transcribe something. Yes, I’ve done all the usual troubleshooting stuff including reinstalling. It doesn’t help.
  5. The correction learning process when you’re dictating directly into the machine isn’t nearly as robust as the version you get on PC.

Seriously. If you have a Mac and you want to use Dragon Naturally Speaking you’d be better off buying the latest PC version and investing in Parallels. It’d still be cheaper than buying the seriously hobbled Mac version.

What is Dragon good for?

After throwing all this shade on Dragon I feel like I should give it some props. I still use Dragon, but as I said up above it’s never used for anything that’s going to make it to someone’s ereader. No, I use Dragon for doing outlines.

Dragon is great for outlines. I can talk into my headset while I’m driving and squeeze a little productivity out of my drives instead of listening to podcasts. The stream of consciousness stuff I get from dictation is perfect for working out an outline. I try to dictate at least a couple of chapter outlines a day, sometimes more, and being able to do it via recorder is great.

The beauty of that is no one is ever going to see my outlines, so I don’t have to worry about errors being introduced to the draft. I don’t even bother to go in and correct them. Sure some garbled Dragon speak is output when I do the transcription, but why do I care if that text is never going to see the light of day?

The takeaway

Dragon Naturally Speaking is a wonderful program. If you suffer from a Repetitive Strain Injury or aren’t the world’s best typist and have no interest in learning it’s great. Although if you are in the writing business and not interested in improving your keyboarding skills you should seriously reevaluate that decision.

If you are a good typist, though? If you don’t have some extenuating circumstances like a long commute that makes Dragon worth the hassle? Stick with the keyboard. It’s not the productivity magic bullet some claim it to be, and you might end up wasting more time than you save if you keep spending time trying to make it work.