So I’m making an ecourse…

Your DIY Writing Retreat - A Guide to Getting Away E-courseI’m working on an e-course version of DIY Writing Retreat. Basically, I’m expanding the ebook and breaking it down into eight steps that you can work through at your own pace via email. It’s going to have fancy printable worksheets and fun quizzes.

Why am I doing this? A few reasons…

  1. I wanted to try out doing it. I like e-courses and I wanted to make my own.
  2. I wanted to try selling my writing in a different format.
  3. I wanted to try teaching via email.
  4. I like making stuff.

And, to be perfectly transparent, I wanted to see if this might be a more efficient way to make money from writing than an ebook. For one thing, Amazon won’t be taking out a chunk of my sales–and for another, prices on e-courses are generally higher, so I can charge a more reasonable price for the amount of work I put in.

I’m sure I’ll have fewer sales on Your DIY Writing Retreat (the name of this new endeavor)–for one thing, I don’t have the benefit of Amazon’s platform, or the numerous kind reviews that I already have on my other ebooks–but I figured I’d give it a shot with you, my dedicated readers.

So tell me in the comments: are you interested in e-courses? Are you interested in this one? You can sign up here to find out when it launches (and get a free guide to writing, if you haven’t already!).

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You should take writing advice from actual writers

Over these writing-focused few weeks (check out the whole series here), I’ve been thinking about writing advice. I’m always torn about reading and writing it.

On the one hand, writing advice has made me better. I went to school for writing. Some books about writing have changed my life (you can read about this in my newsletter).

But writing advice is definitely a timesuck. You can fall down an Internet rabbit hole of writing advice and find all your writing time suddenly, magically gone.

And nine times out of ten, after reading a bunch of advice on writing online, I don’t feel any better. I haven’t gotten anything done, and I haven’t found that silver bullet that will make me a shiny, successful writer. I’ve just wasted a bit more time that I could have spent writing.

I’ve been pondering why writing advice is such a double-edged sword–there have been times when reading a writing book has literally made me write. I used Tara Swiger’s automated e-course on making an automated e-course to write How to Be a Writer in…about a day. That was pretty fast. I read Stephen King’s On Writing and made myself get in the habit of writing 1000 words a day–that made me finish a novel. Those are tangible results.

Mid-run the other day, I realized there is a simple filter you can apply to the Internet to get good writing advice. It’s not fool-proof, but it helps.

Get your writing advice from other writers.

If you want to be a novelist, get writing advice from people who have actually written novels. If you want to be a magazine writer, look for magazine writers’ advice on pitching, researching and writing. If you want to finish a big project, talk to a writer who has completed a long manuscript.

It’s not rocket science. You wouldn’t ask for career advice from someone who’s not in the career of your choice, right?

But often, writing coaches are just writing coaches. I’m not trying to put them down: successful writing coaches are good at writing blog posts that go viral and drawing in a loyal crowd. These are good skills to have, and maybe you want them. But if what you really want is to see your name in non-writing-related publications, then you have to look for people who have written for them.

There are plenty of people who have been published widely who offer great writing advice. Here are a few:

  • My friend Craig sent me this article about pitching by a freelance travel writer and contributor to Paste. Priceless.
  • Lots of web magazines have an article or post by the editor that gives you insight into what she/he wants. This one on The Billfold is more ethereal than you might expect from a publication that is all about money, but I felt like I could pitch Mike Dang after reading it.
  • The e-course by Tara Swiger I mentioned looks like it’s no longer for sale, but her other guides are useful. Tara writes e-courses for a living, and you can tell.

And of course, the best writing advice is good writing.

  • I devour every literary personal essay Kate Bolick writes, most recently this one. How does she make having an affair into a gorgeous, thoughtful thing? Because she writes so damn beautifully!
  • Longform is where I go to find out how to write long nonfiction: how writers organize epic essays, what types of experts to talk to, nailing that killer quote.
  • Also, I really like the variety of The Archipelago. I’m a bit biased, having been published there, but I love the voices that get shared: a wide variety of mostly women.

What writers do you know that give useful writing advice? Share a link in the comments!

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My KDP Amazon Experiment

Since 2013, I’ve published two writing guides. Both were edited/formatted/published by KMR Publishing (aka my pal Kelly). DIY Chick Lit has been on sale on Amazon and Smashwords (which distributes to Barnes & Noble’s Kobu and other ebook platforms) since November 2013. DIY Writing Retreat went on sale on Amazon 10 months later in September 2014.

The biggest reason we didn’t publish DIY Writing Retreat on Smashwords is that formatting for Smashwords takes for. ev. er. It was by far our biggest challenge. On Amazon, you can just upload a PDF.

In January of this year (2015), I took my exclusivity on Amazon a step further and enrolled both books in KDP Select. KDP Select is a program that lets readers who participate in Kindle Unlimited (a pay-per-month program) borrow books for free on their Kindles. It also lets writers put their ebooks on sale for a limited time, or offer them for free. All this in exchange for total loyalty to Amazon; your book (in ebook format) can’t be for sale anywhere else for 90 days.

I wanted to try KDP Select because I’d listened to a talk by Ingrid Ricks at PubCamp, a conference in Seattle. Ricks achieved awesome self-publishing success and her memoir, Hippie Boy, was eventually picked up by a traditional publisher. Ricks attributed some of her success to giving away her books for free online, which led to more readers and more sales of her other books. I’ve read about KDP Select success in other places, but seeing Ricks (and emailing with her–she is super nice!) convinced me to give it a shot.

Another reason I wanted to try KDP Select is that Andrew gave me a Kindle for Christmas this year, and it came with a trial membership to Kindle Unlimited. I ended up using it to read a fair number of books, and I noticed I was disappointed when I saw that some of my favorite authors didn’t participate in it.

Armed with an experimental mindset and few expectations–I sell a few copies of both books each month–I enrolled both books in KDP Select (and unpublished DIY Chick Lit from Smashwords).


Here’s what happened:

Borrows replaced sales. In KDP Select, writers are paid from a pool of money set aside for Kindle Unlimited borrows. So, every borrow earns me some cash, even though I don’t sell my book to Kindle Unlimited users. I noticed right away that many of my sales–more than half–were replaced with borrows. This might seem like it matters, but in terms of cash, I am right on track with my quarterly earnings compared to last year.

I gave away more than 800 copies of my books. I ran two promos: on Valentine’s Day weekend, I offered DIY Chick Lit free, and on the last weekend in March, I offered DIY Writing Retreat for free. Both times, I gave away 400+ copies of my book. I plan to write more about this in a separate post, but the short story is that I didn’t do much in the way of marketing or advertising for these promos: I tweeted about the sales, shared them with my newsletter list, and posted a link on the blog. 800 copies is not much in Bookland, but it is still many times my monthly sales, and it was fun to see my books make #1 in their respective categories.

My sales have not changed dramatically. The chart of my sales before and after the giveaways looks about the same: a few sales each month.


So what are my takeaways from all this?

KDP Select isn’t a magic bullet, but it does increase your readership. Even if only 10% of my free ebook downloads get read, that’s 80 more readers than I had last year. (I like to think my books have a better chance of getting read because they are short–but it’s hard to say.) More readers means potential for more reviews–though so far, I only have one new review for DIY Chick Lit–plus more visits to my website and more subscribers to my newsletter. I read all of those stats as more readers who are willing to read my writing elsewhere, and perhaps to buy another book down the road.

I’m not *sure* KDP Select is worth it, but so far, it hasn’t been doing any damage to my sales. Quarterly royalties are the same this year as they were last year, so if anything, KDP sales have increased slightly, since I’m no longer on Smashwords. This actually seems like pretty good reason to go back to Smashwords–I’m missing out on the royalties I earned from there last year (which made up about 15% of my total royalties, nothing to sneeze at).

free sales

I haven’t decided yet what to make my next book-selling experiment. I have a few ideas, including introducing an e-course companion to DIY Writing Retreat. But this has been more fruitful than I could have possibly expected; seeing a massive spike in “sales” came as encouragement I couldn’t have expected after a slow year of drips and drabs.

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How I Got an Agent for my NF Manuscript

Meanwhile, I found out about a Twitter event called #PitMad. #PitMad stands for Pitch Madness, and it happens every quarter (there is a thorough and awesome summary here). Agents and writers participate online; agents share that they are participating using the hashtag, and they also share their guidelines and what, specifically, they would love to see. Then, authors pitch their books using both #PitMad and their genre — in my case, #nf, nonfiction. If an agent likes your pitch, she favorites it, and you are welcome to query her. You have a massive leg up by sharing that she found you through #PitMad — the agent has already told you that she likes your basic idea, so chances are good that she will 1. Read your proposal and 2. Ask to read the manuscript.

Short story: I used Twitter and finally had to stop whining about social media. Read the rest of the long, sordid tale on We Heart Writing.

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