Just say No to NaNoWriMo

Divorce party by Randy Adams

Divorce party by Randy Adams

In the United States today is Thanksgiving, and I have much to be thankful for. Along with family, friends, and tasty food, the holiday season always brings lots of new gadgets and time to catch up on my reading. Thanksgiving also reminds me to be thankful that the most abused of writing traditions, NaNoWriMo, is almost at an end.

Why? Because what was once a fun way to get people used to writing has become a used and abused crutch. It’s become a self-help program that wanna-be writers trumpet about once a year, but rarely use as a serious step on the path to becoming an author.

Now I’m not as anti-NaNoWriMo as my cohort in ePublish Unum. Evo is on the record saying why he hates NaNoWriMo. Unlike Evo, I actually participated in it and “won” NaNoWriMo back in 2007. It was a fun and challenging experience that taught me what it takes to make serious writing part of my daily schedule. That’s all NaNo really is, which isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately many people make it something more.

They do NaNo every year, write like mad, tell all their friends about it, then move onto other things until next November. I know people with multiple unedited, unread drafts of NaNo works on their computers somewhere. They keep telling themselves they will be successful books someday… someday…

Or they take their rough draft, run Spell Check on it, and release it as an ebook. The result of NaNo isn’t really a “Novel” like it says in the name. It’s a first draft. A first draft is a hard thing to make, but it isn’t ready for prime time. Sadly, every December a wave of unpolished NaNo refuse hits digital storefronts across the interwebs.

The difference between a Writer and an Author

A writer grabs bits of time to type or scrawl their thoughts for their own expression or growth. Nobody will ever see it, nobody is intended to, and that’s fine. It’s a personal thing.

Authors know a first draft is just a first step, and there is a lot more work to come in the form of editing, polishing, reworking, design, pricing, and promotion. It’s more than a 31-day challenge, and the NaNoWriMo success stories out there are all from authors who know this.

NaNoWriMo No Mo’!

We posted more about our thoughts about why NaNoWriMo sucks over at NaNoWriMoNoMo – a mini-site that will hopefully kick some people in the pants and get them off the NaNo merry-go-round and looking at what comes next to really publish a book.

And if that happens, we’ll be here waiting to help!

Digital Author Events In Phoenix – November 2011

We’ve got our next digital publishing seminar slated for late January. But you don’t have to wait that long to learn from us. This month, there are two events where we’ll be presenting on various aspects of digital publishing. We think that both of these events make a lot of sense for authors to attend, even beyond what you’ll learn from us.

Podcamp AZ | November 12th – 13th

Podcamp AZ bills itself as a Relevant Media Unconference. It’s free to attend. And you should go.

It’s put on by volunteers (full disclosure: I was one of those volunteers the first three years) and caters to the DIY aspect of creating, producing and releasing media in many sorts. While the conference isn’t specifically about publishing, the skills discussed will be very relevant to any author trying to take control in the world of digital publishing.

ePublish Unum is a sponsor of Podcamp AZ. If you attend, you can signup to win a prize-pack of some free 1-on-1 consulting time from us. Jeff is going to talk specifically about digital publishing, and I’ll be working it into the conversation of all the sessions I’m leading. Register here.

SMAZ | November 18th

SMAZ, or Social Media Arizona, is a business-focused event. And if you’re not treating your life as a digital author as a business, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll learn from and mingle with business people in the valley who are much more than hobbyists when it comes to promoting and interacting. No, this isn’t a digital publishing conference. But business-minded authors will find the event invaluable.

ePublish Unum is a sponsor of SMAZ, and Jeff and I will be presenting on the business-side of being a digital author these days. Register before November 1st and you’ll get a hefty discount.


As a digital author, it’s important for you to get outside of your comfort zone and learn from lots of people. Sure, attending conferences, workshops and seminars specifically about digital publishing is important. But sometimes you learn the most when you get less specific. Both Podcamp AZ and SMAZ are smart events with plenty to teach you and others.

Go. You can thank me later.

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Amazon’s @Author provides digital authors incredible fan access

A student raising a hand to ask a question at ...

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Authors who are hoping to go digital but never have to interact with their fans got some bad news from Amazon.com last week. They are creating a way for readers to ask questions about specific passages in the books they are reading:

The new program, called @author, lets Kindle users highlight a passage and then ask the author a question about it via their Amazon author page or Twitter. Only questions as long as 100 characters can be asked from within the e-book itself, but more in-depth curiosities can be posted to the author’s official page on Amazon.

Of course, only a handful of questions will actually be answered directly by authors, but other readers are free to chime in and offer their take. If the writer does respond, readers will be notified by email.

via E-Books Get More Interactive With Amazon’s New Author Q&A Feature.

Authors who ignore the feature could find themselves entirely left out of incredible discussions around their work, and missing a fantastic opportunity to connect with readers and turn them into fans.

Savvy authors can use this as not only a nice way to give a reader a thrill by talking with them, but also a source of invaluable insight into what characters, plot points, ideas, and passages are making an impact. This could be a gold mine of information and a powerful way to build a fanbase that helps promote your work to others.

This is just getting rolling, but you can see notices of participating authors on Amazon’s @Author Twitter account.

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Digital Author Profile – Nathan Lowell

Image courtesy of J.R. Blackwell

It’s difficult to describe Nathan Lowell as a writer. Technically, he writes science fiction and fantasy stories, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. As an author who attributes 100% of his success to digital publishing, he’s the perfect choice for our first ever Author Profile. He began his writing career by fully embracing the cutting edge of digital publishing at the tender age of 54. Three short years later, this family man from Colorado made the transition to full-time writer status. And he’s not just getting by; he’s doubled his income from what he used to make as a PhD.

ePU – When I ask around about what makes you successful, I hear the same thing from a lot of smart and talented people. In short, they say you tell a good story. I note how they all said “tell” and not “write”. I don’t think that was by accident, and I certainly don’t see it as an insult.

NL – I think that’s pretty accurate.

“I think Nathan’s success is due to a shocking, unheard-of, inexplicable phenomenon known as “telling good story.” He’s not doing anything unique in social media. He hasn’t built up a huge audience in another medium, such as television, then leveraged that audience to sell books. He didn’t create a big, well-trafficed blog, then move into writing books.

He gave away his stories, and people liked them.

People listen and read to his books, then they want more. They buy through his series and tell other people about it.”

– Scott Sigler, New York Times best selling author

I’ve said for some time that I view myself as a story teller, not a writer. I don’t really care what words I use as long as I can tell the story. I also try to tell “different” stories. My stories are responses to what’s out there now and an explicit attempt to tell “small” stories about “real” people. I try to use the tropes in ways that make the stories unmistakable members of a particular genre, but also unmistakably “Nathan Lowell Stories.”

ePU – Your peers marvel at your ability to connect with your audience. Audience is a big word that’s not very specific. Did you have a specific audience in mind when you started, or you cultivate one along the way?

NL – The connection comes naturally. I tell stories and the intimacy of being in the listener’s head translates naturally to a connection. I make myself available and try to answer every question/comment on my blog and the blog at Podiobooks.com. I think that’s important. I’m also on Twitter and regularly talk to the fans who seek me out there.

I also avoid “being everywhere.” I can’t be everywhere and provide the kind of connection that I want to have.

As for specifics, I cultivated the Podiobooks audience I started out with some explicit strategies in mind.

I think Nate’s writing style is … comforting. And what makes him powerful digitally is he seemed to know exactly how to reach his audience, the unique audience who wanted SF comfort, in the most direct way.

 – Mur Lafferty, award-winning writer and podcaster

First, “A Thousand True Fans.” I didn’t know if I could get 1000, but that was my goal. [ePU note: Nathan’s eight audio books made up 11% of the downloads at Podiobooks.com in July of 2011. The demand for his most recent book release in December of 2010 was so overwhelming that it literally crashed Podiobooks.com’s  dedicated webserver, taking the entire site offline for a week while new hardware and memory were installed. When many of those fans — who self-identify as “The Crew”, though Evo Terra prefers “Lowelleians” — learned that their insatiable appetite for the final book in one of his series crashed the site, they rushed to Podiobooks.com and poured in literally thousands of dollars in donations to help the free site recover. Yeah, you could call them “true fans”. And there’s a lot more than a thousand of them!]

Second, “Big frog, small pond.” I set out to be a significant player in a limited market. I wanted to avoid as many of the problems with obscurity as I could. By going with Podiobooks.com, I was able to see if there was an audience for my stories without having to fight for attention with a 100,000 other offerings. [ePU note: While there are nearly 550 free serialized audio books on Podiobooks.com today, there were less than 100 when Nathan released Quarter Share.]

Three, “New Content.” One thing I noticed in the marketplace in general is that new content is rare. (I’m falling down on this one at the moment by failing to produce two books a year in audio.)

He knows how to find his audience, and he knows how to keep it. That, and he tells damn good stories!

– Debora Geary, happily indie author

Four, “Specialization.” I did my homework and listened to a bunch of serialized audio books before I started my own. I made note of those features that worked for me as a listener and those that didn’t. I designed my episodes to use the features I liked and I avoided those I didn’t. For example, I specialized on the “single read” because too many people had too much trouble with variations in audio quality and performance by using extra voices.

ePU – To say you’re a prolific author is an understatement. How much of your success do you attribute to having a back-catalog?

NL – Where most people rely on building a list of readers, I concentrated on building a list of products. Because the majority of my work is in series, each book builds on the foundation of the previous. People who don’t like my work — or who grow tired of it — drop out (usually silently) while those who remain become more and more engrossed and engaged. I focused on full novel length works because that’s what I found most valuable for my own reading and I wanted to “pay it forward” as it were, by providing the longer works.

I wrote the first four books in the first year. The last four have been slower coming. They’re also longer with my most recent, Owner’s Share, coming in at just under 200K words. Prior to that is Captain’s Share with 140K. By comparison, the first book in the series, Quarter Share, has a bare 80K words.

ePU – Did you see an obvious “scale” effect at some point in your rapid-fire release schedule?

NL – My fourth book, South Coast, really kicked things up for me at Podiobooks.com. That was when the subscriptions began multiplying and I was getting enough reviews to stay visible in the charts. It’s also where word of mouth about how different the books were from the rest of the offerings began to pile up. Whether it was a function of time — it took a year — or a function of the number of visible titles, I can’t really say. It *was* remarkable because it all happened in that first year.

At the risk of sounding less than humble, I did something remarkable, and people noticed — and remarked on it.

After that, each new book has gotten more and more attention. The delays between books give people chance to spread the word and to talk about the future of the series and my writing. I think that’s an important factor. While gossip travels at nearly the speed of light, word of mouth is a bit slower.

ePU – But you don’t just give away free audio books. You also sell text-based versions of your titles, those very same titles that people can hear you read them for free. Feel like sharing some numbers with us on how the eBook publishing is going so far?

Nathan didn’t even look for a publisher until after he’d written and produced more than eight books. Asking a publisher to buy your book is a lot harder than asking them to buy your series.”

– Brand Gamblin, author and vidcast creator

NL – When Ridan Publishing first released Quarter Share in print and ebook, it didn’t do much for about six months. But then the big Kindle market explosion happened in Oct/Nov 2010, with my book poised and ready. It jumped up to about #500 overall on Amazon and stayed in the top 10 in it’s genre for weeks.

Book two hit print just about the time the final book in the audio series started. It sold 3500 units in less than 10 days. It’s matched the sales numbers of book one in half the time.

Book three hit just before BaltiCon (a regional science fiction convention in Maryland) and it also exploded, shooting up to #212 on Amazon before slowly sliding back down.

Specific to ebooks, each has sold about 12,000 units and continues to sell about 40 a day, giving me a combined sales of 120 .. or $240 a day income. The ebooks are and always have been priced at $4.95.

Book four – Double Share – is due to hit this month (and might make it), and that’s the point where we expect to break into the top 100 of sales rank and begin to generate a more sustained level of sales.

I’ll keep you posted.

ePU – Do you really write every day?

NL – No. I’m a binge writer. When I’m in a writing mode, nothing else happens and I write until I drop. I’ve written as much as 20,000 words in a single day before. It’s not uncommon for me to write 10,000 words a day for days in a row.

In between, I only write blog posts, tinker with web pages, and generally let things build up in my mind until it becomes nearly unbearable and I go into binge mode again.

My family doesn’t like it when I write.


Well, maybe not. But thousands of listeners and readers certainly do. And while we can’t promise you the success Nathan has seen, we can tell you he’s not alone. Is he special? Sure he is. He’s talented, works hard to become better, and works constantly. If you’re looking for some sort of secret recipe, that’s it.

We’ve got a whole slew of authors lined up for monthly Author Profiles. Know someone we should profile? Drop us a line and tell us why you think so. And remember, we’re focused on digital publishing success stories. Hope you enjoy!