Thursday, October 29, 2009

Show your colors, fellow writers. NaNoWriMo is almost here!

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is nearly upon us! Are you ready? I will be partaking in the madness for the 5th straight year, and this year, my novel writing tool of choice is My Writing Nook. I plan to write from several different computers this year - my work PC at lunchtime, my netbook at the local coffeehouse, and my iPhone whenever I'm out and about and have a spare few minutes. It's all about maximizing the word count!

NaNoWriMo is great for a few reasons. My favorite aspect of the event is that it is social. Writing is usually a solitary activity, but NaNoWriMo encourages camaraderie and socializing. Novel writers are encouraged to attend "write-ins," where you can band together with your fellow novelists and share in the ups and downs of the writing process. The write-ins are by far my favorite part of NaNo.

NaNo is also liberating. The only way that you can achieve the monumental task of 50K words in a month is by turning off that demon known as your inner editor. NaNo is all about getting words on the paper, no matter how well-written those words happen to be. By turning off the inner editor, your mind is free to spew forth whatever ideas it might have in the moment. Sure, a lot of those ideas will be crap, but there might be quite a few gems in there as well. NaNo is about allowing yourself the freedom to experiment, and hopefully when it's all over, you'll be left invigorated by the process. Then you can set about to unearthing and polishing those gems.

There's still time to sign up for the fun. Head over to to see what it's all about. If you are already signed up, I encourage you to attend at least a few write-ins during the month. They will surely provide a boost of enthusiasm and inspiration, especially during the doldrums of week two.

Show your colors, fellow writers! Say it loud and say it proud - I AM A WRITER!

Monday, October 19, 2009

5 tips to help authors compete for shelf space on the Internet

1. Have an author site
This will provide you a platform that you can use to promote yourself and your books. Don't use the site just as a place to hard-sell your books, provide a place where your audience can get to know you. If they feel a sense of connection with you, they will be more likely to buy and recommend your books.

Ensure that the content is relevant and current. Visitors can spot stale content a mile away, and they will leave. Forever. What's relevant? That depends on what you write about. By knowing your audience (#3 below) you will be able to determine which content is most relevant to your visitors. Watching the analytics (tip #5) will also help you refine your content.

Don't use an ad-supported hosting service (a service that hosts your site for free in return for your allowing them to place ads on your site). This looks unprofessional, and will reflect poorly on you. Site hosting is incredibly cheap these days, so there's no reason to use an ad-supported hosting service. I'll have more to say about ads in a bit.

Make sure you have your own domain name. Your domain name is part of your brand, so put careful thought into choosing one that fits.

I plan to cover author website design in more detail in a future post. Stay tuned for that one.

2. A blog is essential
Be sure that your blog is linked to your author site, so that you can use each to direct traffic to the other. Have a prominent link to your blog on your author site. On your blog, have a permanent link to your author site, but also mention it from time to time in your posts. This will remind your readers about the site, will also allow search engines to create an accurate profile of your sites.

Your blog is an excellent way to form a relationship with your audience. Allow visitors to comment on posts, and engage in the conversations that ensue.

Update regularly, with interesting posts that are relevant to your target audience. Blogs and websites that are updated more often get crawled and indexed by search engines more often.

A word about advertisements. If you're just starting out, just say no to 3rd party advertisements on your author site or blog. You want your visitors to focus on you and your work, not be distracted by some 3rd party ad. In my opinion, the risk of turning off a potential reader is not worth the trickle of pennies that 3rd party ads may bring in. Once you have an established and sizable readership, you can reconsider this decision.

Associate your blog with your domain. If you've registered, then have your blog live within that domain, for example or This strengthens your brand, and is essential for good Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

3. Know your target audience
I think that this is something that you should know before you ever start writing your book, but it's certainly essential when it comes to marketing.

Once you know who your target audience is, you can figure out where they live online. What social networking or community sites do they hang out on? Are they more likely to be on MySpace or Facebook? Do they use Twitter? Are there forum sites in which they congregate? All this is critical information that once gathered will allow you to focus your marketing efforts. And focus is critical, especially if you are looking to do marketing on a shoestring budget.

Knowing your audience will also allow you to tailor your content and your blog posts to be more interesting and relevant.

4. Become intimately familiar with all the popular social networking and media sites
Well, OK. Maybe not all of them, because there are a lot of them. But become familiar with the ones most frequented by your target audience. Sign up for account on each, with a username that ties into your brand.

Don't sign up for an account and then immediately start shamelessly promoting your book. That will certainly annoy the other members, and could even get you banned on certain sites. Learn what it means to be a good member of each community. Know the proper etiquette for each site so that you can avoid a damaging faux pas. What types of self-promotion are allowed? What's allowed in your signature? Are there special areas of the site that are specifically designated for self-promotion?

Use the sites as a tool to engage your audience. Get involved in the discussions. Become known as a respectable member of the community. This will help to build your personal brand.

5. Watch the analytics
Know exactly how much traffic you are getting, and where it's coming from. Which marketing efforts are driving traffic to your site, and which go unnoticed? Which pages on your site are visitors most interested in? Having this knowledge will allow you to tweak your marketing to maximize its effect.

So how can you see your traffic? I suggest you set up two different site monitors.
Google Analytics is really good for looking at the big picture, and for enabling traffic analysis of weeks or months at a time. But statistics are only compiled once per day, so it is not good at real-time analysis. For that, you'll want something like StatCounter. StatCounter has a limited log size (although you can pay for larger logs) but will allow you to get up to the minute information about the traffic your site is getting.

With either site monitor, you'll be able to see how people are getting to your site, when and where they are, and what pages they're looking at. And better yet, setting these monitors up is free. Both also offer enhanced services for reasonable fees, but the free services should be plenty to get you started.

Bonus tip - be patient
Sometimes it takes a while for marketing to become effective. Audiences aren't formed overnight. You need a marketing plan. Instead of staging an all-out blitz, aim for a longer campaign of continuous improvement. Learn what works, what doesn't work, and adjust as needed. Don't give up if you aren't seeing instant results.

For an amusing take on all this newfangled Internet marketing stuff, check out this article from the New Yorker.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dawn of the Indie Writer

The dawn of the indie writer is nearly upon us. We're fast approaching the point in time when the stigma will be erased, and self-publishing will become not just an option but the norm for authors. As brick-and-mortar stores give way to the online marketplace, independent authors will finally be able to compete fairly with "traditionally published" authors. Instead of spending time struggling to get their books on the shelves, indie writers can concentrate on marketing their product on the shelf space of the Internet, side-by-side with traditionally-published titles.

Detractors have always said that self-publishing is for writers that aren't good enough to be published traditionally. But these days, what that really means is that a writer's work doesn't fit neatly into some corporate pigeonhole. As indie writers fill the voids and satisfy the audiences left behind by traditional publishers, self-publishing is becoming accepted as a legitimate alternative.

There's been a recent trend among traditional publishing houses of jettisoning their "midlist" authors - authors that are moderately successful but are not bestsellers. By eliminating these authors, the publishing house is taking choices away from the reader, narrowing the marketplace. They are doing this so that they can spend their diminishing marketing dollars on "sure-thing" titles, but ultimately I think they are speeding up their own demise.

Abandoned midlist authors will have no choice but to self-publish, and they will take their solid work, their years of experience, and their established audiences with them. These writers will lend more credibility to self-publishing, raise the quality bar, and help remove the stigma.

If the Internet has shown us anything, it's that there's an audience for just about anything. That said, those audiences still expect a certain level of quality. Books of poor quality will be quickly panned by readers. Solid writing and good storytelling will be recognized, and will find an audience. The difference is that these titles will no longer need some subjective seal of approval from a traditional publisher to reach those audiences.

For the first time in history, it will be the marketplace that determines the successes, not some suit in a large publishing house concerned primarily with the bottom line. Having more titles in the marketplace empowers readers. As indie publishing becomes more prevalent, and brick and mortar gives way to cyberspace, it will be the readers that get to choose which titles rise to the top and which sink to the bottom. On the Internet, the lines between self-published and traditionally-published authors will be blurred, and the reader will choose the writer not based on the publisher on the spine, but by the content inside the book.

The fuse is ready to be lit. Indie writing is set to explode into the public eye as the next major phase of publishing. All it will take is a single spark - some shining example of self-publishing that will capture a large enough audience to really showcase all that the self-publishing paradigm has to offer. The day that Oprah picks a self-published title for her book club. The day that the New York Times bestseller list contains a self-published title - these days are not too far off.

Will you be ready for it? Will you provide the spark?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Simplicity is not a bug

Several people have made comments comparing the feature set of My Writing Nook to Word or Google Docs. They ask "why can't I just use Google Docs?" My answer to them is - you can. If Google Docs works for you, great! Personally, I found Google Docs to be too much tool for the job I wanted to do - something akin to using a pile-driver to nail two boards together.

Occam's Razor - the simplest answer is usually the best.

The longer I have been in the software business, the more I have come to appreciate simplicity in design. Just because an application has more features doesn't mean it's better - in fact, oftentimes the opposite is true. More features means more code, and code that is often more complicated. This makes the code harder to understand and maintain, leading to more bugs.

Let's look at things from the user's perspective. The user wants software that allows them to do their work easily and efficiently - that's their goal. They aren't necessarily interested in having all the bells and whistles - only the ones that are most useful for task at hand. Bells and whistles are for the marketing department, not the user. The user only wants to achieve their goal.

The goal for writers is to write. Any feature that does not help the writer toward that goal is an unnecessary feature, in my opinion. If an application forces the writer to wade through countless toolbars or menus to find the feature that they want, it is not helping them achieve their goal efficiently.

"I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter." - Blaise Pascal

For the users of My Writing Nook, the goal is stated right there on the home page - Write simply anywhere. I kept that goal in mind as I decided which features to provide and (more importantly) which features to eliminate.

The feature set for My Writing Nook is intentionally small. It contains only those features that allow a writer to write, simply, from anywhere. Anything else is superfluous.

To those people that still wish to compare MWN to Google Docs or Word, I offer the following hypothetical.

An illustrative tale of two tools

The scenario: A man is camping. He catches a fish and would like to clean it and cook it for his dinner. Let's follow him down two hypothetical paths:

Path 1: The man has a simple hunting knife.

1. He uses the knife to clean the fish, then cooks his dinner. Yum!

Path 2: The man has a swiss army knife.

1. He takes the knife out of his pocket and is immediately confronted with a decision - which of the blades to use.

2. He fumbles around for a bit, perhaps opening one or two blades to determine their applicability to the problem at hand.

3. Ooh! There's a magnifying glass here. He didn't realize that before, and spends a few minutes playing with it.

4. Getting back to the task at hand, he picks a blade and opens it. He starts to clean the fish.

5. While he's cleaning the fish, he wonders if perhaps another blade would be even better at cleaning the fish.

6. He cleans the blade he was using, closes it, and opens a different blade to try.

7. Finally, the fish is clean. Unfortunately, it's now too dark out to see what he's doing, and he trips over a rock, dropping the fish in the dirt.

8. The man goes to bed hungry.

Sometimes the lack of features is a feature in itself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Writing Nook - Yes, there's an app for that!

I'm proud to announce that My Writing Nook for the iPhone/iPod touch is now available in the App Store. I'm really excited about this - I think that it's a perfect complement to the MWN web app.

The two apps work in concert to keep your docs in synch. Now you can have your latest work with you wherever you go. I think this will be really handy for jotting down notes on the go, or maximizing your daily word count, which makes it perfect for NaNoWriMo. Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, you can fire up the app and unleash those thumbs!

Or if you've seen enough and just can't wait to get your hands on it - click here to buy it. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can now have the ability to write from anywhere.