Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Needs Must

As I'm sure you already know, we here at Team Aaron/Bach are all about the reals. We constantly look at all manner of numbers to figure out what works and what doesn't work for us in the business of writing, including sales, newsletter sign ups, and website traffic. We also keep an eye on the production side of the equation, mostly by analyzing how I, the source of new words, spend my work time.

This is nothing new. Measuring my time was a huge part how I got my writing from 2k to 10k words a day. But as Travis proved in his Novel Project Management post, actually getting solid, quality time to write is a constant challenge even after you go pro. There are just so many other things you could be doing that fall under the umbrella of "work"--blogging, Tweeting, planning, etc--that sometimes the writing gets shoved around a bit. A foolish mistake, because ultimately, the writing is the only work that really matters.

Over the last year, Trav and I have been involved in a grand experiment to see if we could grow our social media presence in both fiction and non-fiction. The experiment has now concluded, and having run the post-mortem, we've discovered a lot of things we never expected. I'll leave it to my Travis-of-business to go over what we learned about Facebook ads and so forth in another post, but from my perspective, the single biggest discovery in all of this was how much of my work time each week I was spending blogging.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. I only write one post a week at best. It can't take that much time, right?

I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.
XKCD is the truth-sayer of my life.

This is what I always assumed, but the numbers say otherwise. As much as I love talking shop here on the blog, non-fiction is not my happy place. I'm a fiction girl first and forever. Writing books gives me energy. A good day of fiction will often leave me feeling ready to take on the world. Writing essays, on the other hand, takes energy. Energy and time. Four to five hours on average for each post, to be specific. It also interrupts my work flow. I won't go so far as to admit I call off early every blogging day, but let's just that Wednesdays are not 10k days. Too often, they aren't even 5k days.

This has been a persistent problem since we started the Writing Wednesday posts. At the beginning, I assumed I'd just get better, blogs would go faster, and everything would be great. Remember: I love writing these things! I love writing about writing, I love talking shop, and I love paying it forward. With all of that positive energy, I was sure I could get the time price down to something more reasonable. But a year later, the numbers are in, and I have to face the truth: I haven't gotten faster, and I can't keep losing a day out of every week.

To say I am not happy about this would be like saying "Bethesda likes power," but as always, the most important rule of being a good writer is being honest with yourself. The reals must come before the feels if I am to have any sort of accountability, and the reals are that if I want to get back to putting out more than one book a year, novel word counts have to come down, and the weekly time cost of blogging has to be cut. I'm still working on the former, but the latter begins today.

Wait, does this mean the blog going away?!

Not at all! Pretentious Title will still be updated regularly with fiction updates, publishing numbers, and business posts as new information comes in. The free sharing of information is my favorite aspect of the indie author community and a big factor in why I decided to go self pub in the first place. Everyone wins when we share, and Travis and I are still dedicated to experimenting and posting what we've learned about the new frontiers of self publishing so that we can all move forward together into a brighter, more profitable future.

But while you will still see regular posts on the blog, the weekly Writing Wednesday feature is being retired so that I can focus on what I should have been focusing on all along: writing books.

Bummer. So are you done writing about writing forever?

Absolutely not. I might be shifting my time focus back to fiction exclusively, but you can't stop me from talking shop. DO YOU HEAR ME, WORLD? I WILL NOT BE STOPPED! 

Can't stop the rock!


So yes, there will undoubtedly still be writing posts, they just won't be on weekly schedule. I'll still update Facebook and Twitter when I post, though, so if you follow me on Social Media, you shouldn't miss anything even if the flow is no longer reliable. Also, all my previous Writing Wednesday posts will stay up, and I very much hope you continue to find them useful.

Is there a good side to all this?

YES! If you're a fan of my work, you've probably noticed the books are coming out mighty slowly for someone who gets 10k a day. We're talking one a year, which is the same pace I was at when I was traditionally published. Not so great for a nimble indie. -_-

Part of this slowness is because the Heartstrikers books have been way more complicated than I anticipated (And longer. Good Lord, those things are bricks), and part of it is because I've been dividing my writing time among too many side projects like this blog. But the great part about constantly analyzing your workflow is that you can see problems like this and fix them, which is exactly what I'm trying to do.

So readers, rejoice! If things go according to plan, you should have not one, but two new Heartstriker novels to read in the next twelve months, finishing out the series in Summer of 2017. Can I pull it off? Well, only Brohomir knows for sure, but it should be very possible. So keep your eyes open for that, and thank you all so so much as always for being my readers. I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get these books out, but as you see, I'm doing my darnedest to fix the problem, and the waits should be much shorter from here out. 

Finally, a huge thank you to all my Writing Wednesday readers. I'm sorry I couldn't pull it off, but I hope the posts I did get out helped you with your writing. I might be biased, but I think writing fiction is the most noble, worthy, and rewarding of all the arts, and I can't encourage you enough to keep practicing and honing your craft. Even if you never get published, you will still have built a creative skill very few people can boast, and that is a worthy goal in and of itself.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best best of luck in all your writing endeavors.

❤s always,

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Great World Building

Hi folks,

Rachel refused to come out of her writing cave this morning. Something about Dragons, interruptions, and tasty with ketchup. So it looks like I'm going to be doing the blog post today. Mwahahaha! Last week was a business post, so this week I'm going to try to keep it writerly with a post on settings and world building.

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Great World Building

I've been making my own settings since sixth grade. Not for books, but for the table top RPGs that I run for my friends. Surprisingly to me, this experience has been invaluable when I help Rachel world build for her series. In fact, one of the most crucial contributions I make to Rachel's books have to do with her settings. She's even written a post about my world-building help called My Husband, the World Wrecker. 

(RACHEL NOTE: This is true. All of my settings were either blatantly stolen from or enormously improved by Travis. Also, YOU GUYS, he is the best GM ever! Seriously. I learned so much of what I know about stories from being a player character in his games over these last 14 years. Just goes to show that you really do pick up novel writing skills from everywhere!)

I'm not a writer like Rachel, but this is something I've done a lot both together with her and on my own, so today I want to share with you some of the things I've picked up over my two decades and countless worlds worth of experience into what makes for really good world building. Now, this will be less "how to world build" and more "how I world build", but I hope that you all find this interesting none the less.

Starting Out, the Big Hook

All my best worlds start with a hook. The setting itself needs to have a core component that invokes curiosity, "OMG factor," an exciting twist, has implications, or invokes a sense of irony/dread.

However, I'm not a fan of every type of world hook. I definitely feel like some are better than others. Specifically, I'm a big big believer in the power of,
The contradiction. Aka, the mystery, the thing-that-doesn't-add-up, the glaring exception...
All the coolest settings I know of (including Eli, Devi, and Dragons ^_~) have the contradiction deep within them. Our brains are desperate for order. We instinctively crave for everything to make logical, or at least explainable, sense. When we see something that doesn't make sense, say a broken rule of the universe or society, the urge to know why it doesn't drives us nuts.

In story, just add on the fact that not-knowing might have deadly consequences and you'll get some great baked-in tension.

For example,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Build Your Newsletter Using List Bait

Hi Folks,

Today I'm going to talk about the Heartstriker short, Mother of the Year. I'm going to go over what it is, why we made it, and why it's available as it is. I'm sure ya'll will find this educational as there's a lot going on here. So far this experiment has been a rousing success, so read on and we'll get into,

What We Did With Mother of the Year and Why

This post started when Tom Sweeney asked,
"My only question (you didn't think i was going to politely leave without a question, did you?) concerns the Mother of the Year gambit.
I know you are not selling it, just making it available for those on your list, and this likely resulted in a LOT of people signing up. I'm just wondering how effective it was for the end game goal, not building a list per se but selling books. I understand your data probably doesn't have enough granularity to determine how many of the new signups went ahead and bought one or more of the Heartstriker series books. You could have each sold lot of MotY copies at $.99, so do you think you came out ahead with enough Heartstriker books sold to cover the loss of revenue had you sold MotY?"

@Tom Thanks! Also, I love questions! Please feel free to ask away.

My reply was a wall of text and I realized that it'd be better as a blog post. So let's talk all about Mother of the Year.

First off, what is Mother of the Year?

MOTY, the short story you can download, is an interview with Besthesda, The Heartstriker about her 5th autobiography titled Mother of Year. It's about 4000 words long and is less of a story and more of a TV show transcript. The work is supplemental to the main series, meaning that you don't need to read it to appreciate Heartstrikers. So while it might make some parts cooler, it's not essential.

It is only available for people who sign up for the new release mailing list. This last bit is the most important part. You cannot buy MOTY. It is list exclusive content.

Why is it list exclusive and not [also] for sale?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

What ho, loyal readers! Rachel back again from the word mines where I have been slaving under dragons (very nice ones, but dragons nonetheless) to talk about...settings!

{Insert Cool Stuff Here}
Settings are one of those writing necessities that too often gets overlooked. If you've done any writing research, you've already read dozens of articles about crafting characters and worldbuilding and plotting. But while these elements are all very important, surprisingly little ink, digital or otherwise, is spent on how to craft and imagine the actual physical space your characters, world, and plot inhabit.

This is especially weird when you consider how important set design is to other story telling mediums. Theatre, movies, television, and video games all have professionals who've made careers out of set design. Likewise, comics--both American and manga--spend an enormous amount of time on backgrounds.

In all of these, what the space where the action takes place looks (and sounds) like is clearly a huge part of the experience of the story. So why do we as authors, who have the entire reader imagination at our disposal, who spend months to years perfecting our characters and plots, so often delegate our setting to cliches like "dark forest" or "big stone castle"?

The obvious answer here is that, unlike all the things I mentioned above, writing is not a visual medium. Other than our covers and the very occasional illustrated edition, we don't deal in pictures. Quite the opposite. Saying accurately what something looks like is one of the hardest things to do in writing. "A picture is worth 1000 words" can be a literal statement when you're writing a book, and who wants to waste that kind of narrative space on what's basically a long, info-dumpy description? No one, which is why one of the most common pieces of writing advice I see in Fantasy circles is "don't stop to describe the scenery."

Make no mistake, this is good advice! We've all read (and most likely put down) books that stop the action completely to spend 5 paragraphs describing a castle on a bluff or the crowds in a city market. These are both setting-establishing elements that a movie director could establish in one camera pan, but would take us writers pages of tension-breaking description text to achieve the same effect, which is why you don't see them much in good fiction. They simply take way too long to do.

At the same time, though, creating an interesting, memorable, atmospheric world is a huge part of writing memorable fiction, especially in genre. However interesting your characters, plot, and world are, if you set them in a very generic Fantasy setting that relies on cliches to fill in your backgrounds, you are setting yourself up to be at least partially forgettable.

So how do you strike a balance? How do you create and then describe a setting that's unique enough to be memorable without spending a thousand extra words and killing your tension in the process?

It's a tricky balance, but there are definitely a few best practices I've learned over the years to make it easier. So, without further ado, let's talk about...

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

"Sci-fi City" by JadrienC on DeviantArt
Unless you have a very strong image of a place or scene in your head already (or you're actively writing one right now), chances are you haven't given much thought to your settings yet. To be clear, I'm not talking about World Building. I've gone over that whole other kettle of fish in detail already. This post is all about actual, physical location. The places where your characters live and your action takes place.

If we were working on movies or video games or any of the visual mediums, we would call this set design, and it would be a huge freaking deal. How many movies have you watched where just looking at the set was enough to create strong expectations of what was coming before any characters spoke or any plot had been laid down?

Hobbiton, I'm looking at you.
Oh yeah, that's powerful mojo. Of course, we writers don't have these visual elements to work with, but that's no excuse not to have creative and interesting locations. We are still storytellers and entertainers. It is our job to be as interesting as possible, and creating really cool settings is a huge part of that, so let's talk about how to do it.

The Foolproof Guide to Settings #1: Matching Your Emotions

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

Hi Folks,

I'm sure you are wondering what I'm doing here on a Wednesday post instead of Rachel. Well, after last week's blogging ate three of Rachel's mornings, we have come to the long-building conclusion that we're both blogging too much. Books aren't getting written and that means Things-Have-To-Change(TM) around here.

We're still going to update everywhere Wednesday with new advice and helpful posts, but Rachel and I will be alternating who's up each week.

Anyway, there's been a lot of requests for marketing posts and, as I'm always asking for post requests, I'm going to try my best. Marketing is a HUGE topic ya'll. People get degrees and spend lifetimes perfecting it as a skill. In a way, we're always talking about marketing here in some form or another.

Since "marketing books" is too big a topic, I'm instead going to list and talk about every single book marketing tactic that I know of. It's going to be a,

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

We all need some practical, effective, actionable information to sell books with. While there's loads of abstract marketing strategy we need to talk about, books still need to sell and we all have work to do. SO, let's focus on the pragmatic stuff today and I'll have more abstract strategy talk for ya'll on another day.

What, specifically, can you do to market a book?

I'm going to try to list things in the order of power/importance they will have on your book's sales.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

The other day on Twitter, I posted

I originally wrote this as the second part of a response to someone replying to Trav's (awesome) business post about the mechanics of a commercially successful series. The commenter in question had mentioned that business posts were basically intimidating, and I absolutely agree. Big pages of numbers and math can be very intimidating if you're unfamiliar with them, but part of self publishing is getting familiar with stuff like this. This is the business part of the self-publishing business, and if you hate it, then maybe self publishing isn't for you, and that's cool. There's tons of other ways to get your book out there! No big deal.

That's all I was trying to stay. I didn't think it was anything special or incendiary, just the facts as I saw them, and yet this tweet got a lot more attention than I expected. At first, I wasn't sure why. It's hardly my most eloquent statement. But then I realized what I saying--that it's okay to choose not to self publish if that's not what works for you--was actually kind of radical in its own weird, publishing politics way.

So (since I didn't have anything else to talk about today) I thought I'd take a look at why that is, and what it means for all of us as individual writers. Onward!

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

If you've spent any time (and I do mean any time) researching your publishing choices on the internet, you've probably seen someone telling you that there is only one smart way to go, and if you choose anything else, you're wasting your writing, your money, and your time. Sometimes this is said very politely with lots of excellent case studies showing exactly why one publishing path is better than the other. Other times you're flat out told you're a moron who's being swindled if you don't do as the author in question suggests.

No matter how it's said, though, there is always an opinion one way or the other. Pretty much every writer you ask, whether they're a multiply published veteran or someone who's only one chapter into their first book, has very definite ideas about which is better: trad or self.

Whenever you have a topic this divisive, there's going to be conflict. Even though most authors (with a few loud exceptions) are extremely polite, reasonable, and eloquent about their thoughts on the subject, picking a side for yourself can still feel like an emotional decision rather than one based in fact. This is especially true if one of your favorite authors is an outspoken supporter of one camp or another. When that happens, choosing anything else can feel like a betrayal. Even if the one choice makes sense for your situation, if someone you respect and like so much is constantly calling what you're considering stupid, it's only natural to think "am I being dumb? Am I actually throwing my writing future away if I do this?"

This is the part of the self pub vs. trad pub debate that I hate the most. Not the discussion--that's very good, very necessary, and a great tool for bringing to light the pros and cons of each path--but the absolute division. The constant refrain--sometimes boldly shouted, sometimes tacitly implied--that the other side isn't just wrong, they're dangerously, career wreckingly wrong. That if you sign with a traditional publisher, they'll hit you with an abusive contract to take all your money and keep your rights forever. Or if you self publish your first novel and it flops, no traditional publisher will ever look at you again.

To be clear, this isn't fear mongering. Both of the examples above can and do happen, but they're also both worst case scenarios, and that's what makes the question of what you should do with your novel so difficult. Because the truth is that both trad and self publishing have horrible pitfalls and incredible heights. Neither of them is easy and nothing is guaranteed. So how do you know which is right for you?

This is the point where pretty much every respectable publishing advice blog will say some version of "the right choice depends on you and what you want from your career." I've actually said that exact thing in my own post about self publishing and money. But what does that actually mean? If you've never published a book and never had a publishing contract and never worked with a publishing house, how do you know what's actually right for you? After all, whatever you choose, you're going to be locked into that decision for that title for years, maybe even forever.

That's not a choice to be made lightly! But while there are plenty of blogs that talk about the practical differences between the two (including mine! Click here for my Authors & Money posts on trad vs self), in my experience, the real difference between the two isn't actually in the business, but in what each one expects from you, the author.

That's what this blog post is really about. Every publishing blog under the sun (again, including this one) has posts about the practical, business differences between trad and self like royalty rates, contracts, marketing, and so forth. But while all that stuff is really important, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great the numbers are if you, the author, are unhappy with your choice. You could succeed beyond your wildest dreams in either self publishing or trad, but if that path's version of success doesn't match yours, then it doesn't matter.

In the end, this isn't a really choice of which publishing road is better. It's about which one is better for YOU, and the only way to figure that out is to figure yourself out.

Again, no small feat! "Know thyself" is a life long journey. But as someone who's seen the ups and downs of both the self pub and traditional publishing paths, maybe I can help put this old, bitterly contested question into a more personal light.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Let's Talk Numbers: How Long Should Your Series Be?

Hi Folks,

Travis here. I've been talking about career planning and such lately, so I felt that today would be a good day to provide another tool for ya'll to use in that regard with an in-dept look at how the length of a series affects you commercially.

Obviously from an artistic standpoint your series should be as long as it needs to be, but there's a lot of wiggle room within that band. The idea here is to give you the information about how different novel lengths and series structure affect your bottom line as an author so that when that choice does come up, you have the tools to make the best one!

There's a lot of topics in this post that I've been dying to get onto the blog, so I'm really excited about this one. Let's go!

Let's Talk Numbers: How Long Should Your Series Be?

Are you ready for some graphs and charts?! Cause I am. It's been a while since I've dug into the nitty gritty behaviors of book sales. Today though, we are going to look at the economics and math that power our mainstay fiction series. 

We do so in the attempt to answer the question of, "how long should your series be?" Really, I hope to provide you with the tools to help answer that question for yourself.

Let's start with the most common genre fiction method of publishing: writing a sequential series of books. These are books that are meant to be read in order and they are published one after the other as they are written. (Since it's so common, this is going to be my assumed definition for the word "series" throughout this post.)

As I've talked about before, not everyone who reads book 1 in a series will go on to read book 2,3,4, etc. in the series. Since the books are sequential, this creates a funnel effect whereby 99% of people who read book 5 are people who've also read all the books before it. Same goes for any length of series be it three books or a hundred.

This creates a bit of mathematical tyranny for authors. Let's look at the theoretical earnings of a well written series that sells 1000 copies of its book 1.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writing Wednesday: The Rule of Cool

I've been on a bit of a film critic kick lately. This isn't because I'm some kind of huge movie buff, but because I really enjoy listening to intelligent deconstruction of story, and movies are a lot simpler to deconstruct that novels. This is because movies and television--being vastly shorter and more limited in scope than novels, which are hemmed in only by the author's imagination--can't afford to waste story time.

Script writing is famously unforgiving. There is simply no room for anything but the most efficient and deft strokes of plot and character. Scripts are storytelling condensed down to its purest form, which means that when mistakes happen, and they happen a lot, the way the story fails tells us a lot about what is really important in narrative and why.

I just wanted an excuse to use this picture.

If you're interested, I highly recommend Every Frame a Painting for super insightful classic film criticism about why good movies are so good. Movie Bob for a funnier, more topical criticism on current releases, how they came to be, and why they succeed or fail. And finally DigiBro for an incredibly insightful and thoughtful look at the unique storytelling and directorial work that goes on in anime.

All of these channels are really good in their own areas, and while I have zero interest in ever writing a screen play or getting behind a camera, I've learned a lot from all of them. Writers have a bad habit of thinking our art form is unique, but at the end of the day, on screen or on the page, stories are still just stories. They have the same rules, same tricks, and same pitfalls regardless of medium. Tropes that appear in film and TV often appear in books. This is especially true as our modern generations grows up and starts writing stories that draw inspiration not just from our childhood novels, but also from the movies, TV, anime, comics, and video games we grew up with. My own stories are just as inspired by those shows as they are by the books I've read, and as I keep digging for new ways to become a better writer, it only make sense to turn to analysis of these other mediums to find my new tricks.

So now that I've written 200 words about how I got here, I'm going to get to the good stuff and talk about my latest favorite story concept I've gleaned from watching all these critic videos, and that is the Rule of Cool.

Writing Wednesday: The Rule of Cool

Monday, August 22, 2016

Author Career Planning

Hi Folks,

Sorry for the break in business posts, it's been a busy end of summer for me. Day camps stop 1 week short of school starting. Our son Nate also started 1st grade, which has come with a bright and earlier-than-ever schedule. I've just had my hands full parenting and keeping the house functional is all.

We're back on today though and I'd like to talk about career planning. In my opinion, the trad vs self publishing choice is just a microcosm of figuring out a real career path for yourself. There are many more and deeper choices to be made. By the end of this post, I hope to have helped guide you through some of them and that you will have a much better idea of where to go with your publishing future.

Rachel and I do this kind of exercise all the time cause we love looking forward and painting a bright future for ourselves. I hope you will too.

Author Career Planning

It starts with goal
A mentor I once had (Hi Greg!) always said, "start with the end in mind". This isn't just great advice for developing software, it's a good method for writing a book, and it's also the key for developing a career strategy and a plan.

For authors, there's a handy way of quickly finding a big goal for yourself,
Is there an author whose career you want?
This is my way of really asking you about what kind of authorial career you'd like to have should everything you try succeed reasonably well. It's a thought exercise that goes far deeper than the classic money vs fame decision of trad vs pub. I like asking people whose career they want because it's a lot easier to analyse (read: superficially judge) someone else's life than your own. 

Also, I bet that there are a surprising number of successful authors whose career you wouldn't want to have. Maybe you don't like their fans, or maybe you don't like how fast or slow they write, genre aside - maybe you don't like their books, or maybe they just travel too much. Pay attention to who you'd like to be but also who you don't want to be. I bet you'll learn something about yourself in the process.

Take a minute to think about it. Then we'll move on.

Good? Great!

Now, I'd like to ask you some questions then.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Keeping the Ball Rolling

First, the usual stuff! Heartstrikers 3 is still out and the reviews are great!! Thank you so so SO much if you've read and reviewed my book! Reviews, good or bad, are one of the best things you can give to an author. Thank you all for yours!

(And if you've read the book and haven't reviewed it yet, I'd love it if you'd leave your two cents on Amazon. Even a single sentence helps. Thank you a ton!)

Now, blog time!

Writing Wednesday: Keeping the Ball Rolling

I've talked a lot on this blog about what to do when the writing is going badly. I've talked about what to do when you think your writing sucks, how to pump yourself up when you're not writing as much as you think you should, how to shut up your inner editor, how to shut up everyone else and just write. Lots of troubleshooting! 

But what about the other side of the coin? What do you do when the writing is going really well? How do you keep that going?

The writing is never ending.

Good writing days can feel like perfect summer afternoons. They appear seemingly out of nowhere, are fantastically amazing, and then they're gone, and you're right back to normal. I always thought this was just part of the mercurial nature of writing. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down, and sometimes you're in the middle, but no matter what happens, the writing has to get done.

This was my writing philosophy for years, and just from what I've read on other writing blogs, I'm pretty sure it's a lot of other writers' too. But after I discovered the incredible results that come from being more analytical about my writing, I've been a lot less accepting of the idea that things just "happen" in writing. After all, if bad writing days happen for a reason, like if your plot is broken or you're forcing yourself to write in the wrong direction, then good writing days must happen for a reason as well.

Sometimes it's really obvious. When I'm rolling on the climax of a book and everything that's going to happen is already right there in my head, that's pretty much a guaranteed good writing day streak. Or if I'm finally getting to write a scene I've been waiting to write FOREVER. That's a good day! 

Now, obviously, you can try to generate more of these situations by making sure you're always excited about what you're writing. I do this so much, it's one of the three tricks I used to go from 2,000 words a day to 10,000. But being while excited about what you're writing is pretty much the base for all good writing days, it's not the be-all-end-all one shot solution.

In a perfect world, just being excited about what you're writing would be enough to guarantee great, productive, happy writing days every time. But, no spoiler, this isn't a perfect world. You can be over the moon about what you're going to write today and still have a shitty writing day for a whole host of other reasons that have nothing to do with your story. 

This is grossly unfair. If I do the work of setting up a phenomenal story, I should be rewarded with words pouring from my fingertips, dammit! But, as we all know, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, that's because the planning wasn't actually as phenomenal as I thought, but just as often, the book itself is fine. I'm the one the one with the problem. Maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm hungry, maybe I'm in a bad mood over stuff that has nothing to do with writing. 

There's a whole world of reasons out there that can stomp on even the best writing days, and part of the challenge of writing professionally--which is to say, writing well every day--is learning to sail over these toughs and peaks with an even keel. We have to figure out how to keep the ball rolling on the good writing days even when we're not having great days ourselves, so (since no Rachel Aaron blog post would be complete without a list) let's talk about how to do that!

How to Get and Keep Good Writing Days

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Writing Wednesday: The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment (Part 2)

Now that Heartstrikers 3 is out in the wild, I can FINALLY get back to real blog posts! Today's is the long promised conclusion to The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment from two weeks ago.

Last time, we focused on creating characters people can't help but fall in love with and then making them climb impossible walls to keep your audience on the edge of their seat. This time we're going to look at the plotting side of how to make readers hopelessly addicted to your work.

But first, I was on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast hosted by the amazing SFF author Lindsay Buroker! We talked Heartstrikers, what kind of marketing/promo we did for the launch, and all sorts of fun writing business stuff. It was an absolute blast and the recording is already up for free on line, so I really hope you guys will give it a listen!

Now, on with the blogging!

Writing Wednesday: The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment (Part 2)

In part one , we talked about how to build reader addiction for your work by giving them characters they have to care about and then making those characters suffer. Why suffering? Because suffering, pain, crisis, and all those other tortures authors inflict on their characters is what creates the tension and conflict that make stories interesting.

This is nothing new. I actually wrote an entire post about how the formula for writing character driven stories is Motivation + Conflict + Setting = Plot. But while creating lovable people and then forcing them to lead lives of intense drama is a guaranteed winning formula for addictive books, forcing your people to climb impossible walls to reach their goals is just the first step.

If you want your books to be truly memorable, stay-up-all-night, force-my-friends-to-read experiences, you have to go a step further. Creating lovable characters and putting them in danger is quite frankly just a basics of good writing, one of those fundamentals you'll find in pretty much every book worth reading.

There's nothing wrong with that! Creating a book worth reading is a giant accomplishment for any writer, new or established. But this post is all about reaching beyond that. It's about finding what's necessary to hit that next level and turn a good book into a favorite book.

First though, a disclaimer.

What I'm about to say is just my opinion. You may very well disagree with, or even flat out hate, what I'm about to say, and that's fine. The best thing about writing books is that there's no one right way. Every author approaches their art differently. This is how I do it. Will it work for you? I certainly hope so, but if it doesn't resonate, that's okay. It doesn't mean one of us is wrong, it just means we're different writers, and that's great! The world takes all kinds.

My aim today isn't to dictate, but to illustrate. I hope that by explaining how I approach these problems, I can help you understand more about your own books. That's always my goal here at Pretentious Title: to shine whatever light I've made for myself into the murky, sometimes blind art we call fiction in the hopes of making the path easier on someone else.

So without further ado, let's dig into the specifics and talk about how, exactly, we can go from good characters in tough situations to great characters in terrifying situations.

Friday, August 5, 2016


The wait is over!

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished is finally here!

You can get it for your Kindle, cuddle it IRL as a print edition, or read it free via Kindle Unlimited. Or, if you'd rather have someone really talented read it to you (luxury!), the audio edition comes out September 13! There really is no downside, here.

If you've already preordered, thank you so much! The book should have been automatically added to your Kindle last night. If you don't see it, just click to sync and update your library in your Kindle options and it should pop right in. Again, thank you thank you THANK YOU for your support, and I really hope you enjoy the book!

And as a final bonus, if you didn't see Wednesday's blog post, we commissioned some art from the fantastic Gergana (she of the amazing illustrated Heartstriker book reviews) of my personal favorite chapter of book 3!

Click to see in glorious full resolution!

We commissioned this picture for you guys (well, also for me because OMG AMELIA) as a way of saying thank you for being my fans! Feel free to use it for whatever your heart desires, and thank you again for being my readers. None of this would be possible without you!

Well, that's enough out of me. I hope you all have a lovely weekend of reading, and thank you again for everything!

Yours always,

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Heartstrikers Extravaganza!

So I had a giant Writing Wednesday post typed up for you all, but I decided to save it until next week because 1) it's not quite where I want it to be yet and I've run out of time to make it good, and 2) I've been really busy since my third Heartstriker novel, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, comes out THIS FRIDAY!

Preorder it now and you could be reading at midnight on Thursday!

I know, I know, cop out right? But I promise you'd rather wait and have the good post than see the broken slop I've got now, and I've got good news to cheer you up. Not only are we a mere two days from launch and the first two Heartstriker books both on sale for $1.99 AND the audio edition has been announced for September 13 (preorder it here!), but the print edition is now right here in my hot little hands!


That's right, the print edition of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, which is huge and beautiful and smells divine in person, will be going on sale this Friday same as the ebook!! Alas, Createspace doesn't allow us to do preorders, but barring hideous disaster, the book will be up on the Amazon page on launch day! So if you're someone who likes to cuddle your books, don't miss it. Seriously, y'all, this is a big, slick, good looking pile of book~! (rubs face on cover)

I know what you're thinking. It can't get any better than this! But that's where you wrong, because it can (and now will).

To celebrate the coming together of all things dragon, we asked our favorite fan artist Gergana (she of the amazing illustrated Heartstriker book reviews) to draw us a new illustration of my favorite scene from book three. To my delight, she came through in spades.


Click for full glorious resolution!

That's right! That's Amelia the Planeswalker, Svena the White Witch, and Marci, just Marci, hanging out, drinking, and talking magic together. It's both not what you'd think and exactly what you'd think, and I just KNOW you're going to love it when the book drops on Friday! 

Until then, I hope you enjoy the art. Save it, share it, make a wallpaper, do whatever you like! This is our gift to you guys for being such amazing fans. Thank you all for reading my books!!

As I said, I'll be back next week with a (corrected and not terrible) writing post. Until then, I really really hope you enjoy No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. And for those of you who haven't gotten around to the series yet, now is a great time to give a try on the cheap since both of the first two books are on sale for $1.99 all month!

Again, thank you all so much for reading and being my fans. You guys are what make everything I do possible, and I can't show my gratitude enough. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I really hope you enjoy No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished!

Yours forever,

Monday, August 1, 2016

Kind of a Big Deal (BOOKS ON SALE!)

Travis is doing his civic duty by answering his jury summons, so there's no business post today. But all is not lost! We just got word from Amazon that BOTH Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another are part of the August Kindle Big Deal! 

Amazon be like...
That's right! Both books are on sale for $1.99 all this month

Smile, Julius, you're on sale!!
So if you've been waiting for the right time to try my Heartstrikers series (or force them into someone else's hands on the cheap) now's your chance! You can buy both for the price of one and be entirely caught up in time for No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, which comes out on ebook THIS FRIDAY!

I've got some awesome stuff planned for y'all to celebrate the release, so be sure to check back on Wednesday for all the goods. We're also this close to having the print edition ready to go and we've got the audio book lined up to launch on September 13! It's a dragon bonanza!

There's a lot of great stuff in the pipe, and we'll be getting to it very soon. For now, though, I hope you buy some books on sale and have an awesome Monday!

Until Wednesday, I remain your friendly neighborhood Spider Man author,

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sick day

Urrrgh. Feeling under the weather and COMPLETELY forgot it was Weds. Sorry guys!

I'm in no shape to put words together, so I'll be back next week with the promised continuation of The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment (or, How to Make Readers Need Your Story Like Addicts Need a Fix).

Until then, check out Trav's amazing business post from Monday if you haven't already, and don't forget that, in addition to preordering the ebook of NO GOOD DRAGON GOES UNPUNISHED (out August 5), you can also now preorder the audio book, which comes out September 13, on Amazon or directly from!


Thanks as always for reading, even if it was lame. See you all next week!

- R

Monday, July 25, 2016

Should You Start a Writing Business (Part 2)

Quick Rachel note before we get started! For those of you asking about the audio edition of NO GOOD DRAGON GOES UNPUNISHED...

That's right, the folks at Audible have come through, and the audio edition of my third Heartstrikers novel will be out on September 13, 2016!

But that's not all! Not only will you have less than a month to wait between the ebook release on August 5 and the audio edition, but the audiobook is available for preorder right now!!

That's right, in a move usually reserved for big publishers, Audible has put my book up for preorder. You can reserve your copy now at Amazon or directly from, whichever suits your fancy!

Also, I've talked with Vikas on the phone (as I always do), and you guys, he is going to be AMAZING in this book. He's even videoing some of his recording for those of you who are interested in seeing how audio books are made. I'll be posting those links as soon as they're up, so be sure to keep an eye here on the blog, Twitter, or Facebook to catch that when it comes up.

Remember, there's only a few days left before the ebook of NO GOOD DRAGON GOES UNPUNISHED comes out in ebook on August 5! If you haven't already, you can preorder your copy now or reserve it to read on Kindle Unlimited. Bob would want you to be prepared!

And with that bit of happy news out of the way, I'll pass the keyboard to Travis and his amazing, jam packed second half of Should You Start a Writing Business?

Take it away, Trav!

( > ^_^ ) >

Hi Folks,

Last week I talked broadly about the benefits of starting a business. This week, I'm going to get into specifics about the types of businesses and what they can do for you, the author. Specifically. There's a lot to talk about here, so let's get to-

Should You Start a Writing Business (Part 2)

But first, the disclaimers!

Disclaimer #1 - Because we live in America, this is intensely USA oriented information. I'm sorry if you're looking for business advice in another country.

Disclaimer #2 - I am not your legal counsel nor your qualified accountant. We do not have a client relationship. I'm telling you what I've found and heard so that you can go look into more and proper details. Don't tell the IRS "but Travis said so!" because they won't care. If you want to do anything I've talked about here, go sort it out with an actual accountant or lawyer or both.

The 6 Main Business Problems that Authors Face (that having a company can help solve...)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writing Wednesday: The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment

Hello and welcome back to another Writing Wednesday! After the non-stop rhetorical thrills of Prose Summer Camp, I thought we'd ease back into the bigger writing picture with a look at that classic writer pass time: how to break a reader's heart and have them beg you to do it again.

That's right! Today's post is all about how you as an author can build characters and structure plots that will make total strangers stay up all night feeling real feels for made up people. So without further ado, let's dive into...

Writing Wednesday: The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment

I've talked about the importance of building reader investment before on the blog, but that article mostly focused on the mechanical plot tricks behind getting readers on board with your story. Today, we're going to go for the heart and talk about how to create, build, and manipulate your reader's emotions to create a story they'll never forget.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Should You Form a Writing Business?

Hi Folks,

Travis here again! Back in my popular Your Author Brand post, I mentioned talking about businesses, as in, should you form a company as a writer? Judging by the comments, this is a very widely desired topic, so that's what we're going to talk about today. I'm sorry it took so long, but this is a massive topic and I had to do a lot of research.

I'm sure ya'll always hear that you should treat your writing like a business. This time I'm going to talk about the literal version of that statement - making your writing into a formal company.

Disclaimer #1 - Because we live in America, this is intensely USA oriented information. I'm sorry if you're looking for business advice in another country.

Disclaimer #2 - I am not your legal counsel nor your qualified accountant. We do not have a client relationship. I'm telling you what I've found and heard so that you can go look into more and proper details. Don't tell the IRS "but Travis said so!" because they won't care. If you want to do anything I've talked about here, go sort it out with an actual accountant or lawyer!

Now that's out of the way...

Should You Form a Writing Business?

The title is a question, and rightfully so. This is not a black and white choice. There are many benefits to starting a company, but there's a lot of drawbacks, too. Success as a writer is not dependent upon creating a fancy business. There are decades of successful writers who never formally created a company for writing. Honestly, this very question is relatively new on the scene thanks to the self-pub revolution.

So should you start a business? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, and the one we're going to start with is income. There are three types of author income, and which kind you make will completely change the landscape of whether or not forming a business is right for you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Surprise! Have a Heartstrikers Short!

So there's no official Writing Wednesday post today because I am getting everything together for the No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished print edition, which should hopefully be out at the same time as the ebook! (YAY!)

But while there's no writing post today, I do have a treat for you guys. Remember that post a few weeks ago where I asked you if you had any questions for Bethesda? Well she answered, and the result is below...


That's right, you don't have to wait until No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished launches on August 5th for more Heartstrikers! I've got a special short story featuring everyone's favorite terrible parent spilling clan secrets that you can read right now.

Even better, it's free! The only thing you have to do to get this story is sign up for my New Release Mailing List!

Wait, whut?

Hear me out! This isn't some kind of spammy email pester service. I only send out emails when I've got a new book coming out or when I'm giving away something free, like this story! Even better, people on my mailing list get everything first, like this story!

If you want to get first dibs on all my new stuff and you don't mind getting the very occasional email (seriously, I think I've sent out 3 this year), then I hope you'll sign up for my list. All it takes is an email and a second of your time. As soon as you sign up, you'll automatically get a welcome email with links to download all of Bethesda's terrible secrets. How awesome is that?!

So if you're dying for your Heartstrikers fix and you're not part of my mailing list yet, I very much hope you'll give it a try. (And if you're already signed up, THANK YOU! I hope you enjoyed the story!)

I'll be back next week with a real blog post and (hopefully) some fun Heartstrikers release swag! Until then, I really hope you enjoy Bethesda's story. Obligatory social media links are here: Twitter / Facebook / Tumblr / Google+. Follow me for fun updates!

(Oh, and Trav will be here on Monday with a really fantastic business post. He's actually writing it behind me right now, and it looks so cool.)

Until then, keep writing and reading! Enjoy the story, and I'll see you next week!


Monday, July 11, 2016

The Science of Protecting Your Creativity

Hello everyone!

Travis is forced away from Pokemon Go (aka, "walking off a bridge waiting to happen") to put together a really awesome blog post on creativity! But first, great news! The first three books of my original series, The Legend of Eli Monpress are on sale!

The book that started it all!

So if you can't wait another second for No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, you can get books 1, 2, and 3 of my *completed* Fantasy series about a charming wizard thief and the poor bastards who have to try and catch him for $5.49 each wherever ebooks are sold! You can also get these books in their omnibus edition (pictured above) for $9.99!

If you've ever wanted to try my older series but never got around it, this is a great chance to do so on the cheap. So get out there and try a book! Eli swears you won't regret it, and in this at least, he's always trustworthy!

Okay, okay, sales pitch done. Take it away, Travis!

Hi Folks,

Today I'm going to talk about the neuroscience and biology of writing. While this isn't a bio-hacking article, we're definitely going to go over how to maximize ideal conditions around the neurology that writing depends on. Also, I get to say that having sex will make you a better writer, so this is a great article!

Where'd this come from? Well, as a programmer looking to cut more and better code I've read lots of articles about how to boost, though conserve is more appropriate, the mental output potential of my biology.  This research has been ongoing in my life for years now and I've used it as just a grunt coder, as a lead developer, and as Rachel's partner.

Everything here has a strong scientific backing and has been tried and tested by us. It's gonna be exciting!

So, let's talk about...

The Science of Protecting Your Creativity

The weird part of this article is that it's less about finding boosts, which would be bio-hacking IMO, and more about avoiding penalties. See, there's a lot of boat-anchors weighing down the creative mind. Some of these are just the normal mental challenges of life. Many, today's topic, are biological and can be reliably avoided with simple habits or life changes.

To start off with, 

How [part] of your brain works

There's been loads of neuroscience research on how our brains work under different conditions. What's really important is how we have basically two different modes focus and not-focus. Yeah, that article I linked was huge and dry, so please let me summarize.

Your brain has one area that we're particularly concerned with and that is the pre-frontal cortex. Other than language, this is one of the most important parts of a writer's brain. It governs a lot of what you'd consider to be your 'conscious thought' and it has two modes or configurations if you will. I'm going to call the mode A and mode B, those aren't technical terms however.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Writing Wednesday: 4 Quick and Easy Ways to Make Your Writing More Interesting

Hello everyone. Happy Canada Day/4th of July/random week in July, and welcome back to Prose Summer Camp!

This is going to be our last Prose Summer Camp post for the year. We've had a really good run these last two months, but I've covered just about everything I wanted to cover about prose level writing, and I'm ready to get back to my true love: obnoxiously over-detailed analysis of big-picture writing issues! Hooray!

No such thing as too much organization!
Before we go, though, I wanted to talk about the part of prose level I probably think about the most, and that's how to make my actual writing clearer, more readable, and more interesting for my audience.

This is something every writer strives to do. Who doesn't want to make their words more interesting? But while I obviously can't tell you what words to write because I don't know your story or you're style, I have learned a lot of tricks over the years. Some of these have come from editors, some from reading and studying better authors than myself, and a few from my own trial and error.

Big or small, these are all tricks I use in my own novels to get and keep reader attention (or at least keep eyeballs from glazing over). As you'll see, they're all pretty simple. So simple that you might already know them, actually, but fingers crossed that I can deliver something new!

But first, as always, this disclaimer:

**This is how I write. All of the tips below are drawn from my taste and experience as a writer. If you don't like my writing style, knowing how I dress up my paragraphs might not be useful. This is fine! Everyone writes in their own voice. I hope, of course, that you will still find some it helpful, but please don't take any of this as me setting down the One True Path of Writing. I'm just telling you what works for me in the hopes that it might also work for you.**

Now that's clear, let's get to the list!

Writing Wednesday: 4 Quick, Easy Ways to Make Your Writing More Interesting

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Project Management for the Writing Business (with bonus Heartstrikers 3 sample chapter reveal!)

Hello everyone!

I'm up to my neck in work all of a sudden, so we're taking a quick break from Prose Summer Camp. Travis has come to the Writing Wednesday rescue with an AMAZING post about how to manage your writing schedule like the pros (or at least these pros) do.

Before we get into that, though, I've got a treat for you. As you know, the third Heartstrikers novels, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, comes out on August 5! I realize that's very far away, so I've put together a little something to tide you over. How about...sample chapters?!

You can also preorder the book right now. You know, just to be safe. Bob says it's dangerous to go alone. Take this.

And with that, I have to go back to the word mines. I really hope you enjoy this sneak peek, and I know you're going to enjoy Trav's crazy awesome post about project management!

For real, if you want to be a writing professional with a reliable timeline (or any kind of development professional since we got all of this from our joint background in programming), this stuff is gold. I was really blown away.

And with that, take it away Travis! 


Hi Folks,

Rachel and I sit down from time to time to plan out the writing schedule. Today I'd like to talk about the process and tools we use to generate our calendar with. This is a non-trivial question for a writing business, so I hope you'll find this info handy. It's all methods that I've learned from years of working in the programming industry, which is surprisingly similar to the book writing business.

Bonus: I'm going to post a spreadsheet that you can download and use to do this for yourself!

Project Management for the Writing Business

How many days can a full time writer write if a full time writer can write full time?

It's not 365
This is a question that all managers in all businesses have to learn and, in my experience, end up learning the hard way. Why the hard way? Because it's a lot less than anyone ever thinks it is and it's not intuitive. For example,

there's not that many writing days per year!

Looking at this, a very diligent author can optimally cram in 234, eight-hour work days of writing. That's only 2/3rd of the year. This isn't the whole picture though, the number is actually much lower.

Toss in the overhead of full time work life as well as running an author blog and now we're down to basically half of the year for writing. I'm not done yet though! How much of this time is actually spent writing?

Later on, I'm going to link you to my Book Timeline Estimator spreadsheet. Right now though, I'm going to use it to give you an example of how much time goes into a sample Rachel Aaron novel.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Guest Post: Loss Leaders, or How I learned to Stop Being Poor and Love the $0.99 Book

Hi Folks,

Last Monday, I talked about why 99c should not be your go-to regular novel price. We got a lot of good feedback on this post! The best counter-point was from USA Today bestselling author Annie Bellet, who has graciously agreed to do today's guest post.

Annie Bellet is the USA Today bestselling author of The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, which Rachel loved and is free right now! So check it out.

Her other notable works include the Pyrrh Considerable Crimes Division and the Gryphonpike Chronicles series.

She holds a BA in English and a BA in Medieval Studies and thus can speak a smattering of useful languages such as Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Welsh. Which is pretty darned cool!

Her interests besides writing include rock climbing, reading, horse-back riding, video games, comic books, table-top RPGs and many other nerdy pursuits.  She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a very demanding Bengal cat.

This is a great guest post ya'll as the comments on my anti-99c post were mostly all about loss leading. So today is going to be very on point!

(Just a quick word. I realize in hindsight, that maybe I didn't setup my post properly. Long and short, I was talking about people who do things like price entire series at 99c, price book 3 at 99c, or otherwise use it as a long-term, regular price for too many of their works. It wasn't meant to say, "never use 99c".)

But while I could have been clearer, I'm very happy it lead to such a great conversation! So, are you ready to look at the loss leader strategy and how you can rock out with well-done 99c pricing? Here's Annie Bellet!

Guest Post: Loss Leaders, or How I learned to Stop Being Poor and Love the $0.99 Book

Pricing. It’s a scary part of self-publishing. What is a book worth? You’ve put dozens or even hundreds of hours into a work. You’ve (hopefully) paid for editing and wow-factor cover art and smooth formatting and your book looks like a million bucks to you. It’s weeks and months or years of blood and sweat and tears.

I’m going to tell you something scary but first a little caveat. This is all my belief and based on my own experiences and what I’ve observed after six years of self-publishing and putting up over forty titles. It is not the last word nor a 100% script that everyone can or should follow. Nothing works for everyone all the time. Nothing. Anyone who says “this is the only way” is either deluded or selling something. The following is just my experience and based on my own data and data I’ve gathered. Take it as such.