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#NaNoWriMo is coming to end…what to do next?

At the end of November many writers will have 50k words, or close too it. Some will have completed a novel. Others will be close to completion. Most will need a long nap. Writing 2k every day can be exhausting, especially when the words are forced or not flowing. Producing that kind output is a full time job when many of those participating in NaNo have other jobs and families, its even more exhausting.

So now that it’s almost over, what do you do next? Most of the advice I see out there is to take a break. While I think that is an excellent idea, I think there is one thing you should do before you set aside your NaNo project. I suggest you make an outline of what you think you just wrote. Your mind has been in constant thought, producing word after word. Its time to see if those words make sense.

When I wrote Rekindled during NaNoWriMo, as soon as I was done, I took out a notebook and started labeling pages. One was for Hero. Another for the Heroine. I had a page for the best friend and ex-girlfriend’s romance. I had a page for the dead father. A page for the hero’s boss and the hero’s mother and their relationship. I had a page for the heroine’s best friend. A page for dead father’s best friend who is holding a lot of the secrets tying all the above people together. I had a page for the bad guys who were tying to kill the Heroine. Finally, I had a page for the plot line. I jotted down what I thought I knew about what I wrote WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE MANUSCRIPT. I was surprised at how much I didn’t know about what I had just written.

Then, I took a break. I didn’t work on that manuscript at all, though I thought about it and I keep a notebook with me, jotting things down.

Next, I printed it out and sat in a big comfy chair with my feet up and just read it. This was the hardest part. I didn’t allow myself a red pen. I forced myself to stay away from the computer. I did however give myself permission to take notes. They were mostly questions, like “why did I write that scene in that point-of-view?” or “who really is Kaylee’s father?” That question really hit me hard because I hadn’t planned for Kaylee to have a different biological dad than the one who raised her and who had been murdered, but it was my subconscious at work, so I had to figure it out. This process was very difficult, but very important in understanding what my brain had done while I was busy tossing words onto the page to meet my word count.

After I had gone through the manuscript, I had to make some difficult decisions. Many of my scenes were written in the wrong point of view. So they had to be changed. I had to delete two point of view characters. Also, the reason Kaylee had come home in the beginning of the book wasn’t the reason I had been working of off halfway through the book.

I honestly was so confused by middle of December I felt like I almost had to start all over again. So, I took a deep breath and went back to basics. I asked myself what the Kernel Idea was for this book. I wrote that down and one sentence gave me a lot of direction, but I still had a lot of rewriting to do, but it went much smoother after that.

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

#Nanowrimo The Kernal Idea: The Alpha and Omega of Your Book

You have to start somewhere.

Have you ever listened to a writer who just recently started a new project? They are practically jumping out of their pants with excitement. Their eyes light up and oddly enough, they break out of that introverted shell and start babbling away about their latest novel.

This is at the core of the Kernel Idea. The spark of inspiration. That one thing that made you believe you could sit alone in a room and write 100,000 words. However, when the writer hits the 50k mark they often forget what excited them in the first place.  As you go through Nanowrimo, are you starting to sputter out?  The flame flickering low?

The kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book.  By that I mean it starts your creative process and it completes it.  It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.

The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel.  When I say idea, I don’t necessarily mean the theme, although it can be.  Or the most important incident, although it can be.  But it can also be a setting.  It can be a scene.  It can be a character.

It is simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel.  All else can change, but the idea can’t.  It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever.  But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write.  If you don’t, your story and style will suffer terribly.  You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence.  And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing.  Knowing it will keep you on track.

Every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do.  I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it.

A Test

Can you clearly state what your book is about in 25 words or less? This is a key, essential ingredient of writing a good book. This idea keeps you focused and on track. It is important to:

  1. Write The Kernel Idea down.
  2. Ask yourself what emotional reaction does it bring about.

Good writing and strong characters are the key to great writing and knowing what excited you to write the book in the first place will bleed onto the page. However, if you don’t write it down, you might forget and get lost along the way.

What Is Your Kernel Idea?

  • Good news is you had one.
  • Bad news is you probably forgot it.
  • It is usually the first thought you had (the spark of inspiration)
  • It is the foundation of your book, the seed.

KERNAL IDEA EXERCISE:

Write down the idea behind your current project.

If you can’t do it, then you need to backtrack through your thought process to find it, because you had it at one point. Everything starts from something. While idea is not story (something I will talk about later) idea is the only thing in your manuscript that won’t change. Your story can, but your idea won’t.

Dragon Sim-13In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action:  What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline?  That’s it for Dragon Sim-13.  Not very elaborate, you say.  True.  Not exactly a great moral theme.  Right.  But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do.  I had to change the target country after the first draft.  But that was all right because I still had the idea.  I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn’t change my idea.  I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.

You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.

For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline.   Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.

I’ve sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say:  “The author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book.”  I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story.  Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.

A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done.   No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.

After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it.  I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story.  Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?

This is an example of being aware of what you are doing. Not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing.  It might not be your original idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.

The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters.  If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more.  Even if the reader doesn’t consciously see it either.

Writers balk at the Kernel or one-sentence idea. How can you be expected to write the entire essence of your epic novel in one sentence? You are told that every word, every sentence, every paragraph and every scene must have purpose, so how can any writer sum up their work in twenty-five words or less?

It’s simple. Your story started with an idea. The idea wasn’t much. If you write it down when you think of it, then summarizing your story in one-sentence is just that much easier.

One way to work on understanding the Kernel Idea is to take your favorite movie or book and try to figure out the Kernel Idea. This will help you narrow the focus and see how it is the foundation of everything in the story.

Do you know what your kernel idea is?

(In the next post, I’ll give examples of Kernel Ideas)

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

We’re also doing a couple of different sales over on Amazon. Starting today at Noon (PDT) today the price of Eternity Base (Green Beret Series) will be 0.99 on Amazon. The price will increase to 1.99, then 2.99 during the course of the next 48 hours before going back up to 4.99. The sale will end at Noon (PDT) on 5 November. Get it while it’s hot!

We’re doing a similar promotion with Psychic Warrior. Starting today at 5pm (PDT) Psychic Warrior will be 0.99. It will then go up to 2.99 halfway through the promotion. The sale will end at 5pm (PDT) on 5 November. Get it while its hot!

Five Thoughts on Publishing for a Friday

ExecutiveSeduction(1)I’ve been pretty quiet on the entire publishing front for a long time, mainly because I’ve been focused on producing content (writing) and running Cool Gus with Jen Talty (Jennifer Probst’s first book with us is out on the 22nd of this month, Executive Seduction).

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it and discussing it with my wife, the font of useless information; until I need it.  So here are 5 off-the-cuff thoughts.  Do with them what you will.

  1. It’s not ‘all about the book’.  Someone said that and it made groan.  It’s about story and content.  How that gets to readers varies.  Digital, print, audio, carrier pigeon.  We have to be open to it all.
  2. Authors need to make more off a book because they’re going to sell less copies.  I used to see numbers posted by indie authors all the time.  I’m not seeing those numbers much.  I check on sales ranking for authors and most authors who were doing great two years ago have seen a decline in sales.  The market has become saturated.  While trad authors might still be selling lots of print, that number will decline as venues decline.  They will be surprised to see their digital sales also get muted, because there is much more churning in bestseller lists in digital than ever before and it won’t get better.  So 25% of cover price for an eBook aint gonna cut it.
  3. The “leveling off” “we’ve made it through” mindset that started at BEA this year is so naïve it’s sad.  We’re not sliding back to the good old days of publishing.  In fact, I submit things are going to change even faster and those who are taking a deep breath now and thinking they’ve weathered the change are going to get tsunamied under.  I’ve had several #1 NY Times bestselling authors ask me about what’s going on in the past six months and the clock is ticking.  My wife says 2014 will be the year of big name authors jumping ship and going indie.  They have to deal with those pesky contract issues, politics, yada yada, but a few are going to start seeing the gold mine of top royalty rates via digital and audio offsetting loss of print sales.  But they’re going to need help doing it, because it aint as easy as it looks.  Drop Cool Gus a line.  Even though he’s wearing the cone of shame.    IMG_0887
  4. Things haven’t really changed in terms of marketing.  Each book and each author is a unique commodity.  Publicity people in traditional publishing weren’t stupid—they did the best they could.  To think it’s all changed because of digital is naïve.  Some things are different, but overall, there is no one solution.  I see a lot of Marty’s from House of Lies out there trying to sell their magic formulas for online marketing.  Except not one has listed an example where they actually did it.  And could prove their marketing led to sales.  That’s the problem.  We realize each author is different so we don’t have boilerplate.  We make a unique plan for each one.
  5. The eBook is not the same at the print book.  Even in terms of narrative structure.  I find my books are shorter.  I do more “info dump” but that’s because people read for two main reasons:  one is entertainment, but two is information.  You can look up stuff right out the manuscript now.  I hear Jenny Crusie screaming in New Jersey right now.  Do you know who Mary Meyer was?  That Khrushchev was forced out of office the day after these was murdered?  They’re shorter, but they’re cheaper.  $3.99?  Seriously?  You can’t get a cup of coffee at Starbucks for less.  And get more value and time well spent.Kennedy_Final

Nothing but good times ahead.

The Author’s Marathon: 10 Things To Remember

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s become a refrain of experienced authors to those rushing into the “gold mine” of self-publishing.

My first book came out in 1991.  My 53rd was published recently and I’m aiming to complete six books this year (4 down, 2 to go).  I made a living in traditional publishing for 20 years and an even better one in indie publishing the past several years.  I’ve written thrillers, science fiction, romance, an alibi, men’s adventure, hit-women, non-fiction on writing, non-fiction on team-building, a confession, a musical, Michael Crichton type books, and more.

One of those is a lie.  Perhaps two.  Perhaps that’s a lie.

backgroundOn twitter I notice that the Chicago Marathon is off and running today.  I’ve run a bunch of marathons (none recently) including NY, Boston, Marine Corps, Jooisy Shore and others.  So let me tell you what I’ve learned about the marathon of being a writer and how I’ve stayed in business a quarter of a century.  Geez, that makes me feel old:

  1. Know your goal.  Each of us has a different goal for our writing.  Thus each of us is unique.  I call this the strategic writing goal in Write It Forward and it should be stated in one sentence, with a concrete, external outcome and a time lock.  Much like your protagonist’s in your novel.
  2. Write.  Sounds easy, right?  When I was under contract for three books a year, I wrote four.  In traditional publishing I always stayed on ‘spec’ manuscript ahead.  Thus, if a contract wasn’t renewed, my agent was already out pitching a new book to a new publisher.
  3. Write.  I set my own deadlines as an indie author/publisher.  Writers are TERRIBLE at meeting deadlines.  Here’s the amazing thing though:  if you force yourself to write every day, it’s interesting how the pages add up.
  4. Focus on the story not the book.  I’m going to blog more about this, but I recently saw that the COO of one of the Big 5 said something to the refrain of “it’s all about the book” and my first thought was:  Duh.  Then my second was, no, it’s not.  It’s about story for fiction and content for non-fiction.  How that story and content get to the reader can vary from the book, to digital, to audio, to etchings on cave walls.  Don’t limit yourself.
  5. Network.  This business is run by people.  The BIGGEST mistake I made in traditional publishing was not doing more networking.  At Cool Gus we spend a lot of time and money going to events like BEA, RT, ITW, and other events to meet people.  To put a face, besides that cool dog face of Gus, on Cool Gus.  We’re heading out to Seattle in three weeks to visit the Death Star.  Jen is going to do her hair up like Princess Leia.  I’m going to charge my phaser or am I mixing scifi?  Light saber?  Let’s not go there.
  6. You must market and promote, but you can’t.  But you must.  But you can’t.  But you must.  Enough on that.
  7. When choosing between writing time and marketing and promoting time, lean toward writing time.
  8. Being a guru feels good but it doesn’t sell books.  Because I’ve done it (and still do with things like this blog), I can tell you, it can reach 50,000 people and lead to zero sales.  Seriously. How many of you are going to read this and go “Gosh, that Bob Mayer guy knows what he’s talking about, I’m going to buy his book!.  Right.  Thought so.
  9. Admit when you’re wrong.  When I first started dipping my toe into indie publishing I was reading Joe Konrath’s blog and he quoted some numbers and I basically said he was full of shit in the comments section.  He replied that I was dumber than I appeared or something to that extent.  Six months later I had to write a blog entitled “I was wrong, Konrath was right.”  At Cool Gus we constantly re-evaluate our business plan.  What worked?  What didn’t?  We can’t change for the better if we don’t admit what we did turned out wrong.  Be prepared to change course when the winds of publishing blow in a different direction or be prepared to sink.  As James Jesus Angleton said about the Bay of Pigs, they didn’t have an “escape hatch”.  (I’m writing The Kennedy Endeavor now and a lot of it is about the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. etc. you don’t really care do you?)Kennedy_Final
  10. Keep track of what other people are doing but remember, each of us is unique in terms of Platform, Product and Promotion.  Thus what someone else is doing is never going to fit us exactly.  Sometimes what someone else is doing could be a disaster for me.  Pick your own path wisely.  This loops us back to number one.

11. Because Spinal Tap says you have to go up to 11.  Don’t take it all so seriously and be slow to react.  The internet is a very dangerous place.  I’ve seen internet lynch mobs go crazy over the slightest thing (done it myself a time or two) but a day or two of waiting and watching isn’t going to change anything.

IMG_0879Cool Gus, BTW, is not a happy camper, but he is healing up.  He hates the cone of shame.  He’s lying at my feet right now whining.

And oh yeah, Breaking Bad tonight.  Long shot on ending:  Jane’s father as the wild card?  But Jesse takes out Walt, gets Brock and HEA?  And do you realize if Marie had not stolen that spoon, none of this would have happened and Hank would be alive?  That’s story-telling.

There are no HEAs in Breaking Bad.

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