Why I Unpublished My Art Books

The driving force behind Indie Plot Twist has always been to help you write and publish the best books possible using the tools that are the best fit for you. From before the first post, Danielle and I intended to share our experiences in creating and marketing books.

Part of that picture is something most of us never think we’ll do. Unpublish something we’ve published.

But lets face it. Even the most popular bestsellers have a shelf-life. New books are published and rise to bestseller status. Old bestsellers fade down the list and eventually drop off it.

Traditional publishing houses eventually stop publishing books. That’s where the out-of-print list comes from.

We’ve all thought that independent publishing means you never have to unpublish a book and that’s true. You can leave a book published for as long as you like.

But there may come a time when the better course of action is to unpublish a book.

why-i-unpublished-art-books

My Story

I’ve always been both an artist and a writer. The two don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, but they are both creative outlets for me. And lessons I learn in one area often translate into better work practices in the other.

I’ve been a professional artist since high school. Suffice it to say, a long time.

carrie-lewis-art-blog-headerIn 2007 or 2008, I started my first art blog and it gradually transitioned from being about me and my art to being about how I draw and paint. In other words, it became a teaching blog.

The how-to demonstrations in which I described how I drew various drawings and painted portraits were so popular that I decided to publish a couple of books. That happened in 2013.

Last month, I unpublished all of them from Amazon and I removed the permafree book from Smashwords and their distribution chain. This month, I unpublished one of two remaining books.

Why?

There are two primary reasons for this decision.

snickers-mini-candy-barsFirst is the fact that while I’ve sold enough books to earn royalties from Amazon almost every month and from Smashwords every quarter, the books have never been as popular as I’d hoped they’d be. My last royalty payment from Amazon was 21 cents. Not even enough for a candy bar.

Mind, I’m grateful for every penny that comes my way. They do have a habit of adding up.

But the tax paperwork involved with Amazon required a lot more time to assemble than those pennies paid for. My time can, quite frankly, be better used elsewhere.

Second, my primary marketing push is now and has always been the art blog. The more it has grown, the more more true that has become. Yes, I had MyBookTable installed on the art blog and yes, it did get traffic. Unfortunately, that traffic did not translate to proven sales.

I could have spent time marketing books through Amazon and Smashwords and in other ways, but I didn’t think that was the best way to market this content.

Nor did it advance my overall goal with the blog.

A Better Alternative

The Complementary Method for Colored Pencil 600Given my readership and their needs, the best way to make sure this content got into the hands of the people most likely to find it helpful was to present it as a series of lessons rather than as books.

I decided to offer content as PDF documents students could download and print. I had reason to believe that would work because I’d purchased that type of content myself.

I started with the permafree book. I unpublished that in late June, updated the content, removed some of the book-specific content, and offered it as a free downloadable PDF formatted so it could be printed.

I will soon be selling the unpublished book in the same way.

I’ve also begun converting existing content into lesson downloads, beginning with the most popular post. But that’s a post for another time.

How Things Are Going

It’s still too early to tell you how things are going. I uploaded the first two documents Monday of this week.

But I am hopeful.

After all, this method of content delivery gives me more control over what’s published, offers a much higher profit margin than self publishing anywhere else, and makes my blog the point of sale on everything I have to offer. What’s not to like?

Conclusion

This marketing tactic isn’t likely to work with most fiction, since so many readers use ereaders for pleasure reading.

But if you’re writing and publishing nonfiction content and especially content that is designed to be educational, you might want to consider this option in addition to publishing more traditional books.

It can be a great source of more direct income and can also be a great marketing tool to point people to books available in other formats.

What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge: Finding Time to Write

Every writer faces at least one writing challenge—something that dogs him or her all of their writing life and interferes with productive writing. Some of us struggle with more than one big challenge.

That’s why our 2015 year-end survey included this question:

What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge?

A lot of you answered that question.

The amazing thing is that most of the responses revolved around one issue.

Even more amazing, I’ve struggled with that problem myself.

What is it?

Finding Time to Write

2015-02-04 Watch (2)It won’t surprise anyone that this was the number one response. It’s such a widespread struggle, that I recently wrote about it here at Indie Plot Twist. That post was more about my attitude on the subject than with tips for solving the problem, though. So today, I’ll offer a few additional suggestions.

In the article Finding Time to Write, I mentioned two good ways to find time:

  1. Look for activities you can give up to make more time available for writing
  2. Look for “spare moments” throughout the day when you can write

Both are good places to start, but they are just a beginning.

So what should you do next?

Diagnosing the Problem

2016-04-20 writing writer pen paper page book journal notebook coffee mugFinding time to write often begins with taking the time to record how you spend your days. Don’t change anything—just make a note of what you do each day and how much time it takes. I did this once for work and was stunned at all the “free time” I was using in unproductive ways.

It’s easy to track how you use your time. If you have a Smart phone, dictate each activity, when it starts, and when it ends.

lined-paper-and-penIf you don’t have a Smart phone—yes, we are out here!—or prefer a written record, carry a note pad and pen or pencil. Jot down what you do and for how long.

What should you include? Everything!

  • The time you work
  • The time it takes to commute
  • Shopping time
  • Cooking time
  • Reading time
  • TV time
  • Everything

Keep a record for a week then tally the results.

You’re likely to find a remarkable amount of time spent doing things that aren’t productive. I hesitate to say wasted, but I did find a lot of wasted time on my list. It was revolting!

And revealing.

Solutions to the Problem

Now look for ways to convert that wasted or unproductive time into writing time. You won’t be able to dedicate all of it to writing but you should look for ways to redeem as much of it as possible.

outdoor-cafe-at-twilightTake a look around. Are there people around you? What are they doing? What’s the first thing you notice about them? Take notes and/or use those observations to create a fictional character.

If there aren’t people or if the setting is of more interest, describe that in as much detail as possible in the time you have available. Learn to describe what you see, hear, smell, feel, and maybe taste, then use those details to create a fictional scene.

Do a little research. You can consider the exercise above to be research. After all, you never know when someone you’ve seen or a place you’ve been is perfect for adding interest to your novel. But I’m talking about actual research. If a lack of information on something is keeping you from advancing your book and if you have a few minutes, get online and do a little research. You won’t be able to conduct in-depth research in your spare moments, but everything you learn can be put to use sooner or later and the time you spend is time that won’t be taken away from writing time.

editing-printed-pagesEdit. One of my favorite things to do when I was working was taking a printed copy of whatever story I was working on to work. I’d eat lunch in my car and edit the manuscript in half hour increments. If I didn’t have anything to edit, I’d write chapters or explore plot options long hand. Quite often, by the time the work day ended and I could write, I was ready to write with revisions or fresh ideas.

Dictate. Whether you use your phone or a tape recorder, you can always dictate notes or entire scenes in small increments of time that aren’t suitable for any other writing-related purpose.

Blogging. If you blog as an author—and you should be blogging somewhere—use some of the unproductive time in your daily or weekly schedule to draft posts off line. I’ve discovered that drafting posts off line and sometimes in other locations is great for finding new topics and keeping my writing voice—and blog content—fresh.

Social Media. This can be a biggie. If you find it difficult to set aside dedicated time for this activity, use your spare moments to check your social media and interact. You can stay in touch and engaged without taking time away from writing. And, hopefully, without guilt!

For a couple of other tips, check out Finding Time to Write.

What’s your biggest writing challenge?

5 More Things to Do After Finishing Your First Draft

Sometime ago, I shared a list of five things you could do after finishing your first draft and while waiting to get started on revisions. That list was by no means comprehensive, so here are five more things that are necessary to writing but often get left in the background when writing is front and center.

5 More Things to Do After the First Draft

1. Organize Those Writing Files

I can hear the groans already!

Groan all you want, but writing files need to be organized just like other things and there’s no better time to organize files than while a manuscript is cooling off.

Paper Clips - ColorfulOne thing you might consider is creating a scene database for all those random and/or unused scenes. I’ve spent too much time trying to find something I know exists but that is hidden even from keyword searches. So I started a scene database that includes a scene title or description, the story it’s attached to (if any), where it’s filed, and the opening line.

My database is in Excel, but you can use whatever spreadsheet program you prefer. If you happen to have a good database program, go ahead and use that, instead.

2. Research

Research Book in LibrarySomething that bogs down my novel writing is finding out I don’t know enough about something. Be it trains, the Appalachians, or night vision goggles, there inevitably comes a point in every story when I realize I don’t know enough to write about a particular subject with authority.

I’ve learned is to make a note and keep writing. Do the research later.

“Later” may be the time between finishing the first draft and getting started on the second. Whether online, in a library or taking an expert to coffee, there is no better time for research than the down time between manuscript drafts. Having fresh—and accurate—information at your fingertips when you start revisions will help determine where you need to make corrections.

It may also spark new and interesting ideas.

3. Get Better Acquainted With Your Characters

You’ve now spent days, weeks, months (dare I say years?) with your main characters. You’ve given them things to do and decisions to make and they’ve successfully reached the end of the story.

2015-05-06 FriendsBut what do you really know about them?

Now might be the ideal time to get to know them better. Sit down in the location of your choice (or their choice perhaps). Ask them a few questions. Let them ramble or rant or whatever they care to do.

A lot of writers have a list of 100 questions to ask their characters. Others advocate just hanging out with fictional characters. James Scott Bell suggests a character voice journal in his book Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction).

Whatever method you choose can be a great way to get into a character’s head and learn their voice so clearly it shines in the novel.

And who knows what interesting tidbits might come to light that will help support that sagging middle (your novel’s; not yours!)

4. Introduce Yourself to New Characters

Whether or not you have another story in mind, it never hurts to introduce yourself to new characters.

They can be based on people you know or would like to know.

They can be totally made up.

They might appear in a dream one night (don’t laugh, it happens!).

You don’t have to do the 100 question survey with them, but let them tell you about something interesting that happened to them or about a dream or fear.

If you have an interesting or quirky minor character in your story, give them a little time in the limelight. See what happens. You might be surprised.

5. Timed Writings

2015-03-03 TimeOne of the things I do when I have a little free writing time or when I’m blocked is do a few timed writings. I recommend the free app FocusWriter (read my reveiw).

Timed writings can be about anything or nothing at all. As I write this, I’m in the process of writing daily observations as timed writings, but I’ve also been getting acquainted with characters, writing random scenes, and working on stories.

Or do a little free writing. A favorite topic. A favorite sense. A favorite color. Choose something and write for ten or twenty minutes. No editing allowed. Don’t worry about quality. Just write. So what if most of it will never see the light of day? The goal is to put words on paper and to hone your skills and your mind for revision work.

There are other ways to make use of free writing time. What do you do between the first draft and second?

Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing, Part 2

Sometime ago I wrote about things that may be blocking your writing. I started out intending to list ten things because, well, I’ve had to deal with at least that many writing blocks.

But I got up to number six and hit the thousand-word mark, so I decided to reduce my original list to five and call it good.

But those other things also deserved mention. So here’s my follow up.

Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing, Part 2

6. Too much advice

Let me make it clear that learning from others who are ahead of you in the writing journey is one of the best ways to learn new skills and avoid pitfalls.

You can, of course, do it your own way, but be aware that it will cost you time and effort. Why? Because you’re likely to make a lot of the same mistakes others before you have made.

Seeking—and listening to—the advice of others is quite simply a case of learning by example rather than by experience.

Here’s the secret. You can’t use every method used by every writer and accomplish anything. It simply is not possible.

One writer espouses outlining and another writer blasts it. You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere in the middle, yes. But both ways? No.

Yes, you need to read books that help you write better stories. But you also need to know how to find what works for you and what doesn’t. Then you need to learn how to throw out what doesn’t work.

7. Trying Too Many Things

When you find something that works, stick with it. This has been my big problem over the years. If one type of story planning works, then another type might work better. I’ve fallen into the habit of trying everything I read about. The end result is that I haven’t stuck with anything long enough to find out how well it works—or doesn’t work.

Learn from my mistakes and don’t do that!

8. Too Little Knowledge of Your Writing Self

Do you remember a couple of posts I wrote a month or two ago? I described what to do when you’ve lost your first writing love and followed up with post asking who you’re writing for.

I wrote those posts because I’d forgotten my writing self. Why I was writing. Who I was writing for. The purpose behind all the words.

Part of that equation is knowing when and how you write best. Reams have been written about both subjects, so all I’ll say here is that it’s important to know what part of the day you’re most productive and how you write best—what type of writer you are.

Of course the obvious two categories are pre-planner and pantser, but there are other categories, as well.

It’s important to understand how your mind works because knowing that allows you to sort through all the how-to information and more quickly find the material that works for you. Read what fits your writing personality and discard what doesn’t. It helps you avoid too much advice.

But it also helps you know what methods of process to avoid.

I love planning. I can write pages of summary and characterization, but it blocks the writing of novels because once I’ve written all those pages of summary and whatever else, my mind thinks the story has been told. The net result? The novel comes to a screeching halt.

If you’re a pantser by nature (which I appear to be), don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to pre-plan just because other writers do.

That works both ways, by the way. The key is to know how you work best. Then you can ignore the things that don’t complement or advance that writing process.

9. Too Many Ideas

The problem here isn’t just the ideas. We all know new ideas are good things. They’re the fertile soil from which new stories sprout and grow.

But if you’re in the middle of a first draft, the last thing you want is a new idea popping up and laying claim to your attention.

You can’t keep that from happening. But to keep those new ideas from taking over the current project, you do need a strategy for dealing with them.

The best strategy for me is to take a little time to summarize the idea. A few words or a few lines to describe the thought either in a digital document or on an index card.

I’m also doing a timed writing challenge this year, so I sometimes use those timed writings to develop a persistent idea a little more fully.

Also setting aside time each week for dedicated idea generation is a good way to nip rampant ideas in the bud.

10. Too Much Life

This was suggested by a reader and she called it displacement. As in having to move and having no place to write.

I know all about that, having moved several states 14 years ago and having endured a two-week cold a couple of weeks ago. In both cases, the only thing to do was take care of the matters at hand.

There is, unfortunately, no solution to this problem. There comes a time in every writer’s life when circumstances take priority and everything else is either tended on a reduced scale or set aside altogether.

The best advice I can give you is to tell you that these circumstances are quite often temporary. Moves are completed. Colds heal. Kids grow up and start families of their own. Don’t stress over the days (weeks, months, or years) you can’t write. Do what you can and prepare for the day when things change and you can write more.

That concludes part two of this no doubt ongoing saga. Which block do you have the most trouble with? What other things would you add to the list?