What To Do When Your Manuscript Hits a Road Block

It happens to everybody. Even bestselling authors.

road-closedYou’re writing along, stringing words into sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters when it happens. Like a deer bounding across the road in front of your car. Some problem arises that threatens forward progress. Even if you don’t hit the deer—or the problem—it slows everything down.

But it may bring you to a rubber-squealing halt, black tire marks and all.

That happened to me in February, pretty much right in the middle of my personal writing challenge.

I slammed headlong in the all important need for a story question. I reached a point beyond which I couldn’t go without knowing what my lead character’s quest was.

I did not want to give up on the challenge. That was important in my writing rehabilitation.

Nor did I want to give up on the story. Though I’d left the open the option of working on more than one story as part of the challenge, that just wasn’t the right decision.

I couldn’t continue writing the story.

I couldn’t give up on the story.

What was the solution?

What To Do When Your Manuscript Hits a Road Block

First, let me assure you that the activities I’m about to describe are by no means the only way to get over, under, around, or through a road block.

But they were helpful to me and may also be helpful for you.

4 Tips for Dealing with Writer’s Road Block

1. Examine the Road Block

The first thing I did was write a narrative summary of the section of the story where I encountered the road block. In this case, the first act. In fifteen minutes, I summarized the first act to best of my ability. It wasn’t a comprehensive summary and it wasn’t even complete. Basically it only hit the highlights, but it was a step in the right direction.

Then I expanded the summary into a chapter outline with free writing. Most of it was narrative summary, but I wrote dialogue and other scenes as they came to mind.

I also wanted to explore possible alternate plots. But it’s a known fact that such explorations often lead to total derailment. So rather than go into great detail about possible alternatives, I wrote opening lines for fifteen minutes. I ended up with 49 opening lines and was satisfied I already had the best plot for this particular story.

Reviewing chapter arrangement was also important. Although not many chapters are written, I have a general idea how the first act should unfold.

Persistent difficulties writing it led me to wonder if there was a better way.

How many of the chapters I think I need to write are actually necessary?

How much of the information I planned for the first act could be sprinkled throughout the rest of the story instead of being presented in real-time?

It was easy to see that the problem with the first act might be that most of what I’d planned was either not necessary or not in the right part of the story. Most of it was both.

A stunning thought, but one that opened the door to other possibilities.

Most of the work on the first act involved nothing more complicated than pondering. Simply letting it percolate through my subconscious long enough for the solution to arrive.

But I wanted to keep writing and I didn’t want to work on another story while this one percolated.

So I found other things to do.

2. Work On Another Part of the Story

I’d already written a scene sequence that I think could be the moment of grace for the lead character. But after spending a few days on it, I’d set it aside to get back to work on the beginning of the story.

Now, with the beginning causing problems, I went back to this sequence. I spent a couple of days reviewing what had already been written, revising it, expanding it, editing, and generally doing whatever came to mind.

I wrote the next chapter and introduced a new problem. I began to explore how the lead character reacted to his moment of grace and how he resisted it.

Then I asked myself what happened immediately before the moment of grace. What led up to the sequence I’d written? Who was involved? How did they respond?

I continued pushing the sequence in both directions for a few days, through several chapters in the heart of the story.

I did the same thing with a sequence that comes later in the book; possibly the third major turning point or the lead character’s dark moment.

I also worked on a possible denouement.

The beauty of working these sequences in tandem is that discoveries in one sequence often leads to discoveries in the others. It’s true. Figuring out how the story ends often leads to knowing how the story begins.

3. Brainstorm Missions and Quests

I spent a couple of days listing possible missions for the lead character. Or quests if you like that word better. Beginning with “Simon must take the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it”—Hey! I needed a place to start—I listed everything I could think of. The list contained silly things. It contained trivial things. It contained very serious, global-consequences things. It may even contain the Right Thing.

The primary interest was in getting as many ideas on paper as possible. The time will come to analyze and sort them later.

4. Review Other Stories to See What Quests I’d Given Other Characters

This activity didn’t advance word count since it was all reading, but it did help me see how I’d assigned missions or quests to other characters. Some of them almost accidentally.

Seeing how that had happened pointed me in the right direction with Simon.

Conclusion

These are just four of the tools and techniques I use to navigate road blocks when I encounter them. They don’t all work all the time or for every situation, but they work often enough to be the go-to tools for breaking through a road block.

They might be just what you’re looking for right now.

What do you do when you encounter a road block with your work in progress?

My Indie Publishing Adventure to Date

2016-02-01 latte coffee laptop computer tableBrew Your Own Adventure: Post 1

We announced in the IPT Newsletter that we were about to start a new thing: Monthly progress reports on my (Danielle’s) indie publishing venture. Carrie’s and my goal is to make a full-time income writing through self-publishing. The Brew Your Own Adventure series will document my progress!

To get you oriented, this first post will summarize my indie publishing life thus far. Then I’ll end with my goals for the coming month. Let’s go!

2016-03-07 My Indie Publishing Adventure to Date

Where It All Began

I first heard about indie publishing in 2013. After some research, I realized this was exactly the thing for me. Why wait for a publisher to give me a nod of approval when I could sell directly to my readers? My research also revealed that a lot of work was involved. I wasn’t daunted. I love a challenge. And I was strongly drawn to the liberty to make my publishing decisions myself – from pricing and promotions to cover art.

My First Book

Journaling Front Cover lores (432x648)My first book happened by accident. It started as a series of blog posts here at IPT that did quite well. I decided to write up a quick booklet based on those posts. Well … it grew and became a full-length creative writing guide: Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction. I self-published it in December 2014 – my first book!

How My First Book Did

I decided to go wide (non-KDP Select) and put up my book on both Amazon and Smashwords. (Smashwords is a company that will automatically publish your book to multiple platforms, like B&N, iTunes, Kobo, etc.) Like all authors, my best sales were at Amazon (which dwarfs the other platforms), especially during the first three months.

Then it kinda tanked. The 90-day cliff, as they call it. After three months, Amazon no longer promotes your book as a new release, so you’re on your own.

The old cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

The old cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

I floundered with marketing for quite a while, primarily because I wasn’t proud of my book cover. It was a home-made cover Carrie and I put together. I eventually realized I wasn’t going to market the poor thing until it sported professional cover art. So I kissed some money good-bye and hired a professional designer through 99Designs. Once I had a better cover, I was absolutely raring to go with my marketing.

One of the first things I’ve tried is Facebook ads. (Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula is the go-to for that info.) I’ve been running ads for a few months now and have been earning back my investment plus a little income over the top. Yay!

I also released a paperback edition of the book in summer 2015. Formatting it for the print-on-demand company CreateSpace – and holding my first book in my hands – were extremely satisfying experiences for me. Can’t wait to create another one!

What’s Next?

My goal is still to make a full-time living writing. I want to clarify that there’s a difference between full time hours and full-time income. I’m very lucky to have the former and still working diligently towards the latter.

DSC03349 (640x480)The more I study up on profitable indie publishing, the more I hear that you can’t expect a full-time living off one book. Having put my first out there, I heartily agree. I’m on the brink of putting out my first published fiction books, The Mailboat Suspense Series, which will contain four or five titles. Once I have multiple books, I can experiment with setting the first in the series at permafree or $0.99, see how follow-through sales go from that, and Facebook ads on the boxed set.

March Goals

2015-11-18 target bulls eye darts arrowsSo, what do I want most to accomplish in March 2016?

  • Finish edits on Book One of the Mailboat series
  • Invite fifty bloggers to read and review Journaling to Become a Better Writer
  • Mess around with a Facebook ad for signups to my personal newsletter

What are your goals for March? Let us know in the comments! I’ll check back in with you guys in April to let you know how I did!

How a Professional Book Cover Super-Charged My Marketing

The old cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

The old cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

When I released Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Seven Keys to More Authentic Fiction last December, I published it with a cover Carrie and I designed. It was pretty decent for a book cover – maybe even a step better than a lot of indie book covers.

But it felt like it was lacking somehow. I ran a poll at the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group, and the general consensus confirmed what I was thinking: It was okay, but lacking something that could make it truly distinctive.

The book has been available all this time, and sales have been poor – just a handful a month. I knew it was because I wasn’t marketing it. At all. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything with it. People really do judge a book by its cover, and I knew that my cover wasn’t attractive enough to draw people in. So why bother?

Finally, this summer, I chose 99Designs as my venue for professional cover art. It was going to cost me $299, which is on the affordable end for custom cover art. (Carrie wrote an excellent blog post about pre-made cover art, in case custom is outside your budget.)

No sooner was the new cover on, and the book re-launched, than I suddenly got the irresistible itch to market the **** out of it.

The new cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

The new cover for Journaling to Become a Better Writer

From the Rocking Self Publishing podcast, I’d learned about a service called Ebook Booster which will submit your book to a number of book promotion sites for the totally-affordable cost of $25. (For books discounted to $0.99. If your book is priced free, you can submit to 45 sites or more for $35.) As soon as my book – with its shiney new cover – was up in the Kindle store, I filled out the Ebook Booster form and submitted. The ad is running as I write this. I’ll be sure to report later on the results!

2015-06-22 Cat on Keyboard

“Hello. Read my book.”

I also drafted an email inviting bloggers to read and review the book. There are tons and tons of writing blogs out there, many with very large and loyal followings. If I could get even a few to read and review, it could really help sales. I’ve only just begun to send out the invitations, but I’ve already got some positive responses! I have an up-coming post about how to draft such an invite. Stay tuned!

I have more plans for promoting the book, too. (Facebook ads are staring me in the eye right now.) But the question is, could I have taken these marketing steps with the old book cover?

Absolutely. And I probably should have. But I was zero motivated to do so because I was not proud of my book cover. With the new cover? I can’t wait to show it off to people and ask them to read!

2015-03-16 Bottle (2)I think the root question is this: What is holding you back from promoting your book? What can you do about it? Do you question the quality of some aspect of your product, like I did? Can you upgrade now? Will upgrading cost you money you don’t have? Would you be better off promoting nevertheless? Or can you put together the funds to create a better book?

Maybe your book is excellent, just the way it is. So what’s holding you back? Fear of failure and rejection? If these are the only reasons you’re not promoting your book, I have one tip for you: JUST DO IT. Find the easiest method you can think of to market your book – the one method that most appeals to you – and give it a try. Success will fuel your desire to market your book even more!

Pre-made Book Covers: When is It OK to Use Them?

book-coversProfessionally designed book covers are absolutely, positively THE best method for you to get cover for your new book (or to repackage an existing book).

Professionally designed book covers can also be very expensive.

If you can’t afford to get even a low end professionally designed cover, are you stuck making your own cover?

Happily, the answer is no.

The next best thing may by a premade book cover.

What Is A Premade Book Cover?

In short, it’s a cover that’s made in advance, but contains your title, your name, and your tagline or subtitle.

This is how that works.

A graphic design company has a lot of artists on staff. They create graphic art for hire. Let’s say part of their business is designing book covers.

So far, so good.

Most of the work is for hire, which means someone—an author, a publisher, etc.—pays them money to design a cover for a specific book.

But artists are creative and they like to make things on their own. So these graphic artists make book covers for books that don’t yet exist. They put all the same skill and expertise into the process, but they’re not getting paid for that job. Not yet.

The company sets up a website and offers these designs to authors—usually indie authors—for a fee. The details of the book—title, author name—can be changed. Sometimes, minor changes can be made to the design, too.

The company makes a sale “off the rack,” so to speak.

The author gets a professionally designed book cover for a fraction of the cost of having an artist design a cover specifically for their book.

Win-win!

Advantages

There are two very important advantages to going with a pre-made book cover. For most of us, the most important one is the cost. You can buy a beautifully designed cover for $99 or less.

Most companies also offer dozens of genre-specific designs. You could literally spend hours browsing the selections from the three or four largest pre-made cover design companies.

Another benefit is that turn around is very quick. Rather than waiting two to six weeks for a custom-designed cover, you can usually have your design in 24 to 30 hours.

Disadvantages

The biggest disadvantage to buying a pre-made book cover is that you may find your design on someone else’s book. If that’s a problem, you’ll want to check with the companies you research to make sure they don’t sell their designs over and over. If they do, you can look somewhere else.

Or bite the bullet and hope no one else chooses the same design you chose.

One PreMade Cover Designer

With over 25 years of design experience, the team at The Cover Collection know how to get your book noticed. We design book covers for those writing their first novel through to bestselling authors who regularly hit the top spot on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

The Cover Collection was my introduction to pre-made book covers. They offer cover designs in six fiction categories and in portfolio nonfiction.

All of the pre-made images are available for purchase as is, with, of course, the changes to the title, author name, and other copy. In some cases, they can also make basic design changes such as changing the color or removing one of the design elements. Be advised that any such changes result in an additional fee.

One unique benefit to The Cover Collection is that if you do decide to purchase one of their covers, they permanently remove that design from the collection. What does that mean? No one else will be able to buy it.

If you like their work but want a custom cover design, they can do that, too. Obviously the price will be higher, but you’ll already have seen the type of work they’re capable of and can enter that process with confidence.

Yes, But What Does it Cost?

The Cover Collection is based in the United Kingdom, so the prices on their website are in pounds. I wrote to USD conversions and received the following information.

  • Basic pre-made cover – up to 8 initial drafts/font options plus revisions – $78.66
  • Pre-made ebook cover + Createspace print cover $157.32
  • Changes to basic cover such as colour change, removal of elements etc. – from an additional $15.77 (depending on design time involved)
  • Custom ebook cover design starting from $189.26 – Up to 5 initial concepts and unlimited revisions
  • Custom ebook and print option $314.64
Not bad, right?

One caveat: These prices may have changed, depending on when you read this post. My suggestion is to use these figures for reference only and contact the company you’re interested in directly to get real-time quotes.

A professional book cover designed specifically for your book should still be your first choice. Nothing can take the place of a design that you and a talented artist work out together. These days, those prices aren’t unreasonable and turn around is usually pretty good.

But if you’re ready to publish now and you don’t have the money for that kind of cover, take a look at a pre-made cover. Exercise a little caution, ask a few questions, and browse the options.

You may be surprised at what you find.