Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why I am 9% of the Way to Becoming a World-Class Author

Ever hear of the 10,000-hour rule?  If not, then like me, you never read the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.  (Or, if you are more interested in the original work, the research of Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, some of which I have read.)

In the book, Gladwell suggests that the key to achieving world-class skill in virtually any field – sports, music, business, and yes, writing – is largely a matter of, you guessed it, 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

So, with 10,000 as my goal, I started tabulating my hours…

I have writing scattered across a long career, and even allowing that this activity was only a small portion of my job, I am sure I have spent at least 6,000 hours already.  Great, 60% of the way to becoming a world-class author!

But wait, that was technical writing, which is not quite the same thing.  I am sure of this supposition, as I would guess it took me 20 seconds to find the quotation marks on my keyboard the first time I tried my hand at dialog.  Who ever heard of quotation marks in a technical paper?  And I am still working on typing, “Dunno”, rather than, “I do not know”, or worse yet, “The data are insufficient for drawing a conclusion with certainty.”

But while some might argue that my technical writing background is a detriment, I am going to give myself 75% credit for the hours I have spent.  Where did 75% come from?  I made it up, but doesn’t it sound good to claim I am 4,500 hours or 45% of the way to becoming a world-class author.

Of course, a claim that 10,000 hours of practice makes perfect is not going to go unchallenged.  Perhaps one of the strongest tests of that generality is a study that statistically combined results from 88 experiments on the effect of practice hours on skill mastery.  While this study did not report findings for writing specifically, it found that practice could explained as much as 21% of the variance in becoming an expert musician…which is close enough for my purposes.  So, I am 45% of the way to obtaining 21% of the goal, or 9.45% of the way to becoming a world-class author.

What, you might ask, is the source of the other 79% of being able to pen the next great American novel?  No one knows, but among the factors most commonly mentioned are personality, cognitive ability, imagination, creativity, motivation, passion, inspiration, opportunities, encouragement, support, and just plain luck.  Personally, I’m counting heavily on luck.

Happy writing,

Friday, January 29, 2016

Want a Bestseller?

I try to avoid re-posting, but could not resist on this one.  This ranks up there...maybe ahead of my post "Just Waiting for the Next Blockbuster Novel", although you'd have to be willing to shell out a chunk of cash...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Coordinating Nook, Kobo, and Kindle eBook Publishing – Take 3

When I started publishing my manuscripts, I wanted to make that process as simple as I could, rather than spending hours fiddling with proprietary editors or hiring someone to edit the HTML for different readers.  Basically, I wanted to find a single MS Word format for the source manuscript that would require the fewest, most straightforward conversion steps to produce Nook, Kobo, and Kindle eBooks.

The guidelines I posted on Oct. 19, 2015, have worked pretty well for me.  They produce a Kindle version that seems error-free (other than my typos), while the Nook version I get is OK, but has always had some small but annoying problems.  (Sorry, I am less well informed about Kobo, because I don’t have one).  The problem with the Nook version shows up with hyphenations.  They appeared at strange places, such as “…be a matter of momen-” and on the next line, “ts before…”  Dividing the word “moments” between the n and t is a bit strange.

When I dug into it, it seems that the process was allowing HTML to be inserted within words.  So, the HTML for the example above was “…be a matter of momen</span><span class="calibre2">ts before…”  So, when the Nook wanted to hyphenate moments, it used the location where the HTML had been placed.

After a bit more testing, I’m on version 3 of this process.  Only the steps for producing the ePub that is used for Nook and Kobo have changed, but to keep everything in one place, I’ve reproduced the steps for Kindle as well.

As I have said from my first posting on this topic, if anyone has a better approach, I am all ears.  I just want to reduce the time and pain in the actual act of publishing as much as possible, leaving more time to write.

For Kindle
  1. Follow the Kindle instructions for formatting a Word manuscript.  Most of those guidelines can be boiled down to a) keep it simple; and b) use the built in Word controls for things like line spacing, indenting, etc. rather than carriage returns, spaces, or tabs.  Check those guidelines for specifics.
  2. Define each chapter and the major upfront sections (title page, dedication) and end sections (acknowledgements, about the author) as Header 1 text, so that they appear in the table of contents that Word generates.  Change the actual format of these sections to whatever you want (e.g., the title page does not have to use the Header 1 format; just change it after it is tagged and do not redefine the Header 1 style.)  When the TOC is generated, spaces between sections (e.g., after the upfront material or between major sections) can be added to improve readability.  The generated TOC should look exactly like what you want in the final product.
  3. Save the Word document as a filtered webpage and upload it to the Kindle publishing site. 
  4. Preview.  Correct all errors in the MS Word document, and then repeat Steps 3 and 4, if needed.  The intent is to produce a manuscript that needs no editing here, so it will likewise, need little editing in the Nook and Kobo process.
  5. Publish.
For Nook and Kobo
  1. Upload the filtered webpage created for Kindle to the software application Calibre, using the Add Books menu option (along the top).  Calibre is a free software application and can be found by searching the Internet.
  2. Use the Edit Metadata menu option to check for any modifications needed.  If the properties on the MS Word document are set correctly, you may not need to do anything.
  3. Use the Convert Books menu command to create an ePub version of the manuscript.
  4. Use the Edit Book menu command to edit the HTML.  After opening the HTML by clicking on any element of the text, I run a spell check at a minimum.  Spell check is the icon showing ABC with a checkmark under it.  HTML that breaks up a word will create a spell check warning.  Correct the errors and save.  I also run the automatic check on the HTML, but have never found a problem with this step.
  5. Save the ePub version from Calibre to your hard drive.  The command is 'Save to disk'.
  6. Verify the ePub book at  (Probably unnecessary, but I am a better-safe-than-sorry type of guy and this step only takes a couple of minutes.)
  7. Upload the ePub version to Nook and Kobo publishing and preview them without any editing.  All of the page breaks and chapter titles should be there, as well as the upfront materials and end sections.  If there are any errors, make the changes in the Word manuscript and repeat the process, rather than using the Nook or Kobo editors.
  8. As a final precaution, when I publish the Nook version,  I click “Publish” on the Manuscript page and select “The original .epub file I uploaded”.
Happy writing,

Hmm, just noticed this story this morning (1/22) on a related topic and decided to add it as a note to the original post:

Many of the comments to this story suggest the report is nonsense, and I have my doubts too.  But if Amazon has an error reporting feature, why don’t they share the results with us?  Let’s face it, even paid, professional editors miss errors.  Crowd-sourced error detection would have a great deal of value to me and I would gladly fix any typos my customers found…hopefully, that number would be very, very small, but I am certain it is more than zero.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What Are the Chances, Part 3

Let’s begin with a little, 9-question survey.  You know, one of those fun, little questionnaires that can tell you everything from whether you’ll be a successful brain surgeon to the best color for your doorbell button.

What I’d like you to do is to estimate the chance that each of events described below will occur in 2016.  Don’t worry if you do not know much about the topic, just give your best guess.  You can use proportions, e.g., any number between 0.0 and 1.0, where 0 means there is no chance of this event; 0.50 means there is a 50-50 chance; and 1.0 means that this event will definitely happen.  And of course, you can use any number in between those, like 0.27345196, when there is a 27.345196% chance of the event.

OK, here are the nine events:

  1. The NCAA will sanction at least one Power 5 football school because one or more football players receive some type of banned compensation.
  2. Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
  3. The cost of food in the US will increase slower than the overall rate of inflation.
  4. The US Stock Market will continue its volatility, while the overall economy grows slowly.
  5. The NCAA will relax its rules on pay for college athletes, paving the way for them to receive compensation through either endorsements or academic benefits other than scholarships.
  6. Prices on produce will increase significantly, as strong US weather fluctuations from an El Nino pattern hurt production.
  7. Donald Trump will continue to make provocative political statements right up to the day he becomes the Republican nominee for President.
  8. Oil production from shale will slow, allowing gas prices to increase significantly.
  9. Overall, the US economy will show slow growth for the year.

Got your answers written down?  Ok, let’s score them.

First, compare your answers for events number 2 and 7.  Did you rate the chance of 7 greater than 2?  Sorry, but that’s not possible.  Event 2 says that Trump wins the Republican nomination.  Event 7 says he wins AND he continues to make provocative statements.  The chance that both of these happen must be equal to or less than the chance that either one of them happens alone.

Now, compare events 4 and 9.  Did you rate the chance of 4 greater than 9?  Again, by the same logic, that is not possible.  Both 4 and 9 involve the chance that the economy grows slowly, but 4 adds the requirement that stock market volatility also continues.

There is no guarantee that I wrote these questions correctly – I don’t have the resources to pre-test questions.  But in fact, researchers have found many examples like these where the chance of two things happening is rated higher than the chance of one of them alone.  The reason – the combined events seem more “representative.”  And events that seem more representative seem more likely, even if they are not.  So, a statement such as “the US Stock Market will continue its volatility, while the overall economy grows slowly” may seem like what we get year after year, but it is still less likely than just slow growth alone.

So, what do you do with your individual results?  If you got one or both comparisons wrong, your doorbell should be black.  Otherwise, pick whatever color you want…

Happy writing,

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Back in the Non-Amazon World

After 90 days of experiencing the full weight of the Amazon marketing machine behind the eBook version of Half A Mind (i.e., being enrolled in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program), I have returned to my first book to the webpages of Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  (Actually, as of this writing, it is still in the review cycle for Kobo, but should be posted very soon.)

It was not that I had any concerns about Amazon – no, it was great.  Its eBook publishing procedure is the best.  It seems that I always need to fiddle a bit with the Nook and Kobo versions to get them right, while the Kindle variant works immediately.  When I was in KDL Select, I also tried an Amazon marketing campaign.  In general, it returned almost exactly the same as I spent.  That doesn’t sound like much, but then, it doesn’t seem bad to me for a completely unknown indie author.  Of course, I would hate to have to live on that revenue flow – zero income doesn’t even support a ramen noodles diet...

So, I’m back in the bigger eBook world now because, somehow, I seem to have accumulated several friends who are Nook devotees.  What can I say, I have all kinds of friends.  I might even have a few that read from paper - shudder!

Happy writing,

Friday, January 1, 2016

Mind in the Clouds Update

As I do, from time to time, I thought I would give you an update on my writing, and in this case, where I am on my second book, Mind in the Clouds.  At this point, the the manuscript is complete, and just last week, I sent is out to my beta readers.

I am not sure what importance most authors attach to beta reading, but I put it quite high.  Why?  Well, did you happen to notice the extra “the” in the second sentence?  How about the word “is” rather than “it”?

There are several psychological theories or principles that attempt to explain why proofreading is difficult.  One is known as top-down processing or conceptually-driven processing.  These theories hold that what you see when you read a specific sentence is influenced by the meaning or context provided by the story to that point.

How strong is this effect?  Well, do you have any trouble reading this sentence:  The maening of the pragarpah inlfeucnes how ecah snetnece is precieved.  I would guess you had little difficulty, even though every word longer than three letters was misspelled.

So, if the expectations created by the plot make it difficult for the reader to notice typos and extra words, imagine what it is like for the author who has lived and breathed a story for months.  I cannot read what is actually on the page because I already know what’s supposed to be there.

There are, of course, techniques to help in proofreading.  Personally, I like having the computer read the story aloud.  Not only does it help in spotting errors, but you also get to poke fun at the computer’s pronunciation.  What can I say, I’m easily entertained.

And by the way, if you spotted other typos or extra/missing words in this post, I put them there on purpose, just to see if you could spot them…trust me.