From Squick To Library-Friendly in Six Easy Spices
Blame it on the word, “Eviscerated.”
More specifically, blame it on this bit of dialog:
“Did you kill him?”
“Heck no! I just eviscerated him. He died all on his own.”
That quote comes from my very first Invisible Flying Pony story. Until that moment in the story, it was ya/mystery/comedy. But the word “eviscerated” pushed the story over the line. My beta readers had two distinct styles of fit:
“Eviscerated really came out of nowhere. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
So I had some options to ponder.
Was it my intention to Shock and Eww my audience? If so, then it was safe to leave as-is.
Was I going to cater to the Rated-G crowd? If so, then I needed to change it, and several word choices later in the story.
Or was I going to own that R rating? If so, then I should probably seed that first third of the story with words/situations that let people know what kind of story this is. That way, the word eviscerated wouldn’t be such a surprise.
Eviscerated isn’t a swear word, but certainly is an adult idea, and I did have some swear words that came up later in the story. They all had the same effect, in a story with a 13-year-old protagonist. But I was surprised that none of those spice words had the impact or reaction of the word eviscerated. The options haunted me for a long time, as I tried to decide what type of story I was writing, and what kind of audience I wanted to enjoy it.
In Oct 2014, I wrote this analysis of using and avoiding swear words in fiction, and it was around that time that I decided to take my own advice. I’d used alternative swear words before. (I used “Static!” as a curse word in my 6th published story “Homeward Through Darkness”) I saw no reason why I couldn’t use some other kinds of spice words that would imply the ideas I wanted to convey, but wouldn’t keep my books out of the library.
Yes, I admit, I wanted my books in the library. Someday. Maybe. And if it’s just a few key words to change, then I figured it was worth the effort.
Looking to pop culture for guidance, I toyed with using “Barnacles” and “Tartar Sauce” from Spongebob Squarepants. Then, “Schtako” from Defiance and “Baktag” from Klingon, both of which translate to “excrement.” Weeks of manga research kicked up a handful of words, but nothing really catchy that would be understood outside that community. I even tried using “Fish!” from BoJack Horseman. But in the end, none of them really fit the prose.
So I parked the upteenth revision of Spider-Leeches on the shelf. It sat there for a long time, as I moved on to other projects which lent themselves better to the natural language of flat-out swearing.
Kitchen Spice Rack to the Rescue!
I think it was the word “Shiny” (from the Firefly TV series) that actually sent my brain seeking out some other word implying Desirable:
The word just popped into my head. And it was perfect. Right on the heels of that came the opposite:
And the four-letter f-word, FLAX!
I dashed to the kitchen and rummaged through the spices. Every single one was a hit. BASIL! FENNEL! NUTMEG! CINNAMON! DILLWEED!
I opened up the Spider-Leeches manuscript and loaded it with spice words. Done and done, I thought, and sent it off to the editor.
Turned out to be too spicy.
The editor came back and said all the slang was too much. So I dialed it back. Sugar and Salt are the primary swear words, Sugar replacing “Cool” and Salt replacing “Shit” of course.
The rest of the words I’d use very sparingly, if at all. I decided to introduce a new one in each episode of the series. Flax would mean Fuck. Dillweed was… well, probably Dickweed for people who remember a time when “Homeslice” was a thing. (And to this day, I still don’t know what homeslice means.) Cinnamon is reserved for ultimate bestness.
New Swear Words? Cinnamon!
I expect to get decent use out of these new words in the Invisible Flying Pony series. I’m hoping other authors can make use of them as well.
In fact, I’ve started using sugar and salt in conversation. It’s amazing how natural and effective they are.
I really hope these words catch on. It would be sugar if we could embrace a whole new category of spice words to spice up our conversation.
And if you don’t agree, then you’re a dillweed and you can go flax off.
Don’t know exactly how it started. I have a shelf overflowing with books about writing, publishing, marketing, philosophy and many other subjects, both savory and unsavory. But I noticed that recently my non-fiction book purchases have been fewer and further between. Was I slacking? Was I falling out of love with writing? Had I learned all there is to know?
I logged into my Udemy account and there was the answer: over twenty courses. Twelve on Lynda.com And Skillshare? Twenty five. Writing. Marketing. Publishing. Productivity. I haven’t even started half of the courses, but like really good books, I can’t put them down, and the more courses I watch, the more I want.
It’s official. I’m a “course collector.”
It seems that online courses are the new textbooks, and if you’re an author, you’re in luck. Online courses for authors are BIIIG right now. If you’re looking for a fast and easy way to improve your writing, self-publishing or marketing skillsets, or if you’re a more visual learner, you need to check out the big three. Udemy, Skillshare and Lynda.com.
I’ll give a more complete review of each one later. But for now, here’s some things to think about to help decide if online learning is for you. Or if you just want to jump in, click my affiliate link to get 25% off at udemy.com.
What Can Authors Learn In Online Courses?
Holy Hannah, you can learn a lot from online courses. Authors especially are going to love all the great classes available. I’ve highlighted a few udemy courses below. I have personally purchased all of these courses and either taken them or look forward to using them to advance my writing career. [Yes, these are affiliate links, which help to pay for this lovely website. Thanks for your support!]
Online courses are generally made with a goal in mind, and often the websites will help arrange and track your progress toward your goals.
For example, Lynda.com has a series of pre-determined “Learning Paths” that will help you to achieve real-world goals of mastering specific skill sets like network security management, or recording engineering or a Java programming. Pick your learning path and the courses are laid out for you in the order you should take them.
Skillshare.com has “workshops” where you work in the same class on the same schedule as other students. When you finish, you have a tangible, completed project, whether it’s an awesome Instagram account with hundreds of active followers, or a screenplay you wrote in a month.
All online courses will tell you the duration of the content up front, so you’ll know the minimum time you’re committing before you enroll. Udemy and Skillshare have buttons that let you skip backward 15 seconds for those ‘huh, whassat?’ moments. Udemy has a skip forward 15 seconds for those “yeah, get on with it!” moments. Best of all, Udemy and Skillshare both let you speed up or slow down the video playback, essential controls for those challenging/boring parts.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a thousand pictures. Especially for complex applications like photoshop or google analytics. To see it done live (or recorded live on video) can get the point across much better than flipping through step-by-step pix of a process.
Connection with the Instructor
Skillshare and Udemy allow you to ask questions in the course forum, which the instructor or helpful classmates can answer. The discussion can be a really nice addition to the content.
Online Courses – Beware!
Too many non-fiction books are actually a pamphlet of information that’s been puffed up and fluffed into a 180 page book. That can happen in online courses, too. There is no developmental editor (or line editor, or any kind of editor for that matter) for the instructors. Be wary of courses with an ungodly number of hours of content. “Over 45 Hours Of Lessons!” one touted. As you can imagine, it was a major snoozefest, even cranked up to 2x speed. Even when the teacher was on-topic (which was rare) he dragged and droned and repeated himself. The “bonus” content for the course was a series of out of date tutorials, which really should have been deleted.
I look for more realistic times measured in hours not days. If it’s more than 6 hours, the scope is probably too large. If it’s less than a half hour, it’s probably not large enough. When considering a course, consider how long it would take you to read a book on the subject and how much that book would cost.
Online Courses as a Gateway Drug
Be wary of instructors offering one on one consultation of the topics they teach. No doubt there’s a difference between teaching you how to make facebook ads, and actually managing a facebook campaign for you. But if you’re taking an online course to learn how to do it yourself, and the instructor wants to both teach you how to do it yourself, AND sell their services doing it… then it becomes a conflict of interest for them. If they teach you how to do it all yourself, then you will, and they lose a client.
I’m not saying all instructors are like this. And there’s nothing wrong with offering both training and consulting. I’m saying there definitely are people who consider online courses (especially FREE online courses) to be a way to load people into their sales funnel. They may choose to hold out the good tips for the upsell, or teach less intuitive methods to make you think the process is more difficult than it really needs to be, then pitch a personal consultation for your pain point.
If you do consider buying a consult with a online course teacher, make sure it’s because your time is better spent somewhere else. And do your research.
Online Courses With Dated Info
I saw a course that explained Facebook Ads in detail, but then Mark Suckerfish changed the interface, and now half the lessons are useless. Some teachers will go back and update their lessons with revised info, some will not.
Check the most recent reviews to see if they say anything about the info being out of date. And look thru the date(s) of the lessons, to make sure they are current.
Online Courses – Twitter Reviews
Visual Learner? Check out online courses! #AmLearning https://conradzero.com/online-courses-new-non-fiction-books/
Bored with Books? Check out Udemy, Skillshare and Lynda.com #AmLearning https://conradzero.com/online-courses-new-non-fiction-books/
Learn to increase your creativity and your word count with online courses! #WritingTools https://conradzero.com/online-courses-new-non-fiction-books/
Bonus Udemy Discount for Fans of conradzero.com
If you didn’t see any courses you liked from the above links, browse the catalog anyway! You’re sure to find something. And take advantage of my affiliate link here to get 25 percent off some great Udemy courses.
Bookplanner Manages Publishing – “The Cure For Publishing Paralysis”
If you’re a self-publishing author, hopefully you’re aware of Joel Friedlander’s work at thebookdesigner.com and his must-read mailing list. Joel recently announced a new service called Bookplanner, and he calls it “The Cure For Publishing Paralysis.”
Bookplanner is project management software made specifically for publishing books (ebooks or print or both). The software guides you through each task in the book publishing process. The tasks are divided into functional areas:
Prerequisite Tasks (Social media accounts, ISBNs and such)
Production (Print and ebooks have separate production areas. Depending on your project, you may have one or both of these.)
Bookplanner requires very little info to get started. Pregenerated templates create the task list and due dates for you.
Templates based on different project types get you started quickly by auto-generating all the tasks required, including their start and stop dates.
Because it’s super easy to create and delete book plans, bookplanner encourages you to experiment with the different templates available. Create new book projects from the templates, then explore, tinker, and compare the plans. Keep whatever works best for you, and delete the rest. You can have an unlimited number of book projects.
Once your project is in place, the master task list leads you through the steps of creating, editing, and publishing a book.
Bookplanner Master Task List
Bookplanner at the Top Level view shows all the tasks for your book project divided into functional groups.
Listmakers rejoice! The master-task view shows all tasks in order, broken down into the groups or functional areas mentioned above. The order of the tasks cannot be changed. Completed sections can be hidden, which keeps the current active group of tasks easily available. Hidden sections of the completed task groups can be unhidden with a click.
Bookplanner Task View
The task view in bookplanner provides a description of the task at hand, and a simple text field for your notes.
Selecting a task takes you to the task view, showing a pre-generated (and uneditable) description of the task, and a giant field for entering notes. The feather-pen in the upper-right can be used to edit the duration of the task. This will adjust the deadlines for all other tasks auto-magically. The duration is the only part of the task you can edit.
The notes area is EXTREMELY simple. Text and links only. No graphics, and no html. As someone who works under a wordpress menu for hours, the notes section felt limiting to me. I hope updates to the software will allow users to add external files like graphics and manuscripts. (Although one could work around this by linking to files in google drive…)
Scroll down from the notes section to find three more task-specific resources:
Expert Guidance – Provides relevant info on the task-at-hand.
Additional Resources – Link to relevant articles, primarily on Joel’s extensive website thebookdesigner.com
Referrals/Partners – Links to bookplanner partners providing task-specific services (Editors, reviewers, etc.) who can help you check that task off the list.
Bookplanner Calendar and Gantt View
Bookplanner’s Gantt Chart view provides a top-level view of your publishing plan
The Gantt view offers a top level overview of the entire publishing process, showing only the functional groups, not the individual tasks. This is the kind of 20,000 ft view that is lacking in many project management systems, and I really appreciate that bookplanner includes it.
Calendar view shows each task on the calendar as you’d expect.The calendar gives single week or month views only. Clicking any task in the calendar views takes you right to the task! Nicely done!
Calendar View in bookplanner
You can only view the calendar or Gantt chart for one book project at a time, which is probably a good thing. Even individual projects can get pretty complicated. Both the Calendar and Gantt charts open just above the master task list, so you can easily shift between views by simply scrolling down the page.
The paint isn’t even dry on bookplanner, so some minor issues are to be expected. The software will be improved as it gets used and receives feedback. The issues below are things that directly impact the functionality of the software. I’d expect them to be fixed asap:
Edit/Delete To Do Items – Any “To Do List” items you manually add to a project cannot be renamed or removed. You also can’t set the due date or duration for them, as there’s no edit/delete button!
Task Ordering with To Do Items – The available templates are nice, but they can be limiting. If they don’t include steps that you use, you can manually add them as To Do Items within the functional area, but they are segregated from the main task list. There is no way to ‘insert’ your tasks into the chain of events.
For example, if you do a third round of edit/revisions instead of two, that is not an option included in any of the templates. Adding those tasks as To Do Items won’t affect the timeline of that section. And you have no control over the time for manually added “to do” items, as I mentioned previously. There is also no way to insert your “to do” items between other tasks.
Furthermore, there is no way to arrange the order of your own To Do Items. If you want to see them in order in the project then you’ll need to enter them in REVERSE order, as each new item entered goes on top of the list.
Task Dependency Is Not Enforced – I was able to mark tasks as completed when they still had unfinished prerequisite tasks. For example, I was able to check off the “Final Interior Proofread” when none of the other interior tasks were complete. In some cases, I was able to ‘break’ the Gantt chart view by doing this.
It makes more sense to me for a warning or question to pop up, or perhaps auto-complete previous tasks in the dependency, or grey out the option to complete tasks which have unfinished prerequisites.
Achievements To Unlock
Here are some areas where bookplanner could improve their already awesome product.
Google Drive Integration and/or File Storage – Currently bookplanner does not have any kind of file storage. You can’t add any kind of files to the project. You can’t even graphics to the notes section. This is almost a deal-breaker for me. I want a system which manages the entire book project in one place, ideally storing all the project files, including every revision, every word doc, every version of the cover art, every updated version of the epub. Worst case, bookplanner could connect to Google Drive’s API, and save links to the files stored on google drive.
Cost Tracking – There are no tools I know of that will let you do publishing project management AND allow you to track expenses. The first person to make that tool for book publishing is going to hit gold. These are the questions it should answer: How much will this book cost me to publish? Where did I spend all that money? Where can I find areas to reduce cost on future publications?
Google Calendar Integration – Would be nice to have book project calendars sync to google calendar so I could see where I’m at in the projects without logging into bookplanner.
Personal Service Provider Database – The Partner Referrals section is nice, but not editable. I work with my own group of editors, reviewers, two different crit teams, street team, etc, and it would be ideal to be able to store these contacts within bookplanner and select them for the relevant tasks for easy access.
Edit/Crit/Reviewer Integration – Sending manuscripts out for crit, then collecting the crit, then revising the manuscript is a pain. Same with editors/artists and their revision files. Same with ARCs and beta readers. Same with reviews and bloggers. Much of that pain could be remedied by a system which allows external collaborators to upload their critiques/artwork/reviews/etc., right into the book project.
Distributor Integration – Dreaming here, but once the file integration is in place, it’s a button-press away from uploading the finished files to createspace, ingram spark, lightning source, smashwords, etc.
Community Forums – The task-specific ,expert guidance and related info sections are nice, but they won’t answer all questions. There is definitely some value in having a community resource to fall back on.
Service Provider Ratings and Reviews – There are many service providers out there. So many, that I’d like to see reviews on them, preferably by people who have used their services. The ability to add service providers manually and rate their services within Bookplanner would be very helpful.
Analytics and Reports – I’d like to see how my finished projects stack up against other metrics. Which section of the publishing process took me the longest? How fast did I publish this book compared to my previous books? Compared to other bookplanner users? Compared to the industry average? This data would become more useful/meaningful as I completed more and more projects to get more accurate baselines. With that kind of reporting, I could work on tightening my process, and make my publishing business more efficient.
Overall Review of Bookplanner
The software just went live on Monday, but I can already tell that Bookplanner will be an absolute dream for self-publishers. Bookplanner is like hiring a project manager’s assistant for your book publishing project.
Bookplanner makes creating a book publishing plan impossibly easy. Tell it what kind of project you’re working on, and when you want to start. Give it a name and push a button. Bookplanner creates a task list, expert guidance, links to related articles, links to service providers, and puts all the tasks on the calendar with due dates. You won’t find a VA to do that for you at $5.99 a month. I used to do this all myself with free project management software, but bookplanner will save me a ton of time, which makes it well worth the price to me. (Especially since I’m tracking seven book projects at once!)
Hats off to the web designers. Bookplanner works great with touchscreen or a mouse, on tablet or smarphone. The interface is clean, responsive and intuitive. Everything is just a click or a scroll away, from big picture Gantt chart to the task details. The software is available as a web-based service only. There is no app or standalone software.
Bookplanner may not be for everyone. It will not store files of any kind, and it does not provide reporting. Some of the value of Bookplanner is in the advice and resources. If you already have a working publishing plan and don’t need advice/resources, then you’d only be using Bookplanner as a task list/calendar/gantt chart and it may not have as much value for you.
Those who want to do things differently may be frustrated by the templates (which must be used, and cannot be adjusted, with the exception of task durations) You can add your own ‘to do’ items, but you cannot make your own custom plan by choosing tasks à la carte. But, with over 35 years of publishing experience and over a thousand articles on the subject, the team behind Bookplanner know what it takes to put a book together. I personally like the fact that someone who knows the path to book publishing has provided a well-tested plan for getting there.
Bookplanner is just starting out, and I know that it will grow and improve as more author/publishers use the tool and provide feedback.
Bookplanner Charter Member Pricing Ends Dec 14th
Bookplanner was just released on Dec 7th, and they are offering charter memberships at the guaranteed lowest price of $5,99 per month until Dec 14th. (Less than that, if you pay yearly.) These reduced rates are guaranteed for life to charter members, regardless of future price increases.
For just a few bucks a month, I’d say if you plan on taking a book from the rough draft stage to published stage, bookplanner is well worth the price.
In the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Group, we often discuss our current projects. Can’t tell you how often I hear of people getting hung up in author traps. They’ve been working on their first manuscript for years, (sometimes decades) determined to “get it right the first time.”
Translating from Author to English, this means, “writing which goes through an endless series of revisions, but never gets finished.”
Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve been there yourself. Ever get stuck in author traps like these?
Reading books about writing process, then applying your new-found knowledge to your old-and-never-released manuscript…
Sending your story in for critique, then taking all the feedback and revising your manuscript again. And again. And again…
Buying a new software tool, and porting your work into the new system, hoping it will help you finish…
Revising your story to make it more like that hot, new bestseller, so you can cash in on the rising trend…
Revising your story to make it less like that hot, new bestseller, so you don’t get accused of plagiarizing ideas…
I’ve been to every one of these places, and every one of them will slow your author journey to a crawl.
The good news is that just knowing about the traps might prevent you from getting stuck in the first place. Here’s the author traps I’m aware of and how to avoid/escape them. [Read more…]