S. J. Kelley

Writing and Publishing

Three month plan: GAME ON!

I’ve just finished my first round of taxes as a business. Complicated. I don’t have any revenue yet, but I’m claiming my craft/marketing books and training programs. Still have to figure out how to bring my personal library into a partnership. Fun times.

I’m also trying to plan out my next three months. I’ve negotiated having Tuesdays and Thursdays off at work from late Feb – July. February and March will be taken up with my second job (teaching as an adjunct), but I’ve got from March 29 – July 7 to make something happen (the last 3 weeks of July will be taken up with family activities, since the kids are off school).

So that gives me 14-15 weeks, or about 29 full work days plus whatever additional time I can steal from evenings and weekends (with my family responsibilities, it won’t be much).

I’ve edited down Act I of my WIP, and a bit of Act II, and I’m at 27,300 words. Good words! I think I’ve gotten into a groove now in terms of style and voice.

Each Act looks like it will be 24,000 words after editing. I’m a taker-outer rather than a putter-inner, so I have to learn to write in the leaner style I’ve developed while editing. In any case, this would make each book 96,000 words, and I want 3 books ready to go for launch, so 288,000 words less the 27,300 equals 260,700. That means I have to write 17,380 words/week.

Holy crapola!

Assuming I can get 7 hours in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and an hour in on every other day, I’ll get 19 hours a week. Let’s make it 20 to have round numbers. That means I need to write 869 words per hour. My top speed was about half that. Let’s hope I’ll be a bit quicker now that I’m more practices in my protagonist’s voice; yikes!

I’m going to make my goal 17 k/wk, 1100 words on MWFSS, and 6000 words on TR.

For the next two weeks, I’ll focus on doing scene-by-scene outlines of the three books. I’ve got a 9600 word narrative of where I want Book 1 to go, and another 3400 of ideas of the overall series, but I need to flesh out the nuts and bolts of how I’m going to translate that into scenes, and need to work on Books 2 and 3. I’ve got about 18 hours in the next two weeks to make that happen.

GAME ON!

Motivation

So much of the battle to become an established self-published author boils down to motivation. When I plan out my schedule, it looks like I can get in 10 to 15 hours a week to work on this business, but when reality knocks I’m exhausted, the kids want attention (and to be honest they should be getting more), and it seems impossible to work constantly without having some down time to read, watch a movie, or otherwise unwind.

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve waffled between getting up early or staying up late to get things done. Alarms don’t seem to work for me for longer than a one week period – no matter how much sleep I get it, even if it is 9 or 10 hours, I despise getting up in the morning. Conversely, if I stay up late my creative juices have run dry, extracted in the masticator that is my day job.

I’ve tried many ways to get around this conundrum. Since waking up to an alarm is so difficult, I have instead started setting an alarm to remind me to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and since my faculties are usually not as compromised in the evenings, this is easier to stick to. My latest is to set an alarm to remind myself to get ready for bed at 8:30 pm, and when I inevitably awake at night, if the clock says 4:30 or later, I get up. There’s a bit of science around this. If you wake up naturally, you are usually at the end of the sleep cycle, and thus even if you have had less sleep, you will be significantly less drowsy. This was how I managed to get up this morning. Let’s see how it goes.

I’ve also upped my game when it comes to cues, particularly after reading Heidi Grant Halverson’s book Succeed. I’ve made some very specific goals (related to my novel, healthy eating, exercise, and family), printed up some Don’t-Break-the-Chains, and have written some goal statements on the whiteboard that I pass every morning on my way to the shower:

“When my alarm sounds, I will finish whatever I am doing as quickly as possible and go to bed.”

“If I get up early, focus, and avoid distraction, I will develop my indie career and make steps toward being my own boss.”

Next week, I will once again request to go down to working 3 days a week at my day job, instead of 5. This will be the third year that I have reduced my workload in an effort to make this indie career work. In the first year, I continued to work 5 days a week, but got off a few hours earlier each day. That didn’t work out because no one else seemed to respect the fact that my workday ended earlier, and where I am management I don’t get paid overtime, so essentially I was working normal hours for less pay. I learned from this when the second year rolled around, and asked to work just 3 days week. This time I was sabotaged by my need to take on a teaching job that consumed the other 2 days more than I had anticipated. By the time that job ended I was burnt out, but did manage to put in about 25,000 words, so there’s that. This year I will again go for the 3 days a week, but unfortunately I do have another teaching job. I’ve taken the last 2 weeks off from my main job to try to do all of my lecture prep in advance so that the month of March isn’t a complete wash. Looking good so far, but only time will tell.

I’ve been busy

I haven’t posted in some time, but I’ve learned so much. I feel like I can take this writing business by the horns now. I stopped tracking my time, because tracking my time was taking too much time (oh the irony). I have to get over the strange feeling of not having metrics to track, and just accept that it’s for the better good. Not quite there yet.

I start my morning by reading The Passive Voice and the latest posts on KBoards; I check back in on them at lunch. In the evenings, I read books on craft and marketing. I’ve recently devoured several books by James Scott Bell, and have decided that I should really look at the iconic texts of storytelling craft: Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” and “Story Physics”; Robert McKee’s “Story”; and Christopher Vogel’s, “The Hero’s Journey.” I also tracked down a copy of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.” In terms of marketing, I’ve been enjoying Ryan Levesque’s “Ask” and Jeff Walker’s “Launch.” I’ll be reviewing all of these resources in the coming weeks hopefully (but with my track record of keeping this blog updated, who knows? Business comes first 🙂 ).

I also broke down and bought an AlphaSmart Dana; an antiquated piece of retrotech that runs off three AA batteries and can’t read SD cards over 1 GB in size. It’s an electronic word processor running on PalmOS and it does one thing well: typing. The keyboard is fantastic, and it’s a great distraction-free writing tool. Bought a whole set of them because shipping to Canada was so expensive I figured, why not? At least if one breaks I have a backup, and I also now have a dedicated machine for working on this new writing empire I’m building, heh. I’ll probably talk about it more in future.

I can’t believe another year is almost over… I started this blog in 2014; a few posts back I thought I’d publish my first episode around this time of year. Now, I’m realizing I really should have the complete series plotted before I get any further into my manuscript, even if it takes longer before I make a sale.

I’ve just been through our first crazy crunch time at work, and some serious burn-out. Now I’m heading head-long into another that won’t let up until February. Somehow, this year, I have to keep my head above water and keep working toward my business goals. This is despite the fact that I have taken on a part-time teaching job (yet again), as well as additional part-time consulting work.

Wish me luck.

Getting back on the train

I’m not one for excuses, but when I’m looking over this blog I want to know the type of things that tend to set me back. My last post was in May. May. That’s not to say that I stopped working toward my goal. During that time I devoured information about the indie publishing market. I’ve read many, many nonfiction books on the topic. I also started listening to the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, with Simon Whistler, and it has been absolutely fabulous.

My in-laws visited for about three weeks, so things were a wash during that period, but since then I’ve been trying to get back into a regular routine. I still waiver between wanting to stay up late at night, and getting up early. During the day, I’m energetic, and think it won’t be any trouble to stay up late, after all I did it all through university. At nighttime, as soon as the kids are down, I may be able to make it for a half an hour or an hour or so before my eyelids start closing on their own. And I say to myself, “well, just get up early!” And yet when the alarm clock tolls the dawn of a new day (and I set it so that the new day starts before the actual dawn), I have become a zombie.

So I printed off a sheet for Monday through Sunday, when I would wake up, work on the novel, have leisure time, and sleep. I entered a period of optimization. I realized that I am not a robot. You would think that would be immediately apparent, butt it’s not. I love to read. I’ll often start a book at night when the kids are in bed, and because it is so good I will read until 2 o’clock in the morning and therefore be a zombie for several days. Yet when I was trying to maximize the amount of time I would spend writing, I essentially eliminated all leisure time. This does not work for me. I’ve also realized that I need more than the standard eight hours of sleep a night, and benefit from occasionally getting extended periods of sleep. Thus, I bring you my new schedule:

Day Wake-up Shower Write Leisure Sleep
Monday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Tuesday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am n/a 8 pm / 9 hrs
Wednesday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Thursday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs
Friday 5 am 5-5:30 am 5:30-7 am 8-9:30 pm 9:30 pm / 8.5 hrs
Saturday 6 am Later! 6-7:30 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 9 hrs
Sunday 6 am Later! 6-7:30 am 8-9 pm 9 pm / 8 hrs

Tax withholding and owning a company

When I initially looked into self-publishing, I came to the conclusion that I would have to register a business so I could get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the IRS in the United States so that 30% of my earnings wouldn’t be withheld. Apparently it took a long time to get a ITIN (Individual Tax Payer Identification Number), but registering as a business made it much faster. However, upon reading several threads on KBoards, it appears that the policies have changed and now all that is needed to reduce tax withholding to 0% is an international tax identification number (if your country has a tax treaty with the US). For Canadians, this is your SIN number.

It may seem odd that I’m looking into this so early in the process, but I’m very judicious in spending my personal time and if something won’t advance my life goals, I generally shy away from it. So while I enjoy writing, I’m in large part motivated by trying to become self-employed, and taking a 30% cut or an unfair exchange would significantly impede that. Also, I have a very strong desire to stay anonymous because I prefer to just blend into the crowd; not having to set up a company means my name isn’t attached to it in public record, which is awesome. (I had looked into setting up a company anonymously, but apparently this is very shady, even though Canada ranks in the top for these ‘shell companies’).

Aside from the ease of obliterating withholding tax, I also wanted to register a company so that I could have an official-looking publisher name in the publisher field. I have yet to determine how to do this, as once again the owner of the company would have to be public record. Maybe I’ll just have to skip that part in the interest of staying a recluse 🙂 I think I’ve figured it out! Nothing strange needed to keep your privacy after all, if you’re in the right province. Thankfully, I am! But being hermit-like, I won’t go into the details 🙂 Suffice to say that hubby and I are now the proud owners of Suspension Publishing.

When our books are finally written and we have to set up a mailing list, we’ll have to rent a P.O. Box, as to be in line with spam laws we’ll have to list a mailing address. I haven’t decided yet if we’ll do a physical box, or use a virtual mail service. We’ll see.

Registering a business, deducting expenses

As I contemplate purchasing some more software for my novel pursuits, I’m starting to seriously consider officially setting up a business so I can claim all these expenses. Altogether it will cost $175 to have an official home based business in my city. Ouch. But I do have to do it at some point, and it’s a one-time fee, so better to pay it now than when my dollars aren’t worth as much due to inflation. Also, going by the CRA’s definition, my business is already technically started because I know what I’m going to do and have been making steps toward it on a regular basis, so I guess I already have a home office? Of course, still making product so no sales yet. Not sure what my city defines a “start” as, but I’ll register soon regardless.

I’m kind of sad that I didn’t read through the CRA stuff before I filed my taxes. Last year I purchased a lot of writing books and software to do outlining and that all would have been tax deductible. I could go back and modify my return, but that’s a really big undertaking. Plus I think my big push in January is a good way to define the start of the business (seems to match the following from the CRA: “In order that there be a finding that a business has commenced, it is necessary that there be a fairly specific concept of the type of activity to be carried on and a sufficient organizational structure assembled to undertake at least the essential preliminaries.”). Anything in this tax year is game now that I have my head on straight! So far I have some writing craft books, a marketing course, and hopefully software if I can convince my husband of the expense, which looks dismal at the moment, heh.

The good news is I won’t have to register for any tax account, since I’m not earning more than $30k a year on this… ha! Hopefully I’ll have that problem at some point. But even so, I don’t sell the books directly, so not sure how this would work (the retailers would collect the tax so don’t see why I would need an account). I’m sure there’s some process for commissioned pieces in there, but I’ll open that can of worms if I ever get there.

Coming back to the topic of business registration: It appears that Canada does not have the LLC option of our American counterparts to protect our personal belongings should anything terrible happen in this process. The only choice I can go for for liability protection is a corporation, and the thought of corporate taxes is, quite frankly, terrifying. It appears the corporation would pay tax at about 11% for a Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC) claiming the small business deduction, and I think I would get paid as an employee and that would be taxed for income taxes. So double taxes? Confusing. In any case, the CCPC would function as it’s own “person” so I wouldn’t be able to deduct my expenses off my personal taxes. I think I’ll stick with sole proprietor (or partnership if my husband decides to get on board) for now, and if I become immensely successful I’ll look into this further.

Week of May 4, 2015: Cannot find simple floor plan software to help me visualize my world

Stat summary for the last two weeks can be found here.

I think it’s good that I’m starting to track how much time I spend on the business side of indie publishing and how much I spend on actual writing. For the week of April 27, 2015 I spent a total of 13:25 on the author career, and 9:41 of that was used on business related things (learning the business, trends, advice, etc). This is not an acceptable ratio!

I got my butt in gear the next week but came to a point in the novel where my Main character is exploring the school, and I realized I needed a clear picture of the school in my mind. I tried program after program to draw a “simple” floor plan of the school so I could orient myself. It was a major block; I couldn’t keep going unless I knew where I was. Going through the motions made me realize that the space I had envisioned was physically impossible because I had huge rooms next to ones that were very small, but for the plot they had to be similar in size. It was a mess.

I spent 26:07 last week on this career, and used 15:17 for trying to come up with a good map. I’m still not there. That said, the exercise was not entirely fruitless. I added more groups inside the school, and came up with their past histories, which groups conflict on a number of different controversial topics, and how the groups work together. Lots of this will be important to the plot, and I feel I have a much better grip on who these people are. I started an excel sheet to lay out what the different groups think about various things (I’m being intentionally vague).

That said, I still do want to make a floor plan. I tried several software programs. I just want one that lets me edit the walls with a snap feature, and let’s me copy floors for multi-level buildings, and maybe see the floor beneath. Just something simple to let me draw boxes and stick windows and furniture in them! Here’s a quick summary of the software that fell short:

  • Sweet Home 3D was nice, and let me see the floor beneath, but the interface wasn’t great, and it was slow. Amazingly, they had no pan ability in the 3D view. The only way to get around it was to do a “virtual tour” and make the person 20 feet tall. The walls wouldn’t line up well, but at least I could copy them.
  • Room Arranger was the best I think; it had a nice guide feature, but you had to edit the walls separately from the contents of the room (including windows and doors), and there was no easy way to copy a bunch of walls to make multiple storeys. I did the most work in this program, but in the end it took almost a whole day to plan out the first floor of a dorm and the bathrooms. o_O’
  • I tried Home Designer but it wouldn’t run under my Windows XP Virtual Machine.
  • EZBluePrint 3D seemed ok, but lacked a grid and the interface was just plan odd, but the snapping feature was one of the best.
  • I even watched some video tutorials on Google SketchUp, but you have to make things like windows and doors from basic shapes and that’s way too time consuming.
There seemed to be quite a selection of online options, but I have to make a massive building and grounds, and don’t trust that my information won’t go piff. I like having things as files that I can put on Dropbox and my external hard drive.
I don’t yet have an answer to this issue, except maybe drawing everything by hand. I think it would go faster that way, but my space perception is about as good as a one-eyed newborn kitten’s. Software programs let you add furniture to the room so you I can say things like, “gee, when I put everything I need in that room I only ill 20% of the space… it must be the size of a football field!” To draw it by hand I’d have to lookup the normal sizes of things for scale, and I couldn’t just drag a wall smaller to get it to fit.
Next week I’ll probably come in here with my head between my legs and say I drew the damn thing by hand, and spent the whole week doing it… at least it gets me thinking about the world.
Oh I just thought of something! I’ll ask the folks on KBoards! Stay tuned…

Headset for Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5

I’ve been dictating for the past few weeks, and while I like it, I’m still getting used to it. One thing I know for certain is that I’ll need to upgrade from the headset supplied with the software. It’s killing my ears! I went on the Dragon website and looked at all the headsets rated at 6 Dragons (the top compatibility rating) and decided on the Andrea NC-250V Circumaural Stereo PC Headset. Buying it is on my to-do list. Right after new glasses 🙂

Modeling my world

I met the point in my book were my main character is exploring the “New World,” which in this case is a school complex. I realized I couldn’t write about what he was seeing unless I had a good understanding of the space myself. I started off drawing the school grounds free hand, but my skills and proportion are extremely lacking. Then I tried redrawing everything on graph paper, but I kept making mistakes, a racing lines over and over, and then having to start over from the beginning.

I thought there must be a way to do this electronically, but I didn’t want to waste a lot of time learning specialty floor plan software. It turns out that there is a free software program available that is very intuitive to use. It’s called Sweet Home 3D and it runs in Java, which means it will work on Windows, Mac, and Linux. I’ve installed it and I have to say, it’s impressive. It even lets you do a 3D mock-up and walk through the room. All this in less than ten minutes. Needless to say, I’m laying out the whole school so that I always have consistency in what my characters are seeing.