S. J. Kelley

Official author website

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.

More on seasons / episodes

After reading more about ebook pricing, I’m thinking my initial plan my need to be revised.

Writing / Editing Release Date Book Length Price
May 4 – 31, 2015 Oct 4, 2015 Season 1: Episode 1 ~25k FREE
Jun 1 – 28, 2015 Oct 4, 2015 Season 1: Episode 2 ~25k $2.99
Jun 29 – Aug 5, 2015 Nov 1, 2015 Season 1: Episode 3 ~25k $2.99
Aug – Oct 11, 2015 Nov 29, 2015 Season 1: Episode 4 ~25k $2.99
Oct 12, 2015 Dec 26, 2015 Season 1: Omnibus ~100k $5.99 (save 33%)
Oct 13 – Dec 15, 2015 Feb 7, 2016 Season 2: Episode 1 ~25k $2.99
Dec 15/’15 – Feb 16, 2016 Mar 20, 2016 Season 2: Episode 2 ~25k $2.99
Feb 17 – Mar 13, 2016 Apr 17, 2016 Season 2: Episode 3 ~25k $2.99
Mar 14 – Apr 6, 2016 May 15, 2016 Season 2: Episode 4 ~25k $2.99
Apr 6 – May 1, 2016 Jun 12, 2016 Season 2: Omnibus ~100k $6.99 (save 42%)

While books are on pre-order I’ll list them at a reduced price of $1.99 per episode, or 4.99/5.99 per season.

I’ve also come up with a new writing schedule. I reduced my hours at work to 3 days a week, but my Tuesdays and Thursdays seem to get swallowed up by my to-do list backlog, and I get less than 2-3 hours of writing in. I thought if I had a more strict schedule on those days I could treat it like a job. I wouldn’t be late for work or not put in the time, so why should I not put the time into this career? The schedule below allows for 8 hours of sleep per night (I need 8.5 to feel normal according to my sleep experiment, but this will probably do).

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday (1.5 hr/day; 6 hr/week)
8:15 pm – 9:45 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
9:45 pm – 9:50 pm Get ready for bed
9:50 pm – 10:30 pm Leisure

Tuesday, Thursday (7.5 hr/day; 15 hr/week)
8:30 am – 10:00 am Novel (1.5 hr)
10:00 am – 10:30 am Break
10:30 am – 12:00 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
12:00 pm – 12:45 pm Lunch
12:45 pm – 2:15 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
2:15 pm – 2:45 pm Break
2:45 pm – 4:15 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
4:15 pm – 5:00 pm Life stuff / Logistics
8:15 pm – 9:45 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
9:45 pm – 9:50 pm Get ready for bed
9:50 pm – 10:30 pm Leisure

Saturday (4 hr/day and week)
10:00 am – 12:30 pm Novel (2.5 hr)
8:15 pm – 9:45 pm Novel (1.5 hr)
9:45 pm – 9:50 pm Get ready for bed
9:50 pm – 10:30 pm Leisure

In total I’ll get in 25 hours a week this way. I have 10 weeks left on this schedule, then one week of vacation while kids are in summer camp (writing binge like T/R schedule; 37.5 hrs), then 2 weeks vacation of nothing, and then I’m back to working 5 days a week, so I’ll only get in 1.5 hours every night (10.5 hours per week). Note that all of these times are actual writing/editing times. In my “leisure” and during my 20 min coffee / 30 min lunch breaks at work I’ll read business related things such as blogs like The Passive Voice and forums such as KBoards, and will try to squeeze marketing in those times as well.

According to my spreadsheet I average a measly 390 WPH writing, and edit at 2500 WPH. I’m hoping to finish editing Episode 1 this week, so starting Monday I’ll have 75k remaining. Each episode will take me 64 hours to write and 10 to edit, so about 75 hours total. By the time I add covers and promo planning, about 85 hours, or 3.5 weeks (lets round to 4 weeks because I have to learn book layouts and how to upload, etc). I’ll use my summer camp week to arrange promos, covers, beta readers, etc. I want to have the whole thing done before work picks up again and also before the first release, because I like to go back and add hints to make sure they’re all a cohesive document. I won’t be able to do that with season 2, but hopefully things pick up enough that I can work less at the day job all year, not just for a few months.

Releasing a book as “episodes” and “seasons”

I know I don’t really have an audience, so I’ll just apologize to myself for not being around in a while. In week seven I had my best week yet, largely because I was getting up very early (4:30 in the morning early) and actually getting things done. Then I decide to switch to writing after the kids were in bed, since I’ve always been a night owl at heart, but I ended up being so burnt out from work and getting up early for weeks that I’d just surf the Internet or waste time, often staying up until one or two in the morning and being a zombie the next day. Epic fail.

But that’s all in the past, right?

I spent the day coming back to the idea of serialization, which I first talked about in March. There’s been some debate on KBoards about how readers would respond to the different types of serialization. In the most traditional sense, a serial has a clear beginning, middle, and end, despite being a short piece. Meanwhile, a series is often thought of as several related, standard length books that can be read in any order. Apparently the term “saga” refers to what I usually consider to be a series, which are standard length books with a clear beginning, middle, and end that must be read in a specific order to understand the overarching plot.

The people posting on KBoards seem to be in one of two camps when it comes to splitting a traditional novel into several parts that have no clear beginning, middle, and end, and finish with a cliffhanger. The first believes that readers will consider it nothing more than a money grab, and that they will become annoyed and leave several one star reviews. The logic is that even if the serialization is designed for borrows through Kindle Unlimited, there will inevitably be a number of buyers who won’t appreciate having to pay for one book several times. Of course, if one were to price each of the installments at $.99, over a four part serialization the author would only earn $1.20. If the same book was sold for $3.99, the author would earn $2.79. So clearly serialization is not a money grab, but readers may not realize this. I think the key is keeping the pricing of each individual installment approximately the same as the pricing of the box set.

The second camp believes that serialization is a good way to maximize the benefit from the 30 day hot new releases algorithm. Also, readers are less likely to buy a book from an author who only has one book published, and breaking a novel into several parts will increase the number of books available. Several authors have had great success with this approach. Key is having a very clear blurb that specifically says the book is an installment and that it ends on a cliffhanger. As readers of short works are a different target audience than readers of full novels, posters on KBoards also recommend saying that the books will be bundled when the last one is released, so that those who prefer a longer novel format can wait until it is available.

So my current plan is to completely write the book so that I can work in hints in the early stages, but to publish it as for “episodes” approximately 25,000 words long, roughly corresponding to Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, and Act 3. The Self-Publishing Podcast started applying the “episode” TV term to serialization as people are familiar with TV episodes that must be watched in order and end on a cliffhanger. The SPP guys release all episodes as a “season” in one fell swoop, Netflix style. I plan on stretching the releases a bit more than this to maximize the algorithm, but for the most part think the terms “episodes” and “seasons” are ideal.

My plan is to release the box set when people are getting their new kindles for Christmas. Each preceding release would occur a month before that date, with the exception that the first and second episodes will be published at the same time. The purpose of this is for the first episode to act as a free loss leader, and the second is immediately available to show that I am an author doing this for the long term. As a reader myself, I will seldom buy into a series if only one book is available because the author may just drop off the face of the earth.

September 2015: Release episode one as free. Have episode two available for $1.99, and episode three available through preorder for $1.99, with release in October 2015.

October 2015: Episode three is published. Episode four is available through preorder for $1.99.

November 2015: Episode four is published. Box set is available through preorder for $4.99.

December 2015: Box set is published.

Total cost to reader purchasing individual episodes: $5.97
Total royalties for selling all four individual episodes: $1.79

Total cost to reader buying boxed set: $4.99 (savings of 16%)
Total royalties for selling boxed set: $3.49

Given the above calculations, it may look like serialization is a bad idea, however exposure is key. By having two books available from the onset, I’ll have the benefit of a loss leader with an immediate funnel to a purchase. Also, by releasing the next two episodes and the box set within the 30 day window, a title should be available on the hot new releases list for four months, instead of just one. If I’ve learned anything from reading KBoards it’s that getting discovered is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome in self-publishing, so I’m hoping this plan will work.

Weekly Progress

I’m a new writer who’s still trying to work out how to be productive and write faster. I also love data, and track my output in a spreadsheet. Here I just wanted a place where I could post the weekly totals that I discuss in my Sunday updates, so I could see everything at a glance. I’ll be updating this every week.

This form of progress tracking replaces the one I used previously, which didn’t differentiate between editing and writing, and as a result the words per hour calculation wasn’t accurate. I also realized that I was spending a lot of my time on the business aspect of self-publishing, such as reading about marketing and promotion on KBoards, but I wasn’t tracking this at all. So when I would look back on the total amount of time I spent each week on developing this side career, it looked quite low. My old way was like tracking the production line, but paying no attention to the hours logged by the marketing division or the research and development team. This new way of tracking truly captures how much time I am spending on launching my writing career.

Key: W/E = Writing and Editing; B = Business (learning, production, marketing, management); O = Other (learning craft, outlining); WPH-W/E = Average words per Hour when writing/editing.

Wk Week start W/E B O TOTAL WPH-W WPH-E  Net words 
W-1 Jan 26, ’15 6:15 n/a n/a 6:15 273 1,707
W-2 Feb 2, ’15 10:10 n/a n/a 10:10 236 2,533
W-3 Feb 9, ’15 8:05 n/a n/a 8:05 364 2,365
W-4 Feb 16, ’15 9:22 n/a n/a 9:22 375 3,435
W-5 Feb 23, ’15 10:25 n/a n/a 10:25 295 2,768
W-6 Mar 2, ’15 11:16 n/a n/a 11:16 446 4,367
W-7 Mar 9, ’15 10:19 n/a n/a 10:19 450 4,955
W-8 Mar 16, ’15 n/a 6:36 6:36 735
W-9 Mar 23, ’15 2:31 n/a 1:20 3:51 413 n/a
W-10 Mar 30, ’15 n/a 0
W-11 Apr 6, ’15 n/a 0
W-12 Apr 13, ’15 3:02 n/a 3:02 572 2,239
W-13 Apr 20, ’15 9:42 n/a 9:42 475 2,099 476
W-14 Apr 27, ’15 3:44 9:41 13:25 2,735 50
W-15 May 4, ’15 5:33 5:17 15:17 26:07 530 4,004 1,584

Week of March 9, 2015: Best week yet, but writing takes so long… getting discouraged.

Week Week start date Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH (avg) WPH (writing)
W-7 Mar 9, 2015 6 4969 12:31 397 449

Re: Scheduling

So this is the end of my second week of early mornings, and it’s working out fairly well. I fall asleep quite easily between 8:30 and 9:30, but still have a bit of trouble hauling myself out of bed. Also I’ve noticed that when I first started this I used to start writing right away, but now that I’m getting used to the schedule I spend time “waking up” with email checks just like I used to do in the evenings, so even though I get up 2 hours earlier, I only get about 1h20 of writing time in. And I hate when I’m on a roll and have to stop because I have to go to the real job.

This of course makes me flip flop back to ‘why not just go back to nights?’ If I’m going to ‘waste’ 40 minutes, I rather use that time to ‘wake up’ with a jog after the kids are in bed and then plow away with writing. That would also mean my social schedule gets less perturbed, and if I was on a roll I could run with it and push through work on less sleep, going to bed early to catch up. That inconsistent sleep schedule is bad for your overall health though. And my husband says I’m less cranky when I get up early, and less dead when I come home from work, heh. It’s what I’ve been doing all my life though, so I feel myself gravitating to it.

Re: The long, long road…

This week was also the first major discrepancy between what I wrote and what I kept. So even though I wrote 4969, only 4550 remain. That stung.

I should be happy that I’m up to almost 5k a week. In the beginning that seemed like something I would never reach, but I still feel like it’s not enough. Right now a lot of my weekly count is happening on the Tuesdays and Thursdays I have free. That’s going to end, and then what? Back to the 1500-2000 words a week? Can’t happen; I need to meet my goals. I’m impatient! The end of the road looks so far away, and then there’s editing, and cover design, and marketing, and business stuff, and mailing lists, and figuring out how to stay anonymous.

I read somewhere that whenever you tackle a long task that you should visualize yourself a year from now, and looking back would you have wanted to start in on it earlier, even if it was just a little bit every day? And of course the answer would be yes. Even if I only have half a book the answer will be yes. But once I’ve got my mind into something I just want to dive right into it and burn through it until it’s done. The fact that I can’t because of my job is killing me.

I used to love my current job; I even proclaimed that it was the best job in the world, and I really did feel that way. Now every tiny little thing is getting to me, even if 90% of the time things are good, the 10% eats at my brain. And it comes down to the fact that I still work for someone else.

That’s never really fit with me.

I started a dog walking business when I was 9. I did desktop publishing layouts in high school and early university but I felt more like a contractor. In my current part-time teaching job I feel like I’m in my own game, me and the students. I have a Department Head, but s/he doesn’t tell me what to do; I just give him/her the grades. There’s a freedom there. But in my bread-and-butter job I have a clear boss who I report to every week (and my new boss manages very differently than the old one. I used to feel like a team member whose ideas were appreciated; now I feel like a cog in the wheel who should just shut up and do the work.) While I enjoy the work and feel like I’m making a difference, the fact that it’s employment won’t change, and the environment is so very dependent on the personality of the person I report to. It’s the fatal flaw that’s gnawing at me, and making me quite unhappy with what most people would fall head over heels for.

I was reading on KBoards that there’s no need to try to advance in two careers at the same time, and it hit me that that’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get a promotion at work (largely so I only need to work one job to make ends meet instead of a full-time job plus a part-time job), and I’m trying to make this writing thing viable. I need to not give so much of myself to my day-job. I put in many hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime a year (I’m salaried, so it’s expected), but I need to start delegating and protecting my time. Something has to give, and I can’t expect my little boys to be the ones who have to go without their mommy. Sadly, that has been the case during peak periods at work, when they’d be heading to bed when I came home. That lasts 4-6 months. Brutal.

As an aside: I’ve never really blogged before I started this one, but man, writing all that stuff out is therapeutic. Reminds me of a study I read that showed that people who journal tend to have a better outlook, almost as much as those who go to therapy. I can see that.

To serialize or not to serialize

When I woke up a little past midnight tonight my brain was ruminating over whether or not to serialize my first book to take advantage of putting it in Kindle Unlimited and having ‘many books’ available right out of the gate.  My brain refused to turn off until an hour later, despite the fact that I have to wake up at 4:30…

Anyway, I was thinking of doing something along the lines of what Sean Platt, Johnny Truant, and David Wright of the Self Publishing Podcast do with their seasons and episodes. They’ve amassed quite a few of them now, so I was trying to figure out how long each one was. I’ve separated them into works with Sean and Johnny, and works with Sean and Dave, because when Johnny writes the first draft I find they tend to go longer and if edited could have been about 20% shorter. Kindle estimates on the high end of the standard 250 – 350 words per page and uses 350, so the word counts below are going by the page length of their complete seasons for season 1:

The episodes have chapters in them that run about 2-3k each.

Well, now I’ve used an hour of my writing time to satisfy my brain munchings and set up the above with Amazon affiliate links, so I should head back to actually writing the stuff I may or may not eventually serialize.

Week of March 1, 2015: I think this schedule is the best so far

Week Week start date Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH
Week 6 Mar 2, 2015 6 4501 11:16 399

My husband was right; I just had to stick it out for more than a few days. During the weekdays there was only one day I didn’t get up at 4:30am, and that was earlier in the week. When I tracked my alertness the first few days were “groggy”, the next “ok” and near the end I said I was “in the zone”, so I think I’m adapting. I’ve hit my weekly word count goal for the first time since I started, so yay! 

That said, there’s still room for improvement. I realized that things will inevitably keep me from going to bed at 8:30 pm; most days it was more like 9 or 9:30 pm before I got in bed, so by the end of the week I had accumulated quite the sleep debt. I paid the price with a migraine Saturday evening, which screwed up Sunday. Can’t afford screw ups like that.

So the new plan is to allow some “sleeping in” until 6:30 am on Saturday, to catch up, because I can’t carry a sleep debt forever. That said, when I did that this week I felt on edge all day because I was used to starting my day writing. I put some time in later in the morning, but my WPH is higher first thing when I wake up (400-500, instead of ~300). 

Last week I projected the book would only be 80k, but now I’m thinking it will be 100k again. I’m at 18,352 and I still have 2 chapters before I break into Act 2a, which will bring me to about 25k per Act (Acts 1, 2a, 2b, and 3).