S. J. Kelley

Tag Archive: Informative

Good bye burnout; hello Eisenhower Matrix!

So the Writing in Public thing failed miserably. It was a success in that I felt guilty for not writing, which was the point, but I realized that I’m burnt out. My schedules never really had any leisure time, so I never really got a chance to recharge (turns out washing clothes is not rejuvenating). I would feel burnt out, not work on the novel to relax, but because my schedule said I was supposed to be working on the novel, I never truly relaxed, and instead was full of guilt. All time. So, I gave myself permission to be lazy. Wow. What a difference it makes to sit back at the end of the day and not have a cloud of “I should be…” hanging over my head. This is why people enjoy weekends!

While relaxing, I read a fabulous post on procrastination. At it’s core was the “Eisenhower Matrix” popularized in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It looks like this:

Urgent Not Urgent
Urgent and
Not urgent and
Urgent and
Not important
Not urgent and
Not important

This was paired with a cool Eisenhower quote: “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” The author then goes on to describe how the things that get you ahead in an entrepreneurial side business aren’t usually urgent (like writing a novel) but are nonetheless quite important. We will never achieve our long-term dreams/goals without working on Q2; it’s what gets us ahead. But these lofty goals get overwhelmed by using urgency as the sole method to prioritize where we put our effort, when in reality there should be very few things in Q1. Which means we spend more time in Q3, doing those urgent but not important tasks that keep us busy.

The post goes on to describe where different types of procrastinators fall, and the section on “Impostinators” fit me almost exactly: we look productive, but we’re working on tasks that aren’t all important and won’t get us closer to our goals. He gives examples of “spending the whole day answering emails, running errands, making phone calls, organizing lists and schedules,” etc. If this is a problem for you, I encourage you to read his lengthy post.

So now I want to look at my major goals in life and put them in this matrix. This task, in and of itself, is classic of procrastination — lots of planning, little doing — but it makes me feel better! Why do I want to put all of my goals in the matrix, instead of just my novel writing ones? Well, that was a major point I took away from the post. Q1 and Q2 tasks, the important tasks, should take priority, and urgency should be defined as “what would benefit most from being done sooner” rather than what has the closest deadline. Q2 tasks could be spending time with family, which is just as important as improving my craft.

Goal: Develop my self-publishing business
Urgent Not Urgent
Write new words
Update scene metadata
Improve craft
Learn nonverbal behaviour
Update “Writing in Public”
Read self-publishing news (The Passive Voice)
Read KBoards
Read author blogs
Listen to podcasts
Work out better schedule
Goal: Everything else (Family, Health)
Urgent Not Urgent
Sort out taxes
Sort out bills
Book camping site
Spend time with kids
Get kids’ back-to-school supplies
Make basement livable space
List stuff to sell
Do Laundry
Watch Netflix
Go down internet rabbit hole

How to get the most money out of Amazon royalties when converting to Canadian dollars

I was catching up on KBoards today and discovered that Amazon uses a very, very unfavourable exchange rate when converting payments from USD to CDN if you have them direct deposit into a Canadian bank account. Many try to get around this by ordering cheques in USD, but this comes with a delay and other bank fees. Alternatively you can set up direct deposit to a US bank account (they won’t direct deposit to a Canadian bank account that uses US funds; the bank itself has to be in the US). Conveniently, many Canadian banks have branches in the US, so it’s just a matter of finding one with a good fee schedule. The two popular choices seemed to be TD Bank and RBC. Discussions on KBoards seem to suggest that RBC may be slightly better for online transfers. Because I love the business side of things I decided to look further into it. I tried my best, but please note that I’m only human and I may have made some mistakes below. If you spot any, please let me know!

TD Bank costs $5.99/mth USD ($7.49 CDN) for “Simple Checking” but to do “person-to-person” email money transfers “you must have a TD Bank Personal Checking account, a unique United States phone number, a United States issued Social Security Number” (see here), and same goes if you want to do “online banking transfers” to external institutions (just $3 USD if you’re willing to wait 3 days, but useless with no US address). On KBoards there was some disagreement on how money could get out of the TD accounts (wire transfers are expensive: $40 USD).  To avoid high fees it seems most economical to get a Canadian TD account in USD (can get one with no monthly fee, just $1 CDN per transaction), transfer for free between the US and CDN TD banks, then either cash the money out at a local TD bank using their conversion rate, or do an email money transfer for $1.50 CDN to your normal institution and use their admin fee rate. The two options are outlined below, using PC Financial (PCF) as the everyday baking account. PCF charges 2.5% for currency conversion after conversion takes place; currently $1 USD = $1.2510 CDN, so $200 USD = $250.21 CDN and the fee would be $6.26. For the sake of argument, I assume only one deposit per month. All calculations are in CDN (I assume that US Bank site fee listings are in USD):

  • TD (US) > TD (Canada in USD) > PCF (in CDN): $7.49 in monthly fees + $1.00 transaction at TD (Canada) + $1.50 interac transfer + $6.26 admin conversion fee at PCF (2.5%) = $14.75, or 6.49% of the CDN value. 
  • TD (US) > TD (Canada in USD) > TD Converts: $7.49 in monthly fees + $1.00 transaction at TD (Canada) + $6.95 admin conversion fee (~2.78%) = $15.44, or 6.17% of the CDN value.

Meanwhile, RBC (US) charges  $3.95/mth USD ($4.94 CDN) for “Direct Checking” but doesn’t seem to have an email money transfer option. Wire transfers cost $75 USD. A Canadian USD account is only $2/mth CDN, and internal transfers to/from other RBC accounts are free, so once funds are moved into the Canadian USD account it can be sent to any banking institution by email money transfer for $1 CDN (your bank’s admin fee would apply to the transferred USD), or you could go to an RBC bank and convert the USD in your Canadian account to CDN.

  • RBC (US) > RBC (Canada in USD) > PCF (in CDN): $6.94 in total monthly fees + $1.00 interac transfer + $6.26 admin conversion fee at PCF (2.5%) = $14.20, or 5.68% of the CDN value. 
  • RBC (US) > RBC (Canada in USD)  > RBC converts: $6.94 in total monthly fees + $8.39 in RBC conversion fees (as determined by the difference between xe.com and RBC’s non-cash calculator; ~3.35%) = $15.33, or 6.13% of the CDN value.

Alternatively, if one is patient enough to wait for Amazon to send USD cheques, one could deposit them directly into ones personal banking ABM. Fees abound, however, depending on your bank. PC Financial’s “no fee” checking account, for example, charges $7.50 for deposited cheques $1000 or less, and $15 for $1000 or more, plus the 2.5% admin charge for the conversion.

  • Deposit USD check into TD Canadian USD account and convert: $1.00 transaction charge + $6.95 conversion fee = $7.95, or 3.18% of the CDN value.
  • Deposit USD check into RBC Canadian USD account and convert: $2.00 monthly fee +  $8.39 conversion fee = $10.39, or 4.15% of the CDN value.
  • Deposit USD check into PCF: $0 monthly fee + $6.26 admin conversion fee at PCF (2.5%) + $7.50 foreign currency cheque charge = $13.76, or 5.50% of the CDN value.

So the most economical rate appears to be going with cheques after all, with TD. For direct deposit, RBC and an external bank for conversion seems to be the best route, but it will cost a whopping 2.5% more that way.

Characteristics of a Best Selling Novel (Part 3)

I read quite a bit. As I start down the path of writing my first novel, I want to refer to a simple list of things I’ve learned while reading bestsellers. In part 1, I discussed series I consider to be “excellent” (Harry Potter; Hunger Games; Divergent); in part 2, I discussed series which were popular, but were lacking in some aspect or another (Twilight; Mortal Instruments; Percy Jackson; Maze Runner). So, without further ado, I bring you, “S.J. Kelley’s KISS-list to writing a YA bestseller” (in no particular order):

  • Build rich, descriptive, creative storyworlds you can lose yourself in
  • Have characters actively extract information from the storyworld (including politics, culture, etc), rather than passively receive explanations
  • Incorporate symbolism which links to the theme / story culture / goals
  • Divide main and supporting characters into groups which echo the larger storyworld society / culture / politics
  • Outline a strong plot:
    • Series-arcs as well as story-arcs
    • Momentum; urgency; chapters which leave you wondering what will happen next
    • A B-line which is realistic, believable, and substantial
  • Develop complex characters
    • Flaws
    • Minority groups
    • Growth and conflict between who they were and who they are becoming

Characteristics of a Best Selling Novel (Part 2)

What can I learn from popular YA series? In the first installment, I discussed three series that were absolutely extraordinary, in my opinion. In this installment, I’ll talk about series that were extremely popular and offer some good pointers, but didn’t live up to the hype in some aspects.

When seventeen-year-old Bella leaves Phoenix to live with her father in Forks, Washington, she meets an exquisitely handsome boy at school for whom she feels an overwhelming attraction and who she comes to realize is not wholly human.

Ah, Twilight. I can never decide if I enjoyed this series or not, but it was clearly a great success, and I admit that it was hard to put the books down. After reading it, I want to keep in mind things to aim for and things to avoid.

  • Aim to:
    • Have constant suspense; keep the reader wondering; end chapters with hooks that make you want to keep reading
    • Fulfill fantasies (while Edward was a flat character to me, the ideal is quite attractive)
    • Have strong conflicts: “Us” vs. “Them” (but have them more nuanced and complicated)
  • Avoid:
    • InstaLove: being attracted to someone is not sufficient to develop a substantive relationship
    • Flat characters; everyone should have flaws
    • Long stretches of solely internal conflicts
    • Lulls in plot action

Sixteen year old Clary Fray discovers, after her mother’s kidnapping, that she belongs to a world of Shadow Hunters, a nephilum force protecting humans from downworlders (vampires, werewolves, and faeries). 

I liked the first book of Mortal Instruments. I enjoyed exploring the storyworld, but felt the cultural and political backdrop was too simplistic. While the series went on to discuss some interesting aspects of the magical system, I thought the relationship between Jace and Clary bordered on ridiculous… SPOILER ALERT: When Clary thought Jace was her brother I laughed out loud; it felt like a desperate plot move.

My favourite part of the series was Magnus Bane; I thought he was a fabulously interesting character, and found his bisexuality was portrayed quite well. If the books were about him they would have been better in my opinion!

At some point in the Mortal Instruments series I gave up reading the books. This is unusual for me, but I just lost all motivation to continue. I’m not sure what it was exactly about the series that led to this; it was supposed to be a trilogy, but was expanded to include 6 books, but the story felt done at the end of book 3.

  • Aim to:
    • Include a few interesting, quirky, eccentric characters, but have them closely involved in the main plot
    • Show an openness and acceptance for minority groups
    • Plan the series-arc ahead of time
      • While I want to outline the first novel and start writing immediately, if I outline all books in the series I can drop hints in books 1 and 2 that will make the series as a whole stronger.
  • Avoid:
    • Plot twists that feel forced; hints should be placed throughout to avoid reader recoil
    • Historical information which feels too far-fetched
    • Information dumps from “mentors”

3) Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (rickriordan.com)
The Lightening Thief follows the Greek god Poseidon’s 12-year-old half-human son as he embarks on a fantastical quest across modern-day America to save his mother, return Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt and prevent a deadly war between the gods.

Percy Jackson is meant for a younger crowd, and unlike the first two books doesn’t really have a romantic element. I enjoyed reading them, but wouldn’t recommend them to other adult readers. Similar to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson takes place in a rich storyworld. While J.K. Rowling based many of her creatures on mythology, the mythology of Percy Jackson is much more true to the originals. I think some research into folklore and mythology would add complexity to my novels.

4) Maze Runner by James Dashner (jamesdashner.com)
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade…

Maze Runner was a simple read, but it did an extremely good job of slowly peeling back the layers of the storyworld. In my books, I want my characters to seek out much of their information, and to have as few “information dumps” as possible. Until the very end of the book, I can’t recall a significant information dump in this series!

After discussing points from excellent novels in part 1, and popular but somewhat lacking novels in part 2, I’ve made up a short, simple, and generic list of things to keep in mind when I write my books (see part 3).

Characteristics of a Best Selling Novel (Part 1)

In starting this journey to Indie Authordom, my first step was “market research” — did the most popular YA novels share any common characteristics? My favourite pastime is reading, so it was a pleasure to go through these books to learn how to plot a compelling story. If you are into the YA genre you’ve probably already read these books, but I’ve included the one-sentence log-line for each for context (obtained through random googling). In this first installment, I will discuss three series that were absolutely extraordinary, in my opinion.

1) Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (jkrowling.com)
Eleven year old famous wizard, Harry Potter, is sent to wizarding school to learn magic, but ends up solving a mystery over life and death all with the most evil of wizards, Lord Voldemort, trying to kill him.

Like hundreds of thousands of others, Harry Potter ranks among my top favourite books of all time (followed by anything written by Brandon Sanderson). I predict that it will be a long time before any other book has the same rich quality of Harry Potter, but if I were to chose a few simple characteristics, these would be it:

  • Rich, descriptive, creative storyworlds you can get lost in
  • Groups within the storyworld that the reader can form strong positive or negative connections with (Houses)
  • Strong supporting characters
  • A strong series-arc as well as a book-arc.
    • An overarching enemy in the series, with individual lesser enemies driving the plots in individual books.
  • While romantic elements were present in the later books, they were tastefully set as a backstage to the main story line

2) Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (suzannecollinsbooks.com)
In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place.

While not as fantastical as Harry Potter, Hunger Games had a gritty, immersive, action-packed style that was helped along by Collins’ unusual choice of first-person present tense. The symbolism in this book was the best I’ve encountered in the genre. I also enjoyed how romance was integrated into the books: Katniss was very practical in her relationship with Peeta, and her goals were central. I felt the movie did the book injustice in this regard, because it looked like just another love story without the calculated maneuvering of the intelligent Katniss.
  • Rich culture and politics linked to and regularly influencing the main plot (in this case, oppression by the government)
  • Symbolism which drastically increased the quality of the book
    • Coal district is lowly, treated like dirt, but coal is also combustible and their district is where the revolution catches fire
    • The mockingjay
  • Realistic romantic elements which take a back stage to the main plot
  • Excellent character development: Responsibility, commitment, sacrifice
  • Gritty, realistic
  • Distinct groups of people (districts)
3) Divergent by Veronica Roth (veronicarothbooks.blogspot.ca)
Beatrice Prior, a teenager with a special mind, finds her life threatened when an authoritarian leader seeks to exterminate her kind in her effort to seize control of their divided society.

I felt Hunger Games was a more carefully crafted and nuanced read than Divergent, but Divergent had superb pacing. While the political setup didn’t feel as rich as in Hunger Games, I felt Tris’s internal conflict was more realistic, and I enjoyed the believable love story element, which was central to the plot.

  • The most believable relationship I’ve encountered in the YA genre
    • Show a connection between the romantic pair; don’t force by telling. It must have substance.
    • See Roth’s description of InstaLove! for her thoughts.
  • Internal conflict can drive many scenes
    • Tris debates what to choose for most of Act I
  • Again, the concept of distinct groups within the storyworld that different readers could relate to (factions)
  • Lean writing; a sense of urgency
  • Strong focus on character development, grounded in the characters upbringing and their new experiences.
Next week, in part 2, I’ll talk about series that were extremely popular and offer some good pointers, but were lacking in some aspects.