C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

TOP TEN TIPS: How to set up your podcast

Why should you want to make podcasts and appear on podcasts?

English: Podcast or podcasting icon Français :...

English: Podcast or podcasting icon Français : Icône pour les podcasts ou la baladodiffusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s radio with a low barrier to entry. It’s like having your own no-stupid-rules radio station that’s really close to free. You could be on iTunes a few days from now, promoting your business, your books, and yourself to the world. I’ve got fans in San Francisco, Dubai, Beijing and places I’d never heard of because of podcasts.

Since I began podcasting my crime novel a chapter at a time, several people have asked me how I set up my podcast and what’s involved. I can give you the broad strokes with an easy TOP 10 list. Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s not that hard, especially if you take my strongest advice and go straight to Tip #10.

1. You’ll need a microphone. I have two, one for $127 and one for $90. The cheaper one works better. Some people say you have to use a mixer to make sure your audio doesn’t peak and hurt listeners’ ears. However, I prefer the mic that plugs straight into the computer.  No need to be fancy with your podcast. You don’t have to be a Mac user. A chair that doesn’t squeak is a better investment. You don’t have to buy expensive shock mounts of your mics (but do get a screen for your microphone, called a sock, so you don’t “pop your ps”. Popped ps do thud into your listeners’ eardrums. You don’t have to have enhanced videocasts. Most of the people who listen to podcasts are either out for a walk, doing laundry or on a treadmill as they listen to programming. Video in podcasting is a deficit, not an asset.)

2. You’ll need a computer program to record and edit your podcast. Audacity is free. I use GarageBand. Though it does cost, I found the interface easier, especially since a friend gave me a one-on-one tutorial. I tried Audacity without help and the learning curve was a bit steeper. (I’m not turning anyone away from Audacity, though. It’s free and useful. It was just easier for me since I already knew someone who knew the software. Having a buddy who’s already in the know might make for a different choice for you, too.)

3. You’ll need a blog. WordPress is free and most anyone who reads this post already has a blog. Those lovely non-problems are the easiest to solve. There is also an ID3 tag editor (app) to buy, but it’s just a few dollars for a little program that will help you label your podcast and prepare it for upload to Libsyn. Speaking of which…

4. You’ll want a Libsyn account. Libsyn is the company that will publish your podcast to iTunes, your blog and elsewhere (even apps). Go for the $20 a month option. You can pay less, or even go with some outfit that will give it to you for free, but they cost more in the long term in other ways. For instance, lots of places will let you use them to broadcast your podcast, but you can’t move it anywhere later, so, effectively, they own your podcast, not you. You hold on to your rights and options by going with Libsyn. The best thing about Libsyn is that you bank unused broadband. When I started, I was worried about the hidden costs. What if my podcast is so popular, the broadband gets too expensive to pay? With Libsyn, there aren’t any hidden costs and they have an excellent stats page so you know exactly how popular you are. (Or not.)

Once you’re set up, you can also get your podcast on Stitcher. Stitcher is a very popular podcast outlet because it’s free and it  allows listeners to wirelessly stream podcasts to their phone or iPod. They don’t have to hook up to their computers. The podcasts take up no space on any device. Since I discovered Stitcher, I hardly ever use iTunes.

If you’re thinking of joining Stitcher, please use my promo code: SELFHELPSTONERS. By joining, you’re also entered into their draw for a $100 cash card.

5. You’ll have to have some time set aside. Every minute on air means four minutes in total invested with production. That’s a good rule of thumb, though I’ve managed to shorten it a bit over time. Don’t cut too many corners, though. I missed an edit a few podcasts back and the paper rustling seemed a tad unprofessional. Don’t be too professional, though. Mistakes are authentic moments and I like when the unexpected happens in a podcast. The unexpected never happens in radio and that’s one of the reasons radio is boring and only people who are trapped in cars or terrorist attacks listen to radio anymore.

Want a horrific example of authenticity? I’ve talked about the hilarious aspects of my colonoscopy, my first schoolyard fight, how I got screwed over by a financial adviser and a publisher, and worst of all, how I felt too fat and unsuccessful to go to my college reunion. You don’t have to be this revealing, but being real works in podcasting.

Don’t be self-conscious about your voice, either. I have a stammer that becomes evident when my brain works faster than my tongue. My delivery is positively Shatnerian. I talk in bursts and when I speed up I talk like a Nova Scotian, really fast and in the back of my throat. Most of that either isn’t a real issue, improves with practice or can be edited out.

6. Get good album art. I used a cover from my book Self-help for Stoners because I wanted to publicize the book and podcast to an identifiable audience. Calling the podcast Self-help for Stoners made sense at the time. (As discussed in a recent post on book promotion, I’m changing that because I have so many more books now. One book is not your brand. You are your brand. Think long term.) You’ll need a couple of images of different sizes for this. When you know those sizes and have an idea for an image to represent your podcast, talk to Kit Foster at KitFosterDesign.com. His prices are very reasonable. He’s my graphic artist. Heck, Kit is The Graphic Artist. (Can’t wait to show everybody what he came up with for my print cover for Bigger Than Jesus!) If you go without a professionally designed image, your podcast listing makes you look like a hack and you’ll definitely be skipped over.

7. Choose your category. My categories for different podcasts range from politics to fiction to comedy. Some of your audience might like variety, though if you go deep into a particular topic or niche, you’ll definitely find your audience quicker. Go with your passions. Stick with one podcast to start. Setting up the first one and doing it right will probably cost $200 or $300. After that, it’s cheap (and a claimable promotion cost.)

Do it with someone else and not only do you split the cost, you’ve got a co-host to bounce ideas with. Monologuing (as I do) is not for everyone and I sometimes wish I had someone else on the mic.

Also decide if your podcast will be a swearfest or family friendly, explicit or clean. I started out swearing and came around to PG. Also, consider that if you want advertisers, unless you’re Joe Rogan or Kevin Smith, most advertisers prefer clean podcasts.

8. You’ll need to promote your podcast. I’ve been a guest or I’ve been mentioned on other podcasts about ten times or more so far. Similar to guest blogging for bloggers, I think that’s helped the most. I learned recently that it’s been proved statistically that there’s no correlation between a large Twitter following and a large podcast following. That surprised me but I have no reason to doubt the stats. That said, if you can be rich and famous first, that doesn’t really hurt any endeavour, does it?

9. Do you have enough to say? When I started podcasting last November, I reasoned that if I ever ran out of stuff to say, I could always just read some of my fiction. I did read a bunch of my fiction on the podcast, but I also found I had a lot to say that had nothing to do with fiction. I’ve done skits and bits and improv. I’ve gotten angry and sad and confessed and condemned. Just as you would with a blog, brainstorm what you might talk about.

There’s no rule that says you have to do a podcast that’s an hour, two hours or three hours long. Most of

Click to get Bigger Than Jesus

my podcasts were 40 – 45 minutes once a week. Then I decided to make shorter podcasts but a twice a week. Then, to get the word out about The Hit Man Series, I’m podcasting Bigger Than Jesus a chapter at a time. Book 2, Higher Than Jesus, might be ready for podcast before I’m done recording the foundation book. Podcasting helps with the final proof, as well. We’ll see. No rules, remember? I love that about being indie in whatever I do.

Listen to a lot of podcasts to get a flavor of what works for you. Figure out where you fit. Are you the next Grammar Girl (the first podcaster on Oprah) or Mur Lafferty from I Should Be Writing? How-to podcasts are very popular (if you have enough to say on the subject long term.)  I listen to Litopia (for everything publishing); some stuff from the Kevin Smith network since he started my career; The Joe Rogan Experience has awesome guests (and depending on what you’re doing with your podcast, guests are great); The David Feldman Show (because I’m a lefty who loves comedians); and The Best of the Left (for smart politics). There are, of course, thousands of podcasts to choose from, those are a few of my favourites. You should also listen to The School of Podcasting by Dave Jackson. You can even join up and learn more. Dave is an enthusiastic educator who loves podcasting. He can teach you everything from how to set it up to how to monetize it properly. He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know about podcasting.

10. Which leads me to my most important tip of this monster post: Talk to Dave Jackson from The School of Podcasting to get help setting up your podcast. He teaches and consults. I am not an expert on podcasting. That doesn’t stop me from being a podcaster thanks to Dave.

When I started out, I read all the FAQ I could find. I made my first podcast, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it out into the world. I had launched my first books and I was anxious to promote them via an avenue I knew a lot of people were missing out on. I was missing out! A lot of people are still missing out! You’re probably missing out right now! After days of frustration, I called Dave Jackson: Great guy, smart guy, patient guy. He knows the nuances of feed burner and RSS feeds and setting up your podcast without tears or time lost. He’ll get you past the mechanics and into what matters: reaching a wider audience you would never otherwise reach.

UPDATE: Dave just emailed me that he is revising his website this weekend. Hang in there if it’s not completely available when you check in. He’ll have chat on, so Dave can still set up a consultation to help you set up your podcast.

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UBC #14: Smart Free means Give it Away and Bank On It

I was really looking forward to using ACX.com to get my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, out there as an audiobook. Unfortunately, ACX isn’t ready to deal with non-US citizens yet. (Dang! Don’t hate me because I’m Canadian!) If you are a US citizen and an indie author, definitely consider ACX. It’s a great set up I learned about through Jeff Bennington.) Until then, I’m going to take the Scott Sigler approach to book promotion and podcast my books.

Scott Sigler was one of the first indie authors to podcast his books, chapter by chapter, and leave it up for free. He found, as he doled it out week by week, that lots of readers couldn’t wait a week for the next instalment. They wanted to buy the whole thing immediately. The strategy works and, despite all his success, Sigler continues to give the books away in audio form even though he’s now published traditionally. This podcast strategy flummoxed his publisher, whose sales force couldn’t understand how his sales kept going and going. Traditional publishing strategies don’t allow for free and expect spikes of sales followed by doldrums. That doesn’t happen with Sigler because he stays out there, available and free to sample and enjoy and building his fan base with, among other things, books as free podcasts. I should add that he’s a clever marketer, but the books are strong. No marketing strategy works if the writing isn’t strong. In fact, if your book is weak, good marketing may hasten its trip down to oblivion. That said, Sigler is a brilliant guy who keeps the free coming, but to maximum advantage. This isn’t Dumb Free: Give It All Away and Hope. This is Smart Free: Give it Away and Bank On It.

There’s another benefit to podcasting your book. The ebook of my crime novel is out now. I plan to release the Bigger Than Jesus paperback at the end of the month. Despite all the editorial eyes on the manuscript, there’s still a bit of tinkering I want to do before the print version is released. Last night, as I recorded another chapter, I realized there were still a couple of minor edits I wanted to address. Nothing that’s a huge deal, but we all want to get a little closer to perfection. Over the next two or three days, I’m doing a podcast marathon so I’ll have the whole book banked in its audio form. If there are any further niggles to tweak, I’ll find them. Reading your book aloud can be a powerful editing tool and, by podcasting the book a chapter at a time, I make the podcast do double duty.

Listen to Chapter 1 of Bigger Than Jesus now.

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AB Challenge 27: 10 rewards of regular blogging (plus a reward for you)

Suspense in a small town.

The last writing prompt for the Author Blog Challenge is basically this: What have you gotten out of it?

1. The best thing is that I’ve met some great new fellow bloggers with interesting posts to share. Most people are relentlessly positive and that’s fascinating and weird to me, so there’s that. But every participant will say that. What else?

2. Bigger Then Jesus, my crime novel got another review because one of those new fellow bloggers decided to take a chance on me after reading my usual nonsense. Cool! Jo Michaels warned me she’d be honest (oh, no!) but it turned out she liked it a lot and gave it a five-star review. Cooler! Yay!

3. I’m writing a best of the blog book called Crack the Indie Author Code: Aspire to Inspire. I’m updating the book and editing again, of course, but in the course of taking the Author Blog Challenge, I added a few new chapters to the coming book!

4. I don’t always stick to the writing prompts, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis. It’s also helpful to have someone else  come up with a spark for me to grow into a forest fire for a change. I might have left some ideas alone if not for the prompts and I’m glad I explored those ideas.

5. People like fresh content from the blog owner. They want the voice behind the puppet.

6. I committed to blogging every day and made every deadline despite having two, (yes, two!) books come out this month (The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories came out just last night and I made my deadline for the challenge just before midnight.)

7. Following some of the writing prompts allowed me to talk about some things less self-consciously. I always strive to make my posts entertaining (which makes the occasional self-congratulatory or self-promoting post easier to write as well as read.) It’s easier because somebody else is asking about your books. It feels less yucky when people ask for it.

8. The Author Blog Challenge helped me promote my books to a larger group. Daily readership went up by roughly a third, I think.

9. More people commented on the blog, which is nice. Sometimes it feels like you send information and entertainment out into the ether without an echo. I don’t need every reader to say thanks, but it is pleasant to hear that the message gets received and I’m not just screaming into an empty industrial parking lot, naked and drunk on the hood of my beat up maroon Barracuda on a sunny Sunday afternoon, drinking tequila straight from the bottle while reevaluating my poor life choices, bewildered at where this upsetting Mitt Romney tattoo on my forehead came from…uh…hypothetically.

10. The future. I have some new friends who want to read (and even help promote!) my books and do interviews and such. When you put a lot of energy out, sometimes it pans out into something more. I found the same thing with the Indies Unite for Joshua campaign. The people who tend to get involved in this sort of thing are more helpful, engaged an engaging than those slobs at your office. Yeah, something should happen to those awful slobs… (Wistful sigh.) Where was I?

Since you’ve read this far, I want to give you a little perk. You’ve stuck out the AB Challenge and the trials of this post,

Get Bigger Than Jesus

so I have to give you something. Here’s what I propose: Please download my funny, twisty crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus tomorrow (June 28) from Amazon. It’s free on June 28, 2012. If you like it, please review it. (I really want to advertise it more, but I need more reviews first and reviews are, as I’m sure you know, extremely difficult to get sometimes without resorting to doing terrible things.)

Challengers, thank you for blogging, for commenting and for riding on my party bus. I hope you’ll continue to visit and enjoy. Special thanks to Marcie Brock  for organizing it and seeing to all the work and the many details behind the scenes of the Author Blog Challenge.

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Author Blog Challenge 17: How to talk with your graphic designer about your book cover

Well, not your graphic designer. I can only say how I talk to my graphic designer, but I think new authors might benefit from pulling back the curtain on the process. Everybody’s a little nervous the first time they outsource a book cover, but this guy makes it easy and I recommend him. As you’ll see below, I’m going to come across as a bit of a pain in the ass in this post.

Indie author and graphic designer extraordinaire Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design creates my covers. I can’t create a good cover to save my life, but I can recognize a good one. There are certain things that are pretty easy up front: cookbooks need phat, fat, sexy food (and a thin celebrity chef on the cover); green books don’t sell unless they’re about golf or lawn care; ugly isn’t different in a good way, it’s merely ugly and won’t sell. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies and got so I can recognize a bad dog. That said, I have no idea how Kit does his magic to create covers (magic herbs and tattooed Scottish elves are involved), but my covers look like they could have been produced in a traditional publishing house because Kit is the go-to guy.

I rarely come to Kit with an idea for the cover image. Instead I tell him about the book or send him some chapters or the whole thing (depending what stage I’m at with the book.) I trust Kit immensely because, when I’m in revisions, I really don’t want anyone to see it before I’m done and a red bow is tied around the manuscript.

What follows are excerpts from our emails (used with Kit’s permission, of course) to give you the gist of how the Bigger Than Jesus cover came to be, what I was looking for and how we arrived where we did. There were actually at least a dozen or so emails back and forth over a month because Kit supplied new art for my podcast and whipped up a cover for the non-fiction book I have in the works. Kit will use the new covers to update the banner for my author site, too. He’s a multi-talented fellow. That and we keep each other up to date on how we’re doing. Find allies, folks. Friends and coffee are critical.

My initial email about the Bigger Than Jesus cover:
Hi Kit,
 I finished Bigger Than Jesus. I have some work to do yet on the manuscript. Uncharacteristically, I’m coming to you with an idea that I think will work for the cover and it’s kind of a John Locke cover (or a James Bond book cover from the ’80s.)
The story: Bigger Than Jesus revolves around Jesus Diaz, a Cuban hit man who wants out of the mob. There’s gunplay and a lot of duplicity and twists. Every chapter has a twist or an aha moment. At the heart of the story is a key to storage locker #408 with millions of dollars in it which could fuel Jesus’s escape and that of and his girlfriend, Lily Vasquez. Jesus doesn’t just love Lily. He worships her. <Spoilers deleted.> It’s kind of a Coen brothers movie in that whatever Jesus does… at every turn he’s thwarted.
She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested this idea for a cover: We need a gorgeous Latina for Lily. In one hand she holds a key (to a padlock) labeled 408. In the other hand, a SIG Sauer 225 (Jesus’s handgun) or a Beretta if you prefer. And around this gorgeous woman’s neck? A big gold cross hanging by a thick gold chain. Think Madonna/High Catholic ornate for this. Title: Bigger Than Jesus. Author tag: Robert Chazz Chute in my usual cherry red. I’ll just need an ebook cover to start but I’ll be needing a full front/spine/back cover for the paperback as well soonish.
I sent you a link to an article about making the author’s name bigger. As this is a thriller and I’m trying to build a brand for a series, I’d like to try that. I can always switch it up later, but let’s try big author name up top to make it look more brandy, less indie, more swagger. What do you think of that idea?
Ideas get bandied about. Kit does other work for me. Then:
Hi Chazz,
…as discussed, I’m attaching a few drafts of Bigger Than Jesus (covers) for you to have a look at…Sorry there are so many drafts, but it should at least give you a little variety. Of course, as well, at this stage they’re all pretty rough. As ever, if none of them are suitable, I’m more than happy to go back to the drawing board.
Note: Any of the covers Kit sent me, and there were six in total, would have been pretty great to great, but Kit is patient and doesn’t mind fine tuning. Sorry I can’t show you the other covers to see what I’m talking about and to compare, but the draft covers are proprietary until they’re paid for. My break down gives you a hint, though:
Kit! My man!

Whee! This is exciting! Bigger Than Jesus II.png has a nice Pulp Fiction feel. Bigger Than Jesus III.png is closer to what I was picturing to begin with and the model is awesome. I wish we had the model from Bigger Than Jesus III.png in the pose from Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. Bigger Than Jesus I (blur).png has a movie poster vibe, though I like the colours in the next, more cartoonish variation. But, the winner is…I think we should go with a variation on the last one, Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. 

So here are my thoughts for the variation on Bigger Than Jesus IV.png: 
1. Put my name at the top and bump up the size. Please put the title where the author tag is, not at the bottom. 
2. Love the key. Can we make the key shiny gold? 
3. Love the model. Can we make the cross she’s wearing gold and or bigger so it pops out? Hard to make it out as is. Too bad she’s not wearing red. Do you think we could make the gun gold as well so it pops? (Either that or lighten the background a little so we see the gun better? I’m worried the awesomeness of the cover will be lost at thumbnail size.) I’m playing off the Jesus-thing obviously, but I also don’t want anyone to actually think it’s a religious book. I want them to be intrigued with the juxtaposition of the gun and the word Jesus. As is, I think potential readers might skip over it if the “Jesus” pops out quite as much as it does.
4. Also, with the girl in the centre, can we make her any bigger? I think Bigger Than Jesus III.png will at least be the alternative cover for the future just as it is. 
5. I think the gold accents of the key, the gun and the cross will really make it pop. 
Doable? Thoughts?
Kit sent me the revised draft that was close, but I was still worried:
Hi Kit!

 We’re getting there. This looks pretty good, but I’m concerned it’s too dark. Especially at thumbnail size, I don’t think the image will show up well enough. Can we go with a lighter background and make the cross and key even brighter gold so they pop like the gun, please? I don’t mind if the shine is so bright it’s unrealistic (i.e. think Man with the Golden Gun movie poster.) The shinier the better. And a question: When I find someone to give me a cover blurb for this, do we just scale down the title a little bit so we can fit it in somewhere?
 Thanks, man. (Hey, she looks better in the red dress!)
And finally, by Thor I’m hard to please, but Kit is patient:
Hi Kit,

 Better, but I’m thinking the answer for this cover is more contrast. Up for an experiment? What if we make the background white and the text black or maybe cherry red? Can the cross be a shinier gold, or bigger, or both? The cross is still getting lost. I think it will pop more this way.
Success! Though we went for a white background in the end, Kit added a black frame which was not present in earlier drafts. White backgrounds tend to look lost in the retail catalogue if they don’t have a defined edge. Amazon takes .tiffs and jpegs, so Kit sent me a cleaned up version where he edited the fine points on the image I’ll never know about. That’s for the tattooed Scottish elves and Kit to know about.
This was the most protracted back and forth we’ve had over one cover, mostly because I’m picky and kept asking, “What if we made the key and cross so shiny the reader actually gouged out their own eyes to stop the searing pain in their retinas?” By contrast, the art for my book on writing (TBA) came together very quickly. Kit sent me four or five variations of the cover for that book and I pretty much just picked one and that was it, right out of the gate.) If you’re thinking you need a graphic artist for your book, I can’t sing loud enough about the powers of The Kit.
Oh, and here’s the cover. I love it.

Here’s the final draft of the Bigger Than Jesus cover.

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Author Blog Challenge: In 12 hours, Bigger Than Jesus

A lot can happen in twelve hours. Twelve hours ago I began work on formatting my debut crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus. I used Scrivener and I was feeling pretty optimistic that I could knock it out pretty quickly. I’ve formatted plenty before, but not with Scrivener. I’ve been writing with Scrivener, but today was the test to see if I could get the book over to Amazon in one day. Foolish pressure.

I couldn’t put the front matter in for the longest time. At one point I had two tables of contents and neither of them was quite right. I started with the Scrivener video tutorials — fell into a spiral of anguish and frustration — and then got hopelessly lost in the Scrivener manual. I found my way back to sanity by searching for people who had the same frustrations I did. Google. It’s the thing you need when you’re stuck.

That didn’t get me quite all the way to done. Some alchemy and experimentation was involved but, just a few minutes ago I yelled, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIIIIVE!” Twelve hours ago I began formatting. Twelve hours from now, it’ll be up on Amazon (fingers crossed!) I won’t believe it until I see it up there with my other precious babies.

What a day. What a night. I’ll have much more to say about Bigger Than Jesus, of course. I want to tell you about how I worked with my amazing graphic designer, Kit Foster, to come up with the cover. I want to talk about the book and the factors that brought it to fruition. I want to hint at what’s next for the series and all my other books. The important thing for me was to give it a rigorous editorial scrubbing and then send it out in the world. I’ll play catch up with all the other things I have to do to make this baby grow, but sunlight took priority over having everything in place.

And there’s so much yet to do! I have to ask people to review the book, buy the book, get blurbs. It’s going to be an audiobook and a paperback (and soon!). I have big plans for my funny, clever, hit man Jesus Salvador Diaz. People will like and pity him despite themselves because Murphy’s Law will take him down long before the NYPD, if the lovely Lily doesn’t break his heart irreparably first. His stories are a Coen brothers’ movie: bad things happen on the wide and easy road out of town.

For tonight, though, I’m going to toast my milestone, sit back and watch Real Time with Bill Maher and maybe Bridesmaids and know that I’ve put in my full day at Ex Parte Press and I don’t have to feel guilty for sitting back and watching TV tonight.

If you don’t know this feeling yet, I hope you experience it soon.

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Author Blog Challenge (plus a sneak peek podcast*): Outlining, pantsing, spilling & sprinting

If you just popped in for the suspenseful sneak peek podcast, click here to hear The First Fiction Friday Edition of my podcast.

The Author Blog Challenge prompt asked how I stay organized as I write. My methods have changed over time. I used to come up with plots on the fly early on. Then I got scared off from that strategy when I got deep into a dreadfully long novel and found I had to backtrack fifty pages. Hitting a dead end is, well, death. It’s a waste of time and energy and I hate it.

I started outlining because I was writing big books and I didn’t want to lose whole sections of my book in which I was already invested. When you write 80 – 100,000 words or (ye gods!) more, an outline helps. I didn’t write an outline with Roman numerals and all that formal, high school nonsense. Instead, I planned the book one cogent sentence at a time. I described the actions in each chapter to plot the arcs of A and B stories. I looked for where those paths would logically cross, discover the beats and suss out the high and low points. Index cards got to be too much to keep track of, so in the end my outline was just three pages with a numbered list. I read and reread the outline and then I didn’t look at it again. That got me through the big books pretty well.

Recently I read Run by Blake Crouch, and as Blair Warner used to say on The Facts of Life,

“I just had another one of my brilliant ideas!”

It’s about speed. I resolved to write a crime novel with the same furious pace as Run — a book I couldn’t put down. Yeah. I know it’s a cliché, but this cliché is both apt and true in the case of Run. (Great book. Buy it.)

I resolved to do the thing I love with stories. The chapters would be relatively short. They would skip along. There would be lots of twists and turns to my racetrack. I wrote Bigger Than Jesus in about a month, one chapter a day, roughly 2,000 words each. There was no outline. Instead, I wrote with the expectation that I’d get my hero into a troubling cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. If I wrote myself into a corner in the process, too bad. I’d be clever and write my way out of it and keep moving forward. Writing like this is as fresh and as exciting as walking a tightrope naked in a high wind over a crowd of angry TSA agents with a new shipment of polar mint rubber gloves.

Many nights I went to bed thinking that I had no idea what I would write in the morning, but I trusted that I could figure it out. I believed in lightning strikes. The juice kept flowing and with it came a high level of complexity. It’s a crime novel so people lie a lot. If I’d taken longer to write it, it would have necessarily been less complex because I’d be afraid of losing track of the threads. There’s shocking emotional depth, too. Nobody, including me, foresaw the strange and sad angle on my main character’s childhood. It sneaks up.

Why did this work?

1. I knew the opening chapter and the last line so I had a target at which to aim. I’m also a more confident writer than I was with those early attempts, I suppose.

2. If I didn’t know what was going to happen next, the reader wouldn’t be able to guess, either.

3. Speed. The book is not especially long and I wrote it all in a short space of time so I could keep it all in my head at once without getting lost.

How else do I keep organized? 

In the Point File, I note things like street names I’ll use twice and aspects like eye colour so they don’t change from the beginning of the book to the end. I did mess up in having twin brothers as bad guys with names that were awfully similar. I had to go back to make sure I was talking about the right brother at the correct stage of the book.

I always have a Spill File handy so if I do write something that I end up dumping, I save it for later. I might change my mind about how useless it is or I might use it another time in another story. In Bigger Than Jesus, the writing went so quickly and breezily that I never had anything to pour much into the Spill File. I wrote fast and then went back to the stage of writing where I’m always sure I’m a deluded idiot: revisions. I cut, prune and delve. More of the jokes come clear on the second pass, too. Typically, by the third pass, I begin to feel good about the book again. Bigger Than Jesus was just about as easy as writing a blog post a day, actually. Maybe easier sometimes because what dictated the action was logic and surprise. When in doubt, surprise!

Some writers labor under a notion that I once shared: To be good, you must write slowly, perhaps even at a glacial pace, and the serifs are where your heart and soul get squeezed in and choked for blood. There are books I have tinkered with for years. One short story went through many incarnations over a year before I felt I nailed the landing and deserved 10s from all the judges. However, Self-help for Stoners came together quickly and everything worked out well with that.

Bigger Than Jesus will be released in the next week or so and all the feedback I’m getting from the editorial team tells me I’m glad I didn’t buy into the idea that it had to come slowly to be worthy. I think that’s true sometimes, but not always — not for every book and not for every writer. That’s good news because I’m using the same strategy with the next book in the series. It’s coming fast and well and I do enjoy the danger of not knowing what happens in the next chapter. Those angry TSA agents are actually spurring me to succeed.


Please take a few minutes to enjoy my latest podcast on the author site. It’s The First Fiction Friday Edition! 

It’s a sneak peek at Chapter 8 from my first novel in the Poeticule Bay Series:

An old woman is lost with her tiny dog in the Maine woods and snow is on the way.

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Author Blog Challenge: Writing to Love


Wikipedia (Photo credit: Octavio Rojas)

The latest prompt for the Author Blog Challenge asks what we love to read and how does that feed our writing? Good question. I read voraciously, and the resource that feeds my writing most these days is…wait for it…Wikipedia. How did writers write before Wikipedia? I think they actually had to go out the front door and into the  world and, let’s face it, no one wants that. At least I don’t and I don’t understand those who do. I’m cozy in my fortified writing bunker, thank you very much.

I’m one of those weirdos who gets lost in dictionaries and encyclopedias. (If you read this blog, you probably are, too.) I look up one thing and get distracted by all the other delicious stuff in there. As I was researching my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I consulted The Mob Dictionary, documentaries, a friend who trains SWAT, an ex-military friend and various books on the mob. It was Wikipedia that yielded my main character’s background and contributed to the verisimilitude the story demanded.

I wanted Jesus to be an enforcer who wants out of  the mob.  I had to give him a back story that made the reader understand why he is the way he is. I needed him to be an outsider, so he’s a Cuban among native hispanic New Yorkers. His journey to Florida is sad and, once he arrives, his story becomes more tragic. The key to the character was his childhood and it was Wikipedia where I happened upon more information about the Cuban migration to the United States. Truth gave rise to more believable lies as Fate (um, I am Fate) dumped Jesus from the roaster into the (mostly) proverbial fire. He’s a smart ass, but not as smart as he thinks. He’s more funny, clever and desperate than he is tough. Wikipedia was the seed that led me to understand why the character worships the love of his life the way he does. Like dominoes, one idea leads to another idea which leads to another idea which reveals a pattern which gives rise to a plot. Powered by curiosity, simply traipsing through Wikipedia gave me a book that will be a series I’m really excited about. The last edits are arriving and the graphic designer is working on the cover as I write this. Hoo-bloody-ha!

If you’re stuck, blocked or just noodling, use non-fiction to amp up your fiction and go wander Wikipedia.

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Bestseller with over 1,000 reviews!
Winner of the North Street Book Prize, Reader's Favorite, the
Literary Titan Award, the Hollywood Book Festival, and the
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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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