As a fiction author for many years now, I’ve developed a few tools that help me be a better writer and marketer. I’d previously checked out many productivity tools online, and from other sources, but none gave me exactly what I wanted. So, after much trial and error, I developed my own. Two tools help with the creative side. A third helps me on the business side.
The business tool I’ve developed is a Book Sales Tracker (BST) set up on an Excel spreadsheet. Initially, I wanted a way to keep track of my time and expenses at bookstore signing events and book festivals to gauge each one’s cost-effectiveness. Over time, I’ve learned which events are now the most profitable for me and which events show poor results. My BST computes that instantly thanks to the formulas I use in specific spreadsheet columns.
For example, a local book fair that lasts three hours, costs me $30.00, and results in 20 sales is a better use of my time and money than a major book festival that requires 8 hours of travel, an overnight stay in a hotel, costs $100.00, and results in 30 sales.
As the sales and events began to mount, I realized my BST was also helpful in controlling inventory, and keeping track of wholesale and online numbers. That allows me to see where my sales are coming from, and adjust my marketing plans accordingly. I can also track inventory by looking at my cumulative sales to know if I need to order more books. At tax time, my BST makes it easier for me to compute my Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS) for the Schedule C tax form.
My first creativity tool is my Character Name Tracker (CNT) using the MS Office Access database. I use the CNT to note races, ethnicities, sexes, story importance, and story role. One challenge for fiction authors is to make sure character names are varied enough to avoid reader confusion. It’s also important to create characters representative of the book’s setting. A sizeable urban environment should have a variety of ethnic character names because of the greater diversity in big cities. Conversely, a small farm town where most residents are from one ethnic or racial group should have more homogenous character names.
I also keep a list of the names of friends and family. I work some of those names into every book. I shift names I’ve used from that list to a “Used name” list that’s separate from my master friends and family name list. That way, I can eventually use all those names in a book and avoid overlap and repetition.
A CNT is beneficial for writers of long sagas or complex historical fiction books with dozens of characters. Because all the data fields are sortable, a writer can quickly discover if they’re using too many names that sound alike, start with a particular letter, or aren’t balanced between races, ethnicities, and genders.
My second creativity tool is a Self-Editing Cheat Sheet (SECS) that also uses MS Access. Wading through the dozens of reference books, dictionaries, style guides, and self-editing documents I’ve accumulated over the years wastes far too much time during revisions. And, because different style guides have differing opinions on what’s “correct,” it’s easy for a writer to get confused about how she wants her writing to look.
Writing with a consistent style and usage shows that an author is serious about her craft. That consistency should produce a more readable and enjoyable book. Here are a few examples of what my personal SECS contains: spellings I intend to use when more than one acceptable spelling exists; whether a word is compounded, hyphenated, or two words; proper placement of -ly adverbs (before or after certain verbs); what to italicize (book and movie titles, etc.); and what numbers to either spell out or represent with numerals.
To obtain a free template of any or all of these customizable writing tools, contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send them to you.
Chris Norbury is the award-winning author of the mystery-suspense-thriller series featuring Matt Lanier, a world-class musician whose world is turned upside down by a conspiracy of powerful, ambitious, violent men led by a ruthless real estate tycoon.
Chris grew up in the Twin Cities and earned a B.S. in Music Education at the University of Minnesota. He was a volunteer Big Brother for 20 years and donates a portion of all book sales to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. An avid wilderness canoeist, he lives in southern Minnesota with his wife and golf clubs. Connect with him at www.chrisnorbury.com.
His third novel in the Matt Lanier mystery-thriller series, Dangerous Straits, will soon be published by Booklocker.
Also by Chris Norbury:
Straight River (Matt Lanier, #1)
Castle Danger (Matt Lanier, #2)
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