Strategy And Business Plans For Authors With Johanna Rothman

Sometimes we get so bogged down in the minutiae of the writer's life, that we forget to look where we're going. So it's time to take a step back as we hit the mid-year and review your strategy and plan for your author life. And if you don't have one, well, today's the day to start!

strategy and business plans for authorsIn the introduction, I mention Kris Rusch's article on agents and learned helplessness, as well as Audible's expansion with non-fiction writer, Michael Lewis – and my take on discoverability for audio in the coming years. Plus, sense prevails in #cockygate as the Author's Guild reports freedom to publish. [Publishing Perspectives].

I also give a giddy update about my writing progress 🙂 How to Write Non-Fiction is out in audiobook format, and I am excited to be in the starting phase of my next thriller, working title, Valley of Dry Bones. I did a research trip to Madrid and Toledo. You can see my pics on Instagram.com/jfpennauthor.

ingramsparkToday's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.

Johanna RothmanJohanna Rothman is a Management Consultant for software managers and leaders specializing in agile project management. She is known as The Pragmatic Manager. She's a professional speaker and author of 12 non-fiction books, as well as short stories and romance.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Why creatives fear the business side of being an author
  • Why it’s important to take a step back and look at your author business as a whole
  • Deciding what matters and saying no to other opportunities based on those values
  • On short-term and long-term planning
  • Balancing charging for time vs. creating assets that are scalable
  • Evergreen books vs. those that need to be updated
  • Overview of a simple two-page business plan
  • The difference between a business plan and a to do list
  • Being flexible with your plan when life happens
  • Tips for authors about project management

You can find Johanna Rothman at JRothman.com and on Twitter @johannarothman. You can learn more about Johanna's online workshops here.

Transcript of Interview with Johanna Rothman

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I'm here with Johanna Rothman. Hi Johanna.

Johanna: Hi, Joanna. It's so nice to be here. Thank you.

Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. And we hung out in Oregon a while back but just an introduction for everyone else.

Johanna is a Management Consultant for software managers and leaders specializing in agile project management. And she is known as the pragmatic manager. She's a professional speaker and author of 12 non-fiction books, as well as short stories and romance.

Today we're talking about business plans for authors and how writers can manage projects more effectively. Just heads up everyone, don't turn off. Johanna is great, and I was saying to you before we start recording:

You're just not like your introduction at all. Do you get that at a lot?

Johanna: Sort of. I get the fact that people always say to me when they meet me in person, you write so much taller than you are.

Joanna: That's great.

Johanna: So for those of you who don't know, I'm 5-feet on an extremely good day. I've never been any taller. And I always include humor in my writing but I write about serious stuff. I don't actually have any humor in my bio, which maybe I should change.

Joanna: I think you should because that's what I really liked about you, is you bring your humor into these topics that can sound quite businessy and kind of languagy. There's so much jargon in this area.

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Johanna: I am not a writer by nature. You've had journals for years. I've been listening to you for years on the podcast. It's so exciting to be here. So, I am not a writer by nature, I'm a talker.

I'm one of those extroverts that every introverted writer is not so excited about, because I'm not altogether sure when I'm thinking until I actually say it out loud.

When I started my consulting business my father-in-law gave me, I believe it was called Howard Shenson's “Guide to Consulting Success.” It was a self-published, three-ring binder.

And on the second page or something he said, “Consultants who write and speak make more than $100,000 a year. Consultants who don't write and speak make $30,000 a year.” I mean, this is a no-brainer, write and speak.

So I started with the speaking and then I kept on with the writing. I got a monthly column for a software development magazine that was back in '97. And then I had more writing.

We wrote mostly in paper back then. I know. It just seems astonishing. And the deadlines were so long. I would send in a column and it would take months for it to come out. And then I started my blogs in 2003.

I've been writing very regularly since 2003, but it's not something I grew up wanting to do. If you'd asked me, I would have said, I want to be paid to read for a living. And this is actually as close as you can get.

Joanna: I agree with you. I think, and I wrote that down, too. When I wanted to get out of consulting, I wrote down, “I want to read and write and travel.” That's my ideal life.

For people who aren't on the video, all these books behind you, which you obviously got a big library.

I just want to also point out for people just on audio, you said you started blogging there in 2003. And without asking your age, you are more on the more mature end of the…

Johanna: Oh, for God sakes. I'm 62.

Joanna: I wanted to ask you because you are a technical person. And like you said, you've been writing since 2003.

My sister said to me the other day, and she's like 31, “Oh, I just can't understand computers.”

I wondered if you'd would give some perspective on technology and age, and the kind of excuses that people put up around it.

Johanna: If there's a reason not to do something, people will make a reason. I'm actually just writing a blog post right now about this very question, not specifically technology.

You and I have a couple of colleagues who were digital nomads. They travel the world and write. I know some people who actually travel the world and code.

I was thinking to myself, “I could never do that.” And I thought, “Why the hell not?”

What prevents me, now I have a husband who has a real job. So I would have to figure out what to do with him, which means bring him along, not leave him behind.

But I think that all of those excuses are fear, and we have a lot of fear in this world, we have a fear personally, for anything new. And not that everybody has a fear of everything new, but every so often we look at things and we say, “Oh, I can't do that.”

I think that that's fear. And we have choices.

So the question is, do we want to get over that fear and allow that thing into our lives or do we wanna say, “You know, maybe not.”

Joanna: I'm using that fear. I wanted you to come on the podcast because there was a session at the Oregon Business Workshop which actually I think had business in the title.

When we talked about business plans, we're looking at each other across the room just going, “Why are people not getting that?”

Why do you think that people in the more creative or writing space have a fear around the business side?

Johanna: I think that they hear us maybe talk about spreadsheets, and they totally freak out. Now, you and I both know Matt Buchman, who has this really intricate writing spreadsheet. Oh, my goodness, I fixed that.

My writing spreadsheet is much simpler than his because I only want to know what my writing totals are. I don't do all this other stuff.

I have found that because I'm not afraid to change something, I get more out of it. And for some things, all you need to Gantt charts. I've never used a Gantt chart. Never in my entire life. I hope never to have to use it. I find them unreadable and unworkable.

Now, there are lots of people who love their Gantt charts. And I think that when we talk about plans, they think, “Oh, this big plan. And then, how am I going to get to the details?”

I might plan the same way. I have one document that says, “My strategy for this year is to make money doing these things,” and then I track the money because we are business owners, and we have to track the revenue. Yes, we have to track the income and the outgo.

I have a very simple way of doing that, it's addition and a spreadsheet will do that for me. I'm actually very fond of saying, “I cannot do arithmetic. I can only do math.” Give me symbols. I'm a very happy woman, make me do arithmetic, I feel like I'm in third grade again.

Joanna: I'm definitely with you there. And Matt Buchman was on the podcast talking about the law, the letter to your estate, and estate planning.

I don't even have a spreadsheet to track my production. And my plan is similar to yours, is really just to kind of rolling one-pager. But we're going to come back to that.

Let's just be really basic about a business plan then. We've said like it might be a one-pager. But why is it important to even take yourself out of the detail? Like you said, you can have a spreadsheet with tracking your words or scribing them or whatever.

Why is it important to take yourself up a level and look at the business as a whole?

Johanna: This is what I actually teach my clients. When you were down in the weeds, it's really hard to see where your business is going. If you say, “I have a strategy. This year, these kinds of workshops or these kinds of books, or these kinds of speaking, or these kinds of writing,” then you can actually look at it every month. Here's how I'm doing against my business.

When I made the strategic decision to write more and travel less a few years ago, I actually had to say, “How am I going to replace my income from speaking if I'm not traveling the world?” And I still do but not as often. “If I'm not traveling the world every couple of weeks, how am I going to make that money?”

I do have a plan, not because I'm so money hungry, but because the work I do fulfills me. If I know why I'm working, and I know what I need to do to have a reasonable income and have happiness, then right then I'm all set. But if I didn't write it down at least one page, I'm not sure if I would really make the right decisions.

Joanna: I think what's also interesting is we forget why we made a decision. And if you write it down, then you remember.

I think this is really important at the moment in the Indie community because of course, there's the high production KU focused model than you've talked there about writing and speaking.

And then there is the being a publisher, which some Indies are getting into. There's even things like Patreon about subscribers, and that type of thing.

If you make a decision, you might forget why you did something. Like for me, I'm never gonna be KU high production because I'm not a high production type person.

When you made that decision to stop speaking, did you examine the reasons why and write that down so you'd remember it later or how do you reflect on that over time?

Johanna: The decision I made was because I have vertigo, and this is permanent. I have a rollator and I use the rollator, and I walk really fast with the rollator.

But just getting on a plane and going somewhere…I like to call myself a dizzy bride when I land because I am literally dizzy, and I'm not so with it.

I do my best work when I'm with it, not when I'm dizzy. I really want to save my travel for those circumstances where it's really worth it, and I mean worth it in many, many different dimensions, but I really want to make sure it's worth it for me, it's worth it for my business, it's worth it for where I'm going.

I had an invitation to go to Sweden for one day. I'm in Boston. Now, you're going to Sweden for a day, you go to Heathrow, well whatever. Someplace and you take two and a half hour plane ride and you're in Sweden, and it's fine. And you might go for a day and you might actually stay overnight. I mean, but it's doable. I'm in Boston, that's not really doable.

Joanna: No.

Johanna: I think even if I didn't have vertigo, it was not doable.

I think it's really important to ask what benefit do I get? What is the value for me? What is the value for the other person?

When we start to think about value and not anything else, and it has to be a two-way thing. So, you get a lot of value from having your books go wide, and writing as you do. You get a lot of value from the podcast, you deliver a lot of value, so when we start to think about the value proposition. Oh God, buzzword bingo.

We know when we're doing at some point. When we think about value, we might make different decisions.

Joanna: It's interesting that you talk about value. I think the other word is the kind of the consequences of our decisions because that to me is so important with planning. It's like, “Okay. If you stop speaking, if you stop travelling for speaking, then your income will be affected maybe three months down the line or whatever.”

Or if you pull all your books from wide and just going to KU, the impact will be that you're not building up an audience on these other platforms.

We're really talking about strategy at this point and we'll come back to the detail of the business plan.

How can people start to think about the consequences even months and years ahead in their strategy?

Johanna: That's such a good question. I think that the part of it is to say, what are the short-term benefits?

We could do pros and cons, but I much prefer to think about the benefits and in the short-term and the long-term.

For example, all of my books are wide also. I have them in as many places as possible because people buy books because of the authors. So they hear about you, they buy your books. They hear about me, they read another piece of writing and they do something and they buy my books. So I want to make my books as available across the world as possible.

If you don't have a reputation yet, if you're still building your reputation, you might say, “Well, I'll be in KU for the next three months or six months or whatever it takes.” And then I will see how many people I have on my mailing list, and I will see how many people we're on, how much I'm selling.

Can I take the short-term hit coming out of KU to go wide and then what do I need to do as a strategy to get all those other people around the world hearing about me?

It's short-term and long-term, and how do you integrate the two? What happens when you have an inflection point of change?

I think that one of the things that we often don't think about is in our little businesses, we have exactly the same kind of change that every other company does.

When we change from doing things one way to another, we might have a decrease in sales, we might have a decrease on our mailing list, and we are expecting some other result. So we will have a short-term change followed by a longer term other status quo, but how we get from one place to another is part of our strategy.

Joanna: I think also for education, circling back to what we said at the start, say keeping up with technology that when you started blogging in 2003, it's almost unrecognizable what situation we're in now with technology.

To me, that up-scaling, say for example I've been doing a lot on screen writing, that makes me zero money right now. And in fact, it costs me more money because I'm not putting the time into creating another book for example. But we take these dips in order to look towards the future.

Coming back on your decision around consulting; you're a consultant and as a speaker, and that's money for time.

How do you judge money for time versus money for building assets, and maybe explain what that means for people who might not understand?

Johanna: I have these books and I have workshops, and the nice thing about what I call the automated workshops is that I don't actually spend any time delivering them because I already recorded them.

And the books you've already written and once they're out, they're out. You can then write more to promote but you have options as to how you continue to sell them.

I long ago decided, in fact, I think it was my very first interview with somebody, I had an informational interview when he said, “At some point in consulting if you stay in it long enough you need to make a decision, how will you stop trading off time for money?”

I started to think about that right away. And the nice thing about writing, as you well know, is you can collect things. So you can have collections.

In the fiction business, we call it anthologies. In the non-fiction, we call it collections. I don't know why. It's one of those things.

But if you think about what can I do to replace some amount of my time with an evergreen product that just continues to sell year after year.

Somebody actually asked me, “What are your goals for this book?” And I said, “My goals for every single book non-fiction that I write are to sell 1,000 copies in the first year,” and that's not a lot of copies. It's fine for non-fiction, would be nothing for fiction.

And then 200 more copies every year after that for the rest of my life, for the rest of my kids' lives, for the rest of the grandchildren I don't have yet.

When you think about it that way, it's the best kind of pyramid scheme for you as a business, so that the work you continue to do grows your evergreen passive income.

Joanna: It is interesting though with non-fiction, because at the moment I've been working on this how-to-write non-fiction book, and really thinking about a lot of these issues.

One of the issues with non-fiction is time and how things age, because you might write on agile project management or project management methodologies and terminologies and things that actually go out of date or change. Or they decide they want to add some other level so that people can get the new certificate.

How do you balance evergreen non-fiction with books that are going to have to be updated, which to me becomes a bit of a pain?

Johanna: There's a couple ways to do this. I was trying to define run rate in one of my books. Run rate is what it costs a project team for a given week.

I was saying, if you have this kind of a salary per day, it's this much per week, and then with seven people on the team, it's that much. And that's the only thing that makes it not evergreen.

People are always going to want to do good projects. They're always going to have to manage their project portfolio. They're always going to have to hire people. They're always going to look for a job. I mean, you write a book about that.

I think it's really important to say, “How do I write this book in a way so that I'm not dating it”? Social media changes some things, and yet we're all human.

When I focus on the human interactions, then that's how we say, “Okay. This is the evergreen part.” I'm writing a book about geographically distributed agile teams, which I'm sure everyone in your audience just can't wait to read.

Joanna: They're going to rush out and buy.

Johanna: Their eyes glaze over. But we're pair-writing it, which is the interesting part, and we have our tools in the appendix.

Because it's not about the tools, it's how the team works together. So that is the evergreen part, and then at some point they'll be other tools.

Joanna: I think that's a really good point, is to really to try and separate those bits that change from the bits that are evergreen. That's fantastic.

We should talk more about business plans. I was just so interested in some of that other stuff but we've talked about strategy.

Strategy is really the direction that we're going in in some of the bigger decisions we're making. So let's get down into a business plan.

What is some of the aspects of your one or two-pager? What are some of the subheadings?

Johanna: For many years, I've broken out the revenue from my business, and I really want to talk about revenue, not units.

Joanna: Yes. Let's do that.

Johanna: Because it's revenue for workshops and assessments, and consulting, and speaking, and coaching, all right, whatever it is I do. I don't track units.

I don't actually track the number of workshops I sell, I track the revenue. I don't track the number of books I sell, I track the revenue.

When I had an opportunity to make an audio book from my self-published books, I said, “What's the worst thing that can happen?” The worst thing is I need to sell another workshop to more than cover the cost of the audio.” And that's how I made this decision.

So I said, “Okay. If I sell one program management workshop I know I can cover the cost of the audio.” So I did. I actually sold three. So it more than cover the cost of the audio, and then it turns out that making that decision, “Should I or shouldn't I? What do I need to do to cover the costs?”

Because if you don't look at the income and the outgo you don't have a business. Then I said, “Okay. I'll do that.” And it turns out, I actually sell more audio books for that book, which then props people to buy the print not the e-book. And now this is non-fiction, it's not the same as fiction. I'm sure the fiction is totally different, but if you would have ever said that to me before, I would have said, “You're nuts.” And so you're not nuts.

Joanna: And just on that, and I've been banging the drum on non-fiction audio for a while. I think it is totally different to fiction.

I've actually stopped doing fiction audio books because it's too expensive, and it just doesn't sell enough unless you're a massive seller.

But non-fiction readers are devouring audiobooks, and they're not price sensitive are they? It's just amazing.

Johanna: No. They're not. I have more audio books to do. I am working through this, and I have the rights to them so I can actually price them the way I want to as opposed to the way Amazon wants me to.

Joanna: That's fantastic. So we've got, and I agree with you. I'm the same. I measure money. I look at my bank account pretty much every day. I like tracking everything and in the money sense, but I don't track numbers of books sold either.

At the moment it's still so much of a pain when you want to track all this stuff.

What are some of the other things on your business plan?

Johanna: So it's how I get income. And then when I decided to stop traveling as much, how I would replace income.

I have no idea what I actually did in 2016 or 2017, that was before, this is now. But if I have a strategic goal of replacing this kind of revenue with this kind of revenue, what do I have to do to do that?

So that's why I'm focusing on my virtual workshops, my online workshops so that I can still have interaction or possibly no interaction with people, and still replace enough of the income.

And then if I'm not traveling, I am actually not that good at writing on planes, I tend to sleep. If I'm taking it over and I fly somewhere, I sleep. I'm not going to work.

So what else can I do for writing? I have monthly columns. I have a quarterly column in one place. A monthly column in another place.

And then what do I want to do for collections of my books, so I have more production, because, again, that production will feed the overall revenue but then if it's literally collection, then it's not as difficult although I'm working on a collection right now when it's almost as difficult.

Joanna: I feel exactly the same way, particularly with the non-fiction side. It is a bit of an ecosystem. Or in fact, all of it, the same with fiction. It becomes an ecosystem and it feeds itself and just kind of does that growing circle.

What is the difference between a business plan and a to-do list?

Johanna: Oh, thank you. A business plan says, here is my strategy.

First of all, why am I in business? What's my mission? I want people to do reasonable stuff that works. That's why I call myself the pragmatic manager, that's why my publishing company is called Practical Ink. That's why Ink as opposed to Inc.

And that's why almost all of my stuff is practical or pragmatic. It's all useful stuff you can do now from wherever you are. So that's really important.

If you know your mission and you might…if you're a fiction writer, you might say paranormal romance. I'm a big romance reader. So, romantic suspense, that's my mission or cool stuff that happens to interesting people. Whatever it is and then that's your mission.

Now you ask, what are the tactics I need to do to support that mission? I am not a one-book a month writer either. That just seems difficult. But what do I need to do to do that? And then especially what mix of products and services?

The plan is in the products and services.

The to-do list is how you implement those products and services.

Joanna: So a line on your business plan is, put this book into audio. Insert book name here. And I think that's important like the specificity, be specific about the project you're doing on the business plan.

Then the to-do list would be hire a narrator, for example. Hire a narrator does not go on your business plan.

Johanna: No. At first, it's the decision to say, “Go audio with this.”

Joanna: Exactly. And maybe the reason why you've made that decision, and I keep coming back is this reason why because in the last couple of years, I've dipped my toe into a few things.

I dipped my toe into maybe having a small press, and I dipped my toe into is it more than just me, and then I backed away from that because I felt like do you know what? My number one value at the very top of the business plan is freedom.

I want freedom, and if I become a publisher, I don't have freedom. So, therefore, it doesn't fit with my plan. That would be an example of why you need to write down the reasons why.

Okay, so we are back for what is the last third of the interview. Now, something went wrong and cut off our previous conversation. And I wanted you to talk about here, Johanna, well, one, stuff will happen.

And two, what can lessons can people learn about when the things go wrong in a semi-live situation?

Johanna: We had the tree guys here cutting down the trees, so that in a storm, they wouldn't come over and take the house and take the electricity and take the Wi-Fi. And, of course, the tree guys took that Wi-Fi. They cut right through it.

I texted my husband who is not here, who e-mailed you and luckily you had a great sense of humor about this.

And then we re-planned for a different day, and this is exactly what we do in our businesses, because things don't always go right.

I use a form of planning called rolling way of planning, which means I plan for a certain amount of time. I deliver what I planned to deliver, and then I plan for the next bit of time. So we had a very short rolling waves, and we re-planned, and we're back here.

Joanna: We're back and I think like four days later because between us we figured it out. And I think this is really important, too.

So for everyone listening, I had one particular podcast interview where nothing recorded, and I didn't realize until afterwards. This was four or five years ago now, and ever since then, I am incredibly careful, and I'm constantly…I don't record this all-in-one go, I record different batches.

So what happened when we got cut off, I was still able to rescue what we had already, and now we're finishing off. So why this is actually a great podcast episode to talk about it because the plan, we were talking about business plans.

The plan is not set in stone, is it? We come up with a plan and then life happens.

Johanna: Oh, it certainly does. I mean, even if it's a small thing like an interruption for Wi-Fi that I got back, you know, 48 hours later, something like that.

But what I often see is that I want to change the course of my business or I don't finish something I thought I would finish, “Oh, geez. This never happens to anybody.” And I want to re-plan what I'm doing.

So, I was thinking about, how can I coherently explain what I do? I have either a piece of paper or now I use a Google Doc on because I can always look at my Google Doc. I don't have to be at home to look at my piece of paper. And I say plans for this year, and that's it.

And then I have another line underneath that for my consulting, my non-fiction career, which is, what do I want to be known for? And for my fiction, what do I want to be known for?

You and I both have wide businesses. Not only are our books wide but we have a varying number of things. We do workshops, we speak, we write. It's fiction, and it's non-fiction. There's all kinds of stuff.

So it's really important to say, at least for me, what do I want to be known for, is as much of a mission statement as I'm going to get to. I don't need to spend days and weeks designing my mission, it's just not worth it. I know; you're so surprised.

And then I break it up by quarters. What do I want to achieve in a given quarter because that allows me to say, what do I want to achieve in a month.

Now, these are not detailed plans, this is a list.

For this year, I wanted to do three non-fiction books. And one is a collection and the other two are actual writing. And I've been blogging about the stuff.

I have some material, but that's not all of the material I need. And I have a fair amount of writing to do. And my non-fiction books are, I try to keep them to 50,000 words and I don't always succeed. So they go longer and I still have my blogging and I still have my quarterly and my monthly columns.

And I have work as a consultant. So I really have to adjust as I see what I'm doing, and actually what I'm able to finish.

Joanna: I think that's so important. An example for me right now is the how to write non-fiction book which I had planned. I had thought it wouldn't take that long. And it's taking so much longer than I expected.

And then I had some life stuff happen and I'm really glad I actually allowed a buffer. I think it's the first time I've given myself a month buffer.

But even to get things like the print format done, like the e-book is easy enough when we format ourselves using vellum or whatever, but getting the print formatting right with non-fiction, particularly the formatting. Don't you find the formatting is so complicated with non-fiction when you have so many subheadings and all the different things?

So the print, and I've just done a workbook and I'm doing an audiobook and all these products, it takes so much longer.

One thing I did want to ask you is, you talk a lot about project management, you're an expert in this project management niche. Indie authors have to be project managers.

What are some of your tips for authors about project management?

Johanna: I really like action plans, where I'm going to say, what is the first small thing I can do? What is the next small thing I can do? Because I am very big on crossing stuff on my list.

I happen to use a form of personal con boom. I know, sorry I'm using jargon, but that just allows me to see all of the work in progress and where it is. If I have several columns on my board, which is what's ready for me to do, what's in progress if I'm waiting for editing, if I'm waiting for feedback, if I'm waiting for review and then done. It's a very simple board.

And for me it really works because this way I can really monitor, what do I need to do today and this week because I only plan for a week at a time, and how much working progress do I have?

I suspect that many of our writing colleagues have a lot of works in progress. We have a short story here, we have a novel there, you and I both have non-fiction books and I have a ton of varied non-fiction. Almost every writer I know has a lot of work in progress.

What is the smallest thing I can make progress on and still finish, especially today, tomorrow and this week?

Joanna: What we've done really in these interview is, we've gone from the strategy which is a sort of life direction and a business the writing down to the business plan which might be one page with a couple of bullet point, down to the project plan.

Each book is really a project I think. That's what I love about being an author. I don't talk to many consultants anymore. And one of the things I love about the consulting life is it's very much project-based. And when you finish a project, you can take that off and say, “I did that project.”

Many people see these in the consulting world are based on the number of projects they do, project life cycles rather than, I don't know, years or whatever. I think there are so many similarities.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see from Indie authors that you think that you can see because of your business expertise?

Johanna: Oh, they think they have to write 5,000 words a day all week.

I'm very big on writing for 15 minutes at a time. I can finish a very short blog post in 15 minutes. I can get partway through an article in 15 minutes, enough so I know where I'm going to be tomorrow when I pick it up.

But, for me, it's the consistency. I write for at least 15 minutes every single day. And yes, it really is every single day because I really like the streaks. I am a streak person, and it's the same with my Fitbit. If I walk every day, I write every day, I keep my streak going and I really like that.

Now, not everybody does but if you don't say to yourself, “I have to get a chapter done.” That's a horrible thing. But if only half a scene or a section, I can actually get that done.

Joanna: Do you have a streak tracking thing? Do you have an app or a check box or something?

Johanna: I have an excel spreadsheet. I know you're so surprised. So, my daily work count, and I have five different columns because I'm doing all this stuff. I want to use a word that I don't think I should use with a microphone. So I'm a little…

Joanna: Retentive?

Johanna: Yes. Thank you very much.

Joanna: There we go.

Johanna: I'm a little retentive about that. And I actually discovered that tracking my words helped me write more. So for me, it really works.

It does not work for everybody, so don't do it if it doesn't work for you but for me, it really works.

Joanna: That's interesting because I don't. I think people assume that I do. I don't know why but they often assume I'm better at these things.

With my iPhone, I track my steps. So my step counts, so a bit more like the Fitbit. What I'm also trying to do is track breaks, which is because I'm very bad at taking breaks. So my husband said, “Rest is not something that happens when you're totally exhausted, it's something you're meant to do in between.”

I want to ask you now about your health issues. You have a different blog called createadaptablelife.com. You're obviously achieving so much in these 15-minute blogs, but you also have a health issue.

How do you manage your health issue and being a healthy writer and your consulting business?

Johanna: I had this inner ear hemorrhage in 2009, which left me with total deafness in my right ear, which actually has a side effect. I sleep really well. I roll over on to my hearing ear. I don't hear my husband snore. So my sleep has improved tremendously.

However, I do have vertigo because I blew out the vesicular system in my right ear. So I use a rollator. I look like a little old lady.

Joanna: I don't know what that is. Explain what that is.

Johanna: It's a four-wheeled walker. You actually saw me with it when we were in Oregon at the writing workshop. Well, at the business class workshop.

Joanna: I didn't even notice.

Johanna: Well, it folds up. And once a get to my seat, it folds up, it sits right there. It's next to me. I have a wonderful one. It's not one of those old lady walkers with tennis wheels on it. I can actually stride. I can actually walk with it, which is a really good thing.

I have chosen not to travel as much because I have found that when I travel, I don't eat right, I don't exercise right, I don't walk enough except in the airport. In the airports, you walk a lot.

But it's really hard physically to maintain my health when I'm traveling. So I really pick and choose where I travel and when. And I don't go to Minnesota in the winter anymore. For those of you who don't know, Minnesota it gets even more snow than Boston. It's always cold. My relatives, my husband's family is from there. So, I've said to them, not in the winter, only in the summer.

So, I really manage this. And I find that when I'm home, which is more of the time, I take more frequent breaks. The good thing, I don't know if people have seen, I took a variety of things I have, ice tea with lunch, I have Seltzer after in the afternoon.

I'm always drinking. And the nice thing about always drinking is you have to get up every so often. And for me, the more frequently, the better. I can always decide to do especially in the winter, should I do a few hundred steps while I'm up right now? It's only a few minutes. And so I can maintain my health, and I can maintain my walking, and I can maintain all of my exercise regimen while I'm doing my work.

Joanna: So the vertigo, can you just describe what that is because I think some people think oh, it's that woozy feeling? You feel if you're up high, and I have a family also with it, so I understand.

Why is it so debilitating?

Johanna: The kind of vertigo I have, it is not BPPV, which is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, where your crystals fall out of your ears.

I have a special kind of vertigo. Because I have no vestibulo-ocular reflex, when my head goes up and down, my eyes don't track properly. And especially when my head goes side to side, my eyes don't track properly.

Now, I am on great medication. Better living through chemistry. You cannot actually see this unless I had specific goggles and in a darkroom and all that stuff. But the effect is, when I bend over either front or back, I get quite dizzy.

And I don't actually know I'm headed for the floor until I'm on the floor. So, I sit down to tie my shoes. I sit down to get dressed. I watch my husband get dressed in the morning. He stands there on one leg and pulls up his pants and I think, when was the last time I did that? Oh, I don't know, years ago.

There are many things I cannot do. I cannot run. I cannot dance. I swim weird.

I only do the breast stroke and I can no longer do the crawl because I can't turn my head that fast. There's a lot of things I can't do.

On the other hand, I have a big mouth, so I can talk. I have big ideas, so I can write. And so that's what I've been focusing on since the vertigo really got worse. And it gets a little bit worse every single year, which is unfortunate but it's what I have.

Joanna: I think this is a really important thing because I think that health issues, either your own health issues or other people in your family's health issues, this is something none of us can avoid in our life. This happens to either ourselves or someone we love or both or whatever. And being a writer means that you can write, well, hopefully, either you will. You can do something that can still help in that time.

So on createadaptablelife.com, what are some of the things that you've learned from the fact that you're such a high performing consultant and also somebody with a health issue? Like, has anything stopped you?

Have you had negative comments from clients or how does this change things?

Johanna: I do warn my clients that I use a rollator. Before I used the rollator, I said to them, I use a cane and I always look like I'm a little bit drunk. I promise you I'm not. I warn people because if they don't know it's really a shock.

Joanna: They would blame you for your physicality, not your brain.

Johanna: Right. But what I have found in Create Adaptable Life is that I have two audiences.

Honest people with the vertigo problems because I have several pages about inside a vertigo attack, and seven things you can do to manage your vertigo and those get a lot of hits.

And the rest of the time, I only blog once a week with the question of the week because I have found I mean, for me, questions really kind of prompt to all these ideas and feelings and synergy. I can take something from here and relate it to something there and I didn't even know that until I started to write the question.

So I find that it allows me to explore in these personal essays a different form of writing because it's a personal essay as opposed to more of the teaching stuff I do one jrothman.com.

And not even any of the fiction so it's yet a third way of writing. And secondly, it really helps me clarify when I'm thinking about myself, which I find really helpful. And the people who comment are all really nice.

Joanna: And supportive because of other people with health issues probably or loved ones with health issues. And I think that's really good and why I really have enjoyed talking to you, is you do you have these different types of writing.

You have the pragmatic manager which some people are never going to read that stuff and other people are going to love it, and then you've got your fiction, and then you've got the heath side of you. And you're incorporating writing into every part of your life which is amazing really.

Johanna: Well, it's fun. And as you said it, I can do it. So I can do it on an airplane. I can do it even just on my iPad or in a notebook. I can do it at my desk.

I can do it when I travel, even when I'm in someplace where it's really, really loud because I have tinnitus in my right ear, that poor right ear, it's just horrible. But that way, I can give myself a little bit of an escape with my writing and then come back to everybody. And I find that that's really helpful.

Joanna: Fantastic. One more question. You do teach virtual workshop, don't you?

Tell people where they can find you, and a bit about your workshops and everything you do online.

Johanna: So everything is on jrothman.com, jrothman.com because I got my .com you know, back when it was fine to have your first initial in your last name. There weren't that many URLs, I know. Oh well.

Everything is there, and I'm in the midst of revamping my online workshops so that I make the videos shorter and I make it more bite-sized chunks so that people say, “I could take a six-week workshop or a four-week workshop, and it would be fine.' So I'm working on that.

I offer a non-fiction writing workshops. The first is getting in the habit of writing, the second is getting in the habit of publishing, and the third and possibly fourth, I'm still working this out, is about book writing because I suspect that you'll, like many of my friends, you did the non-fiction book thing.

Every consultant wants to write a book and they all have funny ideas. I want to help them make reasonable choices for them. Everybody has their own set of choices, so how do you make your choices?

How do you finish the damn book, and get it out? Everybody I know has at least two or three books in progress. Well, in progress is too many, done is what we want.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, that was a great place to finish. So thanks so much for your time, Johanna. That was great.

Johanna: Thank you so much.

Book Marketing: 5 Ways To Spice Up Your Amazon Book Pages

There are many ways to market your books, but most marketing will drive readers to your sales page on the online bookstores, and there are ways you can improve it so they stick around and buy.

spice up amazon book pagesIn today's article, Chrys Fey outlines how you can improve your Amazon book sales page.

Amazon is the place to be if you’re an author. Even if you publish wide, this is where the reviews that matter, the reviews that influence sales, come in.

This is where most readers come to buy reading material. This is where an author could potentially make it onto a bestseller list.

Your Amazon book page is like a home for your book, your fans, and any potential readers. Just as you decorate your home to make it inviting, cozy, and reflect your style, you can do the same for your books’ pages on Amazon.

You may not be able to change the color scheme, but you can include as much information as you can about your books for Amazon customers. The more compelling, insightful and fun the information, the better.

paint and toolsObviously, you’ll want to have the full blurb for your book set up for readers, but don’t stop there!

Here then are 5 ways to spice up your Amazon book pages:

1. From the Author

Pay special attention to the “From the Author” section. Use this spot to provide additional insight into your book. If you’ve done an author interview recently, or have done several in the past, put a few of the best questions you answered in this section. You’ll want to highlight questions that brought out the best answers that readers would find interesting. Make sure the answers aren’t too long. One small paragraph is a perfect length for an in-depth answer.

If you have ever shared tidbits or secrets about your book on social media, you can also add that to the “From the Author” section. Or you can tell a story about how you got the idea for your book. Just don’t post any spoilers!

2. Tagline

Begin the “Product Description” area with your book’s tagline. Come up with a single sentence to entice readers and get them to read your blurb. A tagline usually reveals the main plot point.

You can also end the blurb with a closing or wrap-up sentence to intrigue readers to take the final step and one-click. I have one such sentence beneath the description for Seismic Crimes (Disaster Crimes Book 2). “Take a walk with Chrys Fey through disasters, criminal activity, and blooming love.”

3. Highlight a Book’s Length

measuring tapeYou can put a line above the blurb to highlight the book’s length in pages. I do this for my eBooks that aren’t novel length (novellas and short stories). I put asterisks around this information to make it more visible. Why do I put this detail first? Because I don’t want readers to be disappointed thinking one of my eBooks is longer than it actually is.

Although I do this, there has been a couple of instances where a reviewer negatively mentioned an eBook being too short. Mostly this happens when a book is free or on sale and a reader one-clicks without reading any of the book’s info. If this happens to you, even when you put this info at the top, it’s not your fault. Brush off that review and that comment, because you did what was necessary to make sure potential buyers understood the length.

4. Extra Descriptive Details

  • Categories: Put a list of categories (3-5) under your book’s blurb for readers who might want to know what genres/categories your story falls under. This is especially good for those readers who don’t scroll down to see the product details.
  • Content Warning: A content warning is smart for books with sensitive content that readers may not feel comfortable reading. For instance, if your book is for mature readers due to sexual content, has explicit language, or contains triggers (drug use, sexual abuse), mention it in the description, beneath the book’s blurb.
  • Series: Is your book part of a series? Add an ordered list of each book in the series in the description section. This is excellent for readers who may want to know what books come before or after the one they are looking at, especially if they are new to the series.

5. Editorial Reviews

Maybe you have editorial reviews for your book on its book page. Or maybe you don’t.

You don’t need to wait for a review from Publisher’s Weekly (or the like) to use the Editorial Reviews section, though. Did you have authors beta read your book? Ask them for a blurb of endorsement. Or submit your book to be reviewed by InD’tale or Readers’ Favorite. Also, send requests to book bloggers. If your book is accepted and reviewed, quote a part of the review in this section.

five starsYou can quote a review even if you don’t get a 5-star rating. All you need is one sentence that praises your writing, characters, or plot. That’s it. One little sentence.

If you have a prequel, sequel, trilogy, or series, spotlight a few of the best reviews for each book in the editorial section of each book page. I did this with each instalment of my Disaster Crimes series. I begin with reviews for the current book (the book page I am on) and then follow it with a couple of reviews for each book in order. This is a great way to promote all of the books in a series, and hopefully get more sales from one instalment to the next.

If you’re not doing these things, go do them now. Or do something different if you get another idea from these tips. Make your books’ pages stand out. Make your books’ pages a place for readers to find out what they’ll need to know to read your book, or a place for them to gather a little more information after they read your book and are posting their reviews.

What would you like to see on a book page for a book you love? If you can answer that question then you have something you can do for yours.

Have you applied all these tips to your Amazon book pages? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Chrys FeyChrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication.

Catch the sparks you need to write, edit, publish, and market your book! From writing your novel to prepping for publication and beyond, you’ll find sparks on every page, including 100 bonus marketing tips. Fey is an editor for Dancing Lemur Press and runs the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s Goodreads book club. She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series.

Grammar Quirks with Author Steve Cavanagh

Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?

Steve Cavanagh: Pop. Because it is simple, and perfect in every conceivable way. It’s also a palindrome (a word which is exactly the same if the letters are reversed). I also recently discovered the word semordnilap, which is the opposite of a palindrome in that it is a name for a word which will spell out a different word if read or spelled backwards. So, for example, live and evil. Or straw and warts. In case you haven’t spotted it already, semordnilap is palindromes backwards. How cool is that?

GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?

SC: Electrocution. People often say they were electrocuted when they receive a small shock from a socket or piece of faulty wiring. They have not been electrocuted. They have in fact received an electric shock. Even when the electric shock results in death, it’s not technically, at least in my mind, an electrocution. It’s an electric shock causing death. Electrocution is a peculiarly American word used when someone is executed via the transmission of electricity through the body.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

SC: Manoeuvre. That’s the UK version, by the way.

GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?

SC: In this day and age more robust definitions of the words true and fact appear to be in order.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

SC: When anyone uses the phrase “true facts,” which I tend to see more often. This drives me to previously unattained levels of apoplexy.

GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?

SC: I throw a lot of rules out the window if it’s a choice between grammar and having the character sound authentic. A lot of my characters do not use correct grammar in speech. To impose it upon them would make them seem less real to me, somehow.

GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?

SC: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” It’s the opening line from "The Last Good Kiss," by James Crumley. Now that’s how you start a story.

GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?

SC: This week? I struggle every five minutes. My sentences usually start badly, and then it will get more difficult in the middle of the sentence, and the less said about the end the better.  

Meena Alexander

“There’s something in the lyric moment that really ruptures the taken for granted-ness of the world.” Meena Alexander discusses her writing process, artistic collaborations, and the sensory experience of being a poet in this interview for CUNY TV. Alexander is the author of Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), which is featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Meena Alexander

“There’s something in the lyric moment that really ruptures the taken for granted-ness of the world.” Meena Alexander discusses her writing process, artistic collaborations, and the sensory experience of being a poet in this interview for CUNY TV. Alexander is the author of Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), which is featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Meena Alexander

“There’s something in the lyric moment that really ruptures the taken for granted-ness of the world.” Meena Alexander discusses her writing process, artistic collaborations, and the sensory experience of being a poet in this interview for CUNY TV. Alexander is the author of Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), which is featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Meena Alexander

“There’s something in the lyric moment that really ruptures the taken for granted-ness of the world.” Meena Alexander discusses her writing process, artistic collaborations, and the sensory experience of being a poet in this interview for CUNY TV. Alexander is the author of Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), which is featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Meena Alexander

“There’s something in the lyric moment that really ruptures the taken for granted-ness of the world.” Meena Alexander discusses her writing process, artistic collaborations, and the sensory experience of being a poet in this interview for CUNY TV. Alexander is the author of Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), which is featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Meena Alexander

“There’s something in the lyric moment that really ruptures the taken for granted-ness of the world.” Meena Alexander discusses her writing process, artistic collaborations, and the sensory experience of being a poet in this interview for CUNY TV. Alexander is the author of Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), which is featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Nafissa Thompson-Spires

“I’m a firm believer in low-stakes writing as a strategy for managing both writer’s block and the anxiety inherent to writing. When I’m stuck, if I’m wise enough to take the advice I give to my students, I return to free-writing, often by hand. There’s something about moving away from the computer keyboard and back to pen and paper—and a different movement with my hands—that stimulates exploration instead of stress. Free-writing is almost like doodling, a sort of half-conscious and certainly less self-aware method of ‘producing’ text that shifts my brain back to the playful, drafting mode and away from the pressured, generative mode. I know I will have to transcribe whatever I’ve handwritten and that in that process it will likely change significantly, so I feel more able to play with ideas on paper than I might while staring at my computer screen. Composition and rhetoric professors have been teaching this method for years, and since it isn’t broken, it’s good enough for me. More often than not, a few minutes of free-writing leads me to some useful idea that I can take back to my keyboard and my manuscript.”
—Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People (37 INK, 2018)

Writer Photo Credit: 
Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography