Showing posts with label charts and statistics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label charts and statistics. Show all posts

Followers, Readers, and Venn Diagrams

I don't actually like the Followers widget on the sidebar there. I mean, yes, it feels nice every time the number goes up, but it's misleading. Followers do not mean readers. Readers don't mean fans. Fans don't mean friends. And really, I think we all want our blog/Twitter/whatever followers to be one of those last two.

Getting followers is easy. Well, not easy -- it's a lot of work. But it's mostly within your control: comment on and follow 1,000 blogs, and you will instantly get 100 or more followers. Just like that. Elana Johnson has some great advice on getting lots of followers, and I agree with every one of her points. But followers do not mean readers.

Turning followers into readers is a bit harder, but still within your control. Just write something people want to read. It takes practice and (again) hard work to figure out topics both you and other people are interested in (hint: it's not you, not at first), but it can be done.

Now I'm not large enough in the public sphere to understand how readers become fans, though I do know how to make friends (be one). But here's a secret: it's not a progression. The diagram above is far too simple. In reality, it's more like this:

You can have readers who aren't followers. Friends who never read your blog. Followers who genuinely like you and would help you out, but don't have time to read all your posts. Readers who like your blog and like you, but aren't really a fan of your fiction.

It's a complicated world, but the encouraging bit is this: you don't have to get a lot of followers to be successful. You don't have to follow everyone who follows you. You don't have to chain yourself to that stupid widget.

I admit, things can change when blogging becomes part of your profession. In the comments of Elana's post, she points out that her editor sees a 1400-follower blog. In fact it's the only measuring tool an editor, or anyone else, has to see how popular a blog is. But Elana uses her blog to make money. If only 100 of those followers buy her books, that's 100 books she wouldn't have sold otherwise.

But most of us aren't there yet. If I got 500 more followers right now, what good would it do me, even if I could turn them into fans? Not much. Blogging for me is more of a long term investment, so I invest slowly. I use it for practice, for networking, and yes I'm looking for fans and friends, but only so I have some folks to celebrate with when I sell something. I don't need "followers" to do that.


I feel a little weird just jumping back in with a post on writing, so here are some things I accomplished in the last two weeks:
  1. I did not die. Surprisingly, no one else did either.
  2. I discovered the most awesome Lando Calrissian ever:

  1. My wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. We even got to go out!
  2. I learned that no matter how many toys you have, Children A, B, C, and D will always fight over the one Child E has. (I already knew this, but I learned the theorem scales to any number of kids).
  3. J. J. DeBenedictis enriched my life with this tiny, fully-functional cannon.
  4. I discovered this guy's videos. They're kinda hilarious.
  5. I had a weird/awesome dream about Dr. Horrible.
  6. I learned how to say "Don't be bossy" in Thai. Repetition is key.
  7. After a month's forced vacation (that only partially had to do with the new kids), I finally added 2,600 words to Cunning Folk.
  8. I did not hear from a single agent.
There, I hope that's thorough. If it's not, we can do an informal question/answer session in the comments.

More Answers, in Which Ancient Histories are Revealed

L. T. Host asks: What the deuce IS a jelly baby?

Like little, chewy babies, but you eat them!

I'm curious which PART of the CA coast-- if you're in the middle-ish, here's hoping it warms up before Fiance and I take a trip up there mid-July. If you're down south, you picked a good time to come. This is the NICE weather everyone talks about when they talk about CA. :)

We were in Southern California (Orange County and, briefly, San Diego). So yeah, pretty much the definition of Perfect Weather.

I'm also curious why you picked Thailand?

The simple answer is because my wife Cindy is Thai. The complex answer involves mission trips, a little mysticism, and a DTR (not in that order). We could talk about it over coffee, except I don't drink coffee. (Seriously though, you can e-mail me or something if you want the longer story).

C. Michael Fontes asks: What prompted you to become foster parents in Thailand?

The short answer to this one is the mysticism: God called us. The less short answer: Cindy's had a heart for orphans since she was young. When we decided to be overseas missionaries, we had a vague idea of running an orphanage/planting a church in whatever country we ended up in. But after we got here, that all kind of changed.

Emmet asks: In a no-holds-barred fight who would you rather be, the Emperor or the Lord Marshal (obviously the answer is Riddick, but other than that)?

Let's take a look:

The Emperor's prescience pretty much cancels out the Lord Marshal's coolest abilities. Plus, you know, it's not like he has a pretty face to protect. As long as Darth Vader's not around, I gotta go with Palpatine.

Anica is a great name, but if there had been no vetoing process (Cindy), what would have been on her birth certificate?

The only girl names I tried to push were Anica and Serenity (the latter being your suggestion, as I recall). But if I'd had a boy, and no wife to stop me, he'd be either Morpheus or Optimus Prime.

Would you rather write an amazing book (LOTR caliber) that doesn't get published until after your death, or a shite book that gets made into a bunch of movies (Twilight), and all your friends pat you on the back and say "great job" but then ridicule you on message boards around the internet, and you will have no other books to redeem yourself? 

So either way my career is depressing and full of rejection? In that case, give me the movies.

Would you rather give up cheese for the rest of your life, or be a vegan for a year? 

Definitely vegan. Uh... vegans can still eat bacon, right?

Bane of Anubis asks: How could you choose Aliens over Dragons? :P 

[Bane is referring to being a finalist in Nathan's contest, wherein I was a total jerk and voted Josin over him.]

See, Bane, like any good American I assumed my vote didn't really matter. How was I to know you'd tie? As soon as I get my time machine working, the first thing I'm going to change is my vote, I swear.

jjdebenedictus asks: Do these jeans make my butt look big? 

I can honestly say, from my point of view, they do not.

Myrna Foster asks: Do you have any other family over in Thailand?

Me? No. But Cindy's dad lives in Bangkok. She also has approximately one thousand aunts, uncles, and cousins scattered throughout the kingdom. One of them drew me a family tree once trying to explain it all. It took him like half an hour. I don't remember any of it.

What do you have in your writer's "drawer?"

You mean the stuff you'll never, ever read? Folks who've been around here a while will remember my first novel, Travelers, which got trunked after 60 straight rejections. Also before Pawn's Gambit, I wrote and submitted another Air Pirates short story to BCS, trunking it because it just wasn't working. And before that there was a short story that would eventually evolve into my current WIP, Cunning Folk. That not very good at all.

Do you really own an umbrella chair?

And lastly, Carrie says: I'm relatively new to your website. I'm curious to hear on what are your thoughts in regards to writer's block.

Which I'll answer on Friday. Thank you, everyone, for your questions! I enjoyed answering them. Hopefully you enjoyed it too.

In Which I Prove We Will Achieve FTL Speeds by 2050

Supposedly it's impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. Supposedly it requires an infinite amount of energy.

But I posit that science knows far less than it does not know. At one time, it was believed man could not fly, the sound barrier could not be broken, and man could not reach the moon. Not just believed, but considered scientifically impossible.

And yet we did it.

So on the assumption that science is wrong about what we cannot do, I have collected the data on speeds man has attained over the past 300 years. The trend, ladies and gentlemen, clearly shows that we will send something through space at the speed of light around the year 2050.

If not, who cares? This was fun anyway.

Your Ideas Just Aren't That Great

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken, designer of the first automatic computer.

A lot of wannabe authors out there are living in fear. They're afraid someone is going to steal their idea and hit it big before they get their shot. I understand this fear, even shared it at one point. But I am increasingly of the opinion that this is a silly thing to be afraid of.

First of all, there is no such thing as the "Killer Idea". There are great ideas, sure, but no idea is so amazing that it (a) hasn't been done before or (b) can't be done again. Child born in obscurity destined to save the world? Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon, Ender's Game, The Matrix. Witches and wizards secretly living among us? The Dresden Files, Witch Hunter Robin, Harry Potter again. Aliens as predatory monsters? Yes. Aliens as friends? Many times. Vampires among us? I think you get the idea.

These are all good ideas, but they've been done before. And whether you like them or not, they'll be done again (I'm doing a couple of them right now). Why can they be done again and again, each time different and many times really good? Because if you give two authors the exact same idea, they will write two completely different stories.

What that means is, even if someone did steal your idea, the novel they'd end up writing will look nothing like yours. And that's assuming they take it in the first place. Cuz you know what else? Anyone with the skill and motivation required to finish a novel already has ideas of their own. Lots of them. And they are probably more in love with their own ideas than they will ever be with yours. Finishing a novel is hard enough, but can you imagine working on an idea you weren't excited about? For a year or more?

Mind. Numbing.

Not convinced? That's fine. Let's say you actually have a killer idea. It's amazing, totally unique. It's going to blow Harry Potter, Twilight, and every James Patterson novel ever written to the clearance bin. Odds of that: 0.5% (that's really generous, guys).

Then someone sees the idea's obvious genius and steals it. Honestly, just saying that kinda makes me laugh. I mean, (a) even the professionals don't know what will and will not break out and (b) potential thieves probably won't even agree with you on what's "good". Not to mention the reasons I've already stated. But I'll be generous again. Odds: 1%.

They write the novel faster than you and better than you. We'll assume we're dealing with a pro here, so odds: 90%.

Although their novel is very different from what you were going to write, it's close enough and successful enough that it ruins the market for your novel. Again, this kinda makes me laugh. Do you know how many Twilight clones are still selling? Generous odds: 1%.

So the GENEROUS likelihood of someone stealing your idea such that you can't do it anymore is 0.000045% -- about the same as the odds of you being crushed to death. And you know what? If this hypothetical thief did all that, I think they deserve the results of their labor. Seriously, coming up with a great idea takes all of 5 minutes. Turning it into a bestselling novel takes years.

So don't be afraid of people stealing your creativity (or of being crushed to death). Publishers don't sell ideas, they sell books. While a good idea can grab a reader's interest, the best idea in the world can't hold that interest for 300 pages if it's executed poorly.

What I'm saying is: worry less about what other people might do with your idea and more about what you're going to do with it.

On Spoilers

When is it okay to mention spoilers without having to provide a spoiler warning? I have finally solved this age-old (i.e. as old as the internet) problem. Put simply, it is a function of how unbelievable the spoiler is and the age of the work in question. Like so:

If the Spoiler Quotient is greater than or equal to 1, then a spoiler warning is required. The OMG Factor is a rating of how unbelievable a given piece of information is, numbered from 0 to 5.

So "Darth Vader is Luke's father" (OMG Factor: 5, Years since release: 29) has a spoiler quotient of 0.17 and is totally fair game. While "the Axiom's autopilot has secretly been ordered to keep humans in space forever" (OMG Factor: 3, Years since release: 1.5) has a spoiler quotient of 2... which means I should've warned you.

Hm. Maybe this thing needs some more work.

On Priorities

(Fair warning: Posts may be short or non-existent the next couple of weeks. Just saying.)

If you think this means I won't be careful with my Thai, you should know that 6 of those 8 people are my wife and in-laws.

Also, this is not to scale (unless you're a prospective agent/publisher, in which case this is totally to scale).

How to Plan a Novel

How did people get anything done before flowcharts?

I know what the title says, but this flowchart is really just how I plan a novel. Actually, it's an incomplete version of the way I plan today. Take it as you will.

Some further explanations:
Ask Questions: For any element of the story, ask: (1) How does this happen? (2) Why does this happen? (3) What happens as a result? Repeat as necessary. Orson Scott Card's idea, not mine.*
Throw Rocks: Make life difficult for the characters. Test them to the point of failure. Add tension. Ask, "What's the worst thing that can happen here?" and do it. Then ask how, why, and what result.
Event Outline: What happens in the world/lives of the characters. Not necessarily the layout of the novel. The event outline may begin before the novel does, and it may end long after. It may contain events that are never shown or even referred to in the final manuscript.
Chapter Outline: How the event outline is shown to the reader, and from whose points of view. If you haven't already done so, think about different story structures.

Obviously this is over-simplified. I ask questions, detail chapters, and fix weak spots constantly, even after the draft is finished. In general, though, identifying and fixing problems earlier in the process makes for much less work. At least that's the idea.

* Now that I think about it, none of these are my ideas. I just put them all together into a definable process.

19 Months of Air Pirates

It took me 19 months from word 1 to word 99,675 on Air Pirates. I told you I'd talk about the process, so here it is.

I write these kinds of posts to analyze my own process, to see what works and what doesn't and hopefully to improve. I hope other people can glean something useful from this as well, but if not, no worries.

This post is also an excuse for me to make charts. I like charts.

I started writing Air Pirates officially in September 2007. I'd been thinking about it for a lot longer than that (I have documents dating back to 2003), and I'm still not finished with it (the editing phase is a lot harder than I remember), but the first draft took about a year and a half to write.

You can see I had a slow start, and a plateau in early 2008 that I'll explain in a second. This next chart shows that more clearly. It's a chart of how many words I wrote in each month.

Clearly there's an upward trend, but it's pretty unstable. I'd write well for 2-3 months, then stop for 2-3 months, and so on. Here's how it went down.

Aug-Oct 07 (Slow): It took me 3 or 4 drafts to get the beginning, and rewrites weren't counted towards the final word count. Once I figured out how the story started, it got easier.

Feb-Apr 08 (Slow): At this point, I'd written four chapters of Air Pirates and needed to outline the rest of the story if I was going to get anywhere. Travelers also came back from the betas and for the first time I started seriously editing and working on queries.

May-Jul 08 (Fast): I really think the reason for my increase here was that I started thinking like a pro. In working on my query, and trying to figure out what to do next, I'd begun reading blogs like Nathan Bransford and Query Shark, as well as author's blogs. I learned a lot about writing good query letters, but also the publishing business as a whole. More than anything, I learned that this was something I really wanted to do.

Aug-Sep 08 (Slow): I tried writing a short story in the Air Pirates' world. I'd never written a short story for the purpose of publication before, so it took a lot of time (and it still isn't published). Our trip to the US slowed things down a bit too.

Oct-Apr 09 (Fast, mostly): The increase in word count here is most likely due to my wife's commitment to me. She started helping me get away for 2 hours a day, most days, just to write. I still wrote in whatever stolen moments I could, but having 2 undistracted hours really helped me discipline myself. I want to blame the dip here on holiday visitors, but I think it was due more to my lack of self-discipline than anything. I'm trying to get better at that.

Final Analysis. On average, I wrote 5,000 words a month on Air Pirates. I know that, with discipline, I can do 10,000 a month pretty regularly. Hopefully that means I can draft a novel in 9-10 months, but we'll see. I won't be doing any drafting for a while yet until I can get through all this editing I'm supposed to be doing.

Free Fall Math and BASE Jumping

Every once in a while, I research something that's just random enough or cool enough or geeky enough to share (like, you know, should you use the definite article when writing about ships, which is way cool).

I'll start you off with the good stuff. Some free fall survival tips:
First of all, you're starting off a full mile higher than Everest, so after a few gulps of disappointing air you're going to black out. This is not a bad thing. If you have ever tried to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you know what I mean. This brief respite from the ambient fear and chaos will come to an end when you wake up at about 15,000 feet. Here begins the final phase of your descent, which will last about a minute. It is a time of planning and preparation.
Read the whole thing. It's both amusing and interesting. Now, here's some cool free fall math:
  • For a person of average weight, in spread eagle position, terminal velocity is about 120 mph (190 kph).
  • An experienced skydiver can attain velocities of 160 mph (250 kph). With training, that can be increased to over 200 mph (320 kph), and the record is over 300 mph (480 kph).
  • It takes about 14-15 seconds to reach terminal velocity (120 mph).
  • In those 14-15 seconds, the plummeter will have fallen a little over 1,800 feet (550 m).
That means in the Air Pirates' world, where the ships typically fly 1-2 km above the ground, it would take 20-40 seconds for someone to hit said ground.

Now onto BASE jumping. After a short amount of research, I realized I didn't know much about this sport. BASE is an acronym that stands for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth: four categories of objects from which one can jump.

It's basically skydiving without the plane, but it's more dangerous than skydiving. The practical minimum for skydivers to open their parachute is 600 meters, but most BASE jumps are made from less than that. Jumpers have far less time to control their jump, and they usually don't even reach terminal velocity.

That brings me to the other cool thing I learned about: the wingsuit. This is a skydiving suit with added fabric sewn between the legs and between the arms and body. With a wingsuit, the jumper's fall rate drops to an average 60 mph (95 kph) and can get as low as 25 mph (40 kph). It also gives the jumper additional control over their fall, almost to the point of gliding. Some jumpers are even trying to set a record by landing without a parachute.

Check this out:

In Air Pirates, there are 3 scenes where someone jumps or falls from an airship (actually there's a lot more than that, but speed and distance only matter for 3 of them - the rest just die). I even finagled a wingsuit in one of the scenes - some of my protagonists are just too extreme for their own good.

Calculating Speed

I can type over 100 words per minute. That means, in theory, I should be able to write 6,000 words per hour and 48,000 words in an 8-hour work day.

While that's technically true, it's completely impractical. In order to write that many words in a day I'd have to think as fast as I type or plagiarize word for word. And to handle 8 hours a day, I'd also need superhuman finger strength and the sitting endurance of a tree sloth.

Physical typing speed is not what slows me down. In real life, I can write 500-1000 words per hour on a good day. That should mean I can write a full draft of a novel (80-120,000 words) in less than 3 weeks, but the problem is that most days I'm unable to write for even one hour. The rest of the time, I'm plotting, outlining, parenting, revising, teaching, parenting, brainstorming, playing Sudoku, blogging, decompressing, parenting, and parenting.

That's still just a theoretical rate anyway. In real life, it took me about 3 years to write the first draft of Travelers at 76,000 words*, a rate of about 100 words/day.** I started the first draft of Air Pirates last September and in 6 months wrote 16,000 words (130 words/day). The crazy thing is, after taking a break to do a bunch of querying for Travelers, I wrote another 7,000 words in the last two weeks, which is like 700 words/day!

Shoot, if I could keep that rate up, I could write a draft in 5-10 months. If only life were that simple. If you'll excuse me, I have to move the worldly possessions of eight people from one house to another, while simultaneously ensuring that the kids get to school and back, do their homework, obey Mom and Dad, go to sleep on time, and (in some cases) have a clean diaper and learn to classify a direct object.

* When I say word count, I mean only words left in the final draft. I don't count revisions, notes, outlines, brainstorms, or previous drafts. When the draft is done, I just ask MS Word what my word count is and record it. It's the simplest, most honest way to count, but it's not the most useful statistic if your question is, "When will the book be done?"

** Assuming 5 work days per week, 50 work weeks per year.