5 Ideas to Help You Find Your Story

You’ve already seen the question right on the homepage of this very site: What’s your story? It’s something authors of all kinds must ask themselves, whether they’re working on fiction or nonfiction, in short stories or in full-length novels. But sometimes – even for those who have excellent material buried in their minds, or deft skills when it comes to the actual writing – the question can be a little bit difficult to answer.

The bottom line in a lot of cases, though, is that an author’s story tends to come from an experience – even if it doesn’t necessarily seem like a particularly dramatic one at the time. For instance, in the category of nonfiction, celebrated author Michael Lewis got started in his professional life working in financial services at Saloman Brothers; he went on to write The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine, a riveting account of big bank and housing market corruption that would be turned into a popular film. In fiction, recent up-and-comer Karen Russell burst onto the scene with Swamplandia!, a novel concerning a bizarre Everglades world of creepy characters, gators, and strange legends; she’s described the theme parks of her childhood in South Florida as inspiration.

These are just two examples, but they cover entirely different styles and subjects of writing, and illustrate the importance of finding your story. And since sometimes that starts with finding something different to do, I wanted to make a few suggestions that might get any aspiring writer thinking!

1.) Start Travelling

Travelling can almost seem too easy, given that it is by definition supposed to expose you to new experiences. But there’s nothing wrong with easy! Seeing places beyond your own home or comfort zone can not just give you literal subjects to write about, but can expand your worldview and change the way you see yourself as well. This can result, more than anything else, in enriching your voice as a writer, as has been demonstrated throughout history. Many if not most renowned writers had some experience with destinations, whether that means time spent a world away from home, or simply a more in-depth exploration of neighbouring towns or a surrounding countryside. Putting it bluntly, even if it’s something of a cliché, to write about the world, you first must get to know it!

2.) Volunteer

In some cases, the benefits of volunteerism can be much like those of travelling: you can broaden your perspective and often get to know a new place. However, volunteering can mean many things, and ultimately this idea is more about meeting people. Most of us have a tendency to burrow into social circles of our own making, and surround ourselves with people somewhat similar to ourselves. Through volunteerism of most any sort though, you’ll meet new people with complex lives and stories of their own. The same could be said of many other activities as well, but there’s just something about a volunteer setting that causes people to be more genuine, which in turn can lead to a richer foundation for writing ideas.

3.) Try Casinos

Casinos may not have a massive place in literature, but there’s a reason they produce an interesting film just about every year or two: there’s inherent drama. The wins, losses, and social interactions comprise a world in which anything seems possible, and while you can get a taste of this from the outside looking in, you can’t fully understand it (or glean a story from it) without diving in. Today, that might mostly mean browsing the newest casino sites, typically based in the UK, and most of which now have a dizzying variety of games. This isn’t a bad idea. You can control what you spend very easily (I’m certainly not suggesting you should pour money into this hobby), and online casinos haven’t been tapped as frequently for story content. However, there’s also something to be said for trying the real thing, and getting to know life inside actual casinos. You never really know what sort of story you may stumble upon.

4.) Go Back To School

You might find advice out there to take an odd job if you’re in search of story inspiration, and it’s worth considering. Just think about the Michael Lewis example mentioned above! But another version of this same idea is to go back to school – to find a further education programme of some kind that appeals to you and seems likely to expose you to interesting people and situations. The very process of learning can spark ideas for stories, as can the atmosphere of almost any learning environment. You might come across a subject you feel inspired to explore further, meet a person or group of people you can turn into characters, or even gain some insight for a nonfiction account about adult learning in general – or something even bigger, like the state of young professional career pursuits.

5.) Take Up Cooking

As with casinos, this is a fairly specific sort of hobby that can end up exposing you to a fascinating world ripe with story material, fictional and otherwise. Think of books like Eat, Pray, Love, that are grounded at least in part in a desire to explore world cuisines; recall the film Julie & Julia, a drama about an ordinary woman working through a Julia Child cookbook. Recently, a new series even debuted on Netflix, showcasing film director Jon Favreau and his chef friend Roy Choi (as well as assorted celebrity guests) as they travel, cook, and learn about food. There’s really a whole sort of sub-culture of cooking- and food-related content in all forms, which should give you some idea of the scope of ideas you could land on if you really dive into cooking.

7 Great Resources for Self-Publishing Authors

Publishing a book has never been so easy … the ever-changing technology landscape means anyone can publish a book at the click of a button. (Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should publish a book, but that’s a different topic!) The internet also brings us a wealth of resources, many of which are completely free to use. Here I’m going to outline 7 of my favourite resources for self-publishing authors. Please do use the comments to let me know your favourites!


Ideas Generators

Struggling to work out what to include in your book? Or even what your book should be about? Here are a couple of ideas generators that can be very useful resources for self-publishing authors.

Answer The Public

www.answerthepublic.com

You know how, when you start typing something into Google, it comes up with suggestions, based on what other people have been searching for? Answer The Public takes all those suggestions and pulls them into charts that make it really easy to find content ideas or expand on specific topics. For example, the graphic below shows some of the ideas that were generated when I searched for “ADHD” (the subject of my first book).  (Click for a larger version.) As well as showing ideas graphically, you can also download a CSV file for ease of use. And while there is a pro service, the basic site is completely free to use.



Google Trends

trends.google.com/trends

Another interesting way to generate connected ideas is the Google Trends tool – one of Google’s best-kept secrets! Enter any term in the box and you’ll be given information on how much interest there is in that search term, as well as related topics and queries. The beauty of this tool is that you can filter the results by time or region, and also between long term and rising trends, which means you can check if a topic is currently or historically relevant.



Content Organisation

So you’ve done your research and have dozens of ideas for your book – but how do you go about organising those ideas? Here are two of my favourite tools for structuring and organising content.

Workflowy

workflowy.com

Workflowy is a great resource for self-publishing authors as it gives you an easy way to create lists, lists within lists, outlines and essay structures – basically, it’s mind-mapping in a more linear way. I’ve found it really useful for sketching out ideas for blog posts and articles while I’m on the move. The lists sync across devices so you can add notes on your phone and then go back to them once you’re in the office. I actually wrote a blog post about Workflowy a while ago. Workflowy is free for up to 250 items a month, but you can also earn additional items by referring people. Sign up to Workflowy and get extra entries straight away!


MindMeister

www.mindmeister.com

Mind mapping gives you a more visual way to plan your content. However, mind mapping on paper is not always the most practical way to do it. There are lots of mind mapping tools around and these are great resources for self-publishing authors but it can take some time to find one that works for you.

MindMeister is my app of choice. As it’s cross-platform, it works on any web browser and has iOS and Android applications. It’s intuitive to use and the free version lets you create up to three mind maps, choose a range of themes and layouts, and add links, notes, colours, icons and deadlines to your nodes. There’s enough there for most people, but the paid version adds lots more features and it’s well worth upgrading if you find you’re using mind mapping regularly.



Images

Never judge a book by its cover … except that’s exactly what we all do! There are a multitude of ways you can achieve a professional-looking cover – using KDP’s Cover Creator tool, buying a pre-made cover, commissioning a designer to create a bespoke cover for you. But where do you find the ideas or images that perfectly match your title? Here are two free-to-use photo libraries that I regularly visit.

Pixabay

www.pixabay.com

When you’re looking for free-to-use photos or illustrations for your book cover or internal graphics, Pixabay is a great place to start. At the time of writing* it has over 1.6 million royalty-free images (and videos) released under Creative Commons CC0 licence, which means you can use them for any purpose – even commercial – without needing permission or crediting the photographer. There’s a huge range of styles and subjects available, from concrete images to concepts. The vast majority of images are of a really high quality too. For example, I did a search for “dream” and these are just three of the images that I found – and there are over 500!


Unsplash

unsplash.com

The Unsplash photo library is another great resource for self-publishing authors. it has over 550,000 images that are free for you to use for any project, again without needing permission – though they do suggest it would be nice to credit the contributor. I don’t find it quite as easy to find what I’m looking for on Unsplash, and there seems to be less variety of styles, but the photos are of a very high quality and it’s well worth digging around!

Here are three pictures I selected, again using the keyword “dream”.

 



Publishing Tools

Kindle Direct Publishing

kdp.amazon.com

KDP Direct is perhaps the easiest way to get your book published and out into the big wide world – or Amazon, as it’s otherwise known. Offering free publishing for both print and Kindle books, the system is easy to use and offers tools such as interior templates and cover design software. Once uploaded, your book is available on Amazon stores worldwide within just a few days, and can also be added to an expanded distribution scheme, making it available to other retailers. Other features include marketing tools, free giveaways and real-time sales statistics. There is no charge to use KDP Print – Amazon takes a fee for printing/distribution and a royalty fee on every copy you sell, and then give you a royalty too – between 15% and 70% depending in format, book size etc.

KDP Direct used to be digital only, and Amazon’s print-on-demand arm was CreateSpace, but the two services have now merged. See my blog post for more info.

There are other self-publishing platforms available, such as Lightning Source, Ingram Spark, Smashwords and Lulu, but for me, KDP Print does everything I need it to.


I hope you have fun exploring some of these resources for self-publishing authors – and please do let me know which tools you use!

 

Please note: some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning I benefit in some way when you follow the link. The Workflowy app gives both you and me 250 extra things each month; the MindMeister link gives me credits towards additional mind maps and features. 
*November 2018

CreateSpace and KDP have merged: what it means for authors

Most self-published authors are familiar with CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service, and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the Kindle ebook service. There’s been talk for a while of Amazon’s CreateSpace closing down, but the rumours have now been proved true, as the service shut its doors to new accounts at the end of August. However, this isn’t the end of easy self-publishing by any means, as CreateSpace and KDP have merged, with the Kindle service now offering print books alongside ebooks.  In this blog post I’ll look at what this means for self-publishing authors, and what the obvious advantages and disadvantages are.

       createspace logo            kdp logo

So what does this mean for authors?

Over the next few weeks, any books already published through CreateSpace will be transferred over to KDP Print. This should happen automatically – assuming you already have a KDP account set up. If you haven’t it would be a good idea to do this ASAP. However, if you wish, you can log into CreateSpace yourself and follow a simple three-step process to start the transfer. KDP promise this is a seamless process and your books will remain on sale throughout. (If you do have any problems though, it would be good to hear about them – do leave a comment!)

New accounts will be directed straight to the KDP site. It is no longer possible to set up a new account on CreateSpace.

CreateSpace have promised to contact all current account holders to let them know about the merger and what they need to do next. However, I have an account and haven’t received any notification at all – in fact, I only found out when I went to upload a book for a client!

I’ve now set up the new client with a KDP account and published both print and Kindle books through it, so I’ve had first-hand experience of how the new service works. Generally, the KDP Print service offers everything CreateSpace did – the same quality of books, often printed in the same places by the same people. However, there are a few advantages to the new system – and a couple of disadvantages. Let’s start with those.

Disadvantages of KDP Print vs CreateSpace

Pay day

The biggest disadvantage regards payment of royalties. On CreateSpace, royalties were paid 30 days after the month in which they were earned – so any sales in August would be paid at the end of September. However, Kindle sales have always worked on a 60-day basis and now that CreateSpace and KDP have merged, the new KDP Print will adhere to those terms, so August sales will now be paid at the end of October. In time this probably won’t be an issue, but it will mean a delay during the transition period.

Print costs

On the whole, the print costs of books will stay the same on KDP Print as on CreateSpace. However, for B&W books under 110 pages or colour books under 30 pages there will be an increase in print cost – meaning smaller royalty payments, unless you decide to increase the cover price.

No editing / formatting services

CreateSpace used to offer in-house editing, formatting and cover design to self-publishing authors – at a price, obviously. They withdrew these services several months ago, so if you used CreateSpace for more than just publishing you’ll now need to find another supplier of those services (and I can help you with that – just contact me for info!)

Advantages of KDP Print vs CreateSpace

One dashboard

Perhaps the biggest benefit of moving to KDP Print is that you can now manage both Kindle and print books, and see royalties and sales reports etc, in the same place. No more logging into two different sites! You’ll also receive one royalty payment each month, instead of two, which might help with accounting.

Ease of setup

The upload process for print books on KDP is easy to use. Although it covers everything the CreateSpace site did, the process seems more streamlined, and if you’ve previously used KDP to upload Kindle books, you’ll recognise the same style of screens. A real bonus is that the previewer shows both your interior and cover, and flags up any issues. Previously you couldn’t check your cover until it had been through Amazon’s own checks and returned for final proofing.

Faster approval process

Along with the streamlined upload system, the approval process has been speeded up too. With CreateSpace you uploaded your book, submitted it, waited for CreateSpace to complete their own checks, and then had to check and authorise either a digital or printed proof (which could mean waiting a couple of weeks) before the book went live. It was a laborious process.

KDP has changed the order. As soon as you upload your book you’re able to view a full digital proof of the book. If you’re happy with that, you press the publish button, KDP Print does its own checks and your book goes live. Assuming they don’t come back to you with any problems (and you’ll receive an email if there are issues) you can sit back as soon as that Publish button is pressed, and need take no further action. It definitely seems to speed up the time it takes for your book to appear in the Amazon stores.

New trim sizes

One of CreateSpace’s limitations was that it had a restricted range of trim sizes – the actual physical size of your book. For most people that wasn’t a problem – if you’re printing a standard book the sizes offered were fine. However, KDP Print offers a far wider range of trim sizes plus the option to print to a custom trim size – so if you want to print a book that’s twice as wide as it is high, you can now do that!

Book stays live when making changes

One of the most annoying “features” of CreateSpace was that every time you made a change to any element of your book it was taken off the Amazon stores until it had been re-approved by CreateSpace. If you were making wholesale changes to the book this was a good thing – but if you were amending one typo or changing the price, for example, it meant potential lost sales. KDP Print leaves the existing version of your book on sale and then replaces it with the new version, so no more lost sales!

Advertising

Integrated within the KDP system is an easy tool to help you advertise your books, both Kindle and print, on Amazon. This will increase your book’s visibility within the Amazon store, and works on a Pay Per Click basis, with daily spend budgets starting at just $1.

Author copies printed in UK and Europe

My biggest bugbear with CreateSpace was that if you wanted to purchase author copies at the actual print price, you had two options:

  1. Order direct from CreateSpace – copies were printed and shipped from the USA, so not only did you have extortionate despatch charges, you also had to wait up to 2-3 weeks depending on the service you chose, and you were at risk of having customs charges added;
  2. Set the retail price of your book as low as it would go, order from your local Amazon store, then go back and change the price back again – which took time as your book would often disappear from the stores while the changes were made. You also ran the risk of other people being able to buy the book at trade price too!

Perhaps the biggest advantage KDP Print has over CreateSpace is that author copies are now printed in the UK and mainland Europe as well as the US, and when you order them, they are added to your regular Amazon shopping basket and dealt with like any other Amazon order. This means your order is subject to Amazon’s regular delivery costs so if your order is above the minimum spend, or you’re a Prime member, you can benefit from free shipping and your order will arrive much sooner.

There’s lots more information about the new KDP Print service, including a video showing how to move your catalogue of books from CreateSpace, here: KDP Print Guide

No doubt there will be some teething problems with the new service, and I’d love to hear about your own experience – please do leave a comment. But from my initial exploration, it seems like the merging of CreateSpace’s services with KDP is definitely a good move for self-publishing authors.