I Stopped Writing Author Newsletters

Author newsletters are supposed to provide a way to both inform readers about new posts and form a relationship with those readers.

Personally, I dislike the newsletters where the author tries to form a relationship by oversharing about their personal life and fluffy pets. 

I prefer meat with my email rather than candyfloss.

So what I’ve just done is automate the entire process. 

How is this different from other authors? 

Rather than spend time composing and laying out a separate email, the email is set up from my website’s RSS feed.

For those who don’t know, blogs such as this one have an automatically-generated file that is called a “feed”.  Any change in the website’s main content – publishing a new post for example – triggers an update to this feed.

The Software Process Explained

  • My software reads the additions in the site.
  • The software then sends out an email to readers notifying them of that addition.
  • In my case, I’ve set it up so the three most recent posts go out every time a new post is added to the RSS feed.  (The new post and the two previously published posts.)
  • I can still manually send out a post if I have something to share that’s unrelated to a blog post.

And this means all the sharing and fluffy pet posts will be on the website (I don’t have any fluffy pets btw). 

 This Means

I can do what I do – write, and the software does what it does – distribute.

And it saves me several hours a week between my various website adventures.

p.s. I can still manually write a reader update if I really want to highlight something.

p.p.s. If you’re reading this in your email, it came from the automated system.

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Five Online Writing Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

Here are five online writing lessons I really did learn the hard way – by making the mistakes and doing my best to learn from them.

1st Writing Lesson: There is so much online for free, it seems most people will only take the free. p.s. I get it – I like free as much as the next person.

2nd Lesson: I only need 1000 True Fans who will buy everything I create to make a living.

3rd Lesson: I don’t have the above even after a lifetime of garden writing.

4th Lesson: #3 being accurate, I am free to do whatever the hell I want.

5th Lesson: I now do what I do – whatever that is – because it makes me happy. And not to make anyone else happy.

And there they are. Five writing lessons I learned the hard way.

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Review: Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictation Software

A year ago, I added a Dragon to my working repertoire. Before you raise your eyebrow at me, let me be clear I’m talking about Dragon Naturally Speaking the voice software recognition system. This software allows me to dictate words to a text editor rather than type them using my hands.

The Two Reasons I Started Voice Dictation

The main reason I added this software was to increase my word productivity. It’s that simple.

  • I wanted to produce more words, and
  • I wanted to do it safely and easily.

When it comes to producing words safely and easily, you may have questions. How hard and how dangerous can typing be? Well, when you’re producing over a half-million words a year, the issue is one of repetitive stress injury. I am reading about more and more writers who are struggling with finger and wrist problems and I’d rather not be included in their number.

My main concern was whether using software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking would increase my word count or whether it would be “one more thing” to complicate my life.

I Have Past Experience With The Mac Version

A few years ago, I installed this software on my Mac and it was an unmitigated disaster. The software was buggy, and after two weeks of trying to make it work, I gave up.

This time around, I did a significant amount of research about the topic, read some author blogs, listened to a few podcasts, and I even purchased an e-book. I was satisfied this software had developed enough to make it useful, but I took it one step further.

Even though I work on a Mac system, the recommendations were to use the Windows version of this software because the Mac version isn’t as good. (I don’t want to enter any conversation about whether Mac or Windows is better but in this case Windows wins any contest.)

The Technology

To run the Windows version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, it was necessary to first install a virtual machine on my iMac. While there are several options available, I went with software named Parallels.

After Parallels was installed, I then had to download and install Windows 10 to run the voice recognition software. With Parallels running Windows 10 I installed Dragon Naturally Speaking.

My Personal Reaction To This

  • Talking to a microphone instead of typing is an interesting change in work behavior. There are a few things that I need to do in order to become productive:
  • I need to relax when I’m talking.
  • I needed to work out a workflow so I know what I will talk about.
  • I need to learn the software commands so I can add it to the finish dictation and teach the software to be more efficient and accurate. I’m told I should be able to achieve a 98% accuracy rate after training.
  • I need to learn to know all the things I don’t know yet. Or, the things I don’t know I don’t know yet.

My personal sense of this is that I can type approximately 1000 words an hour of nonfiction. But I know 100 words is roughly one minute of a podcast. That means if I’m speaking at 100 words per minute, I’m producing significantly more words per hour than if I were typing them.

That assumes I can learn how to speak or create as fast by using my voice as I do when I am typing.

You’re seeing this in action, or rather reading the first output of this right now in this article. And it took approximately 20 minutes for me to dictate the (approx) 680 words.

Update After Several Months Between The Rough Article And Reality.

I confess that using Parallels running on a virtual machine on my Mac, was clumsy and while the software itself worked well, I decided I wanted something that would run as a native program. Frankly, I also resented paying $100 a year for the Parallels software. I did not try any other virtual machine and I did not use the Mac System of installing windows. Either of those two options would not have given me a native and smooth transition.

My biggest mistake in 2018

I then made a serious error in judgment. I purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking for the Mac.

For the life of me, I cannot see how any company can put out a product so bad, and one that is so buggy and full of errors as to make it unusable, and charge money for it. I reviewed it on Amazon, which is where I bought it, and my only regret is that I had to give it one star– I could not give it zero.

UPDATE:

Nuance — the makers of Dragon — have discontinued the updating of Dragon for Mac. Those of us who own the software may continue using it but it is no longer supported. There will be no new versions.

Side by Side Tests:

I will not post the data here, but I then ran a series of the side by side tests with Dragon Naturally Speaking versus the native Apple Dictate. (if you have a Mac, enable Voice Dictation in System Preferences>Accessibility and then press the function key twice to enable Dictate and again to close it.)

I found the Apple software to be as good as, if not slightly better than the Mac Dragon. But it’s not ready for a writer’s demands as it still makes too many mistakes.

The only advantage the Dragon had was that it would do transcription from my iphone recording software Voice Record Pro. I note the transcription on the Mac was as bad as the direct dictation results.

The Windows version works fine from transcription.

Moving Forward

I am committed to a dictation software system.

There’s a learning curve to dictating and the best advice I can give you is to “just do it.” Cut yourself off from the keyboard and rely on the dictation system for the rough words. Use the keyboard for editing.

Check out Scott Baker’s page as he’s one of the experts in using this software.

He’s written a book here on Amazon (not affiliate link)

Before you buy, ensure your computer has the technical requirements to run the software. Seriously — do not screw up here as Dragon is a power hog.

My Current Work System

Given that I write for a living, and that it is important to me to push the words out:

I bought a Windows laptop,

Installed Dragon and use the laptop as a dictating system.

Cut and paste the words into Evernote to easily transfer it to my working Mac (and Vellum for layout if needed.

Update again (May 2020)

I now use an iPhone app called Just Press Record It works well enough, is really inexpensive compared to Dragon. I dictate, share/upload to Evernote inside the app and then copy/paste from Evernote to Scrivener.

Scrivener Software Issue

Scrivener is my writer’s word processor and for large projects it can’t be beat but…

I also experimented with dictating into the current version of Scrivener for Windows, saving to Dropbox and then opening it on my Mac.

But the Mac and Windows versions of Scrivener are no longer compatible. If you open a Windows Scrivener file on your Mac, the software modifies it such that Windows can’t open it again. That’s why I moved to transferring files via Evernote. (As of June ‘19)

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a serious productivity improvement as a writer, dictation software is the way to go but the state of the art is in flux.

Update March ’21

I’m now using the native Mac dictation that’s available by pressing the Function key (fn) twice. It works well enough for first drafts.

I continue to use the Just Press Record if I’m using my iphone for notes.

Your Author Website Does Two Critical Things

Your author website fills two important functions in your career. These are (imho) general principles and while I know of authors who are breaking both of them, they hold true for the average writer.

Author Websites Aren’t Sales Systems

Author websites aren’t book selling machines. Seriously, there’s a lot of work and potential hassle to set up a system to sell your own books. Not only is the selling part technologically “interesting” but you’ll also be your own support system when a reader can’t get the ebook into their reader or can’t find the download on their computer (seriously, been there and helped with that.)

From a business standpoint, I think authors have to focus on the important thing – the words. That’s where the money is – more words.

When we get sidetracked into “maximizing” profits or doing tech stuff or social media recommended by gurus, our productivity goes down. And those recommendations are the “sexy” stuff rather than the slogging for days and weeks to write a book you can be proud of.

ps. But, it you think you’ll make more money and want to do this, BookFunnel has what I think is the simplest system I’ve seen.

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What Purpose Does An Author Website Serve?

I believe they are anchors to display your humanity and competence.

To achieve those two objectives, you can:

  • post some examples of your work and
  • write posts about things that matter to your reader and to yourself.

To the extent your author blog does these two thing, you as an author can be satisfied.

But Never Forget

It’s easy to be sucked into the black hole of technology (raises hand with guilty look on face) and think you’re moving forward when you’re really treading water.

Write, I tell myself every morning. Just write

You can read more posts about writing here

Book Reviews: ‘Steal Like An Artist’ and ‘Show Your Work’

“Steal Like An Artist” and “Show Your Work” are changing creator’s lives

Here are two book reviews you’re going to want to read if you’re in the creative adventure. I’ve known about Austin Kleon for what seems like a very long time. But, like a lot of things on the Net, his work slipped off my feeds on a technology change and I lost touch with what he was doing.

In cleaning up some other projects, I ran across his name again so I hunted down his website and RSS feed for my news reading system.  

I had read one of his earlier books “Steal Like An Artist” and even had the journal for this.  My search and rummaging through all my bookshelves for the book was in vain until something tickled my memory and I remembered I’d read it through the library.

I purchased the ebook version and reread it.  I found myself understanding it better and I liked it again and (a few years later) it spoke even clearer to me about how we grow from those we follow and those who have gone ahead of us.

The next book ‘Show Your Work’ was written in the same short, pithy, combination of text and graphics. (Note: neither of these books is heavy, long-term reading and you’ll only spend an hour and a bit on your first read-through.)

But if you spend some time thinking about what he’s saying, you may find – as I did – that you need to reread them and then rethink some of your own work.

The Message From ‘Steal Like An Artist’

The message from Steal Like An Artist is that it’s OK to take the basic ideas from another writer because there are no really new ideas left. It’s OK to take those ideas but create them in your own style and delivery system.

To illustrate the above, if the basic idea is “it’s good to have friends and to have friends you need to be a friend,” then how you create that message has to be uniquely yours. 

The underlying message is something we all understand and it’s been written/televised/cartooned/filmed before.

Now, in your turn, you’re creating that idea in your own media and your own words/images/story/medium etc.

And The Message From ‘Show Your Work’

And once done that, you’re ready to read “Show Your Work” because if the message of Steal Like An Artist is to borrow the basic idea, “Show Your Work” states you must then show “the how, the process, behind your creation.”

An example of this might be as I was writing my next book, I’d also write about the methods and processes that I used in researching, writing and promoting my book. It’s a call for transparency to readers/viewers that shows the work and humanity/struggle of the creator.

In Kleon’s framework, the audience truly wants to know the background thinking and work that goes into a creative act. 

Take people behind the scenes of your thinking, planning and work is the basic message. “Think process, not product.”

My Challenge With Book Reviews Of This Kind Of Book

I confess I’m intrigued with the thought of sharing some of the process of creating. The challenge for me is to decide how much and what to share on my various projects.

I’ll have to get back to you about this. Note you can read other posts about books right here

If you have a few moments, please share whether you think this kind of sharing is interesting in the comments below

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I’m Tired Of Writing For Free

For more years than I’d care to comment on I’ve looked at my writing stats – be it word counts, book sales, blog traffic or …  Well, just about anything measurable, I’ve taken a run at evaluating it.  And I do it regularly. And I’ve tried very hard to avoid writing for free.

My latest analytics adventure was looking at my DougGreensGarden.com website.

Oh oh.

If you’ve been there, you may notice links on most articles to one of my ebooks. Or, an ad for some product. Or, even some graphic ads flashing on the screen.  All this was by way of making a few dollars to support my writing habit.  I put the links in manually, Adsense put in everything else.

How Do The Ads Perform?

Really poorly as it turns out. 

Adsense reporting

A while ago, I had a blog post go viral and over 600 clicks on one Amazon link came from that surge in traffic. 

Sales from those 600 clicks earned me US$ 3.34 (Break out the bubbly, I’m rich)  

Also, I no longer expect to make money on Adsense – breaking $0.30/day is an outrageously successful day. And, as you can see above, $9.38 for one month.

(Author note: Adsense has been removed from the website. Thirty cents a day wasn’t worth the hassle and the reduced reader experience. Updated Feb 2021)

Ad Blind

We’ve all gone ad blind because of the flashing and pouncing of a variety of advertising systems. 

And I’m no better than any of my readers as I can ignore ads with the best of them.

I Ran Some Facebook Ads

I got every amazing stat I was supposed to hit (according to the manuals) except one.  

Great response rate. 

Hellishly cheap clicks (almost unheard of in one of my author groups). 

Three people even “liked” the ad and one person shared it. BTW, this interaction with an ad is why my click rates were so low. 

Facebook gives bonus marks to ads with high interaction rates.

The low score? It was the book sales of course. 

Where Facebook Ads Shine For Book Sales

Facebook ads shine when it comes to fiction book series. If you can afford to spend money advertising a single book, you’ll make your money on what we term “read-through.”  

You buy the first because of an ad but you buy the second, third etc because you liked book number one. Fiction authors only have to advertise the first.

Non-fiction authors, like yours truly, don’t generally create that read-through effect.

To Make This “Writing For Free” Even More Interesting

Ebook sales do not come from my websites. They come from direct advertising on Amazon.

So What’s All This Got To Do With Writing For Free?

What’s a website? It’s free writing. 

DougGreensGarden is somewhere around 800 posts. I am now killing the shorter ones or ones that generate no visitors and consolidating them for search engine improvement) so the raw number was shrinking but the quality was improving. I was working fairly hard at this but have now stopped.

The site makes twenty-five cents a day from advertising, so it takes a while pay me for an hour of my time.

Why Do We Go To Websites Like Mine?

We go to be informed or entertained. We don’t go to buy “stuff”.  

I can’t say I blame anybody for not clicking like a mad fiend on my site. It just is. 

But when readers no longer click or support creatives on their website, then creatives will go where they are supported.

And What About Retirement?  

I’m looking at the projects I want to do in what I’m calling “retirement”.  LOL.  

It’s not really retiring, it’s more like rebooting.

I’ll have more on this in future posts.

Or not.

Now I’m retired I don’t have to do a damn thing.

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