Parkinson’s Law for Writers- Introduction

Although he was not entirely serious at the time, Cyril Northcote Parkinson once declared one of life’s truisms- “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.”

What does this mean?

Well, let me give two examples:

1) If you only have $10 for food that week, you will find a way to make do with $10 worth of food, but if you have $100 you will spend $100 on food that week even if you could have made do with $10.
2) If you say you have one day to get a project done, it will get done in one day. If you say the same project will take a week, it will take you a week to get it done.

Because of many factors, be it laziness, practicality, or procrastination, it’s just human nature to make maximum use of resources like money or time for our own convenience, even if using them more wisely might bring us long-term benefits. Maybe it’s a side-effect of short-term thinking, or our selfish natures, but this is a problem that keeps popping up again and again, and often we let this side of ourselves keep us from doing what we want to do. This is what’s known as Parkinson’s Law.

I’ll give you an example (the one which got me thinking about this topic)- National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is a month where would-be writers are encouraged to pump out a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in an effort to force themselves to write. It creates a time limit, sets a clear goal, and forces writers (who are horrible procrastinators) to actually commit to using that month to produce the book they’ve always wanted to write. The idea is that 1,667 words a day (50,000 roughly divided by 31) is an easily achievable goal for almost any writer, even one with a day job, and if they just reach that goal consistently for 31 days they’ve got their book finished!

It’s a great idea, and for many people it works. It gets butts in seats and words on the screen, and overcomes many of the hurdles that writers tend to find themselves facing in an effort to make their dreams into reality. But, what really made me think was what writer Matt Ahlschlager did- he finished NaNoWriMo in 1 day! In fact, he did it in less than a day, while bogging about it as he went, and this November he did it 3 times!

So why does it take other writers 31 days? Yes, Matt is a fast typer, but couldn’t most people carve out a weekend (2 whole days) and produce a book, especially if they wrote “Chinese Style”?

Isn’t this just an example of Parkinson’s Law in effect? Writers give themselves 31 days, so it takes 31 days, but it doesn’t HAVE to. Writer Michael Moorcock wrote an essay called “How to Write a Book in 3 Days“, and it outlines exactly how to write a book in one weekend. Even most professional writers (the prolific ones) often talk about writing a novel in 2-3 weeks at most, and author Rachel Aaron discusses how to do it in one week by writing 10,000 words a day. It can be done.

Think about it- if you had 2 days to write a 50,000 word novel or pay a $100,000 penalty, could you do it? I bet you could. I bet most people with at least some writing talent could, especially if given a bit of preparation.

So why don’t you?

Every book you write is a potential “lottery ticket” which could actually make you $100,000 (in the long run, if it sells well) and the more stories you write, the better your chances are of writing that winning book. So why are you capable of that kind of productivity only if it’s penalty? Why can’t you do it as a reward? (Yes, I know, one is certain, and one is a gamble, but if you don’t write anything you’re guaranteed to make nothing from it.)

It’s this thinking that got me wondering about how writers could find ways to use Parkinson’s Law to their advantage. If this is a part of human nature, how can we “hack” it to benefit ourselves as writers and make ourselves more productive and profitable in the process?

So let’s explore this “law” and see what it can do for our creativity. When I have time, I’m going to write a series of posts on this topic, and my thoughts on how we can benefit from it.

First up- TIME!


Udemy- A New Educational Model?

Udemy is a site where people can create and post online courses in subjects they’re experts in and then charge for those courses. It’s a lot like the courses people stick up on YouTube, but with extra materials, a group learning forum, possible interaction with the teacher, and possible actual certification in those subjects. Think of it like a giant online community college, and you’ll have the right idea, but one where you learn at your own pace and all teachers and courses are constantly rated- so you only have to learn from the best.

I first heard about Udemy on the Rocking Self-Publishing podcast, where a guest who specializes in non-fiction was talking about how he created short Udemy courses in the subjects he was writing about that covered the basics and then referred the students to his books for the more advanced materials. He made the course free so that many people would take it, and used Udemy as a place to show his expertise and funnel people toward his paid book. Apparently it wasn’t giving him amazing sales, but he felt he was definitely getting some benefit from it.

I, on the other hand, was more interested in the idea of taking areas that I’m an expert in (I’m a college teacher who has piles of materials I developed for my own courses) and turning some of those into Udemy courses. I mean, if all it takes it setting it up and letting it run by itself while I make income, why not, right? All it takes is some screen capture software (Udemy courses are almost all videos), a Powerpoint-type setup (like Google Slides or Open Office Impress), and a little video editing know-how and you’re off and running!

One tip I also picked up was to use screen capture software which allows for an image of you (the instructor) as well as the screen. With the instructor’s image usually in a little box, so that the student feels they’re dealing with a real person they can relate to instead of just a disembodied voice over a Powerpoint deck. Of course, if you’re not the photogenic type, maybe you should just skip the image of yourself, or replace it with a cartoon image- who knows?

Look Up and Be There.

A great short spoken-word film about the importance of real life, real friends, and real moments. You can find the full text of his poem here.

How Powerful Are Algorithms? | Idea Channel

Information Determinism. Scary stuff! Sadly, it sounds pretty reasonable. Think about it this way- we become like characters in a console RPG like Fable where every choice we make is locking us into a path because the Algorithms that are looking for key data indicators are channeling us this way and that.

Every time we make a choice, or a search, we’re slowly building a giant pile of data that will be used in certain ways to determine what we’ll be shown and where we’ll be sent online. Facebook is using these systems to even determine who our friends are, since our News Feed is being modified to just show us the people it thinks we most want to interact with based on our interactions with people. This will only get worse and worse with time, as the internet we see will become more and more customized to us and our tastes in an effort to keep us using it as much as possible. (To sell us stuff and make money from us.)

Not sure how to counter this, except maybe not using Facebook or other social networks, using Duck Duck Go for searching, and maybe proxies. But, if you want to use the Net at all for shopping, you have to log in somewhere, Ebay, Amazon, it doesn’t matter. And you will leave a trail, and they will use that data to try to sell you stuff, here, or in the future, it will happen unless you’re an ultra secretive and ultra-passive user.

A better route might be to give them too much confusing and conflicting data so they don’t know what boxes to stick you in. Or, since you know they’re watching, give them data which manipulates them to give you what you want. After all, if you show interest in a book with your Amazon account logged in, and then wait a week or two, you’ll get an email offering you the book at a greater discount. With a little knowledge and patience, you can use the system more than its using you.


How To Sell Ebooks

From Joe Konrath’s blog:

How To Sell Ebooks

I just hit a milestone that is hard for me to grasp. As of January, I’ve sold over one million ebooks.

That’s a lot of ebooks.

The question I get asked more than any other is: How can I make my ebooks sell more copies?

That’s actually not the right question to ask. Because there is nothing you can do to make people buy your ebooks, except maybe hold them at gunpoint or kidnap their pets.

This business isn’t about what you have to sell. It is about what you have to offer. And luck plays a big part.

But I’ve found you can improve your odds. Here are some things I’ve done that have seemed helpful.


I can’t overemphasize how important a good cover is. Hire a professional. And keep these things in mind:

1. At a glance, it should convey the type or genre of the book you’ve written.

2. It should be readable in grayscale.

3. It should be readable as a thumbnail.

4. Your name and the title should be large and clear.

There are other little tips that I recommend. Usually legacy book covers have a lot of writing on them, and that makes them subconsciously identifiable as professional. Taglines. Blurbs. “By the author of Whiskey Sour”. That sort of thing.

Your artist should know what vectors are, and the rule of three, and the importance of the color wheel, and all the other tricks used to make a cover pop.

If your sales are slow, consider getting a better cover.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, lots more great advice at…

via A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: How To Sell Ebooks.

Dean Wesley Smith » The Secret of Indie Publishing

A must read for anyone who wants to be an independent/self publisher getting into the eBook market. (Especially those who want to make money at it!)

I have heard over and over and over from indie publishers how their sales are not what they expected, or how they hope to promote their way to a big seller on their one book. Up to now I have mostly just bit my lip and kept my mouth shut

.It just doesn’t work with one or two or even five stories up. Or at least it doesn’t work that way unless you are fantastically lucky and wrote a great book on the exact right topic at the exact right time. I hate planning on being lucky to make it. I want to plan on hard work and quality writing.

But at the same time, do I expect every indie publisher to even think about doing what I suggested in #9 and sell books to indie bookstores? Of course not. That’s far more work and business knowledge for most indie publishers to handle.

So how can an indie publisher plan on making a living, paying the bills, without “luck” coming into play and without sending out thousands of flyers as I suggested last chapter?

Simple, actually. You have to write more.

via Dean Wesley Smith » Think Like A Publisher #9.5… The Secret of Indie Publishing.

Advice on Covers

Speaking of the Dead Robot’s Society writer’s podcast (which I’ve become a fan of recently), among the myriad topics they’ve covered, they did two especially good interviews with Robin J. Sullivan of Ridan Publishing.  Ms. Sullivan is something of an indie book marketing guru and gave great advice in general in the first interview, but the second interview has some especially good thoughts on the importance of book covers. (Hint- they’re the most important piece of marketing material a book has.) She covers what makes for good and bad covers in great detail, so if you’re a writer or artist, it’s definitely worth a listen.


The Future of Self-Publishing: Co-ops

“That which comes together must break apart- that which breaks apart must come together.” – Old Chinese Proverb

Today, I was talking to one of my co-workers about the future of the music industry and he was discussing how 100 years ago a musician needed to be a part of a large group to produce music. Yes, in theory one man with an instrument could produce music, but the mass-media form of music at the time was an orchestra that people physically went to see. That required not just musicians, but composers, backers, conductors, producers and even marketers- in other words, a lot of people.

Now, on hundred years later, a single person with a smartphone app can perform almost all of those functions by themselves, and distribution through the internet is also equally easy. He likened it to an inverted pyramid, where everything slowly came together over time and the power became concentrated into a single person with a single device. But then, our conversation led to the logical question- what’s next?

My answer- the pyramid will start to widen again and power of artists will return to the group over the individual.

I know a lot of people, especially in the ebook publishing world (to shift to book publishing), might strongly disagree with this statement, especially since we’re just being set free! We’re just throwing off the shackles of the traditional publishing industry, and every day there’s a new story about an individual self published author making a living or making it big from ebooks.

But therein lies the problem. Where people smell money and opportunity, that’s where they will go, and they will go in droves. As I talked about in my previous post, the rise of ebook readers doesn’t just mean the opening of a new market- it means the opening of the field for even more competition. And while, as with anything artistic, the cream will rise to the top, the competition at all levels of the industry is about to become fierce.

The “demise” of traditional publishers doesn’t mean just opportunity for authors, it also means the loss of at least three functions they played- gatekeeper, marketer, and editor. All three of these functions are incredibly important for artists and consumers, and they have now been foisted onto the artists themselves.

So, what we will have is a situation where anyone can publish anything, but due to competition and noise it will become harder and harder to find and hold an audience. In addition, with stronger competition, the quality of work must be high or it will be dismissed out of hand by many readers. With books, high quality means good editors, good covers, and potentially more and more up-front costs before any money is made.

On the plus side, this will help sift some of the wheat from the chaff. On the down side, this will also create a barrier to entry for many writers or other artists who simply cannot afford what it takes to have that professional style. Few people are good at everything, and many simply cannot do it alone.

So, why do I say artists need to come together?

Because it’s the only way to overcome the above barriers, and because more and more artists of any kind will need to work as part of a team, or rather a co-operative, to get their work out there. Yes, there will be lone wolves who manage to do it all on their own, but they will become less and less common in time as co-operatives take over the roles of gatekeepers, editors, and even producers and designers. It will become about sharing labour to succeed, and forming groups for the purpose of mutual opportunity for all members. (Not success, since not all members could ever be equally successful, but all can have equal benefits from group memberships.)

This is already happening. Just as “clans” formed in online games, groups of musicians in different genres of music have already started to form together, different graphic artists have started to form “clubs” or “leagues” on places like DeviantArt and writers groups (which have always existed) are starting to support each other in different ways than before. Whether these are informal networks, semi-formal communities, or formal co-operatives, these groups have and will continue to take on the roles that traditional publishers have held in the past.

They must, because as the competition ramps up in the coming months and years, it will be the only way to survive.

Anxious publishers watch Indigo makeover –

Ahh, capitalism in it’s purest form. Take a good idea, pump it up, and run it into the ground after you’ve destroyed all the competition.

Say what you will about government regulation of industry, it promotes stability, whereas capitalism promotes chaos and short-term profits over long-term benefits.

In case you’re wondering what I’m babbling on about- the Chapters/Indigo bookstore chain here in Canada more or less destroyed our entire small bookstore ecosystem a number of years ago (London, where I live, had 20+ independant bookstores in 1990, now it has one.) and now their new CEO had determined that they’re going to start getting rid of those icky books that keep them from selling “lifestyle” products in their stores.

Read it and weep, I did:

Anxious publishers watch Indigo makeover –

Free Book Marketing Podcast Series

Friesen Press seems to be a former small publisher that are currently marketing themselves as a service provider for self-published authors. It’s not a bad approach to the business of publishing, as the role of the publisher is rapidly changing, and as the e-book market is exploding with people who want to self publish but need varying degrees of help in getting their books out there.

Last night I came across their new podcast about book marketing for self -publishers, which I started to listen to today and found pretty informative. It made me think about a few approaches to marketing my future releases that I hadn’t considered and gave me ideas that I definitely intend to put into place. Yes, this podcast is ultimately a piece of marketing for Friesen Press, but there is more than enough meat there to make it worth a listen, and it’s also free, so you get what you pay for.