Productivity For Writers: 5 Ways To Become More Productive

Some of the most common emails I receive every day include: How do I find the time to write? And how do you get everything done?

in search of lost timeWhile I don’t write a book a month (at the moment!), I do get quite a lot done!

I published 4 new books in 2014 in ebook and print, plus I had another one completed and on pre-order, so technically 5 books in total. Plus, I published books in German, Spanish and Italian, as well as several in audio format, resulting in a total of 19 new products for sale in 2014.

Plus, a lot of blog posts and podcasts which I hope you found useful :) So today, here are some of my tips on productivity for writers and a resource I think at least some of you will find useful.

(1) Schedule your time

We all have 24 hours in the day, and we all have to balance the real life stuff with the writing. Before I was a full-time author-entrepreneur, I would get up at 5am and write, then go to work. After the day job, I would come home and get on with building my online business. We got rid of the TV so I would have more time to create, and I spent every weekend working. I was so focused on leaving my job that I cut out everything that got in the way. I was driven to schedule my time incredibly well in order to fit everything in.

Now, as a full-time author-entrepreneur, I still have to schedule everything. You might have noticed that I blog, podcast and speak professionally, as well as writing books. It’s just as hard to get everything done, let me assure you!

So I’ll admit to being a chronic scheduler! But seriously, it is the only way I get anything done.

filofaxI use a Filofax – yes, a physical diary that I use to schedule my time. I write down blocks of time for writing, speaking prep and delivery, for podcasts, recording audio and other phone meetings. (I never answer the phone unless a meeting is scheduled!)

Of course, I have slots for personal time with my husband or family trips, medical stuff, friends and ‘real life,’ and of course, sometimes I get things wrong :) But overall, I rely on this kind of scheduling to get everything done.

(2) Reward yourself

Those of you with children may have used behavior charts, where they get a star or a sticker every time something good is achieved. Rewards for good behavior can actually work really well!

wall chart calendarWell, that’s what I do for myself these days!

I have a wall calendar (see left) on which I write my word count or pages edited every day and I get a sticker if I go over 2000 words.

It’s just a paper calendar – nothing fancy – but seriously, it works!

My creative muse is a child – she wants to play.

She loves to color stuff in and also likes stickers, the shinier and more colorful the better. When I realized this, I bought myself a coloring book (Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden) and pens, as well as a massive pack of stickers :) If I’m finding the writing difficult, I give myself 5 minutes of coloring, which is fun and relaxes me enough to continue.

(Sharing this makes me sound like a nutcase – but hey, whatever works, right!)

(3) Become accountable

This blog has kept me accountable since I started writing it in Dec 2008. Every year, I have posted my goals and what I’ve achieved. I also post my annual income reports on the anniversary of leaving my job, plus I share what I learn along the way, so you know I am working my butt off!

So you guys are partially my accountability. But I also have several accountability partners.

dialogueThese are people who I skype or meet with every month and we hold each other accountable for our progress. We go through the list of what we said we would do that month, and we kick each others’ butts if we haven’t done it.

One of these is also a thriller writer, so our goals are thriller specific and related to income from fiction. Another is more like a creative mentor, and she asks me questions that relate more to staying true to my Muse.

Then I have an accountability partner who has a completely separate kind of business, and we challenge each other on content like the podcast and blog, as well as overall financial goals. We even have a competition now, where the loser has to pay for a spa day – now that’s motivating!

I also have a coach who I have calls with several times a year, when I want to take things to another level.

Time goes by so fast that if you don’t schedule these kind of check-points into your life, you won’t achieve anything.

In my day job, a year would go by and I would wonder what the hell I had achieved except for 12 pay checks.

Now I measure my life by what I create, and I can only do that by being accountable.

(4) Set deadlines

If you sign a traditional publishing deal, you will have a timeline for your drafts, revisions and then for publication. You know what you have to do by when.

If you are going the indie route, you need to set these for yourself.

deadline alarmWhen I wrote my first novel, I set a deadline for my birthday. I wanted to hold my book in my hand on a specific date. I made it by a month later, but having that date in mind helped a LOT for getting things done.

Since then, I have speeded up the process somewhat, but I still set rough deadlines. On my wall I have one page A4 that has the priorities for each month roughly planned out.

For example, January has:

  • Publish Gates of Hell in ebook and print (DONE – launched Jan 5)
  • Finish first draft and edit novella, One Day in New York. Send to editor by end Jan (DONE)
  • Record audiobook of Business for Authors. (Time is scheduled with the studio so I will have all the raw files done.)
  • Start pre-production on Deviance, London Psychic Book 3. (Research trip done, but lots still to do)

If I haven’t done all these by the end of the month, then I am behind on my deadlines for each book.

I also split the tasks into product per book, so you see here that I have print, ebook and audiobooks underway on various products.

I also love the pre-order function that we have available to us now on Amazon, iBooks and Kobo, as well as NOOK if you use Draft2Digital. Once the book has been edited, I put it on pre-order while I do the final proof-read, which helps me with a hard deadline for completion.

(5) Spend more hours in the chair

We all know what we have to do.

coffee laptopIt’s simple but it’s not easy. Like diet and exercise.

More hours in the chair actually spent WRITING will produce more words on the page.

Dean Wesley Smith is one of the most prolific writers out there, but he points out that he doesn’t do anything spectacular in terms of word count per hour. What he does is spend more hours in the chair, and he does it every day.

This relates to point 1 – you need to schedule the time, and then you actually need to get it done.

Get black on white.

BONUS (6) Decide what you really want.

Perhaps this is the most important thing.

At the end of the day, we all have 24 hours in the day. We all have people we love, that we want to spend time with. We all need to pay the bills. We all need to eat and exercise, and clean and do chores and see friends … and … and …

But you get what you focus on in life.

If you really want to write that book, you will make the time.

If you want to prove that you can finish a manuscript, you will make the time.

If you want to be a full-time author and make a living with your writing, you will have to make the time.

What are your productivity challenges when it comes to writing? You can share your difficulties or tips in the comments below.

Are you ready for a challenge?

  • Do you need advice and help with all aspects of getting your book from idea to bestseller?
  • Do you need an accountability partner and deadlines in place so you can actually get it done?
  • Are you aiming to be an entrepreneurial author? Do you specifically want to grow your business with a book – either as a non-fiction author with related business or/ as a fiction author ready to publish at volume?

If yes, go check out the fantastic Self-Publishing School where they offer exactly this. The team have helped a lot of authors through the process and they have an ebook and a series of free videos to help you start the process. Click here or on the image below:

self publishing school

There is a load of free content if you register and they also have a course that you can choose to join if you need further help.

I’m promoting this course because I don’t offer this kind of 1:1 ongoing accountability service and I believe this is the best way for you to actually finish your book.

It’s an investment, for sure, but I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t think it was worthwhile. It won’t be right for everyone, but if you want to get serious about completing your book in the next 90 days, then take a look.

Yes, I’m an affiliate of the course, but again, I wouldn’t recommend anything that would jeopardize your trust in me. If you choose to join the course, there is a 45 day refund period, so there’s no risk. You can just join up for the free info-packed video series here.


Top image: Flickr Creative Commons In search of lost time by Alexander Boden, Deadline alarm by Jonathan Bliss,

Behind The Scenes In My Writing Life Featuring The Swiss Ball And My Brompton Bicycle

Last year, Amazon came and filmed me for a day, and I took them to some of the places where I write, as well as socialize.

They made a few videos of the day. In the first, you get to see behind the scenes at my flat (notice the swiss ball and motivational pinboard!) and I cycle off into the proverbial sunset on my Brompton bike! Watch below or here on YouTube.

In the next one, we visit the London Library where I write several times a week. Watch below or here on YouTube.

And in this one, you get to meet my Dad! I helped him self-publish his first thriller, NADA. Watch below or here on YouTube.

Of course, we all get embarrassed to see ourselves on video, and that makeup is a little too full-on for me :) But it’s lovely to have a day trapped in time, and I hope you enjoy seeing a little more of where I live and how thankful I am to be able to work as a full-time author entrepreneur.

Any questions or comments?! Please leave them below or on the YouTube vids.

Ebooks: A Treasure Trove For Dyslexic Readers

 Reading has always been my escape as well as my hobby, my education as well as my entertainment and inspiration. I am a book junkie! But there are people who struggle with reading.

typographyI have dyslexia in my family and I have friends with children who are dyslexic. I usually point them towards Richard Branson, as an example of becoming successful despite the challenge. But I have always felt a particular pain at the struggle to read.

Today I have an article from James Nuttall, a psychologist who is also dyslexic, about how ebooks have transformed his own reading and his passion for helping others.

While growing up, I knew that I had a reading problem.

During elementary school and upper grades, I struggled to read. I was basically a non-reader. While in the upper grades I read John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The only two books that I read cover to cover.

Every day, I watched my family read books, magazines and newspapers. I longed to do the same.

When I went away to the university, I visited the University of Chicago Reading Clinic. At this clinic I learned that I had dyslexia. While in the university I had other students read all my books and library research to me. I persevered with my studies and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Michigan State University.

After leaving the university and without readers, I again was not able to read very much. Then technology improved so I was able to scan print books onto my computer and turn them into audiobooks for myself. I liked using ABBY FineReader OCR software to digitize print books and Nextup’s TextAloud to turn the digitized books into mp3 audiobooks. In this way I was able to read books that interested me. I often like to read books on technology, the information age, and the sociology of economics.

For many years e-books were very marginal. But in December 2007 Amazon launched their Kindle e-reader.

Amazon made hundreds of thousands of e-books available for their Kindle. In February 2009 Amazon came out with the Kindle 2 with built-in text-to-speech which could read books aloud. Fortunately, now the Kindle Store has over two million books available and 99% of the Kindle e-books are enabled to be read aloud with text-to-speech. Text-to-speech is a computerized voice which can read text aloud. These voices today sound just like real people reading aloud. I particularly like the voices that are build into the Kindle Fire.

I have both an Apple iPad and a Kindle Fire. Since these tablets can read aloud, I now have millions of books available to me to read. Additionally through the internet every day, I read e-magazines and e-newspapers.

My tablets allow me to fulfill my childhood dream of sitting in my easy chair and reading books and newspapers just like any other person.

It is a miracle to visit the Kindle bookstore and to buy an e-book and to start reading.

For a person like myself, who must read everything in digital format, having millions of digital books is exciting news. I have spent the majority of my life locked out of the book world. With my Kindle Fire, I now have the world of print available to me.

dyslexia ebookI am so pleased to finally read so many books that I have written a book for parents of dyslexic dyslexia and ipadchildren and other dyslexic people.

My book Dyslexia and the Kindle Fire Overcoming Dyslexia with Technology talks more about this topic and there is also a companion volume for the iPad.

Fortunately, young dyslexic readers will never know the anxiety of not reading.

My final word is, “bring on the books!”

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Typography jumble by Bill Dickinson

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide With Joel Friedlander

When I first started this blog back in Dec 2008, one of the first people I met online was Joel Friedlander.

joel friedlander

Joel Friedlander,

We did the same course on how to start blogging, but Joel was already way ahead of me in self-publishing as he had started years before and was (and still is) an expert on the topic.

He has tons of useful info at and fantastic book design templates for you to make your own print interiors.

Plus, I’ve had Joel on the blog and podcast before – check out our discussion on how to make a professional standard print book interior here.

Today, I am pleased to share his latest book, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, with you along with an interview with him and co-author Betty Sargent. 

SPURG-Cover-frontHow did you two decide to team up on the creation of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide?

It’s an idea Betty had been kicking around for a long time. When she and her staff created a Resource Guide for, it quickly proved to be one of the most popular offerings on the site.

It also became apparent that probably what every self-publisher needs most—whether just starting out or a seasoned pro—is a reliable, curated guide to the resources needed to publish a professional looking book.

We’ve divided the Resource Guide into three main sections: Prepare, Publish, and Promote.

This gave us a framework that every author, whether they’ve already been through the process or not can easily understand. This was important to us because the Resource Guide was designed to be helpful to all authors, no matter how much experience they have had.

In the Prepare section we list everything from how to find a Developmental Editor, a Cover or Interior Book Designer, or a Translator, to where to look for Grants and Funding for Writers.

Lists in the Publish section include where to find eBook Conversion, POD and Distribution Services, Book Production Software and Short Run Printers.

Then in the Promote section we list Book Review Services, Social Media Consultants, Website Designers, Marketing and Publicity and Writing Contests, Fellowships and Prizes to name just a few. We have 33 categories in all and will continue to expand on those in our quarterly updates.

You call The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide a “Living Book.” Could you explain that?

Because everything changes so quickly in the self-publishing world—some companies go out of business and new services pop up all the time—we’ve committed to updating the Resource Guide four times a year. Otherwise the book would quickly become dated due to the constant waves of change we experience on pretty much a non-stop basis.

This also allows us to respond to our readers in a timely fashion. When a reader knows about a valuable resource we haven’t listed, we can check out their suggestions and, if appropriate, add those that meet our guidelines. This will keep the Resource Guide constantly current.

The same goes for our 33 categories. Even though we just published a few weeks ago, we’ve already discovered categories that need to be added to the book, and we welcome suggestions on others as well. That’s why we feel this is a living document. It morphs, it changes, it grows, and the resources are always right up to date.

(By the way, if any of your readers have a suggestion to make or a site, service, product, or vendor they would like us to include, they can use the form we’ve set up at and we’ll be happy to check them out.)

I see that the Resource Guide launched as the #1 bestseller in its category on Amazon. Through your long experience in both traditional publishing (Betty) and indie publishing (Joel) you’ve both launched many many books.

What’s the secret to getting off to such an impressive start?

Three things really:

  • Filling a genuine need— Although there are some excellent short lists of services for authors on blogs and websites around the web, as far as we know there is no central, one-place-to-go to access a comprehensive list of the best of everything available for self-publishing authors. There was an urgent need for such a resource and we decided to try to fill that need.
  • The quality of the book that we created—Of course, as with any self-published book (or traditionally published book for that matter) the content has to be fresh, original and well organized, and the package has to look professional in every way. Betty took on the responsibility for creating the content, deciding on the 33 categories, researching the self-publishing universe to bring together the best of the best in every category, and writing introductions to each section to help the reader expand her understanding of self-publishing in general. Joel added to the content and then turned his talents to designing a smart, attention-getting cover, designing the interior of the book, overseeing the copyediting and book production to ensure the “package” was professional in every way.
  • Targeted marketing— As for the marketing, that was Joel’s baby. He pulled out all the stops and combined his years of experience as a leading blogger in the self-publishing world ( with his sophisticated knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work when trying to reach a specific market. The result speaks for itself.The initial marketing of the book was driven by two main factors that are both the result of Joel’s years as an influential blogger in this field. First was the work he’s put into building a responsive email list of people who have been “pre-qualified” as interested in the topic and, second, on the extensive network of thought leaders, writers, and other bloggers Joel and Betty have developed over the years. These two elements cannot be discounted, and they are the reason we started off with a bunch of positive reviews right on publication day, and the reason people like Mark Coker, Michael Hyatt, Dan Poynter, and yourself have helped promote the book from the beginning.

Here’s my own quote about the book:

“Independent authors need a team to help create a fantastic finished product, and finding the right people can be a challenge when you first start out. This book will help authors to locate professionals to edit, publish and market their work – helping them to stand out in the crowded marketplace.” Joanna Penn,

What do you think the future holds for self-publishers?

We agree that the future is bright for self-publishers but the landscape is changing fast and it is important for every indie author to be aware of this. Here are three trends to keep in mind.

  • Quality. The professional content, look and feel of your book is more important than ever. If you want to stand out in this increasingly crowded marketplace you must make your book the best it can be. We suggest you use the The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide to find the services you’ll need to make this happen.
  • Collaboration. Indie authors are starting to work together on publishing and marketing their books and it is starting to pay off. By pooling their energy and knowledge they get more done, faster, and are able to reach even more readers than they ever could by working on their own. This includes discounted boxed sets of books that appeal to the same readers, collaborative websites and even collaborative publishing teams where authors can share in the work of publishing each others’ books with the skills they already have.
  • Tech Smarts. New services, products and marketing strategies are springing up all the time. Savvy indie authors need to pay attention to these new developments, especially the growing interest in mobile computing, and adapt these to their own publishing platform. For example, more and more authors are becoming aware that if they want to maximize sales of their books, they really need to start learning about internet marketing and all the technology behind it. While lots of authors remain averse to marketing their own books, the new technological tools available give us more reach, greater selectivity in who we address, and the ability to “soft market” our books without coming across as nagging shills.

Any final thoughts?

Lots of people have written about how easy it is to publish these days, and more and more authors are taking the leap into publishing their own books. But with a complex endeavor like book publishing, you really need to rely on proven professionals to help you reach your goals. The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide is going to make that faster, easier, and more satisfying than ever before for thousands of authors, and that’s why we put the months of work in to make it a reality.

You can find The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide here on Amazon or at

Game Changing Technology For Self Publishing Children’s Picture Books With Laura Backes

Up until recently, one of the hardest markets to self-publish in has been the children’s picture book market.

KDP Kids book creatorBut that has now all changed with the launch of KDP Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, a tool from Amazon to help publish image-based books for children.

This could be a game-changer! In today’s podcast, I discuss this new tool with Laura Backes, who teaches people how to use it with her Picture Ebook Mastery course.

In the introduction, I talk about finishing my draft of One Day in New York, recording in a professional studio for my non-fiction audiobooks, changing my podcast logo to include a face, and my speaking events for 2015 – including March in Charleston at Pubsense and May in London on Making a Living with your Writing.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

laura backesLaura Backes is a children’s writing teacher and has been published by Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Random House as well as independently publishing. She has been producing the Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers for 25 years alongside her husband, Jon. She has also produced the Picture Ebook Mastery course which we’re talking about today. You can use promo code penn and get $20 off.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.

  • Laura’s background with over 30 years in the publishing industry and how she has developed a business helping authors writing for children.

Current state of digital for kids books.

  • Survey from K-lytics: People are buying more children’s books in digital format. Print books are not going away but often people buy both formats because kids love to read the same book over and over again. It’s easy to buy a new ebook and download it immediately if your child needs distraction – it’s an impulse buy.
  • Digital Book World 2015 also reported that children are starting to read e-books at a younger age, and the e-book format is growing as a percentage share of all books purchased. (It increased to 21% in 2014, up from 14% in 2013.)
  • This generation of parents is younger and has grown up with more technology. They are comfortable giving younger children the ebook reader.
  • Schools are moving to tablets for learning – some are iPad specific and others are Kindle Fire. It depends on the school district. Kids are reading more ebooks and if print books are more expensive, kids know they can get more for their money.

KDP Kids’ Book Creator vs iBooks Author

  • KDP Kids book creatorKDP Kids’ Book Creator is stand-alone software, downloadable from Amazon that can be used on Mac or PC and can be used to create illustrated books in landscape format or portrait format.
  • You can import your PDF file with layout done, or you can create page by page and place your illustrations and text, which allows you to edit more easily.
  • Text popups can be used – the user clicks on the text and it enlarges in pop up window. Laura has created some workarounds for the pop-ups that give kids hidden things to look for, making the book interactive. You can also create new text and change the pop-up text so it says something different. More about this in Laura’s Picture Ebook Mastery course.
  • When you’re designing for the smaller screen, you might need to write the story differently. In print, you can have more detailed illustrations, whereas on smaller screens, like iPhones, you might need to break the book into smaller illustrations. There’s also less room for text. But remember, you don’t have to stick to 32 pages as per print, you can do whatever you like.
  • You can preview for multiple devices so you can tweak the layout per device. You then get a mobi file which is then uploaded on KDP to publish.
  • iBooks Author can only be used on Mac and for Mac product based readers. The good thing about it is that you can embed video and audio – but this is the number 1 feedback given on the KDP Kids Book Creator as it is missing, so this is likely to be something added soon. You can use both technologies if you own the rights to your books. You can’t add hyperlinks but that’s not likely to change as could lead to problems with kids books.

I include some questions from Alexandra Amor, middle grade author of Sugar and Clive, and also Karen Inglis, who writes for kids of different ages.

  • We talk about other possibilities for using the program e.g. for books in landscape format, like history books or fantasy books with maps. We also discuss Kindle Comic book Creator, which has a similar functionality by panels.
  • The cost of publishing books for kids. This technology brings it down substantially. Print and distribution costs are brought right down – although you’ll still need professional editing and illustration. With a picture book, your delivery charge on Kindle may be high as the size may be large with so many illustrations. Make sure you use JPEG Optimizer software (lots of free options online) to shrink your images without affecting the quality.
  • We discuss marketing your books for children – by targeting the parents and grandparents, not the children themselves. Tips on using your website to extend your book further with extra downloads for parents and teachers. Using Pinterest for marketing with images.
  • Other possibilities – the future of children’s picture books plus more illustrated books for adults. The possibility for translation when the text is such a small part of the book.

It is a fantastic time to get your picture books for kids out there, as the space isn’t as crowded as the rest of the genres.

picture ebook masteryIf you would like to learn more about this and shortcut the learning process, Laura has a great course, Picture Ebook Mastery, which will teach you how to use the KDP Kids Book Creator as well as sharing tips on designing, publishing and marketing your books for children as well as her top tips for working around some of the limitations of the software right now. Click here to take a look at the course – and you can also get $20 off if you use the coupon code penn at checkout. You can also check out the free video course by clicking the image below.

picture book creator

You can also find Laura at and Childrens Book Insider

Do you have any questions or comments about publishing children’s picture books? Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.