Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success by Jennifer Probst–A book review

Every writer could use a guidebook, a map, perhaps a mentor who can say, “If it were me I do this.”

I read Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success last year, but as a series of book reviews I’m starting for my blog, I pulled it out again and reread some of my favorite chapters.write naked

In Write Naked, Jennifer Probst takes you through from the beginning of her career, when she didn’t think she would make it, to present time, when indeed she has made it, evidence being she’s able to add best-selling author after her name.

It’s gratifying to know that even a best-selling author has fears, flaws, and has made mistakes, but being she has made it to the other side, she also gives us tips and tricks to overcome our fears and if you really want this thing called a writing career, what to do to achieve it.

Some of my favorite chapters include:

Chapter 4
Green With Envy
Jennifer acknowledges that yes, writing is a community, but that community is steeped in jealousy, cruelty, and fear. I see it on Twitter. I read it in a poor book review by another author, sometimes even a malicious review. I see it in the passive-aggressive interactions between me and my other writer friends. Pretty soon you don’t know whom to trust, who really is happy for you and your success. Jennifer writes a chapter on this–a very honest and forthcoming chapter. She says on page 34 of the paperback  . . .  “jealousy . . .  is an endless vicious cycle.” Don’t let it consume you; there will always be someone doing better than you, and you will always be doing better than someone else.

Chapter 5
The Write Path
1. You’ll make mistakes. Costly mistakes.
2. Overnight success is never overnight.
3. Once you reach the top, there is nowhere to go but down.

This may seem like a downer of a chapter, and perhaps it is. Jennifer reminds you that a writer’s journey is tough. There is a reason why writing is compared to running a marathon or climbing a mountain. Your journey takes a ton of preparation–years of writing, years of learning the craft, refining your work. It takes many books. One foot in front of the other for years. Then what do you do when you reach the top of the mountain? When you bury a flagpole in the summit and can call yourself a success? You climb down and do it all over again.

Chapter 8
Trademarks of Bestselling Authors
There are no shortcuts. Sit down, do the work. But what is the work? Jennifer, along with other romance authors, gives you an idea of what it takes to get where they are. This chapter includes writing advice, networking tips, and thinking about writing as a career, not a hobby.

Chapter 12
The Indie Revolution
Jennifer did publish as an indie author, and she gives her readers a few tips on how to publish a good book. You may not like what she has to say, but all of her advice has merit. Probably the biggest takeaway from this chapter is indies need to remember they are writing for readers. You want and need them to like your books. Publish accordingly.

Toward the end of the book, say the last third or fourth, Jennifer goes into what makes a romance book an addicting read. Snappy first lines, lovable characters. Setting up and delivering on a hook, keeping up the sexual tension, keeping your middle from sagging. She touches very briefly on all these and more, so if you think you have any of these issues in your own writing, find other craft books to study with, because these chapters tell you what I know many don’t want to hear – write a good book and keep reader expectations in mind as you write. As with any genre, there are tropes and rules you must follow, or all you’ll do is make your reader mad, and that could result in a bad review.

Jennifer’s last chapter is Happy Endings. She coaches you on how to end your book on the best note possible. But finishing one book isn’t the end! There will always be another book to write, another mountain to climb, another race to run.

Jennifer-Probst-2-1Jennifer won her gold medal, and she tries for another every time she sits down to write.

I recommend reading this book in its entirety, and I pull it out every now and again for a pick-me-up or a reality check.

You can find it on Amazon here.

Thanks for reading! Do you have any books from authors you like to read that give you tips or a much-needed reality check? Let me know!

 

Happy writing Vania Margene

 

 

My Next Few Weeks

Vania's AprilMay Plans

Last week I finished Wherever He Goes. At 77,863 words, it’s one of the longest books I’ve written, and I’m very proud of how the story came out.

What does this mean for the next couple months in terms of my writing schedule?

Take a look:

Plot out my next book.
I left a few threads open while I wrote Wherever He Goes, and I need to decide if I want to close them up or write a companion to the book. The companion would be about Aiden’s brother Dylan. I foreshadowed a few things about him, but his story isn’t fully developed in my head yet, so I need to think, do I want to leave the threads loose in case his story comes to me, or tie them off and move on? I’m hoping a solution will come to me while I edit. For now, I have another book I need to plot out that has nothing to do with Wherever He Goes. I want to get most of the bones of that book written down before I forget any of it.

I start edits on Wherever He Goes on April 2nd. My editing process is long and contains many steps, mostly because I edit myself, but mostly because even if I did pass my book on to an editor, I would give them as clean a version as I could. My editing process includes:
Initial read-through. This is where I fix blatant typos and plot holes I noted while writing that I didn’t go back and fix. I’ll fix character discrepancies and repetition. I’ll fix my characters’ overall arcs. As I get to know them, my writing loosens up, so I’ll even out the flow of the story. All this is easier on the screen.
Print it out. I need this step because this is where I put my chapters in (I write without breaking up my book) and make sure the plot makes sense. I have an easier time with this when I can “see” the book laid out in front of me. Often this is when I beef up scenes or take out parts that don’t need to be there.
I listen to my manuscript. I have Word read my book to me. This is where I do line edits, and I pay special attention to dialogue and syntax. One day I’ll do audio for my books, so I pay special attention to this step. This step gets rid of wordiness, and it takes about four to five days to listen to it all.
I proof the proof. You can see a lot of typos and long paragraph blocks that need to be broken up when you read the proof you order from CreateSpace or wherever you publish through. You can find repetition, errors, and there have been times I’ve caught huge consistency issues. Always read your proof as a reader would. Take your time, sip on some coffee, tea, or other beverage (keep it non-alcoholic so you have a clear head). This step takes me about three days. I take my time because this is the last step, and the last time my eyes will be on it.

After I edit, I’ll put in the changes and order another proof to make sure my formatting stays perfect.

I don’t have a pre-order set up for Wherever He Goes, no blog tour set up or anything. I did a successful Freebooksy for my first book in my trilogy, so I know I have readers out there. I’ll do a soft release for this book because I hope I’ll already be a few thousand words into my new book.

I’ll still continue to blog. Lately, I’ve been doing more book reviews on the non-fiction I’ve been reading. I have a lot of time at work and I’ve accumulated a pile of books that could be useful to other indie authors. Plus, it’s content, and I’m horrible at blogging consistently.

I’m going to basically stop doing Twitter giveaways. They are useless. There is too much free stuff out there and they are a waste of money. No offense to the people still doing them–I wish you well. This includes doing a Goodreads giveaway. Until I can know for sure you get the bang for the buck, a promo site like Bargainbooksy may make more sense. And cents.

Summer is a time when things slow down, and people take vacations, do things with their families. I still would like to try to write 1,000 words a day and publish another book by the end of the summer. Trying to stick to a three-book a year schedule may be tough because I have to have a whole book in my head before I start writing. I have bits and pieces of plots bouncing around in my brain, but nothing fully realized yet. So I have this next book to plot out, then I hope something comes to me.

Vania's AprilMay Plans (1)

That’s what I’ll be doing for the next little while. I’m excited to release Wherever He Goes. I have the cover tentatively worked out, and you can see it on my Facebook Author Page.

I don’t have any writing conferences to attend this year–a few things take precedence like my son’s high school graduation. I also have a few things going on I don’t have the liberty to discuss, but I’m going to guess will be very time-consuming.

I also need a couple days to make box sets of Summer Secrets and my Tower City Romance Trilogy. It will be a pain in the butt, but worth it!

I’ll be busy between now and Fall, but I’m looking forward to the challenges!

What are your plans for the next little while?

Happy writing Vania Margene

 

images created with http://www.canva.com

Swearing, Sex, and Drinking . . . What Do Your Characters Do?

I’ve always appreciated a well-timed, or a well-placed, “Fuck.” Especially when it’s supposed to be funny.

When I was in my lower teens, I read a lot, and I read one book where the character–and for the life of me I can’t remember who it was (I want to say it was Detective J. P. Beaumont, in the detective series by J. A. Jance, but it could have been in any of the books I read back then) who said, “Jesus Christ on a bicycle.” It cracked me up, and to this day, if I hear it, or if I read it, I laugh.

The phrase may be offensive to some, hell, I went to Baptist school as a kid and just for a split second, I was offended too, until my sense of humor won out.

My characters swear, and sometimes they swear a lot. This is a bit unusual, as I don’t swear much, in real life, and a lot of times our characters are us, or pieces of us. My amount of swearing depends on who I’m with. I don’t swear around my kids unless I’m telling them to stop being pissy, a futile plea, that, as they are teenagers. But my sister swears like a truck driver (is this really true?) and when she starts saying the F word, it starts coming out of my mouth, too.

I like to try to make my characters swear for a reason. They’re grumpy, or angry, or I, too, like to use a well-placed swear word for comedic effect. Take this excerpt, for instance, from the book I’m writing now, Wherever He Goes:

When Aiden came out of the bathroom, Kat was studying the cappuccino selections across the store. The gas station sold a huge selection of Monster energy drinks, and just as he opened the door to grab his usual, a low-carb flavor, the bell over the door rang.
“Nobody move!”
In the round fish-lens mirror attached to the wall above the restrooms, Aiden watched a tall figure dressed in black aim a handgun at the older lady staring out the window behind the counter.
Aiden rested his forehead against the chilled glass of the cooler.
“Shit.”

Not everyone wants to read characters swearing though, and sometimes the readers who come across it can take it out on you in a bad review:

swearing review

This is a review for Don’t Run Away, book one in my Tower City Romance Trilogy. Never once did I say I write sweet/inspirational romance. I write contemporary, and that is the category my books are labeled under. I don’t try to fool anyone. A lot, if not most, contemporary romances have some kind of swearing and/or intimacy. In fact, had this reader used the Look Inside feature on Amazon, they would have known right away this book contained sex and swearing, maybe even both at the same time (gasp!). The book is long enough I’m going to assume the first two chapters are available.

I didn’t redo my blurb, per that reviewer’s request, simply for the fact that the category I put it under shouldn’t give a prospective reader any false illusions.

But it did make me wonder why readers are so sensitive, and if writers respond to it, or if they still do their own thing.

I read a Harlequin Blaze not long ago, and the author used the word pussy. It’s not such a big deal in the scheme of things–the series’ name says it all, to my way of thinking. But the person who read the book before me inked out all the words she didn’t agree with. I wish I had taken a picture.

When I think of swear words in content, I think about a lot of programs on the CW. I watched Gossip Girl from beginning to end (the show; I haven’t read the books to compare), and I watched a lot of The Vampire Diaries (also the same, watched the show, didn’t read the books).

The writers of Gossip Girl had a fun time throwing in curse words that weren’t curse words. Blair was forever calling Chuck Bass a Basshole. We know what she meant, but in all the episodes I ever watched, she never, ever, came out and actually called anyone an asshole.

basshole

Another favorite was when people would call Chuck a Motherchucker. This one, too, is pretty self-explanatory.

blair waldorf

Why the creators wanted to keep the show “clean” is beyond me, as all the characters drank like fish–whether they were old enough or not. The same is true for The Vampire Diaries–even though I guess you could say that Stefan and Damon were “old enough” to drink, even while portraying high school students. When you Google “Damon and Stefan drinking” there are a lot of images that come up. I could post pictures all day of them knocking back scotch!

damon drinking

And while Elena starts the show at 17-18, I would assume she turns 21 at some point. But her age doesn’t stop her from having a little fun.

elena drinking

These characters were also having sex, some of it open door, some of it not, but it surprises me that the creators would show, or even imply, underaged sex.

So, underaged sex is . . . not worse than swearing?

What is a reader’s tolerance when it comes to books? I think swearing is natural–you can’t get away from it in real life, and writing a few curse words into your books could crank up the reality factor a notch or two.

Depending on your genre, sex, too, is also natural. A detective in a high-stakes thriller could have sex to take the edge off. Most romances and chick-lit have sex in them, sometimes even funny sex. Erotica has the most sex, of course, and it’s up to the author to submit their books to the proper category when publishing.

My characters drink–probably not as much as they do in The Vampire Diaries, but they like to have a drink now and then. So do I.

Everything in moderation.

It’s a concept the Salvatore brothers didn’t understand, but I guess, there’s nothing else to do in a small town like Mystic Falls.

Taste is subjective, and it’s easy to get freaked out by a poor review, but what an average amount of swearing is to one could be an overuse to another. Contemporary romance is light on sex, but I have yet to read a contemporary romance where the couple didn’t do it at least once.  How graphic the scene turns out to be is up to the author.

I expect swearing, sex, and drinking in the books I read.

How about you?

Happy writing Vania Margene

 

 

 

If you’re interested, the New York Times printed an article about sex, or lack thereof, in current YA. You can read it here.

The fuckety index: how much bad language is allowed in your novel?

For Fuck’s Sake! – The Art Of Swearing And Cursing In Fiction Writing

How to Use Profanity And Other Raw Talk In Your Fiction

Author Interview–Aila Stephens

Everyone loves to hear how a launch goes. Was it successful? How many books did they sell their first day? Their first week? How many page reads did they have if they were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited?

Book launches are exciting.
◊Cover reveal!
◊Excerpts!
◊Author interviews!
◊Blog tours!

But what about after? There is always going to be someone else who releases a book and our attention will be jerked away by a shiny new cover.

What happens after the launch? What happens months after the first week of sales? How does an author keep the momentum going?

I spoke with author Aila Stephens to find out. Listen in—maybe she’ll tell us all her secrets.

astericks

You launched Sex, Love, and Formalities, the companion to Sex, Love, and Technicalities in November of 2017. How did that launch go for you? Can you give us a quick rundown of what you did to prepare? You hosted a giveaway, as well, correct?

Sure! I drank a lot of coffee. I panicked a little…no, no. I mean, yes, I did those things, but really, I talked Formalities up on social media a little more than I did when I launched its’ predecessor. I had much better-looking bookmarks printed up, and I spent a little more time and money on the book trailer than I did for the first one. I love having a book trailer for my books. It’s mostly a total vanity thing, but they’re still fairly rare in the indie community. Giveaways are pretty hit or miss, I don’t think that’s a secret, but I look at them as a necessary evil.

I did have a giveaway. It’s no secret that giveaways are pretty hit or miss, and there’s never any rhyme or reason to how many participants you get, but this one had decent participation. I gave away two signed copies of my books along with coffee and tea, a mug, and even a nice shawl to throw over the shoulders as it was quickly turning wintertime.

That was a great giveaway! I was bummed I couldn’t enter. You also did a free book promo for book one during the launch of book two using some of your free days allowed to you in the KDP Select program. Can you explain how you promoted that, if you did? If I remember correctly, your stats for that free book were rather impressive.

I promoted using Twitter and my Facebook author page.

I am going to strangle myself for this, but I cannot for the life of me remember exactly how many free copies of Technicalities were downloaded during those days, but it was several hundred—maybe even closing in on a thousand. I’d tell you concretely, but apparently, Amazon won’t let me go back that far. Whatever it was, the top ranking I got on Amazon that day was #14, for Women’s Fictions > Crime, and I believe it was #20 for Women’s Fiction > Romance.

That’s fantastic! Did your free promotion for book one bolster sales for book two?

In the weeks following that free promotion, I did have several thousand “normalized pages” of Formalities being read on Kindle Unlimited, which was very nice.

…If only all those free books and KU pages led to reviews, right?

It’s hard to tell if the sales of Formalities since then have been directly related to that free promotion, though I suspect most are.

Did you find it easier to launch book two since it was a sequel?

I did. I had so many—so very many—mistakes I learned from with Technicalities. I think that’s kind of a great thing though, learning from one’s own mistakes. I made a few with Formalities which I hope to avoid with the next book, and I’m sure I’ll make some with it that I’ll try and avoid with the one after that…and so on and so forth.

What are you doing, four months after your launch, to keep sales going? And are your methods working?

Still drinking coffee, still panicking. Ha! No. It’s not in my nature to go for the hard-sell. I do share pictures of my covers from time to time on Instagram, though it’s fruitless. What I think has helped me the most to see continued sells and KU reads has been my blog. I didn’t have the best track record of consistently blogging, but after my launch, I decided to make blogging my second priority to writing more books. I blog every Monday and every other Thursday. I’m still trying to wean myself from blogging just to other writers and figuring out how the heck you blog for readers, but I digress.

At the end of every blog post I include a small, hopefully unobtrusive, advertisement I made for my books and I link it to them on Amazon. I have noticed that I usually sell something on Tuesdays and/or Fridays, and my KU pages have remained rather steady.

This is a comfortable way for me to garner attention to my books without me feeling like a spam-artist.

Again…if only those translated to reviews.

What have you learned from either of your books to help you launch and maintain momentum for your next book?

I want to give a little more time between finishing the book and launching the book. With this next one I want to seek out ARC reviewers on YouTube (which, honestly, excites me and kills me a little on the inside), and I also want to spread out smaller, but still impressive, giveaways. I am still researching some launch tactics, but these are the main ones I intend to employ this go-round.

Do you have any tips for those who are seeing declining sales after their launch?

I would ask them what they’re doing to keep putting it in front of people. Like I said, there isn’t a soul out there who can say I’ve sent them an auto-DM going, BUY MY BOOK!! But I endeavor to have a quality blog I drive traffic to several times a month, in the hopes that by the time someone gets to the bottom, they’re intrigued enough to take a look at my books.

You can’t publish a book and then expect people to find it without a little elbow grease.

Have you ruled out paying for ads or promotions?

Not at all! I just don’t want to do it for two books. Once my next book comes out, I’ll shell out a little money for advertising and see what comes of it. Three is by no means the magic number, but I will chalk it up to research, too. I can’t afford to be anything except financially prudent with this, but I’m excited to see what happens with it.

I’ve read the best advertisement to promote your work is to write another book. Do you believe this is true?

Absolutely. I wish I had the ability to write full-time so I could crank them out faster. I think in today’s world, we’re all so accustomed to instant-satisfaction that we don’t want to fall in love with a book or an author if they’re not producing anything else. It’d be like watching The Paradise on Netflix and falling in love with it only to learn they shucked it after two seasons. We binge-watch in this day and age, and readers binge-read. This is why there is so much advice out there saying book series are the moneymakers.

…says the girl writing a standalone book right now.

Think of Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is a priceless piece of American literature, but for the longest time—fifty-five years!—there was only one published out there by Ms. Lee. I don’t know how well that sort of publishing schedule would work in this day and age. 😉

I guess the secret is to write such a thought-provoking, moving book, that your book is mandatory reading in all schools! Thanks, Aila, for taking the time to chat with me!

Vania, thank you so much for sitting down with me again for such a lovely interview! I am always honored and humbled that someone of your talent and expertise has time for little ol’ me.

And to all of your amazing readers, thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me!

Love ya, mean it!  -Aila

Aila always makes me blush. I hope you enjoyed her interview and maybe learned a little something about how to keep the momentum after your launch from drifting away. Help keep her momentum up by downloading free copies of her books here (March 27 and 28) and give her Amazon profile a follow while you’re there. 🙂

Aila is leaving her mark all over the interwebs, and you can follow her Instagram account, Tweet with her on Twitter, like her Facebook author page, and definitely give her blog a peek. She’s in the middle of a wonderful writers’ resources series you don’t want to miss!

Thanks for reading!

 

Quotes taken from the websites in the photo captions, and photos taken from http://www.pixabay.com and http://www.unsplash.com. Graphics created with these photos in http://www.canva.com.

Results of my ad with Freebooksy

I figured with a few books out now, I should do a little marketing. I’ve been against it, claiming I needed a backlist before I started putting money into my career, but I thought since my trilogy was done, I could do a little promotion.

I’ve heard about various book marketing websites where you pay for exposure, and that’s what Freebooksy is. Essentially, you’re paying to advertise your book in their newsletter for one day. There are other promotions run by the people of Freebooksy if you don’t want to to go free with your book, but I did because 1) it didn’t bother me to give my book away and 2) I was hoping for a little read-through since the other two books were available.

My trilogy is enrolled in KDP Select, and I had never used any of my free days for any of my books before, so I went ahead and chose five days for my book to be free, then I went on Freebooksy and chose a day that I wanted my book in their newsletter. In the future, if I do this again, I’ll plan ahead to give myself time to promote the promotion.

A rep reached out to me, and she was very nice, but she wanted to put my book in the sweet category romance newsletter. I replied that it didn’t belong there as the book had four open door sex scenes. I’m not sure why she wanted to do that, unless she mistook my cover. Nikki and Dane do look cute together, but I didn’t choose to put a steamy couple on the cover because there is a fine line between contemporary romance with sex, and erotica. I didn’t want anyone mistaking my trilogy for erotica. I’ve written erotica, had my “taste” so to speak, and I’m more comfortable writing contemporary romance.

Anyway, this is what the ad looked like that went into their newsletter:

freebooksyad

You’re the one who writes the blurb, and I was afraid I didn’t spend enough time on it. You only get so many characters, and it’s difficult to try to convey what the book is about and still make it interesting in that short space.

My book was free from February 6th to the 10th. I started getting downloads even before my book went out in the newsletter. In total, while my book was free, I gave away 4,458. Between February 6th and today, February 15th, I have sold fifteen of Book 2 and six of Book 3, so you can see there was a small amount of buy-through (not necessarily read-through), and I lowered the prices of those books to .99 to go with the free promotion. Also, my page reads for Kindle Unlimited for all my titles went up from 0 to this:

page reads for KU

It’s not the best, of course, since even all those lines only represent $25.00 in sales. If you do the math, that’s a horrible ROI, at least, on paper.

Return on investment comes in many different forms, monetary being only one of them. I’m hoping now that I’ve given away so many books, people will remember my name, I’ll begin to foster some lifelong readers for future books.

My sales ranking did go up for a little bit, and I can give you a snapshot of those, though I didn’t take a picture every time my book moved up in ranks. And as everyone congratulated me, going up in rank in *free* books looks nice, but it’s not the same as going up in the paid lists.

awesome stats!3

These are the best stats the book got. I don’t know if it did much more than earn me a few bragging rights, but there it is.

Amazon did a nice thing, too and put my books together in an ad on my Author page.

tower city box set

You can’t buy them that way–I haven’t created the box set yet, and that is on my to-do list after I figure out my stupid cover for book three. (Yeah, still wrestling with it to get it exactly how I want it in paperback.)

If you were to ask me the best part about this whole promotion thing, I would have to say that it’s that people are starting to read my work. We all want people to read our stuff, but when they actually do, it’s nerve-wracking. So far I’ve been getting decent reviews. They’ve been saying my editing is solid, and there hasn’t been a complaint about formatting, which is a relief since I do all my own formatting myself.

criticism-3083100_1920

Overall, I would say the experience was a positive one.

If I were to give any advice to someone doing this I would say:

  1. Have more than one book out. I did prove that if you spend money advertising one book, you’re really advertising your whole backlist. Not many people bought books 2 and 3 who downloaded book 1, but it was enough I was happy they were available.
  2. Having a good cover is no joke. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when no one is looking at your books, but the minute you realize people are going to be choosing your book among a selection, suddenly you’re hoping it’s good enough. Be sure it is.
  3. Have a decent blurb. I shortened mine from what I wrote for Amazon, and I worried I didn’t spend enough time on it. Had I spent more time on it, maybe I could have gotten even more downloads.
  4. Have people willing to spread the word. I don’t know how many downloads came from my Twitter followers, or my followers willing to tweet about it. I don’t know how many downloads came from the people who liked my FB Author Page. I was also naughty and told everyone on my personal FB page that my book was free, and I know it’s against TOS to do that. I only did it once, on the day the newsletter went out. And I was lucky a few people shared that post.

I won’t be doing this again anytime soon, but it was fun to try something new and to get my feet wet. A little snowflake can cause an avalanche, and I’m hoping this is true in my case. But now that my trilogy is over and done, I need to relegate it to my backlist and move forward. I’m 31,000 words into a new WIP, and I can’t wait to share with you!

Happy writing Vania Margene

My Trilogy is Done! Tips and Tricks for Writing a Trilogy, Duet, Series

My Tower City Romance Trilogy is finished. After two years of working on off and on, it’s done, published.

 


I started Don’t Run Away as a NaNoWriMo project in 2015 but didn’t actually start editing it until the later winter/early spring of 2017. I had gotten caught up in my novella series, Summer Secrets, and while that was being edited in May of 2017, I wrote Chasing You. Then, after finishing it, I let that sit and started the file for Running Scared, the last in the series, on October 12, 2017. Writing it went quickly, as it was the last in the trilogy, and I knew how I wanted the story to go. Actually, Chasing You went just as quickly, but I had gotten bogged down with the production and release of Summer Secrets.

Anyway, writing the trilogy was both satisfactory and one big drag. Here’s why:

Why Writing a Series is Fun

  1. You love your characters and don’t have to let them go. I see this a lot in Writer Twitter. Writers are so enamored with their characters, rather than finish editing, then publishing/querying, they continually edit. They edit and rewrite so they don’t have to say goodbye, to end a story they’re in love with. Rather than edit your book to death, figure out a way to make it into a series. Then you never have to say goodbye, but you can move on to new plots.
  2. The plots create themselves. When you’re writing about your main characters, eventually your secondary characters are going to want their own stories. It’s inevitable, so don’t fight it. Give them their own books. You know you want to.
  3. You can dig deeper into the town/world they live in. There’s a lot more time to create their world. My Tower City Romance trilogy was set in a fictional town in Minnesota. It was fun to create the places they worked in, the university they’d gone to school at. City parks, where they lived, that kind of thing. In three books, I was able to explore that more than just in one.
  4. You can make more things happen. When you have more than one book, you can either make each book stand-alone with each issue being resolved by the end of the book, like I did, or you can have a problem/issue that needs to be solved, and you can take as long as you want to do it. As long as you eventually do. Each book needs to have a purpose, like each puzzle piece helps you build the whole puzzle.

 

Why Writing a Series Isn’t So Fun

  1. You get bored. If you’re bored, your reader is bored. We’ve all heard something along those lines. If the story drags out of your fingers, if it takes two hours two write two paragraphs, you’re not having any fun. And guess what, your readers won’t have any fun reading it. Even though each of my books centered on a different couple, the trilogy was about the same group of friends. By the time I had finished the third book, I was ready to move on. I had even planned five books in the series, but when I was writing the second book, I realized that I didn’t want to keep going after the third book, and I started tying up loose ends I had kept open for other books.
  2. I felt like I couldn’t publish as soon as I was done with a book. I published my books a month apart, but for the most part, they were all done when I started publishing them. Why did I do that? One, so that if someone found my first book, it wouldn’t be long before they could find all of them. Two, because I wanted to make sure I could fix inconsistencies. Three, and I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve been told to publish with no longer than three months apart from one book to the next to stay on top of Amazon’s algorithms. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but I wasn’t comfortable waiting months between books. I’ve heard testimonies from other authors who have said dumping a series all at once gave them ultimate sales results. But no matter what my reasons were, it was tough to sit on finished books and not publish them.
  3. Finding photos for the covers was difficult. This probably wouldn’t be a big deal to anyone who pays for their covers design, or buys cover templates made for a series and can work with the designer for as many books as you choose to write. But I did my own covers, and I bought my stock art from CanStockPhoto.com. I needed all my photos to look similar so the covers looked like they belonged together. More books would have made this difficult and waiting to publish helped in this regard, too. It gave me time to find stock art and compare them to each other.
  4. You have other projects you want to write. I didn’t let myself get distracted by shiny new things. Lots of writers do, then they don’t finish anything. Or they publish one book in a series, write something else, then go back to the second book, etc. Readers won’t wait for you to finish messing around. If the like your first book, then they’ll want the second ASAP. In this era of binging TV shows on Netflix and Hulu, books are no different. Trad-pubbed authors have to wait. But indies don’t. Take advantage of that, finish your book, then get on to the next shiny thing.

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Series sell. That’s a fact that the Smashwords Survey proves, so whether you like writing them or not, you may want to work one or two or three into your writing plans. At any rate, I am working on a stand-alone, then I have a couple plots planned that could easily turn into duets. I like the thought of a duet–long enough readers can get a little more of that world, short enough that you, as a writer, don’t get bored.

Are you writing a series? What do you think?

Let me know!

Reusing Plot Devices: Good Idea, or the Devil of Plotting?

Plotting is hard. Thinking up things for your characters to do, the trouble they get into to make a story interesting, fast-paced, is a pain in the butt. Readers want things to happen; they want your characters moving. Characters who sit around are boring, and if they’re not talking about anything interesting, forget it.

hiking-1312226_1920Where are your characters going? How do you get them there?

Sometimes that’s where saggy middles come from. The beginning is exciting, lots of action, your characters are finding whatever trouble they’re going to get into for most of the book, be it fall in love with the wrong person, witness a murder, find a missing person, start a journey, whatever the case may be. The beginning of the book is always thrilling, full of promise, or at least, it should be.

And the end, oh the end! You know how it ends, the happy reunion of those two people in love, the satisfying conclusion to a journey, the missing child found. Endings can make a reader cry, close your book with a sigh and a smile, or throw the book (or Kindle, or tablet) across the room in frustration.

But the middle, the middle is difficult to write. You need scenes to move the story along, when you come up empty, it’s easy to reach for an old standby.

Plotting from A to Z is an art, a skill, a talent. Which is why so many books have been written on the subject.

And because plotting is so difficult at times, it’s easy to get caught up in what has worked for us in the past.

If you have a few books under your belt or saved on your memory stick, you probably have reused something, at some point. But is that a good idea?

Sometimes you have to. Take romances for instance. There are only so many plots to go around: boy meets girl, they break up, they reunite. Be it a case of mistaken identity, ending up in the wrong bed, best friends falling for each other, tropes are reused for a reason. That’s why they’re tropes. Same for mysteries. There’s always going to be the question of why, and how that question is answered.

And while all plots, to some extent, are recycled, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the small things that we do in our books that we do over and over again. Take for example the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. I hate calling out authors, but to explain what I mean, it’s the easiest way. For those of you who have never read a Stephanie Plum novel, it’s about an untrained, unprofessional bounty hunter named Stephanie. She works with her police detective boyfriend and another (male) bounty hunter.

You can probably already see where I’m going with this. Love triangle.

And that is fine. It’s perfect. It’s another plot/trope/plot device that lots of writers use. Hell, I have.

But Stephanie, being untrained, can’t do her job correctly. And it’s funny. The first couple times she does something. But the 5th time her car blew up, it wasn’t so funny anymore.

And the love triangle thing works GREAT for the first few books, but when you’re reading book nineteen, you’re practically screaming, “Choose one of them already!”

It’s frustrating.

Not to mention that when Janet tries to be funny using these plot devices over and over again, we’re cheated out of a character’s emotional arc. You would think, in twenty-four books, that if Stephanie really wants to be a good bounty hunter, she’d go to school. Cop school, self-defense classes, at the very least. Gun safety, anyone? There isn’t any character growth, and that’s too bad. But Janet purposely did that so she can write about all these dumb things Stephanie does to make us laugh. And it works, for a long time. But Janet released book twenty-four, and it’s not working anymore. In fact, when did it stop working? I would say around book nineteen when I stopped reading the series.

So when should *you* reuse plot devices?

I ran one of my cool Twitter polls . . .

twitter poll

. . . and it does seem as if writers like using the same plot devices. I don’t know how many books these writers have out, if any, but in one of the comments Chuck said . . .

chuck plot devices

. . . and I agree. It may be easier to use a plot device because it fits, it doesn’t take a lot of work to incorporate it, but will your readers like reading the same thing over and over, or will they drop off because eventually, all your books will start to sound the same?

In the end, this is your call. Do all your characters eat chocolate cake? Do they all drive clunker cars? Do all your heroines at some point get lost, physically? Do all your heroes have the same tragic backstory?

In my own writing, I’ve been dealing with this. I think, oh, my characters reuniting on the beach would be beautiful . . . oh, wait. They did that in book two of my trilogy. Probably best not to end my new stand-alone that way.

I wanted my characters to find a cat or something, but my characters, yes in book two of my trilogy, found an abandoned dog at a state park. So, no homeless kittens in this new book.

It can be challenging to think of new material, but you can do it. Try a couple of these tips:

  1. Read in your genre, but outside your genre, too. You never know if a character’s situation will spark a whole new idea for you.
  2. Use writing prompts. Maybe a picture or a line of dialogue will land your characters their best/worst situation yet!
  3. Brainstorm. I love to brainstorm plots with people. Just because someone came up with an amazing idea, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. I’ve used ideas people have thrown out in these sessions, but of course, as you write and as you adapt the idea to your characters, things change. Never be afraid of using something someone has throw out there. In the writing process, you’ll make it yours.

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    Brainstorming can be a great way to come up with plot bunnies! 
  4. Listen to music. Maybe a lyric or the way that piece of music is played will spark an idea.
  5. Go for a walk and let your mind wander. Letting your mind think about whatever it wants is an incredible way for new ideas to pop into your head.

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Empty your mind; let it wander. Let your characters speak to you.

Anyway, be careful when reusing plot devices. You’re a creative–you’re a writer. You can think of something original. Keep delighting your reader with new ideas, new situations, and they’ll keep coming back to you and your books over and over again.

And maybe at book nineteen, they won’t drop off.

Tell me what you think!

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