Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Read, Revise, Read Again

 This Week's Topic: My Revision Process

Though Jeffe and I have different methods of drafting, my revision process is pretty much the same as hers (which you can read here). 

Since beginnings are the hardest part of the book for me, I have a lot to clean up in the first arc after I've completed the first draft. That includes ensuring I have concise statements of initial GMC and evolving milestone GMC as the story progresses. I cut info dumps back to the minimum the reader needs to know to progress to the next scene. As Jeffe mentioned, there's also the matter of ensuring proper seeding and foreshadowing.

As part of the character development review, I focus on whether I have sufficiently conveyed what the character(s) is feeling since that's a consistent weakness my editor has called out over the course of eight books. I love writing action scenes but I tend to gloss over the emotional risk, cost, and consequences during drafting. Thus, during revisions I have to make sure I've answered those big Emo questions for each transformative scene. 

For the final readthrough, I have the computer read the book back to me instead of reading it aloud myself because my brain will autofill stuff that's not there and autocorrect words that need to be corrected on the page. It's the low-stress last step of edits/revisions for me. I kick back in my recliner, click "Read Aloud," and close my eyes...and then open them at the first wince. It's funny and a little tragic how many glitches still survive what I deemed the (almost) publishable version.


Monday, April 22, 2024

Pantsing Doesn't Mean Lots of Revising


 This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking about our revision process. 

I'm running behind, as I seem to eternally be doing these days, and posting this a day late, but I feel it's important to talk about my revision process to dispel a huge myth about intuitive writers. I feel strongly enough about making this case that I'm using the term "Pantsing," which I almost never use.

(As an aside, the reason I don't like that term is that it comes from "to fly by the seat of your pants," which implies a lack of control that I think comes from the pre-plotting end of the spectrum. Writing without outlining beforehand does not mean having no control of the story. It also doesn't mean that intuitive writers don't plot. All writers plot; otherwise there wouldn't be a story. The difference lies in whether we determine the plot before writing or during it.)

A consistent message I hear from those espousing pre-plotting is that writing a book without creating an outline first leads to many blind alleys, cutting huge chunks of prose, and spending even longer on revision. While this can be true of some writers - which is fine! Figure out what your process is and own it, I always say - this is not true of me.

Intuitive writers like myself have often internalized story structure. We know how to write the novel without resorting to external guideposts like an outline. I also think that I draft faster by writing intuitively, by submersing myself in the creative flow of the subconscious. It takes me typically 55-60 working days to draft a novel of 90-100K words. Then I spend about 14 working days revising. I typically cut 1-2K words in revision and add ~10K. 

Explaining everything I do in revision would take longer than I have in this blog post, but in essence, my process is this:

  1. Write the story beginning to end, skipping nothing, never jumping ahead.
  2. Revise from the beginning. This involves:
    1. layering in foreshadowing and other clues for stuff I figured out along the way and about the ending.
    2. smoothing character arcs
    3. removing extraneous information, red herrings, doorways to routes I didn't follow, tweaking word choices.
  3. When done, I read out loud one more time to catch any consistency errors or clunky wording.

 

And that's all she (I) wrote!

Friday, April 19, 2024

To the Bitter End

Since I have yet to actually complete a series, my experience has been that a series ends because a publisher declines further stories in said series. As a reader, though, I've read my way through many a series that never really got old. Then there were the ones that I got part way into, poked my head up, looked around, and said, "Y'know, life's too short for this nonsense." and that was the end of that series. I suspect we all have benchmarks past which we're unwilling to read. Even if you're too young to have seen the shark jumping scene on TV - you KNOW what it means when someone says a series has jumped the shark. Book series can do the same thing - an author tries too hard to keep upping the anty in each subsequent book until they stomp across the reader's willing suspension of disbelief line. That, to me as a reader, is how I know a series has peaked. 

Now how to I learn something from it as a writer? I'd like to think I've learned that no series of mine should ever have an open-ended number of books. Never, never, never. To my eye, that way lies far too many dangers. Planning a series arc is the only sure way to keep from venturing into shark infested plot waters. Each of my series to date is a limited run with a specific beginning point and ending point. I'd like, someday, to get to finish a series. . . I swear one is within sight. 

I want to acknowledge, however, that just because I will DNF a series that exceeds my muttered 'oh come on' limit - it doesn't mean there aren't other readers out there in the world feasting on that entire series. It pays to remember that when a publisher tells you they won't keep publishing your series - if your story isn't done and, like me, you really want to complete the arc of the series, you don't have to listen to the voices that tell you to just let it go. You can write your complete series arc, tuck it away, and then, when your rights revert, presto. Series. It helps if you know you have readers who are waiting for the rest of the story, but you're also allowed to write it just for your own satisfaction. Who knows. Maybe it will be a case of if you write it readers will come. Either way. Not everything in life has to have a return on investment. 

Still. The only thing I know is that I really don't want to write a series that jumps the shark. But it may be necessary. Just so I know where that darned shark is lurking.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Series: Is It Done Yet?

 This Week's Topic: Series--How Do I Know When One Has Played Out?

To know when a series has gone stale, it helps to understand what makes a series compelling in the first place. Writing a series that readers want to stay with comes down to two things: a) knowing the series's story arc--which is different from the individual book arcs--before penning the first book, and b) how many books it'll take to tell the series's story. Yes, the author should know from the get-go how many wedges they're trying to carve out of one pie complete tale. Each book serves as a plot point of the series. The series plot often runs as the secondary plot of the book; for the sake of pacing and focus, it never dominates the main plot of the book. The series is done once the overarching story is complete.

For example: A classic story structure is three Acts in one book. Trilogies are three Acts told over three books. One could argue a trilogy is a nine-Act story where the pinch-points are the equivalent of the climaxes of the first two books.

Yes, yes there are popular series for which there is no series story arc. Those series are--for all intents and purposes--stand-alone books (self-contained stories) with a repeating protagonist. There is minimal character and world development from book to book, which allows a reader to jump into the series at any point. 

Now, to the question of the week: How to know when a series has played out? The most obvious one is when the series story is complete...yet it won't end. Instead of writing a new series, the same cast appears on a wholly different quest. This can work quite well--as long as it's clear in the branding-- until the majority of the cast has developed into OPs (Overpowered Players), the stakes have risen beyond the fantastical, and the plots have no place else to go but into the absurd. 

Rattling off TV shows that Jumped the Shark is arguably easier than naming shows that were canceled too soon (aka before the series story was resolved). 

Another way to tell when a series is played out is when books within the series are long tangents that do not support the series story--it's being milked. When done a handful of times (or less) as clearly labeled side-stories, the readers understand those books are fan service (stories written purely for the appreciation of the fans {fan services is often smuttier than the original, too brow waggle}). The readers typically love it as long as the side-stories don't delay the conclusion of the initial series storyline, which is why these stories are best released after the conclusion of the series or as a seasonal/holiday bonus. But when the author tries to trick the reader into buying books unrelated to the series plot, then what an author gets is pissed off fans. 

Series that run-on too long tend to happen because of fear. Fear from the author that they won't be able to reproduce the "magic" that made that series successful. Fear from the publisher (who may also be the author) that their sales will plummet, thus their revenue will plummet, once the series ends. Nobody wants to end a good thing, but even the best cake rots when kept too long. 


Friday, April 12, 2024

Where I've Been and Tools of the Trade

 I bet you thought I'd forgotten the blog again today. Or blown it off. It's been an intense two weeks. Let me show you what I've been up to (via some pixelated, crappy cell phone photos.)

I've been on the road for the past two weeks to Austin, Texas and back again to chase the eclipse. It was epic. The trip back was fraught with seriously rough weather, slow slogs in the freeways in rain so heavy you couldn't see, and constant emergency alerts firing on the cell phones for flood alerts and tornado warnings (three were verified on the ground.) We got to see an amazing celestial event and lived to tell the tale. 

As to what I use to write: Almost exclusively MS Word - it's familiar, it's versatile, and it's so easily converted to different file types. In the cracks of the caveat I supplied, I turn to simple little low-feature drafting tools from time to time like Omm Writer, Dark Room, or 4theWords. Those are for the days I want no distractions - they're about shutting out the rest of the computer screen and silencing notifications. They're for fast drafting when you don't want to let editor mind engage. There's rudimentary spell checking if there's anything at all.

They all import plain text into Word in a hyper-ugly font but that's fine because there's zilch formatting and Word happily goes about putting squiggly red and blue lines under everything I've mistyped or misspelled or grammatically hacked up. I like to think of Word as the program for the professional author and the other programs for the little kid artist who's trying out bits of story.

Back to the eclipse: We joined a Sky and Telescope Magazine group in the Austin area that had arranged hotel, meals, and the viewing location (private! with security!) We were in the company of 230 astronomy geeks, scientists, astrophysicists, and on eclipse day, one astronaut. We were surrounded by telescopes and massive cameras. All we had were viewing glasses and our cell phones (also with filters applied to them). We really lucked out with the weather.

If you're interested in catching your own eclipse experience, the next one is in Spain (through Sky and Telescope) in 2026. After that, Egypt in 2027, then Australia in 2028. Totality for this eclipse lasted just over 4 minutes. It was the shortest 4 minutes of my life.



Thursday, April 11, 2024

Brain Space

 

Sunrise over a mountain peak next to an ocean bay that is streaked with gold from the sun.

This week we’re talking about tips for our favorite writing tools. I’d planned to give my best Scrivener tip, but I’m on vacation! 

My time away from home is good for my other favorite writing tool, my brain. Relaxing is good on so many levels. I like to think I’m improving my brain space by watching palm branches away in the breeze. Maybe tomorrow I’ll watch the ant highway again. 

May your week be filled with words and even more, I hope you’re able to give your brain the space it needs to daydream.


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Writing Apps: Keeping It Classic

 This Week's Topic: Top Tricks in my Writing Program: What Features Do I Use the Most?

Like Jeffe, I'm a die-hard Microsoft Word user. I blame my time in corporate. Once the office manager (yep, that's who dealt with IT before IT became so complicated it needed a whole department) decided WordPerfect would be replaced by Word, I've been a Word user.  I miss the early versions of white text on a blue screen because it was much easier on my eyes, but I don't miss launching the software by using the DOS Run command. (Yes, I'm old. GET OFF MY LAWN!)

These days, beyond the requisite customized Book Template format and spellcheck, the feature I use a lot is Read Aloud for editing. It's the best way for me to catch missed and repetitious words. It's also great for exposing those sentences I thought were brilliant prose but read as a chunk of WUT??? I'm not particularly in love with their Editor feature because I'm not writing a book report, I'm writing fiction and the grammar AI doesn't grasp the difference. Now, if Microsoft uses a customer-unique AI in Word to grock my writing style--especially if I can train it using my old books--then things could get useful. BUT, but, but, I want that KAK-trained AI to be available only to me, like my customized dictionary is only available to me (see Jeff'es post about the super usefulness of the customized dictionary).

The other advantage of Word is that .docx is the file type both my professional editors use, so we're not wasting time and effort with conversion problems.

Ayup, ayup ayup, nuttin' fancy here. I'm keeping it classy classic.


Sunday, April 7, 2024

Jeffe's Top Trick for Fantasy Writing


This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking about the top tricks in our given writing programs.

I don't use a fancy "writing program." I use Word, which I begrudgingly moved to when WordPerfect was murdered. It works great for me. No bells and whistles. I write linearly from beginning to end and don't need extra functions to annotate or move scenes around. Cut and paste works great for this simple gal. I do modify Word to show me the ongoing word count in the lower left corner, but otherwise, I don't have a lot of tricks.

EXCEPT...

This is my top #protip for using Word. It's been the best discovery ever and has saved me loads of time and headaches. Ready?

Use the in-program dictionary to autocorrect your weird fantasy words.

Seriously, smartest thing I ever did. 

For example, in my Twelve Kingdoms world, there is the sailing ship named the Hákyrling. I can never remember how I spelled it (major fantasy-writer peril), nor where I put the stupid accent mark. (WHY DID I USE AN ACCENT MARK??? It's not necessary. It just makes everything more difficult. Anyway...) So, I added Hákyrling to the dictionary - which is easy, right click on the word and choose "Add to Dictionary" - and then I went into the autocorrect options and added that if I type "kyr" Word autocorrects it to Hákyrling. With italicized formatting. Boom. Done. That easy. 

I have done this for many of my more complex/obscure fantasy names and words. The trick is to pick a shortcut that 1) you can easily remember, and 2) you don't otherwise type. 

Go forth and use this trick, young fantasy writers!

 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Anthology Cover Reveal!

Beyond the Veil Anthology - Pre-order now!

If I may paraphrase Lord Alfred Tennyson: In the spring an author's fancy lightly turns to anthology publications! I'm excited to be a part of Carnal Imprint's fall anthology, Beyond the Veil. This steamy fae romance collection of 9 stories has a theme very close to my heart - feathers and wings! My story is the second in my series of bird-shifter romantasy set in a version of medieval Andalusia. 

The Cover Reveal is today, so that is why I've thrown over the Worst Return on ROI topic. However, I think anthology participation can be hit or miss--worst returns are when the anthology and/or author group explodes, while the positive intangible returns (as Jeffe put it in her post earlier this week) of joining a group of like-minded authors and sharing the experience--and time and money--of a published work can be very high. I've participated in a couple of really wonderful experiences like this, but I also have at least one negative experience. Don't get me started on that one.

Last year, I joined the Bound in Magic anthology with a gorgeous group of up-and-coming fantasy romance authors. What a treat! I had too many commitments to contribute to this year's follow-up, but I've already secured my (pre-ordered) copy. I'm going to take it on my spring mini-holiday next month so I can savour it.


What anthologies have you read lately? Tell us in the comments!


Thursday, April 4, 2024

The ABC's of Writing

ROI: Return On Investment


This week we’re talking about our worst ROI’s. Don’t think you’ve invested anything yet? You’re a writer, so at any stage of the game you’ve already invested your time. Hopefully it’s been well spent, though it could be argued that the hours sucked into various socials is a terrible ROI if it’s keept you from writing. 


But what's my worst ROI? I’m not too far into my writing career and so I haven't had many opportunities to be wise or unwise. No cases of books hiding under the bed. Though by the time I have a book available in print I'm going to be so excited I expect it'll be hard to stop myself from ordering them! 


So far I've invested in a few different things. The editing dollars I put into The Mars Strain before my turn in date to Recorded Books was well worth it. I count every conference I’ve attended as wise investmenets because at each one I’ve connected with new writers—and we all know that writer friends can be lifelines. And I spend money on my website…but I don’t think I can call that a bad decision because it’s a landing page for people looking me up. I view it as one of those business requirements. 


When I look at what I’ve put into my writing career the number one investment is my time. I’ve poured hours and hours into writing, thinking about writing, blogging about writing, and reading about writing. A day doesn’t go by where I’m putting words to screen or thinking about the words that I will string together the next time I sit down to type. 


As an example I’ll share the hours I put into two of my first drafts. 


Dark Queen’s Daughter (fantasy complete at approx. 83,000 words) = 329.75 hours


Fisyk (sci-fi thriller at approx. 65,000 words) = 230.9 hours


I’ve kept word count spreadsheets for the last three manuscripts I’ve written, but only the last two had a column for hours per day. It’s a column I’ve decided to keep in my future trackers. I like being able to see how many hours per day were spent creating and then correlate them to time of day and word count total. But again, it’s all total time invested no matter how many words are being put down.


And on that note I bring you a blast from the past, April of 2022, and the image that surfaces in my mind whenever I catch myself wasting precious writing time: 


author James A. Moore sitting in a chair looking sternly at the camera sideways and the words in yellow overlaying the image: The ABS's of Writing? Ass Belongs in the Chair



James A. Moore’s words of wisdom will endure even though he has passed from this world. So if you need the nudge, get that ass back in the chair and write. 


James's friend, Christopher Golden has organized a fund raiser to help offset Memorial Expenses and to support James's widow. It is still live if you wish to give.




Tuesday, April 2, 2024

ROI Ouch

This Week's Topic:  Worst ROI Ever 

The list of low/bad Returns on Investment (ROI) in which I've engaged is long. Whether the returns I'm measuring are cash or brand awareness, there have been some painfully wasteful lessons learned. In some instances, the investment of time far exceeded the returns (hello, social media, looking at you). In others, the hundreds of dollars in cash investment earned less than $5 of return. Those instances can be split between CPC Ads and email-blast companies. 

ROI on ads is a struggle for anyone selling anything, from indies to MNCs, so I don't weep over those losses. Curse? Yes. Sadz? No. I expect losses there; I even budget for them. 

Email-blast companies, on the other hand, I expect more from since bumping up my sales is their core business. The leader in the space, BookBub, is worth the investment for free or $0.99 books in my genres. Higher than that, and my ROI becomes a loss. There are other, smaller blast companies whom I've paid and received nothing. Not one sale, not sales page hit, not one website hit. Not even crickets were aware of the promotion. Sometimes I've had to go eight clicks deep into a blast company's site before getting to a sales link for my purchased placement. Ooof. Yeah, yeah, the blame's on me for not investigating that better before purchasing. Because I'm generous, I'll share my mistakes to save you some $$ and heartburn.

Before buying placement in an email blast, do a bit of due diligence. Check for reports of:

  • Crappy Creative
    • Are they using your book's cover? Are they using the image with proper ratio/sizing (or is it cropped, stretched, blurred, etc.)? What about the accompanying text? Is there any? Who is writing it? Who approves it? 
  • Inflated subscriber numbers
    • They're not outright lying about how many accounts have subscribed (though unscrupulous businesses could be), but they're not including how many accounts are bots or how many unsubscribes they have.
  • Email open-rate is lower than the industry average
    • Few blast companies report their open-rates under the protection of proprietary info.  Anecdotal information should give you a clue.
  • Expanded inventory w/o notification and cancellation options
    • This is a problem because it lowers the value of the purchased placement--aka instead of placement as 1 of 5 promotions in the email, the placement is 1 of 25 promotions.
  • Misleading Marketing Messaging
    • They promote themselves as an email-blast company, but the fine print on their website never explicitly states that your book and its buy link will be in that email. Instead, your book's info is lumped under a larger promotion (e.g. This Week's Fantasy Discounts) and buried more than 1 click off the email.  
    • They upsell additional placements within their brand (social media pages, website, genre-bundles, etc.) with the classic "increase visibility up to XX%." That "up to" is a deliberate vaguery meant to disguise that what you're buying isn't worth bupkiss.
  • Non-Consent Backblast
    • The absolute worst sitch is buying placement with a blast company whose email list is built on harvested and/or non-opt-in addresses. Not only do you lose money, but you also lose reputation. This can happen with startups and companies under new management, so triple check before buying.
Admittedly,  I have eagerly supported the underdog/new businesses competing against the big guys and lost money (but not reputation).  Yes, I knew the risk I was taking equated to my purchase being on par with a charity donation. However, those risks were ones I could afford to make. 

As always, adhere to the golden rule of marketing and investments: 
Never spend more than you can afford to lose.