Tag Archives: traditional publishing

How to Plot a Series and Make Every Book Stand Out

16 Aug

As an author with three series under my belt, I’m often asked how to plot a series, and I thought it was finally time to share a few tips. 

First thing is first, anyone considering traditional publishing should make book one a standalone. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the dream of writing a series, but in traditional publishing, that choice is out of your control. Agents/editors will get discouraged by proposals that say, “this is first book in a five-book series,” because no one can guarantee that will happen. (In fact, a series can be very rare for a debut author.) 

Repeat after me: “standalone with series potential”

But that’s more to do with traditional publishing than writing—and it doesn’t affect those who are self-publishing as much—so let’s get to those writing tips: 

Identify the Sub-Genre of Each Book

When I set out to write a series, I know each book needs to feel special. The way that I do that is by identifying each book’s sub-genre. For example, in my Timely Death trilogy, book 1 is a paranormal romance, book 2 is a paranormal mystery, book 3 is a paranormal action. In the Tomo trilogy, book 1 is certainly dystopian action, but book 2 is dystopian horror. (Time will tell what book 3 is.) 

When each book has its own sub-genre, it’ll help them stand apart while also inviting new energy into the storyline. Personally, I’d recommend every first book heavily lean toward your main genre in order to set the overall tone and expectation. Using my example above, the Timely Death trilogy is a paranormal romance, and book 1 is heavily focused on that, both in the main plot and the subplots. It’s the next books where I allow a little more deviation. 

I encourage anyone writing a series to keep that tip in mind when plotting out numerous books that follow the same characters. If you’re unsure what sort of sub-genres might work with your overall genre, “20 Master Plots and How to Form Them” by Ronald Tobias is a fantastic resource that helps explain plot and genre expectations. Play around with a few and see how they feel. 

Avoid the Dreaded Middle Book Slump

Avoid that middle book slump by throwing everything you can at it. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of writers stop themselves from using amazing material because they want to save it for the big, explosive finale. And that’s valid. But personally, I disagree with that method. Trust me when I say not to hold back. Give each book everything you got. You will come up with something even bigger for the next book. I know it can feel scary, but I’ve done it before, not knowing what I was going to do with the last book, and everything came together perfectly. 

If you want that example, I’ll explain, but it does spoil book 2: 

In the Timely Death trilogy, there’s a prophetic fight-to-the-death between two clans alluded to in the first book. Every reader expected it to be in book 3. And guess what? It’s in book 2. Though it seems to be set up as the ultimate climax from book 1, I knew I wanted to push against that formula the moment I started writing book 2, so I trusted my gut and used it in book 2. Book 3 ended up being even bigger and followed the fallout of that fight. Using everything I had in book 2 opened the series to even more dramatics, plot twists, and drama than I ever could’ve planned had I tried to save material for the finale.  

Don’t Fear Character Change, Including Relationships 

Too often I read series where characters’ friendships and romances remain intact book after book. Granted, the romance genre requires a happy ending, but you can still have a happy ending while pushing what it means for a couple to be together. You can break friendships and meld them—or break them up forever. You don’t have to have a happy ending for everyone. In fact, if I know my main couple won’t work out, I make sure to show one that will, and vice versa. 

To me, this tip is reminiscent of being willing to kill your darlings. 

If no one’s relationships ever suffer, then readers might get too comfortable with the stakes. Be willing to part family, friends, and lovers. Allow them to make new friends and find new families. This will allow for fresh scenes and stakes because new relationships mean something new to lose. New relationships will also show how your characters are changing. My favorite kind? A villain who joins the good side in the end. There’s something so interesting about showing what it takes to get the hero and villain to see eye-to-eye, even if one of them can’t exist in the end. 

These are just my top three tips for planning a series.

How do you plan yours?

~SAT

How to be Flexible with Writing

6 Feb

“How do you have time to write?” is probably in the top three questions I get asked, and I always answer the same way: I don’t have time to write. I make time to write, and I remain flexible. What works one year may not work another year. But if we dive a little deeper, flexibility with your schedule is just one aspect. You should also learn how to be flexible with your writing. 

Flexibility with your writing means you can easily shift from one project to another, even when it wasn’t in the plans. 

Why is this important? 

Whether or not you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing, there’s going to be times where you’re in the middle of writing your urban fantasy and get notes back from your agent/editor/audiobook narrator that means you need to focus on your murder mystery right away. Why does this happen? Working on the next piece while subbing/publishing another one is common practice, and it’s inevitable these two pieces will collide on your calendar. 

Woman in yoga pose
A quick yoga break helps me, too!

Learning how to pivot from one WIP to another with ease will help you be more productive (and hopefully make the process less stressful and more fun). 

Just last year, I was writing an adult fantasy while getting beta reader notes back on my adult science fiction and waiting for the go-to signal from my agent to revise a totally different adult science fiction piece. I’m constantly hopping from one project to the other. It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve certainly learned some tricks that make it easier. 

Here’s some quick ways to help with flexibility:

– Pinterest mood board: quickly scrolling through my inspiration reminds me why I love it and what the tone is. 

– Playlist: Even if you don’t listen to music while writing, try to make a playlist that you associate with your WIP. Maybe you use it when you’re brainstorming. Maybe you only listen to it as you sit down at your computer. Even better if they have totally different sounds. Five minutes of sensory encouragement can make all the difference! 

– Speaking of sensory help: Candles! I am in love with candles. I always have a candle on my desk. It’s my splurge. I actually use two different ones right now depending on the book I’m writing (and they’re both almost out!) Weird way to see how much time I spend on a book, but it certainly helps set the mood. I have a campfire one for my book that takes place in autumn and a fresh one for the project that takes place in winter. It’s calming and energizing. 

 

– Make a plan before you pivot: This is probably the biggest tip that has helped me. Before I leap out of a project to tackle another one, I open a new document and summarize everything I’m thinking/feeling/planning for the next scene. In fact, it’s almost so detailed that I only need to fill in a couple lines of prose to write a whole new chapter. It helps me feel more comfortable when I come back (and confident right away)! 

Finally, setting boundaries and expectations is important!

Right now, I’m in a monsters in space revision (the fifth revision)! I finally hit a spot where I know things are going to get difficult, so I stopped. It was an excellent place to take a break, clear my head, and work on something else. I’m now jumping back into the first draft of my monster murder mystery academia book. Two totally different tones and settings. The genres aren’t even the same. But I know that I stopped right before my midpoint chapter, and I left myself a ton of notes so that jumping into that scene will be as easy as cutting butter. When I get back to my monsters in space revision, an outline of all the major changes I want to make is waiting for me. 

Granted, any day I could get notes back from someone and have to pivot again, but I am ready. I know where and how to make clean breaks, and I’m comfortable with returning whenever I can. 

I hope these tips help you, too!

~SAT

P.S. I’ve added a new page for book clubs & teachers! It includes fun questions to lead a book discussion about Minute Before Sunset, book 1 of the Timely Death trilogy. There’s also a fabulous lemon bar recipe, in honor of Mindy Welborn who constantly bakes these throughout the series. If you’d like me to stop by your book club or classroom virtually, be sure to use my contact page! I’m happy to if my schedule allows.

#WW The 90-10 Rule for Marketing and Writing, and How To Love It.

18 May

I recently attended the 101st Annual Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference, and a lot of aspiring authors asked about how much marketing they would be expected to do. One instance in particular seemed to shock many. Janell Walden Agyerman from Marie Brown Literary Agency stated most of her authors followed the 90-10 rule. What’s the 90-10 rule? 90% marketing, 10% writing.

This is a standard many writers don’t like to hear, and it’s true all across the board. Whether you’re self-published, indie published, or traditionally published, you should prepare for the 90-10 rule.

Granted, I understand dreading marketing. I understand worrying about getting so caught up in the sales part that you forget the writing part. I understand feeling like you’re not sure what to do or how to do it.

This is why I suggest keeping a writing-marketing calendar.

What is a writing-marketing calendar? It’s a calendar ONLY used to keep track of how much marketing and writing you’re doing and why.

And today, I’m going to show everyone mine. Granted, this method is NOT for everyone, but I swear by it. My calendar keeps me organized, inspired, and motivated. I can see where I wrote, how far I’ve come, and if I need to step up my game somehow. This particularly helps me, because I work a full-time job outside of my writing. Granted, I consider my writing career my SECOND full-time job. Why?

Well, you’re about to see. But my writing-marketing calendar keeps me motivated outside of my other job. It forces me to keep going, even when I’m exhausted, even when I feel like I want to lay on the couch and watch TV, even when I don’t feel like I can go on anymore. So…here we go:

My Author Calendar

In reality, I keep a notebook, but I couldn’t take a picture of it, because I have information in there I can’t release publicly. So, to show everyone what I do, I adjusted my calendar onto the iCalendar. This is my real-life events for April of 2016. That being said, this is the BASICS. For instance, I wrote down when I wrote articles on this calendar, but I didn’t take note of when they were posted or how many comments and interaction I had to do. Why? Well, I always post on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and I record social media stats every first of the month. So that’s an entirely different file I keep. (Can you tell I’m a file person?) Writing is business. Staying organized is key…and below, you can read my calendar key.

If you want a calendar key:

Red is physical work: moving offices, book swaps, shipping, shopping for desks, organizing my stock piles of books, letters, stamps, etc.

Orange is my website only: writing articles, updating links, etc.

Green is meetings: This is the stuff I have to censor. It includes discussions with my publisher, with fellow authors, with bookstores, and other business professionals. I kept some details in there, like my attendance to the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference and prepping the first pages for said conference, but it’s too complicated to fit and/or get into. This would be where you’re calling bookstores for signings or a beta reader for progress and suggestions.

Purple is marketing: This includes my Twitter series #AuthorinaCoffeeShop, and shopping around for stock photos and creating teasers and book trailers. I include formatting here, since it was visual, but this is mainly where I work on my overall marketing plan for upcoming releases. That being said, this is BY FAR all that I do. I post on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. almost every single day, and I don’t include any of that, because it’s a give-in.

Only blue is my writing…if I got to write that day. You’ll probably notice I don’t write in novels every day, but hey, I went from 27,457 words to 76,617 in one month. I was pretty happy with that. You might notice I have different books, too (S and D). I also include research and editing under this. I probably won’t record any writings I do “for fun.” This is strictly for books heading toward a publication path.

Again, this is everything I do OUTSIDE of my full-time job. You might notice that I’m missing this lovely thing called weekends. Out of thirty days, I either took two days off or I was too exhausted that I didn’t write my days down. It’s honestly hard to say, but if I had to guess, it’s probably the latter. I try to do something every day, no matter what, even if only for an hour.

I highly believe in keeping track of your progress for organizational purposes as well as motivational ones. For instance, if I see I’ve been marketing a lot but not writing a thing, I know I can give myself a day to step away and get some words down, and visa versa. Some might be discouraged by this, but I suggest trying it out for one month before you decide. You might be surprised by how much more you get done or how nice it is to see a physical representation of all of your hard work. I don’t know about you all, but since almost everything is on a computer, I sometimes walk away feeling like I did nothing all day. This helps me see that I, in fact, accomplished a lot. It helps me feel proud. It helps me feel like I’m moving forward and working as hard as I can for a better future for both myself and my readers.

I live the 90-10 rule, but I don’t FEEL like I live to 90-10 rule. I feel like I live the 100 rule. 100% focus, work, and dedication to the thing I love most: writing. And now, after I record this article in my writing-marketing calendar, I’m going to sit down to do just that. Write another chapter.

~SAT

instaThe news is out! Come see me at the Barnes & Noble in Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, KS on Saturday, June 11 from 1-3 PM for a book signing and author panel. More info on my Events page.

Did you see this week’s #TeaserTuesday? If not, check out my right side panel. You can also pre-order BOTH Bad Bloods books. A newsletter will go out later this month with more details and prizes, so I hope you’ll sign up for your chance to win.

There’s also a FREE Bad Bloods Prequel releasing on Wattpad, and you can now read Adam’s origin story as well as Michele’s. On top of that, Maggie’s story will release THIS Friday! I hope you’re enjoying it! Don’t forget to pre-order your Bad Bloods books while they’re on sale for a limited time. 😉

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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#MondayBlogs: My Writer’s Story: Different to the One I Imagined

9 Nov

Intro:

While many claim there is one publishing formula, there are hundreds, and the more writers you meet, the more variations of publishing journeys you hear. I find them fascinating, and I’m always eager to hear another’s story. Today’s writer is sharing his. Welcome author Shane Joseph.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest articles are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect my own. To show authenticity of the featured writer, articles are posted as provided (a.k.a. I do not edit them). However, the format may have changed.

My Writer’s Story: Different to the One I Imagined by Shane Joseph

Our times are generating many more writers than demand can bear. This is due to better education, improved health, technology, inflated egos in an age of “me first,” and due to our eternal quest for immortality. The ambition to be a writer usually begins in our formative years and is inspired by our favourite writers. As a teenager, I was greatly influenced by Greene, Steinbeck and Hemingway; I dreamt of sending manuscripts out into the world where they would become best-sellers and make me a reclusive millionaire. I would hide out in some remote island and submit more manuscripts and continue to dazzle the world with my brilliance until I was invited to a cold capital in Europe to accept the Nobel Prize. And I would refuse that honour, making me an enigmatic figure like Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Pasternak or J.D. Salinger. It was nice to dream!

The reality, even back then, was different. I had chosen to gloss over the private demons my literary heroes had to overcome in order to achieve their fame: dual lives, alcoholism, drug addiction, persecution, shell-shock (called PTSD today), hypertension, depression, divorce, estrangement, chronic pain, and suicide staring out of the barrel of a gun. Not forgetting the early struggles with rejection and penury that they each triumphed over. These trials gave impetus to their work and are mentioned only in discreet biographies, not on the glossy covers of their books.

My writer’s story turned out differently to my idealized dream. For instance, I didn’t imagine that after hacking away at this craft in my early twenties in a developing country where English was a second language, and after having a handful of stories published, I would pack up my authorly tools and try something easier to earn a living – Greene, Steinbeck et al, be damned! I never realized that the “other living,” at a corporate job, would come so easily, and earn such a handsome income, that I wouldn’t bother with the writing game again for another twenty years. I didn’t realize that it would be the curse of “guilt” that would bring me back to reopen the dusty toolbox and start to catch up to where the literary world had evolved in the intervening years.

Once “Take Two” started however, the stories and novels came easily, and are likely to continue into the future, health permitting. It was like a dam had burst and all that had been stored for years came gushing out. But the publishing landscape had changed, drastically. Prizes sold books now. And the prize money was cornered among the “1% of the 1%” in the literary hierarchy. There was no middle class in publishing anymore – there was a huge gulf between the self-published and the best-seller, and the only way to bridge the two was with a stroke of luck.

But with every closing door there were others opening. There were now many ways in which to be published, I discovered, thanks to evolving technology that had finally demolished the dominant publishing model of eons, which was: publish a large quantity of paper books on ancient printing presses until unit costs become affordable, ship them across the land in trucks into stores that couldn’t keep track of them, receive most of them back after awhile to be shredded, then start the cycle again, and hope like hell that governments or private donors supported this inefficiency in the interest of promoting the arts. That was the model in which my heroes had thrived, and now it was dying, supplanted by DIY publishing, POD, electronic media, subscriptions services, free story sites, social media, and blogs like the one you are reading. And my heroes were dead too.

Shane Joseph

Shane Joseph

I enthusiastically tried all the models available, traditional and new, and discovered that they all had their pros and cons, but as their readerships’ were distinct, this lack of homogeneity helped plaster me all over the map, assuaging my guilt for having neglected “the gift.” There was also no way I could hide out in a remote island, I realized; I had to be front and centre in the global public domain (a.k.a. the Internet, which also never existed during the time of my literary heroes) selling my wares like a shoe salesman. I even started a publishing house, using the new technology, and have helped bring other writers into print, ones who may have been sitting for years in the slush piles of the Big Five (or is it Four, now – hard to keep track!). The joy of bringing others’ work into the world, to watch them stand on the podium reading from their debut novel at their book’s launch gives me immense satisfaction. I was doing my bit to restore the middle class in publishing. And I finally faced the darker side: the rejection, the shrunken revenue streams, the even further shrunken attention spans, and the need for that other source of income to fuel this one. None of this had been part of my teenage dream.

And so I have accepted that my writer’s story is different from the one I had visualized in my youth. Creative visualizers, take note: it doesn’t always turn out the way you paint it in your mind. But it can be a damned sight more interesting and surprising. Why go on a trip where every stopover is carefully laid out, predictable and boring? Where would the thrill of the unexpected lie? Isn’t that what we try to create in our work – the unexpected?

So Dear Reader, what was your writer’s dream, and how did it pan out?

Bio:

(Shane Joseph is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, and was the winner of the best fantasy novel award at the Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2010. His short fiction has appeared in international literary journals and anthologies. His latest novel, In the Shadow of the Conquistador, will be released in November 2015. For details visit www.shanejoseph.com

Want to be a guest blogger? Now is the time to submit. I will be stopping guest blog posts in December, but before then, I would love to have you on! I am accepting original posts that focus on reading and writing. Pictures, links, and a bio are encouraged. You do not have to be published. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

~SAT

Why Are Authors “Hating” On One Another?

21 Sep

Website Update: We hit 9,000 followers on the 19th! That means a HUGE giveaway is coming soon. If you’d like your book to be a part of it, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com. Other than that, THANK YOU for all of your dedicated support and heartfelt encouragement. 

There are many authors and writers out there, sharing their works with the world, whether it be through books, blogging, or another form of communication. But I’ve come across many who astound me—and these people are preaching hate at one another. This post is my attempt to bring light to why this needs to stop.

Although there are many kinds of publishing, I’m focusing on the three main ones I often see verbally assaulted. 

  1. Traditional
  2. Small Press
  3. Self-Publishing

Unfortunately, I’ve seen hate from all sides, and I’m sure most authors have. 

I’ve seen hate from traditionally published authors, generally saying anyone else is not “good enough” for bigger publishers. Ironically, a lot of these authors have admitted to previously knowing someone in the industry. Even worse, they don’t seem to consider many authors aren’t comfortable with traditional publishing houses monopolizing the market. I’ve seen hate from small press published authors, saying almost the exact same thing about self-published authors. But I also see hate from self-published authors, saying they don’t like traditional publishing houses for the reasons above but also hating on small-press published authors, because they aren’t “capable” at marketing themselves and, therefore, have to rely on someone else by means of payment.

This is ridiculous, and it needs to stop now.

It seems to me that many of these authors have forgotten why we’re all authors in the first place (and, YES, we are ALL authors.) We share the same love of expressing ourselves through words. We love writing, whether it stems from fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or something else entirely. We love words. So why do some use their words to preach words of hate about others who love the same thing?

The most honest explanation I can come up with is insecurity (although I want to clarify that this isn’t the only reason I’ve seen.) Either way, who cares how another author is sharing and publishing their works? Just be happy that they are living their dream and/or chasing after it. Support their decision to bravely share their works of art with the world. It is not your responsibility to decide who is “ready” or “good enough.” Let the reader decide, because, after all, they are the people who are reading our works. You don’t have to support every author out there, but you shouldn’t put down every author out there that isn’t like you. It’s the basic rule to respecting others. You may not respect their work, but you should respect the fact that they are a human being, working hard to follow their dreams—just as you are, no matter what kind of publishing you are in.

 … 

Some comments from my Author Facebook page about this topic:

Scott Collins: Anyone willing to spend that much time and energy to put their book to paper deserves support and encouragement.

Nicole Castro: This is why I use the #writingfamily hashtag on Twitter.

Quinten Rhea: Part of our job is to encourage, support, and help promote each other.

Kyle Garret:  I think the book market is perceived as so crowded, especially these days with ebook “shelves” constantly getting more full and fewer lucrative traditional deals going out, that it naturally conditions authors to turn on each other because there’s this perceived idea that only one can “make it”. I don’t agree with it – and think it’s downright odd given how people in similar markets like music, gaming or film treat each other – but it’s my take.

Feel free to discuss your opinion and/or your experiences below, especially if it includes ways we, as a writing community, can prevent this “hate” from continuing any further.

~SAT

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