Friday, 26 April 2013

Feedback & Reviews - The After Process

You've worked through all the after process and now your work is out there in the real world, being brought by real people and they want to give you feedback and reviews. I remember when I got my first review that wasn't left my someone who knew me and it was a great feeling - it was a positive 5 star review - and I glowed for the rest of the day. However, part of putting work out into the real world is knowing how to deal with the feedback and reviews. Both negative and positive.

I know it seems to be rather easy, you just wait for someone to review and then deal with what they've said, take it on board and try to improve (if it includes something to improve on) and move on. Right? Wrong. Not all reviews are good, you know that, I don't have to tell you. However, not all of them are filled with ways to improve. Some of them are downright rude, untrue and awful. Part of the after process is knowing how to deal with this. I'm not going to treat you like an idiot - you're obviously not because you've made it this far. However, I am going to tell you some things I have learnt from getting both good and bad reviews and feedback.

First, unless they are telling you there is something actually wrong with the book. Like the format you uploaded (if you self-published) or that you're editor missed something big (for both self-published and others) then there is no need to reply. I know it's tempting when someone is telling you that you're an idiot and don't know the difference between a book and toilet paper. I know it is, but you need to just leave them. I'm sure you've heard of GoodReads? I'm sure you've also heard the stories of writers who go there, read the feedback and go nuts at the people who live less than positive reviews? If you haven't, let me tell you that it does happen. All it achieves is it makes you look very unprofessional. It will also lead to you looking like you can't accept that someone out there doesn't like your work. Considering there are around 6 billion people who may have brought your book and read it, it's not worth ruining your reputation over a few bad reviews.

Second, you'll have gotten a thicker skin from the editing process and if you haven't, it's time to get one. Put your own anxieties and low self esteem aside. Not everyone who reads your book is going to like it. And that's okay. It doesn't mean you should stop writing and never pick up a pen again. Far from it. It's totally NORMAL for people to not like your work. If you can work out from their review the parts they didn't enjoy, you can try to see if you can improve on your next works. I mean, if they said that you used too little description, or you only had the word "said" to describe when someone was talking. You can use that and help it to improve your next book. It's always a learning process and if you are able to take what they're saying and learn from it, then it's a great thing.

Third, you are going to get bad feedback. Everyone does, but you're also going to get mediocre feedback and good feedback. The urge to reply to anyone, no matter what they say is one to be crushed. It does not look good. Mention it on your blog or website, highlight it for a post. Sure, but do not engage on Amazon or whatever place they've chosen to leave their review. See point one for the reasons behind this advice.

Fourth, don't be hurt if you don't get feedback the second it hits the shelves, or even the month after it's released. One of my books, which has been out for just over a year *just* got it's first review. I'd had feedback from my editor and such, but this was someone who had read my book and decided that they liked it so much they would leave me a nice review. That's great. Also, don't panic if the only feedback you get is from friends. As long as they give an honest review it won't reflect badly on you. The fact is, if you're a reader, you probably read a few dozen books a year. How many of them do you go and write reviews for? (Unless you run a review blog or something similar) The answer is probably not many. The ones you do leave reviews for are (at least in my case) the ones that you really didn't like. Or the ones you loved. Occasionally I'll review if no one else has, but other than that, it doesn't happen often. No reviews do not mean your book sucks, it might mean that it hasn't sold as well as you'd hoped (but I'll talk about that another time) or it could mean that people liked it, but just didn't think to review.

Finally, reviews and feedback are great tools to learn from. If you are feeling brave (and thick skinned) you could send a copy (either physical paperback or an e-book) to someone who does reviews for a living. However, be prepared for what they may say. If you have gone down the self-publishing route, you could come up against some of the negativity I mentioned in the publishing piece (found here.) You need to be sure that they will review on it's merits and not just because you happened to be self-published. There are a load of book blogs around and as long as you make sure that they review the genre you write, then go ahead. Ask if they would be willing to do a review. You may be asked to offer them something, but you may not.

Now, I need to get on with some research for book 11, my printer is feeling tired after printing all I had it do :)

Follow Joey here on her blog or like her Facebook page to be kept up to date with her books

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Promoting Your Work - The After Process

The majority of what I'm going to write here will apply to those writers who have chosen to go the self-publishing route. However, it's always good to promote your work even if you have an agent and a conventional publisher. The difference is that a lot of the organisation and content of that promotions will come from your agent and/or publisher.

So, how do you go about promoting your work? Especially if you're a first time author and have never had your name *out* there for the world to see. There are a number of options, some of which I mentioned when I discussed the publishing routes. (Found here.) Here's a list to get you started.

Make a web page
You need to have someone you can direct people when they ask about you, your book and other things relating to your works. It doesn't need to be flashy, it doesn't necessarily have to be your own domain. Though, it is fairly cheap and easy to set up an URL and use a pre made web page, such as through Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress and places like that. You need to ask yourself what you want people to see. If you have the skills to start from scratch, then do so, but I didn't and that's why I chose to go with Blogger for my template. I also have a domain on Tumblr, which we use for the band and both were  pretty easy to set up and easy to update and use.

What you *don't* want to do, is make a web page and just leave it with nothing but a "coming soon" label on it. You have to have some content. The basics can just be a post introducing that the website is under progress and to check back for updates, but it needs to be more than just the words "coming soon". That, at least to me, tells me that they are unprepared and it puts me off. That doesn't mean it will to everyone, I'm going on personal feelings here.

So, you've got your web page and you've bought your custom URL. Now what do you want to add? Well, you'll want an "About the Author/Writer" page or section. The wording is your choice. (But please don't say Authoress - as a writer that makes me cringe because it makes it sound like to me, at least, that it is somehow less of an author because they're feeling - again, a personal feeling.) You might also want to include a section which is dedicated to the synopsis of your book. Don't go into too much detail, but include what it's about and the front cover design - if you have one - and possibly some way for people to leave comments and/or reviews. You may also wish to make that a totally different part of the site. It's up to you.

Once you have you're website set up, you need to get the link out there. If you're book doesn't have an "About the author" page, add one and include a link to your website in it. That's a great way to get people visiting it. Now we move into the next thing.

Social Media
The era of social media is well and truly upon us. You can take advantage of that by making yourself a Facebook page for people to like and there you can share things like your book release date, your website link and any posts you make to the website, if you chose to go with a blog format within it. You can then link it to either your own Twitter or a Twitter account that you've set up specifically for promoting your book(s). Make sure to share both links on your own Facebook and ask friends and families to get it out there. If you chose Tumblr as your website home, then link that to your Facebook page and it will automatically update, same with Twitter. Once you have a few followers, they can re-tweet, share or re-blog the information and with the right tags strangers will come across your posts and possibly become interested in your work.

Using the social media beast to your advantage gives you great potential in reaching readers. When I first started my Facebook page, only people I knew would like it, but again, I included a link to it in my "About the Author" page in my books and now I have people I don't know liking it, which is always a sign that it's getting out there and being seen. The same with your book sales.

Run Promotions
As I said in the publishing your work piece, if you're with an agent and a publishing house, they will probably do promotions, or the individual stores will run them as well. I have found that usually though, these don't happen until they are sure that your book will sell well. If you're self-published, then promotions become something you need to do yourself. As I also mentioned before, Amazon KDP offer you the chance to enrol your books in KDP Select which will then allow you 5 days per book every 90 days to offer your books for free to drum up interest. They will also run advertising and I speak from experience when I say that it can lead to your books doing very well even after the promotion has ended.

Smashwords also allow you to offer a coupon with a percentage off, the amount is up to you, you can make it free or 20% off or anywhere in between. They allow you to set the start date of the coupon and they usually run for a month. Using your Facebook, Twitter and/or Tumblr you can advertise these sales to drum up interest. Doing so might mean that people who were not willing to risk a book they may not usually read, will do so for the cheaper price and that can lead to good feedback and reviews. Something I'll discuss in another piece.

Those are the three main things that will help you get your work out in the world once you've been published. You have to be careful to keep the balance between alerting people you have been published and annoying and spamming them with updates. I know of writers who overdo their promotions and people get annoyed and "unlike" or stop following because they do not want it rammed down their throats. On the other end of the scale, you do want people to know that they are actually out there for sale. If you do minimal promotion for fear of bothering people or looking like a spammer, they won't sell simply because people need to know they are there before they think about buying them. So, along with other things in the writing world, it is a case of getting the balance right.

I wish you all the best of luck in going down this road, it's fun, I enjoy it myself, but it does take hard work and it can also be an uphill battle at times. If you're prepared to put the work in, there's no reason that your books won't sell. I'm not saying you'll make millions, as discussed in my last piece, not everyone does, in fact it's pretty rare. However, for some writers, myself included, it is the knowledge that some one out there who is not related to me or my friend, has brought my work and read it. Sometimes, that is enough.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Publishing Your Work - The After Process

So you've done your first draft, it's been beta read and edited and you've managed to work through to your final draft. Maybe it's taken several drafts in between, but now you're finally read to call it your completed work. What next? You have a few options. You can go a number of routes and depending on what you hope to achieve will determine which of these routes you take.

Route 1: Agent & Publishing
This route involves taking your work to an agent and seeing about getting it published. This is a long route that may take a few more edits before you actually get your book in print. You will also need to be ready for the rejection letters. We all get them, and it doesn't necessarily mean that what you have written will not be accepted by someone. Look at J. K Rowling, probably one of the most successful writers of the 90s in regards to children's books and she was rejected from a fair few publishers. (Wikipedia tells me it was twelve in total.) I'm sure you can think of other successful writers who have been rejected at some point in their career. So, do not be disheartened if you are not successful after your first try (or second or third). There is a great book that you can buy from Amazon called "The Writer's Handbook", a new one is complied each year and will have the names, addresses and information of all the agents in the world. It will tell you their specialities, basically whether they prefer fact to fiction, articles to short stories, children's books to adult literature. The good thing about an agent is that they will do the negotiating for you and will probably not make money (or expect payment) until they have sold your works to a publishing house. Once you start to make money, they will take a percentage. So, the first step really is finding an agent.

From there, they will work with you (and it may take more than one try to get an agent) to make your manuscript into something that is publishable. Yes, you've already had it beta read and edited, but they will probably arrange for one of their editors to work with you as well. If they don't, the publishing house will most likely do this. So, you've found an agent and they will then start to approach publishing houses on your behalf. It is possible to be published without having an agent, but it is a lot harder and more and more publishing houses are ignoring submissions without the use of an agent. They prefer that their submissions come with the middle man to negotiate cost, payment and other matters such as paying tax and personal appearances and such.

Once you've found your agent, worked the manuscript up to their satisfaction and they have approached and found you a publishing house, that's the job done. All you have to do now is sit back and decide if you want to write another book. Usually though, the publishing house will negotiate a contract with your agent on the number of books they expect you to write. That won't necessarily happen though until after your book hits the shelves and they can determine how popular it is.

The upside of having an agent is that they will do a lot of the leg work for you. They will arrange, with the publisher, promotions and advertisement and help to get your book out in both physical stores as well as online in e-book format. A lot of people take this route and become successful, but some also just manage to live on what they make. Not every writer will become the next J. K Rowling and make millions overnight, nor will all of them make enough for it to be their day job. Getting a book published is an incredible thing, but it doesn't mean you'll be able to quit your job and never work again. However, this route is not for everyone and some will choose a different one.

Route 2: Self-Publishing
Now, it used to be that if you couldn't go the conventional route to being published, then you paid a vanity publisher to put your book out there. It was also the route that a lot of people both in the writer and reader community looked down upon. The belief being that if you self published, or paid to be published that you were somehow less of a writer. Their argument being that if you were good enough, a conventional publishing house would be paying you for your work.

In the age of e-books, that is not necessarily the case any more. (Paying someone I mean) There is still some disapproval  from some members of the writing community, but that should not discourage you from self publishing your work. Amazon have a great site that allows you to publish your works as e-books for their Kindle readers. They allow you to set the price and you will receive the majority of the profit. You can just use that and make your work exclusively available on Amazon, or you can use another website, such as Smashwords, which will allow you to have your work published as an e-book and will distribute it to many store (including Amazon) as well as through their own site. It will be made available in a number of e-book formats and sent through to a number of retailers such as the iBookstore, Barnes & Noble and others. Again, you set the price and you receive a percentage of the sales. Both of these options allow you to control where your book is available and both will guide you through the process easily.

The downside to self-publishing and not using an agent, is that the job of promotion and advertising and such, comes down to you. Amazon KPD allows you to run promotions five days per book for every 90 days that it is exclusive to Amazon Kindle. And they do check. Smashwords allows you to offer coupons that are valid for a period you determine, but only on their website. The coupons do not work on other retail sites. Amazon do do some advertising, but again the majority of it is up to you. And the biggest drawback is that you don't have a physical copy of your book. These sits just offer you the option of an e-book, which is great since a lot of people own e-book readers, but there are some people who prefer the paperback. So, what are you options if you want both?

I'm afraid at that point it becomes a matter of paying to have your book printed as a paperback. You can go with a vanity publishing (and for a price you can have them do promotion and advertising) or you can go with a site like Createspace, which is where Amazon KDP directs people who want their books in both formats. It will be listed for sale on Amazon (and I assume elsewhere too) but it does come at a cost. One you may not have the money for, or be willing to pay. Usually this is done on a "print on demand" service, where they only print a book once the order for one has come through. If you sell enough copies then a website and/or book store may buy in bulk, but it is harder to break into the market.

However, advertising these days isn't as hard as you may believe. If you use the full force of the social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, then you will be able to spread the word. You can also send copies of your books to reviewers and ask them to give you an honest review and some web space. You will also do better with a website of some sort, but again, these things do not cost the earth. It's basically up to you how much promotion you want to do and where you want your book to go.

So, those are the two main routes. Both are valid and good ways to get your work into the public. I don't see that one is more valid than the other and I personally believe that both have got their own good and bad points and both have produced both good and bad works of fiction. It is down to the writer as to which route they choose. It is not unheard of for a self-published writer to do so well that they are then picked up by a publishing house. Nor is it unheard of for a publishing house to drop a writer and they then turn to the self publishing route. In the times we live in, I think it is more important for the writers themselves to be happy with their work and choices and to get their work out to the public. They are the ones that will decide what is good and what is bad, in terms of stories and content.

My final words are though, that whatever route you choose, be prepared that it will not all be a sucess story. Consider how many books and writers there are in the world. Then think about how many of them are as successful as J. K. Rowling or Stephen King, not everyone who publishes will end up famous, and nor will every author write a best seller. Sometimes it is just about the knowledge that your work is out there and people enjoy reading it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Release date update


For those who have been wondering when the release of Dying Thoughts - Third Wish will be, after it was put back in February, we finally have news! Now that Joey's health has improved slightly, we are pleased to announce that her sixth book, the third in the Dying Thoughts Series will be released on JULY 8TH 2013. Put the date in your diary! 

It will be available from Amazon UK, USA, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, Brazil & India for Amazon Kindle exclusively for the first six months. For those without a Kindle, do not despair! Joey's fifth book Lynne & Hope will soon be available in all e-book formats.

Also, please keep a look out for the new front cover design that will go along with the release in July. The graphic artist that creates Joey's front covers is in the process of re-designing all of the covers for her books and over the coming months, we will be unveiling them to those that read this blog and follow Joey's Facebook page first!

Editing - The After Process

Editing your work

So, you've got past the first stage and had someone (or several someones) read through your first draft. Maybe you got some good feedback and have changed some things or re-written some of it. The next step is to get someone to edit the hell out of it. Bring on the red pen of death! (Well, for me it's red ink on the computer, but the statement stands!)

What do you need to look for in an editor? Actually, you're looking for someone who is similar to a beta reader, but this time they need to be able to really tear the books to shreds and build it back up again. A lot of writers will use a professional editor, and I have one of my own, but if you're just starting out as a writer, you may want to have someone who's not going to charge you.

It can be a friend, a relative, someone you know online who has the time and patience to go through your work and tell you where you're going right and where you're going wrong. I know it sounds similar to what you were asking your first reader to do. This time it's different because the editor is only half of the process. See, with a first reader you take their ideas and you weigh up what you want to do with their comments. You also have that choice with an editor, but the relationship is different.

A first reader is someone who will read the piece and tell you anything that they spot whilst reading it through. They won't, necessarily, spend hours going over it and spotting every error. It's one of the reasons I use both. Another is that I like my second draft to be less full of mistakes than the first one. An editor will pour over your work, and not only point out problems, but they'll tell you how to *fix* those problems as well.

For example, I seem to have a problem with run on sentences and not enough commas. (Or I use them all the frigging time instead of breaking up the run on sentences - I call it my on again/off again love affair with commas.) My first reader will not necessarily be looking for those kinds of errors as they read through the first draft. It's great if they do, and some people skip the beta stage and go straight to an editor. That's fine, whatever works for you. I don't for a number of reasons, some of which are that I worry that the beta will miss things and I also believe that you can never have too much feedback before you go onto the next stage - publication.

So, you've sent your work off to the editor, that's it right? NOPE! Once it arrives back, or even while they have it, be prepared for phone calls, e-mails and texts asking about errors or problems. They work alongside you to make sure that they are getting the right idea about how you want your story to go. My editor is a good friend of mine - Kim - and right now is over halfway through editing my sixth book which is due out in July. She recently sent me the first half of the book ready for my corrections and man, did I feel stupid for the amount of red ink and comments on my errors. I had read through it myself before sending it to her (after having a beta read it too) and from the look of the manuscript I was sent back, I failed to spot many, many glaring errors.

It's not just grammatical errors, it's also things like making the character take things too far. Tara is a character I struggle with in that respect. Sometimes she'll whine a little bit too much and Kim will point it out and these things rarely make it into the final draft. The only problem I seem to have with Kim is that she is American and so some of the phrases I use she doesn't know about. I remember that we recently had a conversation about the difference between "paper round" and "paper route". Both us believed the other was a silly way of saying it and made no sense. That's just an example of some of the things an editor is there for.

Now, one thing that Kim is sure to emphasise on a regular basis is that I am the writer. I know the story I want to tell and I know how it's supposed to go. Her edits are, in her words, 100% grammatically perfect, but that doesn't mean they are the right way I want it to be in my books. When we have discussions about plot holes, sometimes I'll think that her answer and insight is the way I should go and sometimes I find a different way that I believe is the way it should go. You want to have a good relationship with your editor. Especially because without them, your work could seem like you don't know what you're doing. As evidence by my problem with full stops and commas.

The good thing about the editing process is that it takes a long time to complete and you can always go back and do more. You can have more than one editor. You can have several giving their input. I don't, but if it works for you great. I would just add one caveat though. Sometimes, when you pull your work apart and build it up again, you hit the point where it is at the top of what it can be and you have to learn when that stage has been reached. If you continue to pull it apart and add and subtract, you're going to end up with a completely different story. That might be what you want, and again, if it works for you, go for it. However, you might feel that the story you were trying to tell got lost in your quest to make it as perfect as possible. Sometimes, it's about knowing when to stop and that is something you learn in time. I know that I reached that stage with The Friendship Triangle and it took a lot for me to say that it was done and was the best way for me to tell that story. I will be the first to admit that it's not my best story, but it's where I started and I feel it's good enough to be out there, so, it is.

So, to recap. Once you've gotten your second draft done, find an editor. You can use the tips I provided in the Beta Readers piece to find one (found here). Entrust them with your work and start the next process of getting your manuscript ready to be published. Editing. It's not always fun, it's not always easy, but it's a necessary stop on the road to getting your book out there. You need to be at a point that you're willing to make changes to your story, and accept that it will need changes. As I said in the Beta Reader piece, the first draft of everything is shit. Remember that and you'll be fine!

Now I need to stop being distracted and start doing some actual work!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Beta Readers - The After Process

Well done, you've done enough of your story that you have what you could call your first draft. Now, before you start calling publishers and announcing that you've finally finished, you have to go through a few more steps first. One of those, is a beta reader. They can also be called "First Readers" and it's usually best to give your manuscript to someone that you trust to be totally honest with you. As well as someone who can correct any minor errors they see in terms of grammar, spelling, continuity and plot holes. It's not always necessary that it be someone you know, but I've found that it's usually best. That way I'm not panicking about someone stealing my work and presenting it as their own.

So, what do you do when you don't have someone like that in your life? You'd be surprised at who will want to read a first edit of a manuscript. I am lucky enough that for the majority of my books, my best friend B is able to find the time to read through it all. She also is brutally honest when it comes to my stories and is able to point me in the right direction when I've made a mistake. What you don't want is plan criticism. You don't want to be told - "this is crap, why did you bother making me read it? It just plain SUCKS! You suck as a writer." What you do want is someone who will give you CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. So, something like. "It needs work, but this part and this part are good. This part needs to be worked on. This is good, and for a first edit it's great but it does need some work." I don't mean word for word, I just mean along those lines. You want to know *why* that paragraph in chapter 40 doesn't work and what should you do to make it better.

You generally want to choose someone who is interested in the subject and would enjoy reading a book about your chosen genre. So for a crime novel, you don't want to give it to someone who is only interested in reading about sci-fi or fantasy. That way, you know that the feedback they give you is not related to the fact that they, personally, would never read this kind of book. They may be good as an editor, but I'll come back to that another time. You want your first reader to be someone who would pick it up in a book store, read the back and be interested in the story.

So, going back to my question, what do you do when you don't have anyone? You have a few options:

1. You can join a writing community/forum:
A place where there are a lot of writers - new and old - who may be willing to work with you and give your manuscript a read through. You need to be aware that they may not have time to just sit down and read it all the way through in a few days. It will take time and people are less likely going to want to help if you badger them every five minutes about whether they have read it or not. That is just very off putting. Especially as they are probably working on their own manuscripts themselves.

2. You can ask friends and family: It may not seem like an option, and it may not actually *be* an option for some people, but asking your brother/sister/mother/aunt/cousin etc could be a good idea. As long as you know they have the required skills (i.e grammar, spelling etc) then there is no reason why you shouldn't share your creation with them. The only caveat I would give is that they may not want to give you criticism and feedback because of your relationship with them. So, before you ask someone to read through it, be sure you want them to give you the 100% truth about the story. You don't want to cause a rift with family or friends because you are not ready to hear the bad things about your book.

3. If you have an online journal, advertise: We live in the world of social networking. If you have a journal with people who follow you, you can ask one of them to be your first reader. Hell, you can ask several of them. Multiple first readers are possible and I have used them in the past because different opinions produce different results. So, post a synopsis on your Tumblr, or your LJ, or your Facebook or Blog. As long as you are okay with having someone you may not know (but is qualified) read your book, then go for it. Again, a caveat - if you want to have everyone read it, DO NOT post it online. Communicate by email or use something like Dropbox to allow those you want to have access. Once you post anything other than a synopsis online, you run the risk of someone taking your work and making it theirs. You would have some recourse, but not much and it's risky. I know the same can be said for advertising on your journal, but the difference is that then you have control over who reads it. You will also have some form of contact with them which will help you if they do decide to be a dick and steal your work.

Those are the options I have used when I have needed someone else, as well as B, to be my first reader. I have had great success and have never had the problem of someone stealing my work. I know there is always a first time, but it's not happened yet *touches wood*.

So, now you've found your beta reader(s) and you've given them the manuscript. You now anxiously await their feedback. What do you do when you get it? You have a number of options. You are the writer, they are, I hope, your creations and characters. Therefore, it is down to you how much of their feedback you listen to. When it comes to spelling and grammar, that's not really something you want to ignore. Unless it's something you're going for, in which case, more power to you! I'm talking about the feedback on the way you're character(s) talk, do things, the reasoning behind their actions. The final word is yours so you don't have to change everything to what they suggest. The same goes for plot holes. Maybe you did that on purpose, or maybe they have suggested a way to close it and you disagree. That's also fine.

The main thing is though, that you don't just say to yourself "They are wrong about everything! It's perfect, it's doesn't need changing AT ALL!" You may think that, and as I said above, you really shouldn't approach a beta with work until you are ready to have criticism about it. Until you reach that point, nothing anyone says will help to improve your work, it'll just upset you and that's never fun. The thing to remember is that "the first draft of everything is shit", to quote a t-shirt I saw and thought about buying. It's not a reflection on how good or bad a writer you are. Even if you get bad feedback, you don't need to tear up your manuscript and declare that you'll never write again. It happens to us all, the first draft is usually NOT the draft that ends up being published and that's why beta and first readers exist (also editors but that's one for another day). They are there to guide you and they are the first people, besides yourself, who get to read what you have created. It's a wonderful thing, being asked to read someone's first draft, it implies a level of trust from the writer and that's always good.

So, don't fret about whether or not people will think that you can't string two sentences together. It's normal. It's an important part of growing as a writer and ultimately, it helps you to learn as you write. Learning is never a bad thing and it leads to improvement, which is also not a bad thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to find a beta for book nine, as I just finished the last chapters and am feeling quite pleased with myself.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Research - The Creative Process

Every writer will, at some point in their career, have to carry out research. It's not the most enjoyable part of the job, but it is something we all have to do. I know that some people prefer to write what they know - I know that to some extent, I do too. However, there will be one story, one piece of information that you don't already know and for that you'll have to do research.

So, where do you start? How accurate does your information need to be? How much research can be done through Google searches and Wikipedia articles and how much do you need to actually talk to someone who knows what they're talking about? The answer to that is not an easy one. It really does depend on the type of book you're writing. If it's a piece on crime procedure, then you really do need a bit more than something you read on Wikipedia. Sometimes, you really do need to talk to a person in that line of work.

Now, when I first started writing, I didn't bother with too much research. I wrote what I knew about already and expanded on that. My first book, The Friendship Triangle needed very little outside knowledge. It was pretty much 99.9% pure imagination. My second book, Blackout, that needed a bit of research and I was able to get the majority of that through my own medical connections. When I started my third book and the Dying Thoughts series, well, I didn't need to know much for the first one, but I knew I would need it by book two.

And so, to the internet I went. Google was my friend, Wikipedia told me all I needed to know. However, I wanted to know a bit more, I wanted to know some of the things that Wikipedia didn't say. I was lucky enough to know someone who worked for the police and so I pumped them for information. The good part about it was that it didn't need to be 100% accurate. It wasn't a thesis on police work and I was allowed some artistic license, but it did need to have a grain of truth in it. By the time I was writing my fifth book, well that one *is* about the inner workings of a crime lab and so I needed to be sure I knew what I was talking about. I needed to do actual, proper and valid research. So, I did.

I brought a couple of books on forensics. One aptly named, "Forensics for Dummies"(found here on Amazon) and I read as much as I could understand and made copious notes. I still have those books because, after all, I *am* a mystery writer. I think I managed it well enough, time will tell of course. However, there is such a thing as "too much research."

I don't mean that you can ever do too much research, I mean that you can include too much research. I'm talking about when you're reading a book and the author has dumped a load of information in there that just wasn't needed. Maybe they felt it was relevant, or maybe they're just trying to show how much they know about the subject. It's a fine line and once again, an issue of balance. You want to tell your reader what they need to know to understand what is going on, but you don't want to tell them SO much that they feel like they just attended a university lecture on the subject. The problem is, if it's an area that you, the writer, are unfamiliar with, it's hard to tell how much is too much.

I have the same problem. I'm writing one of the Dying Thoughts books and Tara catches a case, or the big plot line involves a big case and I don't know how much information to include. Sometimes, I don't include enough and my editor comes along with the big red pen of death and I have a bunch of editing to do. Sometimes I include too much and the same thing happens. The way I look at it, you have to think of it this way. Your reader will generally be reading something they have an interest in. Be that crime, romance, hospital drama, supernatural stuff, I could go on and one. They already have an interest because otherwise they probably wouldn't be reading your book. Unless they're new to the genre and liked the reviews/front cover/blurb in which case, disegard what I'm about to say.

If they already have an interest, then they probably know something about the subject. Maybe not enough to know when you've made something up on the spot, but enough to know when you get something so wrong it might as well have a giant arrows pointing to it. You need to include enough information that this reader who already knows something, isn't going to wonder why you're schooling them on things they already know, or don't need to know. It really is as simple as that.

So, I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, if it's that easy why do people get it wrong all the time? It sounds easy, but it really isn't. This is why. You're not writing generally for those who have an interest because it excludes those readers who have picked up your book as their entrance into the genre and those people will get confused when you just use acronyms. Or if you don't include the process that happens. I'm concentrating on the crime and mystery genre because that's where I mostly write. I remember a conversation in Dying Thoughts, either book one or two, where Tara and Mike talk about what an M.E is (it's a medical examiner for those that don't know) and while I know that the majority of people reading my books - mostly teenagers who like crime novels - will know what that means, there's always the one who doesn't. So, while it may seem like a pointless conversation, it's not.

So, although there can never be too much research done by the writer, the research that makes it into the book needs to be balanced by what they HAVE to know for it to make sense and what is just too much gobbledygook. I know it's something that I struggle with, and I know the same can be said for other writers.

I personally, don't find research as fun as other writers might. I do it because I have to, which as the years have gone by and I've branched out, has increased. I'm close to finishing the two books I've got going right now and before I can start the next two, I have a TON of research to do and it's not the kind I can just Google, I need proper first person experiences. Something I am not too thrilled about. But, it will make the story that much more realist and hard hitting and that's the end game that I'm focussing on right now.

So, to wrap up. Research, sometimes it sucks, but it's gotta be done. Sometimes it's too much, sometimes too little. You gotta find balance between the two or you'll end up with confused readers. Mostly though, you have to know enough to think that people aren't going to question your facts. If they are, then you need to do more. Obviously, this doesn't apply that much to people who create their own universes and play in those. Those writers get to make it all up as they go along. Wish I was talented enough to do that, but alas, Google and Wikipedia are calling my name.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Writing two books at once - The Creative Process

So, you've got not one, but TWO ideas for a book and you can't decide which one to work on first. I know that feeling, I've been there. I worked on one and told myself I could NOT do two at once. It was an insane idea and it would just lead to tears. Do you know what happened? I couldn't get past the 11th chapter of the one I was working on. I was completely blocked and so taking my own advice in regards to writer's block (a piece can be found here) and I put it to one side and started writing the other book I was so desperate to start. That's when the trouble started.

You see, I got to the same point in the second book as I had in the first book. Only, I now had a load of ideas for the first book and wanted to finish it. I also had a load of ideas for the second book and didn't want to risk losing my creativity flow as it were. So I made, what some people would call an insane decision, and I decided to write both. I would work on two chapters from book one and then swap over and do two chapters of book two. And you know what? It worked!

So, when I finished those books and was happy with them, I decided that to hell with it being insane, this worked for me so I took on another two books to write at the same time. I've stuck with that practice ever since. I'm actually on the verge of finishing books nine and ten, and already I am planning the next two books I will write. It means for me that I get one book from my series written, but I also get a standalone book done too. It doubles my productivity. Or at least it does when I'm not blocked.

It's not easy though and I do have some ground rules that I try to stick to at all times. I mean, sometimes I don't, but that's why I said try! Here they are:

Rule Number One: NEVER write two series books at the same time. Think about it, if I was to write book four in the Dying Thoughts series at the same time as book five, I would mess up the continuity. I would have to stifle what I put into the books to make sure that the time lines matched up and that would limit my options on where I could take Tara and Kaolin. It would also meet writing ONLY Tara and Kaolin and as I mentioned in my "writing a series" post (found here) sometimes that's just not a good idea in general. Some people can do it, but I'm not one of them who excels at it. So that's rule number one.

Rule Number Two: Stick to the plan. I don't mean the book plan, I mean the plan of how many chapters of which I'll write before switching. I know that there are some exceptions to this rule. One is that if you're writing away and feel like you can go further than x chapters then you should. In regards to this rule, I'm talking about when you're blocked after one of your chapters and you think, "I'll just swap over and come back to it another time" - if that works for you, great. It does NOT for me. It does mean that sometimes I will spend longer on one book than another, but it also means that they are generally at the same points in the story. This helps me keep myself grounded in the right plot for the right book. Again, this is a rule that has some wiggle room in it.

Rule Number Three: ALWAYS familiarise yourself again before starting the next chapters. I know that this seems like a stupid rule, but it's a simple mistake that people can make. If you've just spent a few hours/days/weeks in universe x, and hop over to universe y with only a vague recollection of what just happened, then you need to familiarise yourself again. If you don't, this can lead to a headache when it comes to the editing process. It can be a nightmare if you've finished your first draft and you send it to your beta or editor and they read it and think you must have inhaled some crack because none of it makes sense. It's always better to have re-read the previous chapter(s) to make sure you're brain is firmly in the right universe before you start adding words.

Rule Number Four: Writers block will happen. Work through it. This rule generally goes back to rule two in that some people will find when writing two books that they get writer's block and then move onto the other book and it flows better. That doesn't really work for me. Usually if I have writer's block for one, I have it for the other too. So, some wiggle room for sure. As a writer, (or anyone expressing themselves creatively) then you'll know that getting blocked happens, it's what you do to move through it that helps determine when you get through it.

Rule Number Five:
ENJOY YOURSELF! If the thought of writing two books at once scares you to death, or brings you out in a cold sweat then don't do it. It's not for everyone. Some people find it helps, others just hate the whole idea. For me, it works. Like I said, it keeps me productive and keeps those elusive muses singing. For you, it might be a nightmare waiting to happen and if that's the case, don't put yourself through it.

Those are my general rules. I have other minor ones, but those are the major five that I stick to. People ask me, "don't you get confused?" and the answer is no, never, I have never gone to write my book in universe x and mixed up the plot with universe y, but that's just me. I plan a lot (see here) and I'm slightly obsessive about how much I plan. I do what I do because it works for me and I know of other writers who feel the same way.

The best thing is that I get to play in two sandboxes at once and that is, to me, one of the great things about writing books. You get to create and explore a universe so different from your own and it's great. Now, if you'll excuse me I have some chapters of book two to write so I can finish book one next week!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Writing A Series - The Creative Process

It's never easy to leave characters behind after you've spent however long writing about them, learning about them, getting to know them. For me that was the hard part about the first two books I wrote. I poured so much of my time into creating them that I was sad when the story finished and I had to say goodbye. So much so that I talked with my friend, B and asked her opinion on a sequel. I was met with a resounding "NO WAY!" and then spent the next few days sulking.

The problem was, she was right (don't tell her I said that!) Some stories just end and no matter how much you may hate it, as the writer (or reader) you do have to say goodbye eventually. It was only when I had the idea for the Dying Thoughts series that I realised I could have my cake and eat it too. I could write standalone books like Blackout and then I could have my stories that could go on for several books. And then the seed was sown and the idea born.

I started with an idea and that grew into a book - one I almost never finished because I backed myself into a corner and Tara couldn't get out of it. It was only by luck, leaving the story to sit for a few months, and threats of violence from a beta reader who I'd left in the lurch with Tara, that I came back to it. From there I was able to complete the story. I was so pleased with myself that I decided to go straight into writing number two. That was a big mistake. Don't get me wrong, I love Tara and Kaolin. I love writing about them, and developing them as characters, but I needed time to let the creative juices stew as it were. I had rushed into a sequel and although I had the plot and everything ready for them, *I* wasn't ready to write about them.

I did manage to get the book done, and it's now out for purchase, but I learnt something from that mistake. That if I was going to write a series, every so often, I needed a break from Tara and Kaolin. Now, I know some authors are able to write book after book with the same characters. I know of others who do the same as me, which is write a standalone between them. I also know of authors who will not write sequels and such because after one story, they just can't seem to find a way to do it without ruining it.

The key to writing a series it seems, is knowing when to stop. I can tell you of books I read when I was younger (and not so much younger either) when I got about halfway through the series and I just thought "this is getting stupid, it needs to end." I can think of two particular series right now that I personally felt ended after their seventh book. The key is not to repeat the same story line, and not to get to the point where the suspension of belief is pulled so tight it snaps. I can also think of several series of books where they are still going strong after twenty or so books - Sue Grafton and her Alphabet Series spring to mind. It's all about balance.

Writing a series is a balancing act in itself and you have to be sure that you don't drop the balls completely. You also have to make sure that you, as the writer, haven't gotten to the point where you're sick to death of the characters and want to kill them all off just to make sure you never have to write about them again. You have to be able to keep yourself happy whilst writing, and also keep the reader happy. It can be a juggling act and sometimes you will drop the balls, but that's where editors and beta readers come in.

My plan when I started writing the Dying Thoughts books was to continue them until Tara left school. At this moment in time, I am almost done and at that point. However, about a year ago I realised that I could carry on this series. I just had to be careful that I didn't overdo it. Things had to change and that's why the next one I write will have had a bit of an overhaul. The same favourites will be there, but the situations will be different. I like to think that I'm doing a good balancing act. I like to think that I am coming up with new ways to write Tara's story and to flesh out her character. You, as my readers, may beg to differ, but at this time, I plan to continue for at least two more books. Once they're done, I may reconsider, but on the other hand, I may not.

So, when you've fallen in love with a character (or characters) and decide to write a series of stories, make sure that you're ready for the workload that comes with it. Keeping a series straight after a number of books is more than a balancing act. It takes a good memory, good planning or both. (A bit on planning can be found here) I have found my own ways of keeping track of everything, and you will find yours too. I also recommend a good editor. Mine keeps good track of everything that's happened so far and keeps me on target. The other thing that helps me is my best friend, B. She's a beta reader of sorts and I discuss every plot I think of putting Tara and poor Kaolin through with her before, during and after I write it. She does my front cover designs and so she knows what I plan to do to them. She, like me, is a great believer in stopping before it gets stupid. I know that if I don't recognise that point, she'll do it for me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some chapter plans to write and new character notes. My favourite part of a new book - creating new people to interact with.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Inspiration - The Creative Process

A lot of people have asked me in the past, where do I get my ideas? The answer is simple, they're in my head. That's not the answer they want though. They want to know how the answers got into my head and I'm sometimes at a loss to tell them. I can tell you some of the things that inspired me, but I can't tell you about every little thing that gives me an idea and is brought into my writing bubble.

Take for example, my first ever book - no, not BLACKOUT - the other first book. I was thirteen years old and I had a close friendship group. One morning we were walking to school and we all realised we'd had a similar dream the night before. BAM! A book is born. Now you all know that the book in question didn't actually get finished until I was nineteen. Mostly because although I did finish it at thirteen, so proud of myself and thirty-six pages long - wow, wasn't I just a fantastic author! I realised at nineteen that it sucked. It really did suck, like so sucky that I would be embarrassed if the first version ever made it's way into the light. We all know what happened with that so I won't dwell on it.

Anyway, my other first book - yes, now I am talking about BLACKOUT - the idea for that was actually around for several years before I put pen to paper. I can't remember the exact time frame and conversation, but I basically spoke with my best friend about the possibility of "what if life is a dream we have while we're in a coma and when we die we wake up and get to live our actual life?". I know, deep questions for a fourteen year old. I was a bit macabre in those days. There you go, a new story ready to be banged out on paper. I must have been ready to write it though because I wrote it in only ten days - a feat I have ever been able to replicate since.

The idea for the Dying Thoughts series came to me while in the line at ASDA one day and the others all have a story behind them. Maybe one day I'll write a book about how a writer gets their inspiration. Or a writer who is trying to find inspiration. I'm getting off track here. Anyway, my point is that inspiration and ideas don't always come with a lovely story, sometimes the beginning and plot of a story are something we thought about for a while. Sometimes we just start writing and then a book comes out. However, every writer I know has something that helps them stay inspired. Whether it's a book based on people they know, or a person's profession. I personally don't have people I base my plot lines on, but some of my friends have appeared in the books I've written.

Some writers call them muses, some call them inspiration. I don't really know what I call mine. All I know is that around this time - when I'm close to finishing a book - I start to look around me, start to think about what story I can write next. I don't like to not have at least one book on the go. The good thing is I have an idea for the next Dying Thoughts book, it's just finding the inspiration for the next standalone. I write two books at the same time, which I'll talk about another time. I look at what I've written in the past and try to decide where I want to go next. That's the great thing about books - as a writer and a reader - they take you a million and one places that you may never have been before. They allow you to travel alongside them as they tell you their story. It's intoxicating.

I haven't quite yet decided where I want to go next. I have a couple of ideas and I also know for sure where I'm taking Tara next, but that's a piece for another time. I need to decide where I want to meet my new characters, who I want them to be and whether or not I want them to be a completely different genre than I usually write. Don't get me wrong, I love writing in the crime genre, just as much as I love reading it, but sometimes it's good to get out of your own comfort zone and dip your toe in another pond. Maybe that's what book eleven will be.

Lots of writers stick to what they know, and I do the same for the majority of things. The wonders of the internet, however, allow us to research and find inspiration through doing so. You have to know what you're talking about and you have to be confident enough to write it without worrying that you're just doing an information dump. The ideas come and go, sometimes you'll be happy with what you're doing and then the characters take you some place unfamiliar and you're suddenly using Google to find out what the hell you need to do. That's the beauty of writing, the characters, while still your creations, seem to have a better idea of what needs to happen than you, the writer. I think it's a wonderful profession and love being part of it.

Inspiration is not always something you're looking for. Sometimes it finds you. Sometimes you search and search for it and it's nowhere to be found. Sometimes, the old friend "writer's block" comes along and stomps on your inspiration until it's in a million tiny pieces and then you have to put it back together. The ideas though, they never stop coming. The difference between someone who has ideas and someone who has inspiration is one just ignores them and the other develops them into something. This applies to a lot of creative outlets. Artists, designers, crafts, I could go on. They all start with an idea that they then nurture into a creation for others to enjoy.

Now if you'll excuse me, inspiration is knocking at my door and I have chapters to write!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Planning - The Creative Process

If you're anything like me, you plan your books down to the last detail. I know that I get a little obsessive with my planning, but it really helps me to stay on track. I use chapter notes, character note cards and keep a track of the days of the week, plus the pages each chapter corresponds to in my document. I also keep a tally of how many pages each chapter ended up being, as well as the final word count after I finish each chapter. I've discussed word counts before and how they do not make or break a story, but I figured I'd do something about the actual planning that happens BEFORE a story is even started. Here's how I approach a new story.

1. Chapter Plan- What goes into each chapter is written in the chapter plan, or at least that's how I do it. I start with a blank word document and number each chapter. Then I go back and write a little synopsis of each chapter. This can include what I want to happen, any major plot points and anything like that. Once I have this document ready, I print it out and that leads me to the next point.

2. Word Count, Days & Chapter length - I write the projected word count at the top of the chapter plan and as you know from the Word count piece (found here.) Once that is done, I'll note down what days of the week each chapter is supposed to happen on. This gives me some idea of how many days/weeks the story will happen over. I try to include things like school days in the actual chapter plan. Once that is done, I decide how long I want the chapters to be, I usually aim for a minimum of four pages and will then keep a running tally on the chapter plan. The thing usually looks very worn and tattered by the time the book is finished. I also record the day I started the book and next to each chapter synopsis, I'll add which pages in the document they are.

3. Character Notes - When you're writing a series of books, keeping continuity is a BIG thing. I make a note of the description and general notes of why and what they do in the story so that I can look back at it later to check out anything I might need to include to make sure I don't introduce a character and give them the wrong hair colour or have them do something they already did. I make sure that with each new appearance I note their actions (just a synopsis) on their note card. Now, I didn't use to do this for the standalone books like Blackout and such, I mean I had some character planning, but nothing to the scale that I use now. Before I even write the first sentence of a new story, I make sure that I have every character that I plan to use written out on my character notes. If a new character pops up, I write down everything I need before I use them.

So, that's how I plan. With a series like Dying Thoughts. I have to be sure to keep a note card for every case that Tara is involved in. I don't just mean the major case that runs through the whole book, but EVERY case that she consults on. I make sure that I don't use the same circumstances too often, or at all if I can help it. As Richard Castle puts it in the TV show, CASTLE: "There are two kinds of people who sit around thinking about how to murder people; psychopaths and mystery writers" I'm one of those, but not the kind that involves burying bodies. I'm just too squeamish for that line of work.

It may seem a little OCD to people who don't write, or even those that do write but don't plan in the amount of detail that I do. However, I have found my ways to be extremely useful and as of yet, I haven't run into any problems with it. It has been refined as the years have passed and I'm sure in a few more years and a few more books, I will have refined it even more. If you're going to extend a story over a number of books, taking place over a number of years and/or months, you do need to plan. For some writers, they can plan in their heads and don't need to keep detailed notes. I am not one of those. If I tried to keep every character detail in my head for all of the Dying Thoughts series, my brain would have started to leak out of my ears.

Now, I seem to have taken my own advice on the writer's block front and need to get back to finishing chapter forty-four. That's if the shiny things don't distract me!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Word Counts - The Creative Process

Nope, "The End" does NOT count towards your final word count, Joey. Nope, no matter how much you wish it did. I don't know about you guys, but I like to have a predicted word count. I know some authors do it and others just go with the flow. I also know that it's a big thing in regards to Nanowrimo where the end goal is to have over 50,000 words. I do something similar. I estimate that each chapter should be between 2,000 & 2,500 words and tally up the chapter count when I make my plan. The total is then my goal.

Now, it's really easy to get caught up in the trick of worrying about filling space with meaningless fodder to up the word count. I have never, since I started calculating my predicted word count, been below count before. I haven't always kept track of the word count of each chapter. However, like many writers, I've picked up some tricks along the way that, for better or worse, have become my routine with planning. Some of them are great and make sure that I stay on target and keep my continuity lines straight. Others not so much.

I'll tell you about some of them another time, but for the purpose of this piece, I'll stick to the word count related ones. Before, when I started a book, I didn't keep track of how many words each chapter had. I still don't do that really. What I *do* do though is keep a running tally of where I am in regards to the end word count tally. Right now in front of me is the chapter plan for book nine. I can see how many pages each chapter is, what pages they are in the document and also how many words I have in total at the end of each chapter. This helps me tremendously at times and other times, it causes me great anxiety and concern.

See, I predict for book nine that I will be at about 100,000 words. Or I did when I first started. I wrote that prediction at the top of the chapter plan. This book in particular hasn't been that much trouble in regards to the total words because the chapters have been using more words than book ten does in the same amount of pages. Now, usually around half way through the book, I'll look at the word count and my prediction and I'll work out if I need to increase it or if I'm on target. Sometimes, I'm over target and I cheerfully tell myself I'm doing a good job. That's not the problem here, it's when I'm under target that I start to get into trouble.

I start to worry, panic even. What if I don't manage enough words? I can't just fill the book with useless words to make it on target, can I? Am I missing a huge piece of plot? Is that why I'm below target? I get myself worked up into a tizzy about it all and the calm and rational side of my brain doesn't get a chance to speak because I'm too busy fretting. I know people who do Nanowrimo have the same issues, but here's something I've learnt when I listen to the calm and rational side of my brain.

Word counts are not going to make or break your story. If you can tell it in 40,000 words and it's fleshed out to the point of it being a good story - people. won't. care. Word counts are just numbers. Sure, it's a good idea to have a target, but not meeting it will not spell the end of your writing days. Some stories use fewer words. Some writer's tell a story in a more words than others. As long as your story is not just "Here''s a character. Stuff happened. Met another character. They got married. Lived happily every after. The end." then I guarantee that you are doing your story justice even if you feel it should be longer. As a reader, I prefer people not to add a chapter just for the sake of the word count. Yes, there are some chapters that may not seem central to the plot, but are still needed, but still, you can't have your character read aloud a really long piece of prose just for the sake of it. And if you do, that shouldn't count towards your word count because they're not your words. (Or they might be, but you get what I mean.)Anxiety about how good your story is, that's normal. But it should be more about the content and the way you've written your tale. It should be able the actual story and not just because you wanted a 50,000 word story and it came in at 49,000. Everyone writes differently and part of being a writer is finding the way YOU want to tell that story. Be that at 40K, 50K, 100K or even only 30K. So, don't fret about the final word count. After all, it is just a number and not a reflection on you personally.

Now, I need to find 2,000 words before the end of the day or I'm done!