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Lessons I Learnt from Writing my First Book Series

BooksComing to the end of my first series, and starting on my second got me thinking about what I wanted to do differently. About the mistakes I made, and the lessons I learnt.

Start Your Series Bible While You’re Plotting

I definitely learnt this the hard way. I started my series bible while I was writing book 3. I’ve never finished it. I spent much of my writing time flicking through the previous books looking up character names and fact checking. Having my series bible would have been so much easier.

You won’t remember side character names, or which side of your main character’s nose has the scar, or what they ate for breakfast that morning. Start your series bible right at the beginning, and keep it up to date throughout.

Plot Subsequent Books Before Writing the First

One word: foreshadowing. I had a lot of happy accidents with my first series, but it would have been great to have been able to purposefully place things that would be used in subsequent books. It links them together (and makes you look clever).

Knowing how the series ends before you start writing it allows you to place hints and little reveals along the way. It keeps you focussed, and keeps your characters focussed, and just makes for a tighter, more coherent series.

Release in Quick Succession (no one cares about an unfinished series)

Marketing your books is tough when your series is unfinished. There’s so much I’ve put off until the last book’s released. And I really feel for those quick readers, the ones reading a book a day, unable to complete the story. I worry that I might lose them in the wait between books. Many readers won’t even start a series until it’s finished.

I’m not the fastest writer, and I’ve managed to get the time it takes to produce a book, from plotting to release, down to around six to nine months, but I’d like to get it down even more. Pre-plotting all the books is a good start, allowing me to jump into writing book 2 the second book 1 goes off to betas.

Retain Your Beta Readers (but accept that you’ll likely lose some)

Picking up new beta readers part way through a series brings its own issues: do you send them the previous books and wait that much longer while they read them all, or get their opinion of it as a standalone? It could give an interesting perspective, but where do you find beta readers happy to read a random book from the middle of a series they don’t know?

Far better to recruit a good number at the start, understanding that you’re likely to lose some along the way, and keep hold of them throughout. After all, good beta readers are like gold dust, and you should be keeping them close regardless.

Outsource What You Can (and use the same suppliers)

Writing and publishing a whole series is a huge undertaking, and if you are aiming to publish in rapid succession, there’s a load of stuff you can outsource to save yourself the time and effort: editing, proofreading, formatting, blurb writing, cover design, marketing. Of course, we don’t all have endless budgets for this, so outsource what you can’t do yourself.

With a series, consistency is key. You want loyal readers to know at a glance which books are in the same series. Just as you wouldn’t change the main character’s name after book 2, where you can, use the same suppliers. You know what you’re getting, and, hopefully, there won’t be any surprises to deal with.

Business of Writing, Twitter

Story Worms (When You Don’t Have Plot Bunnies to Play With)

Wellington BootsMany writers talk about plot bunnies; when you get one little idea, and then it multiplies and multiplies, and very soon you’re overrun with baby plot bunnies. Sometimes too many ideas coming too quickly. It can be easy to get overwhelmed.

I, on the other hand, don’t get plot bunnies. I get story worms.

Out of the blue, I’ll become aware of one, buried deep in my brain. Sometimes I’ll glimpse its little head poking out, other times just evidence of its presence: holes, worm poo. I know it’s there, but I can’t get to it.

Far from being rapid multipliers like plot bunnies, my story worms need to be charmed out. It’s a gentle process requiring skill, patience, a little luck, and the ability to not care if you look a bit silly doing it.

I’ll do what it takes to get those worms out: worm grunting, worm fiddling, twanging, music, dance, or simply stamping my feet. And when a head finally breaks the surface, I have to grab it, pull it, and hope it comes out intact.

So while some writers are rounding up wayward plot bunnies, I’ll be in my wellies doing a rain dance. Because that’s the great thing about writing; we all have our own special ways of doing it, but it always helps to be a little bit crazy.

Business of Writing, Twitter, Writing

Meeting my Monster

EditingI like shiny things. I’m always getting distracted by them when I’m meant to be doing something else. And new story ideas are the shiniest things of all.

I’ve always enjoyed first drafts the most. I’m a recent convert to plotting, and I still leave enough wriggle room for my characters to chuck in a few curveballs to surprise me. First drafts are exciting and mysterious, they take you on unexpected adventures. They are, for me, the epitome of creativity.

Editing, on the other hand, is a beast. It’s the monster under my bed. I’ve never enjoyed it. It’s tweaking, and touching up. It’s dabs of paint rather than the sweeping strokes of the first draft. I know plenty of authors who love editing, but for me it’s a chore.

What makes it worse, even more monstrous, is the time between finishing writing and starting editing. It’s commonly given advice to wait before editing your new manuscript, to let it settle, so that you can approach it with a little distance and fresh eyes.

In that time, be it a month, a week, or just a few days, the self doubt creeps in. What if my story is worse than I remember? What if it’s not even salvageable? Or the equally terrifying possibility of it being the best thing ever written. It’s a Schrödinger’s cat.

Of course, once I start editing, it’s never as bad as I feared. And a few chapters in, I even start to enjoy it. It’s just hard to pluck up the courage to start, to face it, to answer those questions.

It’s like hearing a scratching in your closet at night.

Business of Writing, Twitter

5 Ways to Market your Book that Don’t Feel Dirty

BooksI know a lot of writers that are scared of marketing their book, worried about annoying people, or coming across as rude. I know others that are confused by it, and don’t know where to start. I even know writers who refuse to do any marketing because they believe it to be evil in all of its forms.

I’ve thought all of these things myself, at one time or another. Somehow, marketing feels completely at odds with the creative act of writing a book. It feels like marketing it – thinking of the book as a product, thinking of yourself as a brand – somehow sullies it, turns it from a labour of love into something dirty, something to be hard sold to unwilling consumers.

I made the decision to complete a book marketing course, and it was the best decision I made. I was able to completely change my mindset. Because I learnt to market books properly without turning beloved readers into faceless customers.

But if you’re still uncomfortable with the concept, there are some ways to get your work out there that barely feel like marketing at all.

  1. Put yourself out there. Get yourself a presence online. Join social networks. Go to local literary festivals and conventions. Talk to people, make friends and connections. Just be your wonderful self.
  2. Start a conversation. Talk about what interests you, what you’re reading, the movies you like, music, fashion, gardening. Ask people questions, be interested in them. And when they ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. And when they ask what you’ve written, tell them. They’re asking because they’re already interested, there’s no need to hard sell.
  3. Club together. Submit your book to a group promotion. These are always happening, so find one for your genre (or a mixed genre promotion), and the platform you use (BookFunnel, Instafreebie, Kindle Unlimited, Amazon countdown deal), and join in. There are lots of Facebook groups set up solely to organise group promos. When you promote the promo, you’re not saying “Buy my book! Buy my book!”, you’re simply saying “Hey, check out all these great books, why not grab a few?”
  4. Pay it forward. If you find it hard to push your own book, why not push someone else’s? Share other authors’ posts, and many will share yours too. Or reach out to them and organise a swap. Just bear in mind point No 2 above; don’t turn your social media page into a stream of book promos.
  5. Remember that you’re a reader too. Book marketing 101 is to know your ideal reader, and to be where they are. There are genre reading groups on the social networks. Join in. Chat about the books you love too. ALWAYS check the group’s rules on self promo before posting a link to your own book. Or, if you feel uncomfortable pushing your own work, just make friends, and tell them about your book when they ask.
Business of Writing, Twitter

What Have You Got to Say for Yourself? (30 Author Newsletter Content Ideas)

EnvelopeA mailing list can be a fantastic way to gain loyal fans and keep in touch with them. While some authors view them as a pointless distraction, others are eagerly gaining subscribers and sending out regular mailings.

Starting a mailing list can seem like a daunting, time-consuming task, and coming up with content can often be a struggle. Especially when you have no news on the book side of things, or if you’re yet to publish your first fable.

So here’s a few ideas to keep you going for a while…

Your Story:

  • How, why, and when you started writing
  • People who have inspired you
  • Bad writing advice you’ve tried to follow
  • The worst thing you ever wrote
  • Your plotting technique
  • About where you write
  • Share your love of stationery
  • Your pre-writing routine
  • Your favourite writing snacks
  • The weirdest place you’ve done some writing

Your Story’s Story:

  • Interviews with your characters
  • Short scenes with your characters
  • The world your story is set in
  • Backstory
  • The history of your world
  • Research you’ve done
  • Life stories of small side characters
  • A newspaper from your world
  • Fashion from your world
  • Your character’s favourite hangouts

Other People’s Stories:

  • What you’re currently reading
  • Book reviews
  • Author interviews
  • Author/book spotlights
  • Guest posts
  • Book promotions/giveaways

One important thing to bear in mind with your newsletter is that it should be a conversation, not simply a stream of consciousness. People like to engage when you give them the opportunity.

Your Readers’ Stories:

  • Ask what they’re reading
  • Ask them to share their favourite book covers
  • Ask them to name a character in your book
  • Create an ‘ask me anything’ event/opportunity

And remember, when people respond to you, always reply. Make them feel valued. Share their responses in your next newsletter. Be personable, approachable, and real.

Business of Writing, Twitter

5 Ways to Find Beta Readers

What is a beta reader?
Let’s start by defining what a beta reader is, and why they’re so important. A beta reader is someone who reads your book before it’s published and offers constructive criticism. This feedback informs your final run of edits to make your book as good as it can be before publication or submission.

Why do I need beta readers?
Editing and proofing your own work is an almost impossible task. You’re too close to the project, you know what it’s meant to say, and you become blind to its problems and mistakes.

Betas can also read your work as readers would, with a detachment you can never achieve yourself. They’ll pick up on plot holes and typos you’ll overlook. They’ll react to the emotions and tension, be surprised by reveals. They’ll find parts that need clarification, or that move too slowly, characters that don’t work, dialogue that’s unrealistic, things that need more description, or less. They’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t with a perspective you can’t have yourself.

What makes a good beta reader?
Finding beta readers is easy, but finding good beta readers is hard. A good beta reader can be anyone; a reader, a writer, even a close friend or family member. You’ll hear it said that friends and family aren’t good options because they’ll try to save your feelings. This isn’t always the case. If you can trust them to be brutally honest, then they can be just as useful as any other beta.

Because good beta readers do need to be brutally honest. They need to be able to tell you when something isn’t working, when you’ve made a mistake. They also need to offer constructive criticism. “This doesn’t work”, or “this is boring” is no use to you if they don’t explain why. They don’t need to offer up solutions, that’s your job, but they do need to be able to explain their responses.

Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold, so when you do find some, make sure you keep hold of them.

Where can I find beta readers?

  • Ask friends and family. You need to be careful with this option and only choose people you can trust to be brutally honest. Beta readers are no use to you if they’re just being polite not to hurt your feelings.
  • Find reader groups in your genre. Search places like Facebook and GoodReads and you’re sure to find lots of keen readers.
  • Use fellow authors. Again, a search on Facebook or GoodReads will offer up several beta or review exchange groups.
  • Use your network. Post an open call for beta readers on your social networking profiles, and ask people to share.
  • Ask your mailing list subscribers. These are already fans of yours, and many of them will jump at the chance of reading your book before anyone else.

Where else have you found beta readers? What makes a good beta reader for you?