Posts Categorized: Writing musings

Author answers 23: What is your favourite point of view and tense to write in and why?

August 13, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

This is a fun question, because until not so long ago, my answer would have been: you what? Point of view? Tense? Errrr… It was only when I’d finished my first novel and introduced it to the harsh and unforgiving glare of an online critique group that I discovered just how little I knew about writing. That book, I discovered, was written in third person limited, past tense. With my second book, I moved on to first person past tense, and there I stayed for several more books.

What’s the difference? With third person (’she climbed the stairs’), there’s an immediate distance between the reader and the character. The reader is on the outside, observing the character’s actions. With first person (’I climbed the stairs’), the reader is right inside the character’s head. Now, it’s perfectly possible to convey a character’s inner thoughts and feelings in a vivid and visceral way, even in third person, but I found that much easier to do in first person. I tend to write with some distance anyway, and a first person narrative enabled me to get under the skin of my character much better.

There’s also a simplicity to a first person story. It (usually) restricts the narrative to just one point of view character, so for some genres (urban fantasy, for instance, or books requiring a memoir-like approach) it works much better. It’s not so good for the sort of sprawling, multi-point-of-view tale such as epic fantasy. It can work in romance, with two alternating points of view, heroine and hero.

But then along came book 6, which called for multiple points of view, but with one which was more important than the others, the only one which would last for the whole book. I chose to make him a first person POV, to give him greater importance, while the lesser characters were all third person. That was a difficult book to write, for me, because it didn’t come naturally to me to switch from character to character in that way. But still, it worked, sort of. Or at least I thought so (my readers may disagree!).

Book 7 was a sequel to book 5, so back I went to first person, but book 8 was more problematic. My main character was male, and I always find it trickier to get under the skin of a bloke, somehow. Plus, he was a bit of an enigma, and I didn’t want to reveal too much of his inner thought processes by being in his head. Third person gives some possibilities to retain a character’s secrets, so that was where I chose to go. Book 9 has two main characters, so that will alternate third person POVs, and book 10 will be a multi-character POV, so will be all third person too.

So ultimately, it all depends on the needs of the particular story, as always, but I do have a soft spot for a first person POV.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Author answers 22: Barring a zombie apocalypse, is there anything that could make you stop writing?

August 11, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

Wow, it’s more than a month since I posted anything here! No, I’m not dead, folks, just embroiled in summer holidays. So lots of catching up to do. On to a long-delayed authors answer question: could anything make you stop writing?

Of course. Death, serious illness, a whole swathe of troubles affecting me or my family would do it. Writing is an indulgence, for me, but it’s not something I regard as an inseparable part of my life. Making up stories in my head, yes, that’s me, it’s something I’ve done all my life and it will probably be the last thing to go when senility overtakes me. But writing those stories down? Fun to do, and even more fun to publish, but not essential to my well-being.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors answer #20: What element of writing (setting, characterization, plot development, etc.) do you find most challenging?

February 12, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

For me, it’s definitely the plot. I’m a pantser, which means I just start writing without much thought in my head of where the story might take me. I usually start with a character, or a group of characters, in a particular situation, and I just turn them loose, so to speak, and they make their own decisions and steer the story. The setting grows around them.

But, while this kind of ‘discovery’ writing, where the author discovers the story at the time without any forethought or planning, can lead to problems. You can find your characters have got themselves into a deep hole and really can’t get out again without miraculous help, and that’s a big no-no. There’s even an expression for it: deus ex machina, (the god from the machine). This doesn’t happen to me very often, since my characters tend to be sensible chaps and chapesses, who foresee the upcoming deep hole and take avoiding action.

Or the story can ramble interminably without ever getting anywhere, and this one I’m definitely guilty of. In epic fantasy, a certain amount of rambling is tolerated, because readers love an expansive sort of world that feels b-i-g, so I think I’ve mostly got away with it. But still, it can make the story feel slow.

What I find really difficult is structuring the story so that it has a properly dramatic arc, with tension building and building to a crescendo at just the right moment. This sort of thing is much easier for those who sit down and plan out the whole outline before writing a word. Sometimes the crescendo happens anyway at just the right time, and that’s awesome. And sometimes it gets missed out altogether (in one of my books, the main character is unconscious for a crucial battle), which is less awesome. And sometimes the ending just fizzles out. I hope I’m more aware of the problems now, but it’s still an issue that trips me up occasionally.

So why don’t I outline? I find it too restrictive. I’ve never got the hang of beat sheets and hitting pinch points and all that good stuff that, if you use them properly, builds the structure effortlessly. It just feels like a straight-jacket. Once or twice I’ve used Libby Hawkes’ method in Take Off Your Pants! to get me started and after the first few chapters everything begins to flow, and sometimes I have waypoints I know I want to hit, but I’ve never plotted an entire book from start to finish. For that reason alone, I will never, ever tackle a time travel story. Just too many complexities to keep in my head! I enjoy reading them, when I can follow what’s going on, but writing one would be my worst nightmare.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

2016 review: Part 3: Writing

January 29, 2017 Current writings, Ramblings, Writing musings 0

I got a lot of writing done in 2016. A lot. I finally found my stride, and increased my speed, as well as making daily writing a more consistent habit, and the result was (tada! roll of drums!):

548,000 words written

Which is a lot! Of that, 167,000 words, or 30%, was fantasy and the rest Regency romance. For the fantasy, I wrote the whole of The Second God and began Findo Gask’s Apprentice. For the Regencies, I finished Amy, and wrote Belle, Connie, Dulcie, Grace and Hope, plus a novella, Mary.

I discovered along the way that I can’t write two books at the same time. I can, however, write one and edit another, so that’s how I work it. At any one time, I’ll have one book being written, another ‘brewing’, or resting before editing, and another being edited or otherwise prepared for publication. At this precise moment, I have Findo Gask’s Apprentice half written, Hope awaiting initial editing and beta reading, and Grace newly released. If it sounds like a production line, sometimes that’s what it feels like! But I love the writing, and don’t mind the editing, so it doesn’t feel like work.

So how did I write so many words?

1) I wrote faster. I followed some of the precepts in Chris Fox’s book 5000 words an hour, like: write in short sprints; know what you’re going to write before you start; ‘eat the frog’, which means do the important stuff (the writing) first. Chris rolls straight out of bed and starts writing. He’ll stop between sprints for coffee or a shower, but essentially he gets the writing done before anything else in his day, and he’s often finished by 9:30 or 10 o’clock.

2) I wrote most days. I’m not fanatical about it, and in 2016 I took a whole month off writing (we went to Australia), but I try to write every day.

3) I bought a small laptop to carry round the house. It’s a dedicated writing computer, with nothing on it apart from Scrivener and the absolute essentials (browser and email), and I only use it for writing the current work in progress. It means I don’t have to go upstairs to the study to write, I don’t have to make the decision that ‘now I’m going to write’, and I don’t get distracted by the overflowing intray and whatnot; when I have a few minutes between chores, I sit down and write.

4) I developed writing habits. Every day after breakfast I sit down for half an hour to write. After lunch I sit down for another half hour. Late afternoon, another half hour. After tea, another half hour. Plus all those snatched moments between chores – ten minutes here, fifteen there. It adds up to 2-3K words in a day.

5) Brain.fm. This is a recent discovery. It’s music that’s specifically designed to enhance your focus while working (or to help you relax or sleep, if you choose those options). I don’t know how it does it, but it really does work, and I definitely write faster when I listen to it.

Plans for 2017? Write! I hope, without a month off to gawp at the amazing sights of Australia, I can write 600K words this year, producing 2 1/2 fantasies and 3 1/2 Regency romances. But honestly, the actual amount of words doesn’t matter, so long as I’m still enjoying it.

Divider

Authors Answer 19: How did you get into writing and what made you select your genre of choice?

January 14, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

I didn’t exactly ‘get into’ writing. For me it was never something I just took up, in the way one might decide to take up golf or macrame or yoga. I’ve always been ‘in’ writing. At school, I loved those free-for-all creative writing exercises. Not the ‘what I did on my holidays’ dullathons, but the ‘imagine you’re a fairy’ stuff. Not that there was much of that after primary school. Secondary school was far too serious for such frivolities. So I turned to writing my own comic strips, and (later) extremely bad fan fiction, although I didn’t know then what it was.

A few years later, when I lived abroad and couldn’t work, I bought a manual typewriter and bashed out most of a Regency romance. Why Regency? Because that’s what I was reading at the time, trawling methodically through the entire Georgette Heyer catalogue.

For a few years, the stories stayed in my head, but then I had a dream. I mean that literally, an actual being-asleep dream, with grim-faced men in black with swords. There were several dreams of that type, and gradually waking-me began to mull over the stories being tossed out by sleeping-me and make some sense of them. And eventually the characters came alive and tapped the inside of my skull. “Look,” they said, “this stuff’s getting complicated and you’re going to forget things and then what will happen to us? You need to write it down.”

“I’m not a writer,” I protested.

But they insisted, and I started writing and I just never stopped. I didn’t have a name for the sort of stuff I was writing, but I discovered later that it was fantasy. So really, you could say that fantasy selected me, not the other way round. Or rather, my characters selected me. More recently, I came full circle and returned to my original genre, Regency romance.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors Answer 17: What authors, styles or intellectual movements have most influenced your writing?

August 19, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, Regency romances, Writing musings 0

For the fantasy, I can’t honestly say that anything has really influenced my writing. I haven’t read a vast amount in the genre, and what I have read is mostly of a type I wouldn’t wish to emulate. Game of Thrones is too dark and nihilistic. Robin Hobb is downright depressing — beautifully written work that I hated. The authors whose work I most admire — Mark Lawrence, Daniel Abraham, Glenda Larke, Guy Gavriel Kay — are so brilliant I feel embarrassed to call myself a writer. My own work is such a mishmash of genre tropes that if someone asks me: “What other books are like yours?” I genuinely can’t answer. This isn’t a boast, by the way — it’s a Very Bad Thing not to be able to place your own books in the pantheon of genres. It’s embarrassing, and the result of ignorance of the genres rather than the genius of my creative mind.

For the Regency romances, I can actually answer this question! Phew! Jane Austen is the ultimate and original Regency romance writer, and although I could never aspire to her glorious wit or brilliance with words, the general principle of the story being the courtship, peppered with obstacles and misunderstandings and a slow realisation of love, is the ideal I try to follow. The books end with the accepted proposal, the presumed happy married life is never seen, and that, too, is my policy, although I do allow my couple a passionate kiss or two, so that modern readers will understand how well-suited they are.

The other shining light of traditional Regency romances is Georgette Heyer, a twentieth-century author whose books are convincingly of the era, with plots which are light and frivolous. These are the original Regency romps, with beautifully witty dialogue peppered with slang. I have some issues with Heyer, finding the romances too minimal sometimes, and the plots too silly for words. She also allows her very deep research to overwhelm the story occasionally. But the fluffy style is very much one I try to emulate.

Modern Regency authors? Not so much. I find most of them impossible to read, with heroines who behave in most unladylike ways, a metric ton of sex, and a very liberal interpretation of historical accuracy. I’m not a stickler for historic detail, but five minutes on Wikipedia surely wouldn’t hurt, would it? Then there are all the big frocks on the cover, the random forms of address (Lady Penelope and Lady Smith are NOT interchangeable terms!) and an England seemingly populated entirely by Dukes (hint: there are and always were very, very few of them).

As for intellectual movements… ha ha ha! No. I can safely say that no aspect of my writing has been influenced by anything resembling an intellectual movement.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Let’s go camping!

May 2, 2016 Writing musings 1

I’ve never joined in a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before — it just never fitted it with what I was working on, and I didn’t feel I could manage to write 50,000 words in a month. So each November the good ship NaNoWriMo went sailing past without me. But this year the moons aligned sufficiently for me to give Camp NaNoWriMo a go.

What changed? The first difference was that I actually planned to start a new book anyway last month. I know some people just carry on with whatever project they’re already working on, but I’ve always liked the idea of having a NaNo project – something written from scratch in NaNo month. I finished my last epic fantasy at the end of March, and April was pencilled in for the second of my Regency romance series. It was planned to be 50,000 words, a perfect NaNo length.

The other difference was that I’m now writing fast enough to be confident of getting through that amount of writing in a month. Camp NaNo doesn’t set a fixed writing target, but 50K seemed about right. At the moment, I’m managing to write pretty much every day, and I’m getting 2,000+ words down each day, so a 50K month seemed very doable.

CNW_Winner_1500-1

And… I made it! After starting on the 3rd April, I still managed to get 50,000 words down by the 27th. In fact, I wrote on, and the book is now finished, weighing in at 61K words, and written in just 28 days (an average of 2,200 words per day).

So what’s next? On to the next book, that’s what. Regency 3, here we go…

Divider

My editing process

March 20, 2016 Current writings, The Dragon's Egg, Writing musings 0

I’m deep into the final edit of The Dragon’s Egg at the moment, and I thought it might be of interest to go into my editing process a little bit. Everyone has their own way of tackling the editing part of the job, and none of them are better or worse than any other, as long as the end result is a more polished and well-written piece of work. The only strategy I don’t recommend is skipping the editing process altogether. There are people who write a single draft and send it off into the world; Mark Lawrence, author of Prince of Thorns, is one of them, and if you write as well as he does, you can do whatever you like, frankly. But for mere mortals, or those of us with less experience, a solid editing process is essential.

Here’s my system:

1) First draft editing This sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? The first draft is the writing-from-scratch part of the process, and editing is what you do when you’ve got the words down. This is true, and a lot of people like to keep the two well apart. Concentrate on writing, they say, get into the flow, make notes of possible changes if you must, but don’t interrupt the first draft writing to edit.

But that’s not what I do. Instead,I edit as I go. Firstly, before I start writing each day, I read everything I wrote the day before and do some light editing – tightening sentences and paragraphs, improving descriptions and dialogue, cleaning up typos. Then I start writing, but if I come across something that needs (say) a change in the earlier part of the book, to add foreshadowing, to weave in a McGuffin that the plot now needs, or simply because the evolving story makes something not quite right, then I’ll go right ahead and make that change. Why? For me, it’s all about context.

What does that mean? When I’m writing a scene, I need to know exactly where the characters are, how they got to this point, what they know and don’t know, and what they’re feeling right now. Context, in other words. Now, meticulous plotters will have all that information written down somewhere, but I write the story as I go, so the details are all in my head. If I come back to a scene later, I won’t necessarily remember the precise context. So for me, it works much better to fix problems as I go.

2) Interlude Once I’ve reached that final chapter and written ‘The end’, I like to leave a book to brew for a while. I set my first book aside for five months while I wrote the whole of the second book, but nowadays I find that a month or so is all that’s needed to give me a little distance and perspective. Again, not everyone wants or needs to do this, but it works for me.

3) Full read-through and first-pass editing When I feel the book has brewed sufficiently, I create a mobi file from it and put it on my Kindle. Then I read it through from start to finish, as a reader. I keep a notebook handy, and write down anything that comes to me. Then, I fix whatever I’ve found. But because of the whole edit-as-you-go thing, my first drafts are pretty clean, so there isn’t much in the way of major changes to be done. I know plenty of authors who practically dismantle the book at this point, adding or removing whole scenes, chapters, characters and sub-plots, but that would drive me insane. The cleaner I can get the first draft, the better I like it.

4) Beta reading and final edit Once I’m happy with it, I look for beta readers. I have a couple of paid-for beta readers that I use regularly, and several author friends who are kind enough to volunteer when their own work permits. My daughter is also an informal beta reader, who gives me an invaluable reader’s-eye-view of the book. My author friends are terrific for craft issues. They’ll point out problems with motivation, pacing and description, and suggest ways to make a scene stronger. Which is great, so why pay for beta readers as well? Mainly because, as professionals, they give me guaranteed feedback to a schedule. Volunteers may get caught up in their own work, or real life may overwhelm their good intentions, but a professional is guaranteed to give me solid feedback by a set date, and that’s golden. When all the feedback is in, I work through it and make the final edits.

5) Proofreading This is the final step in the polishing program. I was lucky enough to find an excellent proofreader at the first attempt, who weeds out typos, missing and duplicate words and (my weak point) fixes punctuation. I can manage the basics fine, but knowing when to hyphenate, when to use en-dashes and em-dashes, when to use ellipses… she has all of this at her fingertips. She also starts the formatting process for me. I give her a Word document, and she creates the styles and sections so that I can finalise the formatting before uploading.

6) Post-publication editing Some people don’t touch a book after it’s been published. It goes out into the world, and that’s the end of it. Some will update the beginning and end sections (frontmatter and backmatter) to add in links to new books as they come out. But a lot of self-publishers tinker with a book even after it’s live, changing anything from minor typos through a full proofreading edit to changing the ending. My policy is to fix any obvious errors if they’re reported to me. This doesn’t happen often, but if someone points out a misspelling, I’ll fix that. But I don’t change the story itself, or add or remove text — with one exception. A reader wrote a review pointing out a couple of inconsistencies in the plot. In one case, it was clearly a misunderstanding of what was going on, which is fine, it happens. But in the other case, I could actually see the point. It wasn’t truly inconsistent, but I could totally see why a reader might think it was. So I added a sentence to clarify the situation.

So that’s my editing process. Editing is a little like sculpting. You start with a solid lump, then you hack chunks off to make a rough shape, then you smooth and refine and polish, in smaller and smaller iterations until the work is finished. It doesn’t matter whether the smoothing and polishing goes on alongside the initial hacking or as a separate process, so long as you end up with all the roughness worked out of it.

Divider

Plotting for pantsers

March 6, 2016 Current writings, The Second God, Writing musings 0

Most authors like to plot a book out before they start to write. For some, that may be a couple of A4 sheets of scribbled notes. For others, it will be so detailed that it includes every chapter and scene, including lists of characters present and what happens, with a huge pile of background notes on characters, places, research, historical data and so on. The advantage is that when they come to write, they can focus on the words and not have to keep stopping to work out what happens next. The disadvantage is that a tightly plotted book can feel over-contrived and artificial.

And then there are pantsers. What’s a pantser? An author who writes by the seat of her pants, that’s what. A pantser sits down with a blank sheet of paper (metaphorically, because almost everyone writes direct to computer these days), maybe a character or two and an opening situation and… just writes. She never quite knows where the story is going until it gets there. The advantage here is that the story often has a more natural, organic feel to it. The disadvantage is that it’s all too easy to wander off-track and get diverted into possibly interesting but ultimately irrelevant side plots.

Neither way is better or worse than the other, since there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. The best way, perhaps the only way, is whatever gets the story written and that’s going to be different for every individual. But for any writer who’s having trouble finishing a book, it’s worth trying an alternative. If you’re a plotter, try pantsing. If you’re a pantser, try a bit of outlining. Whatever works.

I’m a pantser at heart. Of the five books I’ve published so far, four were entirely pantsed, starting with that blank sheet of paper, a single character and an interesting situation, and allowing the story to evolve however it wished. I like to call it discovery writing, because I discover the story as I write it.

What about the fifth book? That was The Fire Mages’ Daughter, and it was a little different. It was a sequel, so I already had a character in mind, and she was in an interesting situation. Her mother was a powerful mage, and so she was immersed in magic from the moment of conception until her birth. I wanted to explore that idea. How would it affect her, physically? How would she be different from any other child? So I had a character and a starting situation, but no plot. I had some ideas about what Drina would be like, but no idea where life would take her or what challenges she would face.

So for that book, I turned to the only plotting book I’ve ever found that works for me: Take off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. It’s a very character-based approach, nice and simple, so it only took me an hour or two to come up with a plausible outline. I veered away from that towards the end, but it was a lifesaver because it got me off the ground.

For the current work in progress, The Second God, which is a sequel to the sequel, I didn’t need a full outline, because I already had a pretty good idea of how things would start off. And it rattled along really well, so that I’ve now got 70,000 words written. But… I’ve got to that sticky point in the middle where I have half a dozen different plot strands running through the book, and I need to start to pull them together. And that means I need to know how things end.

Now, I could just let it unfold. I’ve done that before, and let the characters lead me along whatever path they choose. And sometimes that works well — and they surprise me! But for a truly satisfying and resonant ending, especially since this is the end of a trilogy, I needed to be sure everything is tightly focused and not too rambling. And that means…

Plotting!

Being a pantser to the core, my plotting doesn’t involve wikis and spreadsheets and timeline software. I simply wrote down all the dangling plot threads I’d accumulated and points I felt were important, about twenty or so. Then I mulled it all over (while doing the ironing, as it happens; mindless chores are perfect for this). And gradually, some ideas coalesced. I think it will make the book a little longer, but that’s fine — epic fantasy is meant to be long.

And that’s probably all the plotting this book is going to get. Watch out for The Second God in September or thereabouts, and you can judge for yourself how successful it was.

 

Divider

Writing to market: or, can I make money self-publishing?

February 21, 2016 Publishing/marketing, Writing musings 0

There’s a lot of discussion amongst authors about whether it’s possible to make any money from writing books. Pundits suck their teeth and shake their heads and stroke their chins in gloom. Typical advances for a deal with a traditional publisher are only a few thousand, we hear, even if you’re lucky enough to get any offer at all. The average book sells only 500 copies, ever. Even modest successes sell only a few thousand in the book’s lifetime.

So self-publishing is the way to go, right? That lovely 70% royalty that Amazon offers – there must be money to made there, surely. More chin-stroking and tut-tutting ensues. Self-publishers, they’ll tell you, fight for visibility in the vast, shark-infested ocean of Amazon and what about average sales of a self-published book? Just 100. Ever. The classic advice is: think of it as a hobby.

Well, rubbish. Can you make money self-publishing? Yes. You can. Unequivocally.

But…

Ah, you knew there’d be a but, didn’t you? There’s always a catch. Well, it’s not really a catch, so much as a couple of rules. Or maybe guidelines. Here they are:

1) Write something that people want to read

Well, duh! Talk about stating the obvious. Of course you have to write something that people want to read. If you craft poetry in iambic pentameter, your audience is necessarily going to be limited. If you put forth your highly original genre-mashup, you may well find the world isn’t quite ready for you yet. But how many readers are looking for another Harry Potter? Or Twilight? Or {insert bestseller here}? Must be millions, and that’s exactly what the big publishers are looking for, too – something that will sell a lot.

However, you’d be surprised how often an author’s first novel isn’t aimed at any particular reader. It’s the story that’s been burning inside the author’s brain for months or years, the one that has to be told, that won’t let up until it’s transcribed to paper for all eternity. It’s the one the author most wants to read herself, probably because she can’t find anything quite like it in bookstores. And that’s absolutely fine. However unusual it is, there are bound to be a few readers out there waiting for something just like it to happen along.

Just not very many. Sometimes an author just happens to hit a home run at the first attempt even without aiming at Harry Potter fans, but it’s extremely rare. As a rule of thumb, assume your magnum opus isn’t in this category.

So if you want to make money, whether it’s a comfortable income so you can give up the day job, a little extra to pay for a new car, or just enough to cover your publishing costs, your readership has to be more focused, and you have to give them what they want to read. What a lot of them want to read.

2) Publish often

This is where traditional publishing veers away from the indie brigade. With a trad deal, one book a year is the norm, and each book takes a year or two, maybe more, to reach the point of publication, even after the manuscript has been handed over. But that’s fine, because a committed publisher will drum up loads of publicity for each new release, so an author doesn’t have to worry about readers forgetting all about him.

But for indies, visibility is key, and one of the best ways to increase visibility is to release another book. And then another. If you could publish a book every month, you’d always have one in that honeymoon new-release phase. Even for notoriously slow-release genres like epic fantasy, two or even three books a year is a good idea to keep the pot boiling.

But… but… but… I hear you saying. But I can’t possibly do that! I have to polish every word until it’s perfect. I have to give it a thorough editing. I have to plan and plot and outline and develop my characters and then there’s all that world-building… If I write fast, it can’t possibly be any good, can it?

Ah, the quality issue. Here’s the thing. If you want to write exquisite prose, feel free to do that, even if it takes you ten years to produce something that satisfies you. But if you only aspire to prose that’s good enough to carry the story without being breathtaking, you can do that in a lot less than ten years. And experience counts for a great deal; each book will be finished a little bit quicker than the previous one, as you hone your craft and perfect your methods.

The solution: writing to market, and writing fast

For anyone who’s serious about making significant money from self-publishing, there are techniques that will make that outcome more likely. There are no guarantees, of course, but if you write to market, and write fast, you greatly increase the odds of a good income from your books. Writing to market means analysing the bestseller lists in your genre and identifying the key tropes (or storytelling conventions) in them. Then you write a book that sticks very closely to those tropes, package it in a similar way to the bestsellers and send it on its way. And then repeat, since a series is more effective than stand-alones. Writing fast means exactly that: increase your productivity. The fastest authors can write 10,000 words a day or more, which means producing a novel a week. But even 1,000 words a day will result in a 60,000 word novel in two months – that’s six books a year.

If you want all the detail of how to do this, author Chris Fox has published some books to help. 5,000 Words Per Hour will help increase writing speed, and Write To Market explains how to analyse the bestseller lists and target your book at a specific (but large!) audience. And Chris isn’t just talking about it: he’s currently committed to writing a novel in just 21 days, and documenting every step of it on video, starting today (Sunday 21st February 2016). You can follow along from Chris’s website here.

 

And there’s still the slow but steady approach

For those who don’t want to go the full-on writing-to-market way, it’s still possible to build a profitable self-publishing career. It may take longer, but it can be done. I don’t have the ability to analyse tropes, or to write to them even if I could, so I’m stuck with writing what I like and hoping it will fly, but I can still make sure I have genre-appropriate covers and blurbs, for example. And categories. When I released my first book, I mistakenly labelled it as romance. Now, it has a romantic element, it’s true, but it’s not something that a romance reader would expect, at all. And when I had a promotion that got it up into some sub-genre bestseller lists, it felt very uncomfortable to see it lurking amongst all the werewolves and half-naked men. So I took it out of the romance categories.

As for writing speed, this is something that generally improves with time and experience, but I’ve also been making a concerted effort to increase my productivity. I used to think 1,000 words in a day was a good effort; now I aim for 1,500-2,000. How do I manage it? One of the tips in Chris’s 5,000 Words Per Hour book is to write in short bursts, or sprints. You plan ahead what you’re going to write, and then you sit down and write it, fast, without thinking too much about it. I’m not much of a planner, and I can’t switch off the editing side of my brain as I write, but the idea of short sprints appeals to me. So I’ll set a kitchen timer and write for 15 minutes or half an hour between chores. To facilitate that, I bought a hybrid laptop/tablet to cart around the house with me, so I can stop and write wherever I am. There’s never a point now where I think: I haven’t time to write a few lines. I can always find time.

The other trick I’m trying is to write shorter books. My first book was 220K words, or enough for a complete trilogy (which is probably what I should have done with it). Then 151K, 157K, 164K and 137K. The next book, The Dragon’s Egg, weighs in at only 100K words, much leaner. And the Regencies I’m working on will be around 50-60K words apiece.

With an approach like this, it’s possible to write and publish at least three books a year. That’s enough to build a solid backlist that, even if nothing makes bestseller status, will still bring in a comfortable income.

Divider