Posts Categorized: Writing musings

2016 strategy part 2: launches and promotions

January 7, 2016 General, Publishing/marketing, Writing musings 0

I talked in part 1 about my writing and publishing career to date, and my writing plans for 2016. This time, I want to talk about the other half of the writing/publishing equation, which is launching and promotion, or telling the world your books exist.

There’s a lot of talk about marketing strategies and building a platform and the value of blog tours or Facebook boosts or whatever. However, the only truly effective measure I’ve found has been paid promotion via mailing list sites. The most effective ones included Ereader News Today, One Hundred Free Books, Book Barbarian, Robin Reads, FreeBooksy/BargainBooksy, Booksends and Free Kindle Books and Tips. Both discounted books (setting the price to 99c) and free worked well.

Having a mailing list is reputed to be a good way to boost a new book launch, by setting the book to a special low price for a day or two, and telling your mailing list about the deal. Some people expand their mailing list by offering a free book as an inducement to sign up, but this results in lower engagement from the list. I’ve allowed my mailing list to grow organically, through links at the end of each book and on the website, so my list is still small, but one day I hope to have enough readers signed up to be able to launch a book with no promotion other than a single email to the mailing list.

Another long-term strategy is the obvious one: write more books! With only one book out, a reader who enjoys it has nowhere else to go, but if there are several, there’s a good chance of readers moving on to devour the whole set, one after the other. I’ve noticed a definite increase in baseline sales and borrows, now that I have four (soon to be five) books out. That increase is something that will likely continue into the future, so long as I can write and publish at a steady and not too infrequent rate.

There are other promotion strategies that might help, but at a much smaller scale. Blogging, social media engagement, soliciting reviews from bloggers – these get an author’s name out there, and may result in a few sales, but I don’t recommend spending a lot of time on any of these unless you happen to enjoy them. And don’t let them eat into the writing time.

Launch strategies

For my first published book, I had no clue about marketing or promotion, so I basically didn’t do any! Sales were low in consequence. For the second book, I splurged rather at the time of the launch, and that worked very well. It worked even better for the third book. It began to look as if I’d worked out a successful launch strategy. Nowhere near bestseller status, but enough to bring in steady sales.

But for the fourth book, the same technique was a flop. While the book was cheap and being promoted, it sold pretty well, but as soon as promotion ended and the price went up, sales dropped away. The long post-promotion tail from the previous books just wasn’t there.

Partly, this is the result of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription borrowing service, which changed the landscape fundamentally. If a reader is paying $9.99 a month to read as many books as they like, they’re bound to be less inclined to buy books. And the most voracious readers, those who once would have bought the most books, are now in KU. As soon as the fourth book was launched, pages read surged, and stayed high for the whole of the first month, while the book was featured on Amazon’s Hot New Releases lists. And that was unaffected by promotions.

The other significant factor is Amazon’s new policy of encouraging readers to ‘follow’ an author if they liked her/his books. When there’s a new release, Amazon will send out an email telling those followers about it. That can result in a surge of sales – at full price! – some time after release. My fourth book saw some 80 additional sales as a result, which absolutely astonished me. I would never have suspected I had so many followers. And again, this is unaffected by promotions.

The no-promo launch

So for the fifth release, on 15th January, I’ve decided to change tack experimentally. The book has been on pre-order for three months, and has 200+ pre-orders now, all at 99c. I’ll keep it cheap for a couple of days, so that my mailing list and blog followers have a chance to pick up a bargain if they didn’t pre-order, and after that it goes to full price. However, since this is my first sequel, it will be only $2.99 and the previous book in the sequence will be only 99c for the first month or so.

And there will be NO PROMO. This is the really edgy part, for me. Will it sink like a stone? Will it flap its wings for a couple of days and then crash land? Or will it actually stick a little better, because of the higher price point? Whatever it does, I expect to see two certain outcomes: 1) an increase in pages read as soon as the book is released; and 2) assuming Amazon sends out its oh-so-helpful email again, a bump in sales after a couple of weeks. I’m hoping that this will be enough to keep things afloat for a while. After the first month, I’ll re-evaluate, and perhaps organise some promo if needed.

The no pre-orders launch

For the following book, my sixth, which I hope to release in May, I’ll try a different strategy again – no pre-orders. I hope this will encourage readers who like the books to sign up for my mailing list. It seems to be an either/or thing: readers either pre-order the next book or they sign up to the mailing list. Either works as a way of finding out about the next book, but the mailing list brings in potential customers for every new book, not just one.

Pre-orders have worked very well for me, especially the long-running ones, which have kept the book constantly in the Hot New Releases lists, even with only 2-3 pre-orders per day. It does dilute the impact of the launch, though, since many guaranteed customers have already bought the book. But I’ve found an unexpected bonus to pre-orders: because they keep the book visible for several weeks or months before launch, and the price is low, I get pre-orders from people who haven’t read the other books. When the new book is released, there’s a little spike of follow-on sales of all the earlier books. So, swings and roundabouts.

But this business is all about experimenting, so I’m going to try launching a book without pre-orders for the first time ever, just to see what happens.

The bang-bang-bang launch

For my Regency romances, I intend to try something very different, but a technique that’s well-tested by others, and is known to work well. This will be a series, probably of six books, but I could stop after four or take it further than six if I want to. They’re shorter than my epic fantasy – I’m aiming for 50,000 words apiece, whereas the fantasy is typically 140,000 words or more. Because they’re shorter and, individually at least, less complicated, I should be able to complete each one in 2-3 months. However, rather than publish as I go, I plan to stack them up until I have at least four ready to go, then release them a month apart.

Why? The idea is to take advantage of Amazon’s 30-day grace period wherein new books reside on the Hot New Releases list and get a ton of exposure. So, release one, then 30 days later, release another before the first has quite shot its bolt. That way, the series stays in the limelight for as long as possible. Of course, this also allows me to weave a number of long-running sub-plots into the mix, which will meander through the whole series. It’s not so easy to do that if the early books are already out.

On building a career

There’s a school of thought that says a book has to hit the stratosphere just after launch or else it’s sunk. I don’t entirely agree with that. I’ve seen authors whose careers gradually built over two or three years or more, and I’ve seen individual books revived by a timely promotion, which went on to sell very well. So I’m not overly concerned about a launch that’s less than stellar, or (for the Regencies) a series that doesn’t take off immediately.

To me, the important factor is to produce books that I enjoy writing, and to minimise the stress and pressure of self-publishing. It’s very easy to get swept up into the gotta-get-another-book-out fever. Well, blow that. I’m having fun here, and I’m happy to take things at my own pace, which is faster than some but slower than many.

Expectations for 2016? No expectations. Hopes, maybe. I hope to publish three fantasy books this year, and the first of the Regency romances. I hope sales and borrows continue to rise, month on month, and year on year. I hope readers continue to find the books and that some of them at least, find my style of storytelling to their liking.

And I hope that the writing and publishing continues to be so much fun. I’m having an absolute blast.

Have a good 2016, everyone.

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2016 strategy part 1: Writing

January 5, 2016 Current writings, Regency romances, The Dragon's Egg, The Fire Mages' Daughter, Writing musings 0

January 2016 sees me enter my seventeenth month as a self-publisher. To date, I have four books published, the fifth is imminent and the sixth is written in first draft form. The seventh is already taking shape in my head. All of these are part of the Brightmoon Annals world, a connected series of (mostly) stand-alone books. There is also a new project, tentatively entitled the Allamont Annals, a series of Regency romances. The first of these is almost finished. In 2015, I wrote 318,000 words.

In terms of sales, the books have had some modest success. Total sales 4,000, borrows 2,000 and over a million pages read. This is nowhere near bestseller status, but it’s satisfying to know that there are complete strangers out there who read and enjoy the books. In addition, I’ve given away more than 20,000 copies for free.

But now that I’ve worked out how to write a book and publish it and market it, what next? Do it all over again, of course! Here are my writing plans for the rest of this year.

The Fire Mages’ Daughter (book 5 in the Brightmoon Annals)

This one is written, edited, proofread and already loaded onto the Amazon servers ready to launch on Jan 15th. It’s a sequel to The Fire Mages, featuring Kyra’s daughter, Axandrina (or Drina for short), who is summoned to the capital as a potential heir to the Drashona. Bennamore’s neighbours, the unsophisticated Blood Clans, have a new boy god, and Drina’s unique heritage comes into play as events unfold.

The Dragon’s Egg (book 6 in the Brightmoon Annals)

This is finished and brewing for a while until it’s time to start editing. This is a little different from most of the other Brightmoon books, in that it features several point-of-view characters, and it’s more of a quest than many. For anyone who’s read The Magic Mines of Asharim, and wondered about the cache of dragon’s eggs Allandra and Xando discovered hidden under the mountain, this book will answer your questions. It also features some familiar characters from previous books. Likely publication date: May 2016.

The Second God (book 7 in the Brightmoon Annals)

A sequel to a sequel! This follows on from The Fire Mages’ Daughter, picking up Drina’s story after some five years. It’s again focused on the Blood Clans, and what happens when a second boy god is discovered. I’ve only just started writing this, so I have no idea at the moment where the story will take me. Possible publication date: autumn 2016.

The Allamont Annals 1: Amy (book 1 in the Regency romance series)

This is my new venture. Regency romances in the vein of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer were my first love, and I still have a partially completed manuscript, banged out on a manual typewriter, in a drawer. These stories are intended to be shorter than the epic fantasy, and amusing rather than exciting. They’ll be traditional (which means drawing room, not bedroom), and I plan to write six books in the series. Once I have the first four written, I will start publishing them a month apart. The first should be finished this month. Possible publication date: autumn 2016.

Writing faster

So far, I’ve managed to publish a book every four months, and for epic fantasy, I’m happy with that. My books tend to be long, convoluted and, for the later books, built on the back of the earlier ones. In The Dragon’s Egg, for instance, the characters travel to Mesanthia and meet up with Allandra, Xando and Zak from The Magic Mines of Asharim. This means a certain amount of rehashing of previous events to remind those who’ve read the earlier books what happened and cover the basics for anyone who hasn’t. But it also means making sure nothing contradicts the earlier books. I’m very bad about making notes as I go, so I end up rereading chunks of the earlier books to find out the details I need. That’s not a process that can be rushed.

The Regency books are shorter, but I’m finding I need to do quite a bit of research to get the historical details right. Did they have afternoon tea? Nope, not invented until 1840, but they did have sandwiches. What is an Earl’s mother called? She’s a Dowager Countess. How do guests sit down at the dinner table? Still working on that one. But it all takes time.

Nevertheless, I’d love to increase the amount I write each day, not so much to be able to publish faster, but to give myself more time to develop these stories with a little more breathing space. I’ve found a couple of ways to help me produce more words.

1) Write in several short bursts during the day. Some people call these sprints, but I’m too slow a writer to qualify for that. Plods, maybe. But several a day, each one producing 200-300 words, plus a longer session in the evening, gets it done nicely.

2) I have a rinky-dink little computer – a tablet/netbook hybrid – which runs Windows and therefore allows me to run Scrivener, my writing software. It’s also small enough to be easily carried round with me. So anytime I get ten minutes free – tappity-tappity-tap.

In part 2, I’ll look at the marketing side of things: launches and promotions.

 

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Authors Answer 3: How difficult do you find it to write characters who have vastly different beliefs than you?

December 10, 2015 AuthorsAnswer, Brightmoon world, Writing musings 0

I find this a slightly odd question. Any author of fiction is going to be writing characters who are very different from themselves in scores of ways. I’ve written characters who are male, good with a sword, live in multi-couple marriages, rule a nation, can ride a horse, summon eagles or speak many languages, none of which can be said of me. And then there’s magic: my characters can spout fire from their fingertips, bend metal with mental power, manipulate emotions in other people and read memories. Their beliefs are the least of it.

As far as religious belief goes, my world has a slightly uneasy relationship with it, since one group of people likes to use religion as a tool: to keep the population under control, or to disseminate a useful idea. And they create religions wholesale, simply making up gods and mythology and rituals, as it suits them. There are characters who believe all this completely, and others who don’t believe any of it, and the majority who think there’s probably something in it, and go along with the public ceremonies to avoid censure. Which is not that different from our own world.

As for other beliefs, it’s fun to write characters who are completely confident that there are no dragons, for instance, or that magic is just a parlour trick, and have them brought face to face with a different reality. So no, I don’t find it difficult at all to write characters who have different beliefs from me, and in many ways this is one of the beauties of writing fiction: to explore ideas and customs that are entirely alien to us in the modern world. I would almost go further, and say that it’s one of the purposes of writing fiction. There’s surely little point in writing only about the familiar.

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.

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Authors Answer 1: If you could design your dream writing studio/office, what would it be like?

November 21, 2015 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

A little over a year ago, blogger Jay Dee Archer, of the I Read Encyclopedias For Fun blog, had an idea: why not gather together an eclectic bunch of authors and ask them to answer an interesting question every week? And so Authors Answer was born. I discovered it rather late in the day, but when Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, and author of the raunchy fantasy trilogy of the same name, decided to revive the questions to answer on her own blog, I thought – why not do the same?

So here goes: the first Authors Answer question is:

Question 1: If you could design your dream writing studio/office, what would it be like?

The study I have is pretty close, actually. It already has space for a nice big desk and plenty of bookcases. It has a big picture window looking out to the Moray Firth, and the mountains in the distance. It just needs a bit or reorganisation, and decluttering. Where does all this stuff come from anyway? It’s astonishing how it accumulates.

If I could start from scratch, then, I’d keep the room, and move everything out. Yes, even my husband, who has half the space at the moment. I want it ALL. One wall would be built-in bookshelves, for all my writing books and favourite reads (for inspiration). A swanky new desk, one of those wrap-around jobs. Somewhere for the functional stuff – printer, hard drives, spare cartridges. That would be the business side of the room.

The other side – the thinking and reading side. A reclining chair and footstool. A side table for the glass of wine and Kindle. Wait – I might not get so much writing done, though.

To be honest, I’m drifting away from the idea of a ‘special’ place to write. It’s a bit like waiting for the muse to strike: it becomes an excuse NOT to get anything done. With my (very modest) early royalties, I bought myself a rinky-dink little computer/tablet hybrid that runs Windows (and therefore Scrivener), so that I could a) take it with me on holiday to save lugging a normal-sized laptop; and b) cart it round the house when I’m doing boring house-stuff, so that I can sit down for ten minutes here and there and do some writing. The objective is to be able to write anywhere at all, and not just in some special snug writing den. And yes, it’s increased my productivity somewhat.

So a dream writing studio? Great idea, and yes, I’d love to have one, but I’d rather be able to write any time, any place.

You can read the original answers here (and they’re far more creative than mine; writing treehouse, anyone?). And Erica’s answer is here.

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The work-in-progress blog tour: The Mines of Asharim

March 9, 2015 The Magic Mines of Asharim, Writing musings 0

Yes, folks, it’s another of those fun blog tour thingies. The rules: link back to the previous blog post, then describe your current work in progress, with the openings of the first three chapters, and finally tag another author blog to carry things onwards. So, just another excuse to talk about writing…

You can blame Marina Finlayson for this one. She’s the author of Twiceborn, an urban fantasy featuring both werewolves and dragons (yay for dragons!). It’s also cool that it’s set in Sydney, which makes a refreshing change from London or various US cities. You can read her blog post here.

My current work-in-progress is called The Mines of Asharim. It features a young woman escaping from traumatic events, trying to find a refuge. What she finds instead is far more powerful, and sets her on a path to restoring her people’s fortunes.

It’s set in another part of the same world that all my books inhabit. This time, we’re on the far northern coast, well to the north of the Karningplain that featured in The Plains of Kallanash. The land is hotter and drier (since we’re in the southern hemisphere), and water has become a weapon of war.

Magic? Of course! There are several characters who have ‘connections’, like those in The Plains of Kallanash, enabling them to manipulate people or objects. There are also some strange magical creatures, very powerful but also dangerous.

So far I have 41 chapters finished, and perhaps 5 more to go – nearly there! I’m optimistic that it will be ready for an autumn publication.

Here are the openings to the first three chapters:

Chapter 1

I gripped the rail with tense fingers, but the barge slid against the wharf with the softest of bumps. Below me, figures ran about with ropes, tying up with practised ease. With the groaning of heavy wood, a gangplank was positioned. I had arrived.

Cautiously I let go of the rail, prepared to grab again, but the barge was still. It was all of a piece, the smoothest, most trouble-free journey possible, and I couldn’t quite believe it. It seemed too good to be true. I wasn’t safe yet, but I was close, so close. Picking up my travel bag, I made my way to disembark with the handful of other passengers, as the crane was wheeled into place to begin unloading the cargo.

“Good luck, Allandra!” one of them called as they dispersed, and then they were all shouting to each other. “Good luck! Good luck!”

Allandra, yes. Must remember my new name.

Chapter 2

At first the road rose slowly through rolling pastureland, the grass withered and autumn-brown. Goats scampered away as we passed by, the children tending them watching us with dull, incurious eyes. Here and there we saw small villages, ramshackle collections of cottages with crumbling walls and sagging roofs, the sweet smell of burning turf masking other less pleasant aromas.

From my perch in the wagon, the flaps wide open for ventilation, I had a fine view back down to Crenton Port, its bustling wharves along the lakeside alive with activity. Beyond, the grey waters of the river sprawled their way across the plains, the wide bends linked by neat lines of canals to avoid stretches where the river was too shallow for navigation.

Chapter 3

I still could see no way through or round the wall, but the mulers began unloading so I guessed some way would be found. A metallic clanking sound far above made me look up towards the crane, and there, slowly spinning as it descended, was a wooden contraption, a combination of chair and cage. Oh. So that was how to get over the wall.

The two girls were clutching each other fearfully, and Rufin chewed his lip, brow furrowed. One of the mulers steadied the spinning chair as it neared the ground, opened the cage door, then looked expectantly at the four of us. Well, I’d taken greater risks over the last few moons. I stepped forward and cautiously sat in the chair. It rested on the ground so it was quite firm. The muler shut the door and fixed a pin to hold it closed, then shouted, “Away!”

Well, bit short on dialogue and action there… But then, it’s not called a work in progress for nothing.

Next up on the Work in Progress Blog Tour is Cady Vance, author of YA and NA speculative fiction, including paranormal urban fantasy Bone Dry and vigilante thriller The Madmen’s City. Over to you, Cady.

ETA: There’s another branch of the blog tour going on elsewhere. You can catch up with it at the blog of Amelia Smith, author of fantasy Scrapplings and Regency romance Scandal’s Heiress.

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Happy New Year!

January 2, 2015 General, Writing musings 0

The turn of the year is a time for looking both back and forwards. This is probably the forty seventh you’ve read, so to keep it brief, here’s a quick summary of my year:

Memorable events of 2014 (good and bad):

  • I published a book! ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ went live on 12th September 2014. [Kind of a roller-coaster, but mostly good]
  • I learned that when you spend time writing, you get less reading done. [Bad]
  • I taught myself the 400 steps necessary to obtain an EIN from Uncle Sam to avoid withholding tax on my book royalties (ha! If only…), which involves dancing naked with unicorn feathers and the sacrifice of one’s first-born (sorry, James, but needs must), not to mention visiting the American Embassy in London, which is almost as far from here as it’s possible to get without falling into the ocean. And then the system was changed so I didn’t need to do any of that. [Which is good, I think; well, very good for my first-born, obviously]
  • I learned that I have a lot of kind online friends who went out and bought my book, and posted nice reviews. You lovely people. [Good]
  • I learned that I will never get rich by writing books (but I kind of knew that anyway). [OK]
  • I discovered that Australia in November is a very pleasant place to be. And the wine is awesome… [V. Good]

Coming in 2015 (maybe):

  • Another book! ‘The Fire Mages’ will be published on 9th January 2015. You can now pre-order it at your local Amazon.
  • And another! ‘The Mages of Bennamore’ will be published late spring 2015.
  • And yet another! ‘The Mines of Asharim’ might possibly round off my first year as a published author by appearing in September 2015. If all this sounds too prolific for words, bear in mind that in the year and a half I spent editing and polishing Kallanash and inching towards publication in a three steps forward, two back manner, I wrote another two and a bit books. So I kind of had them lined up, waiting.
  • On the reading/reviewing front, I’d like to reduce my backlog of books somewhat, and not just by shuffling them from the to-read shelf to the to-read-sometime shelf on Goodreads. You know, by actually reading them. But I just keep getting distracted by all the shiny new books…

I hope you all have the 2015 you want.

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Writing process blog hop

August 2, 2014 Current writings, Writing musings 10

I don’t normally do these things, where you get mentioned on someone’s blog and you are asked to pay it forward by mentioning several other blogs. It always seems a bit like those chain letters, or a blog version of pyramid selling.

But recently this blog hop came to H. Anthe Davis’s rather splendid blog, wherein she describes in astonishing detail all aspects of her created world, as seen in her ‘War of Memory’ series. And you know what? This particular blog hop is rather fun. The only requirement is to talk about your own writing process, and mention three other writers you admire. What could be easier? Who doesn’t like talking about themselves?

So here goes.

1. What am I currently working on?

I have four books on the go at the moment, at different stages.

1) ‘The Plains of Kallanash’: epic fantasy with a strong romance element, set in a society ruled by multiple marriages. My two main characters are the junior wife and husband in one such marriage when the lead wife dies under mysterious circumstances. I’ve just finished the post-beta edits, and it’s currently with my proofreader. Cover art is done, blurb is polished, and all being well I shall be sending out ARCs very soon and self-publishing in September. I’m getting slightly excited about it (SQUEEEE!!!!!!) and already planning a proper launch party, with champagne and a cake and me ceremonially clicking the ‘Publish’ button. Fun or what?

2) ‘The Fire Mages’: epic fantasy with a strong romantic element, and more of a traditional coming-of-age, girl with powers affair. Might even be YA (who’d a thunk it? Me writing YA – whatever next). Finished and ready to post chapters on Scribophile for critiquing.

3) ‘The Mages of Bennamore’: a direct follow-on to #2 in time, but with an entirely different cast of characters. Features a 40-year-old woman with a secret past (is there a character anywhere who doesn’t have a secret past? Sigh…) who gets involved with said mages. Just finished the first draft – yay!

4) New project, tentatively called ‘The Mines of Asharim’ (although my random it’ll-do-for-now titles do tend to become permanent). A woman running away from [something or other] volunteers to work in the mysterious mines in the Sky Mountains. Just getting going, but it looks like being fun. Magic! Sex! Exciting stuff happening (probably)!

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This question might be easier to answer if I knew what genre it actually is. I define it as epic fantasy with romance, but it’s not epic in the sense of vast armies fighting the evil dark lord, or the rise and fall of empires, nor is it romance in the conventional sense of two people who meet, fall in love, are beset by obstacles but end up together. It’s definitely fantasy, though – a world unlike ours, with magic, although not overrun with monsters or zombies or vampires or anything of the sort.

As to how that differs from anything else – dunno. Every writer’s work is unique, so there’s that, but I’m not stretching the boundaries of speculative fiction or anything, or making profound points about the human condition. I don’t think there’s anything I do that’s never been done before. But undoubtedly my characters are as unique as any set of people, and their particular problems are unique, and I like to think I can produce an absorbing story, even if it’s not revolutionary.

There is one thing that’s slightly different about it. Some fantasy worlds are post-apocalyptic, having returned to some pseudo-medieval lifestyle after a high-tech, possibly modern type of era. Some fantasy worlds have had a magical apocalypse – a mage war or some other devastating magic-induced disaster. Well, my world has had both. There were in the distant past multiple advanced civilisations which rose and fell and rose again in a different format. There was also a period when very powerful mages existed, who got a bit above themselves and accidentally reshaped the planet and changed the orbits of the moons. All of those are gone, now, but not necessarily forgotten. The advanced civilisations left records of their techniques, and the mages left a number of ways for later societies to continue to use magic without getting dangerously powerful. These two factors underlie all my stories.

3. Why do I write what I write?

Because I had these sodding characters in my head and they wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote their story down, that’s why. I suppose it’s fantasy because that’s what I mostly read. I love the open-endedness of it, that frisson of excitement that absolutely anything can happen. There’s nothing sadder than predictable fantasy.

Oddly, I’ve never been sucked into the whole must-write-a-trilogy quicksand. My books are long, sure, but not that long, and each one has a clear end without any need for a sequel. I have ideas for follow-on books, but they tend to be different characters and different settings, with just a connecting thread or two, not really sequels. But the fun part about writing multiple books in the same world is that little things from one book creep into another one. So the strange glass balls in Kallanash turn out to have a bigger role in ‘The Mages of Bennamore’. Familiar characters turn up from time to time. They’re still stand-alone books, but with little easter eggs for regular readers.

4. How does my writing process work?

Other authors on this blog hop have described their wonderful and quite complicated methods. Mine is very simple. I have an idea, then I start writing and… erm, that’s it. Somehow it works. I tend to hit a sticky patch near the end when I have to pull all the various strands of the story together into a rousing finale, and my brain goes into melt-down, and that’s when I write lists and time-lines and so on. But otherwise, it all stays in my head, unfurling in front of me as I go along.

Once written, a book sits unopened for a long time – several months. I try to write something else while it’s brewing. Then it gets dusted off, I read it right through, polish the first chapters and get them critiqued. I’ve found Scribophile is invaluable for spotting things I’m quite impervious to – adverb abuse, tedious info-dumps, passive voice, having three successive scenes in the same dull room, ‘committee meeting’ discussions and so on. They’re not so good with plot and character development, because of the nature of chapter-by-chapter critiquing. So I only post a few chapters for critique, then send the book off to beta readers, do some final revisions and after that my proofreader takes over to sort out my creative use of ellipses. And the process does seem to get easier each time.

5.  Fangirl about three (OK, four) other writers

Ooh, this is the fun part. I get to tell you about some of my favourite writers. Sorry, I couldn’t keep it to three (I had enough trouble with four; there are a bunch more I’d love to mention). These are supposed to be bloggers that you pester to write their own writing process blog tour, but I hate being pushy, so I’m just going to tell you about a few people whose writing I love, OK? In addition to H. Anthe Davis, mentioned above.

Lexi Revellion: Lexi was one of the first self-published authors I came across when I started filling up my Kindle with new-to-me names, and also one of my first wow-this-is-good successes. She’s unusual in that every book is different – not just the plot style but even the genre, so you never know quite what you’re going to get. Mystery romance, followed by a sci-fi thriller, followed by post-apocalypse… you get the picture. And always a lovely romance. The other constants are believable characters, tight plotting and a wonderfully British spin on things, complete with dry British humour. If I had to choose, I’d probably say ‘Ice Diaries’ was my favourite (but it’s a close call).

Andrea K Host: Andrea has the distinction of being the first self-published author to whom I gave a five star review. Her fantasies are invariably quirky, thought-provoking and intelligent, with genuinely strong female characters (not kick-ass superwomen, just normal women showing their inner strength) and often in a world where gender equality and groupings other than one man, one woman are the norm. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to pick a favourite book, it would probably be ‘The Champion of the Rose’, because I just adore the idea of a magically evil rose bush, but for pure, unadulterated pleasure, even better than chocolate, I’d recommend the Touchstone trilogy.

Tristan Gregory: I reviewed Tristan’s full-length fantasy novel, ‘Twixt Heaven and Earth’, some time ago, an unusual and intelligent look at a human war where angels and demons also get involved. However, my favourite writing of his, and a good starting point, is his linked series of novellas, collectively known as ‘The Wandering Tale’, independent stories where a minor character in one becomes the main character in the next. These are beautifully crafted, emotionally engaging works which are pretty well word perfect. Start with ‘The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth’.

Intisar Khanani: Intisar was one of those serendipitous finds. I came across ‘Thorn’ somewhere, somehow, started reading the sample and just couldn’t stop. It’s a delightful retelling of the goose girl fairy story, with terrific characters, some great world-building that never overwhelms the story and a magnificent ending. There are a couple of shorter works to enjoy, too, full of wonderful writing and lots of unpredictable twists.

For a longer list of some of my best reads of 2013, check here.

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Writing progress report: third book finished

July 27, 2014 Current writings, The Fire Mages, The Mages of Bennamore, The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 4

So another one bites the dust. Today I typed ‘The End’ on ‘The Mages of Bennamore’, the third epic fantasy set in the Brightmoon world. Because I like statistics, here are some numbers for the three books for comparison:

Book 1: ‘The Plains of Kallanash’

Elapsed writing time: 1 year

Total days of writing: 190

Total words: 220,000

Average words per writing day: 1,100

Chapters: 58

Book 2: ‘The Fire Mages’

Elapsed writing time: 5 months

Total days of writing: 90

Total words: 151,000

Average words per writing day: 1,700

Chapters: 44

Book 3: ‘The Mages of Bennamore’

Elapsed writing time: 7 months

Total days of writing: 119

Total words: 157,000

Average words per writing day: 1,300

Chapters: 44

This third book is much the same size as the second, but it took 7 months overall instead of 5 months, largely because I was also working on revising ‘The Plains of Kallanash’. There’s no doubt that it’s easier and more productive (for me, anyway) to work exclusively on one book at a time, especially for first draft work. For the last two or three weeks, since Kallanash went off to the proofreader, I’ve been working flat out on finishing this one off, with the result that I’ve had a much higher daily word count, and it’s been easier to keep track of the various strands of the plot in my head. I love getting immersed in a story like that, although I’m not sure it’s good for me: I go to bed only when I’m cross-eyed with tiredness, lie awake anyway, thinking about plot options, wake up early and start again. This writing lark would be much easier if I didn’t have so many other things to do during the day, like boring real world stuff. Who needs meals anyway? Or clean clothes? Dust, what dust?

This one will be left to brew for a while – several months at least. So what’s next? Well, a rest from writing first of all (and try to reduce the size of the ironing pile). Then ‘The Fire Mages’ is going off to Scribophile to be torn to shreds by my eagle-eyed crit-buddies. Its cover art is already scheduled. And Kallanash will be back from the proofreader soon for final tidy-up editing and formatting ready for ARCs in August and publication (eek!) in September.

For the next new work, I’m thinking of resuscitating something that predates all the three completed works, but was abandoned when I started Kallanash. I already have 120,000 words (over 30 chapters) of it, but (huge but) it needs a lot of work to bring it into line with the others in the Brightmoon world. Firstly, there are world-building aspects that are no longer canonical, so many details of the background have to be changed. All the names have to be revised (I used modern names, which just doesn’t work). Plus my writing style has changed considerably. Or, to put it another way, I was a terrible writer back then. So a lot of work. But I love the story, the premise and the characters, so I want to do it eventually.

But for today, I’m just going to relax and enjoy getting to the end of another book. A very satisfying moment.

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First books and second books

July 25, 2014 The Fire Mages, The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 4

Writing a book is no different from any other craft: it takes practice. Nobody is able to paint or to make model aeroplanes or to write phone apps or drive a car straight out of the box. Well, growing potatoes, maybe; stick them in the ground, then dig them up three months later and enjoy delicious new potatoes with butter and a sprig of mint. Yummy. But I digress. Everyone needs to learn and hone their skills, and (except for potatoes) that takes practice. A lot of practice. For driving a car, they say it takes one lesson for every year of your life. For writing, the received wisdom is that it takes a million words.

So the first effort is always a bit wonky. It’s like those clay models kids bring home from school – they’re always a bit lop-sided. ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is my first, wonky effort. I’m aware of some of the problems: a long, long opening phase revolving round the marriage with an abrupt switch to an adventure phase; and a heroine that everyone (including me) wants to slap at some point.

My biggest mistake was in choosing to tell the story through the views of two main characters with alternating chapters. This was incredibly restrictive. I couldn’t simply yank a dull Mia chapter because it would leave me with two consecutive Hurst chapters. Some chapters got stupidly long because I couldn’t switch point of view (the other character wasn’t there), but I couldn’t start a new chapter either. Sometimes it meant that chapter breaks came in odd places because I was jumping to the other character. And sometimes when the characters were pursuing separate story threads, the two plotlines got out of sync. So I wouldn’t do that again.

As these issues began to dawn on me, I realised I had two choices: either rewrite the whole thing from scratch or… No, forget it. It took me a year to write the first time, there was no way I was going to start again. So it was going to have to do. I’ve had the first third of it critiqued on Scribophile, which was unbelievably helpful, I’ve had some terrific beta readers and I’ve done quite a bit of editing. In particular, I’ve made some deep cuts to the final third or so, to tighten things up, and some of my writing issues (like over-long sentences and forgetting to show what the characters are feeling and – sometimes – too much info-dumping, all the usual beginner problems) I’ve been able to improve (I hope).

But eventually there comes a point where you have to let it go, send it on its way into the world, wonky or not, and move on.

But the second book – that should be better, shouldn’t it? I should have learned from the mistakes of the first book and produced something much more polished and professional right from the start. I started my second book, ‘The Fire Mages’, as soon as I’d finished Kallanash, and it took me only seven months to finish it (although it’s quite a bit shorter, too). I left it alone while I edited Kallanash, but I recently dug it out and reread it from start to finish. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it and it seemed to work very well, even in first draft form. There were a few logic errors, but I was able to fix those quite easily.

A couple of weeks ago I gave it to my First Reader (my daughter) to read, and she enjoyed it too. ‘Not that I didn’t enjoy Kallanash,’ she said, ‘but I was really into this one.’ It helps, I think, that ‘The Fire Mages’ is a much more conventional fantasy – a teenage girl discovering her powers, with magic and adventure right from the start and (thank goodness!) a heroine with a bit of backbone, if a little self-centred. OK, very self-centred. But she’s a teenager, that’s normal.

I think there are two reasons why this one works better. Firstly, the experience of writing Kallanash has taught me something about the craft of writing. The very act of writing helps to improve the output; practice makes – well, not perfect, but certainly better at a technical level (sentence structure and so on). And secondly, writing – and completing – a large-scale effort like a novel has made me far more aware of story techniques and structure, not just while I write, but also while reading. I’m constantly on the lookout for tricks and clever stratagems in books, and that helps me structure my own work. I’m still a pantser, root and branch, but I’m gradually becoming more aware of the way different elements of the story work, like the need for tension, and seeding hooks here and there to keep the pot boiling. My stories aren’t planned, but they’re not just great amorphous clouds of stuff, either.

So I think the second book is better than the first – as it should be. But the proof of the pudding and all that… I’ll shortly be starting to post chapters on Scribophile for critique, and it will be interesting to see what my crit-buddies over there make of it.

Now the third book – that’s another matter. I’ve been writing that while also revising and polishing Kallanash, and it’s been hard to hop from one to the other, and very disruptive. I suspect this one is going to be much more uneven than the others and need more revision. And a 40-year-old heroine? How’s that going to work? Sometimes I wish I could stick to a formula and produce those nice long series, all with the same characters, that so many authors have. But these characters pop up in my head and they sit there knocking on the inside of my skull until I get them out of there and tell their story.

And truly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Kallanash update: final edits done

July 6, 2014 The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 12

I’ve spent the last few weeks feverishly revising ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ in light of the comments received from my beta readers. And when I say ‘feverishly’, sometimes it almost felt as if I were literally feverish – I’d go to bed thinking about edits, I’d wake up thinking about them, and sometimes I even dreamt about them. It was hard work, and a great deal of it was spent, not pecking away at the keyboard, but just mulling over ideas. Not much else got done, although I’ve found that mindless occupations like ironing or gardening are excellent pondering opportunities.

After the pondering and the final rewriting, I read through the whole book one final time to tighten up excessive wordiness, and looking out for last minute gotchas resulting from the revisions. No use removing that unwanted chunk of text if a different part of the book refers to the missing event. And I found one place where a character had changed gender in the revisions, yet I still had a scene referring to ‘her’ as ‘him’. Oops. Read more »

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