Questions often asked of writers include: What is your writing process? Do you set yourself daily writing goals? Do you plot the book in advance?
For me, I’m a plotter, not a pantser. I write a synopsis ahead of time. The storyline may change as I write the book, but it acts as a roadmap along the way. Once I get started writing and get past the first few pages or beginning chapters, I’ll set a deadline for completion. Then I put myself on a writing schedule of five pages a day. I don’t stop to polish my work or perfect my sentences. It’s important for me to get the story down on paper and then I can go back and revise.
If you want to finish a manuscript, it helps to set daily goals. When you sell to a traditional publisher, you’ll have definitive deadlines for the next book. Small press publishers may require a submission date as well if they offer multibook deals.
I’d started out working for Dorchester and did two books a year for them, meaning I had to complete a book within six months. Strict self-discipline is the only way to get this done. When I wrote for Kensington, they only wanted one book a year. That was easier because it gave me time to plan an extended launch campaign.
Now that I’m indie publishing my work, I set my own deadlines. My writing happens early in the morning before normal office hours. Then I have the rest of the day free for excursions or to work on marketing or other book projects.
When I’m in the revision stage, I also set goals. For a 300-page manuscript, this would be 10 pages a day to get done in a month. And that’s only for the first round of line editing.
Besides the creative goals, I also set business goals. This year, I am bundling my mysteries into box sets. Last year, the goal was to complete reissuing my backlist titles. Next, I’d like to do more audiobooks and perhaps revise some old manuscripts sitting in my drawers. This is in addition to writing book #18 in my series.
Keep in mind that my method might not work for you. Whichever way you can finish a book, go for it. But if you’re floundering and can’t seem to get past the first few chapters, set yourself some achievable goals.
In discussing the mystery genre, writers often mention how crime fiction reflects the current state of our society. Morality in mysteries is another important consideration. What are the lessons learned by the protagonist, and in extension, by our readers? Personally, I don’t give heavy thought to these notions when I write a novel. Mostly I aim to entertain. My goal in writing the cozy mystery is to help you escape from reality and enjoy a fun, lighthearted tale. But could there be a morality lesson buried in our stories upon a closer look?
In the earlier Bad Hair Day Mysteries, my hairstylist sleuth seeks redemption for a past mistake. When Marla was nineteen and babysitting a toddler, the child accidently drowned in a backyard pool. I meant to educate readers about this preventable tragedy. Guilt drives Marla and motivates her to solve the crime in Permed to Death. When she meets handsome Detective Dalton Vail, this guilt prohibits her from progressing in their relationship. He has a teenage daughter, and she doesn’t want children. She has to forgive herself before she can move on in life. She volunteers for the Child Drowning Prevention Coalition and helps solve murders to bring justice to victims. This is how she atones for what happened and remembers she has a good heart.
Lesson One — You can move on from past mistakes and be a better person.
As Marla and Dalton grow closer, Marla comes to care for his daughter, Brianna. Their relationship still has its bumps, because Dalton also has some emotional baggage to cast away before he can move ahead. But finally, by Shear Murder, Marla has accepted that she’s stronger with Dalton and he realizes that she completes him.
Lesson Two — Finding love can strengthen you, not cause loss of independence or self-identity.
But Marla is still nervous. As their nuptials approach, she buries herself in solving another case rather than face wedding details and bickering relatives. Finally, she finds the courage to accept her new family with enthusiasm and love. She sheds her fears and looks forward to a new tomorrow.
Lesson Three — We need to accept who we are to ensure a brighter future.
These moral lessons resonate because they’re universal truths. Mostly, the morals in my stories involve the sleuth as she learns to appreciate the meaning of family. The focus is not on the criminal mind or what effect the crime has on the victim’s survivors. Cozy mysteries focus on the sleuth and her life. In this way, her character growth issues reflect the problems we face in the real world.
That’s why I like reading cozies, too. They’re about someone like you or me who is a lot braver and who has the guts to chase down the bad guys. Along the way, we live vicariously in the sleuth’s world and enjoy seeing her relationships grow and change.
How about you? Do you determine a theme ahead of time, or does it emerge from your writing as you develop the story? Do your tales focus on the criminal’s motivations and the repercussions of the crime, or more on the sleuth’s life in general?
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Some writers say they write when the muse strikes them. They might go days without filling a manuscript page and work feverishly when the mood hits. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration this way. As a professional writer, you have a job, and you must show up for work each day.
However, I do believe there’s a certain spark about a story that serves as a creative faucet. It’s what caught your passion in the first place. Or maybe you’re struggling to find this elusive element. That’s where I am with my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Never mind the dozen other distractions demanding attention, such as reissuing my remaining backlist titles. So what’s wrong?
I know what the next Marla Vail story will be about in terms of the murder mystery. But I like to learn something new with each book. That’s what makes the story fun and special for me. In EASTER HAIR HUNT, it was learning about beekeeping, stamp collecting, honey production and Fabergé eggs. In TRIMMED TO DEATH, I researched Florida olive groves and olive oil scams. The range of topics I’ve covered in each of my books varies greatly, but each subject was something that interested me. I haven’t found this spark yet for book #17 in the series.
As an author, you don’t want to repeat yourself. I’ve done the historical angle, especially in FACIALS CAN BE FATAL when I used excerpts from my father’s 1935 travel journal. I should avoid mixing history and mystery for this next one. Science? Maybe, but this might not be a good idea when we’re all so paranoid about viruses. Food? Always an interest of mine, but I’ve already done olives, coffee, honey, and vanilla.
I’ve scanned through the news, hoping some esoteric topic will catch my fancy. Maybe I’m too distracted to really think hard on it. Likely it’ll be 2021 before I can sit down to write this book, because I have too much else to get done before then. However, I could work on the plot once I get involved in the research. Would you call this waiting for the muse? Or is it merely waiting until my mind is clear to focus on this story?
I know the moment will come when the notion hits me. Or I’ll get interested in diverse topics that I will have to fit into the mystery plot. This is similar to putting a puzzle together. I’d write the ideas onto mental index cards and then shuffle them around to see how they can be combined. This is a bit harder than an overall concept but it can be done. Either way, I’ll be excited when inspiration hits. How about you? Do you need that special spark to start your story?
Is there such a thing as Writer’s Block? Or is it merely an excuse for poor planning? Because if you’ve properly laid the groundwork for your novel, you should know exactly where the story is headed. Some writers are pantsers and not plotters, and their novel writing experience is a meandering road that will eventually lead to the end. Whichever way you tell a story, the middle might become a muddle where the road ahead is obscured. But this doesn’t have to happen if you retrace your steps and build on whatever is already present.
In terms of writing the story, I don’t believe Writer’s Block exists. Even when faced with the complexity of writing a novel, we can break it down into baby steps. One hour of writing, one page, one chapter. We keep going until we are done. However, in terms of lost confidence or too many outside distractions, it can definitely be real.
Loss of confidence comes from a variety of sources, such as a bad review, a publisher who rejects your next option book or dumps you altogether, a line that is cancelled along with all its authors. You might feel lost, doubting your talent and questioning which way to go. But if you’re a career writer, you’ll either ignore that nasty review and celebrate the good ones instead, or you’ll pick yourself up and find a new publisher or will decide to try the indie route.
Outside distractions can be another major cause of Writer’s Block. Disastrous world events can become huge roadblocks. Our writing becomes insignificant in the face of these catastrophes. Storytelling seems meaningless, and yet we have to remember that books offer comfort to our readers. It’s our calling to provide escapism and entertainment during troubled times.
Personal events are much more difficult to ignore. Some writers find sitting at the computer to be comforting during personal crises. Others find it impossible to write. That’s okay. We need to allow time to process what has occurred, and hopefully, someday the muse will return.
Speaking of minds, in my fiction writing classes, I advise writers to examine their character’s life space to get to know them. This is what’s in the person’s head at any given moment in time. For example, three items are occupying my mind right now that are blocking my creativity.
Because of Covid 19, I hesitate to start a new project when each day brings the possibility of getting struck down by the virus. I have to avoid the news and shut out the dire prophesies in order to get anything done.
Another big energy drain is our desire to move to be near our kids. We’ve been packing, getting rid of stuff, looking at houses on Zillow every day. After living here for forty years, this isn’t easy for us.
The business of writing is also taking up a large portion of my brain. I am still working on reissuing the remainder of my backlist titles. After these are done, I’d like to bundle them into box sets and run price promotions. These require a learning curve as well as more time and effort to put them into action. In fact, I could focus totally on marketing and never write another book. And what about those standalones buried in my desk drawers? Are they worth publishing?
Physical problems can be inhibiting. People with pain may be unable to focus. Surgeries require time to heal. Along with health concerns come aging issues. How much longer will we be able to keep writing? Is it worth the effort to start a new series? How many more books will we be able to finish in our remaining years, and is that how we want to spend them?
Yet being a writer is who we are. We write stories because it fills our time, satisfies an inner need, expresses our creativity and gives our days purpose. We hang out with other writers and contribute to the writing community.
We’ve all been distracted by these problems and somehow we’ve found our way back, often to even greater success. I suspect the secret is what I’ve told aspiring authors. Focus on the writing first thing each day. Shove aside anything else on your mind and spend an hour on your writing project. Then let the world flood your mind.
What advice do you offer writers struggling with these issues?
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Today we’re discussing adding front and back material to your soon-to-be self-published book. This is one of the advantages of indie publishing. You can add whatever bonus materials you want. In terms of Front Matter, less is better. You’ll want readers to access the first chapter as quickly as possible for the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. So what should you include? Here are some options:
Front Material may include:
Cast of Characters
Map of Setting
Story Blurb with Review Quotes
Table of Contents
If you have a lot of characters, a cast of characters might be useful to the reader. Or it might discourage them from reading the book if they think it’ll be hard to keep track. I’ve had feedback both ways from fans.
The copyright page contains the book title, author, year of copyright, publisher imprint, statements about fair usage and permissions, ISBN numbers, and a Library of Congress number. Some of these are optional and some are not. We’ll discuss these choices more in another post.
Maps are always popular as are family trees. These could be offered in the back of the book rather than up front to save space. Same for the Dedication. A Table of Contents is critical for a nonfiction work. For a fiction work, this will be added when you upload your mobi or epub file to the different distributors.
Back Material may include:
About the Author + Social Media Links
Book Club Discussion Guide
Call to Action for Newsletter and/or Reviews
Excerpt of Sequel
More Books by [Author] with Buy Link
World Building Details
After your story ends, you’ll have the chance to add bonus materials, such as a list of your books in series order, an excerpt of the sequel, reader discussion questions, research notes and more. Here you can put a Call to Action for your newsletter and/or reviews. Regarding buy links, keep in mind that certain vendors don’t like you to mention other sites. You’ll be safe if you use the book page on your website. Otherwise, you’ll have to change the buy link for each distributor.
My personal preference for e-books is to format my work in Times New Roman 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins, indent first line 0.33 inches, Widow/Orphan off, single spacing. I put a page break at the end of each chapter. The first paragraph of each chapter or after a space break is flush left. Your formatting source might advise something different. You can also upload your Word file to one of the third-party aggregators like Draft2Digital and they’ll do the conversions for you. More on this option another time. Next we’ll discuss Buying and Assigning ISBN numbers.
For writers, it’s important to set concrete career goals. These should be as specific as possible and ideally attainable. It helps to divide these objectives into creative and business aspects. As a professional author, you need to pay attention to both. So let’s see where I stand at the beginning of this new year.
1. Publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
This book is written but needs a final proofread before going into production. My cover artist is polishing the cover. The next step will be formatting, another inspection for conversion errors, and then upload for pre-orders. Sending out the book to reviewers, doing a cover reveal, planning the launch party and preparing for a blog tour are all part of the marketing for a new book release. The date is slated for March 10, so I have to get these tasks done.
2. Reissue mystery backlist titles and update earlier covers.
For purposes of author branding, my cover artist is tweaking my earlier covers to make them all consistent in terms of font, text placement, imagery, etc. One early cover has a total makeover and another one has a partial. The other tweaks are relatively minor. Adding to this task might be my four Five Star titles but they’re not on the horizon yet.
3. Revise and reissue romance backlist titles.
I still have six romance titles that need to be made available online. These early books require editing since my writing has vastly improved over time. I need about two months per book for this process as it requires one round of line editing and two rounds of read-throughs for polishing.
4. Do another audiobook.
I’d eventually like to put Writing the Cozy Mystery into audio. Or I could do the next Bad Hair Day mystery instead. It might depend on number 3 below.
1. Bundle books into box sets.
Once my backlist titles are all updated, I can begin packaging them into box sets.
2. Participate in sales and giveaways.
Again, once my entire backlist is online, I’ll have more leeway to offer pricing incentives.
3. Experiment with going wide for audiobooks.
My audiobooks are currently available only on Audible, iTunes and Amazon. I’d like to see how they would do if more readily available to libraries and other resources.
After Easter Hair Hunt, my next priority is getting all my backlist titles available online. Then it will be time for something new. But these books have been preying on my mind for some time now, so I have to get them done. It will be immensely satisfying to have all 27 books (8 romances, 16 mysteries, 1 novella, and 2 nonfiction titles) the best they can be and available to readers everywhere. At that point, I will face what to do next. What do you think it should be?
I have finished the first draft of EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries!
Yay, the work is done! Or is it? Yes, the creative part is over, the agony and anticipation of facing a blank page every day and wondering if the words will come. It’s a great relief to type THE END, knowing you’ve reached your word count and have completed the story. But your labor is far from finished.
The first thing I suggest doing next is to revise the synopsis. Inevitably the story has gone in a new direction since you wrote the first version. Now you’ll need to bring this tool up to date. Patch in the new information and polish it so the story reads seamlessly from start to finish.
Why is this important? You may need a synopsis as a sales tool. Your publisher may require one. You might need a synopsis, short or long, to enter your book in a writing contest. Or your marketing department may need it for their purposes.
At the same time, you can start working on your story blurb. If you’re with a small publisher, they may ask you to come up with the cover copy. If you are an indie author, you’ll have to create the book descriptions on your own. Even if you hire one of the services available for this purpose, they most likely will require a synopsis as well. If you’ve gotten a head-start on the blurb, these folks can use it as a jumping off point. You’ll want a one-liner tag line, a few sentences for a log line, then a short one-paragraph description and a longer one of two to three paragraphs. Remember to maintain the tone of your story in the blurb.
Several rounds of editing and revisions will follow. I need some distance from a story before I can begin line editing, so I may work on something else until I’m ready. If you’re writing a series, this is a good time to do research or jot notes for the next story. Or work on a marketing plan for your book. Then it’s time for line edits, read-throughs for consistency and to catch repetitions, editorial revisions, and beta readers. A final polish will always find more to fix. So there’s a lot more work before your baby is ready to face the world.
In the meantime, celebrate your achievement. You’ve finished a book. Savor the satisfaction and give your creative mind a break. Enjoy your well-earned glass of champagne, specialty coffee, or raspberry lemonade. You deserve a treat. Indulge yourself and relax with some fun activities. When you’re ready to return to the story, your muse will let you know.
Writers, what do you do after finishing the first draft of your novel?
How do you keep track of timelines in your work-in-progress? Do you use graphs, charts, or plotting boards to note the days of the week? When I was starting out as a writer, I kept plotting boards. This was a poster board that I divided into blocks representing each chapter. After I wrote a section, I’d fill it in on the poster for a quick visual reference. These days, I use a chapter by chapter outline in a Word file. I’ll still fill it in after I write each segment. I add the days of the week so I can remember what day it is for each scene.
Spoiler Alert! As I was working on EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries, I hit a major snag. The story begins on the day before Easter. It’s March. My hairdresser sleuth, Marla Vail, is seven months pregnant. Her mother wants to plan a baby shower. Meanwhile, Marla is chasing down her missing friend, Blinky, who disappeared after an Easter Egg Hunt at Tremayne Manor.
How much time has passed since Blinky had gone missing? Was it reasonable to think she might still be alive? Uh-oh, I’d better check on the timeline. This realization led me to a plot twist two-thirds through the story.
I’d been concentrating so hard on the storyline, that I had lost sight of the subplots. If Marla is seven months pregnant, when is her due date? I had to go back to the previous book, Trimmed to Death, to figure out when she might have conceived. Then I printed out a set of calendars from https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/
According to what I read online, Easter Sunday can fall between March 22 and April 25. In 2008, Easter was March 23 and Passover was April 20. Okay, my story will start on Saturday, March 22. By counting the weeks, I figured out Marla’s due date will be June 15.
By now, my story had progressed into April. Her mother could hold the baby shower on April 19, the day before Passover. I penciled in other events involving Marla’s friends and relatives. Now I know exactly what is happening, and when. Had I done this from the start, I wouldn’t have had to go back and change each conversation that mentioned these personal issues. I’d like this story to finish before Marla’s baby shower, so that could be my final wrap scene.
Sometimes you get carried away in the rush of storytelling and have to go back to fill in the details. What’s my advice? Get a calendar and follow your story along so you know which week you’re on and how long the action is taking. Sometimes you’ll read an entire murder mystery that takes place over a weekend. In that case, you’d need to keep an hourly account. Either way, keep track of your timeline from the start and save yourself some time-consuming revisions.
This is Part 5 of my Self-Publishing Made Simple blog series.
You have a polished manuscript. You have bought a block of ISBN numbers. You’ve determined how you want to present yourself as a publisher re using an imprint or not.
Now you’ll need to decide if you will be publishing an ebook, paperback, and/or hardcover edition. Finish the copyright page by adding ISBNs for the format of your choice.
Note: If you’re simply going to upload your book to Amazon and participate in their KU program, likely you can use the ISBN number assigned by Amazon. This is true for certain other distributors as well. But keep in mind that this will register them as the publisher on record rather than you. See Part 4 for how to assign book titles to an ISBN number.
Book Descriptions and Tag Line Write a one-sentence tag line for your book along with short and long story descriptions. If you need help, go here:
For a paperback, decide if you want a longer blurb on the back cover or a shorter one with review quotes. Remember to leave room for the bar code. You do not need to buy this. Distributors will provide their own bar codes, or you can get one free online. Prepare the back cover copy to send to your cover designer.
Author Biography Prepare your author biography. This should be written in third person in an engaging manner. List your writing awards, professional organizations, genres, and special interests. Have a long bio, a short bio, and a couple of speaker introductions geared to writers and readers. You’ll need a shorter bio for the online book distributors, where you might want to include the URL to your website or newsletter.
Keywords Make a list of your keywords. These are phrases readers might use to search for your book. They don’t have to be one word. You can use phrases such as, “mysteries with humor” or “cozy mysteries with pets” or “mysteries set in small towns.” Here’s an example of more keywords for mysteries. Look at the bestseller categories on Amazon for more ideas. https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201276790
Cover Design Think about a scene or two that you’d like to see depicted on your cover. Also consider your series branding if your book isn’t a standalone. Colors, text, and placement should be consistent from book to book. So should the art style. Look for a cover artist who has a portfolio of books in your genre. Join the writing community to get recommendations.
Pricing If you’re unsure what to charge, look at other books in your genre with similar page counts to see what the going rates are. What are readers in your genre willing to pay for a print book or a digital copy?
Formatting Formatting comes next. You can do it yourself, hire a professional, or use one of the third party aggregates, such as Draft2Digital, to do the conversions for you. What you’ll need will depend on your technical skills and where you plan to upload your book.
Distribution Before we get into particulars on book distributors, decide where you want your book to be sold. Are you planning to sell it at Amazon alone, perhaps with their Kindle Select program so people can get your book through Kindle Unlimited? Then all you need is a mobi file. For BN, Kobo, and Apple, you’ll need an ePub file. For print, a pdf file is required.
April 15-21 RONE Awards Please VOTE for Body Wave Audiobook in the RONE Awards THIS WEEK ONLY! Sign in or Register at InD’Tale Magazine, https://www.indtale.com Be sure to click the email confirmation link if you are registering for the first time. Once logged in, go to RONES in upper right corner, hover over 2019 RONE Awards, and click on 2019 RONE Awards Week One that pops up. Scroll down to the Audiobook: Paranormal/Mystery Category and vote for my title, BODY WAVE.