Business Plan

Writing a Series

A lot of authors write series. Some make all their money writing long series rather than stand-alone novels. A few are even paid by their publishing companies to keep writing series even after the story has gotten old and there are no new ideas or places for the characters to go (*cough* *cough* James Patterson and the Alex Cross books *cough*). But writing a series is a lot tougher than it looks. Rather than keeping a reader’s interest for about 300 pages, you have to keep it for several times that amount and over several books too.

While there is no one way to write a series (is there ever “one way” to go about anything in this business?), there are some tips and strategies that can make writing a series a bit easier. Here are some of mine, gleaned from years of writing various different series in my teens and publishing one of them once I got into college.

Decide who your main characters are and what sort of story you’re going to write with them. I feel that it’s important to nail down who your main characters are pretty early on, because they often end up influencing where the story goes through their actions. You don’t have to go into each character’s entire history at this early stage, but you should have an idea of who they are, what they like and dislike, maybe what sort of environment they grew up in, and what they want and what you from them in this series. That information will come in handy when you’re planning out the series.

Make a roadmap. When you have your characters (and if you’re writing this story in a world different from the one you and most of your readership live in, a general idea of this world), then you should plan out the series and what is going to happen. You don’t need to go into every single detail on what happens in each book, you can save that for when you write each individual book. Just have a general idea of what will happen in each book, how that might fit into a greater arc if you have one in mind, which characters you might introduce or kill off or whatever, etc. It’s kind of similar to outlining a novel, in a way (for tips on outlining, click here), only for several books. Creating a roadmap can also be helpful in keeping a record of what and when you need to research a subject and can allow you to keep notes of what’s happened in previous books in case you need to refer back to something for the current book.

Immerse your reader slowly. This is something I’ve learned over a long time, but it’s useful to remind some writers of it every now and then. Let’s say your story takes place in a fantasy or science-fiction universe and you’re the only one who knows the entirety of the world, its various pieces and factions and groups and aspects. You’ll have an urge to make sure that your reader is immediately caught up with everything, so that they know all there is to know about these worlds. I’m telling you now, resist that urge! Updating them about everything in this world of yours too early would be overloading them with information. They wouldn’t know what to do with it and they’d put down that first book before getting very far in it.

Immersing a reader in your world is like teaching a kid to swim.

The best way to go about introducing readers to this world is to imagine it like teaching a young child to swim. Naturally you don’t start with the deep end. What if your pupil drowned? Instead you start with the shallowest end of the pool. It’s good to start without overwhelming the kid, and they can get a sense and a working knowledge of how swimming works. Later you move them into deeper waters, teaching them new techniques and watching them adjust to the greater depth of the pool. As time goes on, your pupil moves deeper and deeper into the waters, learning new knowledge along the way, until they’re swimming fine in the deep end and able to handle all you’ve given them.

In a similar way you should treat the reader. Slowly take them in, giving them the bare minimum to get along in this world and how to live and maneuver through it. As time goes on, you’ll add more information and they’ll be better prepared to handle it all, so by the end of the series they’ll be able to handle all that information really well.

Keep a guidebook. This can also be helpful, especially for series in fantastical worlds. A guidebook (or whatever you want to call it) contains information on the many aspects of your world, from characters to places to objects to story points and everything in between. If you need to organize a very complicated world, a guidebook can be helpful. Or if even the world is very simple, having a guidebook could help you keep track of things. I recommend using some sort of 3-ring binder for your guidebook, so you can add more information as time goes on. Dividers will also be helpful, so get those and categorize entries as you need. Using a guidebook can also prevent any ret-conning that could annoy and upset your fans.

Writing a book, and writing a book series, is often like this.

Remember the bigger picture. This is always important in writing, but it is especially important in a series. Writing a series is like working with several hundred or even several thousand puzzle pieces, but you have to focus on both the puzzle as a whole as well as the smaller pieces. It’s not easy, keeping track of the smaller stuff as well as keeping aware of the whole arc of the series, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want to successfully pull off a series.

Each book has a purpose. If your series has an overall story arc, then not only should each book tell an interesting story (or a segment of the larger story), but it should maybe serve a purpose. For example, the first Harry Potter novel introduced us to the Wizarding world, and to the boy we root for the whole series; Book 2 hinted at the existence of Horcruxes, explained the concept of Wizarding blood purity, and introduced other important elements that would later appear in the HP books; Book 3 gave more information on the night Harry’s parents died and their relationship with Snape, as well as introducing how Voldemort would come back to power; Book 4 brought back Voldemort in an elaborate plot as well as hinted at the denial the Ministry would be famous for in Book 5; and so on and so forth. You don’t have to, but it might be helpful to think of assigning your books a purpose in the overall story arc of the series.

What tips do you have for writing a series?

Categories: Book Formatting, Book Setting, Book Setup, Business Plan, Characters & Viewpoints, Editing & Rewriting, General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Reader, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Following Up on Submissions

The last time I posted an article, I wrote about submitting a short story to a magazine. And as promised, I’m following it up…with an article on following up on those submissions when a lot of time has passed.

Most magazines promise on their websites that they’ll get back to you on your submission in 2-6 months. What they don’t tell you is that work and submissions tend to pile up, especially when the magazine may be an operation run by only a few or even just one person. And imagine getting several submissions at the very least every month for short stories, articles, art pieces, and just about everything else under the sun. Your submission could be lost underneath all that.

So if you find a magazine has been taking its time getting to your submission, it can be helpful to send them an email and ask politely if your story has been looked at yet. Here’s what I normally put down in an email when I’m following up on a submission:

Dear [Insert magazine name here],

I am writing to follow up on my submission [insert story name here] which I sent in [insert how long ago or date you sent it in] to see if it is still being considered for publication. If you could please get back to me when it is convenient for you, that would be great, and thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

[Insert name, pen name if applicable, and contact information]

It’s also a good idea to attach your short story to the email in case it got lost somewhere among the submissions.

Normally a magazine will get back to you pretty quickly after this sort of email is sent. Even then though, it may take some time for the magazine editors to get back to you on your short story. If that’s the case, it may work in your favor to send an email every month or so inquiring about the status of your short story. That way it’ll stay in the forefront of the editors’ minds.

Also, remember to always be courteous and polite in your emails. They could just send you a form rejection letter right away, so the fact that they are taking the time to actually look at your story, no matter how long that time is, to possibly publish it is worth staying on the magazine’s good side. And when the magazine finally does take a look at your short story, no matter what the result is, be courteous and thank them for the time they took to read the story you sent them. That way, if you send them something in the future, they’ll be inclined to work with you and show you the same kindness and understanding you showed them.

Do you have any tips on following up on submissions?

Categories: Business Plan, Digital & ePublishing, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Publishing Basics, Short Stories, The Writer & Author, Traditional Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are Pre-Orders Right For You?

I’m sure you guys have already gotten the KDP email announcing pre-orders for all indie authors.  If not, it’ll probably be coming in your inbox soon.  Basically, you can do a pre-order up to 90 days before your book’s release.

It’s up to you whether or not you want to do this.  But from my understanding, the pre-orders on Amazon won’t work like they do at Apple.

Apple will let all of your pre-order sales build up.  Then when the book is released, all of the pre-order sales adds to all the sales you make on your first day.  For example, let’s say you sell 20 books in pre-order, and you sell 40 books the day the book is released.  Apple will make it count your ranking as if you sold 60 books that day.  The higher ranking will give you added exposure and possibilities for getting noticed.  That’s the biggest benefit to doing pre-orders from a marketing perspective, in my opinion.

Amazon, however, doesn’t operate the same way with pre-orders.  So you might sell 20 books in pre-order.  Then the day of release, you sell 40.  For ranking purposes, it will look as if you only sold 40 books.  This makes you more vulnerable to a dip in sales.  If all your fans pre-order your books, then those sales won’t boost your ranking on the first day your book is available.  Quick note: You will still show on your dashboard that you sold 60 books.  You just won’t have this reflected on the Amazon ranking on your product page.  (I hope that makes sense.)

After studying up on what other authors are saying, this is my understanding of how the two systems (Apple and Amazon) works when dealing with pre-orders.  If I am wrong, please let me know.

Anyway, the question might be, are pre-orders worth it?  Only you can answer that question.  It might be worth it to you, or it might not.

Here are some things to factor in when looking at pre-orders.

1.  Pre-orders force you into a deadline

Deadlines are an awesome thing.  I love them because they force you to stay on track.  If you know you have to get the book done by a certain date, you’re more likely to do it.  Otherwise, it’s too easy to keep putting it off until sometime later.  To me, this is one of the most compelling reasons to do a pre-order.  I love deadlines and having things ready to go before they’re due.

The drawback, of course, is real life.  Something might pop up that throws you off track, like an illness or job loss.  To rectify this, you could have everything done and ready to go when you put something into pre-order.  But this requires a great deal of patience.

2.  Pre-orders allow you to promote more in advance since you have everything ready advance.

This can free up time working on the pre-release promotion of your book.  What type of promotion you do is up to you.  I mainly blog sample scenes, character interviews, and updates to promote my work before it’s released.  Some people prefer social networking sites to gain excitement for their book.  Some people do blog tours or look at running ads.  There is no right or wrong on this.  You should do what you’re comfortable with and enjoy.

3.  Readers might want to buy a pre-order instead of going back to your blog or social networking site or the bookstore to see if your book is out or not.

The argument can be made that new release emails notifying fans that your book is available will relieve them of the need to keep checking the sites listed above.  I’m on the fence about how effective the new release emails are.  I use MailChimp to send out information on new releases, and it seems that a little over half the recipients open them.  Less than half click on the links.  I don’t know if people are also following my blog and go through those links instead or what.  To me, it seems to be one of those “it doesn’t matter” promotional tools.  Perhaps if I didn’t regularly blog and announce new released on Facebook and Twitter, I’d see more of a benefit from it.  I don’t think it hurts to do it, and it’s not like it takes a lot of time to set up.

Others might have a better experience with new release emails.  Keep in mind that what works great for one person doesn’t always work the same for someone else.

But pre-orders are a way readers can reserve your book then totally forget about it until they get an email from the bookstore telling them the book is now ready for them to read.  If nothing else, having a book in pre-order will answer the question, “When will your next book be out?” that you might get from a reader.

4.  Pre-orders and rankings.

Given, Amazon doesn’t apply pre-order sales to the actual release date when calculating the ranking, and that could hurt your ranking (and potential sales) if you don’t sustain regular sales on day one of the book’s release.  But it’s also possible there might be an awesome rank in other channels on release day because of the pre-orders that built up.  If all your fans pre-ordered the book, you need people who are new to your work or on the fence about it to buy the book to keep your ranking up.

However, if you didn’t have pre-orders, then all of your sales start on the first day of the book’s release.  It might take time for the news of your book’s release to trickle through all the promotional avenues of your choice, and this could buy you a few days to weeks of steady sales, which could help with ranking and exposure.

***

So will pre-orders help or hurt you?  I don’t know.  Sales are like a roller coaster as it is.  Things like time of year, promotions, ads, word of mouth, etc can effect your sales throughout the life of your book.  All I’ve learned from this business is that there are no guarantees.  You might write the book you believe will appeal to a wide audience.  You did your research.  You put in popular character types (ex. alpha hero), popular situations (ex. a scandal), got an attractive cover (one that is way better than your other books), and have a description with popular keywords in it.  But when you publish it, the book sinks…fast, and it never recovers.  Then you write a book you don’t think will appeal to many, and it does better than the one you thought would sell great.  I’ve had that experience several times.

What makes one book sell well and not another is a mystery.  People keep asking me for a magic bullet, and there is no magic bullet.  You write, throw it out there, and see what sticks.

Pre-orders is another promotional tool at your disposal.  You can use it or not.  If it works for you, use it.  If it doesn’t, then don’t.  Just like everything else in this business, tailor your strategy to what you enjoy and what works best.  If someone tells your what you’re doing is wrong, ignore them.  They aren’t in your shoes.

Categories: Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting | Tags:

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