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How to Stay Organized While Writing a Series

Whether you begin writing with the idea for just one story or have the entire series of books pre-planned in your head, it’s best to be organized from the start. Keeping track of important details from the outset will pay dividends in the long run, saving you precious writing time and mental effort.

I’ve written a three book series (the Higher Elevation Series), and am currently working on two other series (One is a Contemporary Romance, the other is Fantasy Romance). I’ve curated a method that works very well for me. While it is true that every writer must use the process that works best for them, some or all of what I describe here may be useful to you. There is no one “Right Way” to write, or to organize your work, so take what you can use and leave the rest.

Note: I write using MS Word. If you use Scrivener or some of the other writing software on the market, your program may do some of the organizing for you or be done in a different way. I find MS Word suits my needs and some of my methods may still be useful for users of other programs.

Before You Begin Writing

The first thing I usually do when I get the idea for a story or series is to write a free-form outline. This can be in Word document, or hand-written in a notebook. The point is to write down any and all ideas I have regarding the story during that first rush of excitement. If I can, I break it into sections, as in plot, characters, and scenes. This way I can easily find these initial ideas later for development. I usually name it “XYZ story” if I’m typing a document. It’s meant to be a broad overview.

After the initial rush of excitement, if the story or series premise still seems viable, I’ll create several documents:

• Outline
• Characters
• Setting/World details
• Series Bible
• Research Notes
• Draft
• Scene List

The next step is to begin filling in these documents with more detailed information. I am not a heavy plotter, nor am I a “pantser” (writing by the seat of my pants). This method would work for both types of writers, because you can fill in as little or as much as you want before you begin writing. You can, and should add to each document as you write your draft, for the sake of consistency.

Filling the Well

Adding details to each document happens before I start writing, and continues throughout the subsequent drafts until publication. Sometimes details in the story are changed or added which need to be documented. Here is how I fill in those details:

Outline– Now I write a more structured outline, paying attention to scene placement. I want to be sure the rough order of scenes follows at least the three act structure. I also use a few other structure methods, depending on the type of story it is. Some of the structure aids I have used are Nick Stephenson’s/Mark Dawson’s Seven Key Elements structure; Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets; Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot structure; and Gwen Hayes’ book Romancing the Beat. Use whatever method works for you, just be sure you have at least a rough Idea of where the story is going from beginning to end.

Characters– I usually keep one document with information on all the main characters, but sometimes I write one document for each. It just depends on how detailed they are when they come to me. Then I add traits, quirks, and details such as backstory, emotional wound, etc., as I go. This way, I can refer to it when I forget where they worked or what color their eyes are. Minor or mention-only characters are kept track of in the Series Bible. You can write all these details about your characters in advance, or as you write the story, which is what I do.

Setting/World details– much of this will be in the Series Bible, but what I write here is more of a free-form description of the settings where the story takes place and why they are important. This is to help me imagine the setting so when I write there’s a rich backdrop for me to use when choosing which details to reveal.

Series Bible– This document is broken down into sections, and is meant only to keep track of important details. The sections are:

• Timeline- when the story starts and when it ends

• Characters-( brief description), name, age, what they look like, if it is important; if character is minor or just a mention, I add how they are related to any other characters if that applies
• Places- countries, towns, street names
• Companies- any business name that is mentioned and what it is
• Vehicles- who drives what car, and the year, make and model

For my Romance Fantasy Series, I added several categories because there was much more world building. In addition to timeline, characters, and places, I added details about:
• Government
• Religion
• Animals
• Plants
• Customs
• Dress
• Food
• Events

Anytime I make up something new, I add it with a short description to the list. When subsequent books in the series are written, I break the Timeline and Characters sections into “Book One” and “Book Two”, etc. This way the timelines and characters can be tracked from one book to another.

Research notes- Some writers us One Note or Evernote for this purpose, but I like having the document handy in my folder for that series. Any research I do, whether my own notes or a copy and paste of an article, goes here. You never know when you might need that obscure detail!

While Writing

Some stories go through only one draft that is edited several times; some need to be revised and rewritten. If I write more than one draft, I number them. With each draft, I write a separate Scene List. The scene List is a must for me, and has:

• Whose point of view is speaking (POV)
• What happens in the scene. Example- “Jane- She calls her mother; they argue about why she hasn’t called; she hangs up, and begins to cry; there’s a knock on the door; When she opens it ( hero) is standing there”.
• Throughout the scene document, I note what day of the week and date it is, so I can maintain continuity
• I write the scene description immediately after writing the text of each scene, to be sure it has served its purpose

The scene list also helps if I get stuck. Reading all the scene descriptions up to the point I am stuck usually gets things moving again. I also review it once again when the story is done, before I begin self-edits.

All of the above can be used to write a series, adding the details to each section as you write. You could also keep one document to diagram the series arc, if you have one, adding and changing it as the stories unfold.

I can’t count the times I had to refer to these documents when some minor detail skipped my mind. It’s especially helpful if you skip around on projects and some time has lapsed between writing. I prefer concentrating on what is yet to be written, and this method helps me to do just that.

What methods do you use to keep track of stories in a series?

Here’s some helpful Links:
Renee Regent- http://www.reneeregent.com/books
Nick Stephenson- https://www.blog.yourfirst10kreaders.com/blog/
Jami Gold- https://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/
Michael Hague- https://www.storymastery.com/six-stage-structure-chart/
Gwen Hayes- http://gwenhayes.com/romancing-the-beat/

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Why I Choose to Write Romance

“So, you also write romance? Well, I guess you have to eat.”

Condescending much?

I regret that when another author made that comment to me, I let it slide. We met online and decided to swap newsletters, since our work had some themes in common. We exchanged several pleasant emails, did the newsletter swap, and then he disappeared. I don’t know why we stopped communicating, but his initial comment still bothered me several months later.

Here We Go Again

There have been countless articles and posts written about the unfair bias against the romance genre, so I won’t rehash any of those here. But yes, it ticked me off when another author implied that romance as a genre was inferior to other genres, and the only merit it had was producing content in order to make money.

In other words, no “serious” author would stoop to writing romance. This was from an indie author, too—someone who knows how much work it takes to bring a book to market and how scary it is to put yourself out there without the backing of a publisher. He wrote the book that was in his heart, and it was well done, and well received. But you know what?

So did I.

It Goes Both Ways

My first book, Unexplained, (Book 1 of the Higher Elevation Series), was written with a central love story in mind. The heroine is a skeptical journalism student, and the hero is a psychic with the ability to project his mind outside of his body. They become tangled up in danger while trying to understand the meaning of their strange mental connection. The book ended up being a suspenseful Cold War spy story, with a twist. I never meant to straddle the mainstream and romance genres, but that’s how the story turned out. Readers who normally don’t read romance enjoyed it, and those who love romance enjoyed it, as well.

Because Unexplained attracted some non-romance readers, I was able to get some feedback from them, and I noticed something—there was often a “disclaimer” that they don’t normally read romance, but made an exception for this book. Why is that even necessary? The romance readers didn’t make any comments about having to read the non-romantic parts of the book. Will the stigma of romance being part of a story, or the entire story, ever go away? Gore and violence are often accepted, but not falling in love.

It doesn’t make much sense.

Romance Is Strong

However, the bias against romance won’t slow it down, because readers will continue to read voraciously, and authors will continue to write romance stories, myself included. My next novel, Not So Broken, is a steamy Contemporary romance, the first in a series. I chose to write this story because I love to hear how couples got together.

Isn’t that a universal question we often ask others—“How did you two meet?”

Don’t we all love to hear how a couple met, especially when there seems to be an element of fate? It’s fascinating to think that being in the right place at the right time led to a relationship. What if he had missed that train, or if she had decided to stay home instead of going out to that club? How can a chance meeting turn into something life changing?

I like to get inside the heads of my characters and figure out how to get two mismatched souls to come together despite the odds. The HEA, or happily ever after, is the destination and the story is all about the couple’s journey to get there.

Every group of people on the planet has those kind of stories—about two people falling in love. Love is love, and romance is universal, even for those who look down their noses at those of us who write about it.

That is why I choose to write romance. I’m damn proud of the title, “Romance Author”, and many of us are eating very well, thank you.

The Amazing Resilience of Indie Authors

On the wall in my office

Just when you thought it was safe to finally self-publish your novel, a new challenge rears its’ ugly head to join the long list of problems facing authors today.

Writing a book and having it published is quite an accomplishment, no matter how you get there. Accomplishing that and having a successful career as an Indie (Independent) Author, is a whole other ball game.

Don’t Get Cocky

The latest challenge which played out on the internet recently was over Trademarking. Just search the word, “Cockygate” and you’ll find dozens of posts and articles describing what happened. The issue may take some time to fully resolve, but the bottom line is this case has the potential to forever change the way we use words, and how we as authors (and maybe even the rest of the world) can advertise.

Hopefully, it won’t be the worst-case scenario that many fear. But, it simply adds another brick to the growing wall of obstacles one faces when publishing on the internet.

What else, you may ask? Here’s just a few of the everyday challenges I see when talking with other Indie Authors on social media:

Pirates– illegal copies of books on websites, either for free or for sale (someone else making money off your hard work)

Troll reviewers– leaving bad reviews on books they never read, or due to shipping problems, or revealing spoilers

Retailers (especially the really big one) stripping pages read, stripping reviews, shutting down accounts with no explanation, accusing authors of breach of contract due to pirates having stolen their work, or scammers using their books without their knowledge, page reads suddenly dropping off, sales suddenly dropping off, not changing or correcting issues in a timely manner—all with no notice, little recourse and scant communication options

Losing money on pre-scheduled ads and promotions because of the above

Possibly unscrupulous readers obtaining books through giveaways and then selling them online, or returning them for money (when gifted online- of course they have the right; but did they get it for free to read, or just to get something for it? We never know).

Purchasers reading an entire series, and then returning all books for a refund (try that in any other industry. Not talking here about accidental purchases, but systematic read and returns).

 

I may have missed a few, feel free to add your own. This doesn’t even cover the subject of how e-books have been devalued due to so many free books on the market, but it bears consideration when looking at all the things which affect a career. Indies put so much time, effort, and money into their books, and get relatively little for each book in sales. So, any and all of the above challenges chip away at what could be profits.

However…

Despite all of the above, I have found the Indie Author community to be some of the most helpful, patient, kind, supportive, and resilient bunch of people I have ever come across. They love writing so much, they keep going despite all the problems. They share information on social media, in blog posts, and in craft books, to help other authors fight the good fight to get our work into the hands of readers.

Yes, there are a few bad apples, or those who inadvertently piss others off, even though they mean well. But the vast majority of authors know this:

WE ARE NOT EACH OTHER’S COMPETITION!

We are stronger banding together. The beauty of writing books is, readers keep reading.  Just because a reader has read every vampire romance novel out there, doesn’t mean she is done. If you write a good one, she’ll probably read that, too. So, having books that look similar, sound similar, have similar stories (tropes) are a good thing. It helps the readers find what they are looking for. Just because someone buys another author’s book, does not mean they won’t buy one of yours.

In fact, it usually has the opposite effect of spurring more sales, overall. Readers find new authors, authors find new readers.

Most Indie authors know this and strive to give the readers what they want. Yes, we all do “copy” each other—to a point. Except for plagiarism, of course. Don’t ever do that.

I was proud to be part of the Indie Author community this week, as I witnessed how creative the support for each other was. From sharing links to buying books, to joint promotions—Indies banded together like never before. There was even a hash tag, #ThisIsHowYouIndie.  It was solidarity at its finest. A few of us had been affected by the Trademark issue, so all of us were.

So, go find your Tribe, and love them hard. How else are we going to face all the challenges of Indie Publishing, and celebrate our wins?  We are all in these trenches together, so we may as well help each other.

When You Really, Really Don’t feel Like Celebrating The Holidays

So not into it!

Are you one of those people who dreads the holiday season, while everyone else around you is making merry? Do you look forward to New Year’s Eve most of all, because it means all this holiday nonsense and commercialism will finally be over?

You’re not alone.

How and why one chooses to celebrate or not celebrate the holidays is an intensely personal thing. It may be cultural, it could be religious, or it may simply be personal preference. But when something is as pervasive in society as is our annual ramp up to the grand finale of New Year’s Eve, and all the hectic activity in between, it can take a toll on a person’s attitude.

Holiday Overload

I must confess that as I’ve gotten older, I am less interested in the holiday hubbub. Decorating feels like a chore; shopping for gifts becomes a race against time. Endless holiday-themed commercials become even more annoying than pharmaceutical ads, and I swear if I hear “Winter Wonderland” one…more…time…

But then, when Christmas is almost here, a yearning comes from somewhere deep inside, and I find myself searching closets for that old DVD of Rudolph or the Grinch or Charlie Brown. I actually look forward to exchanging gifts, because the pressure to find and wrap them is over. Seeing little kids getting all excited over the lights or going to see Santa melts my irritation away, and I find myself enjoying the holidays once more.

So now I try every year to not let cynicism take over, and enjoy the little things.

Deep As Snow

But some people have more serious issues with the holidays, and that is what prompted me to write the short stories that comprise my novella, Running In Snow. Sometimes past trauma can make it difficult for some people to enjoy the holidays. I’ve had a few unpleasant holidays in my past, so I wondered what it would be like for someone who refused to celebrate, but was in a situation where they had to?

What on earth would make them go through with it?

That was the basis for Noelle’s Promise, the first short story. Noelle had some serious trauma around Christmas from her childhood, to the point where she would not participate at all. Not with friends, not at work, not in any way. She simply avoided it.
But when she fell in love, her life changed. Should she continue to ignore the holidays, or try to join in her boyfriend Logan’s family celebrations? She makes a valiant effort to do so, but things don’t go as planned. Noelle discovers that sometimes the way past your fears is to go right through them.

Eve’s Hope, the second short holiday story, is about a woman who believes she is cursed. Every New Year’s Eve, something goes wrong. When her heater goes out in a rare Atlanta snowstorm, her handsome neighbor rescues her and invites her to his party. She makes the best of it, hoping to get through the night without her bad luck kicking in. Let’s just say there’s a few surprises in store before the clock strikes midnight.

I enjoyed writing these emotional holiday tales because I was able to explore those feelings of dread I get every year, but still end up on a happy note. Do you ever experience negative feelings around the holidays? How do you cope?

Running In Snow is available on Amazon and  other retailers (Nook, Kobo, iTunes) for just .99. I hope you enjoy the holidays, however you choose to spend them!

 

Cover Reveal of Running In Snow-A Holiday Novella

I know, autumn has just begun and in many places, it still feels like summer. At least it has here in Atlanta with ninety degree temperatures. But the Holiday Season is right around the corner and this year, I have a Holiday Novella release!

It’s called Running In Snow, and that is the cover in the featured photo. Elle at EJRDigital Art did a fantastic job at capturing the mood of these two heartwarming yet emotional holiday tales. Release date is November 7, 2017, and it will be available for preorder in October, date TBD.

Full disclosure here—I never had the desire to write a holiday story, or even short stories for that matter. But this is proof that writers can get inspiration from anywhere. The idea for the first story, Noelle’s Promise, hit me out of the blue. I read a blog post (sorry, I cannot recall the author) about writing holiday stories, and the idea came to me—what would happen if someone who didn’t celebrate the holidays was in a situation where they had to? Why would they not want to celebrate? How would that play out?

I guess it may be an unusual twist, but that seems to be what I do. If you’ve read my Higher Elevation Series, then you know I come at subjects from a different angle sometimes. These holiday stories are deeply emotional, and my characters go through some real soul searching. But they end up on a happy note.

Here’s the cover copy for Running In Snow:

Two heartwarming tales of love and redemption. And snow.

Noelle’s Promise

Does your past define the future?

Noelle has one cardinal rule─never, ever celebrate the holidays. But now she’s promised to spend them with her boyfriend, Logan, and his extended family. As the festivities begin, bad memories surface. She manages to suppress her anxiety and join in the celebrations, until an unexpected incident sends her fleeing into the night. Can she overcome her past before it ruins her future?

Eve’s Hope

Can a holiday be unlucky every year?

When her heater goes out in the middle of a rare Atlanta snowstorm, reclusive Eve accepts the invitation to her handsome neighbor’s party. Expecting to be bored to tears, she encounters a few surprises before the countdown to midnight begins. Can she survive just one New Year’s Eve without her bad luck kicking in?

 

I’ll be posting soon when more information becomes available. Until then, you can follow my Amazon Author Page for updates:
https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01M4IHA1A

Or follow my Goodreads Page:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15611048.Renee_Regent

Or subscribe to my newsletter. They got to see the cover a few days ago, and enjoy exclusive content, and giveaways. You also get your choice of up to FIVE FREE mini-ebooks just for signing up:

http://www.reneeregent.com/newsletter-sign-up

And you can also get excusive news and giveaways for being in my Reader’s Group on Facebook, Renee Regent’s Readers. Message me and ask to join:

https://www.facebook.com/Renee-Regent-Author-1625365841109181/

 

I’ll be sharing this cover reveal on social media and would greatly appreciate any likes, shares, retweets, etc. I am so excited to share these stories with you! Thanks again as always, for your support.

May I be the first to say, Happy Holidays!

 

 

Why I Love To Give Free Stuff

I’ve been giving stuff away lately, and I have to admit, it feels pretty good! And I’m not even concerned about getting anything back. That’s the best way to give, isn’t it? Pay it forward and all that. So when I give I try to do so with pure intentions and hope karma does the rest.

Free Works, Apparently

I was pleasantly surprised this month when I had my “free days” on Amazon. My first book, Unexplained, had almost four thousand downloads! I had run some promotions on social media and a few newsletters, and it seems to have paid off. All three of my Higher Elevation Series books are in Kindle Unlimited right now, and the sales and page reads have been better than I ever expected. The idea of giving away that many copies felt weird to me at first, but at least my books are out there, finding an audience. So I consider this a win.

I’ve also given away paperback copies, signed, of course. I ran Goodreads Giveaways, I gave away books through my Facebook Group, Renee Regent’s Readers. I gave away an Amazon gift card when I did a takeover on Facebook. This is nothing new, authors have been doing this and more for years, but I never realized how good it would feel to do it. I knew giving things away was a good business strategy, but it’s more than that. It’s something I actually look forward to. Even though it’s common now to hand out swag and free books, people still get excited about it, and for me, seeing their excitement is the fun part.

But Wait, There’s More!

All this giving away of goodies had me thinking, “What else can I give?” While looking through the statistics report of my blog for ideas, I decided to compile a free mini ebook. Or two. Well, I ended up with five, actually!

I’ve been blogging since 2013, and according to WordPress, I have over 2,400 followers. I’ve written over one hundred posts on various topics, some of which have been viewed thousands of times. I love blogging and have covered diverse topics over the years, so I compiled some of my most popular posts into mini ebooks by subject. They’re a quick, easy read, and I hope readers will find them fun and informative. Here’s a rundown:

Romance Novel Trends– a (sometimes humorous) look at the trends shaping Romance Novels today, from those ubiquitous “Ab Covers” to Seasoned Romance

Writing Tips on Marketing– the elusive Holy Grail of discoverability, and ways to find it

Writing Tips on Craft– Useful and practical information I’ve learned along the way. I put myself through the ringer so you don’t have to!

Supernatural/Metaphysical– curious about the Law of Attraction? Wondering if ghosts are real? Find out in this exploration of the unexplained, which often end up in my stories

From the Heart– In which I share stories from my real life experiences. There’s some humor, some heartbreak, and of course, love.

 

Whether you are a writer, a reader, or both, I hope you’ll find something interesting in these posts. They are available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers. If interested, you can sign up here.

There’s also a page on my website called “Free Reads”, where you can read the first chapter of Unexplained.

When it comes to giving, I feel like I’m just getting started. I have plenty of stories and blog posts still in my head, so don’t worry, there’s more to come. If you were one of the readers who downloaded or bought my books, or read them on KU these past few weeks, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

That’s the best gift anyone could give me.

 

 

 

When It’s Time To Change Book Covers

Rebranding a book or a series is more common now than ever before. From Indie Authors to small presses to large publishing houses, changing the cover of a book is a marketing strategy which can breathe new life into sagging sales. It can also cause the book to appeal to a different audience, bringing in new readers. Some authors or publishers do this periodically, just to keep their product packaging fresh and on trend.

The Strategy
But there’s another reason you may want to change your book’s covers. While I loved the original covers of my Higher Elevation Series, once all three books were published I got some feedback indicating there was some confusion as to what genre they were. When you’re an indie author, you have to do the best research you can, and get as much feedback from readers and other authors as possible, to “test market” your covers and back cover copy before you publish. Which I did. But….

Sometimes this writing gig is all about trial and error. Which is true of many businesses. Having been an entrepreneur all my life, I can’t tell you how many flops I’ve had! But I’ve also had outrageous success, lucky breaks and then times when nothing special happened. So though it was disappointing to learn my covers weren’t “perfect” as they were, it was simply a business decision to change them. What I had chosen originally was doing fine, but it wasn’t exactly the best representation of my stories.

The Quest
So the quest for new covers began. I spent countless hours on stock photo sites and book cover sites, until I was about to go cross-eyed. If you have spent any time doing this, you know how frustrating it can be. I wanted to strike a balance between what I “saw” in my mind’s eye for the book covers, and what the cover designer, with her expertise, could do. I finally found Spellbound Cover Design, and together we came up with the brand new covers you see here, and on my website http://reneeregent.com  I also rewrote my cover copy, with the help of some author friends. There are a few professionals who write cover copy, or blurbs, and I hear they do a fabulous job. So it’s worth looking into, because blurbs are hard, right?

You can research and tweak these things forever, so at some point you just have to go with the best book packaging you can produce, and put it back out there. I think the look and feel of these new covers better represents the supernatural/mystery/suspense aspects of my books, without detracting from the romance. Plus the color really pops!

The Bottom Line
Your book’s covers may never be perfect, and what looks great today may not be so hot a few years from now. (“Bodice Rippers”, anyone?) So be open to the idea of changing your covers periodically. The bottom line is, no matter how much research you do, sometimes you don’t know how a book (your product) will be received until it’s out there in the world.

Authors- have you changed your book’s covers? Did it help?
Readers- do you notice when a book’s cover has been changed? Does it affect your decision to buy?