Tag Archive | tips for authors

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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Are Newsletters On The Way Out?

The warning signs are everywhere. “Newsletter fatigue” is setting in among readers as authors (and well, pretty much every business on the internet) inundates their inboxes with special offers. Yet, authors are still being told by every marketing guru out there that a newsletter to your fans is a must. But how effective is it as a marketing strategy?

Gold Fever

I’ve heard the mantra since I got serious about becoming a published author years ago. “Your mailing list is gold. They are your fans. They want to hear from you.” I believe the essence of this is true, in theory. If someone signs up to be on your mailing list, they are agreeing to hear from you, right?

Not always.

Part of the problem is the sheer number of authors using this tactic has overwhelmed the market. It’s no longer new, or unique; pretty much every author has a newsletter sign up on their website for which they actively seek subscribers, promising freebies, exclusive content, and other goodies in exchange for their coveted email address. So the competition factor has forced authors to be more creative in enticing readers to sign up. Just liking your books seems to be the last reason readers sign up these days.

More Free Stuff!

Another common way to get readers to sign up is mass promotion, or cross-promotion. Promotional companies or groups of authors offer gift cards or other prizes to readers in exchange for signing up to the mailing lists of several authors listed on their promotion. This seems to work, and sounds like a great way for readers to find new authors. But when the main motivation for someone signing up is a prize, and not you as an author or your books, will they stick around and actually read your newsletter? Or will they opt out the first chance they get, or worse, put your emails into spam?

Speaking of Spam…

I have been getting occasional emails from authors I have never heard of, spamming me about their book. I couldn’t figure out how that was happening when I had not signed up for their newsletters. But today I saw a conversation on Facebook where another author received over sixty (!) unsolicited emails from other authors spamming about their books. The thread was long as others commented they, too have been inundated with unsolicited emails from authors. Somehow, author newsletter swaps are occurring and getting into email lists. These kinds of abuses are precisely why readers are getting fatigued.

Sending your email to someone who never asked for it is spam, plain and simple, whether you do it directly or through a co-opted swap. It is also illegal and likely against the Terms of Service of your email service provider.

Another reason you want your list to be comprised of engaged readers is the fact that maintaining a list can be costly. Most email services charge when you get to a certain number of contacts or send out a certain number of emails. Which is disheartening when you find the open rate is small compared to the number you are mailing out and paying for. Some authors go through periodically and delete contacts who don’t open the emails, but apparently some email platforms allow reading without fully opening, so they may be purging engaged readers. There is no definitive way to tell for sure if the newsletter is being read. So, rather than having tons of subscribers who may or may not care to be on your list, wouldn’t it be better in the long run to cultivate a list of readers who really do want to hear from you?

The Struggle Is Real

Email itself has become a necessary evil in our lives. It’s a struggle for many to keep up with. I have a friend whose little red dot on her phone says she has over six thousand unread emails! I’m sure she is not alone, and some of those unread emails may well be from some of her favorite authors. (I am one of those who obsessively clears my emails, so no red dots for me. But I still struggle with reading them all in a timely manner).

No doubt newsletters still work for many, but there are challenges. If you end up with a certain percentage of loyal readers who really do read and respond to your email newsletter, then it will be worth it. Just don’t engage in abusive practices, or expect miracles from your newsletter. It is just one tool in your marketing arsenal. Like anything else, it all boils down to discoverability and engagement.

When you find that, it truly is gold.

 

 

 

 

Making Peace With Unfinished Stories

How many unfinished stories does the average author have?

I recently took inventory of all the stories I’ve written, and was surprised to find how many I had started and not finished. I have published three novels so far, so finishing a draft in general is not a problem for me. Some stories seem take hold of me and I can’t rest until they are done, and others, not so much. But that pile of unfinished manuscripts has been staring at me almost as hard as my TBR (to be read) pile, and it made me wonder if there was a common thread, a particular reason why those stories didn’t get finished. Was there something wrong, or is it normal to have a backlog of unfinished work?

The Consensus
I polled several authors, both traditionally and indie published, and their answers surprised me. Just as every author’s writing process is different, so is their approach to finishing drafts. Here’s what I found:

Some or none? A few authors said they always finish what they started, but the majority did have at least some unfinished drafts, with the average being around 4-5. One prolific author had twenty-four drafts set aside.

Plotter or pantser? Some voiced the thought that having unfinished stories may have to do with being a “plotter” or “pantser” style of writer, but I saw no discernable trends in that regard.

Will they go back and finish? Most planned to finish their stories at some point, but some chalked it up to learning their craft. Only one person reported they had deleted their old drafts. Several authors mentioned having gone back to old manuscripts and rewriting them into successful books. Personally, I agree with keeping everything─you never know what might work in the future and there could be gold in those old manuscripts.

Does it bother them? Having unfinished stories has been bothering me, so I asked if others felt the same. Again, it depended on the author’s perspective. A few said it bothered them to have the unfinished stories, but others said they kept their main focus on what they were currently working on and had no time or energy to worry about anything else.

Why didn’t you finish? Many reported they loved their unfinished stories but set them aside for more saleable projects. For example, they got a contract on an earlier work, or had to keep working on a series, got an idea for a currently popular genre, etc. You have to go where the money is! But some authors said that certain stories just won’t come together, no matter how much you love the premise or the characters. It doesn’t mean the story is hopeless, though. Ideas for the stalled story could still come at any time.

 

The Conclusion
This exercise did tell me a few things about myself as a writer. First, I’m not alone or abnormal. Not finishing a draft or not using a completed draft is a natural part of the business. As long as you keep working, keep moving forward, it’s all just your body of work.
Taking time to examine my unfinished stories helped me in other ways, too. I was able to discern the common themes running through my work, and see the development of my voice. I can see how I’ve progressed with plotting and character development.

So I’m not as worried now about those languishing drafts, but sometimes the characters of those unfinished works start prompting me to get back to “their” story. I feel so guilty─I have let them down! But I guess I’ll just have to make peace with the fact I may never finish them all, and that’s okay.

How many unfinished stories do you have? Does it bother you?

 

Seven Things To Consider Before Submitting Your Writing For Critique

Woman Thinking

Are you nervous about having your writing critiqued?  Welcome to the club.

Just like reading reviews of your work, critiques are one of those things that most writers get nervous about. In my experience, though, critique, both positive and negative, is a powerful tool for improving one’s skills.

A friend who is just starting out recently joined our writer’s group. She was asking about how we approached critiques, and confessed to being a bit nervous about submitting her work. We assured her our goal was to be helpful and considerate at the same time, an approach we have refined over the years. Then a discussion ensued on the differences between helpful and potentially hurtful criticism.

Several of us have been on the receiving end of criticism by our peers which we found less than helpful.  We’ve also had feedback that was inspiring and constructive. My friend asked for more specific advice, so I mentioned my previous blog post on the subject, How To Survive A Negative Critique. Her question called to mind some other things I have learned in the past five years I have been attending my critique group, and I thought it might be helpful to new writers to share some things to consider before they submit their work:

Just Do It. Writing without feedback is writing in a vacuum. Being nervous is normal, but you won’t overcome it unless you put your precious words in front of some eyeballs. When you finally do become published, you will be judged by the entire world, so starting out with a few writers you know is a relatively safe way to begin. You may actually waste more time by writing without ever getting feedback, and end up having much more to correct and edit in the long run.

Start small. Start by submitting something short─a scene you are working on, or a first chapter. First chapters are actually great to start with, since the opening of a story is considered to be the most important part, and also the most difficult thing to do properly. New writers have a tendency to start the story in the wrong place as well, so don’t be surprised if someone points that out. Writing great openings takes practice, and feedback can help you to learn how to do that more efficiently and sooner.

Baby Steps. By starting with something small, you are not facing judgement of the entire project. Learning to take criticism and use it wisely takes practice. Separating your emotions from the feedback takes practice, too, as we tend to identify closely with our work when just starting out. The more you write, your perspective changes and you realize you can always fix what you wrote, or write some more. You will learn over time how to discern which feedback is structural (plot issues, grammar problems, etc) and which is subjective (the person giving the feedback is filtering through their own tastes).

Submit Clean. Always clean up your work before submitting! Go over it multiple times, use a grammar guide, run a spell check. No, it does not have to be perfect, but clean it up to the best of your ability. I’ve had to critique some work where the premise was exciting and interesting, but the grammar, spelling and general writing was so bad that it was difficult to understand what was happening. Some folks think, “I’ll clean it up after they critique so I don’t have to do it twice”.  No. Just don’t do that. It is a disservice to others who are taking the time to provide feedback when there are a billion other things they could be doing. Have courtesy for your readers, even when your work is in a “raw” stage.

-Alpha Readers. If you have cleaned up your work and edited it to the best of your ability, but you feel you still need major help with grammar and structural issues, consider submitting it to only one or two trusted writer friends. Family and non-writer friends may not give you the kind of feedback you need at this stage. They might be overly kind or overly harsh, depending on the relationship, or they may give neutral feedback to avoid saying anything. One or two trusted writer friends may be able to point out what needs to be done to prepare your work sample so you can submit it to a larger group for feedback.

Fair Balance. Be willing to provide feedback to others. Yes, this means taking the time to read their work and give thoughtful feedback. This process provides tremendous insight as to what to look for in your own work, and helps you to realize others are being brave and putting their work out there. Even though it sometimes made me uncomfortable, I submitted my writing to my critique groups and beta readers as often as I could.  I also reviewed the work of others as often as I could. A successful critique group requires this balance. If certain members only review others, and never submit their own work, or keep submitting but never offer critique to others, it can cause discomfort among the group. Besides, those who only do one or the other are missing out on half of the purpose of critiquing─to become a better writer.

Be Specific. When asking for feedback, indicate what you are looking for. If it is just a general impression, say so, but it will help you to consider what you are looking for specifically. Examples might be: Does this opening hook you? Does the dialogue in this scene sound natural? How much work do I need to do to clean up my grammar?  Is there too much backstory?

 

Taking it step by step will help you to build your confidence so that when you do get that first truly negative critique you’ve been fearing, it won’t hurt as much. You’ll be better equipped to take it for what it is worth, and learn from it.

I hope this helps those of you who are new to writing.  I still have a long way to go, and I will soon be facing the next level of critique of my work─the general public. I am sure to learn from that experience as well. Wish me luck!  I wish luck and great learning for all of you.

 

 

Becoming an Author-Entrepreneur- The First Steps

Empty Road At Sunset And Sign For Success In Blurred Motion

Want to find out if you’ve got what it takes to become an Author Entrepreneur?

I’m honored to be a guest on Jami Gold’s blog today, discussing the first steps to becoming an entrepreneur in the field of Indie publishing. It’s not as hard as you might think, but there’s still a lot to consider before you jump in.  And whether you are going with the traditional route of publishing, or self-publishing, chances are you will be handling many tasks on your own which require entrepreneurial skills.

Here’s the link to Jami’s blog: http://jamigold.com/2016/06/are-you-ready-to-be-an-entrepreneur-guest-renee-regent/

If you’ve never visited her blog before, you should─it’s always informative, but in a friendly, laid back way. Jami has a knack for digging through the layers of a subject, to find out why the topic matters. Her website has been designated as one of the 100 best Websites For Writers, in 2015. So, it is quite an honor to have my debut guest post on her blog!

If you are interested in the business side of writing, I plan to explore this topic more in the future, as I progress through the journey of my writing career.  As a lifelong entrepreneur, I am excited about the ever-expanding field of publishing, and hope you’ll join me. I’d love to hear of your experiences, too, so feel free to comment or drop me a line at reneeregent@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

Reader’s Pet Peeves- Why Writers Should Care

Not again!

Everyone has different tastes when it comes to reading. What one person enjoys, might make another reader want to fling the book or their e-reader across the room. Authors certainly can’t please everyone, so how much should they be concerned about reader’s pet peeves?
Common Complaints
A recent internet search revealed several articles and forum rants about various reader’s pet peeves. I focused on the Romance genre, but some also applied to fiction in general. After reading several, I found a few common themes to their rants:
Cliffhangers– this puzzled me because I have heard of authors still doing this, and that some readers don’t mind it, eagerly awaiting the next installment. But those who do hate it are vocal about their frustration. I am one of them, and I wrote a post awhile back on the subject, “When Romance Novels Finish Before You Do.”

Lack of Editing– This has become more prevalent with online publishing. Even traditionally published books have an error now and then, but when it becomes so noticeable it takes the reader out of the story, it’s a problem. Some readers are more forgiving, but there are ways to avoid this and ensure the product (book) is as accurate as possible before publication.

Clichés- This should be a given, but they still make their way into some stories. If you have to put one in your story, figure out a twist to make it ironic, humorous, or some other method to make it useful. Otherwise, leave it out.

Overused Tropes– the ironic thing here is, some readers love certain tropes and never get tired of them. So maybe the trick is, as with the cliché, to find some type of twist or fresh take on it. Maybe combine two or three? Take a trope from one genre and use it in another?

Inconsistencies- from timeline troubles to characters who change hair color randomly, readers notice details. After all, details are what draws them into the story. Keeping a list or series bible can help avoid these types of problems.

 

My Personal Peeve
It seems like it should be common sense to avoid such things as cliché’s or overdone tropes, but the fact there are articles and people on forums ranting about them, indicates they happen with some frequency. So, here’s my question:
If an author is successful, and sells well, do they get a pass on committing the “sins” that drive some readers crazy?
I can think of several recent examples of books that have sold extremely well, best sellers, which contained cliché’s, cliffhangers, overused tropes and/or inconsistencies. Can you? Apparently, these “problems” are enough to irritate readers, but not enough to keep them from being published and promoted.
Here’s what brought this subject to my mind, prompting this post- I was with a friend at a bookstore recently, when I told her I had never read anything by a certain author who is considered the Queen of Romance Novels. I wanted her recommendation on the best one to start with, because I wanted to see what made this author so popular. I took my friend’s advice, and started reading the book that night.
It was a story about an old haunted southern mansion, right up my alley. I loved the descriptions, the setting, the author’s voice; her characters were engaging. But by the end of the second chapter, I was irritated because of the constant head-hopping!
Yes, the author is a celebrated, multi- NYTBSA, and she has the skill to “pull it off” as my friend pointed out when I complained. Yes, the author does pull it off, meaning, it doesn’t hurt the story, but it annoys me because I never know whose head we are going to be in from moment to moment. Then I become hyper-aware of it, watching for the change. Often I end up re-reading portions because the change is abrupt enough to pull me out of the story. In addition, I feel it makes it more difficult to get deep into the character’s head when POV switches frequently.
Writers Gonna Write
My annoyance with head-hopping may be my own personal taste, but I was surprised no one else complained about it in the articles and forums I researched. I have always heard head-hopping is advised against, in books on writing instruction, and it is mentioned as taboo in the submission requirements for certain publishers. Apparently, some readers don’t mind it, and some authors can use it effectively.
So I guess the take away from all this is, yes, writers should be aware of reader’s pet peeves, but take the information with a grain of salt (oops, a cliché)! If you do include something that you know may annoy readers, at least have a good reason for doing so.
What are your reading pet peeves?