Showing posts with label writing books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing books. Show all posts

Sep 12, 2016

People Ask Cool Questions #2

My first release, now in audio:Macbeth's Niece
This month I'm answering questions I often get at personal appearances. Today's question is "How long does it take to write a book?"
That's a little like "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" It's part practical, part philosophical, and mostly unanswerable.
We all know authors who take years to write a book. Some of them are quite self-righteous about it, copping a "you can't rush genius" attitude. I'm no genius, so I can't say if that's true. I've noticed, however, that the rest of us are writing as fast as we can, and while it used to take two years minimum to get a new book out, most publishers are fine these days with more than one a year.
That can lead to some loss of quality, and readers with an editor's eye bemoan the modern tendency to rush to get a book out. Still those same readers go on Facebook or Goodreads and wonder when Author X is going to stop dilly-dallying.
My writing process begins with a rough draft that's pretty terrible. When it's finished, I put it out of sight for a few weeks then go back and rewrite to make it less terrible. There's also what authors call the muddle in the middle, a point in writing a book where you've made such a mess of things that you don't think you can write your way out. Sometimes all you can do is give the muddle time to resolve.
Then there's editing. It takes time to read a book and thoughtfully decide what has to be changed, what might be changed to make it better, and what doesn't need changing but should be tweaked. Good editors take that time, so it generally takes a few back-and-forth exchanges between editor and writer to get to a point where they agree the book is solid.
To answer the question, then, these days I shoot for six months. A rough scenario might be four weeks for the rough draft, two weeks "rest," two weeks to revamp. My first reader takes over then, and in 2-4 weeks I'm making changes she suggests. Then the editor goes at it, and we back-and-forth for a month or two. When that's done, I submit to the copy editor, who irons out the leftover wrinkles.
That's if all goes well, of course. There are times when one or more of those things takes longer, which sets the whole process back. And of course life intervenes sometimes and says, "You won't be writing this week, so just accept it."
I didn't mention research yet, but I spend a lot of time finding out things I don't know and checking on things I might or might not know. 
A caveat for those just starting out: this is my process after twenty-plus books. It took me MUCH longer in the beginning. The "one book a year" advice is probably a good starter's rule, because as a newbie, you really don't know what you don't know yet.

Sep 6, 2016

People Ask Cool Questions #1
I'm on vacation for September, so for the blog I thought I'd address some questions people ask at personal appearances.
QUESTION #1 Where do you get the names/inspiration for your characters?
Often from real people I know. I need an image in my head to create a character. (Brag here: one site said last week that my characters are people you think about long after you finish the book. YAY!)
I start with someone I've known--perhaps a coworker or a former student--and imagine how that person would react to the scenario I'm creating. I always add when I admit this that those people NEVER stay real. As soon as I have a firm picture in mind, the character becomes a whole new person, with his own personality, attitudes, and personal details.
For example, Verle in the Loser Mysteries started out as a man who was sort of my second dad, since I practically lived at his house as a kid. Readers who knew him would soon find, however, that he isn't like the real Verle at all. For one thing, he's afraid of his wife--like that would happen!
Loser herself was inspired by homeless people I saw during a stay in Richmond, Virginia, in 2007. I can't explain how it happens, but I started wondering what might happen if a homeless woman felt compelled to investigate a murder.
Once I tell them that, people are likely to ask if I know introduced myself to any of those homeless people so I could get to know them. No. People are people, and over the years I met plenty who lived outside what we consider "normal" circumstances. Though their situation separates "them" from "us," they have similar motivations. Their coping methods just have to be a lot different.
Reality is where my characters start. After that it's all my imagination.

The Loser Mysteries are available in print or as e-books on Amazon and by order at your local bookstore. Killing Silence is also available in audio format.

Jun 22, 2016

An Author's Bucket List

Panel at Printers' Row 6-16
 In the preface to Iberia, James Michener explained that he'd conceived the idea for the book decades before, made a bunch of notes about it, and then put it on a shelf because he had too many other things going. I think many authors have the same experience: too many ideas, not enough time. I always tell people I'll die with ideas for more books in my head.

It takes time to make an idea into a book, which is why, though we all might have "a book inside us," we don't all write it down. It's a daunting task, and even if/when you do write it down, it needs editing and reworking, over and over. Even books that seem light, like cozies, require multiple drafts. (I know there are authors who claim to write it down only once. A: I don't believe them and B: if it IS true, I'm guessing they work it over many, many times in their heads before they make that one draft. The rest of us can't keep all that stuff inside--we'd explode.)

Some ideas are good but difficult to plot. I have a couple of books that I started and had to leave because I eother don't know where I want it to go or how I'm going to get there. A book I released last winter, DOUBLE TOIL & TROUBLE, was years in the making because it was a romance (not what I'm known for nowadays)  and a sequel to MACBETH'S NIECE. I wanted to finish the macFinlaech story, but each girl's story unfolds in turns, and I hadn't been able to make them come back together in a balanced way until inspiration hit--years after I began it.

I also have ideas that are cool but I just don't have the time right now to write them. With three series going, there wasn't time to write the mystery about the woman recovering from a coma or the sequel to SHAKESPEARE'S BLOOD I'd started back when an agent first took the book on. She said, "Get to work on the sequel NOW!" I did, but I never finished it, and that agent never sold the first book, so the second one's been lying around 3/4 finished. Maybe this fall...

There are other ideas, some vague, some partially done. It might be true that they don't deserve to be completed if they haven't fired my imagination enough to do it, but on the other hand, I'm by necessity a compartmentalist: I work on the book I'm working on until I'm happy with it (or until a publisher is!) That means the uncompleted books on my bucket list are probably deserving, they simply have to wait their turn. Now that I've finished the Dead Detective and Loser series, and now that my publisher for the Simon & Elizabeth series has announced they won't be publishing any more mysteries, it might be time for some of the books on the bucket list to get their turn at bat.

May 2, 2016

"How Are the Book Sales Going?"

It's a question I get quite often, and sadly, the most correct answer is, "I don't know."

With my first book, back in 2008, I really had no idea how well it was selling for almost two years, and even then the numbers I was given didn't mean much because I knew so little.

Publishers pay an advance on a book when they offer a contract. The author gets "paid" in that way, except then the publisher holds that much money back from royalties as the book sells. If an author gets $100,000 (don't I wish), the book has to earn that much back for the publisher before she gets more money (It's called "selling through"). Add to that the fact that bookstores stock books with the understanding they can return them if they don't sell within a given time. That means a publisher can't count a sale as a sale until they get the returned books and subtract them from what really sold. (Confused yet? That's the current state of publishing.)

Those two things add up to a long wait time for authors. Many books never sell through, so the author never sees a cent after that initial advance. Though I'm one of the lucky ones who receives regular royalty checks, I missed a whole year's worth when my main publisher went bankrupt a while back. That money just disappeared into the court system.

As you can see, the traditional publishing system makes it hard to tell which books are selling. When I'm asked about sales, all I can say is that once or twice a year, there's a check.

New tools make it a little easier to find good information in certain venues. Amazon and Audible are great about giving a daily update of how many of which books sold today. It's nice not to wait years to get paid, and there's even a chart that tells how many pages of my books have been read on Kindle each day. That can get to be too much information, but it is fun to see which books people are actually reading and how fast they're getting through them.

Something that's interested me lately is that all my books, even some of the older ones, are selling pretty steadily. That means (I think) that people are reading one book then seeking out more of what I've written. Since my topics are widely varied within the mystery genre, I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Someone who loves Simon & Elizabeth might not react well to Loser the Loser or Seamus the Dead Detective.  I like to think if a reader is only looking for a good story, she won't be disappointed.

How are the book sales going?

Honestly, it's fun to see sales climb. It's nice that money appears in my bank account regularly. But I'll never be an author who chases financial gain. I went into this field because I love writing books that make me and a certain set of readers happy. Sales are just one way to tell if I'm doing that.

Nov 9, 2015

What It's Like in a Writer's Head--Especially on Mondays

Okay, today I have to finish the chapter I started yesterday--

But there's that blogger who wants a guest post by Wednesday--

Oh, and the editor sent a chapter for me to okay. I should get on that soon.

But that contest I'm judging has a deadline for me to return my ratings. When was that?

I wish I had time to write the book I keep imagining. Seems like fun but can't handle it right now.

Christmas is coming. I should do some sort of promotion.

And I've got Career Day this Friday at that high school. Need to think about that a little.

Setting for DD#4: Interview more people about life in the '50s or do I have enough in there already?

Rewrite my will to assign rights to my "intellectual property"? Yeah, when I get time.

Two dates in TC coming up. Should I get a room or drive home late at night? December...

Beta reader needs a copy of the fourth Dead Detective. Print, since she doesn't Kindle.
Um, when was I going to finish that chapter????

Oct 26, 2015

Plain Talk for Writers: It Takes Longer than You Think

What takes longer, you ask?
It takes longer to sell a book than you'd like.
It takes longer to produce a book than you estimate.
It takes longer to become a familiar name to readers than you expected.
It takes longer to to keep up with promotion than you ever imagined.

Let's look at those one by one.

Sell the book. Five years is the estimated average time it takes a writer to find a publisher. If you're hoping for a big publisher, it could be even more. Yes, I know you read about an author who hit it big with her first book. Hooray for her, but most of us don't have that experience. We just don't talk about it because the average reader thinks if a book is "good enough," it's going to get published.
Yeah, right.

Produce the book. Once your book is accepted by a publisher, you're on their timeline. You can tell all your friends about it, but they're likely to have to wait more than a year to see the book in print. My publisher puts each manuscript they receive into a queue, and the publication date will always more than a year away due to the process: editing, re-editing, cover designing, formatting, submitting for review, and copy-editing. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
If you self-publish you're responsible for all that, and while that's beneficial in some ways, it's a lot more work--more time spent not writing.

Become a familiar name. Try this one: Who are Adam Johnson, Nathan Englander, and Eowyn Ivey?
They were the top three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013 (Johnson won it). If we don't take note of these authors' names, why would we recall the author of the murder mystery we read last week?

Keep up with promotion. Here's what I've done so far this morning: I checked my emails for both Peg and Maggie, answering some, deleting a lot, and sending out codes for one of Maggie's audio books. Then I sent a guest blog post to a fellow author who will use it on November 3rd. I wrote it yesterday, so today I proofed it, added links, photos, and a bio. Monday is blog day for me and Maggie. In addition, each day I try to follow some of the advice authors are given: tweet interesting things, post on FB, send a newsletter to those who opt in to learn what I'm up to. I set up my own book signings and talks, although people are finally starting to ask me to speak rather than me asking them. I'm also preparing for Magna Cum Murder this weekend, which meant answering the panel moderators' questions so they know what to ask about when I get there. In the back of my mind I'm searching for something cool to give away there (It's in Indianapolis) to make people take note of my work in the mash of authors who'll be there trying to do the same thing. (One author gave everyone in the room ten dollars. Impressive, but honestly, I didn't buy her book with it and I don't recall her name!)

The point is there's always something I could be doing to "make it" as an author, and a lot of it isn't writing books.

I'm not complaining. I love everything I do that connects to writing, and I would never discourage anyone from doing it. It's just that it's always a surprise to me when I think, "I can have that book out by the end of the year." ...It's almost the end of October, and I'm not even close.

Oct 19, 2015

Plain Talk for Writers: It's Work

Some things you need to accept:

1. You're not as good as you think you are.
Other people have ideas as good as yours. In fact, it's hard to be truly creative with all the stories that are out there. Others write as well as you do too. Admit it, and you'll be easier to be around.
2. You're going to work harder than you expect to be successful.
There is no Book Fairy who sprinkles shiny stuff on your work and gets everyone to notice it. There's no way to get readers to pay attention if they don't want to. There are things you can do that actually turn readers off, like constantly telling what a great book you've written.
3. Nobody knows what works. If there were a formula--well, there isn't. Badly written books get to be Best Sellers and really good books get rejected by publishers or lie languishing if they do get published.
4. Writing well isn't easy. Note the qualifier. A monkey can sit down at a computer and produce something. An author knows it takes time: time to write a coherent first draft, time to make it better with multiple edits, time to get constructive criticism from others, time to rewrite and rework until it's the best story she is capable of telling.


If you're a real writer, none of those things will deter you.

Oct 12, 2015

Plain Talk for Writers: Series

3 Current Series: Upper left, Loser Mysteries. Upper right, Simon & Elizabeth Historical Mysteries. Lower left: Dead Detective Mysteries. Somebody Doesn't Like Sarah Leigh is a stand-along mystery.
Publishers love series. They invest in an author's work, and series mean they can reap the rewards of that investment more than once.

Readers love series. It's nice to know that characters we love are going to come back and visit us again, telling us about their latest scrapes.

Writers love series--to a point. It's comfortable to slip into the minds of characters we've already created. We know how they think, what they'll do. (Even if we don't, we can look back at the books that came before and refresh our memories.)

The problem with series-writing is keeping it fresh. Writers don't want their characters to "jump the shark," but it's obvious to me from reading some series that authors find it difficult to tell when they've reached that point. If you've ever stopped reading a series because things got too weird, too over-the-top emotional, or too unbelievable, you've seen it happen.

On the other hand, a series shouldn't be the same story over and over. We like familiar characters in new situations, and that makes it tough for a writer. Readers want the same thing, only different.

Publishers push their writers to keep a series going, often despite the writer's feelings. We know that Conan Doyle wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, as did Martha Grimes with her Inspector Jury. Steve Hamilton admits that though he likes Alex McKnight, he wants to write other things. I admire these writers for wanting to stretch themselves and not depend on a single successful character to make their whole career. Still, you'll notice that in each case, someone in the publishing industry has decreed differently: the public wants more of the same, and Sue Grafton will be required/encouraged to finish the alphabet, no matter how tired she might be or Kinsey Milhone. (Hey, it's all downhill from X, right?)

I've ended one series (Loser Mysteries) and am at working ending two more (Dead Detectives right now and Simon & Elizabeth next year), because I don't want to get tired of my characters. I did cheat a little and leave possibilities for continuing them at a later date, but right now, they're telling me they've traveled the arc that kept me and my readers interested. After three books, Loser's in a good place in her life. Seamus is about to come to terms with his demons in Book #4. Simon & Elizabeth are getting old as the fifth book circles in my head. I can't see forcing them to have more adventures--not when there are new characters talking from the back of my brain, whispering that they're waiting for their turn.

How Doth She Bigotry? Let Me Count the Ways

    I left a conversation yesterday wondering how many ways one person can offend another in three minutes. I was outside sweeping my si...