On New Series – and Stalking the Muse

Last week, I started this Monday column – for lack of a better word – for a reader update on the state of the empire, so to speak, and some musings on a creative life. Last week, I wrote about the last six and a half years of being indie, and making the transition from traditional publishing. I wrote about bats, too. 🙂 This week, we’ll look ahead at the work in progress and books coming soon, then talk a bit about sewing.

Under the Mistletoe, a contemporary Christmas romance and #4 in the Secret Heart Ink series by Deborah CookeWhat can you expect in book releases from me in the next year? Well, there’s a tiny bit of finishing up to do yet. Under the Mistletoe is the fourth and final book in the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances and it will be available in September. Some Like it Hot is the seventh and final book in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances and it will be available in February. I know that all of the partners have their happily-ever-after, but I wanted to take one last peek in at the club, and leave them with a new means of recruiting models for their Times Square billboard. It’s true that there are characters who still need their stories told – Hunter, Sonja, Rachel, Nate – but the current plan is for Some Like it Hot to end the series.

It’s entirely possible that there could be a spin-off series, or that these characters could find their HEA’s in another series (which is a much more interesting proposition to me.)

Unicorn Bride, a medieval romance by Claire Delacroix, 2019 new editionOver on the historical side, my Rogues & Angels series of medieval romances is still in progress. I think this will be scheduled at a book a year or so, at least for the time being, with some shorter works or republished works in between. One Knight’s Desire is the next Rogues & Angels book, and I’m hoping to publish it in the spring. I’m enjoying researching and writing this series and want to savor the process a little. 🙂

Unicorn Bride is the next republished work for Claire and will be published later this month. I’m not sure what the next one will be. I have covers done for the Rose trilogy, but they need some work to be a more closely-knit series.

The shorter stories in between will be Kinfairlie Tales. I have covers done for three of them and will tell you more about each one when it’s available for pre-order.

Dragon's Kiss, book two of the DragonFate novels, a series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThen there’s entirely new work. The most obvious example of that is the DragonFate series of paranormal romances, which is a new series featuring my dragon shapeshifter heroes, the Pyr. The prequel, Maeve’s Book of Beasts, was published earlier this summer, and the first full-length romance in this series, Dragon’s Kiss, will be published in October.

This series is proving to be a lot of fun to write, because there are lots of other paranormal creatures in the Dragonfire world and now they all have to band together to defeat Maeve. You know that vampires aren’t going to get along with anyone, that dragon shifters are going to lose their tempers and get fiery, and that the dark fae will be tricksy. Throw in a slow-burn romance between a librarian and the hot vampire she knows is no good for her, and a firestorm between a dragon shifter and a Valkyrie, and New York night life will become very interesting.

There are a few more things in the works, but that’s plenty to talk about today.

The thing about writing for me is that I can’t write all the time. I generate new content for maybe four hours a day. In the past, when I was traditionally published, I would spend the rest of the day doing other stuff and letting my ideas for the next day’s writing percolate. Sometimes there was promotional stuff to do; sometimes there were publishing jobs (like reviewing proofs) to finish. At least half of the time, though, I would do other things, activities that had nothing directly to do with writing and publishing. I would sew. I would garden. I would knit. I would walk or ride my bike. I would go to an art gallery or a museum, or go shopping. I would cook or try out a new recipe. All of these activities – and more – cut my imagination loose to figure out what came next in my book, and by the time I sat down at the computer the next morning, I knew what to write. They also gave me a more balanced schedule and a healthier lifestyle.

Going indie changed that schedule. I still write for three or four hours each morning, but for the past few years, I had publishing tasks to do, each and every day. My ToDo lists were so long (and remain that long) that I never finished them. So, I spent more time at my desk and my imagination had less time to play. Writing became a little harder each day. I gained some weight and my stress levels rose.

On Writing by Stephen KingSo, taking a step back from the business of publishing my books is an excellent personal decision in many, many ways. I’m glad that the rate of change in the digital marketplace has slowed to the point that I feel comfortable doing that. About a year ago, I realized that my ToDo list was never going to be done and made my peace with some things just not happening. (This was tough and I still struggle with the imperfection of it.) I switched my office – which was in a large bedroom in our house – with our TV room, which is a smaller room. This felt like assigning the writing to its proper role in my life. Stephen King talks about making a similar change in his book On Writing, which is an excellent work that I think every author should read. I also divided this new office, putting my sewing table in there as well as my desk. I started to walk more last year which made me feel a lot better.

One stressful element of spending so much time at the desk, battling the endless ToDo list, is that the muse, the source of ideas and creativity, becomes more elusive. I knew I needed her back.

I revisited a favorite resource of mine, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This series of books features readings and exercises to help creatives restore and feed their souls, and I highly recommend it. It’s invaluable when trying to balance commerce and creativity. There actually are a number of books in this series – this is the first one, but I’ve worked through three of them.

I need to create other things in order to create stories. I need to play with colour and texture in order to tempt my muse to visit regularly. Sewing is one of the ways I create but I had packed it all away. I was still buying fabric, but just packing it away! Two years ago, I first tried Japanese sewing patterns, which tend to be of simple, classic shapes. This year, I have a collection of Japanese pattern books and am working on some more new garments from them. I have an astonishing stash and have begun to cut into it. This year, I also started to sew with knits for the first time and told you about that when I made some Mirri dresses.  This summer, I learned more about fitting garments, which is a fascinating business. I also pieced a new quilt top this year, the Escher quilt.

I also am making good progress on weeding and mulching my gardens this year. Weeds are similar to ToDo lists, in that they’re never all eradicated, but it’s very satisfying to clear them out all the same.

And what happens in the middle of all this? The muse appears in my peripheral vision and if I don’t spook her, she stays. Then ideas happen. Questions arise. Possibilities abound and I get very excited about new work.

We’ll talk more about that next week.

Workshop at RTC

Romancing the Capital 2019This morning, I’m teaching a workshop at RTC (Romancing the Capital) called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Options. I have two hours. The workshop clocks out at an hour and twenty minutes. I have over 100 slides! I hope the projector works. I hope I get through the whole talk without getting derailed by questions and we can have questions at the end.

Fingers crossed!

For simplicity’s sake, I created a page here on the site with hotlinks for all the portals and services I’ll mention in the talk. Their logos go past on the slides, but the links are on the RTC Links page under the Author Resources tab.

After the workshop is over, it’ll just be fun. I’m participating in several panel discussions and will be hanging out, talking to readers. There’s a huge booksigning on Saturday afternoon – which is open to the public, if you’re in the area – and I loaded the car up with books. It sounds as if this will be the last RTC, which makes me sad because it’s a terrific reader conference, but I know it will be a particularly awesome one this year.

Wish me luck with my workshop!

On Fresh Starts – and Bats

I used to blog more regularly than I have in recent years. A big reason for that has been a lack of time, but suddenly this year, I feel as if I can take a breath. This was such a novelty that I was suspicious of the impression and waited to see if it lasted. It did. 🙂 So, now I want to find my rhythm again or maybe figure out a new one. Writing a post five days a week is still out of the question. I’m going to try for a new blog post every Monday and see how that works out. It’s almost exactly the midpoint of the year – there are 22 more Mondays after this one in 2019 – so my plan is to write a blog post for each of these 23 Mondays.

We’ll start with work stuff first each Monday then something more personal. Today, that’s a fresh start and bats. 🙂

Unicorn Bride, a medieval romance by Claire Delacroix, 2019 new editionWhy does it feel like a good time for a fresh start? Since I went indie in 2012, I’ve been doing several things simultaneously, each of which would be a job in itself. I’ve been pursuing rights reversions, then repackaging and republishing my previously published works in new editions. I sold 45 works to New York publishers between 1992 and 2012, and all of them have reverted to me (with the exception of English Commonwealth rights on two YA books but we’ll ignore that for now). I’ve re-edited, repackaged and republished 38 of them – although one was closer to a complete rewrite. (Writing a completely new story might actually have been faster.) #39 (Unicorn Bride) will be republished in August. That’s 39 books in 6.5 years, or six books per year, which is a good publication schedule in and of itself.

Abyss, #4 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Deborah CookeAt the same time, I’ve finished series that were abandoned by publishers, adding Abyss to the Prometheus Project, three novellas and two books to the Dragonfire Novels, as well as the True Love Brides and the Brides of Inverfyre to the Ravensmuir and Kinfairlie cycle. That’s four novellas, a short novel, six regular length novels and one double-length novel, all new work in existing worlds. Call it 8.5 books in 6.5 years – that’s another 1.3 books per year.

I’ve also been writing and publishing completely new works. The Champions of St. Euphemia is a medieval romance series with a structure I wanted to explore for a long time. I participated in a group project of Regency romances, which was a lot of fun – the Brides of North Barrows are the result of that collaboration. I began a different paranormal romance series featuring dragon shifter princesses from space – the Dragons of Incendium – and, of course, I wrote the Flatiron Five and the spin-off Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances. That’s ten full-length novels, eight short ones, two novellas and five short stories. Call it 15 more books – another 2.3 books a year.

Some Like It Hot, book #7 in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeThe interesting thing about this summary is that when I was traditionally published, I published two to four books a year and those were all new work. Since going indie, I’ve averaged 3.6 new books per year, plus the republication of another 6.5 per year. I’ve been publisher as well as writer, too, so was responsible for more of the publication process. (All of it!) I haven’t even talked about audiobooks, of which we produced 13 in 2014, or foreign translations, several of which are currently in the works.

In addition, the ebook market was rapidly changing in those first few years, which meant that things had to be done over and over (and over) to accommodate changes, mostly in the format of ebook interiors. Now, the industry and its protocols seem to have settled, my backlist is available, and the various series I wanted to finish are completed. Even the new series I began in indie are coming to their completion.

This is an excellent moment for a fresh start. Where do I go from here? I’ve been thinking about that a lot this year, and have made some decisions, and will talk more about that each Monday with you.

Romancing the Capital 2019This week, I’m off to Romancing the Capital, Eve Langlais’ reader conference in Ottawa, and looking forward to that. I’ve packed all the books and swag etc. and stacked it all in the living room so Mr. Math has a few days to figure out how to get it all into the car. The advantage of driving to a conference is that I can take more; the disadvantage is that it’s easy to take too much. I’m teaching a workshop as well as participating in panel discussions, and there’s a big booksigning on Saturday to wrap up the event. The booksigning is open to the public if you’re in or around Kanata, Ontario. It sounds as if this will be the last RTC – it’s such a lot of work that I’m amazed Eve has done it four times, but I will miss this event, and seeing the readers who regularly attend it.

It is almost August, and the bats are back. (I’ve blogged about this a few times before: Guests in 2009 and If it’s August in 2012. Notice that they’re both August posts.) Actually, this is huge news this year – bats have been in short supply and I haven’t seen any for a few years. There was an epidemic that killed many of them (white nose syndrome) and they’ve been very scarce since 2015 or so. This year, they seem to be making a comeback – or maybe a fresh start of their own. I saw two bats Saturday night when I was watching the fireflies. I was happy to see them flying figure-8’s over the garden. The bats are back! Last night, driving home from my mom’s, we spotted ten – and we were driving – before getting home to find one doing laps over our garden again. Although I don’t want to get up close and personal with bats, they’re good to have around to keep the mosquito population under control. Plus they’re kind of mesmerizing to watch.

Mr. Math always says “Eat up” when he sees the bats, because the mosquitoes adore him. Back when there were more bats, if we went for a walk in the evening, they’d follow him, because there was always a buffet for them in his vicinity. Of course, if he goes out to sit and watch the bats, he’ll see a lot – they swoop around him for the same reason.

I’m happy the bats are back (but they can stay outside). It’s a week for fresh starts. Have you made a fresh start lately?

Plans for 2019

A new year is always an excellent opportunity to review. I took some time off in December because I felt due for a break. During that time, I thought about what was working for me—in terms of writing, publishing, and life in general—and what wasn’t working so well. From that, I made a plan for the new year. Some things are new and some are changing.

Bad Case of Loving You, book #6 in the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke• My main goal for 2019 is to add time into my publication schedule. This will reduce my stress. 🙂 Once upon a time, when I was traditionally published, my books had to be delivered to the publisher one year in advance of publication. The editorial process consumed the next eight months or so, then the book was formatted, packaged and ready to go by 90 days before publication. Paper editions were printed and shipped, and digital editions were uploaded to the portals. Although I’ll never have that prolonged of an editorial process again, my goal is to have each book uploaded 90 days before publication. It will probably take me most of this year to catch up and achieve that. This will be pretty much invisible to you, but it’s a huge change for me.

Right now, my only pre-order is for Bad Case of Loving You, which is coming out in March. Job #1 is to get that book file ready and uploaded.

• I’ll also be closing my online store. I’ve had the store for four (maybe five) years. When I opened it, there were few options for authors to sell their work directly, but gradually other services have added functionality. I don’t need a second storefront because my websites are essentially storefronts. You’ll still be able to buy directly from me, but the new buy links will look like this one, on the Champions of St. Euphemia Boxed Set page – the prices will be in US dollars, the transaction will be managed by Paypal, and the ebooks will continue to be delivered by BookFunnel.

Simply Irresistible, a contemporary romance by Deborah Cooke and first in the Flatiron Five series.• I’ll be running fewer free and 99-cent price promotions
Scheduling and managing promotions is a job in itself, and the tail or halo (the sales that result from people buying the other linked books) from those promotions is much shorter than it used to be. I think this is because the ebook market is maturing. Those specials were great for people who had just bought their first e-reader, but have become a less reliable way of ensuring discoverability. Right now, Simply Irresistible is free so is The Beauty Bride. That may change. I have my sights set on creating more front-list instead of marketing back-list.

Here Be Dragons: The Dragonfire Companion by Deborah Cooke• I’ll be doing MORE writing (YAY!)
This market skews in favor of frequent publication. I want to focus more on writing and publishing new content in 2019. (2018 was the year of republishing Dragonfire; 2017 was the year of republishing the Bride Quest.) I’m excited about adding to my existing story worlds and creating some new ones.

• I’ll be offering exclusive discounts to newsletter subscribers
I’ve had good luck with this mechanism in the past so it’s a strategy to keep. These sales will be promoted to my newsletter subscribers instead of to the world at large. If you haven’t subscribed to one of my lists, you might want to do that. I only send newsletters when I have a sale or a new release to announce. I’d also like to make some new content available exclusively to subscribers this year, too, and you’ll find out about that in my newsletters. My newsletters are:

Dragons & Angels for my paranormal romances
Knights and Rogues for my historical romances
Heroes & Bad Boys for my contemporary romances

If you don’t like to subscribe to newsletters, you could also follow my blogs:

DeborahCooke.com/blog is mostly about my contemporary romances
DragonfireNovels.com/blog is for my Dragonfire series
DragonsofIncendium.com/blog is for that PNR series
Delacroix.net/blog is for my historical romances

Wyvern's Wizard, book 11 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeYou can also follow me at Amazon and BookBub to receive new release announcements from those portals. Be aware that Amazon doesn’t always send new release announcements on (or even that close to) the publication date. Sometimes they don’t send them at all. Also, BookBub now offers a new release announcement that authors have to pay for, so I’m not sure if their free version will be retired.

follow Deborah Cooke at Amazon
follow Claire Delacroix at Amazon
follow Deborah Cooke at BookBub
follow Claire Delacroix at BookBub

• I’ll be creating more free guided tours
These are newsletter automations that take subscribers through the works set in one of my fictional realms. Each week, subscribers get a newsletter featuring the next book set in that world, along with a peek behind the scenes and some notes about my research. There are special offers in these tours, too. I like these tours as they’re fun ways to integrate my research and Pinterest boards, then share that with you.

Right now, there’s a virtual tour available for Ravensmuir and Kinfairlie medieval romances. I’ll be adding new ones in 2019 for the Champions of St. Euphemia, the Sayerne medieval romances Rogues & Angels and the Dragonfire Novels. You can sign up for any (or all! LOL) of these now: the Ravensmuir one will start right away and the others will launch when I have them compiled. Your email will just be saved until then.

Phew! That’s my plan for 2019!

Under the Mistletoe, a contemporary Christmas romance and #4 in the Secret Heart Ink series by Deborah CookeWhere do we stand right now?
I didn’t stop working completely in December, but I certainly wrote less. This means that Chynna’s story, Under the Mistletoe, wasn’t written and published in December. On the other hand, I felt more like revising than writing, so I’ve been updating One Knight’s Return to prepare it for publication. It’ll be out in April and there will be pre-order links soon.

Right now, I’m working on the Dragonfire companion, Here Be Dragons, which will be published as soon as it’s done, and Theo’s book, Bad Case of Loving You, which will be published in March. I expect to fit Chynna’s book in there, too. (The timeline entangles with Theo’s book, so that isn’t as crazy a plan as it might seem.)

One Knight's Return, book #2 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixAfter that, well, I have a bunch of ideas. 🙂 I’ll be at a bit of a crossroads as many series will be finished up. The Dragons of Incendium series is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, and the rest of the series will be published there, too. Wyvern’s Wizard is next in that series, which is Peri and Nero’s book. I expect the next few books in that series to entangle a bit as the sisters set out on their quests. DragonFate is high on my list, but again, I want it all written before I launch the first book. There will be more Coxwell books – I think Annette is next – and more medievals – I’d like to publish the third Rogues & Angels book this year as well as The Stolen Bride, the third Brides of Inverfyre book.

I’m excited to dive into 2019. Do you have plans for 2019?

Ten Things I Learned From Copy Editors

The other evening, I was reading a book, and a sentence stopped me cold.

“No!” she hissed.

I put the book down, wondering what had happened to all the copy editors.

When I was traditionally published, one of the most dreaded phases of the editorial process for me was the copy edit. Copy editors are fierce, in my experience, and they are precise. They ensure that the author writes exactly what he or she means. The book that I put down the other night was written by a famous author and published by a big publishing house. There were many similar issues throughout the story, which prompted me to write this post. On this Author Resource Thursday, I’ll share ten things I learned from copy editors – or ten ways I learned to more accurately express what I mean.

1. Dialogue tags
A dialogue tag is the bit that comes after the dialogue in quotes.

“I’ll be there soon,” he said.

he said is the dialogue tag. A dialogue tag should define the speaker, and is separated from the dialogue with a comma. Some authors believe that “said” is the only acceptable dialogue tag, while others use more expressive verbs to convey emotion. That’s a style choice, but if you are going to use expressive verbs, a copy editor will flag some of them. Here are some reasons why:

First, the verb you choose must be a verb that allows for dialogue to be expressed.

“Bring me that cup,” she pointed across the room.

Pointed cannot be a dialogue tag. It isn’t a verb that includes speech. Two possible corrections are:

“Bring me that cup.” She pointed across the room.
or
“Bring me that cup,” she commanded, then pointed across the room.

Second, the verb you choose must allow for the dialogue you’ve written. Some dialogue tags are on the boundary between verbs that convey speech and those that don’t. They work best for very short utterances.

“No!” she moaned.
is fine but
“We have to catch the train at nine,” she moaned.
is silly.
“We have to catch the train at nine.” She moaned at the prospect.
is better.

“Oh! I never thought to have a house of my own!” Mary gasped.

Could Mary really gasp all of that? Probably not. This is better:

“Oh!” Mary gasped. “I never thought to have a house of my own!”

Third, the dialogue must match the implication of the chosen verb. You can only trill a line of dialogue that includes a lot of l’s. The example at the top of this post would have been flagged because you can only hiss words that include a sybillant or an “s” sound.

“Yes!” she hissed.
works perfectly. The first example would need to be changed, perhaps to:

“No!” She hissed her next words. “She’ll see us!”

Alternatively:
“No!” she said.

Fourth, dialogue tags that describe animal sounds (growl, purr, croak, etc.) carry an extra layer of implication. Not only should the dialogue match the expectation set by the verb in terms of sound (you purr things with a lot of r’s); not only should the dialogue tend to be short; but these tags are often used to indicate “animal desires”—or an appetite for food or sex. When they don’t, it seems odd or even funny.

“I’ll have you now,” he growled.
is infinitely more plausible than
“The lace ruffle on that petticoat is the perfect flourish,” he growled.

2. Simultaneous Action
In colloquial speech, we often use “and” to indicate consecutive events, even though, strictly speaking, “and” means that the events are concurrent.

Joe went to the store and bought milk.

We know that these events occurred in succession – obviously, he couldn’t buy milk until he got to the store – but technically (and copy editors are all about technicalities), this sentence says that the two events happened at the same time.

Joe went to the store to buy milk.
or
Joe went to the store, then bought milk.

3. Wandering Eyeballs
This is a pretty common error and one that occurs a lot in romances, where eye contact is an important part of courtship.

His eyes slid over her.
Her eyes were cold.
His eyes locked with mine.

These are examples of “wandering eyeballs”. If we use active verbs with “eyes”, then the eyes are literally on the move. Read those sentences again and think about it. (Ick.) What is meant here is “gaze”.

His gaze slid over her.
Her gaze was cold.
His gaze locked with mine.

4. Date of First Use
The first time I saw this notation, I had no idea what it meant. A word was circled in the manuscript (this was back in the old days when we edited on paper) then in the margin were the initials D.O. F.U. and a four-digit number. I had to call my editor (yes, on the phone) to ask what it meant.

When you write a book in an historical setting, the copy editor will flag words that were not in use at the time of the book’s setting. The notation on the circled word is the year of first use, and often there’s a notation as to which dictionary is the reference. (O.E.D. for Oxford English Dictionary or M.W. for Mirriam-Webster.) The concept is that a word can’t be used before the recorded date of first use, which is often a literary source.

This becomes problematic for books set in the medieval era, especially as we often write about the aristocracy. The English court spoke Norman French until the 15th century (and they kept records in it for longer than that). The work of Chaucer (1343 – 1400) is often the date of first use source for English words, because he was the first poet in England to write in the vernacular. Marie de France (ca. 1160 – 1215) lived in England but wrote in French for her courtly audience. Here’s a cool post on Wiki about English words with French origins. I think it’s fair to use any of them from medieval French in a book written in English with a medieval setting – even if your setting is too early for Chaucer to have used them (or their derivations) in an English work. The dictionary that provides date of first use in French is Le Robert.

The concept behind date of first use is that a modern word used in an historical setting can jar the reader out of the atmosphere of the book and this is a valid concern. The mister and I were watching an historical movie a while ago in which one character asked the other “Are you okay?” after a huge sword fight. We nearly fell off the couch laughing, because the phrase was so incongruous and the characters didn’t notice. A fun example with the same phrase is in the movie Gosford Park set in the early 1930’s in England: the director from California stops his car beside that of the countess (played by Maggie Smith) and asks “Are you okay?” She recoils and says “Am I what?”, responding to both his familiarity and his use of an American colloquialism. So, take a hard look at your modern words, colloquialisms and any slang in your book, and ensure it doesn’t ruin the mood.

5. Who Said That?
It’s tedious to read a book in which every line of dialogue has a dialogue tag. At the other end of the spectrum, if the author leaves out dialogue tags, it can be easy to lose track of who is saying what. Sometimes authors use stage directions to indicate who is speaking, and discard the dialogue tags. Another convention to add clarity is to put each character’s dialogue in a separate paragraph.

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it. “I’ll get the car.” He grabbed his keys, then went to the door. “Hurry!”

If this is all in one paragraph, you might be uncertain who said what, after the word said. Here are three options:

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it. “I’ll get the car.”
He grabbed his keys, then went to the door.
“Hurry!”
In this example, she says all the dialogue.

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it. “I’ll get the car.”
He grabbed his keys, then went to the door. “Hurry!”
In this example, he says only the last line.

“We have to leave now,” she said. “If not, we’ll be late.” She closed her suitcase and locked it.
“I’ll get the car.” He grabbed his keys, then went to the door. “Hurry!”
In this example, he has two lines.

6. Orient the reader
Using paragraph breaks in dialogue is one way of orienting the reader, so he or she can remain immersed in the story and not stop to think. Another place to orient the reader is after a scene break. A scene break occurs when an interval of time passes and/or the point of view character changes. I learned from copy editors to make it clear in the first sentence which of those things have changed.

The store was busier than expected.
As the opening line of a scene, this sentence tells us where we are, but not when or whose point of view we’re sharing.

Joe waited until the morning to go to the store. It was busier than he’d expected.
This potential opening, describing the same thing, ensures that the reader knows exactly where we are, whose perspective we’re sharing and how much time has passed.

(I also learned from copy editors to eliminate scene breaks when the point of view hadn’t changed or there wasn’t an interval of time passing.)

7. Unique and other Absolute Modifiers
Editors are usually the ones who comment on the author’s use of modifiers (adjectives and adverbs), particularly if the author in question has the dreaded Adverb Disease. Copy editors, however, will always flag modifiers on words like unique.

The word unique is an absolute modifier, which means that it accepts no modification. Something cannot be truly unique or very unique or utterly unique. It is unique or it is not. Period. Other absolute modifiers are perfect, final, total, and complete. Modifying these words is a colloquial use – a copy editor will probably let almost pass as a modifier, but otherwise, the modifiers should go.

8. Parallel Structure
Parallel structure (or parallelism) means that the words in a list are in the same format. The similarity of structure makes it easier for us to process the information being presented. We do this intuitively in its simplest form, but in more complex sentences, we might muck it up.

Her hobbies included crossword puzzles, hunting vintage patterns and growing prize petunias.
This is not parallel structure. There’s no verb in crossword puzzles as in the other two hobbies.

Her hobbies included solving crossword puzzles, hunting vintage patterns and growing prize petunias.

I notice the lack of parallel structure often in book titles, too. When books are in a linked series, it’s easier to perceive the connection if the titles show a parallel structure. The Beauty Bride, The Rose Red Bride and The Snow White Bride, for example, are clearly a set. Beguiled, Addicted to Love and The Frost Maiden’s Kiss don’t appear to be a set. They aren’t 🙂 but if they were, I’d think about changing the titles to a parallel structure.

9. Misplaced Modifiers
In English, a modifier (like an adjective or adverb) usually modifies the closest candidate (noun or verb) in the sentence. For example, moving the word brown in this sentence changes the meaning because it changes what is being modified:

The brown horse ate the grass.
The horse ate the brown grass.

We intuitively get this right in simple sentences and with single word modifiers, but with modifying clauses, it can get more complicated:

Josie answered the door to find the police on the porch in her pyjamas.

Who is wearing Josie’s pyjamas? While it’s possible that the police have dressed for the moment, it’s more likely that this is a misplaced modifier.

In her pyjamas, Josie answered the door to find the police on the porch.
Josie, in her pyjamas, answered the door to find the police on the porch.

If the police really were on the porch in Josie’s pyjamas, I’d still move the modifier and use a stronger verb:
Josie answered the door and was astonished to find the police in her pyjamas on the porch.

10. Split infinitives
In English, the infinitive form of any verb is two words: to write. Putting another word in the middle is calling splitting the infinitive and is incorrect. Colloquially, though, we split infinitives all the time.

Jason wanted to just be alone.

I find that moving the offending word often changes the meaning of the sentence, so you may have to be more creative with choices in this situation.

Jason just wanted to be alone.
All Jason wanted was to be alone.

Splitting the infinitive is something I still do, because it is such a common colloquialism. (Consider: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” That example is hard to forget.) Like most colloquialisms, I think it’s fair to let a split infinitive stand in dialogue. It’s an accurate representation of how people actually speak and using colloquialisms in direct speech can make your characters more personable and realistic.

There’s a short list of things I’ve learned from copy editors.

In reviewing edits, by the way, the author has the right to accept or over-ride any suggested changes from the copy editor. When the author wants the suggested editorial change to be ignored, he or she writes STET beside it, which means “let it stand” or stick to the original version. So, it’s entirely possible that there was a copy editor on the book that prompted this post, and that the author put a stroke through the correction and wrote STET in the margin.

Happy writing!

Avoiding Writers’ Block

Today, we’re going to discuss some tips and tricks for ensuring that you always know what comes next when you sit down to write.

I don’t love the term “writers’ block”, partly because it sounds insurmountable. Like so many things, being “stuck” can be overcome with a little preparation and several little steps. You could think of these as good practices.

• Review what you wrote the day before
This is a tried and true strategy used by many writers I know. Job one of any new day of writing is to edit what was written the day before. This is a neat trick because you polish your work so that it’s clean behind you, and it also fills your mind with the story again. You might even see details or directions to explore which you missed the first time around.

• Leave a hook for the next scene
When you stop for the day, choose a deliberate point for stopping. I find that if I write everything I know about the story, the next day I might come up dry. I also find that I see two scenes very clearly and often a third one a bit less so. So, I write those two scenes, then hold back on the third. I’ll write the first sentence of that scene, to pull me back into the moment, but then let that scene stew in the back of my mind for the remainder of the day. Combined with the review suggested above, this is a surefire way to get me writing again each day.

• Retrace your steps
Most authors write a story in a linear sequence. This means that if the next scene isn’t clear to you, you’re stuck, as if you encountered a closed road on your map to the big finish. For me, this often indicates that I’ve taken a wrong turn or painted myself into a corner. The first thing I do in this situation is delete the hook on the end of the last scene I wrote. I then go make a fresh pot of tea, thinking about what else that hook could be. Often that sets me straight on the path again.

• Write out of sequence
Sometimes another scene than the one I know comes next is clear in my thoughts when I sit down to write. This might be the ending, which is a useful thing to write in advance of getting to the end of the book. Many authors find that writing the ending gives them a more clear sense of their destination and the feel of the end of the book, and that helps with the pages in between. You might feel compelled to write the big finish, or the dark moment, or a comparatively minor scene between secondary characters. As a general rule of thumb, if something is burning in your thoughts, write it down, whether it comes next in the story or not.

• Write a synopsis
The most obvious way to ensure that you know where the story is doing (and how it’s going to get there) is to write a synopsis. I’ve yet to meet a writer who loved creating a synopsis. It can be a painful process. But the fact is that once you have one, you have a map of your book. It’s very easy to put your finger on your location in the synopsis then read on to see where the story needs to go next.

• Stock your well
Julia Cameron talks about this in The Artist’s Way. It’s a strategy for ensuring that you always have new images and ideas to draw upon, so that your work continues to evolve and stay fresh. For me, this kind of creative thinking is completely opposite to the kind of planning I do as a publisher. Stocking my well is dreamy and irrational, meandering, and often seems like daydreaming or “wasting” time. The less free time I have, the more critical I am of the kind of play that stocks the well—but if I don’t do it, I get stuck.

I suspect that part of the reason I’ve been less productive creatively this year isn’t just a lack of time to write; it’s a failure to leave time to play and dream. I play with textiles and color to let my imagination wander off and explore the next part of the story I’m writing. I knit and quilt and bead and garden and cook, and this review has reminded me that I need to defend the time to do that, as well as the time to write.

So, the final tweak that comes out of this entire review is to protect the time I spend mucking about with creative endeavors. When I protect my writing time and my source of ideas, the routine of publishing must be pushed out to occur last in the day instead of first.

This is an intriguing idea and one I’ve already started to put into action. I’ve already seen an improvement in my productivity: in October, I wrote 54,000 words, which blasts me past my high count in May of 43,000. Now I just need to make these changes into habits. I’m curious to see if my word count increases in the next six months – I’m curious to see if it will help me succeed in NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words this month would be a victory!

Do you have any tips or practices that help you avoid writers’ block?

What Do You DO All Day?

On Thursdays, we’re talking about publishing and writing here on the blog. Two weeks ago, we talked about Tracking Your Word Count as part of an ongoing discussion about tracking your progress and speed in creating new content. Knowing how quickly you write helps you to plan your publication schedule, because you know when books will be done.

The obvious goal once you know your daily word count is improving it: it seems a particularly fitting topic for today, the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

btw, if you participate in NaNo, you can find me here.

Two weeks ago, I showed you how I tracked my monthly word count. My counts for each month this summer were lower than I’d like, though, so I had a closer look at my data. I tend to write 3,000 words in a writing session at my desk. My tracking results show that clearly. So, I can divide out one month’s word count and see that I’m only having one of those writing sessions about thirteen times a month. Since I’m in my office six days a week (at least) that means the publishing and production part of my job is eating a lot more time than I’d realized. I should be doing at least twenty sessions a month – 5 days a week for 4 weeks – which would net me 60,000 words a month. This isn’t wildly implausible – my word count for May was consistent with the other months but was only for two weeks. I worked every day for those two weeks, which was a push, but I could easily write five days a week.

Why don’t I? What else am I doing? I’m in my office, working. Are there any patterns that differentiate the days I don’t write from the days I do? Once I know what those distractions are, I should be able to manage them better.

The easiest way to discover what leads you astray  is to keep track of your day in a spreadsheet, then look for patterns. You could just scribble it down on a list as you change tasks, but a spreadsheet will help you find patterns in timing. Block it off in half hour intervals from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. When you do write, add a word count of what you accomplished in that block.

This is similar to keeping a list of exactly what you eat before starting a diet, to look for habits (like that mid-afternoon chocolate bar) that you could do without.

Just like that chocolate bar, you’ll probably notice quite quickly that there are some habits that affect your writing output. (One might start with “Face” and end with “Book”.) I find it very easy to get sucked into social media or the myriad little jobs of publishing—I might think it will “only take a minute” to update an item in my metadata, or respond to an email, or book an ad, but in reality, that task sends me off on a tangent that leads away from writing. It’s usually just the first breadcrumb in a line I follow, steadily moving away from writing my book. It might be hours before I work my way back to my work-in-progress again and I certainly will have lost my train of thought.

Most of the tasks that distract me from writing are legitimate ones that need to happen: the trick for me is managing when I do them. If I write first, then I don’t mind following those tangents. Managing my time means opening my email for the first time in the late morning (or even later). It means not checking social media until my word count is done. It means leaving the endless tasks and updates of publishing until the afternoon or evening. New content is what keeps my little publishing machine profitable, so I need to write first.

It’s easier said than done.

I find that making lists in the morning helps. If I make a note that something needs to be done, then I’m less likely to just do it, assuming it will be quick – and risking that I’ll fall down a rabbit hole for a couple of hours as one quick task leads (Inevitably) to another. It also helps if I write down the scenes I intend to add to my book in the morning. Then I can tick them off when they’ve been written, and also know the next one to write. I also need to manage my reading, although this makes sense when I think about it: if I read books about the nuts and bolts of publishing, I end up with a list of things to do that aren’t writing. The natural course is to do those things right away, so I only read those books after my daily word count is written.

If you write your best at night or in the afternoon, you’ll have a different daily rhythm than mine. The point is to figure out what works best for you in terms of getting words on the page, then make that your daily routine. On the flip side, you’ll also figure out the best time for doing a lot of other jobs so that you don’t waste your most creative periods on grunt work.

This brings us neatly to knowing what comes next in the book. Another thing that leads me away from my writing in addition to distraction is not knowing what to write. There’s nothing worse than having a block of time all scheduled, then staring at a blank screen (or sheet of paper). We’ll talk next week about avoiding writers’ block.

Until then, happy writing!

NaNoWriMo 2018

NaNoWriMo logoIt’s that time again. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) launches tomorrow. Participants aim to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Participation is free.

As usual, I’m participating, and (as usual!) I have more than one project to get done this month. If you want a writing buddy, you can friend me at NaNo right here.

If you want to learn more about NaNoWriMo, check out their website.