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.

Tracking Word Count

I’ll be doing my Thursday posts about writing and publishing again, although they’ll be less about changes at the portals now and more about resources and strategies for indie authors. They’ll now be tagged Author Resources instead of Wild West Thursday. We’re in the midst of a fabulous time for writers, filled with both opportunity and challenge. I find it exciting, but sometimes overwhelming, too. So, on Thursdays, we’ll talk a bit more about that.

There’s a new tab on the menu bar called Author Resources. I’ve added two tutorials there, as of now: one explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet for tracking book sales by month, year, etc., and the other explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet to track the results of a shorter promotion. Of course, there are other ways to track both of these items: I’m just sharing my method (mostly because writers in my local group asked me to do so.) You need Excel or another spreadsheet program to set up either or both, and a little bit of time.

Of course, there are more things to track, and one of them is daily word count. How long does it take you to write a book? This is a particularly important piece of information to have when planning a publication schedule. I’m in the middle of planning the next few years of work, since I’m finishing up a lot of series.

Earlier this year, I recognized that my idea of how quickly I write was formed when I was writing for traditional publishers, which meant I didn’t have all the extra jobs of being my own publisher, too. These days, I can spend an entire week updating files or metadata or websites – especially when republishing a backlist series – and not write one word of new content. That happened with the republication of the eight Dragonfire novels and the three Dragon Diaries books. Even on a daily basis, there are publishing crises to solve and jobs to get done, all tasks that distract from the business of creating new stories.

It was clear that I needed to recalibrate my expectations. How fast do I write, in this new situation?

The easiest way to do this is to – surprise! – keep track of daily word count in a spreadsheet, then total the word count of the month. Since there will be variations over time – as I attend conferences or have other obligations outside my office – it’s best to track over a number of months, then average out the results to get a more accurate picture of what’s happening.

I started to keep track in the middle of May, and am pretty tough about counting only net word gain. If I chuck 4K words and write 5K, my count for the day is only 1K.

My results look like this:
May – 37,000 (a half-month)
June – 33,000
July – 43,000
August – 40,000
September – 37,000

That gives me an average word count per month of 38,000 words, and I’ll use that as a working number, even though May was only a half-month. I used to write closer 50,000 words a month – plus I spent a lot less time in my office – so that’s a big difference.

There are two things that shake out of having this number. Let’s talk about the first one today.

1. Now, that I have a number and it looks pretty consistent, I can use it to plan my production and publishing schedule for the year(s) ahead. 38K words a month is about 450K words per year. That’s five 90K novels or nine 50K novels – or eighteen 25K novellas. You get the idea. I can look at my book plan and decide how many titles I can realistically write per year.

I also can balance out my content. I know, for example, that you all prefer my longer books. I know this because they sell better and have better reviews. And the truth is that I’d rather write a short story of 5K to 10K or a book at 90K to 100K, and not mess with the lengths in between. This market is skewed to more frequent publication, so there’s a balance to be struck. If I write five 90K novels and nothing else, will I lose visibility (especially if they’re divided between author brands)? How can I do a fast-release launch of a new series with this productivity level? I’ll have to stockpile books until I have a few completed. Hmm. Can I balance long and short stories in the same fictional world?

Should I write in fewer fictional worlds? This is the inevitable question, but I like writing all the things. I think it keeps me fresh creatively to move between sub-genres, so you can see that there are other considerations as well as raw word count. Planning a publication schedule is not for the faint of heart, but when you know how quickly you write, it’s a lot easier to make a plan you can keep.

The other obvious thing to talk about is how to improve current productivity. I’m going to save that for a separate post, since this one is pretty long already. Next week, I’m going to tell you about an exciting book I’ve just read, so we’ll talk about improving word count in two weeks. Happy writing!

Novelists Inc 2018

©Deborah A. CookeLast week, I attended the Novelists’ Inc conference, which is held each year. This year (as in many recent years) it was in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida. This conference brings together a lot of incredible people and is a terrific gathering of ideas and energy—plus it’s at the beach.

These beachy pix are from recent years. This year, I didn’t take more because they would have been similar, but also there was a red tide. This is an algae bloom which is detrimental to fish near the beach and I believe it had begun after hurricane Florence. At this particular point on the beach, there weren’t so many dead fish—they do clean them up every day—but a lot of dead crabs. While it was intriguing to see how many kinds of crabs there are in the gulf, it was sad to see them when they were dead. There were also a lot fewer birds, probably because the death of the fish meant there was less (or nothing) for them to eat. I love seeing the pelicans and they were a bit scarce. I didn’t see any dolphins this year either, but that might have been timing – in previous years, I saw them in the afternoon or early evening. I walked first thing in the morning, and the smell from the red tide wasn’t too bad. Mr. Math suggested that the algae needs the sunshine and warmth of the day to bloom, which would explain why people had troubles later in the day with eye and throat irritations.

©Deborah A. CookeAnd then there was the conference itself. As always, NINC brings together an amazing group of workshop presenters, but this year it was particularly hard to choose between sessions. There were four tracks and it seemed that I wanted to attend two workshops in every time slot. I learned a tremendous amount and made a huge To Do list (this is typical). Highlights for me included David Gaughran‘s workshops – because no matter how often I go to his workshops, I always learn more. (Plus he has a wonderful Irish accent 🙂 that would be easy to listen to forever). He taught about BookBub ads and more about Amazon’s algorithms. Joanna Penn taught two fantastic workshops, one about content-based marketing and the other highlighting global English-language markets for books and strategies for reaching them. I learned a lot in Mark Dawson‘s session on strategies for AMS ads. A surprise hit for me was Dr. Jennifer Barnes and her workshops about the psychology of fiction and of titles. Representatives were also in attendance from almost all of the portals, and all of them had interesting information to share. It’s a fantastic conference to discover new opportunities and strategies.

Jewels of Historical Romance at the Novelists Inc conference September 2018The truly fabulous thing about this conference, though, was that this was the first time I attended as one of the Jewels of Historical Romance. This fantastic group of historical romance writers invited me to join them last spring, and I was thrilled to do so. Although I knew most of them from online, I hadn’t met many of them in person – and there was going to be a big confab of Jewels at this conference, so I went. Here are nine of us at the gazebo in the hotel courtyard. From the back left, that’s me (not smiling. LOL) then Erica Ridley, Lucinda Brant (who came from Australia), and Cheryl Bolen. In the front from the left, Lauren Royal, Darcy Burke, Tanya Anne Crosby, Glynnis Campbell and Cynthia Wright. Brenda Hiatt was also at the conf, but isn’t in this picture. Kimberly Cates and Jill Barnett were the only two Jewels not in attendance this year – there are plans for all of us to make this conf in 2020. Meeting these women in person and having the chance to not only get to know them better but to plan some joint promotion for the future was certainly the highlight of the conference for me.

And then there was karaoke night… This is the second year that Draft2Digital has hosted this event, and it wrapped up the conference this year. It was such a success that I suspect they’re going to need to do it every year.

I suspect I need to go to NINC every year, too.

Another Month of Walking

It’s been four weeks since I told you about my new walking plan. Last time, I did my 4.5km daily walk 20 times in 28 days. This time, I did it 24 times, which means I missed 6 days.

On one of those days, we went to Ikea and parked at the far end of the lot. Between that and walking around the store, I was only 1km short for the day, which is funny. So, I’m counting 25 days of walking.

I also went to a conference last week (more about that in tomorrow’s post), and ended up with two travel days. On both of them, I managed to fit in my walk before going to the airport. Both of those days, I doubled my walking distance for the day, which tells you all you need to know about Pearson International Airport in Toronto. While at the conference, I walked on the beach each day, which was a lovely change of scene. Those days also had more distance – the walk down the beach was 6 km, then there was all the running around the conference hotel. In the end, I’m probably not short 5 full days if I add up the distance, but we’ll call it 25 days of walking and aim for improvement.

Autumn has arrived here in Canada, and I enjoyed seeing the changes on my daily walk over the past month. The leaves on the trees are changing colour, of course, and are just beautiful. They haven’t fallen yet, but I’m looking forward to walking through them. (The urge to kick them never seems to fade.)

I’ve also been noticing how the wildlife is migrating. The cormorants arrived on the lake a few weeks ago. They’ll stay until the water gets colder or freezes over, since they need to catch fresh fish every day. The Canada geese started to fly their practice flights: they fly shorter circuits, probably working up their strength. At first you can watch them fly the entire circle and they’re airborne for only ten minutes or so. Within days, they’re flying huge loops and disappear from view before returning. They tend to hang around until the first hard frost, but are becoming more numerous as more northern flocks arrive and take a break here. The blue jays are back in larger numbers again—although they’re often noisy birds, in flock, they’re quiet. It’s common at this time of year to glance out the window and discover two or three dozen blue jays looking for food, silently, before they all take flight again.

Have you been walking this month? Are you seeing the change in the seasons where you live?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you a bit more about attending the Novelists’ Ink conference this year.