Reorganizing

I’ve re-arranged the pages on the Claire Delacroix tab a little bit, because I had a wonderful idea.

I told you last month about my upcoming series, The Rose Trilogy, which will be revised versions of three of my books originally published by Harlequin Historicals.  This is a trilogy that was never branded as one, because it developed organically. I sold the first book. I wanted to tell the story of that heroine’s aunt and uncle, who had raised her, which became the second book. Then I wanted to tell the story of the knight’s squire, introduced in the first book, because I liked him – and that became the third book. In revising the books for republication, I planned to strengthen the connection between them, as if the trilogy had been planned in the first place.

The question was how to do that. The first book has action and adventure: the heroine travels to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage with her aunt, then journeys home to France with the hero. The second book is set in France and has paranormal elements: the heroine has precognitive dreams and the hero is a skeptic. The third book is the squire’s homecoming to the Low Countries, and is more humourous. Hmm.

This past weekend, I had a fabulous idea of how to do that. Ha! So, the name of the series has changed ever to slightly to The Rose Legacy, and the page for the series has moved down the tab, to be after the Champions of St. Euphemia. This idea opens up the series, so that it can continue after these three books, which I think is pretty nifty.

For His Lady's Kiss, book #1 of the Legacy of the Rose series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix For HIs Lady's Heart, book #2 of the Rose Legacy series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix For His Lady's Love, book #3 of the Rose Legacy of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

Kim has revised the covers, too, and I’m ready to dive in!

I love ideas like this.

Writing Plans for 2015

It’s going to be a busy, busy year. 🙂

Now you’ve been warned. Let’s have a look at what’s on the schedule for me for 2015.

For years, I’ve alternated between series, because that keeps my view of the world of the books fresh. It also means, though, that linked books are published about 8 months apart. I’m going to try to switch that around this year, because you all seem to like to see linked books published in closer succession. This is the Big Challenge.

Firestorm Forever, A Dragonfire Novel and paranormal romance by Deborah Cooke1 • Firestorm Forever

This is #11 in my Dragonfire series of paranormal romances featuring dragon shape shifter heroes, and the big wrap-up of the Dragon’s Tail Wars. It’s Sloane’s book—because the Apothecary has to heal the world—and will be published in March. You can read an excerpt right here or download one from my online store, right here.

This book is getting big, as there are lots of loose ends to tie up, but it’s NOT the end of my dragon shifter stories. It’s the end of the Dragon’s Tail Wars, but I’m not nearly done with the Pyr.

The Crusader's Bride, a medieval romance by Claire Delacroix2 • The Champions of Saint Euphemia

This is a new series of linked medieval romances, following the journey of a company of knights home from Jerusalem. They’re each going back to Europe for their own reasons, but have accepted a quest to deliver a chest to Paris. They don’t know until they’re on the road that someone wants the contents of that chest badly enough to kill for it—and they don’t know each other, much less who to trust.

The Crusader’s Bride is the first in this series, and will be available in May. I’m hoping to publish this series in fairly rapid succession. (Fingers crossed.) You can read an excerpt from this book on my website, right here, or download a longer one from my store, right here.

 

3 • Beyond the Champions

The schedule beyond the Champions of Saint Euphemia gets a bit murky, mostly because I’m not sure yet how long those books will be. The books, though, are perfectly clear to me. It’s likely that some of these projects will slide into 2016, but after the Champions comes:
Dragonfire Legend, a trilogy of historical romances featuring the Pyr
A Dragonfire Companion, which will be published simultaneously with Dragonfire Legend
• A new contemporary romance series – details to come
• A new medieval romance series set at Inverfyre – details to come

Now you can see why I need to stay home and write in 2015! I’ll also be mixing up some backlist titles into new boxed sets – which could count either as promotion or as writing plans. You can find out about the first one of those for 2015 in tomorrow’s post.

The Crusader’s Bride Cover Reveal

The Champions of Saint Euphemia is a new medieval romance series, launching in May 2015, with book #1, The Crusader’s Bride.The Crusader's Bride, first in a new series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixA company of Templar knights, chosen by the Grand Master of the Temple in Jerusalem to deliver a sealed trunk to the Temple in Paris. A group of pilgrims seeking the protection of the Templars to return home as the Muslims prepare to besiege the city. A mysterious treasure that someone will even kill to possess…

Gaston battled for duty and honor—until his new wife tempted him to fight for her love.

Gaston has had his fill of war and the Latin Kingdoms when he learns that he has inherited his father’s estate in France. He accepts one last quest for the Templars, the order he has served for fifteen years, and agrees to deliver a package to Paris on his way home. A practical man, Gaston knows he now has need of a wife and an heir, so when a lovely widowed noblewoman on pilgrimage catches his eye, he believes he can see matters solved to their mutual convenience.

But Ysmaine is more than a pilgrim enduring bad luck. She has buried two husbands in rapid succession, both of whom died on her nuptial night, and believes herself cursed. Accepting the offer of this gruff knight seems doomed to result in his demise, but Gaston is dismissive of her warnings and Ysmaine finds herself quickly wed again—this time to a man who is not only vital, but determined to remain alive.

Neither of them realize that Gaston’s errand is one of peril, for the package contains the treasure of the Templars—and some soul, either in their party or pursuing it, is intent upon claiming the prize for his or her own, regardless of the cost. In a company of strangers with secrets, do they dare to trust each other and the love that dawns between them?

The Crusader’s Bride is available for pre-order at a discounted price at these portals:
Buy at iBooks Buy at KOBO

You can also download a free EPUB excerpt from my store (one that’s longer than the one here on the website), right here.

Flashback

I’ve been struck lately by how prolific many indie authors are. That, in turn, makes me think about changing expectations from readers and publishers.

Let’s start off with the publication schedule. There are authors who publish works monthly, even biweekly, which is a truly amazing feat. In an ideal universe, the next work in a series would be available to a reader as soon as he or she finished reading the current work. In the past, this meant having the next book available for pre-order, but now it’s often for sale. This rapid publication might be ideal, but there are few authors who can write as fast as readers can read – but many are getting closer.

Once upon a time, it was believed that authors should have a new book published once a year, or at most, once every 8 months. This was believed to be the way to build audience among readers, and was the prevailing wisdom when I sold my first book in 1992. The issue with this is that it’s very hard to make a living in traditional publishing with only one genre fiction release per year. Publishers, though, were convinced that more frequent publication would mean that the author “cannibalized” his or her own sales. (Really. That was the verb of choice.)

In series romance, however, it was possible to have more frequent publication, which was one of the reasons I was glad to sell first to Harlequin. Harlequin and Silhouette authors might get two or even three publication slots per year. I was considered a prolific writer in those days, being capable of writing three to four books a year. And I was the first Harlequin Historical author to be given four slots in one year. That was in 1994 and it was considered to be radical. (I suspect, actually, that they had some issues with empty slots in the publication schedule: my books were delivered early and there, so I got lucky.)

Even then, authors like Nora Roberts were beginning to prove that more frequent publication did not diminish sales. Fans could read faster than authors could write, and having more books available faster meant building sales. It seems so self-evident now, but it required a big change in the thinking at publishing houses for authors to be given more frequent publication slots. Many authors wrote under two names, so that they could have more books published. When I moved to Dell, they scheduled the Bride Quest trilogy at six month intervals, which was considered audacious. It worked. Roughly ten years later, NAL used the same six-month-publication strategy for the initial three Dragonfire books, and it was still considered to be a bold sign of support from the house.

There were authors who had back-to-back release schedules in that era, with each book in a trilogy published in consecutive months. April, May and June, for example. There was mixed thinking about the success of this: one reason for skepticism is that readers often stash print books in their TBR pile, so might not read book #1 before book #2 was available for sale. (This happens in digital, too.) The other issue is that the rapid publication comes at a cost – the books were still produced at a rate of 2 per year, so clustering three together for publication often meant a big gap in the author’s publication schedule both before and after that promotional push. On the other side of the argument, though, some readers won’t buy a trilogy until all three books are available. This is a newer wrinkle, and the result of pubilshers pulling the plug on linked series, and never publishing the completion of the series.

But then there is digital. In the digital market, where indie authors don’t have any publisher to control their release schedule, many are publishing very very quickly. There are two variables at work here—one is how quickly these authors write, but the other influencing variable is that many write shorter works than tend to be published in traditional print publishing. In traditional publishing, the 100,000 word mass market paperback is the standard. In digital, a work can be any size, and actually, pricing skews very well for 25,000 word novellas. Some authors can write novellas at double or triple the rate of writing books, while others take the same amount of time to write a story no matter how long the finished work is.

Also, in this new world of digital books and online book portals, frequent publication is one very good way to build sales and visibility. So, these very prolific authors are becoming terrific success stories, because they’re listening to readers and publishing new works very frequently. I do find it rather funny to be considered a slow-poke now, with my 3-to-4-books-a-year writing speed, after being called prolific (and maybe even TOO prolific LOL) for so long, but there’s the reality of the new market.

How does this reality change my future plans? Well, I’m still working that out. It’s possible that I will write more novellas and shorter works in the year ahead, and structure new projects to be linked novellas instead of linked books. It’s possible that I’ll just carry on with linked full-length books and have four releases per year. (I do like how big and chewy a 100K book can be.) It’s likely that I’ll mix it up. 🙂 But the change in the marketplace certainly bears some consideration.

How about you? Have your reading habits changed? Do you like to read books by a single author in succession, or do you prefer to alternate between favourites? Do you think you read more than before? Faster than before?

The Bride Quest Family Trees

Thanks to a nudge from Michelle, I thought of another place to look for my printed copy of the Bride Quest family tree. It turns out that there’s two of them, one for the brothers Fitzgavin (Bride Quest I) and one for Crevy-sur-Seine family (Bride Quest II).

I found them both, and have created PDF files for them. 🙂 You can find them to view or download on the Family Tree page.

The dragons will be tougher, as I have many gaps in their long lineage…

Losing Interest

Mr. Math and I been watching a number of ongoing television series lately. We tend to binge-watch – we wait until a season (or more) of episodes are available on DVD, then chew through a season in a week or so. I’m starting to think that binge-watching makes us tougher critics: while the ongoing storylines are more fresh in our thoughts, this way of watching shows makes any inconsistencies more glaring. Inevitably, we never make it through the entirety of the show. At some point, we lose interest and stop watching. We never go back.

And this got me to thinking about series of linked books. We’re all going to have different reasons to stop watching a series or reading a series, but there are probably some common factors.

Timing
Once upon a time, this was the issue with ongoing television series for me. Before we had the DVD, I rarely watched linked series on television because it just isn’t in me to remember what time a particular show is on the television each week. I forget. So, I’d always miss an episode, then lose the thread of the story. Remembering to set the VCR to tape a show is just about the same task, so I’d forget that, too. The advance of technology has made it easier for me to watch linked series.

I suspect that technology has also made it easier for many people to read linked series. It had for me. Instead of hoping that my local bookstore has the next book in the series – or all of them, back to the beginning – online shopping means I can get the whole set easily. The ability to pre-order online means that we don’t need to remember the availability date of the next title or even remember to go and buy it – it’ll just show up when it’s published. Reading digitally means the instant gratification of immediate delivery, too.

Repetition
All series are based on the appeal of “the same but different”. There will be common elements in any linked series, whether it’s on television or a book. There will also be differences between individual books or episodes. So, the main cast of characters might continue, with the occasional guest appearance. The structure of the plot will be similar – they’ll all be mysteries, or all be romances. How much difference and how much similarity there is between episodes or books is a subjective call.

We each have our own preferences, too. I will watch Law & Order episodes forever, never mind its spin-offs. I really like the format of that show. Mr. Math made it to halfway through the second season then refused to watch anymore, because they were “too much the same”. This is true of linked books, too – he prefers one big book with all of the plot elements wrapped up by the end, or one big movie with everything wrapped up by the end. He will read another book by the same author, just not a linked series. He hates cliffhangers, while I think they’re an interesting storytelling technique.

Poor Research
This can make me chuck a book at the wall or turn off the DVD. I expect writers and scriptwriters to do their homework. I do mine. I don’t consider myself an expert in many things (knitting seldom features in television shows) but when my area of knowledge is misrepresented, I move on to other entertainment options. In NCIS, McGee’s career as a fiction writer bears no resemblance to anything I’ve experienced in publishing. After the publication of one book (which apparently happened instantly in hard cover). he bought a Porsche and everybody recognized him from his author photo. The episode in which he is stalked by a fan is odd – he calls the woman to whom he sends his work “his publisher”, but she talks about “her agency” – is she is agent, his editor or his publisher? Maybe she’s his publicist, given her choices. No matter which way it goes, it’s very improbable that her assistant also drives a Porsche. In New York? An assistant? Hmm, no, not in the publishing world I know.

Characterization
This is the big deal-breaker for me. I can’t handle characters who act out-of-character. In ongoing television series, this sometimes happens because the actor playing the character hasn’t renewed his or her contract. The character has to be written out of the script, and I’ll guess by how abruptly these story threads can develop, there isn’t always a lot of notice. One other pattern I’ve been noticing in television shows is characters keeping secrets. Think of Kono in Hawaii Five-O, after she loses her badge. She pretends to turn bad, everyone on the team believes she has gone bad, but in the end, it’s revealed that she’d been part of a covert operation to catch the bad cops. So, there’s a big plot twist and surprise, but the problem is that I ended up really disappointed in the rest of the team for their lack of perception and faith. While their lack of doubt reinforces the surprise of the plot twist, the problem is that viewers like me might stop watching before the revelation.

This is a risk in linked books, too, I’d think. Any reader could have a fondness for a secondary character and be waiting for that character to have his or her own book. If the character acts oddly, the reader could lose faith with the series. But the intimacy with the reader provided by books usually means that there are hints and clues scattered through the text. Sometime we don’t notice those hints or brush them off, but when all is revealed, we have an AHA! moment. I love AHA! moments. Television doesn’t lend itself well to this kind of breadcrumb scattering, given the pacing and tight schedule. We’re more likely to see these kinds of hints in a movie.

So, how about you? What makes you lose interest in a series of linked books or a television series? Do you think the way that you watch or read them (in increments or by binge-ing) affects your decisions? Do you like cliffhangers or not?

Timing is Everything

Last week on Wild West Thursday, there was a comment about authors finishing series of linked books but not taking too long about it. That got me to thinking about publication schedules. Authors have never been able to write as quickly as readers can read, but expectations in terms of publishing schedules are changing  for a couple of reasons.

Once upon a time, when I sold my first book, it was the norm for authors to have a new book published every 9 to 12 months. It was believed by publishing professionals that more frequent publication would only “cannibalize” the author’s sales, i.e. that readers would decide between book #1 and book #2 instead of buying both. (And yes, I love the choice of verb.) This was an issue for me, because I write more quickly than that and I wanted to place all the work that I wrote, to more quickly build my author brand.

This one-per-year publication schedule is still the expectation in many niches of the book market, but not so in romance. That’s probably because of category romance publishers like Harlequin, who recognized early that their market was one of voracious readers. When I sold to Harlequin Historicals in 1992, they already believed that any author’s audience could support the publication of two books per year, or a book every 6 months. (That’s part of the reason I wanted to sell to them.) They were starting to question whether they could publish more or not – I was the first author in the Historicals program given 4 publication slots in one year (1994) and that worked out just fine.

Subsequently, single title publishers became more aggressive with release schedules. It became more common for authors to have a release every 8 months, or to have a cluster of releases – perhaps an entire trilogy, one per month, for three months in a row. This worked well in many cases from a reader perspective. The problem was often one of supply – if the author wrote an entire trilogy for publication then did a few months of intense promotion, there could be a long delay before her next book was published simply because she didn’t have the time or energy to write it. There’s a sense that the energy generated by the aggressive push was lost, particularly if the next book was published a year or more later. Here we see the need to strike a balance between the author’s productivity, allowing for the time required by the publisher’s production cycle and the distribution of print books, and the reader’s enthusiasm for the work.

By the time I sold to NAL in 2006, the pattern of publishing books at 6 month intervals to launch a series, then 8 month intervals after that was pretty well established as a workable balance. This might have continued to be the pattern, if there hadn’t been a number of additional changes:

• the abandonment of series before they were completed.
We tend to like shiny new things, and publishers are no different. There’s always been a tendency to get excited about publishing a debut author rather than to work to build the sales of an author already with the house but not yet bestselling. With the shrinking of the book market in recent years, publishers have shown an even greater tendency than before to abandon series before their completion, either parting ways with the author or publishing something new and different from that author. Although we can all understand the impetus – and the idea that the new series might sell far better than the existing one – this strategy doesn’t do much to build goodwill with readers. It’s my sense that there are more readers unwilling to commit to reading a series at all before every single installment has been published.

• the digital re-publication of many backlist series means we can binge-read.
In recent years, many authors have had the ability to republish their backlist titles. Because these books were essentially written already, the publication schedule could be sped up. Frequently all titles are released simultaneously in new editions – this is, for example, what I’ll be doing with my Prometheus Project trilogy of urban fantasy romances. All three backlist books will be re-released almost simultaneously with the new fourth title in October 2013. I also did this last summer with the four books in the Coxwell Series. When such a series is new to you as a reader, you can binge-read. You can chew through the whole series in a week or less. Even though we know that it took longer than a week to write four books, our expectation is skewed by the aggressive publication schedule.

• digital publishing feels more immediate.
Because digital books aren’t printed and distributed, and because digital content can be delivered over the internet in the blink of an eye, we have a sense that digital publishing is not just fast but much faster than print publishing. The traditional year allocated to the editing and production of print books seems like an eternity. There is a growing sense – which isn’t entirely justified – that any delay in publishing books (especially linked books) is a contrivance and thus unnecessary. We want our linked books and we want them now.

So, what does all of this mean for authors? Once again, we’re running up against the very real constraint of how long it takes a given author to write a book. There are still some time allowances required for editing, formatting, etc., but I think there will be a new norm developing that is less than a year in duration. I believe that with indie-publishing an author’s release schedule will be primarily determined by his or her productivity, not by some fixed idea held by a publisher about the size (and voracity) of that author’s market. That means that some authors will publish very frequently and others less so. We’re going to see this settle out over the next couple of years as authors find their sea-legs, so to speak, and figure out what we can realistically do. To be without constraints is both exciting and daunting, but I’m enjoying the challenge.

How about you? Do you binge read on linked series? Do you wait for the whole series to be published before you start to read? If you read linked books as they’re released, how long do you think is “too long” to wait between books? Has that changed in the last five years?

Keeping the Faith

One of the things that is very frustrating as a writer is having a publisher lose interest in books in a linked series before that series is completed. From a financial perspective, it’s easy to understand why publishers do this. They have bought and launched a series, but sales aren’t as good as they had hoped. (Expectations can be at any level, btw. A title that sells 50,000 units could be either a success or a failure, depending upon the house’s expectations and their investment in the book.) It’s quite common for publishing houses to suggest that the author write something else which is not related to the existing series. It might be in the same genre – or sub-genre – or not. It might be published under the same author name, or not. The idea is to make a fresh start, because novelty is easier to sell, in a way.

The problem with this from a writer’s perspective is that there are characters who don’t get their stories told. When an author has planned a linked series – and I write a lot of linked series – there might also be developments in the over-arching story that won’t be addressed under this plan. There will be plot threads left dangling, too. Overall, in terms of storytelling, it’s not an ideal situation.

For readers, it’s often infuriating. They have invested in reading a series with the expectation that it will be completed, and discover along the way that that won’t be the case. This happens with television shows, too, for much the same reason. As a reader and a viewer, I feel betrayed when this happens, even though I understand the financial realities behind it.

It seems to me that abandoning one series to start a new one really is starting over. The majority of fans that the author has collected so far will likely be alienated, so the existing market will be abandoned along with the series. It really is analagous to starting from scratch, one more time.

In the past, however, there haven’t been many viable options. Publishing houses do not take on series that have been launched at other publishing houses, unless those books are selling extraordinarily well. Publishing houses also all calculate their math the same way, so the majority of the time, if the existing publishing house thinks a series isn’t “performing”, then the other publishing houses will come to the same conclusion. This has left writers without a lot of choice. I know many authors who have started over, as suggested by their publishing houses. I know others who have left the business, disheartened over these decisions.

What is very exciting about the evolution of the publishing market is that authors now have a way to tell stories that publishers might not want to publish. Discarded series can now be completed – hurrah! – and both readers and writers have the chance for closure. Digital self-publishing (and print on demand editions) means that writers have a tool to keep our existing audience as well as build upon it. This allows us to keep the faith with our audience.

I think this is really, really cool.

Another wonderful thing about digital self-publishing is how the math works in favour of the author. So, while a publishing house might think that it isn’t worth publishing a book that will sell less than 50,000 copies, the author might do just as well financially by selling fewer copies. Maybe there really are only 15,000 people who want to read that book, and maybe the publisher can’t make a profit on that kind of publication quantity. A self-published author probably can. So, not only do we have opportunities for completion, but we have a way for books that appeal to a niche or smaller market to exist. In recent years, publishing has become more and more geared toward the blockbuster novel, so this is an exciting counterbalance.

For authors, though, there is a balance to be struck between looking back and looking forward. Which series should be completed and which ones should be left unfinished? Which ones might still have audience? Which ones are of interest to the writer?

I thought we’d look this week at my various series, where they are, and what I’m going to do about them in this brave new world of publishing.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Delacroix books.