Missing NINC

This week, I should be at the Novelists Inc conference at St. Pete’s Beach in Florida, learning so much about publishing and promoting that my To Do lists have To Do lists. Instead, I’m home, thanks to Covid-19, and missing the conference, with reps from the portals, my writer friends and that beach.

One of the things that’s valuable about attending a conference is that I step away from my day-to-day rhythm and look at the broader picture of my publishing and writing goals, as well as learn about possibilities I’m overlooking (or haven’t explored yet). There are always a lot of those.

The Beauty Bride by Claire Delacroix in audio

Here’s an example of one thing I might reconsider after attending a workshop or having a conversation at NINC – audiobooks. I recorded a dozen audiobooks 2015-2017 (mostly historical romances) and haven’t done any since. So, if I had gone to NINC, finding out more about where the audiobook market stands right now might have been one of my action items. (I always have a list when I go to a conference.) There’s the industry at large, the trends and patterns, then there’s the strategic question of how to manage my content in that niche. Should I record my contemporary romances? Should I record my PNR? What about more historicals? Should I write and record novellas? In what sub-genre? How is the audiobook market changing? What promotional opportunities exist that didn’t before? How can I improve on what I’ve done before with audio and build for the future? I’m doing my research and considering possibilities. It’s a little harder this way than attending a session or having a drink with someone, but it’s a useful exercise. I should have a new audiobook (or two) contracted for production soon and will tell you about it when I do.

This exercise also means re-evaluating my audio distribution, which I changed in 2019. I’m mostly happy with it, but think it needs a tweak or two. For example, KOBO has opened the option of publishing audio directly to their portal: I’m going to take my audiobooks direct to them instead of using an aggregator. That means lots of uploading for me. The KOBO links for my audiobooks will change as a result. The other change I’m considering will be invisible from your end, but you can see how my To Do list is growing, just from this one item.

There are more ways to promote audiobooks than was the case four years ago, as well, and I’ve added regular promotion of my audiobooks to my monthly To Do list. You might want to follow the Delacroix blog if that interests you, because my audio backlist at this point is pretty much all historical romance. I’m sending some emails and exploring some websites and updating my idea of what’s possible to formulate a new plan.

You can see how my To Do list grew, just from that one item. I’d do the same for translations, for print editions and for getting my work into libraries. I’d probably learn more about subscription services and the exploitation of performance rights, as well as see trends in ebooks. I’d attend workshops about sending newsletters and managing social media and a host of successful marketing strategies—as well as running CPC ads. Watch that To Do list grow, even though I’m not at the conf this year.

I like how conferences like NINC compel me to plan for the future and look ahead. I bought my 2021 planner this week and have started to fill it in, both with writing and with promotion. Another thing I’m going to do this week is review the financial reports for my various book sales over the past year and look for patterns. What strategy works best? Does the answer vary by sub-genre? Does it vary by portal? It invariably does, so choosing the best path forward isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Just One Fake Date, book one of the Flatiron Five Fitness series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke

Another big responsibility for me is managing my backlist, to ensure that it continues to perform in a changing market. I repackaged three series this year—The Champions of St. Euphemia, Flatiron Five Fitness and Flatiron Five Tattoo. I rewrote the series starter for Flatiron Five Fitness, giving Tyler a new story. How did those efforts influence results? Was it worth doing? (Yes, it was.) If I intended to repackage another series, which one would it be? If I was going to rewrite a book, which one would it be?

One Knight's Desire, book #3 of the Rogues & Angels sereis of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

Which series do I need to complete next? I already made a move on this one and set up a pre-order for book 3 of my Rogues & Angels series of medieval romances, One Knight’s Desire.

Which new project should I undertake next? How do I take what I’ve learned and apply it to future efforts?

You can see that my list of things to do and explore has grown by leaps and bounds, just by composing this post—and compelling myself to take the time to take a bird’s-eye view, just as I would when attending a conference. It’s not the same. I’m not hearing the news from the portals or hearing from other authors about what’s worked for them, but it’s not all bad as a compromise. I still miss attending NINC, but these items will keep me busy for a while.

Thirty Books

One of the games I play with myself is inspired by Agatha Christie’s foresight in writing Curtain decades before it was actually pubished (to make sure that Hercule Poirot’s series had a beginning and an end. I talked about that in this blog post.) I’ve been writing and publishing for 28 years. That’s not going to continue indefinitely. (Sadly, I am not immortal.) So, if I write 4 books a year and I actively write for another ten years, that’s forty more books from my fingertips. Let’s round down and say thirty since this publishing stuff seems to get more demanding all the time.

Which thirty books do I most want to write?

Which thirty books would be smartest for me to write? There are plenty of variables to juggle here, including creative fulfillment, growing revenue, completing series, and making my readers happy.

Dragon's Heart, book three of the DragonFate Novels, a series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeI could just carry on as I have been in recent years, creating a series, writing the books in it, then creating a new series. I could continue to alternate between sub-genres – which is good for creativity and replenishing the well, but less good for building momentum in digital sales.

Or I could make a plan. I like plans so this is a tempting option.

What open tickets do I have?

First, there are pre-orders:
Dragon’s Heart (July) and Dragon’s Mate (October) , books 3 and 4 of the DragonFate Novels.
Just One Silver Fox (January), book 7 of Flatiron Five Fitness
The Wolf and the Witch (April), book one of a new trilogy of Scottish medieval romances, Blood Brothers. (This is one of those publishing decisions: Scottish-set medieval romances are more popular and I have an idea for a trilogy. I’m curious to see how it performs compared to my other medieval romances.)

Just One Silver Fox, book six of Flatiron Five Fitness series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeSo, that’s four books.

Then there’s what has to be written to complete various book series but hasn’t been scheduled yet:
• two more DragonFate Novels, one for Theo and Mel, plus one for Sebastian and Sylvia
• the other two books in that new Scottish medieval trilogy, Blood Brothers
• two more Brides of Inverfyre books, The Stolen Bride and Nigel’s book
• two more Brides of North Barrows books, Anthea’s story and Eurydice’s story
• six more medieval romances in the Rogues & Angels series, starting with One Knight’s Desire
• three medieval romance novellas in the Kinfairlie Tales series
Wyvern's Wizard, book 11 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah Cooke• three more Dragons of Incendium stories, starting with Wyvern’s Wizard

That adds twenty more works, although not all are 100K in length. Am I going to write all of these books? I’m not sure. I should think like a publisher and concentrate on the stories that are going to build my sales.

At a minimum, I see the DragonFate Novels (4 in total), Blood Brothers (3 in total) and Just One Silver Fox (1) for a total of eight books.

I also want to write a spin-off series in the F5F world, set in Harte’s Harbor and beginning with Aidan’s book. This makes sense both creatively and financially, as my contemporary romances sell well and I enjoy writing them. So, I’ll plan for that series to be seven books long, a book every seven months, starting next summer. I’m up to 15 books and my plan carries me into 2025.

What about the other fifteen books out of that thirty? There are lots of candidates. I’ll have to compare results at the end of 2021 and see whether Blood Brothers or DragonFate performed better, then choose between those sub-genres for my 2022 not-contemporary-romance schedule. I’m not looking forward to that decision, but in the meantime, there are plenty of books to be written and published, and I have a plan.

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?