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!

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!

NaNoWriMo 2017

National Novel Writing MonthI often participate in NaNoWriMo (which is National Novel Writing Month) and this year is no exception.

The fact is that every month of my life is NaNo, since the goal of NaNo is to write 50K words in a month. That’s not a novel in my corner of the fiction market, but it’s about half of one. Most months, I write new content at this rate, so November isn’t anything special. I’m using working on multiple projects at a time, as well, although I only list one on the NaNo website.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a good way to cross check my productivity, though. I tend to keep track of my page count on Post-It notes on my desk, and I do update my wall calendar each week with my progress—right alongside my goals for the week. Keeping track on the NaNo site makes me feel more accountable, and it also makes me more aware of what else is placing demands on my time. What’s interfering with writing? What am I doing instead? NaNo provides a little productivity cross-check for me each year, and helps me to refine my process.

In the Midnight Hour, book #3 of the Flatiron Five series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeThis year, for example, I’ve written 13,000 words through Saturday. (Still taking Sundays off.) That’s not bad, but it’s less than I’d hoped to achieve in four days. I aim for 3K to 5K per day of new word count. The fact is that there was been a LOT of publishing stuff happening behind the scenes last week, so I wasn’t even starting to write until after 2PM. The problem is that mornings are my most productive time.

This week, I’m not going to check my email until lunch.

One of the speakers at NINC made an interesting comment that has stuck with me, that email is a means for other people to offload jobs to you. His strategy was to do what was important to him first, then see what other people wanted to hand off to him. It’s good advice. I just have to break my habit of checking email while I have my second cup of coffee. 🙂

You can find me on NaNo here.

On Resonance

Spellbound, a Regency romance anthology by Claire Delacroix, Jane Charles and Claudia DainHave you ever struck a crystal glass and heard it chime? That resonance lets you know that the glass was well-made. A book has a resonance, too, if it’s well-crafted. Over the years, I’ve developed an inner ear for my own books and their resonance. I don’t always know what’s missing from a work-in-progress, but when it’s right, I have no doubt of it. I can hear its resonance and know the book is done. Once upon a time, I never delivered a book to an editor until it had that resonance—now, I don’t publish one without it.

There are a lot of variables that influence the resonance of a book. The characters need to be fully dimensional and the story has to have a crisp pace. It goes deeper than that, though. Since I write romance, each book has two protagonists—each one has to have inner and outer conflicts, and best of all, each one has to help the other along his or her character arc. They have to become partners and be good for each other in order for their romance to be compelling, in my opinion. All the loose ends have to be resolved, and the bad guys have to get their due. When all of this is done and I review the story and its telling, I can ‘hear’ its resonance. *ping*

Wyvern's Prince, #2 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThere are also factors that challenge resonance. A book that contains too many elements can be difficult to build into coherence, let alone resonance. A book that is a step onto a new path for the author can fight its resonance. For me, though, the biggest factor influencing resonance is my own health and welfare. If I’m sick with a cold, I don’t write well. If you took Psych 101, you’ll remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (You can read the Wiki on it right here.) According to this theory by Abraham Maslow, human capabilities are made possible in a hierarchy by the satisfaction of needs. For example, the base of his pyramid of needs is Physiological—if you’re hungry, cold, and/or naked in the dark, you’ll be focused on solving those issues to the exclusion of all others. Once your basic survival is assured, you begin to concern yourself with Safety. After you’re safe and fed and sheltered, you become concerned with love and social connections, and so the pyramid builds higher. Creative processes are in the very top bit of the pyramid, as part of Self-Actualization. Essentially, artists function best when all other needs are covered. Maybe that makes creativity a luxury in this theory. We could debate that, but I’d agree that if any of those lower levels of the pyramid are in jeopardy, then creativity is challenged. Resonance, at least for me, becomes harder to achieve.

The Crusader's Handfast, #5 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixA good example of this is that I’m seldom very creative in the summer. This used to frustrate some of my New York editions, but it’s a matter of physiology. When it becomes very hot in my little corner of the world, it also becomes humid and there’s an increased chance of thunderstorms. Thunderstorms cause changes in barometric pressure and I—like many hundreds of thousands of other people—get migraines from shifts in barometric pressure. I can tell Mr. Math when it’s going to rain, no matter what the weather forecasters say, if the storm is going to be violent. Nothing helps my migraines much, except the ultimate leveling out of the barometric pressure. These kinds of pressure changes are more frequent in the summer, and I build more time into my seasonal schedule to allow for the downtime.

Arista's Legacy, #2.5 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeThis year, we had heat for almost three months instead of a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there. We had a lot of shifts in barometric pressure, but not very many thunderstorms resulted. Resonance in my writing proved to be a little more elusive as a result. (I’m including all of the covers in this post of the books I did write this summer which found resonance!) I wrote Something Wicked four times before I was happy with it, and the story changed radically from the outset. I just made deadline on that one. Wyvern’s Prince had something keeping it from resonance until what seemed like the very last minute—then I figured out what it was, and made the change in time for the pre-order deadline. Phew! Arista’s Legacy is in final edits, so it’ll be good to go for November. I’ve finished the edits for The Crusader’s Handfast, which was a great review of the Champions series to date, so it’s all set up for October.

The Crusader's Vow by Claire Delacroix, book #4 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances.The issue is that I’m not happy with this current telling of The Crusader’s Vow. It’s written but not resonant. I need to take the story apart and re-envision it—I have a list of new avenues to explore and research to do—because Leila’s story currently isn’t adding enough to the book. Trust me. 🙂 I want the story to be resonant, and that can’t be rushed. I also don’t want to have the various portals pinging me with reminders of the final book file being due.

So, as you might have guessed, I’ve moved the publication date on The Crusader’s Vow out to March. That leaves lots of time to make sure the book is resonant and that you love Fergus (and his HEA) as much as I do. Currently, there are only pre-orders available at Kobo and iBooks—the others will go live when the book is done and off to be formatted. I’m hoping that giving the story some space will ensure that it’s ready for publication earlier than that.

Thanks for your patience and understanding! Next year, I’ll be sure to cut my summer writing schedule back even more. I should be able to take care of things like website maintenance instead.

Six Years

RWA National conference 2016 San DiegoThis week is the Romance Writers of America annual national conference. This year, it’ll be in San Diego, but I’m not attending. I don’t always go to RWA, but I always think about it while it’s going on. This year, they’re showing a documentary called Love Between the Covers, about the business of writing and publishing romance. It’s an excellent piece, which I saw a few years ago – if you have the chance to watch it, do so! – and discussion about it is making me think back.

Whisper Kiss, a Dragonfire novel and paranormal romance by Deborah CookeOne of the time stamps RWA members use for events and memories is the location and date of the annual RWA conference. Accordingly, I remember that it was the 2010 national conference in Orlando where I first encountered the team working on this documentary. Another time stamp writers use is the publication date of a book – my Dragonfire novel Whisper Kiss was going to be published in August, as well as the finale of my Prometheus Project urban fantasy romance trilogy, Rebel.

Rebel, book #3 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Claire Delacroix, out of print mass market editionSix years ago today (more or less) I flew to Orlando for the conference. As always, the industry discussion started at the airport in Toronto. There were other writers on my flight headed to conference and we started to talk shop early. Kate Bridges and Anne Lethbridge both shared news of changes at Harlequin – we had all written for Harlequin Historicals, although I no longer did so. Editorial had moved to the UK for that line and Harlequin was also offering more content in digital-first. By the time I got on the flight, I was already thinking about changes in the business.

Discussions at RWA conferences since 2005 (Reno, The Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy) had been primarily about changes in the business that negatively impacted authors, like the trimming of the midlist, the shrinking print market, the closing of bookstores and resulting loss of shelf space, the diminishing popularity of certain sub-genres (like historical romance), the conglomeration of publishers and the impact of that upon each house’s list. The tone of conferences had been informative, but not always uplifting. I thought I was in for more of the same, but that wasn’t the case in 2010.

There was a woman entering the conference hotel ahead of me, who looked a lot like Julie Ortolon. I hadn’t seen Jules since our days at Dell, probably ten years before, so I surreptitiously read this woman’s luggage tag to confirm that she was Jules before I tapped her on the shoulder. After many happy greetings, Jules began to talk about digital self-publishing and Amazon’s new KDP portal. I was fascinated. We dumped our bags in our rooms and met up in the bar, and she talked more about the opportunities and possibilities. Her enthusiasm was infectious. We talked about pricing. We talked about rights reversions. We talked about packaging. This was an excellent example of the open sharing of information and ideas between authors that would come to characterize the indie movement. It was exciting! The bar had a strange location in that hotel—it was along one side of a corridor—but that meant that people caught a few words in passing and stopped to join in. The group kept growing and the exchange of ideas became faster and faster. It was wonderful to talk about the opportunities becoming available to us. It was wonderful to see people sharing email addresses and giving advice about requesting reversions of book rights and much more. It was wonderful to feel this kind of electricity and excitement. There was good news!

This was when we met the film-making team working on the documentary. I don’t think they were prepared for the energy of this group, and the lead film-maker clearly was more interested in writers pursuing a more traditional path. She left us fairly quickly – but the conversation carried on. It was revisited and expanded over and over again for the next few days.

That 2010 conference was amazing because it marked the beginning of a major shift in thinking for me and many other writers. In the PAN (Published Authors Network) retreat – a full day of sessions geared for published members – Lou Aronica spoke about indie publishing and its possibilities. I still have the notes from that discussion. There are a lot of exclamation marks in them. It was so exciting to think that we had choices, and choices that might prove to be financially viable.

Kim Killion was working full time in those days and writing books, too. I remember we had a discussion in their room as to whether authors would pay for cover art for their digital books. Kim’s design business, Hot Damn Designs, now The Killion Group, was established after that conference.

Once Upon a Kiss, a Scottish paranormal romance by Claire DelacroixI had the rights to my time travel romances already, but began to pursue more reversions when I got home. I remember telling my husband about the conference when I got home and what I’d learned, and him reminding me to breathe. 🙂 I published my first digital edition of Once Upon a Kiss that August, with my own cover. (I soon realized I needed Kim’s services! The cover to the left is her design.)

When I look back, I see that the people who did best in the emerging market were the ones who leapt right in, either starting new series or republishing books that had never been available in digital format. I was “hybrid” before we knew what it was called. I had just signed two new contracts with NAL before that conference – one for the books that became Flashfire and Ember’s Kiss, and one for the Dragon Diaries trilogy – and spent the better part of the next two years delivering those contracts. Leaping in wasn’t an option due to time constraints, but I did re-publish backlist titles during that period and learned a lot about digital publishing. I left traditional publishing in March 2012, on the twentieth anniversary of my first book sale to a publisher, a choice that would have been unthinkable just two years before.

Wyvern's Mate, book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeSo, here we are, six years later. (San Diego, Wyvern’s Mate and The Crusader’s Handfast.) It’s amazing to look back and realize how much has changed and how quickly it’s changed. I’m very glad to be working the way I do now. I love the camaraderie between writers now, and the sharing of ideas and suggestions. The writing community on the indie side is warm and supportive, because there’s room for everyone to succeed.

The years have gone by in a flash. Thank you, Julie Ortolon. Thank you, Lou Aronica. Thank you to everyone who helped to open eyes to the possibilities. Thank you to all the writers who generously shared their expertise and even their mistakes. And a big thank you to readers, who followed me from print to digital, and who kept reading my books. The next six years will be even better!

The Big Finish

The Crusader's Kiss, #3 in the Champions of St Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixToday is an exciting day, at least for me. It might be the best part of writing books for a living. I’m going to write the Big Finish of The Crusader’s Kiss. I have it all mapped out and the dialogue is running in my head. I’m excited about the ending of this book – it’s not predictable but it’s satisfying. This is my favorite kind of Big Finish.

This book is very late. It’s been a fighter, mostly because I didn’t want to take the predictable path through the plot. I’m quite pleased with the result, even if I am late. You may have noticed that I moved the publication date from the 19th to the 31st of this month – I actually did that earlier, when I realized that Duncan and Radegunde’s second installment (The Crusader’s Handfast: Part Two) would be published the same week as Bartholomew and Anna’s book unless something changed. It all worked out well, though. Even better, even though I’m running late, my partners are picking up the time for me and have committed to crazy turnarounds in order to ensure this book is published on time.

The buy links for The Crusader’s Kiss are live at Kobo and iBooks right now – they’ll appear at the other portals once the final book is uploaded. Expect them around the 20th of this month. I have the reader letter to upload and share with you, and then some more things to catch up on next week. It’s been quiet on the blog this week, but that will change. If you’ve emailed me and are waiting on an answer about anything, you’ll probably hear back on that next week, too.

Today, it’s all about Sir Royce getting what he deserves. Mwa ha ha. I love this part!

Words Tomorrow

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 10.02.27 AMTomorrow, I’ll be signing books at the Words book festival in London, Ontario, from 10 AM – 2 PM. The booksigning will be held at Covent Garden. I’ll also be on a panel discussing Indie Publishing for Genre Fiction Writers with Zoe York and Carolyn Arnold at 11 AM.

Here’s all my stuff, packed and ready to go. Only Harvey gets to go with me this time, as the authors share tables and I probably won’t have much room for the floor banners. You can see, though, why I prefer to drive to signings!

Deborah Cooke Packed for BookFairHope to see you there!

Summer Writing 8

The big finish. After seven weeks of writing full out, where do I stand?

Last week, my tally was 73K words written in six weeks. This past week was insanely productive. As is so often the case with a book, Wulfe and Christina’s book poured from my fingertips as it came to its conclusion. I wrote more than 40K words on that book (phew!) and after one last tweak, it’s off to my editor. I think the ending writes quickly because I have it in my mind while wrestling through the middle bit. Once I begin to write the last third of the book, the story just flies.

Here are my seven week totals:

Project One: 25,866 words

Project Two: 96,700 words

Project Three: 21,233 words

That’s 115K in seven weeks, AND in the summer! I’m very pleased.

Interestingly, there’s another seven weeks before November and NaNoWriMo. I’ll take a couple of days to clean my office and catch up on other things, but by the end of the week, I may be off again. Project One and Three still need to be finished, plus Project Four (Bartholomew’s book) has been added to the queue.

Summer Writing 7

What a crazy week I had. It’s a summer thing, I think. There are so many distractions. Plus, this past Saturday was the date of a Writers Making Connections workshop on marketing that I hosted. We had a terrific presentation from Kobo, then a panel discussion with three authors – myself, Jessica E. Subject and the dynamo Zoe York. It was an awesome day.

The Crusader's Heart by Claire Delacroix, a medieval romance and #2 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series.

I’m still working on Wulfe and Christina’s book. I spent more time researching details this week—what bits of Venice were there in 1187, for example—and also made a chronology of events in the series. This book’s timeline overlaps that of The Crusader’s Bride, and some scenes are presented from the point-of-view of different characters. This is interesting and I like the dimensionality it adds to the story a lot, but I was getting confused. Could Christina have seen that? Did Wulfe know that? So, the chronology that I should have done in the first place was done this week. I’ll update it as I go from this point onward. In addition to the chronology, the workshop prep and working in the garden, I had added 11,000 words in the book. I wrote more than that, but I cut too, so that’s my net gain. I also learned another of Wulfe’s secrets. From here, it should be a hard run to the finish line. I’m still optimistic that I’ll finish this book in my last week of my summer writing challenge.

How about you? Did you have a productive week?