Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 1)

Today, I'm going to be taking the first in a three-part stab at answering one of the most frequently asked questions from my inbox: how do I plot a series? But first, I've got some big news! My writing book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love is now available on ebook vendors other than Amazon!

This is my little book that could. When I first put it up three years ago, I was hoping to get a few hundred sales and a handful of reviews. Now, with over 30,000 copies sold, 500+ reviews on Amazon at a 4.6 star rating, you could say my expectations have been surpassed, which means it's time to try something new.

So, for the first time ever, I'm taking 2k to 10k out of KDP Select and putting it up everywhere! You can buy it at AmazoniBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, OysterInktera, and Scribd. And as always, it's still just $0.99!

There's also going to be an audio edition coming out soon, so watch out for that. For now, though, let's get this multi-part party started!

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 1)

No matter the genre, books in a series are universally popular. Readers love them because they give us more of what we already love. Writers love them because writing books sequels means you can write new books without inventing everything from whole-cloth every time. Publishers love them because they sell well. Everyone loves a series! Heck, if you're a writer of any stripe, chances are you've already thought of or even started a series of your own.

But while a good series can make your career as a writer, a bad series can sink it just as fast. Say you're writing a trilogy, and you screw up book 2, losing half your readers in the process. If these were standalone books, you could just start over and write something new, but for a series, you have to finish that final book. It doesn't matter if it's going to sell terribly, it doesn't even matter if you hate it. So long as your series still has a few fans (or you're under contract), that book must be written.

It goes without saying that this is not a fun position to be in. But while it might seem safer to only write stand alones, single novels never sell as well as a good series, especially in genre. Also, so many stories simply won't fit into one book. They need the room a series provides to be told properly.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls? How do we set off on a series with reasonable certainty that we're not going to screw up book 2 and doom our careers forever?

The secret (which is actually the secret to pretty much all successful projects) is planning.

If you want to avoid the dreaded Second Book Slump, if you want to be sure every book in your series is going to be better than the last, then the very first thing you need to do is stop and plot out exactly where your series is going to go. I don't mean you have to plot out every book, and you're free to change your mind later as the series progresses (in fact, I guarantee you will). But if you want to make sure your books really feel like a cohesive, well planned out series, you're going to have to actually come up with a plan.

Thankfully, plotting a series is actually a lot easier than plotting the individual novels. It's much more big picture storytelling and much less nitty-gritty detail. Me being me, of course, I've organized my series plotting system into steps, which I've listed below.

I'm not saying you have to follow this method exactly to successfully execute a series. This is just how I do things. That said, this system has saved my bacon on at least one series so far. It's also how I make my books flow together so well. They feel like they're all steps in one big story precisely because that's how I planned them to be, and this is the refined version of the method I used to do it.

Even if you're a pantser who hates planning, which is a perfectly fine way to write if it works for you, I still highly suggest going through the steps below. If nothing else, it's a fun storytelling exercise!

So now that I've hyped it up, let's get down to brass tacks.

How I Plot a Series in 5 Steps

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: Taking Smart Risks

First up, just wanted to remind people that the giveaway for a signed copy of Rhonda Mason's excellent SF debut, THE EMPRESS GAME, is still going! You have until Friday to go check it out and comment for a chance to win a book, so go do that. :)

Second, my swag shop is now open!!! That means....POSTERS!

Banana for scale.
These things are gorgeous! We went with the slightly pricier matte-finish art prints, but the difference between these and the cheap ones is night and day. The colors are rich, the paper feels sleek, heavy, and expensive, they're just all around win!

We have posters of just the cover art without the text as well, so go check out the shop and pick up a smiling Julius for your wall! Posters of Marci and her cat army will be coming soon as well the moment we finish the proof process. Hooray for cool stuff!

Now that's all done, let's talk about one of first and most fundamental cornerstones to being a good writer: knowing how and when to take risks.

Writing Wednesdays: Taking Smart Risks

As I've mentioned here before, I'm a giant fan of Project Runway. I love it the artistic challenge, I love the catty judges and cheesy drama, I love it all! But even though I watch the show for pure entertainment value, sometimes I glean real bits of wisdom from the judges' commentary. The latest of these was from fashion designer Zac Posen toward the middle of Season 12, who said "Success in Fashion is all about taking smart risks."

This statement rang true for me on a lot of levels. The one line that gets repeated over and over on the show is that you can't just design based off what's popular now, because by the time your clothes walk down the runway, now has become then, and you're already out of style. To be successful as a designer, you always have to be doing something new and innovative that will catch and hold people's attention. You need to really think about who your customer is and what they will be buying tomorrow, not today.

If all of that sounds familiar, that's no mistake. Fashion design and writing might seem like the most unrelated of disciplines, but as creators struggling to produce consumable products that have both artistic merit and widespread commercial appeal, we actually have a great deal of overlap. It might seem silly to take writing advice from a fashion designer, but as Uncle Iroh said, "It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale."

So, with that in mind, let's steal a page from the Zac Posen Playbook and talk about what it means to take smart risks in writing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Badass Ladies in Space: I Interview Rhonda Mason, author of THE EMPRESS GAME! (plus a book giveaway!)

Can you hear the squee echoing around the world? That's me, because today I have the fabulous Rhonda Mason, author of one of my favorite reads this year: THE EMPRESS GAME, which comes out today!

One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled: that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat. Now the tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the women of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reunimon, a supreme fighter, is called by a mysterious stranger to battle it out in the arena. 

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

Did you read that? This book is basically the Thunderdome of Space Opera! The main character is a total take-no-shit badass, the combat is unrelenting, and there's kissing! That's a recipe for Rachel catnip right there. Is it any wonder my blurb is on the paperback cover singing its praises to the sky?

Click to enlarge, and thank you Hisham El-Far for the picture! 

Seriously, it's really fun and good, and if you liked my Devi books, you should go check THE EMPRESS GAME out right now!

Now, me being me, the moment I finished the book, I reached out to author Rhonda Mason in a rush of fangirlish glee to invite her onto the blog because interviewing badass ladies who write SF is becoming quite the thing here on Pretentious Title. (Click here to read my last interview with Jennifer Foehner Wells, author of FLUENCY.) 

To my delight, she agreed. She's also going to be giving away a SIGNED COPY! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Not-So-Secret Formula to Writing Character Driven Stories

Wow, what a week! First up, hello to everyone from Writer's Edit! Thanks for stopping by!

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Writer's Edit is an awesome writing community and website that's been showcasing my 2k to 10k writing and editing process all week. They're also doing a bunch of giveaways, including copies of my favorite, can't-live-without-it writing program, Scrivener! I've been really impressed with what I've seen so far, so if you're looking for more writing tips and talk, go check it out!

Now that's done, on with the show!

Writing Wednesdays: The Not-So-Secret Formula to Writing Character Driven Stories

"Character driven story" is one of those writing phrases that gets thrown around a lot. You see it everywhere: in writing forums, from editors describing what they want, book marketing, the works. Everyone wants a character driven story, but what does that actually mean?

At its simplest, a character driven story is one where the primary narrative is driven by the characters. They are the ones who decide where the plot goes, not the other way around.

This sounds like a really simple requirement, but you'd be amazed how many stories don't make the cut. My favorite popular example in recent memory is the super-cast action movie The Expendables. Now, I'm not going to comment on whether or not The Expendables was a good movie (my husband was entertained), but as a character driven narrative, it failed utterly. If we'd gone in and removed any character from the story, the plot would have continued pretty much exactly as written. They literally were the expendables, as in they did not matter.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: Wild Speculation on the New KU

I know I'm supposed to be on vacation, but this was too exciting not to talk about!!!

As I mentioned a week ago, Amazon has changed the way it calculates borrows for Kindle Unlimited, their book subscription service. In that post, I was pretty optimistic about the proposed changes, and now that new system is actually live...well...I'm not really sure what to think. It could be absolutely amazing, or it could be the death knell for my (and probably a lot of other authors) participation in the program.

For readers, of course, the program looks exactly the same, but for authors with books in Kindle Unlimited, we will now be payed per page read rather than just getting a single payout every time a KU user borrows our book and reads past the 10% mark. Of course, this leads to the question of how much Amazon will pay us per page, and what counts as a page anyway?

These two questions go hand in hand. Of course, due to the vagaries of Kindle Select Global Fund payment system, we won't know how much per page Amazon is going to shell out until they actually pay. That said, many authors are speculating that the KU payout will most likely be around $0.005 per page.

They arrived at this amount using the numbers presented in this email which Amazon sent out to all its KU participating authors last month. Here, Amazon reported that "KU and KOLL customers read nearly 1.9 billion Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENPs) of KDP Select books" and that, due to this high volume, the Global Fund for July and August would be set to $11 million. By working backwards, we see that $11 million divided by 1.9 billion pages read works out to about $0.0057 paid out per page that KU readers read.

Half a cent sounds pretty pathetic, and it would be if Amazon was using the print page count, which is the one we're all used to. But hey, this is Amazon we're talking about! And as always with the 'Zon, the reality of the situation is much, much weirder.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How to Deal With a Character Taking Over Your Book

We're on a bit of a sudden enforced vacation here at Casa de Aaron Bach. We didn't realize summer camp was closed the entire week of July 4, so it's suddenly "madly run around North Georgia doing outdoorsy stuff with our son!" time. Because of the interruptions, today's Writing Wednesday is going to be a little different.

Every November for the last four years, I've done an AMA with writers over at the NaNoWriMo fantasy forums. These posts are super fun and one of the highlights of my year. The question format gives me a chance to write out a lot of my writing processes and strategies, some of which I didn't even think about until someone asked me. The result is a ton of information that I'm very proud of, but, due to the inherent nature of forum replies, can be pretty hard to read.

So today, in the spirit of posting something interesting while also not abandoning my husband for too long to the whims of a bored 5-year-old (THANKS TRAVIS!), here's one of my favorite question/answer pairs from the thread, conveniently extracted and cleaned up for your reading pleasure.

I promise we'll be back to the new stuff next Wednesday. For now, though, let's talk character wrangling!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: What Description Really Does

Nice Dragons Finish Last is $0.99 for only one more week! Get you one!

Writing Wednesdays: What Description Really Does

Like exposition, writing description is one of those things that, if you're not already inclined to it, can feel like an anchor around your paragraphs. It's all too easy to go overboard describing what your characters see and feel, and while you may think you're giving your readers what they need, you're really just sinking your book under dead weight. If you go too light on description, though, your readers don't know what anything looks or smells or feels like and the book falls flat.

Just like everything else in writing, good description comes down to good execution, which is just a fancy way of saying "You've got to do it well." That's no sweat if you're one of those writers who already loves description. For me, though, description is one of those writing elements I've always struggled with. I'm a plot and characters girl who'd do everything in dialogue if she could. I'm also not a very visual person, which means I'm constantly forgetting to describe basic things like what characters are wearing because I just don't think about it. My readers do, though, and boy did they let me know.

So right from the beginning, I knew I had a problem with descriptions, and like any good writer, I got to work on fixing that.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Kindle Unlimited Is Changing Their Payment Structure and Why I Think That's Awesome

I was on a sort-of vacation last week (well, as close to vacation as I get), so I didn't hear about the newly unveiled Kindle Unlimited payment structure changes until my (not actually publishing related) friend mentioned it to me at dinner.

Since any change to KU is the definition of Relevant To My Interests, I proceeded to be very rude and looked it up right there at the table, and you know what? I really liked what I read, and here's why.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Price of a Novel (It's Not What You Think!)

Quick bookkeeping note: Nice Dragons Finish Last is still on sale for $0.99, and the sequel, One Good Dragon Deserves Another is still available for pre-order. This is where the books live! Get you one!

So I normally like to keep these WW features focused on the craft of writing, but an event happened this last week that really got my writing goat, and thus this post was spawned. I hope you enjoy it!

Writing Wednesdays: The Price of a Novel (It's Not What You Think!)

The other day I was at a social event, talking to the parents of some of my son's friends (as you do), and it came up that I was a writer. This is still a pretty new thing for me. Even after five years as a full time author, I still find it hard to say "I am a writer" in mixed company without feeling like a poser, but I'm slowly getting better.

Anyway, after the usual "What do you write? Why haven't I heard of you? I've always wanted to be a writer!" back and forth, it comes out that I self-published my last novel, and this one lady asks me how much it costs to put out a professional quality self-pub book.

Now, as you've probably noticed, I don't mind talking money at all when it comes to my business! I feel that giving people real world numbers for the costs and benefits of writing is the most effective way to take power away from those who try to dupe new writers and take advantage of their dreams. I've actually broken down my costs for publishing Nice Dragons Finish Last on the blog before, so I was able to proudly tell this lady that it cost me about $3000.

She gets this shell-shocked look on her face. "Three thousand dollars?"

I explain how that includes hiring editors and copy editors and commissioning custom art for the cover. I also tell her how I was able to save money since, as a former graphic designer myself, I could do the design work for the cover and the ebook interior on my own. But while I'm standing there being proud about how low I kept my costs, she's still staring at me like I'm nuts, and then she says,

"I would never pay that much for my book."

And ladies and gentlemen, this is when I start looking at her like she's crazy. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that I write for a living and must therefore expect to make that $3000 back plus some (otherwise I would make no profit and thus be unable to survive), or the part where $3000 is a tiny investment when you're talking about a small business that supports a family. No, I was staring at her because those three thousand countable, bankable dollars I paid to have my book professionally packaged are the least of my costs when it comes to writing.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: Reader Retention Rates Across a Series

So today, completely of his own volition (and because he is a giant data geek), my husband, business partner, and far more sensible half, Travis Bach, is here to share some publishing numbers! Today, we're looking at reader retention rates across series, how many people who buy the first book in a series can be expected to buy the others.

Now, of course, this number will vary wildly between writers and even between series by the same author, but (as Travis is about to explain) looking at your book sales from a top down, data driven perspective can enable you to make some pretty sharp best guesses, or at least ballpark. If nothing else, it's an interesting topic to think about and I thought you guys would enjoy getting a peek behind the curtain for how we make our business decisions here at the Aaron/Bach book factory.