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Getting Serious About Series

John posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Randy,

In your last newsletter you talked about giving away the first book in a series as a way to find your readers and get them hooked on your stories.

I was wondering if, while planning out the “first book”, an author should also plan the sequels as well? Wouldn’t that make the series better and allow for nuggets of foreshadowing? Or is it enough work to write the first story that one shouldn’t worry about future stories?

Randy sez: That’s an excellent question, John.

First, let’s review why writing a series makes sense. There are several reasons:

  • Readers like series. You are in the business of selling readers what they want.
  • Once you’ve done the research for the story world of the first book in the series, you’ve done most or all of the research for all the books in the series.  This is good use of your time. The less time it takes to write each book, the more books you can write and the more you’ll sell.
  • Once you’ve created the characters for the first book in your series, you can reuse those characters in later books, and you’ve already done most of the work on those characters. They will probably grow a bit and you may want to add some new characters, but a lot of your work is already done.
  • Once you’ve sold a reader on the first book in the series, they know that the rest of the books will be “just like the first one, only different.” If they love the first, they’ll buy all the rest, with very little extra marketing work. (You just have to let them know the new book is available.)

Now to John’s question: Should you plan your whole series out in advance? There’s no simple answer here.

Some authors write each novel by the seat of their pants. This is an effective way to write a novel, and if this is how you work, then you probably won’t be planning out your series because you like surprises and you “think by typing.” That’s fine. Trust yourself to come up with more novels in the series and get to work!

Some authors like to plan each novel. They may write a long, detailed synopsis or they may use my popular Snowflake Method or they may use some other method of planning. But they feel most comfortable writing when they have a plan. This is also an effective way to write a novel. If this is how you work, then it very much makes sense to plan out the rest of the books. And yes, this gives you a chance to write a more coherent story, foreshadowing things to come.

You may also be somewhere in the middle, where you have a rough idea on how you want the series to go, but you’re willing to play it by ear, planning out each book in detail only when it comes time to write it.

It’s all a question of what makes you the most effective writer. There isn’t any method that’s best for everybody. We’re all different. We can learn what works for others and try out methods that sound good. If they work out, then we’re ahead of the game. If they don’t work out, then there’s nothing lost except a little time.

Having said that, there’s also the question of how closely the books in the series are related to each other. Is this a series of books that could each stand alone, or nearly alone? If so, then no planning is necessary for the series. The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is like this. If you removed any of the books in the series, there would be little or no impact on the others.

However, some series have an overarching story that ties them all together. For example, the Harry Potter series has a tightly connected narrative that carries on for all seven books. Writing a series like this probably needs quite a lot of advance planning to make it work. If you’re a pure seat-of-the-pants writer, this kind of series might be tough for you to write.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.

How Often Should Indie Authors Publish?

If you’re an indie author, how often should you publish? Is there such a thing as publishing too often? Can you “compete with yourself?”

Victoria posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Hi, Randy,
Using the Snowflake design process, I have completed a YA fantasy novel and am in the last stages of structuring its sequel. I am not yet published and plan to do so independently. I can comfortably write and polish a full-length novel in four months, but I realize that four months is quite a narrow schedule for systematically releasing new novels. How closely together do you think is reasonable to release novels in the YA fantasy genre?

Thanks,
Victoria

Randy sez: If you’re an indie author, four months between releases is fine. Many indies publish more often that that, and it doesn’t hurt them. Most indies, in fact, think it helps.

This is the opposite of what most traditional publishers believe, at least those whose focus is getting paper editions into bookstores. In that case, they’re fighting with the problem of limited bookshelf space, and it’s certainly true that bookstores will have a problem with authors who publish very frequently.

So traditionally published authors have to worry about competing with themselves. Bookstores just don’t want to order copies of different books that are produced at the same time by the same author.

You can argue that this isn’t rational, because you aren’t really competing with yourself–you’re competing with the million other authors out there. Doesn’t matter. This is reality.

But most indies aren’t in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Most indies only sell online, and for them, the more often they publish, the better. Indies don’t worry about competing with themselves, because the online stores have unlimited shelf space.

If you read the January issue of my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, you’ll remember my “Success Equation”, which goes like this:

Success = (Target Audience Size) x Quality x Discoverability x Production

You multiply the four terms on the right to determine your success.

That last term on the right, “Production,” is the number of books you publish per year.

All other things being equal, the higher your Production, the better.

So 3 books per year is excellent. If you can maintain the same Quality and produce 4 or 5 or 10 books per year, then all the better.

Good luck, Victoria! I’m glad the Snowflake Method has been helpful to you and I hope you have fun in your writing and build an audience who loves your work.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

 

My New Book on the Snowflake Method

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.Why are so many writers around the world using my Snowflake Method to write their first drafts?

Because it works!

Let’s be clear that different writers are different.

Some writers thrive on the “seat-of-the-pants” method. Stephen King is a pantser. So is Anne Lamott.  They write great fiction and SOTP works for them.

Some writers work from a highly detailed outline—a synopsis that may be 50 to 100 pages. Robert Ludlum was famous for his long outlines.  He was a great writer and outlining worked marvelously for him.

But some writers love the Snowflake Method—a series of steps in which you start with the germ of a story idea and build it out bit by bit.  Some writers’ brains are wired to work this way.  And many of them write great fiction.

About the Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method doesn’t make you more creative. You already are incredibly creative.

The Snowflake Method just suggests where to apply your creativity next.  It makes Snowflakers more efficient in writing their first draft.

There is no one method that works for everybody.  The Snowflake is the method that has worked Xtremely well for me.  And it’s been thrilling to hear from so many writers around the world who say that the Snowflake works for them too.  The Snowflake page on this web site has been viewed more than 4 million times.  Every month, it gets about 50,000 more page views.

Several years ago, I heard from a writer in Nigeria who had visited my site that January and got inspired. By July she had written her manuscript (about Nigerian scammers), got an agent, and sold her novel to Hyperion. A couple of years later, that novel won the Africa Commonwealth Prize.

Your mileage will vary, of course. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani brought a ton of talent, drive, and creativity to the table. The Snowflake Method gave her a simple path to follow to get her story written. But she had to walk that path.  You have to walk your own path, and it won’t be easy.  But the Snowflake Method is designed to guide you along the way, to shorten the path.

My New E-Book

I’ve been working really hard for months on a new e-book solely dedicated to the Snowflake Method, and I did something different this time.

I wrote the e-book as a story—about a young writer with a dream to write a novel.

All her life, she’s been doing what other people tell her to do, putting off her dream and being practical.

Now she’s tired of doing what other people want.

She wants to follow her dream.

But she doesn’t know how to get started.

She needs a little direction, so she decides to go to a writing conference.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1. You’ll see right away that this story is quirky, zany, and over the top.  As you get into it, I hope you’ll find that it goes deep into the art of story.

You’ll see that the story itself practices what it preaches.  In the chapter on Disasters, there’s a disaster.  In the chapter on the Moral Premise, there’s a Moral Premise.  The chapter on Reactive Scenes is a Reactive Scene.

My goal is to make learning simple and easy, by showing you a real live example of how it’s done.

Excerpt from “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method”:

Chapter 1:  The Impractical Dream

Goldilocks had always wanted to write a novel.

She learned to read before she went to kindergarten.

In grade school, she always had her nose in a book.

In junior high, the other kids thought she was weird, because she actually liked reading those dusty old novels in literature class.

All through high school, Goldilocks dreamed of writing a book of her own someday.

But when she went to college, her parents persuaded her to study something practical.

Goldilocks hated practical, and secretly she kept reading novels. But she was a very obedient girl, so she did what her parents told her. She got a very practical degree in marketing.

After college, she got a job that bored her to tears—but at least it was practical.

Then she got married, and within a few years, she had two children, a girl and then a boy. She quit her job to devote full time to them.

As the children grew, Goldilocks took great joy in introducing them to the stories she had loved as a child.

When her son went off to kindergarten, Goldilocks thought about looking for a job. But her resume now had a seven-year hole in it, and her practical skills were long out of date.

The only jobs Goldilocks could qualify for were minimum wage.

She suddenly realized that being practical had made her horribly unhappy.

On a whim, Goldilocks decided to do the one thing she had always wanted more than anything else—she was finally going to write a novel.

She didn’t care if it was impractical.

She didn’t care if nobody would ever read her novel.

She was going to do it just because she wanted to.

For the first time in years, she was going to do something just for herself.

And nobody was going to stop her.

* * *

About the Book

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.The first 18 chapters of the book are the story of how Goldilocks takes her dream from a wispy idea all the way to a very concrete plan for her story that she can write right now.

The 19th chapter is a quick summary of the Snowflake Method.

Chapter 20 shows the complete Snowflake document  which I used to write the book. A Snowflake about the Snowflake! Very meta.

I’ve just released this e-book on all the major retailers.

Amazon has a cool new tool that suggests the price that will earn me the most money. They suggested that I price the book at $5.49. But I rejected that suggestion.

My goal right now is to get my book into the hands of lots of writers, so I’ve slashed the introductory price to $2.99.

See the e-book on Amazon$2.99

See the e-book on Barnes & Noble$2.99

See the e-book on Apple iTunes$2.99

See the e-book on Kobo$2.99

See the e-book on Smashwords$2.99 (any electronic format, including PDF)

Please note:  Prices outside the US may not be exactly $2.99, but I’ve done all in my power to get them as close as possible to that price on as many retailers as possible.

Will There Be A Paper Edition?

Yes, there will be a paper edition very soon. I’ve submitted it to Amazon’s CreateSpace service and I’ve jumped through all the hoops. I’ve ordered the proofs of the paper edition, and they should be arriving shortly. It will take me a day or two to check through them, and then there’ll be a short delay to complete the process. I hope the paper version will be done within about a week. Paper costs more than electrons. At 233 pages, the book will have to be priced at $9.99. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

The Unsafe Road to Writing Fiction

So you’re writing a story and you know it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, except that … it isn’t. In fact, it’s bad. But the reason it’s bad is NOT that you’re a bad writer. The reason it’s bad is because you’re using a technique that’s not familiar to you. What do you do?

Hamish posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Hello!

Ben reading your blog for around two years now, it has helped me greatly, thank you!

My question is this: I love first person, I despise third person. I love the knowledge of a single character, knowing them like the back of my hand, creating them however I want. I love being able to make my reader feel! Which, is something I’ve found I can’t do in Third Person.

This, however, is where I run into a problem. The stories I want to write my ‘staggeringly heartbreaking work of genius’ is best written in third person.

The real problem is that, when I write in Third Person I feels if my writing is poor of quality, and I hate it. So, how do I overcome this? When my story i best suited to third person? But, I myself am dismal when writing third person?

Apologies if this is a question asked many times.

Thanks.

Randy sez: Well, now, there’s a dilemma. You’ve got a story that’s screaming to be written in third person, but you are better at first-person than third-person. What do you do?

Tough question, and there’s no easy answer. This is why we call it a dilemma. This is a judgment call, so I’ll give you my judgment, even though I can’t prove it’s correct.

Let’s look at your options.

The Safe Road

You can take the safe road and write it in first person. This is what you’re familiar with. You believe you’ll do your best work in first person. The only problem is that you think the story would work better in third person.

There’s a possibility you might actually be wrong. It might be that this story would work just fine in first person. You could probably find that out by writing a few scenes or chapters and see how it’s working.

But let’s assume that you’re right—that the story would best be told in third person. If you take the “safe road,” what’s going to happen is that you won’t do this story justice because you’re using the wrong tool for the job. And that’s just not acceptable, at least not to me. I don’t want to work on a story unless I can do my best. So this is not the road I’d take.

The Unsafe Road

The unsafe road is to write the story in third person, even though you believe that you can’t do it well.

I suspect that if you give it a chance, you might find that third-person isn’t any harder than first-person. It’s different, but it’s not harder. You can give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience in third-person just as well as you can in first-person.

Writing in third-person is not harder. It’s just less familiar to you, Hamish. Which means that at first, it won’t feel right. But I’d bet that if you try it for a few scenes, you might start getting more comfortable with it.

Third-person lets you do interior monologue and interior emotion just as effectively as you could do them in first-person. (These are two of the five standard techniques novelists use in writing fiction. All five techniques are explained in great detail in my book Writing Fiction for Dummies, so I’m not going to try to repeat all of that here.)

But in third-person, your interior monologue can be indirect—it doesn’t have to be an exact verbatim transcript of the character’s thoughts. Instead, it can be a summary of those thoughts, which is sometimes an advantage.

Third-person also has another slight advantage over first-person. In third person, your narrative voice can be different from the voice of the point-of-view character. This lets you, the author, use your own narrative voice when you need to. You don’t have to. You can write a whole novel in which your narrative voice is always the voice of the point-of-view character. In first-person, you have to do this. But in third-person, if you want to, you can pull back a bit from the point-of-view character and inject your own voice.

Hamish, it’s not my job to tell you what to do. But here’s what I’d do if I were you. I’d try this story in third-person and see if I can grow into feeling comfortable writing that way. Every writer needs all sorts of tools in his toolbox. One of the most useful is the third-person point of view. If you don’t develop this skill, you’ll be limiting yourself. In fact, you’re limiting yourself right now.

Try it. See how well it works. Study the works of other authors to see what tricks they’re using to make it work. Keep trying.

That’s how you learn in this business—by trying things. Whether it works or doesn’t, send me an e-mail in a few months to let me know.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.