One of the questions I’m asked a lot lately is how I manage to write as many books as I do. This year I have four books releasing. I’m on track to have four books release next year as well.
If all an author needed to do was write the first draft and send it off, four books would perhaps be an easy feat. But we all know that an author is tasked with the responsibility of writing more than just a first draft and being done.
I generally do at least four sets of edits per book including a final read-through to catch typos and last mistakes. With four books published in a year, that means a total of sixteen different edits.
In addition to the writing and editing, of course there’s also the marketing for four books. Sharing all that I do to market my books would take an entire post in itself!
Of course, there are a myriad of other details that we as authors must attend to on a daily basis: social media, emails with readers, communication with industry professionals, blog posts, etc. And if you’re especially insane like I am, you also add on other projects like getting reversion of audio rights on old books and using the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to indie publish on Audible.
With all of the work involved in editing and marketing books, how in the world can an author possibly write one book a year much less four?
As I thought about what I do to remain a prolific writer in the midst of all the other responsibilities of being an author, I realized that three things help me:
1. Have Iron-Clad Self-Discipline.
I’m crazy self-disciplined. It doesn’t matter if the world is crashing down around me, I make myself write six days a week. Healthy or sick. Well-rested or tired. Happy or depressed. Calm or chaos. When I’m writing a first draft I make myself write without fail.
I also ignore the internet. It takes a lot of self-discipline not to respond to facebook messages or emails until later in the day. But I’ve learned that it’s all still waiting for me when I’m done with my day’s writing. My writing has to take priority over the other aspects of the job, because ultimately it’s my stories that keep me in business, not social media.
2. Set and Stick to Goals.
I usually determine how much time I have to write the book based on deadlines. For example if I have two months, then I break that down into how many words a week I need to write in order to finish the book in eight weeks.
If I have editing projects that need my attention while I’m in the middle of writing a book, I usually work on those after I finish my daily word count goals. The only time I set aside first draft goals completely is when I work on a content/macro edit. Otherwise, I stick to my lofty goals to the best of my human ability.
3. Open Creativity Through Writing Sprints.
When I sit down to write for the day, I usually start by reading a page or two of what I wrote the day before. I edit a little bit but mostly the reading is to get myself back into the story flow.
Once I’m acclimated, I set mini deadlines for writing sprints. I use a sticky note and write down two things: how many words I plan to write and the time deadline. For example I may give myself the goal of 400 words in thirty minutes. Once I reach that thirty minutes, I give myself another mini-deadline.
What I find is that these writing sprints force me to ignore my internal editor and just write. Some days I do better at it than others, but overall such sprints force me to focus on the STORY rather than get side-tracked by smaller details that often hang writers up and slow them down.
What about YOU? How do you maintain a steady writing output? What helps you to keep writing? We would love to hear your tips and tricks!
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
Recently I finished the first draft of a new book of a new series. Not counting the research, the book took me approximately eleven weeks to write.
Usually after I type out the last few words, I expel a deep breath of relief. And then I tell myself the following 6 things:
1. “Thank God for the editing process.”
In fact, thank God for the MANY edits that the book will undergo in the months to come including my own self-editing as well as my publisher’s various levels of editing.
Even though I’ve written over 20 previous books, I wouldn’t ever think about skipping the editing process. I put every single one of my books through the most stringent and vigorous editing process. In fact, I’ve learned to be grateful for the feedback that can make my books better.
2. “Wow. I actually made it to the end.”
As I was writing it, I felt the normal mid-book panic and asked myself questions like: Is the tension strong enough to keep readers' attention? Where is this story taking me? Will I be able to wrap up the plot believably?
I admit. I second-guess myself and my writing ability with almost every book. So I feel satisfied at the end when somehow I manage to land the book at the destination without too much turbulence.
3. “Don’t get too attached to the words.”
After all, they’re just words. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. As much as I love my book, I will go back through the document and ruthlessly eliminate some of the prose that I labored and sweat over.
To make the process slightly less brutal, I’ll open up a new, blank document and save those eliminated sections there. Not that I’ve ever used any of the eliminated words again. But knowing that my hard work isn’t totally wiped out makes the process of cutting easier.
4. “Whew! It’s a relief to finish another book.”
I love being in first draft writing mode. I love playing the roles of my characters and living out their stories.
But those 10-12 weeks of living in another world get a little intense. I push myself hard with daily word count goals, and I’m very strict about getting in my “words” for the day.
That means I sacrifice other things (like free time!) during the weeks I’m writing the first draft. While I’m emotionally and physically drained after I finish climbing Manuscript Everest, there’s also a sweet sense of accomplishment.
5. “I hope readers like it.”
I always write the books I love to read. I figure why write anything else?
However, various readers come into my books with differing expectations. I’ve long since realized that I can’t please everyone with every book. But I do hope that each book hits the sweet spot for the majority of my readers. And so at the end of every book, I sit back and ask myself what things about the story will or won’t please my readers.
6. “It’s time to put the baby to bed.”
In other words, I need to stick my book in a virtual folder, step away, and say goodnight to it. I need to let it sit there untouched for a while (weeks if not a few months).
After time away, when I finally go back to it for my first round of self-editing, I’m not so in-love with it anymore and able to approach it more objectively. I’m able to see issues and flaws more clearly and also able to start the hard work of editing with more enthusiasm.
What about YOU? How do you feel after you finish writing a book?
Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace, a historical through Random House (Oct. 1)
I’m super thrilled about all three of the books. While each of them targets a slightly different audience, my readers seem to be enjoying them regardless of the differences.
So far, I’ve had a very positive experience working with traditional publishers. I’ve learned a LOT about the ins and outs of how the whole process of publication works and varies between houses.
Since I’m in a super busy life stage (raising 5 kids), having a traditional publisher’s help with cover designing, editing, and marketing has really freed up my time to focus on writing. To be completely honest, I appreciate being able to hand something over to my publishers and know that the project is in good hands. It takes a great deal of stress off me.
Not only that, but working with a variety of traditional publishers has helped to get my books in front of different readers. Each of my publishers has different marketing strategies which has allowed my books a wider audience than if I’d attempted to publish them on my own. I’ve also appreciated the relative ease of getting into brick and mortar stores, libraries/library conferences, foreign print, large print editions, wide-scale blogger and reviewer programs, and many other venues.
However, as beneficial as traditional publication has been for my writing career, I’ve been itching to try my hand at indie publishing. I’ve heard so many positive things about it, that I wanted to experience it for myself.
So, this year, I’m dipping my toes into the self-publishing waters. I’m releasing a historical romance, Forever Safe, on June 1. This particular book is the fourth book in my Beacons of Hope lighthouse series published by Bethany House. When I originally brought up the idea of doing a fourth book to my publisher, they wanted me to move in a different direction with another series.
Since I already had an idea for a fourth lighthouse book, I brainstormed with my agent and decided that this might be a good opportunity for me to do something independently. So over the past months, I’ve been able to experience “the other side of the fence” as I’ve been preparing my book for indie publication. It’s been interesting and I still have a lot to learn.
Obviously, I want this fourth book in the series to be of the same quality and caliber as the first three. Fortunately I found a fantastic cover designer (Lynnette Bonner of Indie Cover Design) who was able to match the quality of my previous books (even down to the font). I also put the book through the same rigorous editing process—having content, line, and copy edits.
Even with all of the top-notch help, I have to admit, I haven’t particularly liked the feeling that everything now rests on my shoulders, and that I’m responsible for every tiny detail—things I never had to worry about before. In fact, it stresses me out to think about disappointing my readers in any way.
Friends who have been indie publishing for a while and who are pros at it, have reassured me that the process does get easier and less stressful. So I take hope in that! But for now, it’s been a lot of work and has caused me some sleepless nights.
Will I indie publish again? Probably. I love that I got to write a story that I really wanted to tell and now get to share it with readers. And yes, indie publishing has lots of financial and control benefits.
But going through the do-it-yourself process also reminds me not to forget all of the good things that traditional publication can still offer authors. All too often traditional publication gets blamed and bashed and bad-mouthed. No, it’s not always rosy. I’ve experienced my share of frustrations and problems with traditional publication too.
But there are definite downsides with indie publishing as well, stress, costs, details, and pressure that come with the package. And if I were a newer author without an established readership, I'd wonder how I'd ever get noticed among all of the other new authors out there. The competition is fierce and it's difficult to stand out among the ever-growing population of indie authors. It can be done (we've all seen indie authors who've risen to the top). But often (not always!) debut authors can benefit from having a publisher give them a boost.
From one who has experienced both sides of the fence, I see that there is definitely a place for both and that they can live as friendly, helpful neighbors.
How about YOU? Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence (or your side)? Or do you think that there is a place for both indie and traditional publication?
I admit. I always have a hard time figuring out my openings.
Even with the manuscript I’m currently working on, I labored long and hard to figure out the best spot to start my story. In fact, I’ve struggled to pick the perfect opener with each book I’ve written. And even after all my agonizing, I still don’t always nail my openings.
Finding the right opening isn’t anything writers should leave to chance. Sometimes the first page, even the first paragraph, is all the time readers will give us.
If we don’t grip readers with our story from the start, they’re likely to move on to something that will grab them. This is especially true in the online age with the ease of previewing the first chapter before making a commitment to buy a book.
I almost always read the first couple of paragraphs online before deciding to buy a book. I figure if the first page doesn’t capture my attention, then the rest of the book probably won’t either. Maybe that’s not true. But that’s the way most of us operate.
Yes, the struggle to find the perfect opening is normal for writers. Dare I go so far as to say if we’re not struggling with our openings, then we’re likely not giving it enough effort?
So what can we do to help us in our quest to craft a gripping first scene?
Here are three things to consider:
1. Find a life-changing DISTURBANCE.
Look for an incident that will push your character out of her comfortable life into a new problem or situation that will ultimately change her life. The disturbance is the start of something that won't leave her the same so that by the end of the book she's a different person in some way.
It’s kind of like our character is walking along a normal everyday path. But then we step in, hit them, and knock them onto a path that they didn’t expect, want, or choose.
It’s not always easy for us to locate the moment of disturbance, especially if we want that spot to be unique and fresh and not clichéd. We may have dig deeper, think harder, and really push ourselves to brainstorm for an event or happening that moves our character out of the ordinary and at the same time hooks our readers.
2. Start with immediate TENSION and CONFLICT.
Once we have an initial disturbance, then we need to plunge our characters into the heart of the action. We can’t spend time setting up the story and filling our readers in on how our characters got to where they’re at.
Instead we need to drop our characters onto the page into the middle of immediate conflict and assume the reader will catch on to what’s going on eventually. We can always go back and weave in important story details later if we need to clarify setting or backstory. But usually the reader figures out what’s happening without us having to spell it all out for them.
3. Use a PROLOGUE sparingly.
When I was first querying my debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, I had a prologue. It was an exciting prologue (I thought!). But it wasn’t really necessary for the story. Truthfully, it wasn’t until I cut the prologue that industry professionals started showing an interest in the book.
The lesson I learned was that most readers (including agents and editors) don’t want to wade through a prologue (which is often just an excuse to fit in backstory).
So I don’t write prologues anymore. I’m not saying they’re bad or wrong or unnecessary. But I think we should closely evaluate if one is necessary by asking ourselves a few questions: Can the information in my prologue be woven into the story at a later point? Is it essential to understanding the story? Will it truly hook readers into wanting to keep reading? (Because remember, we only have a page or two to grab them before they make a decision to either read further or move on.)
If I have a scene that needs to happen before the big disturbance moment, then I usually label it as Chapter One and treat it just like a regular chapter, giving it a strong opening hook, immediate conflict, and the same page-turning quality I would with any other chapter.
My final thoughts: When I finish my first draft, I always go back and re-evaluate my opening. Sometimes I end up rewriting part or even all of it because the hindsight of finishing the story gives me new or better ideas for a stronger opening.
What about YOU? Do you judge a book by its opening? How long do you read before setting aside a book?
Recently in a radio interview, the host made a comment about how hard it must be after a book is published to part ways with the characters and story that I've grown to love. He asked me how I handle that. The question made me pause for an instant.
Yes, I do fall in love with my book, but only while I'm writing the first draft. I usually get super excited about the way everything comes together. I put my heroine in deadly trouble and love when I'm able to figure out how to get her out of a deep dark black hole believably. I love when I develop those tricky character arcs so that my hero and heroine grow emotionally and spiritually, but are still imperfect. And I even love when I'm able use symbolism throughout, wrap up the romance sweetly, and find perfect metaphors and similes for descriptions.
However, I know the love I’m feeling for my story won’t last. After writing the first draft, I'll edit the book at least four times if (of varying levels of editing) if not more. During all of those edits, I’ll grow increasingly more critical. My love for the manuscript will continue to diminish. Then finally I'll turn the book in to my publisher for the very last time. At that point, I’ll loathe the book. And seriously consider ripping it up and throwing it away.
Yes. This happens every time. I fall madly in love with my book and think it’s the best thing I ever wrote, but then I gradually fall out of love and think it’s the worst thing in the world. As much as I wish I could avoid the painful swing of emotions, I’m coming to realize it’s normal, even helpful.
Writers need to fall in love with their stories during the first draft.
Our creativity needs freedom during the first draft. Sure, I carefully plot out my book. I’m intentional with themes, character development, and story pacing. I even challenge myself with each new book to focus on growing in a particular area.
But . . . during the writing process, I delve deeply into my imaginary world. I ignore my internal editor. I give the story the freedom to grow and become its own entity. I give my characters permission to change and develop. And I don’t allow myself to be critical of my book in any way, shape, or form. I don’t compare myself to others.
I focus on my story. I let myself only see the good and the positive. I relish in it. I rarely experience writer's block because during the first draft, I keep the mental red pen locked away. I write uninhibited, letting the words flow without stopping to critique anything.
But after the first draft, writers need to fall out of love with their books.
That initial blindness to our story’s faults and problems serves us well during first draft creativity. But when we reach the editing stage, it’s time to pull out the guns and start shooting holes in our work.
We need to open our eyes wide to our faults, the areas where we’re weak, the many problems our stories will have. At this stage, we need to take off the protective, rose-colored glasses and see our work in all its nakedness.
We’ll do ourselves a favor to put our work under the intense scrutiny of our own self-editing, the eagle-eyes of a critique partners, and any other outside help we can get (contest feedback, freelance editors, beta readers, etc.).
We should begin to feel the pain of having our work ripped apart. And if we don’t feel pain, we’re probably not being honest enough with the quality of our work. At this point, it’s perfectly normal to grow so critical that we loathe our work. It’s then, when we ache that we can use the negative energy to push us to work harder to get our stories even better.
Problems arise when we get the love-hate relationship in the wrong order.
During the first draft, if we fail to fall inlove and instead turn on the inner critic, we’ll risk a number of problems: writer’s block, word flow issues, slower speed of writing, lack of motivation, etc. We could even risk losing out on the joy of the writing process itself.
During the editing, if we fail to fall outof love and instead see our work too highly, we’ll risk a number of problems: we won’t be able to evaluate our work critically enough, we might reject hard feedback from others, we could even become embittered by a writing industry that we deem as “unfair” or too “limited.”
My Summary: Allow ourselves to fall madly in love with our first drafts. That’s important to the creative flow. But then make sure we put an end to the love-affair during the editing. That’s equally important to the process of writing.
What do you think? Have you ever gone through the love-hate relationship with one of your books? Have you ever gotten the love-hate relationship in the wrong order?
There are 101 different ways to define success among the writing community. Some of us might put high priority on making friendships, others in completing a difficult manuscript, and still others in seeing their book in print regardless of how many people buy it.
However, in the writing industry, whether we like it or not, professional success is usually determined by our numbers—our sales figures, how many times we make a best seller list, how many prizes our book wins, etc.
In traditional publication numbers are critically important for published authors. Without stable or growing sales figures, a publisher will often have to let an author go. In indie publishing, an author who consistently spends more on covers, editing, etc, than she makes would have to seriously consider whether to keep putting herself in the red.
Regardless of how we define success personally, I think at some level most of us want to reach a level of professional success as well. Of course, it goes without saying that we need to have compelling books. But there are plenty of great writers with well-told stories who stall in their careers.
What can help us forge ahead? What qualities are important in reaching for success?
As I brainstormed the character traits that have helped me achieve a modicum of success in the publishing industry, here are five qualities that have helped me enormously:
1. Maintain a vision.
I believe in myself and my abilities. Throughout the ups and downs of the writing journey, I’ve clung to the dream of being published. Sure, occasionally I hit depressing dips that have made me feel like giving up. But I always crawl through them and make it to the other side. I brush off the gravel, ignore the bruises, and plod steadily onward toward my goals.
I’ve also realized how important it is to have people beside me who support and believe in me. They’re there to cheer me on, remind me why I’m doing this, and inspire me to stay on the course.
2. Work extraordinarily hard.
From a young age, my parents taught me how to work. And I’m not talking about just making my bed. I mean real, sweat-inducing work. First, they modeled hard work. Then they expected it without exception. Because of their training, I’m not afraid to demand much of myself, put in long hours, and stick to a job until completion.
Sometimes I don’t think people realize how hard I’ve worked to reach this point in my writing career. I’ve sacrificed a lot, dedicated endless hours, and labored with both diligence and determination.
I haven’t had magical fairy dust sprinkled over me. My relatives aren’t in high places pulling strings for me. And my luck hasn’t been above average. Instead, I’m just an ordinary person who’s worked extraordinarily hard.
3. Facilitate humility.
Yes, we have to believe in our abilities and that we have what it takes. But we also need an attitude of “I always have room for improvement.” It’s that ever-present feeling of needing to do better that motivates us to try harder, to accept difficult feedback, to push ourselves to rise to the next level.
Without humility we risk becoming complacent and stagnant. Our books will follow suit.
4. Cultivate professional savvy.
If we hope to achieve professional success, then at some point we’ll need to emerse ourselves in the publishing industry and learn how everything works. I see far too many writers jump into publication without doing their homework. Ignorance can be the kiss of death in this competitive and enormous industry.
As I moved closer to publication, I studied everything I could get my hands on to learn about the current state of publishing and all that it entailed. Then I began to act on all that I was learning, taking risks but being wise about it.
5. Embrace inner passion.
When we’re passionate about something, that usually comes through in our actions and words. We live in such a way as to let our passion pour out into our stories, into our relationships, and yes even into social medai.
When we live genuinely, openly, and passionately, people are drawn to us, our posts, and our books. They crave a piece of that passion for themselves. Hopefully we can inspire them to reach for their own success.
There’s my short list! Now I’d love to hear yours!
What qualities have helped you? What trait do you think is THE most important in helping writers reach a level of professional success?
How important are character names? Does it really matter what we choose? Or how we go about deciding?
Should we draw names out of hat? Or should we wait until exact names are revealed to us in a dream?
I’m slightly hesitant to give advice on how to pick character names. I can’t tell you how to name your characters anymore than I can tell you how to name your real-life children. I truly believe the naming process will be unique for each of us.
But . . . I do think there are some general principles we can employ when deciding on character names. Here are eight things I keep in mind when naming my characters:
1. Develop our character before finalizing the name.
I get to know as much about my character as possible before finalizing the name. As I develop the character’s personality, ethnicity, quirks, life-experiences, etc., I’m able to narrow down names that might match that person. For example, in The Doctor’s Lady, my heroine is a well-educated, pious lady from a wealthy family. I chose the name Priscilla because it has a more refined and elegant ring than a name like Mary or Betty.
2. Find names that match our setting and fit with the plot.
Once my character is starting to come to life, I also evaluate how that character fits within the plot and setting. In Unending Devotion, which is set in the lumber communities of central Michigan, I sorted through rural names, as well as logging era names. And I tried to think which ones would fit within the tone of the plot.
3. Use time-period appropriate names.
This is especially critical for historical writers. I generally pull up the list of the most popular names for the year or decade in which my character was born. I also look at lists of names in biographies and research books for the particular time period of my book. In the 1600’s, 29% of men were named John (that’s about 1 out of 3 men!) and 15% of women were named Elizabeth. Thus, in The Preacher’s Bride I felt almost obligated to name my main characters John and Elizabeth. Not really! But you get my point.
4. Use symbolism if possible.
While we can’t always attach symbolism to names, we can look for ways to give special meaning to some of the names we choose. In my WIP, I looked at the meaning of hero names before choosing one. Whether the reader ever realizes it or not, part of my hero’s character arc is about him learning to live up to his name—which means “strong as a wolf.”
5. Avoid picking names that readers will have a difficult time saying.
I get annoyed when I read character names I can’t pronounce—oddly-spelled or too-long names. This is even more frustrating when the name belongs to the main character and I have to read the “weird” name ten times per page. I suggest avoiding names (as fun and nice as they might be) that might trip up our readers. We should also limit the number of foreign names for the same reason.
6. Avoid having names that start with the same letter or sound.
I keep a running list of every character that crops up in my book—a sheet I can easily scan. I do my best to start each name with a different letter. I don’t want to have a John, Joseph, and Jacob all in the same book. Or a Polly and Molly. When names are too similar, we have to make our readers work harder to remember our characters. And our job as writers is to make the reading experience as smooth and pleasant as possible.
7. Remember, unique doesn’t always mean better.
Sometimes when names are too unique they can distract a reader from the story. I like unique last names, especially when they’re real (like Goodenough or Covenant). But often those kinds of names have a ring of disbelief. When I get too carried away, my editors send me back to the drawing board for a simpler name. I've noticed that middle grade and YA books can push the limits. For example, I'm reading The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith with my kids. The grouchy, complaining grandfather is aptly named Grumble.
8. Make sure our minor character names don’t overshadow our main characters.
It’s fun to find especially dark and sinister names for our antagonists. In The Doctor's Lady, one of the antagonists is named the Black Squire. He's rough trapper that wears a black eye patch. In Rebellious Heart, the bad guy is Lieutenant Wolfe. Yes, he's predatory like a wolf. He's hunting for smugglers and enjoys it just a tad too much. As we have fun shaping our minor characters, we have to make sure their names and personalities don't become more vibrant and alive than the main characters.
What about YOU? What annoys you most about character names? Do you have any advice or method for how to come up with the perfect name?