Ask An Author

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The first Friday this month happens to fall on the first. It just so happens to also be time for another Ask the Author, the feature that puts the author in authoritative.


phpXT7GODPMMay’s featured author is none other than Charles E. Yallowitz, author of the Legends of Windemere. He also happens to be one of the first authors I followed when I started my blog back in 2013.

Back then he had two books published in his fantasy series. Now he’s up to number seven in just over two years! He makes it seem easy, doesn’t he, but planning and writing a series is hard work. Have no fear, because Charles has plenty of advice about planning, writing, and marketing a series whether your series consist of three or twenty books.


Creating and Marketing a Series

may5The Legends of Windemere series is a fantasy adventure that currently has 7 books out and is planned for 15 overall. I believe this is where people groan or run away because long series seem to scare many readers and writers. Well, they are a big challenge and I’m here to give some advice on how to create and market a long series.  (Note: All advice is personal opinion and can be discarded as the ravings of a madman that needs to get out more.)

Planning a Series

First, I’m going to talk a little about planning. I use a lot of notes and outlines to keep my series going smoothly. For Legends of Windemere, I’ve had all 15 books outlined since I finished writing the third one. This helps me create foreshadowing and get a sense of where I want the long term storylines to go. A full outline isn’t even necessary if you want to dive into the writing immediately. Maybe you only need a page of notes about what you want to happen later on or a few future events that you’re heading for. To be honest, mine tend to get changed as I go and I have to rewrite the next outline after every book I write. Still the meat of the story is there and that’s what I use to help me guide my characters to their various destinations. The truth is that every author has his or her own system of organization. Detailed outlines and character bios work for me, but there are those who create great stories out of a trio of Post-It notes.

One of the biggest challenges for a series author is continuity. You need to make sure the rules and details remain the same throughout the adventure. This is where character bios and outlines can come in handy. Even if you don’t do a full outline, future installments can be helped by jotting down important information as you move along. Take a little time to review what you wrote every night and list whatever you think you won’t remember. For example, I kept forgetting character eye colors early on and one of my heroes abruptly changed from green to blue for some reason. I had to keep a note by my laptop for a few chapters to make sure I remembered. Eventually, it locked in and then I did the genius maneuver of having something change his eye color to brown. Worked for the story, but it was one of the spontaneous decisions that caused a few stumbles in the next book. A common question in regards to planning a series is the following:

How Long Should Your Series Be?

The answer is as long as it has to be. You might be scared of readers dropping out before the end, but that happens with trilogies too. Yes, the longer the series, the higher the chance of a reader walking away. So the author has to decide if they’re writing to tell the story they want to tell or the story that they think will sell better. These are not always the same thing. I can only speak from my personal experience and I will say that I couldn’t do Legends of Windemere in less than 15 books. It used to be 12 and then I realized that there were characters whose stories weren’t being told. I write using an ensemble cast, which means I want each hero and villain to get a story to shine in. Many of them can do this within the original stories, but I had those that needed something more to evolve. Do I regret doing a series this long, which nets me a few complaints? No. I’m happy with the adventures I’m telling and that should be one of the author’s main goals. If you’re enjoying what you write then it will come through your words and draw in the reader.

Marketing a Series

A brief mention of marketing since this is an area that many authors are concerned with. I’ve found that later books in a lengthy series will not have the same impact as the earlier ones. Not unless you have a massive support system and fan following. The reason for this is because you have people going in and out of the series all the time. A person drops out after Book 3 while another picks up Book 1, but you only see how there are fewer sales for Book 4. It took me some time to realize this and then I aimed more for continuous sales across the board instead of major sales of the most recent. So I do the big marketing things on either most recent book or the first one, Beginning of a Hero. I try to do a little for the middle books too, but you’re going to see a wide variety of sale numbers in there. It’s the nature of the series beast and all you can do is keep pushing on.

Tweets, blogging, guest posts, interviews, various chat platforms, and helping to promote other authors are where you will find most of your marketing power. (Note on that last one: Reciprocation is a great thing. I’m a big believer of helping those who help me.)

All of what I said might seem like an overview and oddly brief considering a big series is a major undertaking. Well, you would be right because all another author needs in terms of advice here are the basics. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that every author, actually artist, has his or her own methods. My series is long because I focus a lot on character development, but it would be shorter if I was more concerned with the main plot. That’s just my way and it took quite a few years for me to realize that along with my specific style. So I give advice and add that this is my personal experience.

Now, is writing a long series a thing for everyone? No because it’s a lot of work and dedication with a high risk of writing yourself into a corner. Still I say follow the story and your gut. If it says a 10 book series then go along with it until you finish or find that it might work better as 5. You can always rewrite the outline.


51WkCW8ZDoL__UY250_To connect with Charles and to learn more about the world of Windemere, check out his author website and blog.

You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook

Check out his Amazon author page here to purchase his current novels as well as learn about future projects.

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for the next book in the series.

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Ask An Author

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If you have a question about writing, the right person to ask is another writer. It’s March already, which means it’s time for Ask an Author: the guest feature that puts the author in authoritative.


54d25dc9b6577.image March’s featured author is Kylie Betzner, author of comedic fantasy, reader, blogger, coffee lover, and my very own twin sister. For the record, I’m not featuring her because she’s family. I like to consider myself more objective than that. My sister and I give each other advice on everything: hair, clothes, dating, etc. It just so happens, she also has a lot of advice about writing, mainly how to work on multiple projects simultaneously. If I were to consult anyone on this subject, it would be her. While she worked on her debut novel, “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other.” she was also drafting books one, two, and three of her upcoming fantasy parody (tentative release in 2015). I like to think of balancing writing projects as cooking food on multiple burners, but she has her own spin. Enjoy!


The Book Factory: How to Manage Multiple Writing Projects

huge_7_36918Writers often have more than one writing project going on at once, whether we plan to or not. It can’t be helped. Our busy minds are constantly churning out new ideas and finding inspiration just about anywhere. And sometimes we just can’t wait to finish one project before tinkering with the next. I know I’m guilty of it. I’m sure you are as well. I’m not here to tell you to stop. I’m here to give you some advice on how to successfully manage multiple writing projects.

Now before we start, I just want to make one thing clear: I am not an expert; I’m a published author. I’m only sharing with you a system that works for me and some advice to make it your own. Take or leave what you will. Keep in mind the purpose of Ask and Author is for authors to share their best practices with their fellow writers. And because juggling multiple projects is something I do well, my sister requested for me to speak on this subject.

So what makes me such a successful juggler? For starters, I’ve got this great metaphor that really helps me keep things in perspective. I refer to it as “the book factory.” I know what you’re thinking: that’s a cold comparison. But the end goal is the same—to put out a product that is suitable for public consumption. And in the same way that a product—say an automobile—is manufactured on the production line through a series of sequential operations, a novel undergoes the various stages of the writing process: planning, drafting, editing, and publishing. To keep all of my projects moving forward, I try to put one project on the belt at a time and let it reach the next stage before I start the next, and so on and so forth until I have a never-ending line of projects in the works.

The key is balance, and for me it’s keeping all projects at various stages. Think about it. You wouldn’t want to have two or three projects in the editing stages; your editors would kill you! And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how exhausting it is to draft more than one novel at the same time. What’s worked best for me is having one project in each stage. While I’m drafting one novel, I’m editing another, all while simultaneously planning the next. This keeps things moving forward, so when I finish the edits on one book and begin the publishing process, I’ve already got a finished draft ready to be edited and a new one to start.

Are you overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry, that’s normal when tackling multiple projects. Here’s some advice to make juggling multiple projects more doable:

Allot a Specific Block of Time for Each Project Every Day

For those of us with short attention spans or limited free time, this method works well. For example, I drive approximately one hour to and from work each day. I might allot this time to brainstorming my upcoming projects. I have a half hour lunch each day during which I could dedicate to drafting a scene from my work in progress. This would leave me several hours in the evening to complete edits on my most advanced project.

My suggestion if you choose to try this method: schedule the time slots according to your energy level. I am most alert in the evenings after a quick power nap. That’s why I tackle the most difficult tasks then. If you’re a morning person consider drafting or editing after breakfast.

You might also schedule at least an hour for each task but no more than two or three. It’s not about spending a lot of time on a task but making use of the time you have.

Schedule Each Project for a Different Day of the Week

 Instead of trying to tackle multiple projects every day try spreading them out throughout the week. For example, I have three projects going on right now: one in the editing phase, one in the drafting phase, and one in the planning phase. And might I add I have a published work that needs some attention in regards to marketing. You have to factor that in, too. So here’s an example of how my week might work: Monday and Wednesday I might devote some time to marketing my published work. Tuesday and Thursday I might work on drafting my novel. Saturdays and Sundays might be good editing days, while Fridays, being lazy days, might be ideal for brainstorming new ideas.

My suggestion would be to keep a calendar, whether on hand or electronically. Myself, I keep a Google calendar.

Work on One Project at a Time for a Fixed Number of Days

 For those of us who would prefer to focus on one project at a time, there’s an option. Choose your most pressing project to work on first and dedicate a certain number of days to work on it. Maybe one week, two weeks, an entire month, whatever works best for you and then spend a certain number of hours each day focusing solely on that project—no tinkering in other projects. Then, when that time is up move on to the next project. You don’t have to give each project the same amount of days. Planning a new project might only take a week while drafting and editing might require at least two. Don’t expect to finish each project during that time. And remember, you’re not giving up on it, you’re only setting it aside.

Whatever method you choose, make sure you stick to it. Falling behind on one or more projects is a good way to back up your line and ensure that none of your projects get done. And there’s no shame in reducing your work load if you discover it’s too much. One of the keys to successfully managing multiple projects is to be realistic about how many projects you can handle.


 

untitledFor more advice from my sister, or to learn more about her recent and upcoming projects, please visit her blog here.

or follow her on Twitter @kbbetzner

You can find her debut novel on Amazon. Also, don’t forget to stay tuned for news on her upcoming projects.

Join me again in April for another awesome author!


 

Ask An Author

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It’s the first Friday of February (alliteration not intended), which means it’s time for another Ask an Author: the guest feature that puts the author in authoritative.


whit-mcclendon-95-1410798997This month’s author is Whit McClendon, author of “Mage’s Burden,” owner and instructor of a martial arts school, writer, husband, and father.

I first learned about Whit from a blog. I then found him on Facebook where I learned he is a multifaceted man whose interests include training, teaching, lacrosse, running, and reading in addition to writing. Between family, writing, and a martial arts career, Whit has to keep a lot of plates spinning at once. So I asked him to share some advice about the nefarious balancing act: writing and life. Here’s what he had to say.


Balancing Writing with the Rest of Your Life

How-to-Find-Balance-between-Work-and-Life

I own and run my own martial arts school, so I have a very tight and busy schedule. I get up at 6 a.m. to feed my son and drop him off at school; then I head to my own school. I generally get home around 8:45 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I have classes off and on all day, so I generally have less time to write while Tuesdays and Thursdays are easier since my classes don’t start until the evening.


Balancing Writing with Work

Running a martial arts school involves not only personally teaching up to 7 classes a day, but there are also a thousand little daily administrative tasks that are always screaming for attention. I also need to squeeze in my own training time, so time is a precious commodity. No matter what day it is, I seem to write more effectively when I can block out an hour at least with little distraction. Sometimes, I may only get an hour in a week, but other weeks I manage far more than that. I occasionally get some impromptu writing time at odd moments when the opportunity presents itself, and it seems that I often get into a decent groove only moments before one of my classes is supposed to start. This is frustrating because I have to suddenly stop writing (something I thoroughly enjoy) to teach (which I also thoroughly enjoy)!

 Balancing Writing with Family

 My family has been extremely supportive of my writing. I have pretty long work hours during the week, so I don’t often write at home because I prefer to be more present when I’m there. With a wife, son, and two pugs, there’s generally something going on, and I like to be in on it, whatever it is. I occasionally dig into my writing on the weekends, when things are more relaxed.
Whether at work or at home, I block off as much time as I can, when I can, even if it’s a small amount. It’s hard to be consistent on a daily basis, but at the end of the week, I’ve usually found a few opportunities to write, and that works for me.

Tips and Techniques for the Time Challenged

I really disappear into my writing when I get going, so I do my best to avoid distractions. When I’m at my school, I occasionally put on some quiet Celtic/New Age music to set the mood.  I have a basic outline of the overall story on which I’m currently working, though my characters often run off into unforeseen adventures.
One of my favorite editing tools is to simply read everything aloud at some point to see if it flows properly. Dennis L. McKiernan (favorite fantasy author) suggested that technique to me many years ago, and I’ve used it to what I hope is good effect.
I occasionally write my chapters out of order, depending on what I ‘see.’  I may write up to a point in one chapter and then something from another chapter occurs to me, so I switch over to work on that for a bit. I often write notes directly on my document in red, green, or blue as I need to, then delete them when I integrate those elements into the story. My approach may seem a bit scattered, but it makes perfect sense to me.

915iXUbRrsL__SL1500_No matter how busy Whit gets, he always has time to connect with readers, fans, and fellow writers.

Join him on Facebook

or Twitter @whitmcc or @whitmccauthor

Check out his blog here.

You can find his book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And don’t forget to be on the lookout for the sequel, “Gart’s Road” projected for release this May.

Ask an Author

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If you have a question about writing, the right person to ask is another writer. Once a month I’ll be featuring writers who put the author in authoritative.


book-photo-nr-500My first author is writer, avid reader, and blogger Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series, and children’s books, all of which have repeatedly reached #1 on Amazon. : )

My sister and I have asked Nicholas for advice many times, so naturally he was the first person I contacted to share advice with my readers.

Nicholas is an author who is always eager to give free advice, encouragement, and books–that’s right books. I noticed Nicholas has a lot of success with giveaways and special offers, so I asked him to share the benefits of giving away books for free.


Just Give it Away: Does Free Work?

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

From timashton.org.uk

I keep reading contradictory information on this. One of my blogging friends, Jack Eason, complains that it attracts trolls. Effrosyni Moschoudi – and many others – have told me that free doesn’t work – in the sense that it fails to generate subsequent sales.

So, does free work?

Quick answer: yes and no. It does as part of an overall strategy, and it can do wonders to put a new author on the map. However, it can be ineffective or even counterproductive if not used properly.

For New Authors

As I explain on my A-Z guide: How both my books reached #1 on Amazon, free books can be used to build a fan base. New authors keen to build their brand have used free to great effect. This can be done in innovative ways, like Matt Mason did with Pirate’s Dilemma, which he distributed via BitTorrent. As he puts it, getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing.

It has also been used in extremely creative ways by authors like Ksenia Anske, author of the Siren Suicides. Readers are encouraged to pay through a virtual tip jar if they enjoyed the book. In a fascinating recent blog post titled I give my books away for free: here are my sales numbers, she announced that she has made $4,000 in little over six months that way. Her books were downloaded 1,600 times within the last 6 weeks. She also used her newly found fame as an author to raise money through Kickstarter, raising an extra $3,000.

What about the Rest of us?

I was reading a great post on how to monetize free, at the Author Marketing Experts blog. Penny, its author, was explaining how free stuff can help you sell more of the paid merchandise, but you have to be careful, because some people just want freebies. That’s fine, of course, but they are not your customers. She offers some helpful tips to help us maximize the use of free:

  • Why free? You need to be clear as to why you are doing this. Unless you’re a charity, free content should be offered to make sales down the line. This can be done by helping build an email list, raise awareness, build your brand, or get new people into your marketing funnel.
From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

From adamhcohen.com

  • What sort of free? Once you’ve figured out why you want to give away something, you can choose the what. For years, I’ve been giving away my Greek translation of the Tao Te Ching. I set up a virtual tip jar and waited to see what would happen. Four years and 7,000 downloads later, only one person had tipped – 10 bucks. Only ten people had actually thanked me for my work, despite me having a link saying “if you don’t want to pay, that’s fine, a simple thank you would suffice.”Then, a few months ago I decided enough was enough, and set up a mechanism to ask for people’s emails before they can download the file. The book is still free, but I also link to a print version on Createspace. Downloads have plummeted from thirty a day to just a couple, but last month I made more from selling the print copy that I had from tips during the past four years. I also have collected hundreds of emails from people who are genuinely interested in my message.In my book (pun intended), that’s a win. 🙂
  • Make sure it’s really free and worthwhile: A lot of people have content that is purported to be free when it’s not really free. For example, they will give away only a portion of their book, but  you have to pay to read the juicy parts. This is a big no-no. If you give something away, make sure it’s something really valuable. Virtually any electronic product is easy to create and deliver, so put your best foot forward. After all, this is what you will judged by.
  • Take names: One thing I learnt from my Tao Te Ching experience: You should never give free away without asking for an email address. I see people do this all the time; they have a ton of free stuff but never collect emails. If that’s the case, the freebies you are offering may be of great value to your end user, but they won’t matter to your marketing. Get emails. Ask for reviews. It’s called an ethical bribe. You get something (their email) and give them something (the free stuff).
  • Make it easy to download: Don’t make free difficult. It should be easy to get your free stuff. If people have to jump through hoops, they won’t do it and the free stuff won’t matter. For example – put your free stuff on your home page. Add links to it on the sidebar. Remind people at the end of your posts.Accordingly, when you ask for people’s email, make it easy. A simple click or two is all it should take. Don’t ask for too much information. If you ask me for my address, birthday, and whatnot I doubt I will want your free stuff that badly. Shorten the staircase. If you make it complicated, it’s not really free, it’s bait. And people will call you out for it.
  • Make the free stuff work for you: If you give away something, make sure that it works for you. Add links to your other books. Ask for a review at the end. Encourage people to follow your blog, Facebook or twitterfeed. Every giveaway should include a call to action. You are collecting names and email addresses and building your list, and that’s great. But what do you really want people to do? Define what you want them to do, and then include your call to action in the free stuff. You can also offer specials and change these periodically in the giveaway.
  • Follow up! The best kind of free stuff is, as Penny points out, the gift that keeps giving. If you are collecting names and then never contacting your prospects again, what’s the point? People need to be reminded, and reminded again.The real key here is that free stuff can work well for you in so many ways, but free stuff without a goal is just free. Great to get free stuff, right? But then how is all of this hard work going to pay off for you?
  • Will it slow down my sales? This is probably the most common question I’m asked on the subject. On my blog, I link to the free copy of Pearseus: Schism on Goodreads. Surprisingly enough, sales of the book on Amazon have increased since doing this. So, in my experience, free does not slow down sales.

If you still aren’t a believer of free, try it for 90 days and see what happens. If you do it right, free can monetize your audience like nothing else will. The biggest reason is that in an age of pushing things on consumers, your audience really wants to sample what you have to offer before they buy. Free is a great way to do that. It’s also a great way to stay in front of your audience, build trust, and develop a loyal following. But it has to be planned carefully, or it will be an ineffective tool at best.


7182i2gWs2L__SL1500_Speaking of free, check out Nicholas’ children’s book, Runaway Smile on his blog or you can purchase it from Amazon. I’m definitely getting a copy for my son–this would be right up his alley.

If you liked his advice about book giveaways, there’s plenty more on his blog. You can connect with Nicholas here and learn more about Runaway Smile and his other books on Amazon.

Join me again in February for more awesome author advice!