Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Writing Update Wednesday!

As I'm taking part in the YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp, I've decided to use Wednesdays for updates on that! I've missed recording progress weekly (firstly for accountability, secondly because I have a tendency to underestimate how much progress I've actually made) so I'm turning Wednesdays into Writing Update days!

So, in the past week I've:
  • Made some minor tweaks to Indestructible (my YA post-apocalyptic)
  • Tweaked 6 chapters of my sequel (I'll call it I2 until I have a title. :P)
  • Reworked 18 chapters of Beneath the Waves (YA fantasy)
  • Brainstormed for a future fantasy project.
I've ended up shifting my focus to the YA fantasy revision because I'm in secondary-world-fantasy mode, but starting two projects at once was a good way to force my overly-distracted writer-brain to focus!

This week, I'm hoping to finish this round of revisions, then read the manuscript from start to finish to figure out what I need to focus on in the next round.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Some thoughts on ebook piracy (and some alternatives)

I recently had that common author experience: I found my book on a pirate site. To be precise, over 20 pirate sites, from which it had been downloaded for free hundreds of times. Obviously, pretty much every author has had this experience, and there have been a range of responses. Some people think piracy doesn't affect authors' sales because those people wouldn't have bought the book anyway, which can be true to some extent. But it does affect authors' careers, especially those without the backing of a larger publisher.

Here are the hard facts:
  • Piracy is inevitable.
  • Piracy can lead to more people discovering your books.
With that having been said...
  • Unlike borrowing from a library, ebook files can be copied infinite times. You send a takedown notice to one site and it pops up on another the next day.
  • Pirating can and does lead to cancelled series. Publishers depend on sales figures to decide on whether or not to continue with a series. If the numbers aren't there, the series (and author) is quickly dropped. Not all illegal downloads are lost sales, but some are, and the number can quickly add up.
  • As for indie authors, we have to make tough business decisions about which projects to invest our time and money in. Some of you may remember my first published novel, The Puppet Spell. It's no longer in print as I terminated my contract with the (vanity) publisher who never paid me for most of the copies I sold. I've never posted this publicly, because to be honest, the experience was so depressing and demoralising, I wanted to put the whole thing behind me. But the fact is, the reason I am never returning to the series is because sales were terrible. I've since found the book on five pirate sites. People are reading it for free, but they (and anyone who bought the book legally) will never get to read other books in the series. It wasn't a light decision, but self-publishing a book costs time and money. And my initial sales figures might well prevent me from ever getting a traditional publishing deal.
  • On the subject of money, I'm over £2000 in the red from publishing and far from breaking even. This is a business investment I don't regret making, but I can't afford to give my books away for free. We live in an era where anything can be accessed online for free, but someone has to create that free content. I work 15-hour days. I spend more hours trying to reach readers than I do actually writing, and each book takes at least 6 months to write and edit. You wouldn't expect anyone in another profession to work unpaid for six months.
  • There are ways to get books cheap and free legally.

So, here are some alternatives:

Wait for a sale. I often run 99 cent promotions on the first books in my series (here's a head's up: Darkness Watching is scheduled to be on a Kindle Countdown promotion on the 12th/13th May).

Join my review team to get free copies of my books in exchange for an honest review.

Subscribe to Scribd or Oyster to borrow my Alliance books, or Kindle Unlimited to borrow my Darkworld books.

Request Adamant on Overdrive.

Newsletter subscribers will get a free Alliance short story next month, as will all new subscribers.

Without sales, there would be no publishing industry. Of course I want people to read my books, but this is my job. It's sales figures I look at when I'm calculating whether I've made a profit or not, and deciding whether to continue with a series. Not illegal downloads. The best way to ensure I keep publishing books is to buy them legally.

(Also, check out this post from Beth Revis, which says it better than I can!)

Friday, 10 April 2015

My writing process: how I wrote a series in six months!

I’ve blogged before about how I plan a novel, how I fast-draft, and my editing process, but since I’m going to be self-publishing on a regular basis for the foreseeable future (and because I get asked about this a lot!), I’ve decided to write an updated version. I should say, first of all, that I don’t consider myself super-prolific (at least not consistently). There are indie authors who can write, edit and publish a full novel in a month (!!!), but I definitely wouldn’t be able to put out a quality book that fast. And the part I find the hardest is thinking of a good idea in the first place! It takes months of brainstorming and planning before I feel ready to dive into a new project, and I have to really want to write it.

With that having been said, I’m intending to independently publish at least 2-3 books a year, so I’ve been working out a system which I can use to write the best books I can in as timely a manner as humanly possible. I'll always put quality first, even if it means delaying a release. It generally takes me 4-6 months to have a book I’m happy with. But that doesn’t take into account uncontrollable circumstances (like being knocked out for a week with flu) or - the thing I dread - creative paralysis, in which the words just aren’t coming. So I’ll overcompensate by getting things done months ahead of time, just in case. With independent publishing, this can hardly be a bad thing! 

So: here are the steps.

1. *sudden idea lightning storm* - this ALWAYS happens when I’m in the middle of drafting something else - it’s a law of the universe. :P

With the Alliance series, the concept, plot AND characters came into my head at the same time. My original notes say something like, "An organisation who stop monsters from other universes escaping onto Earth. Two main characters - one investigating a murder, the other sneaking around the Passages helping people flee a war in her own world". That's actually a lot more detailed than my initial ideas usually are, which might have been why I planned it so quickly!

2. Revisit ideas later, decide which one to work on, and brainstorm like crazy! In particular, figure out the central conflict, plot, and main character(s). I use Writing the Breakout Novel to accompany the brainstorming and figuring out important things like stakes, originality and emotional appeal.

Often before starting a new project, I go through old notebooks looking for ideas to join up with the ones I’ve already written down (this is actually how the Darkworld series started!). And I’ll take my time with this stage. If I really love the concept, I’ll be thinking about it all the time - I just have to remember to write everything down!

Mostly, I made sure I loved everything about the Alliance series, and it made the world of difference when I started drafting. That doesn’t mean put everything you love into one book - just make sure you're writing characters, plot, story world, etc. that appeal to you. A plot that you'll never get tired of (especially across a long series), characters who are endlessly intriguing with scope for development, and worlds you want to explore yourself. See also Susan Dennard’s post about magical cookies for making every scene exciting to write!

3. Snowflake method… of a sort. I write a one-sentence summary (the actual book often ends up completely different, but just having the main conflict down works as a starting point!). Then a paragraph-long one. Then I do the same for the key characters with a focus on goal, motivation and conflict. And then I write a synopsis (using this post!). This is the point where I figure out how many books there’ll need to be in the series (I almost always write series, because the conflict’s inevitably too big and world-spanning to be resolved within one book!). And I’ll also plan the protagonist's emotional arc. This is something I used to struggle with, and I’ve found this series of posts really helpful with plotting both story and character so that they work together!

4. If I get stuck, I worldbuild. And research. The Alliance series wasn't the first time I'd created a whole universe (or Multiverse!), so I already had a lot of helpful resources bookmarked. This is the part where I really dig into the potential conflicts in the story's world and how they can wreak havoc, and make lists of all the cool details I want to include in the story (hover bikes! Scary monsters!).  This is the fun, Pinterest-board-making stage, and I usually work on this while drafting another project until I have enough material.

The first thing I do is figure out the rules. So I nailed down the three principles of magic fairly early in planning the Alliance series. Then I worked out the rules of the Alliance itself (on Earth) before delving into the various alternative universes the story takes place in. I also took a trip to London in the middle of the planning and wandered around staring at walls and trying to figure out where to put a fictional giant building and a secret entrance to the between-world Passages.

5. The proper outline! There’s a reason I don’t show people my outlines: they would make no sense to anyone except me (and even I get confused sometimes. :P). I have a word document with the Save the Cat beat sheet spreadsheet combined with various character and plotting guides I've gathered (see my "writing resources" tab above), and I’ve divided it into sections so I can cut and paste my own outline into the gaps when I put it into Scrivener. I'd already written fourteen novels before the Alliance series, so I had a better idea of my own writing process than when I was starting out.

It also saves a lot of time to outline the whole series before I start the first book. Firstly, this means I can move from one draft to the next without having to stop to outline the next book. Secondly, it means I can check in advance if the continuity/rules are consistent across the series, and I can plant clues/foreshadowing in the earlier books. I posted last month about plotting a series!

I don’t stick to the plan exactly and it invariably changes as I write. I can’t write without a structure, even if it only becomes a loose guideline in the end. I tend to second-guess myself a lot in the early stages, and almost always experience a mid-draft crisis and have to rework a significant part of the original plan. This is because no matter how much planning I do, I always find the best way to get to know my characters and the world is through the writing itself. If the outline's causing me trouble, I'll put it aside make a list of plot elements and important information and refer to that as I write. 

6. Now I actually write the draft! I find the first scene is the hardest for me to write and it takes a few chapters to get a real grasp on the characters and their world if it’s a new project, so I allow for that. If I get stuck, I step away and brainstorm. If I get really stuck, I backtrack and read over what I’ve written. I normally shy away from editing mid-draft, but it has saved hours of wasted time (for example, I had to do this with the second Alliance novel to find my way out of a huge plot hole!).

I use short-term goals to keep on track. When drafting, I try for a minimum of 2000 words a day. If I write more, I have leeway with less productive days, which happen despite my best intentions. Having said that, I wrote the six-book Alliance series in six months, averaging around 70-80K words per month - which is twice as fast as I usually write! I generally plan for 1-3 months per draft.

7. When the first draft’s done, I export the document from Scrivener to Word and change the font for a first read-through. I note down general issues in a list, and make line-edit corrections on-screen. I’d like to separate big-picture edits and line-edits, but I have a compulsion to fix incorrect grammar...

I fix plot and character issues first, because they have the most potential to knock a story out of sync. In this edit, I make sure the plot actually makes sense, the events flow, and the characters' actions/motivations are consistent. I also keep an eye out for missing scenes and unresolved subplots. This is the big picture error-fixing stage - plot, character, tension, and stakes.

In my second edit, I work more on a scene-by-scene level. I look for things like slow pacing/lack of tension, places where I can add foreshadowing/description/emotion (these are things I always have to work into later drafts), cutting infodumping/excessive explaining, clarification, showing vs telling, etc. Those are my particular weaknesses, and if I checked for all those things while drafting, I’d never finish. Someday, I’d love to write a clean, inconsistency-free draft, but alas, I seem to like things complicated.

And then there are things that make NO SENSE, and I wish I could travel back in time and ask Past Emma what on Earth she was thinking when she wrote them. *headdesk*

I'll usually go through at least two or three self-edits to deal with all these problems (referring to a list). Then I’ll use “find” and “replace” to search out certain words I know I overuse (my list is now two pages long!). This can also be helpful in finding adverbs and filler words.

This stage can take from 1 week to 2 months, depending on the level of editing needed, and I don’t necessarily start as soon as I finish a draft. See my editing post for more detail!

8. I send it to beta readers with a list of specific questions. And then start something else, while trying to avoid the voices in my head telling me I wrote complete crap (the nerves ALWAYS kick in the instant I send off a draft!). It's essential to get new eyes on your work, and I usually ask for feedback on whatever I'm not sure about. If I don’t have a new draft to work on, I’ll start planning a new project or revisit an old one. I usually send the draft to one or two readers at a time, so I can have fresh eyes on each revision. While this is happening, I’ll book freelance editing and also cover design, if I haven’t already.

9. Repeat again! Most of the time, I’m editing one book while working on my current draft. When I’m inspired, I’m brainstorming or researching future WIP’s!

With the Alliance series, the planning took two months (while I was working on another project). Then I fast-drafted the first book, and put it through multiple rounds of edits while working on the other books in the series. After eight months, the first book's published, the second's almost ready, and the others are drafted. So the advance planning definitely paid off! Of course, writing can be unpredictable as anything else. As I said, it's rare that I get an idea that I love enough to turn into a novel, and I couldn't pull a plot out of thin air and start a book the next day. I admire people who can, but that's just not the kind of writer I am. I need to think over an idea first. I think the Alliance series happened so quickly because I'd been thinking over a lot of ideas and they just happened to collide in the right way.

Obviously, this kind of manic power-drafting isn't for everyone, but here are a few things that probably didn't hurt:

  • I planned ahead. A lot.
  • I kept a list of things I loved about the project.
  • From the start, I could clearly visualise the finished book(s).
  • I'd already written 14 novels, so I knew my own process, weaknesses, etc.
  • I started out writing Adamant for fun, without worrying what people would think. But I also knew I wanted to self-publish, so I didn't have the usual worries about query letters, synopses, subjectivity, marketing categories etc. Fretting about all those things stunted my productivity for the first half of last year.
  • I also put querying my MG book on hold, which also reduced my stress (not to mention constantly refreshing my inbox...).
  • I took my netbook everywhere, including holidays, so I always had the series in my head.
  • After the first book, I knew my characters well enough that a large portion of the sequels wrote themselves, because I always knew which decisions my characters would make (even if they surprised me sometimes!).
  • I was (and am) obsessed with the series world. Even when I wasn't actually writing, I was thinking constantly about it.
  • I should probably also say that I work from home (so I could arrange my hours around writing time), I live in my parents' attic, I'm in a long-distance relationship, I don't have children, and I've been horribly neglectful of my friends (sorry, guys!). :P

And I also have to really love what I'm writing - I could never write just for the market. I want to write my best, every time. In fact, I want each book I write to be better than the last. It's a good job this is a lifetime obsession!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Spring Writing Bootcamp 2015!

ya-buccaneers-2015-spring-writing-bootcamp

I've decided to join in with the YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp again! I've been flailing between projects for over a month while working on Alliance edits, so I've decided this is my opportunity to make progress on something else!

I'm actually revisiting two old projects at the moment. One is Beneath the Waves, my YA fantasy, and the other is my YA post-apocalyptic duology. The first book was polished and ready, but I had to be awkward and work elements into the second book which had a knock-on effect on the first, so I've spent the past week tweaking the first one. Now, I need to entirely rewrite the second book (and figure out the rest of the series. I'm expanding it to three books). Beneath the Waves was also polished and ready, but I put it away after a lot of conflicting feedback and now I think I'm ready to come back to it again. I'm currently working on a list of changes and I'm not entirely sure just how much reworking will be needed. But I'm having so much difficulty focusing on one project, I'm going to see which project calls my attention the most!

So I've decided to dedicate April and May to revisions on both Beneath the Waves and the YA post-apocalyptic sequel. 

My goals:
  • Fix Beneath the Waves (YA fantasy) - this one's still a maybe. 
  • Overhaul YA post-apocalyptic sequel (original version: 70K words).
  •  Fix outlines for series. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Adamant $0.99 sale, Nemesis cover reveal and giveaway!

It's my 3-year blogoversary! *throws confetti* So I've decided now's a good time to share the cover for Nemesis (Alliance, #2)!



I have to admit, I can't decide which cover I prefer out of this one and Adamant's! They're both ridiculously pretty. :D

Here's the blurb:


Joining the Alliance might be the key to seeing the worlds she's always dreamed of, but Ada's new job causes a rift to form between her and her guardian, Nell. As she struggles to come to terms with the events of the previous month, Ada is reluctant to use magic again after the damage it caused.

Kay, meanwhile, faces his first challenge as one of the Alliance’s offworld Ambassadors - helping his colleague, Markos, investigate the mysterious death of the centaurs’ king back on his homeworld of Aglaia. When they realise magic is involved, Ada is pulled into the investigation. But tensions between humans and centaurs run high, and avoiding a bloodbath will be more difficult than any of them expect. Especially when Kay discovers something about his own magic that could affect the fate of the Alliance.


Against an enemy they quite literally can’t see, Ada and Kay must face up to the power that almost destroyed their lives…

To be released: June 8 2015. Pre-order from Amazon now!
Add on Goodreads

Start the series with Adamant (Alliance, #1), reduced to 99 cents this week only! :)




On an alternative 21st-century Earth in which our world is one of many in the Multiverse, the Inter-World Alliance exists to keep the peace between the worlds, and keep the monsters out.

Ada Fletcher is twenty-one, keeps a collection of knives in her room, and risks her life on a daily basis, helping refugees from a devastating magical war on her homeworld hide on the low-magic Earth. But when she’s taken into custody by the Alliance, her unusual magic makes her a prime suspect for a supervisor’s suspicious death.

Kay Walker, grandson of the Alliance’s founder, expects to spend his first week as an Alliance employee chasing monsters out of the dark Passages between worlds, not solving a murder. But when his supervisor dies in suspicious circumstances, he finds himself in charge of questioning a girl he arrested as a suspect. A girl with secrets that threaten to make both of them into the murderer’s next targets.

The last thing Ada wants is to help the infuriating Alliance guard who arrested her, but it soon becomes clear that the Alliance knows too much about Ada’s offworld origins. More, in fact, than she knows herself. Now she has to choose between loyalty to her family, and helping the Alliance save the Earth – and the Multiverse – from a deadly enemy.

What reviewers are saying

"The world building is magical. Even though we only get a hint of what's out there, I am already in love with this world." - Lola at Lola's Reviews

"I found the book to be well written, in a pace that kept me really interested all the way through the book. I loved the kick-butt character of Ada and the almost instant chemistry between her and Kay even though they are on opposing sides... this book is a great read, the beginning of a potentially brilliant and addictive series" - Jeanz Book Reviews

"Emma has created a fantastic, brilliant world in ADAMANT. The world is filled with raw and authentic characters, whether they're human or centaur or something else entirely... This book is a unique, fun read, and I'd recommend it to everyone who enjoys sci-fi and fantasy." - Amazon reviewer

Add on Goodreads    Read the first chapter

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I'm also giving away a $10 Amazon gift card and some awesome Alliance postcards and bookmarks! :)

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Friday, 3 April 2015

Blog Tour Stop: I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen






  
ABOUT I HEART ROBOT

Title: I Heart Robot
Publication date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Suzanne van Rooyen

Sixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won’t belittle her musical aspirations.

Q-I-99 aka ‘Quinn’ lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.

Tyri and Quinn’s worlds collide when they’re accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn’s love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?

MY REVIEW

I've had my eye on this book for a long time, and I was thrilled to get an advanced copy! I Heart Robot is a YA Sci-Fi set in a future where robots are common, though not considered to have the same level of personhood as humans. The story switches between two perspectives: Tyri, an aspiring musician, and Quinn, a droid who wants to prove he's just as human as his creators. The characterisation is superb, and I sympathised with both Tyri and Quinn. They come from opposing worlds, yet their shared love of music just leaps off the pages.

The sci-fi element is well-developed without getting too technical and distracting from the story. I loved all the cool details, like the way Quinn deliberately gives himself human emotions while his fellow robots believe violence is the only solution to the way humans treat them. The growing tensions between humans and robots grows throughout the novel, developing alongside Tyri's and Quinn's stories. I was hooked from beginning to end, and I'd thoroughly recommend this to sci-fi fans!



ABOUT SUZANNE VAN ROOYEN:

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego.

Connect with the Author:  Website | Twitter | Facebook Goodreads


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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

IWSG

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It's time for IWSG! The Insecure Writer's Support Group is the creation of Ninja Captain Alex, and is a great way for writers to share their worries, support and encouragement.

It's been a busy month, with the release of Adamant, my first self-published novel! I'm absolutely loving indie publishing so far, so I definitely made the right choice for the Alliance series.

However... that leaves me with a dilemma about which project to work on next. Up until now, I've prioritised books I thought would give me the best shot at getting an agent. So when I've drafted projects for fun, I put them away immediately afterwards to avoid the inevitable response of "interesting idea, but this genre isn't selling". I revised my YA fantasy to literal death last year and haven't been able to pick it up since, because I got 50-odd rejections saying merpeople weren't selling. (Even though the merpeople in my book were murderous bloodsucking zombies...) And my YA urban fantasies and post-apocalyptic projects all died a tragic death before they even got past the first draft stage. Now, I have more choice... so naturally, I'm stuck between five different projects. :P 

At the moment, I'm thinking of expanding my post-apocalyptic duology into a longer series. Camp NaNoWriMo starts today but I'm buried in work at the moment, so I'm hoping to make a start on one of these projects later this month. We'll see!