The Writing Advice Not Taken

Also known as “The writing advice I wish I’d had in 2011.”

I ran into someone on a Facebook group today, asking for help. This person had a bunch of books out, and none of them were selling. I went and analyzed the writer’s work, and recognized a familiar set of problems. The writer was doing a bunch of things wrong – most of them, the same things *I* messed up, early on. Hey, these are easy mistakes to make. There’s no guidebook. (Well, there are, but the advice is often conflicting and confusing.)

After assessing the writer’s work, I wrote a reply. It was a public group, and a lot of people wrote nice replies offering counsel. I wrote a veritable essay. Not shocking for those who know me! I’m a writer – I saw someone in trouble, facing a lot of the problems I had to overcome the hard way. I wanted to help. The writer turned down my advice, which is sad, but some people have to go their own path and learn in their own way. That’s certainly how I managed it.

But a number of other writers suggested I save the essay anyway, as it had a lot of value for other people as well. Here’s the essay, for posterity. If you’re a struggling newer writer in this crazy modern era of publishing, give it a read. You might be facing none of these issues, or all of them. But if there’s even one bit in there which might help you, I’ll be happy. Not ALL of the advice below is going to be correct for EVERY writer, mind you! Read it through the lens of your own experience and situation.

I’ll pitch in a little here. This is going to sound harsh, some of it.

 

You’re making all of the classic blunders. Welcome to my world.  I did the same thing – made most of the SAME mistakes that you are making. As a result, I made virtually nothing from my writing for five straight years of publishing.

 

I have cleared four figures a month every month since last August. I did so by turning things around. By not making the same mistakes. You can too.

 

1. Classic Blunder One
You’re ALL OVER THE PLACE in genres. You have mysteries, urban fantasy, and science fiction. Stop that shit now. PICK A GENRE. ANY GENRE. Now write your next 10-12 books in that genre alone. No hopping around. Just do the work.

 

2. Classic Blunder Two
Your covers suck. With the exception of the mystery covers, which more or less meet the minimum standards for the genre, your covers range from badly targeted (the UF cover looks like a middle-grade novel) to horrible (the SF covers just need to go) to no cover at all (why do half your books have a blank white page?). Study the genre you pick, and make your cover look as close to the bestsellers in that genre AND sub-genre as possible.

 

3. Classic Blunder Three
Too many series. Stop. Write ONE series until the series is done. Make that series at least three books long. Ideally, make it 6+ books long. Again, you’re all over the place and this is killing any hope of building momentum.

 

4. Classic Blunder Four
You are overpricing your books. Drop your prices to $2.99. Yes, there is a difference between $2.99 and $3.99. You are a new writer. You want people to take a chance on you. Dropping price early on will help. Raise them later when you’re better known. Once you have the third or fourth book out in a series, drop book one to 99c as a loss leader.

 

Less Obvious and Less Classic Issues:

 

– You’re misusing Instafreebie. There are two ways to drive traffic to your IF books. You need to either run Facebook ads targeting your target market which send people to the IF book – OR – you need to join group promotions *which target your genre*. You should be getting about 500-1000 new subscribers a month just from joint promos. If you’re not doing that, join more joint promos until you are. These leads are not the best; you will need to offer them samples of your writing to hook them. But they can be hooked. Again, part of maximizing IF use and even mailing list use in general is STICKING TO ONE GENRE. If your reader signed up for police mysteries, and you send them a SF book, they’re going to unsubscribe.

 

– Your blurbs need help. Your blurbs are too short. Well written, but not enough meat there. THIS IS WHERE YOU CONVINCE THEM TO BUY. You need to sell the book with the blurb. Really key.

 

– Edit to add: You’re also not publishing fast enough. Two books a year will result in a VERY slow build even if you follow the guidelines above. Bump up your speed to four+. Write the next book. Nothing matters more than the next book. Write in one genre, in a series, and get the next book done and out to readers. THIS IS A MOMENTUM GAME. You’re either BUILDING momentum, or you are losing it. ALWAYS. Write in a new genre? You’re building momentum there, but not where you were building it, so you’re likely LOSING momentum there unless you’re writing a book a month.

Accord of Valor is out! Final Accord series book hits the store!

Whew! Not a lot to add about this one. Folks have been waiting on this for about a year now, and the book is finally available. This story finishes the tale of Nicholas Stein and his son Thomas as they fight for independence of Mars from the hegemony of the United Nations of Earth. But there are deeper secrets involved than either of them know, and once again the fate of humanity will rest in their hands.

Grab a copy today! : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XZPSR6B

 

And….we’re on Patreon now too!

What’s Patreon?

It’s a service designed to help people patronize artists, writers, and musicians that they like. For a small fee (the user gets to decide how much they want to spend), the patron gets certain benefits or rewards back, and the artists get a steady income from people who enjoy their work.

Why Patreon?

In my case – patrons will get first dibs on new books, BEFORE they are available in any store. Different levels will give ebooks, postcards of the cover art, or even print editions. Again, all before people buying from stores actually get to see the books. This is my way of reaching out to you directly and giving special bonuses to fans who love my stories. read more…

Pushing for Amazon Top 100 on Dark Legends!

cvjwamjwgaao-drHi! Big news: I’ve got a book in a big boxed set of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels. With authors from the USA Today and NYT bestseller lists, this ebook “boxed set” is a the collected work of talented writers from around the world. It’s an honor to have been included.

The set is full of some incredible books. I can’t wait to read them all myself – and yes, I have already pre-ordered a copy so I can start reading the other books as soon as it’s out! read more…

21-Day Novel Challenge: Epilogue

Accord of Mars
It’s been a fun journey. I’m on Day 22 now, looking back. It’s been a challenging trip.

The goal: in 21 days, write, edit, and upload a novel.

Mission accomplished. The final book was uploaded to Amazon at about 10:30PM on the 21st day. A lot of other people were inspired to work hard over this 21-day period – HUGE kudos to Chris Fox for getting us all so motivated! A few other people completed first drafts in the challenge days. One other person – Chris, the originator of the challenge – finished his edits too. His book is off at proofreading and will be uploaded soon. We both hit every milestone right on track the whole way.

The editing process was especially odd for this book. I added 5000 words (bringing it up to 60k), which is a VERY big increase for my work – my final drafts are usually much closer to my first. I also changed up the order of the final three chapters, which resulted in heavy re-drafts of all three. It was a good learning experience, and I think the final book is much stronger than the draft form was. I’m still at the point where I am a better writer by the end of each new book than I was when I started it. Learning as I go is a wonderful part of this job – I hope it never stops!

I had to push myself harder and more consistently than I have ever had to before, just to get the work done. I still work full time at a NON-writing job. I have one day a week that is totally dedicated to time with my three small children. Oh, and I moved on Day 20 – so I was packing for a move at the same time all the rest of this was going on.

Working my way through this challenge tested every theory I’d written about in the “Coffee Break Novelist” book – and made me come up with some new ones, too. Maybe it’s time for another book on “writing in the time you have”…! I certainly have more to say at this point.

Do not EVER let yourself believe that you are too busy to write. If writing is what you want to be doing, make the work your priority. MAKE it happen.

Too often life is something that happens TO us. We drift through, going to work, coming home, idling away the few hours we have left until its time to go to sleep. Then we wake up and do it all over again. Unconsciously, most of us simply go with the flow, living our lives the way others tell us we should, rather than looking at what it is we actually want to be doing.

Those big dreams are for bucket lists, not for reality. We don’t have time. We have obligations. We have things we need to get done. And we’re so tired after doing all the things that we are supposed to do – where can we find the energy to write?

This is my standard advice for anyone who is wondering what they should do with their life: “Do what makes your heart sing.”

That thing you get excited about every time you get a chance to do it? That thing that you can’t wait to go do? That thing that brings you intense personal satisfaction after you’ve accomplished some milestone? That. Go do that thing.

Most human beings will never get the chance to do that ‘whatever it is’. Most of us simply live in the channels that life has carved for us, not even realizing it’s a rut, not a path. Make a difference for yourself. Go do the thing.

This book is done. I’ve already begun outlining Book 3, which will launch in April. Because that is what a writer does, the day after finishing a book: we start the next book.

Accord of Honor is on sale right now, at a special price of 99¢ (it’s usually $3.99 and will revert to that price soon).

Accord of Mars is already selling on Amazon. It’s in Select for now – I’m trying that out with some of my books.

Accord of Victory will release in late April 2016.

I’m also working on a special prequel short story… It’s about 1/3 of the way done. It tells the story of the incident where Nicholas Stein ended a world war with one fatal action – and in doing so set the stage for the Lunar Accords, and everything that followed from them in these books. I’ve told this story before (badly) years ago, but this is a complete rewrite with a lot more detail, done in the same first person style as the Accord books. That short will ONLY be available to people who sign up for the Accord series newsletter; it will not be available for sale in any store, but will be free to my readers. I’ll be posting about it here (and elsewhere) when it is finished.

21-Day Novel Challenge: Day 19 Update

Cover Art

Cover Art

Been a busy couple of days at the day job. Thursday, as seems to be the norm, was a “no writing” day. Didn’t get any time during the 17 hour shift to get any edits in. Friday was mostly a packing day, but I did manage to get a few more chapters done.

So at this point, I am about eight chapters from finishing the edits. I’ll be doing those Saturday after the move, and then doing a final proofing pass either Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

Then I have one more tweak for the cover. The book title is a bit smaller on this cover than on the cover for book one. I’d like to have very clear branding between the two covers – so that they are clearly the same series. To that end I plan to tweak the cover art just a little bit.

In other news, the first book – Accord of Honor – is 99 cents on all retailers right now, and picking up some nice sales. If you’ve been following along on the mailing list for this challenge, then you already got the rough draft sent to you. If you’re interested in reading book one, then now’s a GREAT time to grab it while it’s on sale.

You can find it here: myBook.to/accord1            

I remain on target to launch Accord of War on Day 21 – Sunday the 13th! See you there.

21-Day Challenge: Days 15+16

Cover Art

Cover Art

The book didn’t end up getting finished Monday night. Monday is kid day – and it seems Minecraft (the computer game) has a new patch, one which makes the monsters hit harder and the whole game much more tough. So my three kids and I spent most of the day beating up monsters and building virtual tree-houses together.

Key moment: lightning strikes something, and creates a new monster none of us have seen before – a skeleton horse! One of my kids goes to investigate, but approaching the horse spawns a bunch of skeletons. She dies. We go try to recover her stuff. Lightning strikes the horse a bunch more times, making more skeleton horses… All of which spawn more skeletons as we approach. An epic battle ensues.

Pullquote, in the most deadpan voice a nine year old can attain: “The skeleton horse apocalypse has begun.”

Anyway, after kid time was done Liz and I went to the new apartment to get things set up a little there. We had new curtains we wanted to test, and were doing some light cleaning, setting up cleaning supplies, etc. Move in is on Saturday, after all! I got a very little bit of writing done afterwards, but not enough to count. I called it quits, exhausted, to finish in the morning.

Today – Day 16 – I finished the last 1700 words of the book and wrapped it up. Those of you who’ve been following on the mailing list, your copies of the first draft edition are on their way to you tonight! Enjoy. 🙂

The finish ended up being 54,821 words. About the 55k I thought I was going to end up with. Now the question is, how long will it be after I am done with the edits and cleanup? Am I going to make the 60k I was shooting for? I’ve started a first run through the manuscript, and have added another 300 words today. Not a great start for editing 5 out of 43 chapters, but there’s still a lot of story to go through. We’ll have to see how it goes.

21-Day Challenge: Day 14

Cover Art

Cover Art

OK! I’m two weeks in. And had a great writing day today, despite work: 4446 words, bringing the total count to 53,133. I expect to finish the book tomorrow, which is WAY ahead of schedule. In the plan I wrote out, the first draft was to be completed by the end of Wednesday. I’m not finishing because I’m writing faster than expected, but rather because I have two chapters left to go, and expect the book to wrap up at about 56-57k words, instead of the 70k I’d initially planned. I’m OK with that… Remember my mentioning a while back that I was trying to outline with the Story Grid method? Or a somewhat scaled down version of it, anyway? I suspect that my inexperience with that method has left the story a little leaner and therefore shorter than I’d expected.

Before I go any further, I’d like to pass along this invitation:

When the work is completed, I will be emailing out a link to the folks who’ve been following along on my email list. If your address is in there, you’ll get a copy of the rough work, just finished, with no polish or edits. For you folks who’ve been following, this will give you something to look at and compare against for changes.

If you’re interested in taking a peek, it’s not too late! Click the link below:

Sign Up For the First Draft!

Or you can just wait until it’s out on Amazon, one week from today.

Editing and Revision

I’ve written before about how I look at the editing and revision process. The TL;DR version: I don’t generally revise. I either self-edit (used to do that professionally; not recommended unless you’re quite good at it), or hire out the work to an editor. On longer works, I tend to do the latter. Mostly because I hate editing. I like writing the thing – correcting typos is not on a list of my favorite things.

In general, my finished published copies are about 98-99% identical to the first draft. I manage this by cleaning up the work as I go. If I notice myself repeating words, I’ll skip back up and fix it. If I need to add an element to a previous chapter to explain something, I’ll get to a good stopping point then go back and add it. I do these things while I write, so generally the first draft is very nearly the final one.

This run might be a bit different. In fact, if I add 3000 words to a 57,000 word story, as I think I might, then I’ll be changing at least 5% just with those additions. That’s unusual for me – which means it’s a good thing I’m going to have Tuesday and Wednesday to do some extra work on the book.

Every writer’s editing process is a bit different. Ironically, despite Chris and I expressing some of those differences earlier, it’s looking like the books we’re writing right now are going to be more similar than I’d thought! I’m using something much more similar to his process, adding in extra scenes to the final copy. But I think in this case at least the book will be stronger for it.

Sign up for the draft and you’ll be able to compare and see for yourself whether you think the changes merited inclusion or not!

21-Day Challenge: Days 11-13

Cover Art

Cover Art

Went a little silent there for a few days, sorry! As I mentioned in my last post – I was moving into my long work period in the day job. With minutes to write, it gets hard to put them into a blog instead of story words! Playing a little catch up today.

Thursday was Day 11. I arrived at work at 7am. I left work just before 1am on Friday. During that time, we had four new admissions, three of whom I had to manage all of the paperwork etc. for, solo. For those of you not working in the medical field: imagine an already busy 17 hour work day, into which is crammed an additional 3 hours of work. As a result, no words happened. I got breaks long enough to wolf down some food, but that was it. That was why I had Thursdays as a ZERO word day on the schedule, remember – because sometimes my Thursdays are like that. So I didn’t fall behind, I just met expectations.

Day 12: Friday, I brought my word count total to 46,199 – about 1,100 words. More admissions at work, so even though I was only working one shift, I didn’t have time to write anything during a break. Just words at home. And the at-home words were broken up because we’re moving next Saturday, and I still had a lot of things to line up for the move. Finalized the movers; finalized the reservation of an elevator; stuff like that.

Yes, I’m moving the day before I have the book scheduled for launch. Hey, Chris set the schedule for this program. Blame him. 😉

Speaking of Chris, HIS Day 12 finished his book at about 60k words. Which is AMAZING. He’s done such a great job with this.

Day 13: I’m 1900 words behind at this point. Not so good. But I’m also writing SHORTER than I had scheduled. Much shorter. I think this book will wrap up at about 55k, and maybe expand a little during edits. So while I am behind my planned goal coming into the day, it’s not a disaster. Knowing work was going to be tough again today, I hit the ground running before work and got in about 2500 words, putting my count to 48,687 words total. Now, to be on target I SHOULD have 51,500 by the end of Day 13. So I’ve still slipped behind the target word count, but – this is life.

Life happens, and you roll with it. Notice, the ONLY day I didn’t get words done was the one crazy busy 18 hour work day. Friday and Saturday were busy, but I still got at least some forward progress each day. And this is the thing: sometimes life will intervene, things will get crazy, and your targets will be missed. It’s still important to find a few minutes to make some forward progress, though. Even if it’s a single half hour sprint, or a couple of ten minute sprints. Get some words in.

By working every day, you continue to reinforce to your mind that This Is Important. You’re keeping the mental momentum going. I know that if I stop writing completely for a few days, picking things back up again becomes harder and harder. In fact, the more days I stop writing, the more difficult it becomes to jump back in on a story. Writing something – even if it’s just a little – is important.

Onward to catch up a bit on Day 14!

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along. Would love to hear comments, either here or in emails, too!

Sign Up Here!

21-Day Novel Challenge: Day 10

Cover Art

Cover Art

And the grand total at the end of the day: 45, 062 words! It was a long battle, but I got in 6025 words to finish another day on target.

My biggest frustration right now, really, is that the story just isn’t as long as I was planning it to be. I’m very much below the 70k target. Going to struggle toward 60k, I think. I’ve added several scenes to the end, but I’m solidly into Act Three already.

Accord of Honor was 67k words, so what happened with this one?

I think part of the reason it’s running short is because I was using a new plotting system. Remember that I mentioned I was trying out a modified form of the “Story Grid” plotting system? It calls for 15 segments. Roughly doubled, because this story has two POVs and two interwoven storylines, that’s 30 major movements or scenes in the story. And I’ve doubled up some of them, especially for Thomas’s  POV. He’s the protagonist, and he gets a lot more screen time.

But that’s left me with only forty chapters in all, since I equated those major movements to chapters in my head (more or less – as I said, I made some of them two chapters). And my chapters are only running about 1500 words or so, average. Thus 60k words instead of 70k.

Lesson learned. If I want it to be a little longer, next time I need to add a few extra movements, or break up a few more scenes into multiple chapters. Open things up a little bit more. Still, the overall experience has been good. It certainly made plotting a breeze.

It also might be a side effect of writing so darned many novellas. I’ve written several recently – all about 20k word urban fantasies. And right before that I was writing the third Blackwell novel (another urban fantasy), which ended at 48k. Typical length book, for that series.

But for my SF, I’m intentionally trying to go just a little bit longer in the word count. It appears I still have some work to do in that regard. Every book is part of the process of improving as a writer. Identifying what you want to work on next and then plowing away at it is part of the fun.

As always, you can sign up for email updates on my progress – click the link below to join and follow along. Would love to hear comments, either here or in emails, too!

Sign Up Here!
Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin McLaughlin

Storyteller

When not practicing hobbies which include sailing, constructing medieval armor, and swinging swords at his friends, Kevin McLaughlin can usually be found in his home near Boston. Kevin’s award-winning short fiction is now available in digital form at all major ebook retailers. His urban fantasies “By Darkness Revealed” and “Ashes Ascendant” are available in ebook and print. His latest effort, the STARSHIP series, is ongoing.