It's the first day of our winter writing retreat here in Port Lincoln, South Australia. I arrived at our campsite at 8 am and spent the morning all alone setting things up for the others who'll arrived later this afternoon.
The wind was, and still is, ferocious, driving sheets of rain across the water. We rarely get waves in this sheltered bay but the ocean is boiling, the sky like pewter.
To me this is heaven. Sitting in my chair by the window, a candle burning, the fire roaring, sheltered and warm as I write in my journal with the storm raging outside.
Pretty soon I'll have to start dinner, to have everything ready when my friends arrive. A week of writing and laughter is ahead of us. Life is good.
A moment's insight: The thing about writing is you can't do it for what it will give you. You can't write for money. You can't write for fame. The only true way you can write is for the love of it. Anything less is a waste of your heart.
Publishers like a sure thing and who can blame them. They’re in business to make money, not give chances to struggling authors.
When a fiction genre starts to do well, publishers are quick to jump on the band wagon, bringing out more and more books of that kind, riding the wave till the trend is exhausted.
The problem for authors NOT writing in the chosen genre is that this creates a bit of a cycle. When publishers narrow the playing field, readers don’t have the option of ‘reading around’. And if readers aren’t exposed to a genre, how will they know if they like it or not?
There are 2 ways this cycle can be broken. The most notable is when a new book suddenly breaks out big time, igniting interest in a formerly less-popular genre. Harry Potter is the classic example. Before Sorcerer’s Stone, children’s fiction was in a slump. After that? The rest is history.
But there’s a second way to raise awareness of any genre that isn’t currently the flavor of the month. Long-term steady exposure.
If you write in a genre that’s currently on the less-popular list, your chances of being picked up by a major publisher are greatly reduced. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get your books out there.
If you write great books and consistently make them available to readers by self-publishing, they WILL eventually get noticed. It might take longer than the breakout scenario but if you give your readers a fantastic ride they’ll return for more.
If you love writing in a particular genre, have faith that there are others out there who enjoy reading it. You just have to gear yourself for the long haul.
Each reader you please with your current book will come back for the next one and hopefully bring a friend or two with them. If those friends like what they read, they’ll check out what else you’ve written and buy your first book. Repeat this over several books and your fan base grows.
So as far as writing to the market goes, I prefer to follow Jim Carey’s advice: ‘Give them you until you is what they want.’
I'm happy to announce that I'm currently running a pre-release giveaway of my latest domestic thriller, HIT AND RUN.
The giveaway will run until March 20 and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. (Aussie giveaway coming soon!)
For your chance to win one of 20 copies, click on the link below.
I’m a domestic thriller author. I love writing about ordinary people thrust into danger who discover within themselves the courage to be heroes.
The type of characters I most like to write about aren’t the FBI agents, or criminal profilers, or forensic experts. Not the protagonist with all the training, but the Sarah Connors, the Paul Sheldons, the Mark Sways, the Newts and the Suzys (the blind heroine in Wait Until Dark.) Young people. Vulnerable people. People with no professional training that still somehow manage to outsmart the villain.
I like writing about damaged characters but not the kind so twisted with bitterness they lash out at anyone who looks at them sideways. I find far more to admire in the person who, despite all they themselves have been through, can still step up and help someone else in need.
While there’s always the element of danger in my stories, when it comes to graphic violence I’m a firm believer that less is more. I believe that, like a good striptease, far more tension can be rung from a scene by purposely leaving some things to the imagination.
By far the best example of this I’ve ever seen is in the Hitchcock movie, Lifeboat. After their ship is sunk by a torpedo, ten people take refuge in a lifeboat, one of whom is badly injured. As the story progresses so does the infection in his leg, to the point where it must be amputated – no doctors, no instruments, no anaesthetics.
In the hands of a less skillful writer a scene like that would be unbearable – at least to me. But Hitchcock handles it perfectly in my mind. First there’s an agonizing built up to the moment. Everyone knows what’s about to happen and all gather round to watch the poor victim drink a flask of brandy, each in their own way offering comfort.
When the moment comes, we see only the backs of the other characters as they close in tighter around the patient. Until one of them turns and drops the man’s boot aside.
The sound of that boot hitting the deck punctuates the horror of the scene in a way no amount of violence or gore could ever match. Hitchcock truly is my idol in this regard and I always strive to emulate him when handling violence in my stories.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of my current novel, No Good Deed - a contemporary thriller set in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.
Today I began the revision process. I worked for a total of four-and-a-half hours and loved every minute!
It’s funny how some writers love revision and others hate it.
Some authors live for the exhilaration of putting their first draft down on the page. For them it's an act of total freedom. But once that initial draft is finished, they look upon the polishing yet to be done with a sense reluctance and despair.
I’m the opposite. I love editing. To me it feels like the hard work is done and now I get to play with what I created. But it isn't just the tinkering I love, it's the magic that takes place during the phase.
When I write a first draft, I try to write as fast as I can and not edit as I go. I think of each sentence as simply a place holder for what will eventually be there in the end. Even if it’s a total cliché, it doesn’t matter – I just have to get the basic meaning and sentiment down.
As I go through my draft a second time, I begin refining these basic sentences to contain more of my own author voice. Now that I know my characters better I also start giving them more individual ways of speaking.
It amazes me to see how a page of generic dialogue can come alive when I change each line to reflect that character’s unique personality.
For example, in my first draft I had a character say, 'Hurry, we open in fifteen minutes.' A pretty generic line of dialogue, basically anyone could've said that. But today as I went back over that scene, I changed the line to, 'Better get cracking. Only fifteen minutes to show time.' Not a huge difference perhaps but more in keeping with my character's personality. And if you make lots of little changes like that it does add up.
What also amazes me is this: Occasionally I'll write a conversation designed to get across certain information to the reader. That dialogue might not be terribly interesting on its own.
But…and here’s the part I love…When you add what the characters are thinking and feeling, everything changes. Suddenly that scene of boring conversation is infused with fascinating subtext.
A character might say one thing and think something completely different, revealing themselves to be dishonest, conflicted, afraid or unwilling to hurt another's feelings.
Or a character might voice a certain sentiment while their actions declare they're feeling something quite different. I love when that happens!
So, yes, I really enjoy the revision stage. To me it’s as though I can finally say, 'the Christmas tree is up. Now I get to decorate it!'
I took a break from writing over Christmas. During my week off, on a whim, I picked up the proof copy of my soon-to-be-released thriller, Hit and Run, (coming in April.)
While reading it through I recalled the headaches I had in writing it – plotting problems that had me wondering if the story would work: How to reveal information in an interesting way that didn’t slow the pace. Logistics of the timeline, the order of scenes, who’s point of view to be in, etc.
I remembered that at the time I was writing it, the story became such a mess in my mind I couldn’t see how I would ever smooth out the knots. Even when I read through my finished first draft, I couldn’t tell if the story worked because I still had all those discarded options in my head.
But reading the finished product through after a long break (with all those headaches just a distant a memory) I got to experience the story as a reader. And was reminded of something I’d already learned but keep forgetting: In the midst of revising - chopping and pasting, moving things around, discarding scenes, adding others - NO author can experience their story as the reader ultimately will.
This was a timely reminded for me because I’m currently at that exact some place with my current work-in-progress, No Good Deed. I’ve entered the treacherous third quarter where all kinds of plot and timeline issues start to arise. And once again I find myself wondering: Will this ever work? Will this be a story readers can enjoy?
The thing I need to keep telling myself is, it’s happened before. In fact it’s happened with every book I’ve written and I’ve always managed to work my way through it. So my first note-to-self of the new year is: just suck it up and get back to work!
I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life. In the last few years the battle has enlarged to include depression and insomnia. Only recently have I discovered that all three are part of a repeating negative cycle:
Lack of sleep contributes greatly to my depression. > When I’m depressed I don't have the energy to do the things I need to do. > This in turn leads to anxiety, a sense that I’m falling behind. > And that anxiety keeps me awake at night.
That is my repeating cycle. And I’ve found the best way to interrupt it is by targeting what’s causing my anxiety.
For me it’s all about convincing myself that the small steps I take toward my goals each day really do matter.
Because I can’t see a huge immediate result from doing them, it’s easy to think, ‘So what, if I skip my writing today?’ ‘So what, if I don’t go for my walk?’ ‘So what if I have that extra piece of cake?’ What can it hurt, it’s just one day.
But over time those little daily decisions matter. In fact, over time they’re what matter the most!
Creative people tend to be driven and highly-motivated. But that can work against you if you can’t shut it off. If you never give yourself credit for small accomplishments, you live in a constant state of guilt.
By recognizing that those small steps matter, I have eased my anxiety. Now when I go to bed at night, instead of stressing over all that still needs to be done, I can relax in the knowledge that I’m moving forward. I’m on track. Everyday, with each small step I am getting closer to my goals.
That freedom from anxiety allows me to sleep better, which eases my depression, which gives me more energy to make even more small steps and the spiral starts on an upward trend.
What tricks have you found to ease depression/anxiety?
Setting measurable daily goals is an effective practice for attaining success in any endeavour. Many writers set themselves a specific word or page count to write each day and this helps them maintain momentum.
But that approach doesn't work for everyone.
While I've long been a fan of setting goals, in writing my novels I've never done well with a target daily word or page count. I only find that helpful when I'm actually laying down a first draft. But that's only a few months out of the total creation time for a book.
The rest of the time I'm either plotting, outlining, revising or editing. And as necessary as these stages are, I don't produce a lot of new pages or words each day, so targets in these areas are totally pointless.
Setting a goal and consistently failing to meet it is, for me, more discouraging than not setting a goal at all. I much prefer to set myself a certain number of hours of writing each day.
This is another of the many things I've carried over from music. In the years I attended music college I practiced a minimum of 4 hours a day, usually longer. But that daily minimum was written in blood. If for some reason I couldn't do it I felt extremely anxious and unsettled.
Not every practice day felt productive. Some days I'd see a small improvement in my playing, on others I'd struggle to match what I'd done the day before.
It didn't matter. So long as I put in my hours I knew I'd eventually reach my goal. And I was right. For despite those days my practice seemed totally ineffective, a time always came when my playing made a sudden significant leap to a higher level.
So this is the method I use in my writing - I simply put in my hours each day, in whatever form it happens to be. A goal I can consistently attain no matter what phase my project is at.
I’ve recently returned from another writing retreat (our last for the year) where I discovered a new exercise that’s helped me enormously in writing the first draft of my current thriller, No Good Deed.
I’m still at the stage of outlining my plot and, as always, am looking for ways to get more drama into my scenes.
Usually when I begin a new story I start by getting to know my characters. I freewrite on their backgrounds, explore their early formative experiences, determine their goals, their strengths and weakness, internal conflict, etc.
This time I added an extra step. I already had a pretty good idea who my characters are as individuals so I started putting them together in pairs.
I remembered that when writing Run To Me, the thing that kept pulling me back to the story was the emotional dynamic between my heroine and the boy protagonist. Before either of them did a thing or said a word in the story, a potential dynamic existed between them – they weren’t just any woman and boy, but a mother who had lost her son and a boy with no family.
The characters on their own were interesting and had traits and backstory that were compelling. But it wasn’t until I put them together that the real chemistry started to happen. A perfect example of a result being greater than the sum of its parts.
So that’s what I tried with my current work in progress. Instead of just focussing on my individual characters, I asked myself, what is the dynamic between each pair?
I started with my heroine and explored her relationship with the villain – how she reacts when she first meets him and how those feelings change over the course of the story.
Then I did the same thing with the heroine and the hero, the heroine and her father, her missing sister, her best friend, etc.
Exploring the dynamic between my characters has given me heaps of ideas for scenes and dialogue. Ways to get naturally-existing emotion onto the page. And pairing two secondary characters together has given me a few surprises as well.
For me the relationship between characters is far more interesting than any one character on his/her own.
In Jaws, one of my favorite movies, the three main characters – Brodi, Hooper, and Quint – are all interesting on their own. But it wasn’t until they were forced together on a small boat, in close quarters, that they became my favorite trio of characters.
When I decided to go the Indie route, my first step was to do months of research. Using the information I gathered (and being an avid list-maker!) I wrote out a publishing timeline for myself – all the steps I would need to take, in order, to reach my goal of producing my first self-published book.
Now - only halfway through my journey - I’ve already revised my list a dozen times. And that’s okay - I’m working to get it right for next time. I’m sure there are more revisions to come, but just so you know I haven’t been goofing off this last month, I’ve decided to post my current timeline.
For anyone thinking of self-publishing a novel, feel free to copy it. Yours will almost certainly be different but it’s a starting point you can refine how you like.
For anyone who’s already been down the self-publishing path, I invite your comments on anything you think I could’ve done differently or that I left out. And for any interested readers, this will give you some idea of what authors go through to produce a novel without the support of a traditional publisher.
Once I reach the end of this process and have finished revising, I'll post a free download of my complete timeline with explanations of what each step is and why I made the choices I did. Until then, here’s how things stand at the moment:
Phase 1: Editing/Feedback (2-3 months)
_____ finish final draft of manuscript
_____ submit manuscript to editor
_____ give manuscript to beta readers
Phase 2: Product Preparation (to do while ms is with editor and beta readers)
_____ decide book title and subtitle
_____ select/design front cover image
_____ write shout line (or use editorial review quote)
_____ write back cover copy
_____ select back cover background (design back cover using InDesign)
_____ write book description for Amazon website (approx 500 words)
_____ set 5 book key words
_____ decide book category
_____ decide print and ebook prices
_____ choose my publisher name
_____ purchase ISBNs from Bowkers/MyIndentifiers
_____ create CreateSpace and KDP accounts
_____ create Createspace project file and enter all preliminaries (above items)
_____ write author bio for book interior and Author Central
_____ write acknowledgements
_____ create end-of-book sample of my next book (and its release date)
_____ create a page with cover and blurb for each previous book
_____ add new book to Goodreads website (cover and blurb but no ISBN)
_____ do a cover reveal via General Updates and/or GR blog
_____ schedule a Giveaway of my previous book
_____ announce giveaway on Status Updates and GR blog
_____ add giveaway widget to Welcome page of my website
_____ shelve books, join groups, engage with readers
_____ upload free ‘sneak preview’ excerpt from new book
_____ announce ‘sneak preview’ on GR blog/general updates
_____ announce upcoming release on Facebook (cover reveal)
_____ get new author photo taken
_____ prepare list of blog reviewers to send ARCs to
_____ create and start using new email signature (new book cover and release date)
_____ announce on Facebook ‘sneak preview’ available on GR
_____ editor returns edits
Phase 3: ARC Preparation (3 wks)
_____ revise manuscript as per editor and beta reader feedback (2 wks)
_____ format book interior (CreateSpace, Wordpress, Bookdesign, Vellum)
_____ upload completed interior template to CreateSpace by: _____________
_____ once you have book dimensions, design backcover and spine
_____ upload complete book file to CreateSpace (allow 24-48 hrs for approval)
_____ once approved, order proof copy
_____ in the meantime, proof read book via CS on-line proofing; make corrections
_____ once interior has been proof read, submit e-ARCs to reviewers (see list below)
_____ once proof copy arrives, check cover and make final changes on CS
_____ once approved, order copies for launch and Goodreads pre-release giveaway
_____ create e-book through Kindle Direct
_____ create pre-order link on Amazon
_____ ARCs complete and ready to submit for review by: ________
add 3 months to above date to get release date: ___________
Phase 4: Reviews/Pre-release Promotion (10-12 wks)
send e-ARCs for author endorsements
_____ submit ARC to Publishers Weekly
_____ submit ARC to Best Thrillers
_____ run a giveaway on Library Thing
_____ submit to Goddess Fish blog tour
send e-ARC to pre-selected blogger/reviewers:
_____ commence Goodreads Giveaway of ___ ARCs
_____ initiate Goodreads paid advertizing campaign for giveaway
_____ update author profile on Goodreads (new author photo and bio)
_____ update Welcome page with new release cover and blurb
_____ install new Goodreads Giveaway Widget
_____ create free-sample link to Amazon
_____ create pre-order link
_____ blog about new release (the story behind the story, interesting notes about the setting, things I learned researching the book, food recipes from the area, etc)
_____ announce Goodreads Giveaway of new release
_____ add Goodreads review widget
_____ post good editorial reviews
_____ announce launch date
_____ update Amazon Author Central page
_____ winners of Goodreads Giveaway selected on ____ – send out prizes
_____ commence 2nd Goodreads Giveaway
_____ organize author talks, signings, book tour (libraries, book clubs)
_____ order book marks
_____ organize launch
_____ contact local paper to announce book launch
_____ post good reviews on website as they come in
_____ add editorial reviews to Amazon book listing via Author Central dashboard
_____ add editorial reviews to Goodreads book listing
_____ winners of Goodreads 2nd Giveaway announced – send out ARCs
_____ write launch speech
_____ write author talk speechPhase 5: Release Promotion
_____ (change shout line on book cover to a quote from editorial review)
_____ release book for sale on Amazon
_____ announce Goodreads Launch Giveaway of ___ signed copies (week of launch)
_____ local book launch ______________________
_____ winners of Goodreads Launch Giveaways chosen – send out prizes
_____ answer ‘ask the author’ questions on Goodreads
_____ submit new-release title to writers groups I belong to
_____ announce/post schedule of book tour on website and Facebook
_____ continue to add good reviews to website pagePhase 6: Post-release
_____ enter book in any awards
_____ announce any nominations/wins on Facebook, website, Goodreads, Amazon
Other Branding/Platform Building Options
plan a workshop to present
write an article for a writers group newsletter
write guest blog for friends, contacts, writers groups I belong to
post a Utube video interview on my website, FB and Goodreads