Planning: It’s Essential

I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t plan all my work equally.

For one thing, flash fiction and 500-chapter fan fictions just don’t require the same amount of planning. They can’t. It would be absurd to use the same method for both.

Short stories often involve little to no planning. Seeing as short stories can range from a couple hundred words to twenty manuscript pages, there’s not really a set method for writing a good one, anyway. Mine tend to be on the shorter side, from 1k to 4k words, and often between 1,000 and 1,500. Some would say that nearly all my short stories classify as flash fiction, and maybe they do, but those boundaries are so fuzzy that every time you look at a new place to send a piece you’re looking at different qualifications. I don’t think too much about writing short fiction. It just happens, and I think about it when I’m going over it later, picking it apart, putting it back together, applying Natalie’s wonderful edits.

Novella’s typically have a small cast of characters, so I don’t bother too much with character outlines of any kind. I do a basic, this is how they’re related to the others, paragraph and then get straight to outlining the story. A twenty-or-so chapter outline with very basic guidelines suffices for this, since my chapters are about half the length of my typical novel chapters. Then I write. They’re short work, so again, too much fore-planning spoils the whole thing.

Novels are much more work, and series even more than that. The amount of characters to keep track of can be exhausting, confusing, and time-consuming, not to mention if you’re world-building, locations, jargon, etc. I keep very specific character notes, and a minimal of general notes on everything else. I do extensive outlines. I often times add even more. For example, I’m doing research on military procedure for my novel To the Death. Even after the initial excitement wears off and the fun comes in and out, I just have to think about how much better my work will be for all the research and it keeps me plugging on.

Fan fiction is very similar. When I do oneshots, I usually have a vague idea of what I’m going to say before I sit down and write, if only the pairing, a situation, or an era. Two of three is ideal. I have to have some idea of what I’m going to say, because even if I don’t have any of these three things, I at least know I’m writing fan fiction, and the fandom, and that’s direction in and of itself.

For longer stories, I always list characters. I always write the summary in advance, decide the pairings (sometimes I change them later), and do a full outline. The few times I haven’t, I get easily confused. I’ve got hundreds of stories either finished, in progress, or in planning. I have to keep good notes. When I finish the outline, I start writing.

This gets, of course, complicated by my series works. Two or three stories, not so much, but my six-gen, for example, or my massive series of Hunger Games stories, require intensive planning and extensive notes. Each has a binder dedicated to character profiles, extensive outlines, notes, and even scenes already written. It’s the sort of thing where you need to know where you’re going when you start, or you’ll get lost along the way and forget the beginning by the time you reach the end. Even with my increasing piles of notes it can be difficult to keep track, so I reread my posted chapters regularly to keep my mind fresh on what I’ve done and said.

It’s important to keep ample notes, make outlines where appropriate, and never underestimate the value of meticulous planning. I’ve done it in the past, and I always end up regretting it.

Go forth and plan!

Cheers,

C

I’m SO Sorry!

First of all, let me say that I apologize for my blogging absence, but I’M BACK! I’m on summer break, so here’s an update on what I’m up to so you can get caught up on my pathetic life.

I’m going to be working on my senior thesis starting… right about now, actually. If I’ve not mentioned it before, I’ll be looking at religion in Anna Karenina, specifically Levin’s religious and spiritual development. I’ve got a few sources, beyond the book itself, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

“Soon” was published in the Scripps College Journal and “Hunting Plums” has been sent off to a magazine for consideration. Editing is in full swing, and my next novel, Children of Conflict, is in process.

As far as Fan Fiction, I’ve got about a million things going on, but here’s my priorities: editing “And They Lived Happily” and “Kiss & Tell”, Finishing “All I Wanted Was You” and “The 74th Hunger Games”, Completing the character profiles for my Amy/Sirius series that I SHALL NOT LEAK info about, and Finish the outline I’ve started for my Love Actually sequel piece that I have no working title for.

As far as my novels and novellas are considered, novellas are on hold for the moment in favor of short stories, which are blossoming in my brain at a rate they never have before and will be much more efficient to work through and attempt to publish, which is an important consideration with graduate school looming on the horizon. Novels are in progress, as mentioned about Children of Conflict. To the Death is in edits, and even some sections of extensive re-writes. I need certain scenes to be more fleshed out, says Natalie, and she’s right. So I’ve contacted a few of my military-associated friends who know much more about preparing for combat than I do and they’ve agreed to answer my questions as they arise in sifting through this massive amount of material they’ve already given me for consideration.

Be prepared for me to start spouting acronyms instead of actual words. My brain’s already spinning.

I’ll also try to keep you updated on my search for graduate schools, my GREs, etc. Even my packing for the UK. People discount too often all of the little, important things involved in being and becoming a writer, like the day-to-day, the fact that I’m drinking three cups of tea a day and having to actually remind myself to shower before sitting down in front of my notes and getting lost in writing. Every little bit matters.

I PROMISE to be better. Thank you for putting up with me thus far, and hopefully we’ll have many lovely adventures together, including my being in Brighton when the Royal Baby is born! 😀

Cheers,

C

Book Marketting 101: by Natalie Cannon

A Note from Charlotte:

Hi, guys! I’ll be posting one of my posts in the next couple of days, but to tide you over, here’s another lovely post from my fantastic editor, Natalie Cannon! Enjoy!

-C

Hello again everyone! This is the second installment in our series on publishing today, as gathered from The Ventura County Writer’s Weekend. You can read the previous one on this blog. The following, however, is a summary of my notes from the first panel of the conference.

Book Marketing 101

Whether you want to be traditionally published by Scholastic or the next self-published superstar on Amazon, you need to be follow the cardinal rule of publishing: Promote Yourself. People can’t buy a book they don’t know about.

More and more traditional publishers are looking for authors who already have a presence, whether on the web or elsewhere. Self-publishing authors have to do more or less all their own promotion, depending on if they’re attached to a digital publishing company or not.

So how do you do it?

First, think of yourself as the CEO of your book. You’re in charge of its fate, whether its going to sink or swim. Look at your manuscript. Isn’t it beautiful? Can you tell me where it would go in a bookstore? Children’s? Adult fiction? Memoir? Poetry? Fiction? Second, is it a particular genre? Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult, Historical Fiction etc. If you don’t have a manuscript yet, think of the book you have in mind, or that you plan to write.

Excellent. The panelists suggested you now do two-fold research. This is in addition to the research you have to do with social media, but it too pays off. First, what’s going on in the publishing industry today? Charlotte has come to the conclusion that self-publishing is the true wave of the future, and traditional publishing is a slowly sinking ship. I’m slowly starting to agree with her, but we both want to traditionally publish something at least once. Great ways to find out publishing world happenings are writing group meetings/conferences and the internet (the archive of news blog posts on Publisher’s Weekly is good). The next post will also be addressing Today’s Publishing World, so please stick around for that.

The second thing to research is what’s going on in your genre and who are the top authors. What are they doing that’s so successful? You should probably read some of them, just to see for yourself why readers find it so captivating. You certainly don’t want to copy their work, but if you notice a general trend of elaborate plots and a lack of internal conflict for characters, it’s something to note (Dan Brown’s conspiracy fiction is often like this, for example). For this, you can also attend conferences, use the internet, and simply talk to other writers. On a more personal level, what about the genre resonates with you?

After research, you need to establish a platform, also known as a “brand,” and a marketing plan for that platform. I spoke about this briefly in my last blog post, and be assured that I’ll not repeat myself too much. Your marketing plan is what it says on the tin: your plan to market your book. The following marketing plan tips are not social media focused, but rather center around more face-to-face, author-to-individual interactions.

  • Start Early. One panelist said to start the minute you decide to write. Another said at minimum start promotion six months before you know the book will be publically available. The general principle behind this advice is that the larger your following, the more people you can instantly reach that might be interested in your work. You have to build this network, however, and that takes time.
  • Only do it if it fits you and your book. For example, a romance writer wouldn’t necessarily need to go to a nonfiction sports writing conference. This might seem obvious, but it’s still a good thing to keep in mind.
  • Personality/Personal Contacts Sell The Most Books. If you’re a memorable person, then people are more likely to remember to buy your book. Though sometimes social relations are difficult after spending a week in your writing cave, please try. Families, friends, and even work colleagues may be interested in your writing career, and they may tell their friends about you. These personal contacts can also be wonderfully (and surprisingly) helpful for getting you an agent, retrieving your manuscript from a publisher’s slush pile, or helping you revise your manuscript. They are also potential buyers. Celebrities often don’t have trouble with book sales because many people already know them from television, movies, politics, or what have you.
  • Go where your target audience is. Who are your primary readers? Just like with social media, you’ll want to use promotional outlets that your audience will see. Keep this in mind for the following tips.
  • Become an Expert. This is more for non-fictionish writers, but it’s good to establish yourself as an expert on the topic you’re writing on. Is your target audience academics? Write in academic journals. Newspaper articles, group newsletter articles, a Dear Abby column if your book is about relationships, being interviewed on radio shows: all these things make you look smart and demonstrate your knowledge on a topic.
  • Public Appearances. Though some find sometimes anxious-making, these are highly effective for selling books. Again, make sure to go where your target audience is. Libraries and bookstores usually love to have visiting authors. You can also format them as you like: some authors prefer reading some of their work out loud and then taking questions, some just read, others give a speech based on their book’s research and have the questions focus on that.
  • Organizations. Organizations like the Mystery Writers of America, the Romance Writers of America etc. are great for authors. They foster supportive communities, often provide valuable tips, host great events like the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend, and have newsletters in which you can promote your work. Remember to keep it relevant to your book/genre however.
  • Conferences/Workshops. Come dressed nicely with business cards, notebooks, pens, and a smile. Not only can you learn a lot, but agents of course lurk here. As a panelist or just as a spectator, you can promote yourself, your work, and your knowledge with greatest ease here. Make sure to check out the booths after the sessions as well. Please note that conferences do cost money. Workshops vary at their dollar amount. Writer’s Digest holds a lot of these, and, honestly, I don’t think most of them are worth the triple figures. I would really only go to a workshop if someone famous in your genre (or that you really like) is hosting it, or the information is not available on the internet (which is very, very rare). I can see a workshop’s networking potential, but $800 is a lot of money to meet writers who are more or less in the same boat you are skill-wise.
  • Cross-Promote. As I mentioned in the last blog post, you can attach yourself to another author. When they come out with something, tell people about it, and purchase the work. You can help them revise, put your blog posts on their blog (like this post right now), and generally be a vocal cheerleader. They’ll do the same for you.
  • Make a Press List. This is basically who you’re going to alert the minute your book becomes available. Mine consists mostly of friends, family, and acquaintances at the moment. If you are writing for a newspaper or being interview on talk radio, make sure they mention a publication date or at the very least the fact that you’re writing a book.

All of these things you can do before your book is out. Most of them you can continue to do afterward, but here are some specific ideas for promotion:

  • Publication Party with ~SWAG~ bags. Readers generally love new things to read, and people everywhere love free things. When your book comes out, have a party! You’ve earned it! Invite all your friends, people on your press lists, your neighbors, relatives, co-workers–basically all the living humans you know–to the party. Provide free copies of your book along with bags full of related items. While this may seem counter-intuitive, having people have your book means they might read it and talk to someone else about, who actually will buy your book.
  • Hold a Contest. This also operates on the principle that people with copies of your book will promote it for you. Whether online or through your print/personal network, hold a contest. The winner receives a copy of your book (and possibly other things).

One last thing before this ends: one panelists had four top rules for interactions between an individual and an author wishing to promote their work.

  1. Every time you meet someone, it’s an interaction. This is a rather business-like way to view the world, but it’s also true. Every literate person is a potential reader for you, and if you have an audiobook, everyone with a working set of ears.
  2. Concept of Brevity. The shorter and more concise the sound-bite, the more it’s going to carry from person to person. People have short attention spans, so keep your book pitch to the point and with a clear objective.
  3. It’s a conversation/relationship. Never make your book the entire topic of conversation. You want to build sustainable relationships with your readers, ones that keep you happily writing and them happily reading. You want them to be able to trust you. People love to talk about themselves, and have someone to share their thoughts with. They also might know someone/be able to do something/have a skill that’s useful to you.
  4. Tell the Reader what the book will do for them. Is it entertainment or an interesting spectacle to while away the hours? Will it transform them, make them think, stay with them a long time, puzzle them, make them cry, make them laugh, or all of the above? What will readers get out of it, basically. Again people generally like it when they are given something.

Aaaaaaand, that’s it! Again, this was really quite long, but I hope it’s useful. Thank you for reading!