At the end of July, I participated in a thread on Twitter called Super Series Plotting: how to plan a series and when to let the plan go. It was an interesting way to use Twitter and there were some lively conversations all day around the threads being posted.
There are a few major points about my thread I also wanted to list here:
Make a series bible from the beginning. Your bible can take any form, digital or physical, but do not wait to do this. Start it the moment you start dreaming up your series, the world it inhabits, and the people who live there. You do not want to be halfway through the first book and realize you can’t remember what you named the shopkeeper’s wife who has popped up again or what color her hair was. I also find this useful for my main characters. I sometimes write notes about them, that come in handy later, but have forgotten since I jotted them down.
Make a plan, but be flexible. Have a plot and character arc planned for each book and for the series, but don’t be upset if you have to condense or expand. Most of an author’s time is spent rewriting which means changing things.
Find what works for you. You may be able to write every day for five years on the same series. Some of you just don’t have the steam for that and need to do something in between. Figure out what makes you a better writer and try to make those conditions happen.
The longer I do this thing called life the more I realize I don’t know and need to learn. Recently, my learning has been around changing schedules.
Before kids, I had the luxury to sit for hours and read or write. Then I had a baby, and I couldn’t do anything alone and my precious time without another human clinging to me was limited to brief nap times (why did my boys never sleeeeep???). I had to relearn how to write.
Gone were the hours of writing. With small children, you have to write in small bursts because that is all they allow you. They are constantly in need of clean diapers, dry clothes, food, and snuggles. So needy!
Then, they got older and our schedules shifted again.
I would do the bedtime routine with my boys, then spend a couple hours writing before seeking my own pillow. It was beautiful. I wrote three books that way.
A year ago, I got a new job, one which requires longer hours and more use of my brain and emotions. By the end of the day, I am exhausted. I am done and my brain has nothing left to give. All I want is a spot on the couch, a beer or a wee dram of scotch, and whatever show Mr. R and I are binge watching (currently Tru Blood season 4).
Writing has been slow and I am trying to finish the second half of the next Turning Creek book. By slow, I mean it has not been happening much at all.
It has been hard to admit that my schedule has shifted yet again. I feel like I have to learn how to write all over again.
I have, of course, tried getting up early to write. I write best in the morning but I share my house with boys who possess a particular skill. We call it Momdar. It is a much more sophisticated version of radar. Unlike a radar, a momdar does not just detect, it thwarts whatever plans the mom has planned. No matter how early or how quiet I am when I get up, my boys know and leave their beds to join me and interrupt whatever I am doing.
Momdar has prevented me from writing in the mornings whenever I sneak into the study.
At the suggestion of Mr. Rochester, I have tried a different approach.
I leave a bean bag chair, my laptop, and my series bible in the master bathroom when I go to bed. Instead of creeping through the house to the study when my alarm goes off, I creep into my bathroom, plop down in my bean bag chair, put in my headphones, and write until 6:30.
It has worked brilliantly.
I have met people who tell me they would love to write a book, learn a new skill, or start the dream that has burning a hole in their pocket… if they only had the time.
I am here to tell you the time is now. The trick is finding the routine that works in your life right now and realizing that in 6 months, a year, or two years, your time and schedule may demand that you do things differently.
One of the things I love about the writing community, and the indie author community in particular, is its transparency. Gone are the days when discussions about contracts and money were things you just did not do. I applaud authors who are forthright with what contracts say and how much they make. This transparency helps us all learn and be realistic about our prospects.
I have had books on sale for over a year and I completed my first tax return in which I had sales to report. Since today is officially tax day, I thought it would be beneficial to share what taxes look like, honestly, for newbie indie author.
This was not an easy post to write. I will admit that being this transparent is nerve-wracking, but I believe it is important.
Disclaimer: I did not become an author to make gobs of money. I became an author because I have stories to tell and I love writing. Yes, I want people to read my books and like them, but even if I never published another book, I would keep writing. It is part of who I am.
Another Disclaimer: I am in this writing books thing for the long haul. I have done my industry research and I know I will need more books in my backlist before I start making any meaningful money. I define “meaningful money” as my books pay for themselves and that book reading habit I have.
Here are the numbers:
First, I tracked how much production cost for each book I have produced. This only includes my outside costs. It does not include my own labor cost for things like formatting.
Content Edits include developmental edits and line edits.
Copy Edits are the last round of edits and include copy editing only.
Covers also includes all the Twitter and Facebook banners and other graphics for each book.
These numbers do not include an entire hosts of other expenses which includes, but is not limited to the costs of: ISBNs (I used to be a librarian. I think these are expensive but important.), proof copies of the paperbacks, software I use to compile the ebooks, traveling to a writers conference, traveling for research, copies of the print books I order to do giveaways, other giveaway items, envelopes for mailing, postage, marketing, writing classes, books on writing, domain costs, web server costs, professional organization dues, or the sheer amount of caffeine I consume in the form of tea and coffee per year.
If you total up the production costs (not including anything from the paragraph above) of putting out three books, the total is a whopping $3,965, averaging $1,321.67 per book.
There are cheaper ways to make books. You can forgo hiring a professional editor. You can hire a cheaper editor. You can buy stock covers or make your own. You can rely on readers or beta readers to do your copy editing.
You can. You can do all those things, but I do not. I want to put out the best possible book I can write. That means, I contract out the best people I can find and pay them decent money for the very hard work they do for my books. Some authors pay more than I do. Some pay less. The best thing about being an indie is I choose, and this is the path I have chosen. Your path may differ and that is okay.
Now for the hard truth. My tax returns included sales for the first two books which combined cost me $2,630.50 to produce. The third book, Letters in the Snow, did not go on sale until early in 2016. I included it here for comparison purposes.
With two books on sale, I made a whopping $448 last year.*
I did not forget any digits. That is $448 before taxes.
This is the hard truth of self-publishing, but I have friends who have gone the traditional route and their finances do not look that much better than mine.
What it means:
I am not going to lie. The numbers are disheartening, but I know they can get better. They will, eventually.
I still have a ton of work to do. I have mountains of words to write. If I want to make more money, I have to write more books. Good books, maybe even great ones. Books people want to keep reading at any rate. The ones out already get fabulous reviews, so I know I have the start of an audience and that is an amazing thing all by itself.
If you are new to publishing or thinking of jumping in, it is absolutely worth it. I did not write this post to scare you. I did it so you do not work under the belief that writing, packaging, and marketing books is an easy wave your wand thing to do. Mrs. Weasley is not going to do all that work for you, my dear. It is work, rewarding, but work.
For most of us, it also takes time. This is not my full-time job. It is another job I do, in addition to many other things that require my attention. I wish I did hide in a little hut all day and write, but that is not reality. I am learning to be content with the time I am have and be wise in my use of it.
My best advice? Do your homework and make an informed choice. Even more than that, find a circle of cheerleaders who will jump down the rabbit hole with you.
The even better advice? Keep writing, my friends.
*Updated: That is gross, not net. I lost money in the long run.
If you talk to me long enough, you will probably know a few things about me. I am a Christian, I read a lot, and I am a geek girl to my core. My dad raised me to love Star Trek and scifi and it was the one lesson I never argued about.
I loved Joss Whedon before he directed The Avengers and non-geek people took notice of him. My movie collection contains Buffy, Angel, multiple copies of Firefly and Serenity, and a fan film (not made by me). I have books that discuss his world creation and the fandoms that have resulted from the work of this geek god.
I tell you this so you will understand that I love him with zealousness, but I realized last week that he does one thing that I do not like.
He never lets his characters be happy and he keeps a sense of realism by killing off characters we love. Main characters that are unhappy, unfulfilled, or facing the yawning portal of doom drive forward and move the plot along.
This means, as a viewer, I always knew that, while the bad guys might get caught, relationally everything could go to hell (literally in Buffy and Angel) in a moment. If two characters settled down and were happy, one of them would die, or leave, or have a pesky soul getting in the way of them consummating their relationship. If two characters had been pining for each other, the moment one decided it was time to move the relationship forward, the object of their desire would move on, tired of waiting.
It ripped out my guts. It broke my heart. I can describe all those heart-wrenching scenes from those shows because they slayed me. (word choice intended)
I still love Joss Whedon. I think he is a genius, but all that emotional upheaval without some safe harbour is exhausting.
This lack of safe harbour is one of the reasons why I broke up with the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. For the non-geek, they are the Game of Thrones books. I read three or four of them, praying they would get better, but my prayers were in vain. Nothing good ever happens in those books to the characters and if it does, they die a horrible death or want they want/need gets horrifically snatched away. It was emotionally draining and no amount of great prose and character development made up for the way it hacked away at my heart with no glimpse of it ever making a turn for the better.
Recently, I read At Blade’s Edge by Lauren Dane and I realized Joss Whedon and the Martin books scarred me. At Blade’s Edge is the fourth in the Goddess With a Blade series and I highly recommend it. Like drop everything and read this book, recommend it. In the fourth book, Rowan, the main character, has finally found a safe harbour in the midst of a very violent and responsibility filled life. Her harbour grounds her, makes her stronger and lets the reader know that things can still be going to hell in a hand basket, but there is hope.
The entire time I as reading At Blade’s Edge, I was waiting for the rug to be pulled out from underneath me. Dane has never done this to me as a reader, the way Whedeon and Martin do, but a sense of dread followed my reading. I was so caught up in my worry, I failed to let myself become emotionally attached to the relationship cementing on the pages. I was waiting for the worst to happen and for Rowan’s harbour to be smashed to pieces. I wanted desperately for that not to happen. It did get dented, but at the end of the book, Rowan’s harbour is, mostly, in tact and that made me realize something.
There is power in a safe harbour.
I want the characters I love to have one good thing even if the world around them is crumbling at their feet. I need them to be able to come back to one person they love and who loves them back. I want an HEA* or some semblance of it. I need it. Not only do the characters need a safe harbour, so do I.
I am not talking about a unicorns pooping rainbows kind of HEA. It does not have to be perfect, but I do want some hope at the end, a light that tells me all is not lost for the characters I have come to love. I think everyone deserves some peace and happiness.
I know that real life is not like that. I know many people live desperate, horrible lives filled with pain, abuse, hunger, and death. Life on this planet sucks an awful lot.
But sometimes it doesn’t and we need to be reminded that life can be good. Life can be great, fantastic, and amazing.
When I read a book, I want to be entertained by hope and happiness. You can take me to hell, but I want you to drag me back from the brink before you write The End.
As a writer, I can promise, even with only a few books under my belt, that I will never leave you without a safe harbour to dock your ship, fold up sail, and have a nice rest with someone you love.
This was my view for the weekend. It was a rainy, windy mess. From the time we arrived on Friday until we left Sunday, the rain fell and the wind blew. It was perfect writing weather.
My goal for the weekend was to finish my round of development edits on Letters in the Snow (TC3) and write the additional scenes I still needed to round out the plot.
I was able to do both, by Saturday night no less, so I wrote this on Sunday morning, at my leisure.
Total words for the weekend, not counting that I also deleted a bit along the way, was 9,053 words. Less than last year, but last year I was still in the draft phase for Storm in the Mountains and I plowed through that.
This means that I have plenty of time to read through the book, yet again, before sending it on to my editor in December. I know you are thinking, “But how does this effect when I can have the book?” If all goes well, you can have it in February. Probably. I make no promises, but that is my goal.
I am so grateful to my boys who managed to survive without me for a couple days. I am blessed with a husband who helps me make time in our lives for this thing that I love to do.
I am always immensely glad once I get here that all the pieces fell into place once again. Some of my writer friends I only see during this weekend. Even though we spend much of it hunched over our keyboards or staring blankly into the waves on the lake, there are still moments of conversation that I cherish all year long.
We come from different backgrounds, have different day jobs, and write in an array of genres, but we are all writers. We all have words to share and that makes us the same.
Last night, I was the guest at a book club that had gathered to discuss Lightning in the Dark. The night was filled with great questions, laughter, and, of course, wine.
Some of the questions were very thought provoking: The harpies pass down violence from generation to generation. What do we take with us from our parents and how does this effect our lives?
Some of them were hilarious: Do harpies lay eggs? Do they have pregnancies that only last nine months? No and yes, respectively. I had not actually considered changing the harpies’ gestation period. Imagining them laying eggs made me crack up.
We had some of the usual discussions about mythology, what did I make up verses what is present in the actual myths. The ladies talked about what they thought the harpies looked like in harpy form. It was interesting to note that the women who had previous knowledge of what a harpy was tended to see them as more monstrous and ugly. The women with no prior knowledge of the harpy myth tended to see them as I imagined them to be, strong and fiercely beautiful as only true predators can be.
It was an absolute honor to be there. I am humbled by the people that read my books and connect with the characters that I love.
If you read one of my books in a book club, I would love to be there when you discuss it, to answer questions, talk, and laugh with you. And drink wine. Or beer. Or scotch.
One more thing: tomorrow, I am doing my monthly ebook giveaway to a newsletter subscriber. This month the giveaway is from one of my favorite authors, Sandra Schwab. The book is The Lily Brand and it will keep you up late reading, but you will not mind in the slightest. You can subscribe by clicking the handy button below.
My engineering husband questioned me about the liberties I take with Greek Mythology in my Turning Creek series. I told him it was creative license. He did not approve. The problem with engineers is that they want, nay need, things to fit into formulas. If you can turn the plot points into a color coded graph, even better.
His main complaint was that Thomas, the orphan Iris takes in after Lightning in the Dark, has the ability of speed and delivers messages. The Greek myth that these two traits fit best is Hermes.
Hermes was a god of Olympus, son of Zeus and Maia (one of the many women who fell for Zeus). Hermes was the herald and servant of Zeus.
In the world I created for Turning Creek, there are no Remnants of gods (that we know of). The gods, who reigned on Mount Olympus, required adoration and were accustomed to a certain level of power. They did not adjust to life in the mortal world after the Fall of Olympus and they faded from existence. In the world I have created, Thomas could not be the Remnant of Hermes because Hermes faded long ago, thus I borrowed Achilles for Thomas.
I gave Thomas speed because it was a convenient power for him to have and assist Iris. I gave him Achilles’ weakness because I wanted him to have one.
Creative License. I wield it.
One of the fabulous things about mythology, and Greek mythology in particular, is that every tale has multiple versions. Thanks to the warring nature of the Greeks, Romans, and their many neighbors, Greek myths were adopted and adapted by different peoples and regions. Even the ancients had their own version of creative license.
If, like my husband, my liberties with the original myths make you roll your eyes and wonder if I did any research at all, I assure you, I did research. Sometimes, I apply creative license to whatever facts I find.
One of the things I have enjoyed about indie publishing is the inherent flexibility. I can say no to my editors, though I almost never do. Why would I? They are almost always right. My timelines and deadlines are imposed and kept by me. I can reschedule and rework them when life happens to me, my family, or someone on my publishing team. Everything is negotiable when you indie publish.
Including your series and how it is laid out.
Letters in the Snow, Iris’ story, was originally slated to be a novella because when I started writing about Turning Creek, I thought it was just about harpies. I was wrong. It turns out Iris has more to say and I have more to tell about what is going on in our little mountain town. At the suggestion/prodding/encouragement of my editor (remember, I said she was almost always right) I am recalculating. A new route has been acquired.
Iris and Henry are getting a full length novel!
I may not be great at writing novellas. I do not tend towards the laconic and there are things and events happening in this book that will change everything for Iris, for the harpies, and for Turning Creek. Now that Letters in the Snow is slated to be a full length novel, I can explore the full ramifications of everything in my head and I could not be more excited.
Things to be revealed include Iris’s past, her family, and what happens when you get a bunch of Remnants and mortals in one place. It is going to be a good ride.
This does mean my timeline for the release of Letters may change. I would love to say for sure I will have another book for you in 2015, but it may not happen. I have other things going on in my life besides writing (ridiculous, right?) We can always recalculate our route and choose a different path.
I am also considering doing some YA offshoots with some of the other Remnants. I promise to finish up the harpies first.
When I set out to name the place that my harpies would live, I wanted it to have meaning and sound like a western town. In Greek myths, the harpies are banished to the islands of Strophades, which means the isles of turning or returning. Thus, Turning Creek, the place where each harpy must make a choice about her future, was named.
I struggle with naming the mountains more than anything else. More than the names of characters. Definitely more than the names of the books themselves.
I can only conclude it is because mountains are, by far, my favorite topographical feature. Most of the names of the mountains are slight variations on real peaks in Colorado and Wyoming. Pikus Peak. Baldy. Lady’s Favor. Atlas’s Peak. The Twins. Shaker’s Way. They all pay homage to real mountains found in one of the best regions of the US.
Only one name was borrowed from a real place: Silvercliff.
Nestled in the middle of Colorado, down the road from the small towns of Buena Vista and Nathrop, there is a camp called Silver Cliff Ranch. It sits at the base of a cliff face called Silvercliff, named for the grey rock which makes up its exposed face.
For the past two years, I have spent a week at Silver Cliff with high school students from my church. I could tell you hilarious stories of shenanigans, touching tales of how students stepped forward to love each other, or amazing ways God has used five short days to impact the lives of the people on the trip.
All the stories would never do the place or the people justice. It is a cherished place in a state that I love.
In the Turning Creek books, Silvercliff is Dora’s home. Dora, who is the most introspective and sensitive of the harpies, lives near the peak of the mountain named for a place that has changed many lives. It is fun, as an author to pay homage to things that hold weight in my life.
In a few short days, I will board the bus again and head to Silvercliff. I will wake up in the mornings and watch the sun rise from a fallen log on the mountain. I will hear the birds sing and the crisp air will remind me that I am home.
Every Monday, I highlight a different Greek myth that has woven its way into the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. If you pay close attention to the details, you will see where some of the elements and history of the series originated.
Asclepius was the son of Apollo and the princess Koronis. His mother died in labor before Asclepius was born. Apollo placed Koronis on her funeral pyre, then, in his grief, cut the still living child from her womb. Thus, the child was named Asclepius, which means to cut open.
The baby was given to the centaur, Kheiron, who was the oldest and wisest of all the centaurs and an immortal god himself. He was skilled in medicine and taught all he knew to Asclepius. In time, the boy grew into a skilled man of medicine who could bring people back from the dead.
Asclepius was married to Epione and sired five daughters whose names reflect health and medicine: Hygieia (hygiene), Panacea (universal remedy), Aceso (healing), Iaso (recuperation), and Aglaea (beauty). He also had three sons named Machaon, Podaleirios and Telesphoros. Machaon and Podaleirios followed in their father’s footsteps and were famous surgeons in their own right. Telesphoros was a dwarf who is always depicted in statues as having a hood over his head. He represented recovery from illness and frequently accompanied his sister, Hygieia. Like many other Greek myths, Asclepius had trouble with fidelity and sired a son out of wedlock, named Aratus, with Aristodama.
Zeus found Asclepius’s skill of bringing souls back from the dead to be unnatural and punished him by striking him dead with a lightning bolt. He was placed among the stars as the constellation Ophiochus, the serpent holder. I’m not sure being made a constellation makes up for being killed, but this was often the consolation prize for myths when Zeus decided they had served their purpose.
While Asclepius does not often appear on reliefs, he is frequently found in sculptures as a bearded man with a serpent entwined staff. A non-venomous Mediterranean snake, called Aesculapian snake is named for Asclepius.
In classical times, a cult formed around the myth of Asclepius. Temples of healing were built in his name and often non-venomous snakes were used in the healing rituals or left to live in the temple itself. Pilgrims would travel many miles to be healed in these temples by men of medicine who followed Asclepius. Followers of Asclepius took oaths to treat the ill with equality.
The original Hippocratic oath taken by doctors began, “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …” The symbol of Asclepius, a serpent entwined staff, was the original medical caduceus. Today, the staff is often entwined by two snakes and topped by wings.
The resident doctor in Turning Creek is Lee Williams, a Remnant and follower of Asclepius. His unique skills sometimes get him into trouble.