We All Have Favorites

I listened to Chuck Wendig’s podcast this week where he discusses everything about writing and marketing and death threats.  Yes, he got them, but his writing is a bit irreverent.  Still…  it’s writing.  If a reader doesn’t like it, he can toss it in the can.  I’m not good at podcasts, at sitting still and listening when there’s no person to focus on.  Lectures where I can watch a speaker?  I can concentrate for hours.  A faceless voice?  I end up fiddling, losing my concentration.  But I’m glad I made the effort to listen to Wendig.  He intrigued me to try his talk when he said that he thought series were always a matter of diminishing returns.

What?  I’d always heard that series helped a writer BUILD an audience.  And I still believe that.  But that’s not what he meant.  He meant that a writer gets fewer and fewer reviews the longer the series goes.  And he’s probably right.  Just look at some of your favorite authors’ first books compared to their fourth or fifth.  He says a writer’s ego needs some of that praise and when it dwindles, it’s harder to feel inspired to write.  Well, you can judge that for yourself.  But here’s the link to the podcast, if you’re interested: https://wegrowmedia.com/chuck-wendig-on-owning-your-voice-and-choosing-the-path-of-your-career-as-a-writer/#disqus_thread

Anyway, I listened to his talk, and then I got to thinking about series.  I happen to love them.  I’m much more inclined to buy a book in a series I love than a standalone that I’m not sure about.  And that even goes to second or third series that some of my favorite authors write.  I mean, let’s be honest.  We all have favorites.  These are my truths:

I love Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series more than her Cat Latimer or Fork to Table series, even though they’re all good.  Why?  Beats me.  I just like the mix of people more and the romance between Jill and Greg.  I still buy the other series, though, just not as many.

I love Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series AND her Hidden Legacy series.  Have I tried some of her other books?  No.  Same goes with Patricia Briggs.  I buy every Mercy Thompson book, but I haven’t gotten into her Alpha and Omega series.  And I could go on.  I love Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin.  Not so much any of the others.

Why?  The same author writes the books.  They’re writing is topnotch.  Always.  But I’m not the only reader who struggles with this.  Martha Grimes tried to write a few break away books when she got tired of writing about Richard Jury.  All readers did was complain that they wanted another Superintendent Jury.  Same with Elizabeth George and her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers mysteries.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes but had to bring him back when readers complained so much.

Why does one series click when another one doesn’t?  I don’t know.  But I think a series can help build an audience, and the readers who love one series might not buy another one.  There are no guarantees.  But that’s life, isn’t it?

Have a great week, and happy writing!


Starting a new book

One of the joys of writing a series is to revisit old friends–characters you’ve used in previous books–and then add in a few new ones.  And if you get really lucky, one of those new characters jumps off the page for you and demands a book of his/her own.

When I wrote the first Mill Pond romance–Cooking Up Trouble–Ian’s brother, Brody, came to help him get the inn ready.  Brody’s a bit of a curmudgeon.  He’s a little too responsible for his own good, and I fell in love with him.  Whom to pair him with?  Someone who doesn’t pay attention to schedules and likes to bend the rules.  Harmony drives him a little crazy, and Brody makes her want to whack him in the head every once in a while.  A perfect match. For the story, I made Paula, Ian’s chef, and her two kids a part of the plot line, and I grew so attached to them, I wanted to find someone for Paula.  Hence, book 3.  So far, with every book, there’s a new character who begs me for more time in the next book.

I just finished final edits for Book 4–and I know this isn’t fair since I’m writing a few books ahead of what you can read–but Miriam just walked onto the pages in that book and told me that I was lucky she graced me with her presence.  She has that kind of personality.  And I couldn’t wait to write a book with her as the protagonist.

I’m starting that book now–the fifth Mill Pond–and I’m trying my darndest to do justice to the personality that is Miriam.  I also tried to give her a story worthy of her.  She teaches high school English, so I wanted a kid to be part of the romance.

The first time I wrote Miriam’s first chapter, it contained everything in the plot point I’d written for it–all of the characters, a hook, and the inciting incident–but it was flat.  That only goes to show that just because I know what’s supposed to happen, I don’t always get the voice and tone right.  Nobody wants to just plod through a story–not the readers and not me.  So I deleted the whole thing and tried again.  This time, I concentrated on the snark that’s part of Miriam, and it worked.  The woman can quell a rampaging teenager in her third period class with a raised eyebrow.  My type of heroine.  She’s almost six feet tall, gawky and bony, with short, corkscrew curls.  So who could be her Mr. Right?  A man who’s comfortable in his own skin and brews beer.  Miriam has a thing for hops:)

I’m going to have to push myself to keep the energy up for this book.  I’m hoping to deal with a couple of serious subplots in a funny way.  I might need more chocolate.  I know I’ll need wine.  But I have goals, and that’s a good thing:)


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Writing a Series

I have a new Babet & Prosper bundle coming out soon, hopefully later this week. Three of the stories are online. I’ll take them off to join with the new lunch-hour read for this collection. I try for four stories in each bundle. The new one, Voodoo and Panthers, is the twelfth Babet and Prosper in the series. For me, the longer the series goes, the more things I need to think about for each story.

The good thing about a series is that I’m returning to a setting and characters that I already know, that I’ve grown fond of. When I write about them, it feels like going home. I have a mountain of notes for Babet and Prosper because I’ve peopled River City with more and more characters, and I need to remember them all. I’d like readers to remember them, too, so I try not to leave too big of a gap between their appearances. I try to bring Lillian and her “girls” into enough stories that they’re not lost in the sea of Vittorio and his vampires and Nadine and her voodoo. I try to focus on the relationship between Babet and Prosper in each story, too. They’re the husband/wife team that flavors the entire series. And I don’t want the witches to get lost in the shuffle. With each new piece I write, there are more things to juggle or balance. And Hatchet has to appear in every single piece, because he’s Prosper’s partner on the supernatural detective squad and because he’s just too cool to be neglected.

As much as I want readers to immerse themselves in the familiar people and places, I also want the stories to feel fresh and unique. I don’t want to start each one with Babet and Prosper enjoying one another, as much fun as that is. The stories are urban fantasy, so there’s always going to be a battle or two, but I try to change them up, add a new element here and there.

In Voodoo and Panthers, I spend more time with Prosper’s pack of shifters. It’s under attack. The pack’s alpha has to turn to Babet and Prosper for help. A while ago, a reader commented that she’d like a romance for Evangeline, so I added that, too. All in all, I’m happy with the mix of plot and characters in this story. And that’s the trick with a series–keeping enough of the familiar–the things that give the stories the right feel–and mixing in enough new things to keep it fresh.

In the first Babet and Prosper collection I did, Babet got top billing. In the new one, to be fair, Prosper gets to be on top. (I’m talking images here, so keep it clean:)

Here’s the cover that will be inside the bundle for Voodoo and Panthers:

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
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Writing: 2nd Books

I’m working on rewrites now. It’s the second time I’ve tried to fix my romance so that my agent likes it. I thought I had. I was happy with the changes I made. My agent wasn’t. One subplot still bothered her, so I ripped it out. I trust Lauren’s judgement, and if she says it still doesn’t work, it doesn’t. She said “Kill your baby,” so I did. Baby’s dead and buried. I told my brain to think of something different/better, and it did. I hope. Thank you, brain. So by the end of this coming week, I should have the rewrites finished and ready to send out again. This time, I hope Lauren likes them. And now, I have a better feeling about what works and what doesn’t. So while I wait to find out, I’m planning on starting a second romance. And therein lies the big, lurking pressure.

The problem with second books, for me, is that if people liked the first book, the second one has to be even better. There are things to keep in mind. People who liked the first book probably liked its VOICE. Yeah, voice makes a big difference. When I pick up an Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels book, I want the smart-ass attitude, the “I want to kill something” mentality, the heart, the action, the humor–the entire package. And all of that sets a certain tone. If all of a sudden, that tone shifted to something lighter or darker, to more serious or philosophical, I’d be bummed. I don’t buy a Janet Evanovich for beautiful language. I buy it for snark and humor. If I want beautiful, lyrical language, I buy Sarah Addison Allen. If I want to force my poor, little gray cells to consider deep questions, I look for Neil Gaiman, and if I want to ponder mysteries, I reread Agatha Christie. Even then, a Hercule Poirot has a different tone than a Miss Marple. So a second book, in my opinion, has to stay true to the voice and tone of the first book. But it has to up the ante.

Series are popular now, so I decided to make my romance novels into Mill Pond romances. The setting will be the cohesive that holds the series together. And of course, characters of one novel will pop up in a new one, but as background characters, not MC’s. The trick, then, is to deliver the flavor of the first novel, but delve deeper into the stories, to make the setting almost a character that draws readers in and to let early characters grow and develop their own story lines. My friend, Julia Donner–whose writing I love–writes Regency romances. She developed a series around the friendship of a group of men called “The Eligibles,” because every mother wanted her daughter to snag one and marry a rich, gorgeous, powerful man. Once Rave met his Cat, he became a background character in the rest of the series. Once my favorite–and yes, I’m prejudiced–Perry met his Elizabeth, he was relegated to the background, too. (http://www.amazon.com/Heiress-Spy-Friendship-Book-ebook/dp/B00HGQCAYU/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1426356471&sr=1-4&keywords=julia+donner)–(just in case you want to meet him). Perry’s brother, the incorrigible Harry, gets to shine in The Rake and The Bishop’s Daughter before being relegated to minor character status. The thing is, it’s fun to see your favorites in the new novels, while a new hero and heroine get to shine. BUT, the stories have to be as good or better than the ones that came before them. Not so easy to do.

That’s why I want to start my second romance now, before Lauren has a chance to send out Cooking Up Trouble or to tell me to make it into an e-book. I’d like to have Opposites Distract finished and polished before I hear back from anyone. That will be less pressure. I won’t have a deadline. I can fiddle around with it all I want. I’ve seen so many authors who spent FOREVER writing their first book that sells write a second book with a tight deadline, and the second book isn’t as good. They’ve been too rushed. I don’t want that. In theory, by the time you write your third book, you’ve found your groove. Right? The third should be a breeze:)

Of course, I might find out that my brilliant strategies are a bunch of St. Patrick’s Day malarkey. Maybe more time won’t make any difference, and the pressure of writing a second book can buckle a writer because we think about it too much. Who knows? I’m about to find out. So wish me luck.

Happy writing, and may the luck of the Irish shine on you on St. Patrick’s Day!

(P.S. I put all five parts of Freya’s story on my webpage, so it’s finished, ahead of time. What can I say? No patience. But now I can concentrate on romances:)

Writing: series and stand-alones

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that readers love book series.  They’re so popular now, one of my friends complained that she’s having trouble finding novels that are stand-alones, that if a first book does well, the author starts a series.  She likes the “freshness” of new characters and new settings, and she’s having a hard time finding them.

If a series works, a writer has a ready-made audience, happy and anxious to buy his next book.  And just because readers like one series doesn’t mean they’ll like the next one.   I belong to several groups in Goodreads, and when Patricia Briggs came out with her latest Mercy Thompson novel, members wrote about pre-ordering it and taking the day off work to stay home to read it.  I can’t imagine how awesome that must feel (but I’d love to find out).  When Patricia Briggs finishes a new novel in her Alpha and Omega series, though, there’s still lots of pre-book excitement, but it can’t compare with Mercy’s hullabaloo.  The same goes with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.  Readers can’t wait for the next book, to the point where Ilona Andrews writes little tidbit scenes inbetween novels to placate their itch.  And even though her other series are popular, they’re not AS popular.

I understand the dynamics of series and why authors write them.  It’s because readers want them.   But for me, there are advantages and disadvantages to writing them.  If readers love them, the advantage is obvious–more book sells.  From a writing standpoint, the author is returning to a world he knows and to characters who’ve walked and talked in his head enough that they become more and more real.  It’s fun to see how much they’ll grow and what they’ll do next…as long as new ideas keep coming.  But I’ve followed some series for a long time, and there’s a point somewhere along the way, when the sameness of the world and the characters becomes a hurdle instead of a blessing.  How many new battles or challenges can the characters face?  How many things can the author come up with to keep the series fresh?  New characters and new plots start to look intriguing.  That’s one advantage of stand-alones.  Everything’s always new.  The first fourth of a book is introducing characters, setting, and a struggle, and it feels like an adventure when everything’s unfamiliar.

My three series are new enough, I still enjoy them.  I’m working on the third Enoch/Voronika novel, and it’s interesting for me to discover new facets of each of the characters, to push them in different directions to see how they respond.  It is my third book in the series, though.   I don’t know how other authors manage it, but my pile of background papers keeps growing.  I have a character wheel filled out with information for each major character I’ve introduced.  I have lists with short descriptions of minor characters I’ve created with an X on them if I killed them in a previous book (it’s urban fantasy, remember.  How embarrassing if I staked someone in book two and then reintroduced him in a later story).  I have a short paragraph on how each major character grew or changed in each book.  For each novel, I compile more and more information.

For Empty Altars, I did lots of research on clothing, foods, weapons, etc., in Norse times, and I seem to add more research each time I write about Tyr and Diana.    I’ve only finished my second book in the series, and I already have a mountain of information to leaf through.  I know I could just look it up each time, but there are so many versions of Norse myths, I want to remember which one I used.

For my Wolf’s Bane series, I thought I’d just have fun, making things up.  But I wanted to keep Reece’s magic consistent, and I wanted it to feel “real.”  So I have a mound of articles and notes for those two books now.  I don’t know how Sue Grafton kept everything straight for twenty-six letters of the alphabet in her mystery series or how Janet Evanovich files things away for her Stephanie Plum novels–which could be infinite, I guess, since it’s based on numbers.

And that’s another thing about series.  Some authors create a specific time frame for them.  Books based on the 7 deadly sins should have…well…7 books.  If the series starts with five brothers and the author intends to follow one in each novel, the reader expects five books.  I don’t have a brilliant plan for my novels.  I intend to write them until I’m tired of them or until readers are sick of them, whichever comes first.  But I realize the more of them I write, the more baggage goes into each one.  When that baggage is too heavy to carry, it’s time to move on.

Writing: You Can’t Win ’em All

I’ve been writing a series of novellas that I really enjoy.  I don’t know if I chose the wrong covers for them or if I’m marketing them wrong, but they just aren’t catching on.  If you have ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.  If you don’t, that’s fine, too, because I’m guessing that mixing medieval times with supernaturals wasn’t my best idea.  But it’s possible that I don’t care.

Short fiction, in general, isn’t as popular as novels.  Most of my novellas go up in the rankings for a while, and then fall for a while, bouncing up and down.  Not wonderful, but something I can live with.

I’ve learned from experience.  I intend to spend more time concentrating on novels and less time churning out novellas.  But novellas, for me, are like a piece of chocolate.  Instant gratification.  In a week or less, I have a finished product that I like.   Michael creates a wonderful cover for my 40 pages, and I’m a happy girl.  It’s like opening a small box that you know will have something wonderful inside.

I wrote short stories for AGES.  They’re my first love, but when markets started drying up for them, I had to concede that longer was the rule of the literary land.  One of my friends–whose writing I deeply admire–Ed Bryant, wasn’t so happy when I devoted my time to novels over short fiction.  He’s made a distinguished career with short fiction, but let’s face it.  I’m no Ed Bryant.  And markets aren’t the same as they used to be.  So now, when I write short, it’s almost an indulgence, paying homage to an art form I love.  (And boy, was I happy when Canadian writer, Alice Munro–a short story writer–won the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature–a short story writer!!!  Hooray!)

Anyway, some of my novellas do better than others.  But my Christian/Brina series is doing dismally.  So you’d think I’d write a wrap-up novella, bundle the stories, and call it a day, wouldn’t you?  And I intended to.  Until I found a cover for a story that I thought would work perfectly in that series.  And then, wouldn’t you know it?  I found another cover for Christian and Brina that I liked.  So I’m torn.  And I kind of think Christian and Brina are going to stay as part of my mental landscape when story ideas dart through my brain.

For one thing, I’ve been grown-up for a long, long time, but I still fantasize about castles.  Not real castles, mind you.  Those can be cold and drafty…and smelly, too.  But FICTION castles.  And my stories are only as factual as my story ideas want to make them.  And then, I have a thing for magic and Merlin.  And Harry Potter.  So witches had to populate my fictitious serfdom–because that made me happy.  And then the witches had to battle something–so why not choose all of the leftover mythological creatures that I haven’t used before?  A match made in my idea of writing heaven.  Castles, witches, vampires, evil lords, and a Greek mythological creature or two.

I doubt my rankings will ever soar on this series.  But maybe for this series, I don’t care.  Maybe this series is for ME.  So there’ll be a new Christian/Brina novella out later in November.  And I might even lose money on it.  But once in a while, I write for myself.   cover_9_thumbcover_13_thumbcover_21_thumb  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/series-of-novellas.html