Yes, I’m a few days early, but I’m eager to get the new year underway. With every January comes fresh possibilities and a reminder to discard outworn habits and old frustrations. Whatever your ambitions are for the new year, go chase em!
This is my first writing update of the new year. These list-y posts help me stay accountable to my goals, and for those who are curious, they’re a peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.
Ellie Tappet #5 & #6 - I’m working on the next Ellie Tappet novel right now, and I can already tell it’s going to be a fun one. My plan is to pause after the sixth book, with the option to add more books later.
Next up on my radar is Hostile Takeover, Emerald City Spies book three. I’m stoked! Before too long all of my mystery series will be in a good state and I’ll be ready to start a new series or two.
A side note: Does it bug you that the word series is both singular and plural? I find it irritating when using both forms of the word close together. Let’s revolt and create a new word:serieses!
Ugh. That’s even worse! I sound like Smeagol.
Dreaming of Space Opera
The other day, my friend M said that my future space opera series has been haunting me for a while. And she’s not wrong! Twice now, I’ve gotten out of bed in the middle of the night, exhausted, to jot down ideas that wouldn’t leave me alone.
I don’t mind being haunted by stories. But I need my sleep! I updated my site header to show my multi-genre ambitions. See, sci-fi ghosts? I hear you.
Cover Design I’m working on my cover design skills by building a fresh set of covers for the Ellie Tappet Mysteries. Under the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” I won’t re-cover the books for a while yet, but here’s a peek at my rough drafts:
New Website - I have a new website and you’re looking at it. (Thanks, Patrick!) Most of the cool new features are under the hood, but I’m especially happy with the sortable “bookshelves” on the home page
. And each book has just two dropdown buttons: buy digital or buy print. I hate cluttery buttons. This is better!
Thoughts for the Quarter
I’m sailing into 2021 with a mixture of relief and optimism. Sure, until the coronavirus vaccine is distributed, I’ll be on tenterhooks, concerned about the safety of my friends and family. But we’re starting a year with an amazing life-saving vaccine, sensible adults are about to move into the White House, and it seems that life and commerce are ready to flow back into our cities and towns like blood returning to a compressed limb.
I’m ready! I’m so-so-so ready. Bring it on, 2021! After the year we’ve all had, I’d say humanity is ready to bust down the doors of the new year and throw a party.
2020 is coming to a close so I figured this would be a good moment to pause and check in on how my publishing year has gone. It should go without saying that 2020 has been an unusually difficult year. And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have “Global Pandemic” on my business’s SWOT analysis. I expect we’ll be grappling with the lingering effects of Covid for quite some time. But when it comes to the business side of things Adventurous Ink did pretty well! We’ve published five books over the last twelve months, and given that my stretch goal was six books, pre-pandemic, I’m quite happy with where we’ve landed.
In 2020, our little publishing business became modestly profitable. Woo-hoo! We’re not losing money! I attribute this to a few things:
Keeping our per-book costs low.
Publishing more frequently.
Avoiding big expenses like book conferences.
Putting my cozy series in Kindle Unlimited, which has been a good way to find new readers.
Beyond writing and publishing our books, we’ve been busy with behind-the-scenes projects. P improved our book build system, made an ePub error checker, and improved our accounting system. When you’ve got multiple books sold through various intermediaries in multiple currencies, financial reporting can get complicated, quick. I added two excellent beta readers to my beta crew and we’ve had more web traffic and more newsletter subscribers. And we improved the end-matter in our books, so when a reader reaches the last page of a novel they can find the next book in the series with one click. As of today, our new website is halfway complete, and it’s a significant improvement over my current one. The new site will load much faster, and P is coding in some neat features. Our new multi-store purchase buttons are simpler and easier to use, and the site looks good on all sorts of different screens.
It’s all good stuff.
Every year comes with challenges. The pandemic has been scary and distracting, and it’s hard to write good stories when you’re stressed down to the ends of your hair. On the creative side, I’ve found it challenging to manage multiple book series simultaneously. Bopping around from series to series is much harder than writing straight through! And with my multi-genre interests it’s been difficult to know where to focus my energy. Still, the struggle has been constructive. When it comes to what I’ll choose to write, I’ve basically landed on: “Write what makes me happy, finish what I start, then package and sell my work as intelligently as I can.” See? It sounds so simple when I say it out loud, but it took me a while to figure it out.
One year ago, I had four books out. Now, I’m writing my tenth. Ten books! I can hardly believe it.
Thinking about 2021
I’m still sorting it out, but here are some things I’m considering for publishing year 2021:
Learning how to do online advertising (We’ve never run a single AMS ad)
Publishing more books by: A) increasing my daily word count and B) hiring a copyeditor.
Building up a bit of a gap between finishing a book and releasing it.
I’m fairly confident that these are the right moves to make, but we won’t have the luxury of doing them all at once. Yes, we turned a profit this year, but our small profit wouldn’t even fund a year’s worth of editing, let alone advertising. So we won’t be able to do everything we’d like at the same time.
Again, it’s all good stuff! Mostly, I’m excited about writing my next crop of stories, but I’m also enjoying the business side of things. I’ve gone from from publishing one book per year (or less) to publishing five. In 2021 I want to repeat that trick, maybe even faster, while selling more books, improving our systems, and writing stories that excite me.
To everyone who’s been following along, reading my books, and leaving me reviews, thanks so much. It all makes a difference. And I’m grateful.
Today’s post is a continuation of last year’s Nanowrimo Prep series. Today, I’ll write about a technique that I’ve found helpful for preparing my story. And if you’re brand new to writing, skip this one! Today’s post is aimed at those who already have NanoPrep steps 1-5 handled.
In business, a common maxim is to “begin with the end in mind.” Stephen Covey may have coined that phrase, but the concept of aiming at a target is a very old one. And if you intend to write fiction for profit, it helps to have a target in mind. A sense of what you’ll be offering to readers at the end of the process. And that’s why it’s helpful to draft your back-of-the-book blurb before you ever put pen to paper.
Now, blurbs are hard to write! A blurb is a teaser. It says: “This is what my book is about. This is what the central challenge is. And here are some of the emotions you might feel.” Along with the cover art, the blurb is what will get your reader to hit the buy button.
A blurb is also a good test for you, the writer, because by the time you’re done writing it, you should feel a tingle in your body, and the tingle should say “Yeah! I’d want to read that story.” The first draft of your blurb won’t be as concise and snappy as your final version, but writing it out early is helpful. Why? if your blurb doesn’t excite you, and more importantly, if your story doesn’t excite you, you might not be ready to start writing.
In the spirit of showing my work, here’s my rough-draft blurb for Kat Voyzey #4, the book I’m prepping for November.
Kat Voyzey is chasing her dream. But is it about to become a nightmare?
When Kat left her cushy corporate job behind to start her own private investigation firm, she expected to encounter some bumps in the road. And if she’s spending her nights taking photos of philanderers at Seattle’s top ten seediest motels, well, perhaps that’s what it takes to learn the ropes. PI work might rough and tumble, but she’s determined to make a go of it. In time, she’ll find a more inspiring clientele. That is, if she doesn’t go out of business first.
When her friend Akiko tells her about a troubled college student who has gone missing, Kat agrees to track the woman down on behalf of her friends and family. And when the clues lead right back to the young woman’s Roller Derby league, Kat accepts an invitation to gear up and get her skate on. Sporting some killer spandex outfits, a feisty new persona, and too many bruises to count, Kat’s about to get a lesson in fighting hard for what she wants. And the closer to she gets to the truth, the more disturbed she is by what she finds. What started out as a simple track and trace is becoming something far more dangerous.
Worth noting: Whenever I write a blurb for the first time, I hate it. My blurb always feels overly wordy, clunky, and obvious. It doesn’t flow. (this draft isn’t too bad – I’ve been over it a few times – although the ending needs more zing) But I can read my blurb, and I can feel the tone of it and say, Yeah, that there is the book I want to write. And it’s easier to hit something when you aim at it. 😉 So that’s my advice of the day, Nanowrimo preppers. Begin with the end in mind.
PS: If you want some step-by-step guidance on how to write your end matter (or blurb) I found this book
We writers often talk about steps like “outlining, drafting, editing” and so on, but for me there’s a longish phase where I’m thinking about a story before I ever put my fingers to the keyboard. I’ve been thinking about my next Kat Voyzey mystery, and that got me thinking about what gave me the idea to write my first novel in the first place.
I began writing Involuntary Turnover
right around the time I quit my HR Manager job. And I had a love/hate relationship with my work. I enjoyed the work of helping managers succeed, and I thought the conflict resolution aspects were meaningful. But I hated enforcing ill-conceived policies. In particular, I remember being cheesed about all the double standards where I worked. Like, management made a big point about forbidding open toed shoes, then they’d go around wearing open toed shoes. Then I’d be expected to enforce that rule while making excuses for the exceptions. There were tons of tiny inequities like that. Individually, they didn’t matter much, these were petty issues. But taken in bulk, all the small indignities added up and made me want to climb the walls and sprint for freedom. (Note: open toed shoes are not great for sprinting. Wear flats.)
Because my job so often required me to bite my tongue, I developed this running inner monologue to blow off steam. I joked to myself that HR people spoke in code, because if we said what we really thought, we’d no doubt be fired on the spot.
HR Speak: I know this feels unfair. Truth:This is unfair. You’re being screwed. But legally it’s allowed, so I’ll talk about your feelings because the facts aren’t on our side.
HR Speak: I wish it were that simple, but… Truth:Hark! We are prisoners inside an irrational corporate bureaucracy.
HR Speak: What did your boss say? Truth:Look, we both know your boss is the devil. And I can’t overrule the devil. I barely have the authority to order office supplies. But I’ll help you negotiate without getting fired. Well, I’ll try.
Working in human resources, I had a growing disconnect between my professional outer self and my inner monologue. And sometimes my suppressed feelings would leak out. For example, I used to post “A Word a Day” outside my office for fun, and sometimes the words I chose were wildly passive aggressive. I’d come out of a disappointing meeting, and the next day, I’d post my vocabulary word for all to see.
Word of the Day: Hypocrisy Definition: (Noun) The practice of stating beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not possess.
Write What You Know?
When I decided to try my hand at writing a novel I thought it would be fun to have an HR heroine who found a dead body at the office. Write what you know, right? I’d read hundreds of murder mysteries, and I had a feel for office drama. And to round out the story, I borrowed from the funny things that had happened at work. Like the time we accidentally hired an arsonist, and she was super nice. You don’t work in HR for long without accumulating some amusing anecdotes.
Many first-time writers start with with material that’s quasi autobiographical. I was no different. I was once a snarky HR manager who craved integrity in a world that wanted me to stay in my lane. I kept my f-bombs on the inside, toed the line, and wished that my days were more interesting. And if I ran my workplace harassment investigations with the solemn determination usually reserved for hardboiled detectives on the BBC, well, that was just me taking my job seriously. I learned to ask the right questions to solicit the facts, whether that be in a job interview or to untangle an argument between coworkers. And I walked the dark hallways outside the medical records department and delighted in the spooky way my footsteps echoed out in front of me. All of those emotions and images were in my bones long before I ever put my fingers to the keyboard.
Why I Wrote the Kat Voyzey Mysteries
I wrote my first mystery novel for several reasons. The winter I started writing Involuntary Turnover
, I was stressed out, struggling with my Masters thesis, and a big storm had knocked out our power for days. Writing gave me an escape when I needed one. And beneath all that, I had some things I wanted to say about corporate life, about the ways it can be unfair, and about how we need to stick up for one another and not let the desire for easy answers sweep the truth to one side.
I had a chip on my shoulder, you might say.
But what the writer feels inside, what motivates them, those things aren’t necessarily what the reader will take away. That’s one of the beautiful things about art, I think. We each mix our perspective with what we read and no two people will ever have the same experience of a story or a painting or a piece of music.
Time has a way of mellowing us out, and I no longer feel salty about the time I spent in human resources. I look upon those years fondly, and my frustration back then drove me to start a business where I helped managers make better choices. It all worked out. And I even got a few good mystery novels out of it, and a writing hobby that would eventually become something more.
I’m looking forward to Kat’s next case. Without getting into spoilers, she took a big step at the end of book three, and I want to see how that shakes out for her. And while the “things I want to say about work” have changed a great deal since book one, there’s one thing that remains the same. I believe all good stories should contain a core of emotional truth. No matter if you’re writing something realistic or fanciful, fiction is all about using lies to tell the truth, and it helps to start a story with a sense of what that truth might be. And perhaps that truth is just something you hold in your heart while you write. And as for what others make of it, well, that’s up to them.
I enjoy the thinking part of the writing process. It’s mysterious. A story so often arrives in pieces. And where do these pieces come from? Some of them come from me, and some of them come from the universe. It’s a strange and beautiful alchemy, and I felt it for the first time when writing Involuntary Turnover
A Last Chance for a Free Copy of Involuntary Turnover
If you’ve followed me this far, book buddies, I have a tip for you. Involuntary Turnover has been free for a while, that’s something we authors call a permafree marketing strategy, kind of like a free sample. The whole series is going back up to full price in July, so if you’d like to snag a free copy of my first book, now is a good time to do that.
Today’s post comes to you live from the land of I finished my next novel and I’m full of emotions. That’s right. The Case of the Floating Funeral is written and it’s time to switch over to copyediting and proofreading mode. And I’ll probably end up rewriting the final scene a few more times in the process. Gotta stick that landing, you know?
Finishing a novel is such a strange feeling. On the one hand, you feel proud and happy. Yet at the exact same time you want to nudge your manuscript under a rug with your foot while pointing to your left and shouting “look, a bunny!” At least that’s how it goes for me. Preparing a creative work for sale always results in conflicted emotions:
I AM AMAZING AND THE WORLD MUST KNOW
I TOTALLY SUCK AND I SHOULD HIDE
Strange, right? Pride and fear manage to live side-by-side on days like today. And they’re both poking me with their bony little fingers. So I try to slap them away. STAAAAAHP IT! 😆
There’s a trick I used back when I did a lot of public speaking. Even though I enjoyed giving talks, my body refused to believe that I liked it. My heart would race and my palms would sweat. My smile felt like a fakey-fake sticker affixed to my face. I could even hear my pulse in my ears. And let me tell you, when your logic-circuits tell you that you’re going to do just fine but your body insists that you’re about to be eaten by a rabid grizzly bear, it’s extremely annoying. So I had a trick I borrowed from another consultant: I’d notice my body freaking out (like it always did) and I’d say to myself: It’s fine! I’m just revving my engine at the starting line.
When emotions won’t listen to reason, you can reframe them a little. Sometimes it even helps to mock them. Ah, yes. Here come my emotions! Those drama queens. Flipping out right on schedule.
So that’s where I’m at today, blog buddies. I finished another manuscript. The Case of the Floating Funeral will be my seventh novel. Woot! And my emotions are going haywire. So I’ll take a breath here and say: It’s fine. I’m just revving my engine at the starting line. There’s nothing wrong. Beginnings always feel this way.
Hey, Nano preppers! We’re just a few days away from the big event, so I’ll wrap up this Nanowrimo prep series with some tips about mindset. How should we think about our writing? And what attitudes should we adopt in order to complete our projects well? I’ve got a few suggestions, which I’ve listed below in the form of beliefs. Do you agree with these beliefs, and if so, are you ready to adopt them?
Belief #1: Writing requires time and effort, so I’ve made space in my life to do it.
Writing is work, right? It’s work in the same way that going to your day job is work. If you put in the time and make an effort, you’ll make it through and you’ll improve your skills over time. And because we learn by writing, not by worrying about our writing, action is what matters.
That begins by making time, space, and energy available for your November writing project.
Belief #2: I’m writing a first draft. Later, I’ll improve it.
Writing a first draft is about telling the story to yourself. You can trust your future-self to edit your story, and focus now on the first task which is getting the whole story down so you can look at it. Nanowrimo isn’t the time to perfect your “first page hook” or obsess about comma placement.
That being said, you’re not required to write a shitty first draft! I’d rather see you produce the best work you can, right now, given your current skill level. Let’s talk for a moment about the notion of the happy medium, when it comes to the quality of your first draft.
Finding the Happy Medium
“I’ll just write shit because that’s what a first draft is.” Nah. Why on Earth would you intentionally write shit?
“I won’t start chapter two until chapter one is AMAZING.” Nope! You’re being too rigid. First drafts aren’t amazing. You’ll be stuck in a perfectionist loop!
“I’ll write this scene to the best of my current ability. Then I’ll move on to the next, because this is FIRST DRAFT TIME, baby!” Perfect! You’ve found the happy medium.
Seek out that happy medium, okay?
Belief #3: It’s time to listen to my gut and heart. Not the experts.
You’ve probably internalized a lot of advice from other writers, right? Stephen King hates adverbs. Others advise against prologues. Your high school English teacher yelled at you for using sentence fragments, or starting a sentence with and. Yadda Yadda_._ Taken in context, writing advice can be useful. But for a beginner, all this advice becomes an extra voice of criticism, making you second-guess your natural style as you start writing.
Tip: You’re fine. Just write! Use the voice that comes naturally to you. Fix any excesses in editing, and stop worrying about what the experts think. It’s not their story. It’s yours!
Belief #4: Progress matters, but progress is not linear.
You might have this idealized notion that you’ll write X words per day during Nanowrimo. And goals can be motivating sometimes. But in reality, writing is far more… lumpy than you might expect. You might have a day where you squeak out 200 words during lunch, and another day when you write four chapters because the words won’t stop flowing. It’s okay to have general targets in mind, but don’t flip out if you’re not producing equal numbers of words.
Keep it simple. Every time you write, move your story forward. And try to set aside enough hours in the month to reach your overall goal. That’s really all you can do.
Belief #5: No one is forcing me to do this.
Write because you love it. Or because it challenges you. Or because you’re curious to see if you can. Write because you’ve got a story to tell, or because you’ve admired authors forever and books still feel like magic.
But if writing is making you miserable, or if you hate it, it’s okay to stop. Don’t turn a story into an ego contest with yourself. Remember, no one is forcing you to do it. Proceed with the intention that you’ll enjoy yourself, and see how it goes.
Belief #6: I’ll decide what to do with this story later.
You might publish your story, or not. You might give it to friends to read, or not. But my point is, you don’t need to worry about any of that now. Get the draft down, edit it later, and then you can decide what to do.
Your story is a squalling little baby made of words. It’s red-faced and shouty and it has no career plans or life goals. So put away the college pamphlets and let it grow up a little. Let your story exist for its own sake! Don’t squash it under all your bossy expectations.
And that leads me to my most important belief, which is this:
Belief #7: I’m a writer.
If you write, you’re a writer. There’s no secret-handshake, certification, or permission slip required. Drop the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary and flush your impostor syndrome down the toilet. Once you accept the reality that you’re a writer, you can stop being all angsty about labels and do your damn job.
You can write.
Nanowrimo might be the start of something lasting, or perhaps just a fun month to try something new. Either answer is fine, but time spent worrying about labels is wasted time. Imagine me smacking you upside the head with THE OFFICIAL SCEPTER OF ALL WRITERS. Boom. You’re a writer! Now get to work.
This concludes my Nanowrimo prep series, and I hope you’ve found it helpful. Good luck with your story, and feel free to drop me a comment during the month of November to tell me how your project is going. And if you’d like some in-person camaraderie during the month of November, there are plenty of local meetup groups being organized on the official Nanowrimo
website right now.