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First Monday Mentoring for June – the joy of series for readers and writers

This week a new writer asked me if he should tell the publisher he was submitting to that his book was the first in a series. This is a fair question, as many books come out in series these days and are enormously popular with publishers and readers.
The answer depends on your relationship with the publisher. If you have a track record, even in other areas of writing, the publisher may be open to considering your book as part of a series. More likely, however, they would want to publish the first book as a stand-alone to see how it does before committing to more of the same.
Of course if you indie publish, you can do as you like, although I advise you to write two or three books in the series before self-publishing the first. Just as online streaming of movies and TV shows has led to “binge watching”, many readers prefer to collect an entire set of books before starting on the first. Recently I read two books in a series only to find I didn’t have book #3, although I did have book #4. I jumped on to Amazon and downloaded the next book to my Kindle so I could read the in-between book before continuing to the final one. Impatient? Who me? But I have a lot of company.
The results can be rewarding, with follower numbers growing as more books come out. Think of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series or Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” books. Characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and many others have passionate followings.
If you’re writing series characters or settings, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Each book needs to provide a complete story within the pages, even if you have an over-arching story that all the books will span. This leaves readers satisfied but also keen to read the next book in the series. Readers regard your characters as friends, and your settings as places they can feel at home.
2. Filling in backstory in the second and subsequent books needs to be done with a light hand. Too much back story bores the people who read the first book. Too little annoys readers who’ve just discovered your series.

3. Each book should raise the stakes, while introducing new characters and story elements, to avoid any feeling of repetition.
4. If you use familiar elements such as vampires, royalty, small towns etc. you need to give the books your own unique twist.

 

The best aspect of series writing is being able to fully develop your fictional world. My current Beacons series of sci-fi romances is set in my own South Pacific Kingdom of Carramer, which began as the setting for several series of romantic suspense novels. Although frankly, if I’d known I would set eighteen books in Carramer, I would probably not have outlawed divorce. Over the years, getting characters out of marriages that aren’t working has been an interesting challenge.
When I decided to write the Beacons series, Carramer was a natural choice of setting. I’d always wanted to explore the province of Atai and its population of indigenous people. I saw them as very spiritual, making it easy to place a private space program there and include their natural mysticism in the story.

 

The next novella in the Beacon series, Continuum, is out next Thursday, June 9, published by Momentum, Pan Macmillan’s digital-first imprint. The three books in the series span the role my Beacons and their superpowers play in defending the Earth against a massive alien threat. Having two novellas in between let me explore individual characters and their histories.

This is another advantage series have over single titles – readers get to know your characters more thoroughly than they might in a solo book.

Cover Continuum
However you approach your series, readers should want to find out what happens next in your world. From the outset, it helps to have an idea of the overall story arc, as J K Rowling did with the Harry Potter books. You don’t need to know everything that happens. With the Beacons series, I certainly didn’t. But I did know how the story would play out at the end, rather like setting out on a journey with the destination in mind even if you aren’t sure of the exact route you’ll take.

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Finally, here are five Cs to include in your series:
• Characters – real people your readers come to care about and want to spend time with.
• Continuity – also known as Consistency – if you introduce elements in one book, make sure they are consistent with what happens in the next or previous books. Keep a series “bible” of physical descriptions, back story and other elements in file card form, as charts or on a program such as Scrivener, for quick reference as the series progresses.
• Complications aka Conflicts – even characters with superpowers, like my beacons, must have failings and difficulties to overcome, ideally in each book, the challenges growing to almost unbearable level by series end.
• Change – also known as Character Development. Your story people should grow and change as they overcome the obstacles in front of them.
• Completion – unless you want to keep the series going – and readers will love you if you do – you should tie up any loose ends by the final book. It’s easy to lose track of an individual and leave their story hanging, but trust me, you’ll hear about it from readers. In my romantic suspense series, Code of the Outback, I dealt with the stories of a woman and her two foster brothers. In the final book I mentioned a third brother but didn’t give him his own story. I was still getting emails about him years after the series ended, until I finally wrote his story in a novella, so readers could stop worrying about him.
How do you like to read series books? Do you have favourites? As a writer, do you have a series on the drawing board? This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,
Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Follow Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT JUNE 9Beacon Homeworld coming June 30
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)
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5 reasons why we are all vampire writers

Whether you support Team Edward or Team Jacob or any other combination, the Twilight saga is the latest product from a long line of  creatures – the vampire writers. By that, I don’t mean writers who write about vampires, but writers who are ourselves vampires.

I am. We all are. It’s part of the writing deal.

Here are my 5 reasons why:

1. Writers are blood suckers.

We suck the life blood out of our fellow creatures; human, animal and fantasy. If not for the quirky thing my neighbour’s kids said – which I have mercilessly siphoned off for a story – what would I write about? The police caution that anything you may say can and will be used is 100% accurate. We admit to sitting in coffee shops, people watching. What we really mean is people stealing. We run away with fragments of your identity, your description, your intriguing words, sometimes even your soul depending on the books we write.

2. We can be killed by a stake through the heart

Thinking about it, so can most people. In this case I mean the cruel stake plunged in by an editor or a critique partner. They don’t mean to be cruel. They think they’re helping. And they are, when the red mist clears enough for us to see that. First we have to go through the agony of seeing our beautiful child called ugly and not good enough. Or worse, rejected altogether. Oh, the pain!

3. We are always looking for fresh blood

We can’t survive as writers without a constant diet of new input, or we resort to the desperate act of writing about writers. We need to read different books, explore strange new worlds, get as far outside our comfort zones as we can. Then we have something to write about. You already know I’m the Established Writer in Residence at Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in the hills behind Perth, Western Australia. I’ve made it a point to visit as many of the writing groups that meet here as I can, especially outside my usual writing. One of the most rewarding has been the poetry group. Thanks Mardi May for the fresh blood you’ve unwittingly provided.

4. We love to “turn” others

Vampires love to turn humans into vampires. We may need more than one bite to turn a non-writer into a writer, but we persist, and we succeed surprisingly often. Go to a writer’s conference – the Romance Writers’ of Australia have theirs on the Gold Coast in August. If you’re fascinated by how words morph into stories, you’re ripe for turning.

5. We hide among the normal people

As a writer, I get to “pass” as normal. I even get to go out in daylight, although I’m mostly holed up in gloom, pounding out words, during the day. I’ve sold 30 million books, yet I walk among you unrecognised, the way I like it, as I hunt for fresh blood…er…inspiration.

Are you a vampire writer? How do you know? Do tell.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Established Writer in Residence, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Perth

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Is it okay to write without wanting to be published?

On Facebook this week, online friend Fiona Marsden dropped something of a bombshell.

She posted, “I have made a momentous decision. I’m not going to write for publication.”

When I asked if she would still write for enjoyment, she said, “Oh yes. But I find the whole idea of trying to write something that someone else thinks is publishable is too stressfull. It’s taking the joy out of it. I’ll just write what I like and if it isn’t publishable well too bad.”

To some writers this borders on heresy; to others it makes perfect sense.  I thought it a brave and very sensible decision to make, and has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.  Having only read entries in Fiona’s blog, her posts on Facebook and in the Bat Cave on eHarlequin.com (don’t ask!)  I can’t comment on her creative writing, although her posts suggest she has the proverbial “way with words”.

But there’s a deeper issue at stake here for writers.

Is it okay to enjoy writing, perhaps share your work online, and with family and friends, without seeking publication? In my book, The Idea Factory, I explored the idea of writing for enjoyment, observing that, ” “Painters find it perfectly acceptable to dabble in art and produce unspectacular pictures for their living room walls. Yet for some reason writing isn’t considered acceptable unless it’s for publication.”

Imagine if everyone who enjoyed designing clothes felt their work wasn’t complete until worn by some celebrity on the red carpet? Or if a keen gardener couldn’t sleep at night without medals from the Chelsea Flower Show?

These days it’s fine to publish your own work through the many resources available on line.

With some foresight (Idea Factory was published in 1995), I wrote “You can self-publish. For many years this was a dirty word, but as publishers become what Morris West calls ‘agglomerated’ and mainly interested in potential blockbuster novels, small presses are making a comeback.”

Self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s known now, can lead to spectacular success. John Grisham’s novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers. It was finally accepted and 5,000 copies printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of them and toured the USA selling them himself. Those books are worth more than $4,000 today if you can find one.

Then there’s Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, by British author E L James. Starting life as Twilight fan-fiction online, the book has now been published, selling over 10 million copies worldwide.

Even if this doesn’t happen to you, it’s fine to decide to enjoy playing with words, putting them together in whatever form takes your fancy, without caring whether they’re published or not.

It’s only recently the word amateur has come to mean  less worthy than professional.

The word itself comes from the Latin amator meaning a lover of something, describing one who does something for the joy of it, rather than for payment. If dealing with real-world or digital publishing takes “the joy out of it” for you, then write for yourself. Share your work where and when you please. Who knows where it will lead?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth 2012

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

A chip off the old writer’s block

I never thought I’d write this but after more than 70 books, countless short stories, articles and film scripts, and as my friends are only too well aware, many terrible limericks, I’ve hit a patch where it’s an uphill job to put words together. I can blog (obviously), tweet, post to Facebook and write to order if needed, and the limericks keep coming (sorry!) But when it comes to writing new creative work I have to drag myself to the computer, and I delete words as quickly as I put them down.

Discussing this with a writer friend recently, she said my brain was taking long service leave. Is this the explanation? If so, it’s an extended vacation. In the last four years I’ve written four books, two of those anthologies where I was contributing editor. Now if the other two were War & Peace or even Twilight, I’d be more than happy. But they’re not. I’m glad I wrote my Superromance, With a Little Help, so I know I can still write romance, yet I feel no inclination to keep going.

This feels more like a time of cocooning, of waiting to see what writer I might turn into next. I’m not even sure if “writer’s block” is the right term. Writer’s pause? Writer’s drift? This last seems to fit, but drifting where? Toward what?

Last week I watched an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Starship Enterprise’s resident counsellor, Deanna Troi, lost the empathic ability that made her a success at her job. As a Betazoid she can sense the emotions of others. She advises the captain if she senses deception or evil intent from the different species they encounter. Losing her empathic sense was like a human losing their sight, hearing or perhaps a limb. She also felt adrift, angry at the loss, and had to find new ways to operate.

Without being overly dramatic, I feel a similar sense of loss. I’ve made stories since I was a child, been published in some form from the age of 14, and collectively written about four million words for publication. Finding myself sitting at the keyboard with no words there feels as if a key part of me has gone missing.

Deanna Troi’s empathic sense does come back, but not until she discovers new aspects of herself beyond those she’d come to rely on. I’m still waiting. Don’t get me wrong, stories aplenty still crowd my brain and I’ve written volumes of notes for characters and plots. So the words are there in the background, but not yet willing to let me shape them into something I can share.  Yet I know all the tips and tricks there are. I’ve written about them in The Art of Romance Writing and my other books on the craft, and taught them at workshops. I’m qualified as a counsellor, yet like Deanna Troi, the physician isn’t making much headway healing herself. All I can do is keep trying. When I figure out what this strange fallow time is all about, I’ll blog about it – then we’ll both know.

Have you experienced writer’s block? What was it about for you and what eventually broke the drought, if it did break? Your comments are very welcome below. As a writer, what do you do when the writing isn’t happening?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Alphabet Soap – helping your H/h find their HEA among the romance writing acronyms

Blame texting, Twitter, or just plain human inertia…okay, laziness, but there are so many acronyms around that it’s easy to drown in a sea of them.  This blog may help you navigate your way around the ones most commonly used in writing circles.

Starting with the basics: ACRONYM – noun – word formed from the initial letters of other words eg Laser – Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Not all acronyms are recent. When I was president of the Society of Women Writers (SWW) a member queried the meaning of SAE in contest conditions saying, “I know SA stands for South Australia but what is the E for?” We had to explain that SAE stands for Self Addressed Envelope which entrants were asked to include if they wanted their entry returned. A variation is SSAE – stamped, self-addressed envelope. SAEs can still be requested in contest conditions where  entries can’t be emailed.

Other writing and romance perennials:

H/h shorthand for Hero and heroine. Variants include M/M – male/male gay fiction, F/F – female/female, M/M/M or F/F/F or variants, menage (multiple) partner stories. BDSM stories have bondage, discipline and sado-masochism elements.

HEA stands for Happy (or Happily) Ever After, the ending readers look forward to your H/h enjoying after all their trials.

The letters don't always mean what the writer thinks they mean

POV – point of view or viewpoint, the character through whose eyes we see/experience the story. The heroine’s POV was once used exclusively but now we like to get inside the hero’s head as well. Using too many POVs leads to “head hopping” a writing sin where the reader loses track of who’s POV we’re in.

TSTL – one of my favourites, standing for Too Stupid To Live. The heroine who goes alone into the cellar of a haunted house at dead of night when the power is out is TSTL. Or a heroine who packs up and leaves after seeing the hero kissing another woman, concluding that he’s unfaithful when a simple question would reveal that she’s the H’s sister. TSTL characters turn up in “wall banger” books, so-called because the reader hurls the book at the wall in frustration.

DNF – a book the reader did not finish. See above for possible reasons.

WIP and MS or MSS – Work in Progress, also Manuscript. If the writing is  going badly, the writer may call the book “drek”. Hopefully, the editor and readers won’t.

YA – books written for the Young Adult market, eg Harry Potter or the Twilight series.

F & SF – fantasy and science fiction. SF is science fiction,  sci-fi being used mostly by detractors. SFR is science fiction romance.

ARC – where writers want to be, handing out Advance Reading Copies for review and comment.

TBR – writers and readers alike complain of a teetering To Be Read pile or file, in the case of downloaded ebooks.

Have you been puzzled by an acronym lately, or found one that made you LOL (laugh out loud)? Share it with us here.

TY (thank you)

Valerie

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