Hello out there, and happy Friday! (For me in Hawaii Time, anyway.)
Hope you’re recovering from your holiday festivities. Remember, New Year’s Eve is still on the horizon, so pace yourselves. And don’t forget to visit the vet, as we did today, to refill that prescription of Special New Year’s Treats for the scaredy—I mean, sensitive—dogs. 😜
Good news for Sydney Brennan fans: her latest adventure, Grave Truth, is alive! Woo-hoo!
I was doing the math, and with six previous Syd books, plus the Dead Hollow trilogy… Yes, I’m pausing to help you assess the state of your holiday recovery (can I do simple addition in my head?)…
This is my tenth book.
Although I’m honestly pretty fried at the moment, as I suspect are a good portion of you hearty folk reading this, I feel like a number ending in zero calls for at least a nod to thoughtful reflection.
In that vein, here are five things I learned while writing this tenth book.
NUMBER ONE: First, process. I like to think my writing improves with the practice of each story, or at least that each story presents new challenges that stretch and occasionally strain novel (ha-ha) writing muscles.
I’ve varied my approach over the course of the books, searching for the most creative and most efficient method of production. These ranged from completely by the seat of my pants, to using outlines with a short paragraph per chapter, and everything in between.
For Grave Truth, I began with a loose outline that set out ten key scenes in the book, with just a line or two for each. The result?
If I had any doubts, the rewrites required by Book Ten have finally convinced me that I am not an outliner.
There may be times when going in totally blind is a bad idea, say starting a new series. And I am still open to experimenting. But—in my Big Girl voice, reverberating in a grand, marble hall—I will never again force myself to begin with an outline.
NUMBER TWO: Don’t release a big book around the holidays. I released the previous Sydney Brennan book in December, but River Bound was a novella and that makes a huge difference.
Copy editors are often backed up this time of year, and many retailers have a two-week lead time between uploading a final version of your book and it actually being published. Not to mention, between work and holiday commitments, you can’t exactly expect Advance Readers to squeeze in sixty-plus chapters in the Safeway checkout line. (I rarely shop there, but last week when it was the only place with parking, I could have easily gotten in a checkout chapter.)
NUMBER THREE: When you do launch under time constraints, excellent Advance Readers will save your bacon! Every typo they snagged was one my awesome copy editor didn’t have to catch. They helped me clarify small issues (agency abbreviations, for example) that nevertheless might have slowed down some readers. And then there were the instances of Schrödinger’s Objects.
Fighting my rough outline of Grave Truth, I had to substantially rewrite a few sections. One by-product of said rewrites: inanimate objects occasionally appeared in more than one space and time at once.
For example, Sydney’s cell phone rang next to Ben, who sat waiting alone in her car, while she simultaneously used the phone in a witness’s home. Thanks, Diane! Later, Sydney pulled her back-up sunglasses from the glove box… in a rental car. Nice catch, Bob!
And a huge, heartfelt thank you to all my Advance Readers. 😊
NUMBER FOUR: A holiday launch is challenging enough—don’t rebrand the series while you’re at it. I’m sure you’ve all seen the new Sydney Brennan covers by now. Aren’t they shiny? But that meant a lot of redoing and re-uploading book files everywhere, tweaking the website, etc.
While I was at it, I separated the novels and novellas into two different series, hoping to avoid reader confusion over book length. (I shouldn’t have alternated novels and novellas in the first place, but that’s a whole other issue!) Or at least, I tried. Almost a month in, I’m still exchanging daily email with one retailer (the largest retailer) to fix it.
If you’re ever in doubt where you are in Syd’s universe or what you should read next (including short stories), you’ll find the Reading Order and old and new covers together here.
NUMBER FIVE: I miss writing. I know, that sounds weird since I’m talking about having written a book. And yet, I spend so little of my time writing now and so much on everything else that is not writing.
Of course, this is the season for vowing to schedule better, to actively be aware of and choose how I spend my time. Especially since it feels as though there are so many more necessary non-writing tasks now than while I was drafting the first few books. I have to remind myself why I’m doing this, the Bonus Lesson…
NUMBER SIX: I appreciate it so much when readers connect with a story. I know not every series is for every reader, and even within a series, there will be books you like better than others. But it means a lot when I hear that a storyline was thought-provoking, or you really identified with a character, or it kept you awake and your blood pressure rising.
(Please, like you didn’t expect a touch of sadist in someone who writes about killing people.)
The fact that I share this experience with you, when we’ve never met and even wouldn’t recognize each other if we were stuck in line at the same airport coffee shop… that’s even more magical than Schrödinger’s cell phone.