Don’t Be Scared to Change Your Story

I decided to re-write the first chapter of Sacrifice because it’s the only section of the book I’ve been unhappy with. I always grimace when I have to provide that section for queries. Every time I submit to an agent I catch myself saying, “Ugh this isn’t the best part.” Well why isn’t it? Why would I keep an opener that isn’t strong enough to be a good selling point? If i’m not fully happy with the first chapter, why would I expect an agent to enjoy it?

Trust your instincts and don’t be stubborn with your drafts.

If something feels wrong or weak, you can always get another opinion or test a different scenario out.

Ask yourself questions. How could this part be more interesting? What is the weakest part? Is it the dialogue? Are the first few lines not catchy enough?

For Sacrifice, I asked myself what I thought was weak about the first chapter. I asked myself what parts worked and what parts weren’t helping the flow of the story. I came to the conclusion that I had all the information I needed to convey, but I needed to change my execution. I brainstormed different ways I could change the first chapter to better introduce my character. I decided to keep important dialogue bits, but i’m completely changing the setting. Instead of a boring phone conversation, my main character will be on the job and battling a supernatural creature. I’m currently testing different creatures and settings for this particular supernatural encounter.

So remember, don’t be scared to go back and make further revisions to your story. If something isn’t working, it’s best to improve the areas before making the plunge into queries. Sometimes I think we mentally tell ourselves the manuscript is done because we want the story to be finished, but not always when it’s actually a polished final draft. I wish I had thought to fix my “final draft” sooner. Lesson learned. (;

Write Tip: Five Tips for Writing Sequels.

My goal for 2015 has been to re-launch the Alliance series, and I wanted to discuss what I’ve learned while writing for a series. Some of this information will be a repeat of topics previous discussed, but hopefully will be helpful to writers starting a series.

Tip one: Document details to keep track of your continuity. This should be your mentality from day one of book one. I actually make a pretty good effort to keep documents for each WIP to record important facts, date and time sensitive information, and character bios. There are unfortunate occasions where I get caught up in the flow of writing and forget to record something, but I usually keep that Word document open and ready.

This also means you need to keep editing your information during the revision process. If you change your character’s eye color in a later draft, you’re going to make more work for yourself if you forget to document that change. By the time you begin the next book in the series, you should have a great source of information to prevent you from having to constantly scan an entire manuscript for little details. I like to have my info documents opened and ready before I even begin writing a sequel.

Also remember stick to any rules you create. As I mentioned in a previous blog:

If you make a set of rules in your first novel, those rules need to stay consistent in the sequels. Why? Your readers will remember the rules. If you set a rule of magic or law in book one, but then that rule is not kept in book two, your readers will remember and question you. They will lose belief in your story—in the world that you took so long to create.

Tip two: Consider character continuity. You want your character to further develop over the length of the series. The character in the final book can’t be exactly the same as he/she was in book one. Over the course of the series, your character has most likely faced death, experienced loss, or perhaps gained courage on grand adventures. You need to determine how the events of previous books have made an impact on your character while still keeping some resemblance of the original character. If you’re uncertain how your characters might react to certain situations, go back to the basics and get to know your character.

Last week, I discussed a game of 21 Questions to get to know your characters. This might help you get into the minds of each individual character. Ask lots of questions. Learn their fears and personalities.

Tip three: Plan before you write. I know, I know, not everyone is a planner and some call themselves ‘Pantsers’ as they basically just fly by the seat of their pants. I’m in the middle somewhere. I like to plan a basic idea and outline, but let the story flow and change on its own.

Why do I think at least basic planning is important? Because each book in a series needs to have its own story arch, yet all stories need to fit into the continuity of the series.

When I get a new idea and consider as a series, I ask myself basic questions to determine where the story would go. I do this basic outlining process for all of my novels and comic book series. For the Alliance series, I always had an end game in mind. I knew what kind of story I wanted to tell and where I wanted the series to end. So with each book planned, I had to determine what the individual plot would be and how that individual book pushed the characters and overall story towards the final destination.

Tip four: Balancing standalone and sequential. This is the part I’m still learning to balance. Have you ever read a book out of order? On more than one occasion, I’ve purchased and read a book out of order, but was still able to fall in love with the series. The books offered me balance of past information and a strong stand-alone story.

In Drakon, the upcoming sequel to The Alliance: Bloodlines, I had to decide what information was necessary for new readers, but without repeating so much information that I bored readers familiar with Bloodlines. I would recommend using beta readers who are familiar with the series and new readers who aren’t familiar at all.

Tip five: Take cover design into consideration. Plan for cohesion and your genre. I had a rough draft for Drakon before I ever published The Alliance: Bloodlines, but never once considered cohesion for the cover art. Think of every series you’ve ever read. Chances are good that all of the covers have similarities that tie the series together. Maybe the series always has a character on the cover, a color theme or a specific font. Visit a book store or online store like Amazon and sift through the covers in your genre.

The Alliance: Bloodlines has great reviews, but very low sales because bloody playing cards aren’t enticing the YA readers.  It’s more costly to backtrack and re-launch your series, so take these factors into consideration before you purchase book designs and publish.

I’m currently in the process of saving for new cover art to re-brand the series and make cohesion for the upcoming sequel. Everything read here is being considered when re-branding The Alliance series. I hope to do a re-launch later this year to give Bloodlines a better chance of getting in the hands of new readers.

What struggles have you faced when writing a series? What other advice would you share?

Writing Tip: Play 21 Questions with Characters

I like to play a little game when new characters pop into my head for a story. Maybe you’ve done something similar with a new friend or romantic interest. I play a game of 21 Questions, but the game doesn’t always require a total of twenty-one. Using more or less questions, you can get to know the characters living inside your head.

Here are 15 fun questions I’ve used, and hopefully you can use these suggestions to inspire even more.

1. How old is he/she and what’s the maturity level?

2. Where did he/she grow up? (Is your character a city loving NYC native? Or from a military family and relocated a lot?)

3. What kind of childhood did he/she experience?

4. What words would you use to describe him/her? (loud, fun, sloppy, clumsy, hermit?)

5. If this was a love interest, what kind of emotional baggage would he/she confess?

6. Biggest fear? (Zombies? Commitment? Heights?)

7. What are his/her strengths and weaknesses?

8. What secrets would he/she keep from friends and family?

9. What are his/her passions? (Art lover? Looking to save the environment?)

10. Favorite food?

11. Optimist or pessimist?

12. Preferred style of clothing? (Casual dresser, dapper suits, or high maintenance always in heels?)

13. If your character could have lunch with one celebrity dead or alive, who might they choose?

14. If your character showed up at a party, how would he/she act? (Would they be the life of the party? Looking for a hook up? Sitting in a corner hiding?)

15. If he/she could travel anywhere in the world, (or perhaps even out of this world) where would he/she choose?

Hopefully these questions helped someone further develop their characters, and feel free to share other questions which might be fitting. I would also recommend keeping character Q&As on file with any other bios or notes you might use.

Back to Blogging

Hey everyone, I want to apologize for the unannounced hiatus on my site. I had some issues with the website, the holidays happened and suddenly it was mid-January of the new year. Where did the time go? I’ll try to announce any breaks in the future, but for now I’ll be updating content weekly.

So what have I been up to?

I’ve sent Sacrifice to literary agents, I’m working on a short story for an anthology, and a few other projects. I’ve seriously been debating a way to distribute a horror fantasy story for free. I’m still working on the details, but considering releasing the story by chapters on a weekly schedule. I’ll announce more on that when I have a set plan. I’m also selling some of my art to try to cover the self-publishing costs for The Alliance: Bloodlines sequel. I’m trying to be hopeful for a December release, but I still have a lot of saving to do.

I recently tried out the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 13.0 software, and I’ll be blogging my opinions on that in the next few days. If you have any other blog suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

Mistakes I Made in the Adventures of Self-Publishing

Prior to self-publishing my first novel, The Alliance: Bloodlines, I did research on my options for publishing. I read countless blogs and other resources that explained the “Do’s and Don’ts” of self-publishing. I listened to some of the advice, but disregarded the huge chunks of info that would require me to spend more on my novel than I could afford.

Publishing your novel is a hugely gratifying experience. Hell you should pat yourself on the back right now if you’ve finished writing a novel—regardless whether or not you’ve published yet. Completing a novel is no small feat, but when you put your heart and soul into a story it seems only right to give your story the best chance at success. You want the world to read your story, right?

I think I speak for most writers when I say that we don’t do this for the money. If you’re a writer simply trying to make a buck, then you’re probably going to be awfully disappointed. A writer of fiction simply wants to give readers the same experience that they receive themselves when reading their favorite books. A writer wants to make the readers drift off into their fantastically crafted worlds and forget reality. They want their readers to have a great experience and grow with the characters, or simply fall in love with them.

So what care should indie authors take in order to give their self-published book a fighting chance?

Professional editing is a MUST. I did not listen when this rule came up in several blogs and articles. Professional editing can be a costly venture, but you can significantly diminish your chances of success by skimping on the editing of your novel. No matter how much you think you can edit yourself, trust me when I say it’s just never good enough. Professional editors get paid to catch errors with a trained eye, and it’s best to let them work their magic. Do your research and pick an editor that is qualified to work on your novel. I made the mistake of hastily hiring someone to work on Bloodlines, and paid almost $800 for a nightmare of edits that ended up being tossed out. I had several friends help me re-edit Bloodlines after several more revisions, but we did not catch all the mistakes.

A professional cover is also important. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” can be thrown out the window. You should take time to plan out your cover ideas, and don’t forget to consider covers for sequels if the book will be a part of a series. It never occurred to me at the time of self-publishing that I needed to have a plan for my covers, but you want them to have some kind of cohesion. I love the cover that was made for me, and my designer gave me exactly what I asked for, but it wasn’t well thought out on my part. I should have made something more enticing than the playing cards. Unless the person scrolling through Amazon just can’t resist a good game of cards, I am probably not luring anyone in with my cover.

Build a fan base. I read in so many places that I needed to build a fan base first and then release the product once I generated enough interest. This applies whether it’s a novel, comic, or whatever. I was hasty and didn’t wait, with my Facebook page only having a handful of fans and no one really knowing what Bloodlines was all about. Some people might stumble upon your novel on Amazon, and they might buy it without knowing anything about it, but you have way more chance of success if your interest is already there. If you have time and patience, I believe this approach could be valuable to you.

Now these are some of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made, and I would love to hear from other authors that have learned from their own self-publishing woes. In my next blog I will discuss how I am taking a different approach with my latest WIP. Just remember not to get too discouraged! Mistakes are simply a way of learning.