How to Write & Publish a Book - Part 2

(For part one of this guide, click here.)

Okay...you've followed the first three steps of my guide. You're writing your story instead of telling it to people, you're writing even when you don't feel like it, and you're focusing on finishing the story instead of making it perfect from the get-go.

Now what?

Step 4:  If You Can't Write, Outline!

Alright, you can't write. Everything you type is crap. Utter drivel. You're depressed, and ready to give it up. Don't write...outline!

Heck, you might even want to outline right from the beginning.

See, there's two basic types of writers (in my simplistic view): the pantser and the outliner.

Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, and write the whole damn book without outlining anything. Drawn by the mystery of what might come next, they might not even know where the book is going until they're finished.

Outliners, on the other hand, outline everything from the start to the finish, then fill in each part with prose.

Now, the reality is that you'll likely fall somewhere in-between these extremes. I know I do. I usually have a vision of a scene from the beginning, middle, and end of my books, then fill the rest in pantser-style. If I'm stuck, I outline a whole chapter or two ahead. That way I have an idea of the whole story, but give myself room to subvert my own expectations.

Now, you might think that outlining everything ahead of time will stifle creativity, but this isn't necessarily true. Outlining is a creative act in and of itself...you're being creative by creating the story once from a 100-mile view. And you have the freedom to change anything you want when you fill in that outline later.

Find out what process works for you...but if you find you just can't write prose, outlining can jump-start your muse!

 

Step 5:  Make Your Characters Grow

Now, some people might roll their eyes at this one. Who am I to talk about character growth? After all, at the end of Runic Awakening, Kyle was still pretty wimpy. Well, this was intentional, and set up the second book in the series...but he still grew a little in the first book. And by the third book, well, let's just say he kicked some serious ass.

All characters benefit from growth, both in power and in personal development. We love to see character arcs like this. Many stories are about teaching lessons of some kind, as with the tales in Greek mythology, a great deal of the Bible, Star Wars, and even the movie Iron Man.

Now some characters won't grow. That's okay...they're usually either bad guys or mentors. They've reached the end of their character arcs, and have either attained wisdom or failed to grow (in the case of villains, or the tragic hero), and this is their undoing. But there should be some growth in your characters, particularly your hero.

If you're up to it, you can even make your villains grow, like Sabin in Runic Vengeance. Growth doesn't necessarily need to be positive...you can make characters regress over time. Or grow into villains.

 

Step 6:  Give Your Book an Ending

Well duh, right? Of course your book has to end!

I mention this because, in this era of trilogies - and books extending even further, into a veritable library of sequels - there is a temptation to set the reader up for the next book in the series without giving a satisfactory conclusion to your current book. It's perfectly okay to leave some ends open for the sequel, but try to tie up most of the threads of the storyline, so to speak. If your readers don't get a satisfactory conclusion, they're going to feel cheated.

I've found that the best way for me to ensure a satisfactory ending to my books is to plan the ending before I start writing. Some people even write the ending first, then go back from there. This prevents you from being two-thirds of the way through your book, and struggling to come up with a way to tie up all the loose ends of your story. A lame ending will kill a book...but a great ending can rescue one.

That's enough for now. Part 3 will be coming shortly...and I'll go over what to do once your first draft is complete!

How to Write & Publish a Book - Part 1

This series will be a step-by-step guide to writing, publishing, and marketing a book...from beginning to end!

Writing a book is something that lots of people dream of doing. Chances are, if you haven't written one already, you've wanted to. You might've even come up with a few ideas, or a whole storyline. Maybe it hasn't gone that far beyond that...an idea. Or perhaps you've completed the first draft, and just don't think it's ready.

I've been there - trust me - and I want to try to use what I've learned over the past few years to help you! Now, keep in mind that these steps are based off of my own experiences, and are not meant to be gospel for everyone. You might be able to do things differently. If so, that's okay! 

Step One:  Don't Tell Anyone

So you've got a perfect idea for a book. You're excited! You want to tell everyone about it, it's so good.

Don't. Do. It.

You see, there are lots of ways to tell a story. You can write about it, or tell it to someone. Or make a graphic novel about it. Or write a screenplay, make a movie. The problem is, once you've told a story one way, you're much less likely to tell it any other way.

So when you tell your buddy about your newest story, you've already told the story. As far as your brain is concerned, it's done. The urge to write it...to spend months, if not years, typing away at a keyboard to create it, is diminished. Perhaps not gone, but lessened.

I felt the same way with any long-term goal. When I decided to train for my black belt, I didn't tell a soul. That goal was a fire that burned within, and by making it secret, it just made it stronger. I didn't tell anyone about my goal to get into medical school until three years into college. And I didn't tell anyone about my first book until the first draft was done.

Keeping things inside - keeping them secret - makes them grow. This goes for bad things, like personal trauma, bad feelings, resentments, and so on. But it also works for good things. I've learned to let the bad stuff out and keep the good stuff in...and I'm happier and more successful for it!

Now, you may be the type of person that finds motivation in collaboration, and can't do the solo thing. That's fine...everyone is different. But writing is for the most part a solo act, and I suspect many will benefit from this advice.

So don't tell anyone your goal to write a book. Keep it inside, and tell it - for the first time - on paper. Then, when it's complete, feel free to show everyone and collaborate!

 

Step 2: Write When You Don't Feel Like It

You're faced with a blank screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard. You want to write, but it suddenly seems hard. No...impossible. You glance at your phone, wondering if there's anything on Facebook/Twitter/etc. to check up on. You know what? You're just not inspired right now. In fact, you know exactly what you have:  the dreaded Writer's Block.

AKA:  Laziness.

Somehow, writers have managed to turn procrastination into a disease for which inspiration is the only cure. Doctors don't get Doctor's Block. Construction workers don't get it either. Accountants don't get it. So what is it?

Writer's block is caused by the (mostly false) belief that you need to be inspired to write.

Your muse, that strange, uncontrollable part of your mind that is the source of your creativity, is lazy. A damn, no good, lazy bastard. You need to kick it to make it work. Or find some other way to inspire it.

So write.

That's right...write. Put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing. See, at first your muse will remain silent. Your writing will be forced and uninspired. But as you write, ideas will start to flow, and you'll find yourself entering a groove. Your muse will start talking to you.

You need to write to become inspired, not the other way around.

This works for everything. All of your goals. I go to the gym and work out 5-6 days a week. And half the time I go, I don't feel like being there...at least for the first 10 minutes. But after that, I feel great...and I want to keep going and going. Studying medicine (or anything else) is hard and boring...until you force yourself to do it, then start to get interested in the material. Soon, you find yourself twenty pages in, and wonder where the time went.

An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest. Your muse is at rest until you apply an external force - your willpower - to put it in motion. And once you do, the words flow!

So write!

 

Step 3:  Don't Expect Perfection

My father is an artist, and majored in art history in college. He was drawing on a large canvas, and filled a small part of it with something he adored...something just perfect. In fact, it was so good that he couldn't figure out how to fill the rest of his canvas. He hemmed and hawed.

And then his teacher tore up his perfect drawing.

My Dad was pissed.

His teacher told him that he'd gotten stuck because he'd considered what he'd done so precious that he couldn't move on from it. He couldn't finish the piece because he wanted all of it to be perfect. If it wasn't perfect, it was going to ruin that small part he'd started with.

Well, your writing is the same.

Many of us writers will start out trying to make every sentence, every paragraph perfect. We'll write a chapter, then revise it and revise it. Or we'll write a few paragraphs, and get stuck because we don't like it as much as what came before. Paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection, we don't keep going...we don't finish the story.

Well, a wise man once wrote that he was an average writer, but an excellent editor.

Write, and keep writing. Don't force any part of it to be perfect. And if you love the hell out of a chapter or two, don't hold the next chapters to the same expectation. Just keep going. Some of what you write will be crap, others will be gold. You always have time to edit the bad parts later...the point of the first draft is to FINISH THE STORY.

I'm going to repeat that.

The point of the first draft is to FINISH THE STORY.

You'll have all the time in the world to edit later, to sculpt your incomplete work into a veritable masterpiece. Back to my father, he started his next drawing, and focused on filling the canvas. Then he worked on each section of what he'd created, editing and editing until he was satisfied with the whole piece. Until the entire work of art was as perfect as that one, incomplete section.

Believe me when I tell you, the first draft of Runic Awakening, my first book, was utter crap. Awful awful awful. One day I might publish it, just to get a laugh from you. My brother read it and said, being ever the diplomat: "It's not good."

Now, a few of you might say it's still not good, (and I've read your soul-sucking Amazon reviews you know) but the point is, it's a whole hell of a lot better than it was.

So, once again, FINISH THE STORY.

Whelp, that's all for now. I'll post part 2 soon!

Readercon!

I've signed up to go to Readercon for 2018. It'll be in Quincy, MA from July 12 to the 15th. It's a great way for authors to meet readers and vice versa, and after the great experience that was the World Fantasy Conference, my wife and I are pumped to go!

The World Fantasy Convention was awesome...and I got to meet Terry Brooks, L.E. Modesitt Jr., David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame, and a lot of author up-and-coming and aspiring authors. It was great to see how humble and thoughtful even the most famous of authors was, especially Terry Brooks. The Sword of Shannara was one of the first epic fantasy books I ever read as a kid, and it shaped my understanding of what fantasy was, and what it had to offer.

If you ever get a chance to go to the World Fantasy Conference...or have a chance to go to Quincy for Readercon in 2018...go for it. And if you see me there, please say hello!

Sales and Marketing - I screwed up

While the Runic series took off relatively quickly, garnering lots of readers and reviews in a matter of a couple of months, I haven't had nearly as much luck with Hunter of Legends. Hunter's first book has very few readers, and almost no one on Goodreads has picked it up.

I find myself wondering why.

I used the same marketing plan for each book, and have favorable reviews so far, over 4 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. The cover art was made by the same artist that made the covers for the Runic Series, and people generally like it when I ask them to critique it. When I went to the World Fantasy Conference earlier this month, everyone I pitched the book to seemed genuinely interested.

So why did the Runic Series do well while Hunter of Legends hasn't?

I have a few ideas. First, Hunter's book targets a different reader; while the Runic series was coming of age fantasy, Hunter's book is definitely adult fantasy, and the "adult content" flag will make the book invisible to younger readers searching for books on Amazon. However, I suspect most of my readers are 18 or older, so this might not be the cause.

I did spend much less on Google ads for Hunter's book, but found that they had no effect on sales when I used them for Hunter's book, despite using near identical ad creation. Again, I've found google ads to be, on the whole, expensive and generally ineffective...including for the Runic series. So this is probably not the issue.

One thing I did poorly initially was not including a call-to-action in the Runic series, and not cross-promoting my books. I've just fixed this by including links at the end of all my ebooks to my website, blog, twitter, facebook, and so forth...and by including a call-to-action for reviews at the end of each book. I've also included excerpts for all of my books - the first three chapters - on the home page of my web site.

In addition, I've placed the signup form for my newsletter at the top of my home page, whereas before it'd been on the bottom. This alone has dramatically increased subscribers...from a couple a month to a couple a day.

I wish I'd done these things when the Runic Series had first launched. I would have grabbed a much larger number of subscribers, and had the opportunity to give them Hunter's book for free, generating interest and more initial reviews. I lost that opportunity, and don't have a way to get it back.

This is not to say I'm defeated. Far from it! I think of these as important lessons that I can take with me in the future, making my next book launches more successful, reaching more readers. Failure is a marvelous, if painful, teacher. And while Hunter's series will likely never enjoy the readership of the Runic Series, future book series may, and perhaps readers will find Hunter's books by my future cross-promotion efforts.

Hopefully you authors starting out can avoid the mistakes I've made, and have more success with your book launches! Even a good book can flounder in obscurity if you don't market it well enough. I recommend Derek Murphy's youtube channel...he has a great deal of insight into book marketing for self-published authors.

Update on Seeker of Legends

I'm about a quarter of the way through writing Seeker of Legends, the sequel to Hunter of Legends!

I expect to finish the first draft by January, and spend a month or two editing and formatting it for publication. I've also started re-reading the 80 or so pages I've written of the 4th book in the Runic series, and am excited to start working on that as well.

I'll keep you updated as usual, both in this blog and on the home page of my website, with the usual graphs showing percent completion of each stage of writing. I'll also post the first chapter or so of Seeker of Legends in a bit as a teaser.

Creating Characters for Your Book

Stories are usually character-driven...making your characters the most important part of your novel. The more interesting and believable your characters, the better your book will be.

Great characters can make up for a so-so plot. Look at the Marvel films. Most have the same basic, well-worn plot (evil threatens the world, heroes must work together to save it), yet the characters - the deeply flawed Tony Stark, fish-out-of-water Thor, brooding and back-stabbing Loki - keep you coming back for more.

We love these characters.

The same goes with your books. If you have characters people love, readers will buy your books just to see what they do next. So how do you create characters for your book?

Do you create an excel spreadsheet, writing down every detail of their past, their psychological profile, their favorite colors, their strengths and weaknesses? Do you draw detailed pictures of every item of clothing they own? Every relationship they've had? Their hopes and dreams?

I would caution against it.

Now, of course everyone has a different way of writing, and of creating their characters. But in my experience, the more detail you use when initially creating your characters, the less real they become.

Because, in over-using your logical brain - the logical, list-making, problem-solving part - you stifle your creative brain. That part that seems to work by magic, creating things out of thin air, without you having a damn clue how you did it.

Now, as a physician, I can tell you that I have a well-developed logical brain. I'm all about facts and math and problem-solving. But as a writer, I have to turn this part of my brain off. I've never fully created a world, or a character, with this part of my mind. Sure, you have to start with it. Maybe you outline the basics:  the rogue with a heart of gold, the bumbling mad scientist, the wise wizard, the rich, dominating businessman - but when it comes to writing the character, turn that logical brain off.

See, your characters - after a certain point - should write themselves.

You'll be in control at first. You'll use your logic-brain to write them...until they start being real to you. Until they come alive.

Once that happens, your creative brain takes over. The characters start writing themselves. They tell you what to write. When you try to force them to do things they wouldn't do, they resist. They push back. You start to feel like your writing is going in the wrong direction. You start to get "writer's block."

And if you try to force them too much, your readers won't believe in these characters.

You see, your logical brain just draws the barest outline of a character. Just enough that you can kinda tell who he or she is. Your creative brain fills in the details, the colors. It animates that character. Breathes life into them.

Now, sometimes it takes a long time for a character to come to life. I've written 90% of a book feeling like one or two of the characters is still dead. A wooden, lifeless stand-in. So I re-write these characters. I do it until the character comes to life. And when they do, I sometimes have to completely change their whole side of the story. Because they tell me what I need to do. This happened to me with Erasmus in the Runic series. And with Sukri and Gammon in Hunter of Legends.

I can tell you, with utter seriousness, that after the first novel in a series, I write for the same reasons a reader wants to read...to see what happens next. To see what my characters will do.

Because I have no idea what they'll tell me to do next.

 Because they're alive to me.

I know that if I don't feel this way about my characters - or at least most of them - I'm not doing it right.

So I recommend resisting the urge to over-create your characters at the beginning. Give them room to grow. Leave them mostly a mystery, one that you can unravel over time. Because your readers will be doing the same.

 

 

How to Smash Through Writer's Block

Ah, the dreaded writer's block. That singular affliction of writers, a disease of the mind that paralyzes the fingertips, making authors stare at an endless expanse of white screen, a reflection of their empty minds, fingers hovering over the keyboard. A catatonic state that can last days, or sometimes weeks.

A disease with no cure save for the passage of time.

Luckily, as a physician, I've studied this disease extensively, and I've come up with a cure!

How to Smash Through The Block:

Writer's block is caused by the (mostly false) belief that you need to be inspired to write. Nothing is further from the truth...in fact, I'm not inspired to write this at all! 

Your muse, that strange, uncontrollable part of your mind that is the source of your creativity, is lazy. A damn, no good, lazy bastard. It's that roommate who lays on the couch all day smoking weed and watching Netflix while eating your food. You need to kick it to make it work. Or find some other way to inspire it.

How do you do that?

Write.

That's right...write. Put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing. See, at first your muse will remain silent. Your writing will be forced and uninspired. But as you write, ideas will start to flow, and you'll find yourself entering a groove. Your muse will start talking to you.

You need to write to become inspired, not the other way around.

I don't suffer writer's block anymore, because I write every day that I can. If I'm stuck, I outline. Or just force myself to type. I can (and often do) delete a bit of what comes onto the page, but that's okay. Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series, said that when he looked back at his novels, he couldn't tell the difference between the quality of his writing when he was inspired, and when he was just plowing through, forcing himself to write.

So write!

If you haven't written a book yet, that's your secret to success. Just write. It doesn't need to be perfect the first time...that's what editing is for. You're never going to build muscles if you just think about going to the gym. You have to go almost every day, whether you feel like it or not. The same goes with writing. Don't talk about it, don't think about it. Just do it.

Half the time I sit down to write, I have the urge to do something else. It just seems too hard at the moment. I don't feel inspired. Then I start writing, and boom, the words just come. So kick your muse, and start writing!

Like, now. Stop reading this and write something!

Dealing With Bad Reviews

Congratulations...you've published a book! After years of hard work, your masterpiece is ready for others to enjoy. Now it's time to watch those glowing reviews come in. Go on...hit the refresh button on your book's Amazon page a few thousand times a day. Five stars, here we come!

And then it happens: The Bad Review.

Because you see, some people are going to hate your book. And what's worse, they're going to hate it publicly (the bastards). They will describe, in brutal detail, everything that sucks about it. Your baby is going to be publicly eviscerated, and there is nothing you're going to be able to do about it.

Don't panic.

Instead, follow these simple rules!

Rule #1: Don't defend yourself

Your first instinct is going to be to protect your baby. Write a counterpoint to every wrongheaded view that bastard of a reviewer (who probably hates theirlife and wants nothing more than to crush you) managed to type with their sad little fingers.

Don't do it.

Some people are going to not like your book. Hell, some people hate kittens and babies. That's okay. They're not out to destroy you (I hope), they just feel strongly about your book. And if your book is pretty good, most of the reviews are going to be alright. One bad review is not going to tank your book.

Rule #2: Don't check for new reviews before bed

Admit it, you check your Amazon page for new reviews a few billion times a day. That's normal - and extremely unhealthy. Don't do that. And for the love of God, DON'T check for new reviews right before you go to bed!

I wish someone had told me.

You'll be laying in bed, your phone clutched in your hands, eagerly checking for a bump in your review count one last time. Wait, hold up...what's this? *Gasp!* Another review!

You scroll eagerly downward, and then you see it: the bad review. And not just any bad review...an utterly devastatingly bad review. 30 pages long, dripping with disdain.

You conduct an impromptu crash test of your phone case, throwing your phone across the room. Then you stare up at the ceiling, imagining all the horrible (and highly illegal) things you'd like to do to your reviewer. Morning comes, and you're still staring at the ceiling, imagining yourself strangling the bastard. After having re-read the review 4,000 times.

Which brings me to my next rule:

Rule #3: Read bad reviews once - and only once

Read your good reviews over and over. You've earned it! But don't obsess over the bad ones. Read them once, process them, and let them go. The more you think about them, the less happy you'll be. You don't need closure. Hell, a year after they're written, bad reviews still give me heartburn. Go write another book.

Rule #4: Don't check a good reviewer's review history

You got a GLOWING review! Yay! You're on cloud nine. This reviewer frickin' LOVED your book. Thought it was the best damn thing they've ever read. They liked it better than chocolate and coffee and meth and sex. Combined. Or taken sequentially, your pick.

Then you look at the other books they've reviewed...and every single review reads like yours.

The glow fades. You feel duped. That 5-star review means nothing now.

My advice? Hold on to that high, baby. Treat it like a new girlfriend or boyfriend that thinks you're the greatest guy/girl/etc. they've ever been with. Chances are they said the same thing to their previous partner, but do you need to know that? Nope! Bask in your ignorance! Knowledge is pain. 

Rule #5: Learn from it!

Bad reviews feel awful, but making mistakes often does. Some reviewers have a point...and as an author, we can learn from them. We can grow by fixing the mistakes we made in our current books and avoiding making them in our future ones. Think of bad reviews as your teachers. Teachers you never asked for and don't like very much, but you know, teachers.

Rule #5: You'll break these rules

Yeah, I can't follow them either.

 

Seeker of Legends!

Now that Hunter of Legends is published, I've dug in to write the sequel, Seeker of Legends. I'm 40 pages in, and going strong! I've already hired Bookfly Design to create a book cover for January 2018, and plan on publishing in February or so.

I'll create a bar graph soon that will show my progress, and as always, I'll keep you updated here on my blog!

Fear & Understanding

As the father of two multi-racial boys, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the events of Charlottesville, and of nationalism and racism in general. I wrote Hunter of Legends after the birth of my son, who is half-black, half-white.

As those who've read the book know, Hunter of Legends delves into nationalism, and some of the ideas that drive it. I wrote the book partially to better understand where people who believe in nationalism - including white nationalism (as opposed to supremacism) - are coming from. There's a tendency to reject ideas we find unacceptable, to refuse to think about them or consider the perspective of those who hold those ideas. I believe it is important to do the opposite; the more unacceptable an idea, the more important it is that I understand it. That I understand how it came to be, and why people feel the way they do.

I've spoken to quite a few people from different cultures about nationalism and culture, including the concept of cultural dilution and cultural "genocide." It's interesting to note that these concepts are not just ideas held by white nationalists. I've spoken with people from Kenya who bemoan the gradual loss of their culture due to the influence of more westernized cultures and the rise of urbanization. I've spoken with Native Americans who believe that their culture - already devastated by the very real genocide perpetrated against them - is still under siege today, and that the lack of young men and women to continue their legacy may lead to the death of their ways. I've spoken with Asian Americans who, having immigrated to this country in the 70's, regret the fact that their children and grandchildren have less and less interest in their native traditions.

In all of these instances, the idea that one's way of life - their traditions, beliefs, and rituals...the things they hold near and dear in their hearts - may die away is shared. There is an underlying fear there, and mourning for something lost. These are real issues, and not just for "white" people.

Hatred, racism, supremacism, bigotry, and violence should be condemned, and nationalism can lead to these, as occurs in my book. People use differences in culture to justify hatred and disgust for one another, and as Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French philosopher noted, the greater the difference between cultures, the easier it is to hold disgust for them...to think of them as less than human. We do the same for cultures poorly represented in our media...including those of the middle east, who are seldom displayed as anything but villains in our movies and television shows. The same goes for African Americans, who are disproportionately displayed as criminals in our media. My wife bemoans the fact that, as a Black actress, she struggles to find roles outside of the gangster/drug dealer category.

I think it is important for us to have a discussion about the underlying drivers of these feelings and beliefs. If we do not understand each other - if we refuse to understand each other - then we will continue to hate each other. It is easier to have compassion for someone when you listen to them and understand where they're coming from. We don't have to agree with each other, and we live in a country where we are privileged to have the right to our beliefs, no matter how unacceptable they may be to someone else.

We'll never change peoples' minds by keeping our minds closed, or by vilifying people. I want to write books that make me think, and that take me out of my comfort zone. I hope that, in reading them, they do the same for you.

The Perils of Self-Editing

It came to my attention that a rather major series of edits for the first half of Hunter of Legends had never been completed prior to publication. After the first draft of each book I write, I get feedback from multiple reviewers, then make a long (LONG) list of changes to make...sometimes numbering in the hundreds. And with each sequential draft, literally thousands of individual edits are made (between 1,000-2,000 per run).

After publishing Hunter of Legends, I discovered that I had not made some of the most important changes I'd listed, most of them to do with Hunter's character arc. I've since fixed the issue and republished the book as of today, although the paperback version is still pending.

I apologize for any inconvenience, but am relieved that I discovered the error within the first week after publishing!