In Defense of Your First Published Book

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I get together once a week with a talented mastermind group of female writers; the eight of us discuss all kinds of writing topics including marketing and business, the creative side, and encouraging one another. A few weeks ago, I brought up the question of how we felt about our first books. Specifically, if any of us would ever consider editing them over, learning from our initial mistakes as it were.

See, we tend to get better with each book, right? With every new story, with the obscene number of hours we put into learning, it’s standard for writers to grow. We develop our voice, our style, and theoretically, our team of editors and beta readers gets bigger, which is also a huge help to growth within each book. Experience and practice are key to being a better writer, after all.

It’s safe to say that my latest books have a stronger voice and style than my first book. I mean, I’d hope so, right? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m proud of Gifted, the first book I ever published, back in 2012. It went through several drafts, an editor, and multiple betas, including a bestselling author I’m lucky to call a friend. I took it seriously; every step was a learning process.  I don’t just mean with the writing either, but also with the business side of things like marketing. I understand loads more now than I did 4 years ago, but that doesn’t make me any less proud of the work I did then. I’ve come a long way, and will keep forging the path.

Some writers toy with the idea of rereleasing their first book; ideally, it’s for simple edits like typos or tightening up the writing style, rather than a rewrite of the plot or characters (so clean it up without touching the actual story). I don’t find anything wrong with this personally, but the basic view of the mastermind group was that we didn’t want to move backwards. Because I’m proud of that work, because I want to admit how far I’ve come and grown over releases, I’m okay with leaving it as is. There’s some cleanup I could do, but obviously it’s not so bad seeing as the reviews are well-starred and readers pick up the rest of the series.

So why not keep moving forward? Who’s to say my 15th book won’t put my 8th book to shame? I’ll always keep trying to grow within my stories. I’ve finally found my voice, my writing style; how can I keep pushing myself? I can try different points of view between first and third person (which I’ve tried to do with all of my books); I can test out a different genre; I could co-write or join an anthology, or any number of things to always be moving forward.

Ultimately, it’s your call to rerelease your earlier works, and I don’t think there’s any wrong answer there as every writer is different. But no matter your decision…be proud of where you began and how far you’ve come. And remember: Always Forward.

Why All Writers Should Do #NaNoWriMo

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Maybe you’re stuck with a little writer’s block. Maybe a new plot is toying with you, asking to be written soon, or the spark of an idea needs some serious love if it’s going to be for real. For whatever reason, you need to get a jumpstart into a certain story. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in. You’ve got the entire month of November to push yourself, probably harder than usual in some cases (guilty), and really accomplish something special. Trust me – this intensive writing process is going to hurt, but you’ll come away as a stronger writer because of it.

Spend the last weekend of October – or the prior week(s), however long it takes you – to outline the proposed story. Sketch out your characters, the setting, how you want things to begin and end. Fill in the middle as best you can, but don’t worry if you prefer to let it unroll during the process. Totally up to you as every writer is different with their prep (pantser vs plotter!). When it’s finally November, game on. Write thousands of words in a few days, write hundreds over the weeks, whatever that means to you, just get to 50,000 words. Ass in chair, people. You write 50K words for breakfast, right?

Now, granted you could do this every month (I don’t recommend it for sanity reasons), but what is it about NaNoWriMo that makes it different?

Of course the big thing is you get your story down on paper. Whether you finish or it’s a giant chunk, you’re one step closer to completing a huge goal. The difference is the community. At any given time in this National Novel Writing Month, you’re practically guaranteed to feel involved. Not only will having writing buddies (both in real life and online) encourage you to keep going, but it’ll hold you accountable (something that I personally need to get a project done).

Chat up those writing buddies through the #NaNoWriMo tags and encourage each other to keep going; set up competitive word sprints or share funny memes during the mini-breaks. Chat about it on Twitter, keep up with the NaNoWriMo advice on their social media, or see how others are doing with their goals (though don’t compare their daily word counts to yours; another sanity suggestion).

I’m giving it a go again this year with a little idea that came up last month. I prefer to start fresh rather than work on the others in the queue, since I tend to get caught up in self-edits on work that’s already been done. (It’s great that I have 35K of one already written, but that means bits and pieces are already done, which requires my going through every chapter to make sure the new parts make sense; a clean slate keeps the pauses to a minimum and I get to see if the idea is worth a damn – what do I have to lose besides 30 days when I’m between releases, anyway?)

It’s been a couple years since I participated, but I managed to “win” in 2012 and 2013 with Witch Hearts and A Reaper Made. I made sure to follow all those things I listed above – outlined the stories first, wrote the first scenes that came to mind as fast as I could, and filled in the blanks as they came to me. Now, each story wound up at around 75,000 words, so obviously those first 50K acted as a foundation. Should you have a lower word count goal such as a novella, you’re in the right area.

Now, of course this is just a first draft. I would never want to publish the first draft of anything (and strongly suggest you heed that advice, too), but getting the words on paper is usually the hardest part. Once you have something to work with, the edits are easier: you take time to develop every chapter; the scenes become clearer and characters grow depth. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get that ish done. No excuses, no whining, just forcing yourself on the path you want to be on anyway. Even if it’s half of the novel (hopefully epic high fantasy because whoa), you’ve made progress.

Sleep will be lost. Family dinners forgotten. Spouses neglected. Sweatpants covered in chip dust because you were too busy typing to use a napkin. And at the end of it, you have the ability to say you did it, and hopefully have a future book release on your hands. Sounds like a win to me.

See you kids on the other side. Feel free to become my “buddy” on NaNoWriMo here. We’ll celebrate on December 1!

What to Do After You Finish Your Series

Last weekend, I typed the final words in the last chapter of the third book in the Heroes of Arcania trilogy. I sent the draft off to my editor and betas and currently (impatiently) await their response and ways to make it even better. Books 1 and 2 are complete, uploaded for my pre-order slot and already making their way into ARC readers’ hands. The cover reveal for the entire trilogy is later this week. HoA is well on its way to being out in the world.

Truth be told, the pukey feeling never goes away. This will make books 7, 8, + 9 on my completed shelf, and despite all the positive response so far, the nerves still get to me. BUT I know in my heart that the trilogy is done and the best it can possibly be at this moment in time. That’s enough for me to know it’s ready for the world.

I’ve spent literally years with the Heroes. Nova’s story came to me 4 to 5 years ago; her first draft was completed shortly thereafter. But with my focus on Donovan Circus, Nova’s story was put in a drawer, hidden away until the time was right. And a year ago, when I finally rewrote the first draft and plotted out the rest of the trilogy, that meant a lot of time with these characters and their stories. Most of the last 365 days have been spent with Nova and Cole; when I wasn’t writing their story, I was daydreaming it, considering all the details, actions, and consequences. I have come home everyday for the last 6 months to type even just a couple hundred words; I have been in Arcania so long that it feels like home to me, too.

I was lost last week. I had a book hangover, one I couldn’t shake because I’ve spent at least four years with it. Without a trilogy to finish, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I opened up another standalone WIP, halfheartedly plucking at a few words, but I didn’t have it in me to jump to another story yet. I wasn’t ready to deal with new characters because I was afraid Arcania was still too fresh, enough that it may accidentally bleed into the wrong story.

So here’s the big question that comes after typing “The End”: What next?

And I don’t just mean the marketing that comes during and after a book release. There’s always stuff to be done there, or paperbacks to order, or conferences to attend. This isn’t what I’m talking about. Let’s go beyond the guest blog posts and ads and marketing the trilogy. For example, aside from that stuff, here’s where my brain is at:

  • Do I work on my next book? (And if so, will it be the already-35K-words-in standalone novel? Or Donovan Circus #5? Or…)
  • Do I sit on my couch and catch up on the 173 episodes of my favorite TV shows?
  • Do I read the 77+ books on my TBR pile?
  • Or do I take some time to myself to do absolutely nothing, instead focusing on naps, dog cuddles, and fruity, alcoholic drinks?

Let’s face it: I don’t have a quiet mind, and while sitting around doing nothing is fun for like, a DAY, by the next day I’m feeling guilty for wasting time or missing a possible opportunity. Sitting around might be my style for a while, but it’ll be short-lived. So yes, I can watch 3 movies on a lazy Saturday, but come Sunday, I’m itching for work in any form.

JLo and I booked a weeklong summer vacation in San Francisco, our first real vacation since going on our honeymoon over 4 years ago. I’ve got plenty of books for the flight and poolside. I’ve already agreed to leave my laptop at home (though we all know should inspiration strike, I’ve my trusted tablet/phone/journal to jot down notes) so that I don’t get sucked into work. I’m excited about vacation, even if it isn’t for another two months. I’ve timed it perfectly between the back-to-back releases and even day-job deadlines.

But I’m still feeling a little lost right now. What do you do after you finish your book/series?

The correct answer is: Whatever the hell you want.

There is no wrong answer here. Every author is different. Some can jump right into another story. Usually I can, and have, but this time feels different. Perhaps because in fun standalones, I can move on quickly; and from Donovan Circus, I always know I’ll be back. But for HoA, the story has been told and I’m not quite sure where to go from here. I know I won’t be lost forever – plot details for DC5 are already beginning to nag at me, and my standalone is fun and halfway drafted, so I know it’s only a matter of time. But I want to take my time; I want to enjoy a few nights not chained to my laptop.

But for now, for this week, or maybe even the rest of the month, my mind will take a break to soak in what’s left of Heroes of Arcania. I will read whatever book I want when I feel like it, or perhaps sketch out the first few chapters of DC5. I will catch up on my favorite TV shows or even start new ones. And eventually, I will throw myself back into writing, but as I’ve spent the last year at my keyboard, I know I’m okay taking a short break. And I hope you know that no matter what you decide to do after you finish your book/series, that it’s okay to do what you want, too. Take the time to relax between projects. I think in the long run, it helps us revive our passions for the next project, too, knowing that the previous one is completed.

Update: HEROES OF ARCANIA Trilogy

So. It’s been a while. I swear, for good reason. Life and all that, blah blah blah, but also, because I’m prepping for a huge summer release. I’m not what you’d call a patient person, so to sit on this for as long as I have should at least earn me a donut or two. But, I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer and I had to share an update with you.

HEROES OF ARCANIA will be released this summer. My intent is for each of the three books to be released back to back. SuperNova, book #1 will release in June, with #2 in July, and #3 in August.

I’m hard at work on finishing up book 3 (as 1 and 2 are about to head into my editor’s hands) and I am having so much fun coming up with fun promo pieces. I’ll be sharing some sneak peeks and character profiles soon (note these will also be added to the newly acquired HoA website) but in the meantime, to reward YOU for being so patient, I want to share a special poster I’ve made to get you excited!

Big things are coming and I’m thrilled to share the journey with you. More info coming soon!

SuperNovaPoster