Posted in Books, Journals, Writing, Writing craft

How to prep for writing a book sequel

Book sequels and a subsequent series seem to be all the rage these days – and not always for the better. The current conventional wisdom seems to be that the best way to sell books is to write lots of them. And what could be easier than a series of books where the writer doesn’t have to create new characters every time? Well, from a reader’s perspective, it’s a bit hit and miss. Just like with movies, the sequel is often forced and not quite as good as the original. And it’s worth remembering this…

…The only thing the easy way has going for it is that it’s the easy way…

So, why would I consider a sequel?

Unlike other so many other writers these days, my primary motivator in writing a particular book is not determining what can make money. My motivator is that I’m a writer. I’ve always been a writer (at least since I was about 13 years-old). I’m a writer because I write, and I have stories to tell. If those stories resonate with readers, then that’s just terrific. If they don’t, at least I’ve gotten the story out of my head and onto paper (or a computer). If this is the case, then why am I embarking on writing a sequel? Same reason as why I write in the first place – there’s a story there, and I have to tell it.

When I was writing my most recent book, I didn’t have any plan to make a sequel (and no, it won’t be a series – at least I don’t think it will!). However, as I neared the end of the writing, as I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I realized that there was another story that had to be told. There was another character – not the main one as in book one, but a character nonetheless – whose story was just aching to be told. So, I decided I’d have to tell it. But, because I am who I am, I thought I’d try to figure out how to go about this before I actually got myself stuck in, as my British friends say.

I have a kind of method for harnessing the creative process when I start a project.

  • First, I buy a new notebook that will stay by my side until the bitter end. Once I knew what the story would be about, I could choose a notebook. Hokey, I know, but it works for me.
  • Then I begin to fill it with my very first notions of how the story might unfold. This is usually in point form, identifying a kind of timeline. The I look for visuals relevant to the story that begin to speak to me. Then I need a title. Oh, yes, I cannot write a book without a working title.
  • After the title comes the hard-core research and character building. But for this sequel, I’m not quite there yet. And the process that I’ve been developing is a bit different.

I realized a couple of things.

  • First, sequels don’t have to – and probably shouldn’t – pick up where the first book ended. This is gong to be interesting for me since this book is, in reality, a prequel of sorts. We’re going back in time.
  • Second, there must be new characters. Although there will be a few familiar people, let’s face it: if I’m going back in time, there have to be new people and older characters seen in all new ways.
  • Third, there have to be all-new settings. This is a must as far as I’m concerned.
  • Fourth revelation: since this is going to be a prequel, there are actually quite a few details that were mentioned in the first book that will have to be introduced in the prequel. That’s where re-reading my own book and highlighting those details will be crucial.

When I created the new timeline in the new journal, I took up a new colour pen (hot pink in this case, if you must know) and wrote in those details from the first book that have to be included in the prequel. In fact, it was those details that truly propelled me to write another one – entirely ignoring the 25,000 words I’ve already written on a completely different story. That one will still be there when I’m finished with these characters who have gotten into my head.

Here’s what I know so far about prepping to write a sequel:

And I’ll remind you that this piece isn’t titled “How to write a book sequel.” It’s “How to prep for writing a book sequel.” I don’t ‘know squat about how to write one – yet. But I will!

Posted in Book trailers, Books, Writing, Writing books

When a story takes over – a writer hangs on for the ride

In modern parlance, I’m what might be called a “plotter” when it comes to my writing. This is in contrast to those of you who are called “pantsers,” although I’m not sure why anyone would accept that slightly dubious moniker. Anyway, plotters plan things – characters, timelines, settings and, yes, plots. Pantsers go “by the seat of their pants” evidently. I plan.

I think my planning comes from my background as a nonfiction writer. To sell a nonfiction book to a publisher, a writer has to learn to write a dynamic book proposal. An, what is a book proposal except for a big, detailed plan? That’s what it is. So, when it comes to fiction, my tendency is to take the same approach. Up to a point.

I have a new book out this past week. I think it’s the best book I’ve ever written – but, as my mother used to say, “Self-praise is no recommendation.” Thanks, Mom. The thing about this new book is that I started out with a plan, but something or someone took over. I think it might have been Charlie. Let me introduce you to her in a minute. First, I want to talk about this writing process.

I started this book with a thin outline and an idea for a character. This character would make a discovery that would take her on a journey of discovery. I just didn’t know at the time that it would be a journey of self-discovery – for both her and for me. Charlie was supposed to be a kind of wise-cracking, sarcastic thirty-something with a penchant for seeing humour everywhere she went. Sort of like Jenn, the main character in my novel Plan B. I suppose the universe must be telling me that I need to diversify my contemporary women’s characters a bit because Charlie is not much like Jenn!

(When I write historical fiction, characters don’t seem to be wise-cracking, sarcastic women – but I suppose that’s an idea!)

As I began writing this book, it took on a whole different dimension – a whole different kind of disposition. It felt different to me as I was writing, and it looked very different when the story was out there in front of me.

Here’s what happened.

The book is The Year I Made 12 Dresses: The almost-but-not-quite-true story.

A struggling writer, an enigmatic shop clerk, an old sewing machine and an inspirational journey of discovery – where every dress is more than it appears to be.

After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.

When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on, or of the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.

With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone – especially herself.

So that’s it. And here’s the trailer…

Posted in Book launches, Books

So, who will really read your book?

In 1848 a writer named B.H. Smart produced a book quite improbably titled: Manual of rhetoric: with exercises for the improvement of style or diction, subjects for narratives, familiar letters, school orations, &c.: being one of two sequels to “Grammar on its true basis”.  It was published in London by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans and is reputed to be the oldest publication that could be reasonably described as a writing manual.  Since then, manual after manual has been produced with the objective of improving writing everywhere.

The first writing manual
The first writing manual

Today, all you need to do is plug the search term “writing manuals” into Amazon’s search function and you’ll be greeted with almost 12,000 hits; if you plug in “writers’ guides” you’ll be rewarded with almost 19,000.  Within these search results there are the direct successors of Smart’s manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style (originally published in 1906) which, along with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, is one of the go-to, required writing manuals for academic and scholarly writers throughout the English-speaking world.  In addition to these specific style guides there are books for poets, science and technical writers, novelists, memoirists, romance writers, creators of creative non-fiction and every other conceivable type of writer one could imagine.  From the style guides and how-to manuals for specific genres the writers’ guides begin to become more esoteric with books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life, and Natalie Goldberg’s iconic Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, to the more recent offering from Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft where writers weave their personal stories around writing advice to inspire would-be writers.  If you’re a writer or aspiring writer yourself, you probably own a few of these – or at least in my view, you should!  All of this seems to be in spite of American journalist and writing guru William Zinsser’s pointed comment in his own best-selling writing guide On Writing Well, that most people have no idea how poorly they write.

Poor writing or not, the rush to publish in the 21st century is more like a torrent where the flood-gates, in the form of agents and editors, are no longer needed to stop the outpouring of book-length publications, for better or for worse.  Writers are flocking to self-publishing with a vengeance.  A quick troll through the social media communities, groups and networks of “writers” suggests that the era of co-dependency is upon us in a way never before imagined as writers look to one another for guidance and moral support in their publishing endeavors.  Rather than being connected to publishers, mentors or readers, they are connected to other writers – all as unknown as they are.

What’s truly puzzling, though, is how no one seems to notice their members who are spelling, grammar and stylistically-challenged, not to mention devoid of talent.  At least they’re not admitting it with their continual five-star reviews of every piece of drivel produced by their peers.  Yet, within all of this publishing-related noise, there are truly unique and important voices that need to find a way out of the slush.  What they all need is a reality check.  I’d like to help to provide that. And help those unique and important voices find their way out of the noise.  So, I’ve written yet another manual – well it’s sort-of a manual.

WWRYB CoverThe purpose of my new book is to provide a tough-love reality check on the vagaries of the new publishing models for aspiring writers while at the same time providing you with a kind of road map based on my experience as a writer, writing teacher, traditionally-published author and indie author.

For my blog readers who have been here a while, you might recognize some of the foundational material in the book – it did evolve from this blog (there’s a whole other story, isn’t it?  Turning blogs into books.  I could tell you…).   There is a whole lot more, though, and I’ve tried to tell readers my own story of making it onto the traditional publishing merry-go-round, and then dabbling in self-publishing.  Along the way, I learned a lot and this experience, coupled with my  research over the years as as a university prof, has resulted in this book.

Here’s the book trailer.  Let me know what you think.