How to Create a Series Bible

shutterstock_166195055I remember hearing a story that J. K. Rowling would use reliable Internet sites when she was writing the Harry Potter series to recall specific details from prior books in the series. At the time, I was a little shocked. Shouldn’t an author be able to keep all of the characters and locations they’ve created in their heads? It’s like forgetting that your mother’s eyes are blue or that you’ve been married for five years. There are somethings you should just know.

Now that I’m writing a series of my own, my perspective has completely changed. I can see the value in having a logical way of tracking the details of the characters and world that you create. Searching through prior books in your series, especially if the series is lengthy, is incredibly tedious. By the same token, if readers find little inconsistencies in your story, it can break their suspension of disbelief. Just because you didn’t remember that your protagonist had crooked front teeth doesn’t mean that an adoring fan won’t be horrified when you contradict yourself later.

That’s where a series bible comes in. I first heard about TV writers using it to track various episodes and seasons of a show. But it has been fully appropriated by authors to track their book series as well. Every author has a different technique, but the basics are the same. You have a binder, Excel file, sticky notes on a wall, or handwritten or typed notes, that track the characters, settings, and key plot points of each of the books in your series. The more organized and thorough you are, the more useful a tool your series bible can be.

I began my series bible as a list of all of the characters in each book, in no particular order. I listed their backstory, appearance, magical powers (since I write YA fantasy), and key information about what had happened to them so far. Sometimes I also included notes about what would happen in future books as well.

However, as the series has progressed (I’m now in the process of writing the third book in the series) it has helped to be more organized. I personally think Excel is the most logical way to keep track of a wide range of details. In addition to tracking characters, I also keep a map so I remember the geography of the world I’ve created, and details about the culture, landscape, and history of various countries that exist in that world.

Even with these details, I occasionally find myself returning to the first two books in the series for little details, so in the future I plan to be more rigorous about what I record. At its best, a series bible can be a roadmap that allows you to look backward and forward in your series and make adjustments as your story progresses.

Have you created a series bible for your novels? If so, which format did you find to be the most useful?

How to Release (or Re-Release) Your First Self-Published Novel

Cover2When I originally published the first novel in The Conjurors Series in 2011, I had no concept of self publishing. It never occurred to me to promote my book. I simply used Amazon as an easy way for friends and relatives to download my book so I didn’t have to buy them a hard copy and mail it.

Two years later, self publishing had become a phenomenon, and my brother suggested that I market my novel and see what happened. But with a cover cobbled together using Microsoft clip art and no outside editing expertise, I wondered if my book was ready for public consumption. I’m very glad that I did some research and realized that for a self published author to be successful, she needs to have a polished product. A great story is at the core of any good book, but it’s hard to see through typos, horrific formatting, and a generic title that doesn’t provide any clues as to the content inside.

Below are some tips I would recommend any writer take before releasing a first novel or re-releasing an existing story.

  1. Invest in professional cover art. Unless you’re a graphic designer (or are close friends with one) this is a monetary investment that will pay off. It’s the first glimpse readers have of the quality of your work, and it needs to shine. I used Streetlight Graphics, and was thrilled with the quality of their work.
  2. Hire a professional editor to review your writing. I thought I had all of the expertise required to edit my own book – I was a double major in journalism and English in college, and part of my day job involves editing others’ writing. But I was astonished at how many nits my editor found in my writing. She also provided a much-needed sanity check to ensure that there weren’t any inconsistencies in the story. I worked with Shelley Holloway, and found her eye for detail was exactly what I needed.
  3. Evaluate the title of your book. I recommend searching Amazon books and using a search engine to see what pops up when you enter your title. I found that there were at least a dozen books with the title I had chosen, which would make it difficult for someone to search for.
  4. Write a blurb that’s as interesting as your novel. I was glad that I spent some time writing and having my editor review my book’s blurb as well. After your cover and title, it will make the biggest impact on whether or not readers choose to buy your book. For tips from successful authors who have done this well, check out this post.
  5. Create a web presence for yourself as an author. At the very least, have a Twitter and Facebook account that can keep fans, friends and family updated on everything you publish. This is also a valuable place to direct fans as your book attracts attention so they can hear about future works that you publish. I also recommend having a website with information about yourself and your books. A blog is great as well if you have the time. It’s an excellent way to network with other writers and communicate with your fan base.
  6. Consider releasing both an e-book and a physical copy of your book. Despite a slight learning curve when it comes to formatting for an e-book, there is no downside to making your book available in digital form. It’s free and is a great way for you to have giveaways without breaking the bank. At the same time, there is something powerful about a copy of your book that you can hold in your hands and bring to local libraries and stores to see if they are willing to display it.

So I’m proud to announce that I am re-releasing the first book in The Conjurors Series. It has a new title, The Society of Imaginary Friends (formerly Into the Dark), has been properly edited by an outside professional, and is rewritten with some of the knowledge I’ve gained in the years since I originally wrote it.

Below is a blurb about The Society of Imaginary Friends (available on Amazon):

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleBelief is a powerful magic.

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her.

Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible.

On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there.

But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course–one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

The second novel in the series, Knights of Light, will be released in early March. I’d love to hear what you think about my story, and I welcome any reviews!

The Curse of the Whiny Protagonist

shutterstock_148391531I’ll never forget reading book 5 of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Suddenly, sunny, kind little Harry was a brooding teenager. I remember thinking that I didn’t like him as much anymore. I understood that he was evolving as a character, and part of being a teenager is embracing angst – especially if you’ve just witnessed first-hand the death of a classmate. But his likeability factor plummeted. Of course, in spite of this change, this book is still incredible. I cried at the end. But it always stayed with me as the one book in the series where Harry didn’t feel like Harry.

So you’d think I learned a lesson from reading that, but after sending the second book in The Conjurors Series to beta readers, everyone said the same thing. My protagonist, Valerie, was too angst-ridden. And as I re-read and made edits, I realized they were right. Low self-esteem is part of her character, but it was over-the-top. Maybe massive low self-doubt is a natural part of being a teenage girl, but it didn’t read well in a heroine.

That’s when I realized that we don’t want to read about people who are exactly like everyone we meet in daily life. We want heroines who are exceptional, who, in spite of their flaws, rise above petty concerns and are capable of a depth of compassion or bravery or intelligence that we hope we are capable of, but we know most people aren’t. Maybe this isn’t true for every genre, but I truly believe the best YA fantasy books I’ve read all adhere to this idea in their protagonist. Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior – I could go on and on – all tap into the best versions of themselves under difficult circumstances.

That being said, I know this opinion isn’t one that everyone shares. The Twilight Series or even The Catcher in the Rye prove that you can be successful with a whiny protagonist who is written well. But I confess that these books are not on my favorites list. However, if you do love super-angsty protagonists, check out this Goodreads list on popular whiny protagonists – it gave me a good chuckle. It’s a definite counterpoint to the heroes I mentioned above, and proof that in the hands of a skilled writer, any protagonist can be compelling.

Of course, the danger is going to the opposite extreme and making protagonists too perfect – something that can be equally annoying. Finding that tricky balance with my own heroine is something that evolves with every chapter I write. Hopefully, after hundreds of hours of writing and edits, Valerie will come across as a real, but exceptional, teenage girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances who rises to the challenges she encounters.

On Retitling My Novel After Publication

shutterstock_152047091My writing kryptonite is naming and titling people and things. From titling my book to naming my villian, I always have to go through an excruciating process that takes hours. I comb through the thesaurus, look up historical references, and poll family and friends. I’ll even admit to carrying around a scrap of paper on my purse full of scratched out titles. What sounds good to me one day sounds cheesy three days later. All that is to say that I’ve decided to retitle the first book in The Conjurors Series from Into the Dark to The Society of Imaginary Friends.

After I wrote the first book in The Conjurors Series, I never gave any thought to self publishing and promoting my novel. I put it on Amazon for the cheapest price they allowed so that my friends and family could read it if they wanted to. Then I promptly forgot about it and moved on with my writing. But after being inspired to finish my series and explore self publishing, I decided it needed a new title. There are roughly 1 billion books titled Into the Dark, and it was no surprise that mine didn’t make the first page of books listed in a search on Amazon or Google. Or the second.

It was time for a title change. This time, I put some real thought into the titles that made sense for my series. Guilds, where people can study various magical professions in the world I created, play a key role in connecting the story from book to book. It made sense to name each book in The Conjurors Series after the guild that played the primary role in that story. Because the Guild called The Society of Imaginary Friends kicks off my heroine’s adventure, it made sense as the title of the first book.

In addition to a new title, I have also invested in professional cover art and made some significant edits to The Society of Imaginary Friends, because my writing has come a long way in the two years since I wrote it. In the next couple of weeks I’ll unveil a new cover, and in November the updated novel and cover will go live.

Have you ever retitled or re-released one of your novels? If so, how did the process turn out for you?

I’m Cheating on my Protagonist

shutterstock_69810904I have a confession. I’m in a long-term, committed writing relationship with the current protagonist of The Conjurors Series, Valerie Diaz. She’s great – loyal, smart and filled with integrity. I’m not ready to end our affair – we’re only two books in to a four-book series. But I can’t stop thinking about someone else. While I should be plotting Valerie’s next move, I’m fantasizing about the heroine that I’m going to write about next.

I’m afraid that if I don’t get a grip, I’ll lose the momentum I need to finish my current series, which is planned to be completed at the end of 2014. By that estimate, I really shouldn’t be daydreaming about other heroines at least until book four is drafted. But it’s tempting. My favorite part of the writing process is creating characters and planning plots. All of the characters and plots in The Conjurors Series have been developed, at least at a high level. What’s left is the execution, which I also love, but doesn’t have the same thrilling joy that only giving characters life can bring.

Then, of course, come the comparisons. Valerie’s much nicer than my next heroine, but I think I actually like the new one more. In real life we could totally hang out, whereas with Valerie I’d have to be on my best behavior. Which naturally makes me feel more guilty. They’re both my creations – shouldn’t I love them equally? Of course, I’m aware that the new heroine and I are still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. I’ve yet to become bogged down in the day-to-day grind of hurtling her into strange and painful situations and then carefully extricating her.

How do you stay focused on your current project when the next is luring you with its siren call? Do you give in and cheat, or stay the course until your current writing project is completely finished?

How Not to Approach Choosing a Cover Artist

Picture1When I wrote the first book in The Conjurors Series, I held what turned out to be a naive belief that it would succeed or fail based on the merits of my writing. Now older and (hopefully) wiser, I’m ready to admit that a strong, eye-catching cover is crucial to selling any book – but especially one that you’re self-publishing. If you’re a self-publishing pro, this post is not for you. But if you’re a relative newbie to this world, please learn from my mistakes. Perhaps you’ll save yourself hundreds of strands of hair that you would otherwise pull out your head in frustration.

Unless you’re a gifted artist as well as a writer, don’t create your own cover art.
Even a random person on the street could have done a better job with the cover of my book than I did with my original cover. In my infinite wisdom, I opened ClipArt in PowerPoint, chose an image, and called it a day. To my untrained eye it looked simple and elegant. But friends and family assured me it looked boring and amateurish. When readers agreed, I had to admit that they were right.

Don’t hire someone from O-Desk, Freelancer, etc. unless you have a strong artistic sensibility and know exactly what you want on your cover.
Alas, in my case, my creativity with the written word does not extend to the visual arts. I knew enough to realize that my own cover art wasn’t getting the job done, but figured that surely someone who could draw reasonably well could easily create a dynamite cover. However, without any distinctive guidance from me, or even an understanding if what I was seeing was good, this effort didn’t save me any cash – it was a money sinkhole.

Avoid random web searches for cover artists unless you have the patience of a saint.
After scouring dozens of websites and flipping through hundreds of cover samples, I felt more overwhelmed and less confident about how to fix my cover than ever. I had no idea if the artists whose work I was viewing had been successful in selling books. I was terrified of throwing away more money on an artist who needed guidance from me that I couldn’t provide.

Don’t let your number one consideration when choosing a cover artist be price.
Like a lot of newbies in the self-publishing industry, I’m on a micro budget when it comes to promoting my books. But people more experienced and successful than myself all agree that your cover is the last thing you should cheap out on. I’m not saying you need Dan Brown’s cover artist working for you, but finding someone who can give you a cover that is professional and pleasing can be the difference between success and failure when readers only your see your title and a thumbnail image of your cover before deciding if they want to find out more.

With that being said, there were a few things that did work for me. First was seeing who the pros were using. Some self-published authors thank their cover artists in their acknowledgments or post who their cover artists and editors are on their websites. (And may karma reward them for that!) Another good source was a Goodreads list of recommended cover artists (they have multiple threads on this topic). This was nice because there were a variety of price points. My last tip is to reach out to any friends you have who are artists or at least have a good sense for the visual arts to look at the portfolio of the cover artist  you’re planning to go with before you spend any cash. Worst case scenario, at least you have someone other than yourself to blame if your cover doesn’t come out quite right.

Brand new covers of the first two novels in The Conjurors Series will be posted on my site in October. I hope you come check them out and let me know if I finally got it right!

On Writing 100,000 Words in 100 Days – Sorta

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A little over a week ago I became the proud author of the complete first draft of the second book in my young adult fantasy series, The Conjurors. I’d made a pact with myself to write 100,000 words in 100 days, and I can’t say that I wrote 1,000 words every single day – but I came close. Life got in the way sometimes, like when my husband, toddler and myself all came down with a violent stomach virus. Or, to be fair, also when I became obsessed with Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices Trilogy and decided that my need to marathon the series overrode my need to finish my own story.

But at least having this goal encouraged me to complete the first draft of my novel in close to 100 days. It’s an exercise that I plan to repeat in the future. I know some writers ebb and flow in the amount of content they create as their muse inspires them. Sometimes I wish that I were that kind of writer, but in reality I think I’m the kind of person who does best when I force myself to be creative.

So given that this plan was a success, I think it’s time for a new goal as I begin the editing process – which I happen to love and am excited to begin. I owe my beta readers a draft of the story in September, so until then I plan to edit a chapter a day, minimum. This may be ambitious, but it’s a place to start.

Do any of you have advice on setting editing goals? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice!