Posts Tagged ‘Donna Schlachter’

Crafting a Novella in 10 Easy Steps

By: Donna Schlachter

I used to think writing shorter would make the process easier. I started out penning greeting cards, devotionals, poetry, and take-home articles. Magazine articles. Children’s books. You name it. If it was less than two thousand words, I’ve probably done it.

Not surprisingly, I learned that writing short wasn’t easier than writing longer. In fact, it wasn’t simple at all. I think it was Mark Twain who wrote, in a letter to a friend, “I’d have written a shorter letter if I had more time.”

To be honest, the first time I was offered the opportunity to write a novella, I felt like I was cheating the reader in some way. At less than half the size of a regular novel, surely the story would be shallow. Unsatisfying. Unfulfilling. And how could I possibly get the main plot, three subplots, and eight primary characters into 30,000 words?

Well, I couldn’t. That’s the beauty of a novella. The main plot, one subplot, hero, heroine, bad person. A reader could pick up the book and read it in three hours or less. The perfect summer beach read or plane trip story. Or train. Or car. Or bedtime reading.

Ten Quick and Easy Steps:

Learning how to write a novella required me to change my mind set about the format. Not only was the number of words an issue, but even the number of chapters, characters, and subplots.

For those interested in learning how to pen a successful novella, here are the steps:

  1. Come up with a story that has two interesting people who find themselves in a sticky situation. Many novellas are romance based for this reason.
  2. Decide on a sub-plot that will be resolved in this book, or soon if this book is in a series. Nothing too complicated. But choose a sub-plot that relates in some way to the main plot.
  3. Limit your cast of characters. Hero, heroine, a bad person if needed. For other characters, consider combining them to keep the number required down. For example, if you need a next-door neighbor and a firefighter, make the neighbor a firefighter.
  4. Figure out your story arc. Just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean you can make it any less satisfying. Show your characters in their usual world, yank them out of it, force them into deciding.
  5. Limit the situations to two Black Moments or Crisis Points. You simply don’t have enough room in a novella to do more than that. The second Black Moment should be more difficult than the first, forcing your character to make a tougher decision.
  6. Offer your character alternatives to choosing the hard road, just as in a full-length novel.
  7. Force your character to making decisions that will be in direct contrast to their worldview. This will increase tension for the characters and the reader.
  8. Every book has a message or a theme, but readers don’t want it hitting them in the face. Instead, weave what you want your reader to take away throughout the dialogue, the internal thoughts, the choices the characters are forced to make, and foreshadowing.
  9. Consider your audience as you create your story. For example, if this is a sweet romance or a cozy mystery, readers won’t expect to see sex, cursing, or extreme violence on the page. If, however, you’re penning a steamy romance, gritty police procedural, or hard-boiled detective story, readers are more accustomed to these elements. Always write to your reader’s expectations.
  10. The best stories show the hero and/or heroine in a different frame of mind by the end of the story. They should have recognized their weaknesses and made choices to overcome them. They should have grown in the right direction, unless, of course, you’re writing a literary book. Relationships don’t have to be perfect, but if that’s the theme of the story, they should be moving ahead.

Publishing Opportunities

Novellas seem to work best in romantic genres, including contemporary and historical fiction. Cozy mysteries are popular venues for novellas, as is romantic suspense. Some publishers have developed a niche market for novellas by bundling them into collections of four to nine (or more) authors, with the stories having a common link. Sometimes the connection lies in the heroine’s name or occupation. Sometimes the characters live in the same town, or maybe they are friends out for an adventure. Whatever the link, readers like these collections, as sales testify, because they are able to sample multiple authors in the same collection. If they don’t prefer one story, they’re bound to find several that they do.

For independent authors who self-publish, novellas are a quick and easy way to keep readers satisfied until their next full-length novel releases.

Indie publishing sites, such as Amazon, encourages these shorter books through their algorithms because indie authors often are able to release more books in a year.

Contests and Awards

Most book awards now include novellas in their contests, and many have specific categories for these shorter novels. The writing world has come a long way in recent years. While novellas were once regarded by many as a second-best to full-length novels, savvy readers and judges now recognize that writing shorter can be more difficult.


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical and contemporary mysteries, and has been published more than 50 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of several writing communities; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly; and judges in writing contests. She lives in Denver with her husband and two cats, finding mysteries wherever she travels. You can find her books on Amazon under both her name and that of her former pen name, Leeann Betts.

Writing in the Midst of Life

By: Donna Schlachter

Sometimes it seems as though we are inundated with writing help, encouragement to write, conferences to attend, deadlines to meet. And all of those are good. They keep us focused, energized, equipped, and reminded of what’s important.

But what happens when life gets in the way?

No amount of cajoling, criticism (from ourselves or someone else), or chafing will keep our backside in the chair and our fingers on the keys when something else comes between us and our story.

True, sometimes the stuff that distracts us is simply that: stuff. We could choose to ignore it, like the laundry that piles up and multiplies like bunnies in the dark recesses of our laundry room. We could choose to delegate it, like asking our spouse to make dinner tonight while we finish this chapter. We could choose to turn off the email buzzer or silence our phones for an afternoon or ask a neighbor kid to walk the dog this week.

That stuff will always be there, and we can make arrangements for that.

But what about the big stuff? The life-changing things that happen? Those events that cannot be rescheduled, must not be ignored, should not be delayed.

We all have those.

When life gets in the way of our best laid plans, here are some suggestions as to how to get through them without losing your sanity and without feeling you are abandoning your writing:

● Stop and seek counsel. Whether you are a person of faith or a person with some great friends, share what’s going on and seek answers. Perhaps there is a change you need to make. 

● Stop and breathe. Think about the situation for a moment. Perhaps whatever has come up isn’t as much of an emergency as you first thought. Can someone else take it on? Can you call a friend and ask them for help?

● Release the situation. If you know in your heart that this is something you must do yourself, unclench your hands from your writing and get it done. This is a time when having some margin in your schedule will relieve a lot of stress. 

● Do what you need to do. Sometimes we’re faced with a sudden death, or an illness, or the birth of a child, or the loss of a job. All of these are life-changing events that will need your attention for a period of time. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. You aren’t putting your writing aside because you don’t have what it takes. It just means you need to do what my husband calls “a priority interrupt”. In most cases, these situations will not permanently stop you from writing.

● Call in some support. Whether you’re under a contract deadline, a critique group commitment, or you need to cancel your next writer’s meeting, ask a friend to help communicate the situation. Ask for help.

● Keep the story in your head. No matter how stressful or hectic our lives become, there are still a few times during each day where we can focus on something other than the situation at hand. Keep a notebook with you to jot down ideas when you get a spare moment. A small digital recorder works great. Most phones and iPads come with a voice recorder. Save these thoughts wherever and whenever you can to put into place later on.

● Come back to the project with a joyful heart. Regardless of whether the interruption lasted an hour or a year, return to the project knowing that you are a writer, even when life gets in the way.

Takeaway: There is no shame in pausing in your writing because life throws you a curve ball.

Exercises:

1. Have you hit a roadblock in your writing because of something that’s happened, or are you afraid of something? Look back over the time you haven’t been writing until you get to when you stopped, and honestly assess the situation.

2. If life has gotten in the way, is it a legitimate reason not to write or an excuse?

3. If it’s an excuse, resolve the problem today.

****

(This article was previously published in Nuggets of Writing Gold)


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

A Passion for THIS Story

By: Donna Schlachter (previously published in Writing Nuggets of Gold)

In a recent conversation with my agent, she mentioned she talks to editors occasionally who are looking for a specific book to fit a particular publishing slot. My response? “If you get any requests, let me know. Maybe I can write that book.”

As I thought about this later, I wondered if I’d spoken hastily or foolishly. After all, what if they wanted a (gulp) bonnet story? Or a (double gulp) category romance? Did I really think I could write such a book? I came up with lots of reasons why I couldn’t – not my genre, not my area of specialty or knowledge, never wrote one before.

And then I was reminded of the wise words spoken to me at one time, not in this context, but which I will paraphrase: Don’t look for a reason not to write the story; look for a reason to write the story.

Passion to Keep Writing

So I put on my thinking cap again. Why would I want to write a bonnet story or a category romance or a western or a sci-fi or any of the other genres I don’t write? And the answer I came up with was: passion. And I’m not talking about relationship-type passion.

The kind of passion I’m talking about is the essence that starts a writer’s creative juices flowing, forcing us to work past the first What if? And deeper into the next, Then What? And the next.

I would need a passion for the setting, for the characters, or for the story.

That passion would ignite the story ideas, flesh out the characters, and help me choose (or create) a believable setting. That passion would keep me writing when the words seemed blah, would keep me plotting when I didn’t think anybody would want to read this story, would keep me enthused enough to press on until I typed, “The End”.

Passion has nothing to do with the book as a whole, but everything to do with the components of the story. Passion is also called our Muse, that je ne sais quoi that propels us to our computer and causes our fingers to fly over the keys, the words appearing on the screen as if by osmosis.

Take that Teensy Idea and Expand

Passion also helps us take a teensy idea and expand the details into a full-length novel. Let’s take an example. Cinderella is a short story fairy tale, yet in the hands of another, become the basis for over 30 movies (based on an article on Wikipedia). No doubt each one of these movies contained details that were not included in the original story.

If we take the Cinderella story, let’s go through some What If? Questions to come out to a completely different story: What if Cinderella lived with her father and siblings instead of her step-mother and step-sisters, but they were jealous of her? We’d have a story like Joseph and his coat of many colors. What if Cinderella was an orphan? We’d have a story like Oliver Twist. What if Cinderella was raised in a happy family but went her own way and left home? Prodigal son story.

So let’s take the example of the (gulp) bonnet story. First, I need to remember what my passion is: writing stories that show a God who is bigger than our past. My story might be about a woman journalist who decided to do a story on the Amish, falls in love with an Amish man, and marries him. “Accidentally Amish”. In another story, maybe my character flees to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, because she’s on the run from the mob. “Sister Act”.

What is the Common Thread in your Stories?

Your passion for the story, characters, and setting will be different than mine, because your writing passion, that thing inside you that keeps you writing, is different. Take a few minutes and look at the theme of the stories you write and the stories you want to write. What is the common thread running through these stories? Summarize that theme, or passion, in a single sentence.

My story is about a girl who runs away from home and gets involved in drugs and then gets saved. Your passion might be: I write stories about prodigals and their families.

Now, back to the plotting board. Let’s see. A (double gulp) category romance. My female lead is a bounty hunter sent to bring back a bail jumper. My male lead is the bail jumper, an angry man, who recognizes my bounty hunter as the woman seen driving away from the scene of a bank robbery that led to a fatal car crash twenty years before where his wife was killed. Nobody was ever prosecuted for this terrible accident or for the robbery. Will she be able to convince him she isn’t the person she was back then? Will he be able to see the grace and mercy of God in his own life and extend forgiveness to the woman he blames for ruining his life?

Hmmm. Might be able to make that work……

Takeaway:

If you don’t have a burning passion to write a particular story, the idea will likely fizzle out like a candle in the rain.

Exercises:

1. List the top five topics/genres you like to read.
2. Look at your most recent work in progress — does it fit with what you like to read?
3. Dig out an old project that fizzled. Did it fit with what you like to read?


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Writing Under Deadlines

By; Donna Schlachter (previously published in Writing Nuggets of Gold)

There are two kinds of deadlines.

In the writing world, there are two kinds of deadlines: the ones imposed by others; and the ones imposed by you. The deadlines that others set for you in your writing might include a contest entry date; a critique group submission due date; a time frame for the submission of a proposal and first three chapters to an editor or agent following a contact at a writing conference such as the ACFW National Conference; a request for a full manuscript; the acceptance and signing of a contract; first draft approval; intermediate revisions; and final revisions prior to publication. Each one of these deadlines is critical to writing, of keeping everything flowing, and of ultimately achieving the goal, whether that be winning a contest, being a productive member of a critique group, acquiring an agent, or publication.

And there are the self-imposed deadlines, the ones you set for yourself. And whether or not you realize it, you set deadlines every day, some that are related to writing and some that are not. For example, you get up at a certain time of the day. You have set the deadline on how long you’re going to spend sleeping. If you have children, you get them off to school. Each deadline, while not specifically adding words or pages to your work in process, is a practice at meeting a deadline.

How do you set a self-imposed deadline?

So how do you set self-imposed writing deadlines when there is no agent, no editor, no promise of an advance or a royalty looming over your head?

Treat your writing seriously, or you won’t set goals. Look at the book you’re working on, look at your schedule–because face it, we all have a life outside of writing–and determine how much time you can spend on writing, and how much you can reasonably expect to get done in that time. For example, I was working on a novella. When I started the book, I was excited about the story, excited about where the characters were going. I figured this book would just leap out of my mind, through my fingers, and into the computer.

That didn’t happen. I was so convinced I could have this done in no time, that’s exactly what I spent writing–no time. Suddenly the story was boring, and the laundry looked more interesting.

So, around the middle of the third month of not writing, I decided enough was enough. I set a goal for the end of the month to have the story finished. I was about 20,000 words from the end. Still didn’t happen. Seemed I had all the time in the world. For other things. I buckled down and started writing seriously three days before the end of the month. I wrote 2,500 words the first day, 1,500 words the second, and 4,500 words the last day. I didn’t quite make my goal because I hadn’t quite finished the story. But I was on a roll. Spending every day in the story made the story more real to me. And setting a deadline made me feel like a proper writer.

Did I set a bad deadline? No. I wasn’t serious enough about the work required.

Should I simply dump the story and move on? No. Writing every day kept me in the story and opened new plot points and backstory points, and that’s exciting for me.

How do I learn from this experience? I won’t take the next deadline for granted. I will treat the deadline as if a contract, an advance, or publication depend on it.

Takeaway:
I will act like I am a writer under a deadline imposed by someone else.

Exercises:

1. What work in process would you like to finish?
2. Take out the story, read through it to ground yourself again, and set a deadline.
3. Write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, to keep yourself grounded in the story.


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Never Enough Time to Write — or is there?

By Donna Schlachter

It seems there is never enough time to do all the things I want to do. With seven days in a week, twenty-four hours in a day, seems like I should have lots of spare time. I don’t suppose anyone else finds the same problem? No, I didn’t think so.

My idea of a perfect week would begin with Sunday. Some awesome praise and worship, a soul-stirring message, and a couple of hours of fellowship. Not more than that. I’m an introvert, and more than two hours and I’d be exhausted. For you extroverts, party on until midnight!

On Monday, I’d like to get all those administrative things like paperwork and laundry done by 10:00 so I’d have the rest of the day to write. Doesn’t happen. Could if I got up earlier.

On Tuesday, Write. That’s the day I go to a write out from 10:00 to noon at a coffee shop with friends. No write out in your area? Start one. I did. I went to the write out for a year before anyone else joined me. No shame in that. I got a lot of writing done.

On Wednesday, carry on the flow from Tuesday and write. Sometimes that happens. Often it doesn’t. Lots of times the writing from Tuesday raised questions and I spend a lot of time researching. Or planning research trips because I discovered I didn’t know as much about something as I need so I can write about it.

On Thursday, that’s my “work” day, the day I do my “other job”. Usually a full day of listening to other people’s mistakes and problems (I proofread legal transcripts). Honestly, so many sad stories that I don’t want to think about writing.

On Fridays, that’s the day we give to our local food bank. Lots of people — so exhausting for this introvert.

Saturdays are my “free” day. I usually use Saturdays to catch up on tasks I let slip during the week. Sometimes I write, the next week I might do something around the house, like canning, or cleaning, or ironing. Remember the laundry I did Monday? Mending and ironing to be done.

My week is full. And I’m sure your weeks are full, too. But if we want to be writers, we need to make time to write. We won’t find time, but we can compress certain activities to expand our available time. We can drop some tasks from our schedule completely, or we can delay some things to allow us time to write.

Every day for the next month, I challenge you to make an extra hour a day to write. Not to think about writing, not to plot, not to research, but to write. Call me crazy, but once a year I take a leave of absence from television and spend that time writing. You can choose to go a little easier on yourself: no television until you write for at least an hour. Don’t watch television? Think of other ways to put together an extra 60 minutes a day. Like doing one less load of laundry. Or have one of the kids do the folding. Instead of reading before you go to bed, write.

Takeaway: We can live on never enough time, or we can decide to make the time to do the things that are important to us.

Exercises:

1. Go through your calendar and find those pockets of time you can divert to writing.

2. Be honest about the ways you spend your time: Pinterest, email, Facebook. Limit those activities to one time a day.

3. Be ready with a story outline and character sketches so when you sit to write, you really do write.


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Sweet Success for Donna Schlachter

By: Darby Karchut

Congratulations to Donna Schlachter! Writing as Leeann Betts, she recently released her latest novella collection from Barbour Publishing, ALWAYS A WEDDING PLANNER, with co-authors RL Ashly, Toni Shiloh, and Davalynn Spencer. This sweet and clean romance collection features four best friends who operate a wedding planning business in Loveland, Colorado.

Always a Wedding Planner, by: Donna Schlachter

ABOUT THE BOOK: 

Discover how keeping secrets from each other threatens four women’s friendships, wedding business, and own ability to find love in Loveland, Colorado.

Business partners Felicity Anderson, the cake baker; Kiki Bell, the seamstress; Cassie Blackthorn, the coordinator; and Chef Saffron Delarosa are best of friends in a town that is a romantic wedding destination for many couples—who work together at Weddings by Design to make every bride’s special day perfect. Could each falling into their own romance be the key to working out their differences and learning to trust each other—and God—with their futures? Copies of the book may be purchased through Amazon and Barbour Publishing

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter usually pens historical mysteries while her alter ego, Leeann, writes cozy mysteries. Together, they’ve penned more than 30 books and novellas. They also judge writing contests, teach online and at conferences, and offer writerly services such as editing and proofreading. They are members of various writers groups including Pikes Peak Writers, ACFW, Sisters in Crime, Writers on the Rock, and Capitol Christian Writers Federation. Visit Donna’s website and blog, and learn more about her fellow authors, Toni Shiloh, RL Ashly, and Davalynn Spencer.


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. Visit her website for information on her publications. Click here to submit your Sweet Success Story.

The Challenge to Write

By Leeann Betts

(from her writing craft book, Nuggets of Writing Gold© 2015)

Several years ago I completed a 14-day writing challenge where I committed to do something every day related to writing. While I thought the process would be a breeze, it was anything but.

On Day 1, I listed the titles of ten books I’d like to write. This is what I put down for myself and for my real life persona, Donna Schlachter, who writes historical mystery:

Titles of 10 books Donna would like to write:

  • Then Sings My Soul
  • Christmas Inn, Colorado
  • Klondike Gold
  • Honor Denied – Book 2 of the Heart of Honor Series
  • Denied Liability – Book 3 of the Heart of Honor Series
  • Collusion – Book 2 of the Florida Detective Series
  • Resolve – Book 3 of the Florida Detective Series
  • My Surrendered Heart – Book 1 of the Echo Canyon series
  • The Long Trail Back – Book 2 of the Echo Canyon series
  • Home is where the Heart is – Book 3 of the Echo Canyon series

10 Titles I want to write:

  • There Was a Crooked Man — Book 2 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • Unbalanced – Book 3 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • Five and Twenty Blackbirds – Book 4 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • The Labyrinth – Book 2 in the Lighthouse Foundation series
  • The Landfall – Book 3 in the Lighthouse Foundation series
  • One Moment in Time
  • Of Horses and Wishes
  • Walking on Sunshine
  • Characters and Creeps
  • Remembering Mama

The good news is that Donna has written some of those books. She finished Christmas Inn, Colorado as well as My Surrendered Heart, and I have written There Was a Crooked Man and Unbalanced, as well as nine other titles in that series. She also finished One Moment in Time. Some of the others are still in progress or in the planning stages, and honestly, there are a few that I wished I’d made notes about because I don’t have a clue what I was thinking at the time.

All of this goes to my point: writing a book rarely happens in a vacuum. We get an idea, a nugget of dialog, perhaps a snippet of setting, maybe even a title, and before we know it, a plot and a character or two fall into place. When this happens, the creative juices flow, and we are off to the races. In this case, reviewing this piece ignited the desire to write these books. I’ve printed off the page with the titles and placed it in my “To-Do” pile.

Unfortunately, the muse can flee as quickly as she appeared, so that what once seemed like such a great idea fizzles like wet firecrackers.

What do we do when that happens? We can press on, force the story, force the ending, and maybe end up with something worth revising.

We can start at the beginning, with the gem that got us excited about this story, and see if we can find the true essence of the story in a different direction.

We can toss out the whole thing and start all over with a new project.

Or we can do a little of each, and treat it like a tossed salad of words.

In Donna’s case, for example, Remembering Mama was probably an idea for a coming-of-age story about a girl whose mother died when she was young and the impact that had on her life. There have been several books published with that theme in subsequent years, however, so she’s thinking she may need to switch the story around a little bit. Maybe Mama didn’t die, but ran away from her abusive husband, leaving her children behind. And the father forbade the children to ever mention their mother. But they do. The more he says forget her, the more they get together in secret to remember her. Except they don’t have much to go on because they were young, and so they make up a lot of the details. Until one day the father dies, and the mother comes back. And she isn’t anything like what they remember. Bittersweet for the mother and the children.

Plus, a while back, thinking about this story sparked an idea for another. Taking Daddy Home is about three estranged sisters who get together for a road trip to drive their deceased father’s ashes back to his hometown. What should have been a joyful reunion turns into something else. Donna isn’t certain what at this point. But that’s okay, because up to now, that’s about as much thought as she’s put into that particular story idea.

All this to say: Don’t be afraid to abandon one story idea in favor of another. All writing is good exercise for the brain, so nothing is wasted.

Takeaway: Writing requires discipline, but don’t try to shove a square peg story into a round hole outline.

Exercises:

  • Make a list of ten books you’d like to write. Make notes, maybe a couple of sentences, about the story so you’ll remember it later.
  • Choose the title that excites you the most. This would be the one where you can already see the main character and what’s going to happen to her/him.
  • Start writing that story. Let nothing stop you until you write “The End” on the first draft.

Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. Together she and Donna have published more than 30 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Christian Authors Network, Pikes Peak Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC.

Website: www.LeeannBetts.com
Blog: www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://bit.ly/1pQSOqV
Twitter: http://bit.ly/1qmqvB6
Books: Amazon http://amzn.to/2dHfgCE  and Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2z5ecP8
Etsy online shop of original artwork, book folding art, and gift items: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Dare2DreamUS 

Producing a Novel – Part 12

Cover Design and Self Publishing

By Donna Schlachter

Cover Design

Research tells us we have less than five seconds to capture our reader’s attention, and that usually happens when they pick up our book based upon the cover. Which means that designing a great cover that fits readers’ expectations of your genre is key.

If you already have a contract with a traditional publisher, they will design the cover based on a Cover Questionnaire which you will complete, containing details on audience, genre, and story line. The designer will not read the book, so you must make certain to include any physical characteristics of your hero and heroine to be sure the designer gets the build, and the eye and hair color correct.

If you don’t have a contract yet, don’t waste your time designing a cover. A traditional publisher is unlikely to use it. However, continue reading, since this section will give you insight into how a designer will come up with the cover.

If you plan to self-publish, read on. Whether you plan to design your cover yourself or hire someone to do it for you, knowing the process will help.

First, here are some basics:
  • Our eye tends to scan in a Z pattern, beginning with the top left of the cover, to the top right, down the center to the lower left, then across to the lower right. Put important information in those key areas.
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. It’s fine to mix and match fonts so that the keywords of the title are in one larger font, with the filler words in the same but a smaller font; the subtitle or title series in a smaller font; and the author name in a different font. Try not to use more than two fonts.
  • Imagine your perfect reader and design the cover to please them. You should already know this reader intimately, since you wrote the book for them and them alone.
Now, on to cover design specifics:
  1. Pick the best picture you can find. Don’t worry right now that it isn’t perfect. You can fix that later. Keep the genre in mind. I’ll talk more below about genre expectations.
  2. If you’re designing your own cover, buy the best software you can afford, or use a free online service, such as BookBrush or Canva. If you’re using a designer, or are publishing with a traditional publisher, they will handle most of the design process.
  3. Research books in your genre to see what the covers are like, the layout, the number of actors (usually no more than two unless the book is about a larger group such as a family). Study the fonts, the placement of title and author name, and the colors.
Genre expectations:
  • Romance: choose a script font, reminiscent of a love letter; choose colors that evoke romance, including blue, purple, red if passion is involved, turquoise and pink. Red and black are preferably used in erotica; for the image, typically the two lead love interests in either a close-contact pose (if the story is about a happily-ever) or in an oppositional pose; include elements from the story, for example, a wedding gown, cowboy boots, big city background or country setting background.
  • Cozy mystery: choose a font that emulates hand-penned font; choose coordinating colors that emulate paintings, or illustrations are popular right now; no dead bodies, blood, or half-clad characters for this genre; a scene from the book, the setting (town, rural areas); if there is a theme, such as cooking club, knitting or other craft, occupational, include an image related to that; blurred or frosted images; actor walking away from the camera or posed in the distance.
  • Thriller, Suspense, Mainstream Mystery: use a font that is bold and clean; choose colors that emulate the tone of the book such as black, red, green; often the images are dark, blurred; often the actor is in the top half and a background scene in the bottom; a cataclysmic scene from the book.
  • Fantasy: Choose an antique or gothic font; choose a vivid color palette; illustrations can focus on the main character’s special power, supernatural ability, or personal quirk; if magic is included, visualize it on the cover.
  • Mixed genre: incorporate colors and elements of both genres, with more from the primary genre. For example, if the genre is fantasy romance, choose an antique or gothic font for the title with script font for author name; include the lead characters but they could be separated by a fantasy element, such as a cauldron, if that’s in the story.

Should I Self-Publish?

Your book is written, polished, and edited, and you want to see your book on store bookshelves, but you don’t have a publisher. Do you spend time looking for one now? Or do you want to get this book out to the masses so you can move on with the next project?

Here are some questions you can ask—and answer:
  • Do you want to see your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores across the county? Most self-published books sell online as print or eBook, although it is possible to work through a book distributor.
  • Do you want to be on bestseller lists? You will need a traditional publisher’s media clout behind you, most likely. Not impossible with self-published, but it will take more work.
  • Is your reader niche large and general (but not too general) or is it specific and smaller? Traditional publishers are less likely to publish niche books that reach smaller audiences, so self-publishing is often the best route, particularly if you plan to reach your audience through in-person events, such as speaking.
  • How much work do you want to do? If you think writing the book and getting it ready for publication is difficult, marketing and promotion is about ten times worse for most authors. While the marketing budgets of many traditional publishers is relegated to their top-selling authors, they usually set aside a few dollars to promote your book. In self-publishing, you are your book’s best marketer.
  • How soon do you want to release your book? Traditional publishing generally takes 12 to 24 months from signing the contract to publication. If you have written a time-sensitive book, such as a political, medical, or social event, or perhaps one about the anniversary of a particular historical event, self-publishing is your best route. If you’ve written a book in a hot current genre, you might want to self-publish now to catch the wave of sales in that genre.
  • How much control do you want over your book? Cover design and distribution in a traditionally-published book rests almost entirely with the publisher. You retain more control when you self-publish, but you will do all the work.

The good news is that self-publishing doesn’t mean that’s the end of your traditional publishing opportunities. In fact, several decently selling self-published books tells a traditional publisher that you can complete a project and that you understand book marketing and promotion. Being a hybrid author—one who self-publishes and traditionally publishes—doesn’t mean you’re compromising. As you can see from the above questions, WHY we write a book is as important as WHAT we write.

Whichever path you choose, determine to follow it to its end. Keep working on the next project—always! And don’t try to cram your book into a publishing process because you need the validation of a traditional publisher or you don’t want to write the best book you can—readers need what you write. The myth that self-published books weren’t good enough for a traditional publisher simply isn’t true any longer—in most cases. So make your book the best it can be, then honestly consider your audience, your motivation, and your ability and resources.

Resources:

Fiction Book Cover Design: The Definitive Guide
3 Foolproof strategies for designing fiction book covers that work for any genre
Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide
Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of Donna’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read previous installments click on one of the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Producing a Novel – Part 11

Self-Editing

By Donna Schlachter

Okay, you’re getting close to the end of writing your book. You’ve checked the character arcs, the plot lines, sub-plots are all concluded, satisfying ending. Time to type THE END and send it off to your agent or one of the dozens of publishing houses languishing for want of your book, right?

Wrong!

Now it’s time to edit your book until the prose shines. Until you make your word count squeak because you’ve tightened the writing so much.

There are several ways to approach this stage, but I will suggest the steps I usually take, and I’ll toss in a couple of options for you, as well.

The Process

Regardless how much editing you might already have done while writing the book, the following steps are critical to the success of your book. Having already spent hundreds or thousands of hours getting the book written, you don’t want to skip any important steps. If you do them in the order laid out below, you won’t waste time because getting the steps out of order will duplicate the work.

  1. If you haven’t already, you should put as much of the book as possible through your critique group. Everybody should have a critique group. Online or in person, it doesn’t matter. And once you receive feedback, incorporate it appropriately. Each member of your group should have their own particular skills. A grammar queen, a sentence structure guru, a big picture boss, and a story expert should comprise the basis of your group. So for example, if your big picture boss says to put a comma here, but your grammar queen says no, listen to the one who knows the grammar and punctuation best.
  2. Use an online tool such as Grammarly or ProWriting Aid. Don’t use this tool instead of a critique group. Use it after the critique group. Listen to what the program tells you, but choose wisely. In particular, use the Grammar & Style, Echoes, and Overused Words functions. Check the readability and strive to get your book to fall into the parameters listed. For example, if the program says your Readability is difficult to read, check out the Stats to find out why. Or if the program says your Passive Index is 45, and the target is up to 25, listen to them.
  3. If you have beta readers, send it to them now. These could be folks you’re related to, or friends, or strangers who offer to read your book for free when you ask for help. If you have a launch team, this could be them. When they send you feedback, listen to them and incorporate their suggestions.
  4. Print your book out in the format in which it most likely will be published. If you expect it to be a 6X9, or a 5X7, or a mass market size like 4.75X7, set the margins and print the book. I know, it will be a lot of pages. Still a great investment. Then read the book as if you were a reader. Mark any changes you want to make in red. Move paragraphs around inside the document with arrows and notes. You will sometimes see things on the page when it’s printed this way that you wouldn’t see otherwise, such as if every paragraph on a page or in a scene begins with “she”. Then make your changes to your digital document.
  5. Print the book out again, this time with regular margins on regular paper, single spaced. Find a quiet spot, and read it out loud. No, mouthing the words doesn’t count. Out loud. Mark where you stumble over words, where there are echoes—when you use the same word more than once in a paragraph, such as vehicle, book, hospital, tree, gun. Look for places where you can change the wording to eliminate the echo, such as identifying the kind of tree, vehicle, or gun. Make those changes to the digital version.

Things to Watch For While You Edit

  1. Pet words. We all have them. I tend to overuse: just, nearly, managed, begin(ning), start(ing), try(ing)
  2. Overused phrases: be able to; be going to; barely managed to; in fact; goes without saying;
  3. Redundant phrases: shrugged his shoulders; nodded his head; sat down — cut the underlined words

Make sure you have:

  1. Lots of body language – switch out dialogue tags (he said, she pouted, he whispered, she hissed) with action.

For example:
“Where are you going?” he whispered. “And can I come along?”
A better way to say it:
“Where are you going?” He gripped my sleeve. “And can I come along?” 

We can see the desperation or the boldness in the clutching at the sleeve.

  1. Highlight tension between and within characters through internal dialogue, particularly when what the character is thinking is opposed to what they say.

For example:
Jane twirled around the living room. “Don’t you just love this dress?”
Orange always did make her look fat. Paul gritted his teeth. “Lovely.”

  1. Tension on every page. Doesn’t matter what kind: physical, mental, relational, spiritual, internal, external (like with the elements or nature). Doesn’t have to be life-threatening, but make it important enough for the reader to ask, “Ooh, what’s going to happen next?” Tension keeps the reader reading. You can identify weak areas by underlining tension in red then going back and looking for places where there is no red ink.
  2. Make sure every scene and chapter starts by anchoring the reader in the character’s Point of view, and the time and place. Avoid going backward in time in the story. Keep the story moving forward.
  3. End every scene and chapter with a question, a problem, a danger, or a twist. Something that makes the reader want to keep reading to find the answer, solution, rescue, or explanation.
  4. Foreshadow what’s happened in the past and how it affects the character, and also suggest how it will have an impact on choices the character will make when pushed into a corner or out on a limb. Do this as if you’re sprinkling cinnamon on your oatmeal, a little at a time.

What’s Next?

Depending on many factors, you might want to hire an editor for a final set of eyes on your work. If several of your critique group or beta readers mentioned the same issues, such as not liking your main character, not believing your premise, not understanding why a character did or didn’t choose a certain action, then you might choose to hire a developmental editor to look at the story as a whole and make suggestions about structure, premise, plot, or characters.

If you find yourself asking yourself questions as you work through the above process, like, “does a comma really go there?” or “how should I format this paragraph”, you might choose to hire a copy editor or a proofreader.

In reality, there are as many kinds of editors as there are problems with manuscripts, each with their own price tag and level of expertise attached. Ask your friends for recommendations, or your agent. Just remember: a reputable agent or publisher will never charge you to edit your work. NEVER.

If you have any questions, while I don’t pretend to know all the answers, feel free to email me at donna@historythrutheages.com

Looking forward to seeing your book in a bookstore soon!

Resources:
Below I’ve included several websites and resources you might also find helpful. Many of these articles have a plethora of other useful articles on writing, and some include free downloads, newsletters, and blogs you can follow:
How to Edit Your Own Work
How to edit a Book
The Ultimate Guide to Editing Your Manuscript
10 Self-Editing Tips
How to Self-Edit a Book With Specific Strategies for Success
Self-Editing Your Manuscript
Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book
Self-Editing Explained
Top 10 Golden Rules of Self-Editing
Mastering the 3 Stages of Manuscript Editing

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh installment in Donna Schlachter’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read more in this series click on the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Producing a Novel – Part 10

Writing a Series

By Donna Schlachter

As with all of the posts in this series, the information below is only a summary of how to write a series. As with all good books, most of the work comes at the beginning. In the case of penning an ongoing series, that beginning point is the first novel, and preferably before you write it.

However, that aside, my alter ego, Leeann Betts, just concluded a 12-book mystery series, and when she sat down to write, she had no idea (a) if she’d even finish one book, let alone a series, and (b) she didn’t know it would be a series until she wrote The End, realized she loved her characters and didn’t want to say good-bye, so resolved to write at least two more and see where that led.

So, despite what I say below, you can write the first book and not know you want it to be a series. However, before you publish or submit said book, read this article and make sure you’re ready for the next, because there are tough questions you should answer before you begin.

Ask Yourself…

  1. Is my genre suited to a series? The best genres are fantasy, sci-fi, crime/mystery, historical fiction, and children’s/young adult. Otherwise, a standalone is probably your best bet.
  2. Is my plot suited to a series? Plots told from multiple points of view that weave together are best, as are stories that happen over a longer period of time. If there is room for extensive character development, world building, and multiple subplots, your story could be a candidate for a series.
  3. Are my characters suited for a series? Again, characters who need to grow and change do this best over a long period of time. Also, if you have a huge cast of characters in mind, planning to introduce them one book at the time might avoid reader confusion.
  4. Can I commit to writing a series? Once you start, readers will expect at least one book every year, with two books being better, and three or four better yet. Readers of a series don’t want to wait two years for the next installment. They’ll go on to something else and forget about you in the meantime.
  5. How many books do I need in order to tell my story? That depends on the genre, the cast of characters, subplots, and your character arc. Please don’t try to drag a three-volume series out into seven or ten just to increase sales. Readers are not stupid. They’ll see right through you and quit reading.

Tips for Success

Once you’ve answered these questions, the following are a few pointers on making sure your series has a good chance of succeeding:

  1. Writing a series is different than writing multiple books with unique characters in each. It requires planning from the get-go. You need to have a story too big (not necessarily the same as too long) for just one book. Longer-term or series-wide developments such as character growth needs to be present. Generally in a series, there is some amount of time between the happenings of each book, ranging from a few weeks to several months to years.
  2. Make sure your central conflict is enough to sustain readers’ interest. In crime or mystery, the sleuth’s expertise or involvement is often enough, while in other genres, an ongoing battle with the villain, an ongoing character arc, or a generational saga can keep readers coming back.
  3. Create a world that readers want to come back to. Make it rich in imaginative detail without boring the reader; make it distinct yet familiar; and give each setting its own character.
  4. Some would advise outlining your series in advance. That would be helpful for pretty much all genres except crime/mystery, where a notion of what that particular book is about should keep you going.
  5. Establish the central characters early in the story but don’t reveal their entire backstory. Let the reader see the wounds that the protagonist overcomes, one at a time, and reveal the source of the wound in that book.
  6. Introduce new characters in each book to keep the series moving. Consider changing out the setting to afford that opportunity, if needed. Put your central characters in new or unexpected settings to force them to act and react.
  7. Stretch out each character’s developmental arc, healing wounds slowly. Give them faults they struggle to overcome, show how their environment impacts and changes them, and keep a list of how they change from book to book so you don’t repeat any.
  8. Each book in your series should have its own strong central event, just as a standalone would, the catalyst for the protagonist embarking on this journey.
  9. Make sure your middle books in the series are strong and exciting, or else readers will give up on you.
  10. Tie the series together with a compelling series name and tie the titles together in some way, such as a pattern of words or numbers. Think Sue Grafton’s ABC murders, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, and so on. Or Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who. . .  series.

Writing a series can be a very rewarding endeavor, but at some point, it must end. The final installment should wrap up all the plot lines of this book, as well as any outstanding plot lines remaining from previous books. The character arc should be completed for all major characters, and the conclusion should be satisfying yet hopeful that these characters have a happily ever after ahead of them.

****

Resources:
Ultimate guide: How to Write a Series
How to Write a Book Series – 10 Tips for Writing Smash Hits
How to Write a Series: 8 Novice Mistakes to Avoid

Did you miss any installments of this series?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com