One Writer’s Journey

February 7, 2019

Author’s Copies: Going to the Dogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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Look at what I found on the bench Tuesday?  Another pair of author’s copies.

Labradoodle and Puggle are both part of the Top Hybrid Dog series from Capstone. Whenever possible, I like to get two books in the same series especially if it is a new-to-me publisher or a tried-and-true publisher but a new series.

Two books mean that I figure out the standards and format for the series one time and then get to apply it twice.  These particular books were a lower reading level than I am used to writing which also meant that they were shorter.  While I’m used to including sidebars in a chapter, I also had to include fact boxes – a brief, interesting fact that didn’t appear in the main text.

I also didn’t anticipate just how difficult these books would be to research.  Fans of each hybrid tend to focus on the pluses – smart, high energy, fun, curly coat.  People who want you to buy a pure bred often focus on the negatives – smart = easily bored and thus destructive, high energy = needs a lot of exercise, curly coat = brushing required as well as trips to the groomer.  The books had to be upbeat which made it hard to write about potential health problems although knowing about these problems are an essential part of researching any dog, purebred or hybrid.

I’m not ready to quit writing younger books – these are for readers in grades 3 to 4.  But I have to admit that writing at a 7th to 8th grade level is definitely my sweet spot.  I can write either higher or lower but it takes a lot more thought as I rough it out and tinkering to reach the desired reading level.

The series that I’m getting ready to pitch is for this reading level. Maybe the dog books were good practice because it doesn’t seem as difficult as it was the first time.  You know what they say – practice makes perfect.


October 18, 2018

Series Writing: Recurring Conventions

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:02 am
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Even if you don’t recognize the term, recurring conventions, you’ve spotted these elements in your favorite series.  Elizabeth Craig calls them tropes.  Camille LaGuire uses the term rituals.  These are the situations, settings and other elements that recur from book to book.

In Harry Potter, we have Harry’s scar and the fact that the Weasley’s are poorer than a lot of the other big wizarding families.  Miss Marple has her knitting and her ability to compare everything to her village of St. Mary Meade.  In Curious George, we have the fact that George is a curious little monkey and that, in spite of this, the Man in the Yellow Hat will, once again, leave him alone and expect him to behave.

All series have them, or at least they should.  In mysteries, I’ve noticed that a lot have to do with food, hobbies, books, or history.

Then I started thinking about my own mystery.  Yes, I’m only on book 1 but cozies tend to read like series.  Read enough of them and you’ll know what I mean.  All of this means that I should be thinking about these things even in book one.  So far I have several possibilities including:

The church choir in which she is a soprano

My character’s old-time cooking skills – pickling, baking bread, etc.

Her mother’s ability to take her from 50 year-old adult to 10 year-old child with one sideways glance

Her love of coffee

The way that her modern suburb feels like a small town – everyone knows everyone.

Is this going to be enough?  I think so but what is more important is deciding that they are the right recurring elements.  They have to be things that are interesting enough that readers come back to see what is going on in the town, in the choir and in the kitchen.

I suspect that I’ll have to shore up my recurring conventions as I rewrite the book.  Rewrite?  First I need to finish my initial draft.  Back to work!


November 14, 2016

How Do You Plot a Series: Altogether Now or Book by Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:04 am
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raven-1002849_1920Saturday, I finished listening to the last book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle.  Somehow I decided that it was a three book series.  When I finished book #3, it was so clearly not a series ending that I took another look.  Four books.  There are four books.  Yesterday I finished The Raven King.  

Sometimes when I read a series, I get the feeling that the author plots the books one at a time.  I may be wrong, but that’s how Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books feel to me.  Yes, there are overarching problems throughout the series.  The vampires are not defeated in book #1 or book #3 or even book #6.  Dresden has girlfriend issues and problems with his assistant and in his relationship with the local police.  But each book features a specific case and his efforts to solve it.  Each book is a separate episode.  And it must work because my husband and I both love these books.  Note: This is an adult fantasy mystery series, not a children’s or YA series.

But as I reached the climax of The Raven King, I realized that Stiefvater must have plotted these books out as a group.  The climax in book #4 is inevitable.  Early in book #1, readers learn that Blue has predicted who will die in the next year.  She amplifies the abilities of the local psychics and this is a ritual that they perform annually.  Don’t read any more of this if you have an issue with plot spoilers.  I’m not going to intentionally give the plot away but something might slip.

The problem is that she meets this boy and they fall in love.  The rest of the series involves the group working to find a lost king, figure out a magical forest and solve the mystery of one boy’s dreams. Book by book, they move closer to the time he will die.  The teens work to find a way around this but fate will not be cheated, at least not completely.

Why do I think that Stiefvater plotted all four books at once?  These stories are insanely complicated with plots and subplots and themes galore.  The ending fits every foreshadowing and every psychic prediction. It all dovetails perfectly.

As a series or book-by-book, a series can be plotted either way.  Would a new author have the opportunity to plot four books at once?  Maybe.  Rowling plotted out all of the Harry Potter books before she started writing.  But sometimes a series is born from a single successful title, without having been planned from the start.

A writer who pays attention to detail can make it work either way.



December 14, 2015

Writing a Series

IThe Ninja Librarians just finished reading book one in a new series — The Accidental Keyhand (The Ninja Librarian Series) by Jen Swann Downey.  Her book got me thinking about the different ways that I could write a series.  This is seriously loaded with plot spoilers but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In some series, like this one, there is an over-arching problem.  In this case, two groups are in a struggle to control the world throughout time.  The good guys are represented by the Lybrariad — think libraries, librarians and freedom of speech but a bit bad-ass.  The bad guys are the Foundation — not so much freedom and intellect as threats, control and brute force.

In addition to the over-arching problem, each book has one or more problems that are dealt with within the pages of that single book.  In this book, Dorrie and her brother accidently travel to the library that houses the Lybrariad.  They have to prove that they are good guys, not bad guys, and find a way to get home again.

I suspect that most often these kinds of series are planned out in advance.  I know that was the case with the Harry Potter books.

The second type of series has an overarching them or topic but each book is a fully self-contained story.  You could pick up book 4 as easily as book 1 and still know what was going on in the story.

I read Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon books as well as J.A. Jance’s Ali Reynold’s books and think that a lot of mysteries fall into this second type of mystery.  The character’s personal life may follow a continuum through the series (married, divorced or widowed, remarried) but there is no over-arching plot.

I suspect that this second types of series doesn’t take quite as much planning as the first.  And I have to admit, my ownly series attempts have been of this kind.  That said, the series with an overarching plot has it’s own type of appeal.

Which one would you want to write?




February 18, 2014

Call for Manuscripts

If you have written a young adult or new adult novel, then you might want to take a look at Clean Teen Publishing.  When I first saw the name of the publisher, I thought that they must limit what they publish.  No sex here!   But that’s not how the approach it.

This publisher acknowledges that some teens won’t read a book that isn’t at least a little sexy while others aren’t comfortable with much beyond a kiss.  That’s why each Clean Teen book receives a rating in four different areas:  substance, swearing, violence and sex.

Where many publishers want one book and, following a view of your sales, will decide if you have a series, Clean Teen wants more.  They want either the first two novels in a series or a novel and a prequel novella.

I don’t know much more than this about Clean Teen but I find their approach intriguing.  For more on their submissions guidelines, click here.

Good luck!


October 22, 2013

Three Things Every Series Needs

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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SeriesLike many people, I love a good series.  Books 2 and 3 and 4 (if it is longer than a trilogy) allow me to spend time with characters I already love, get to know them better, and share in another of their adventures.  As a book reviewer, I often look for series books.  Let’s face it.  Because I only review books that I can highly recommend, I don’t want spend time reading books that I can’t review.  I only have so much reading time, after all.

But I may have to rethink this approach because lately I’ve read two second books that I simply couldn’t review.  They felt too slight.  This leads me to the two things that every successful series needs.

1.  An Overarching Plot.  In every series, you have an plot that extends over the series as a whole.  In Harry Potter, this was the fight between Harry and Voldemort.  In The Hunger Games, it is the conflict between Katness and President Snow (representing the government).  If you want to write a series, your character has to be looking for something, fighting for something or trying to solve some great big problem throughout the entire series.  In a mystery series, your character might be trying to establish herself as a detective or looking for his parents (series plot) while solving an individual mystery in each book.   But this touches on what else a series needs…

2.  An Individual Plot (with a smaller goal) for each book in the series.  This might mean that Harry Potter is looking for the Sorcerer’s Stone, trying to rescue a friend, or find a horcrux.  If your series features several characters, each with their own book, the plot for that book will likely represent that character’s personal journey.  In The Demon’s Lexicon, Nick battles beside his brother but also struggles with why he is so emotionless in comparison.  Yes, there’s a larger good vs evil plot for the series as a whole but this one is all about Nick, although it does touch on the larger battle.

Recently, I have read book 2 in two separate series knowing that I wasn’t going to go on to book 3.  Why?  Because, in each case, book 2 was too slight.  Although it addressed the larger battle, the individual plot was too slight and came across as an introduction to book 3.  Book 2 just didn’t have enough weight compared to the other books in the series . . .

Maybe that should be #3.

3.  The various book in the series need to be weighted equally.  Don’t lure me in with a strong first book and then use Book 2 to introduce a strong Book 3.  All three (or more) books need to carry their weight and present me with a fantastic reading experience.


December 24, 2012

What Did I get from Capstone?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
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capstoneNot long ago, Capstone hosted a drawing on their blog, Capstone Connect.  Because they were moving, they were finding all kinds of fabulous things.  Just what did they find?  Check out the photo!

I won the drawing and was expecting a bag and a book or two.  This is what I got:

  • TWO bags.  One is already home to three knitting projects.  The second is probably going to replace my library bag.  Yes, I’m the kind of geek that has a dedicated library bag.  I’ve been using the same bag since my son was born and, in spite of the occasional trip through the washer, it is starting to show its age.
  • An awesome nonfiction book on Iwo Jima — Raising the Flag: How a Photograph Gave a Nation Hope in Wartime by Michael Burgan.  I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction to study but I may have competition.  This is the one my son is most interested in reading himself.
  • Two illustrated novels, Aquaman: Deepwater Disaster by J. E. Bright and Tony Hawk’s 900 Revolution: Drop In by Donnie Lemke.  My son and husband love superheroes and so do I so I’ve been interested in the DC Super Hero line that Capstone is now producing.
  • And, last but not least, a picture book series —  I See Spring, I See Summer, I See Fall and I See Winter by Charles Ghigna.  The I See set is  part of the Picture Window imprint.  This is a set of concept books.

Whew.  If I don’t come up with an idea or 12 after studying all of this, I’m simply not trying.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.


July 3, 2012

How to submit your chapter book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:09 am
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Do you have a chapter book manuscript that you are trying to market?  If so, you need to market it as a series.

That’s what I’ve been told by two editors in just over two months.  The vast majority of publishers who market material for this reading level want a series, not a stand alone title.

This doesn’t mean that you need to write three or four books before you starting marketing your work.  If you don’t have a track record in children’s fiction, have your first manuscript written.  In your cover letter, include the series name and paragraph long plot summaries of two more books.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider the series possibilities for your chapter book:

Is the main character in the first book going to be the main character in subsequent books?  Or will one of book #1’s minor characters be the main character?

What is my series based on?  It can be as narrow as Magic Tree House or as broad as Junie B. Jones.

Do I have the passion to stick with these characters for multiple stories?  If you don’t like them well enough to do this, your readers won’t latch onto them either.

When you can answer these questions, get going on that cover let and get your chapter book manuscript back out in the mail.  New readers need great books and they love series.  Why shouldn’t one of them be yours?



Of course, this means that your character has to be series worthy.  completed.  , but you do need to know what addition

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