Four Steps to Structure Your Book

When I began writing my first book (now out of print, working on digitalizing and republishing), I didn’t know that it would be a book. At the time, it was a fun story about characters in a Dungeons & Dragons game I made up.  A few of the players who created the characters weren’t happy about the “embodiment”, if you will, of their characters. Choosing to play a character one way in a live game and then seeing those actions on the printed page created quite a discussion when I presented the story. And some of it was not happy talk. I, on the other hand, had a whole lot of fun.

It finally dawned on me, “Hey! I can do this! I can make this a BOOK.” And off I went on a very bad start. Some of the bad stuff was still there when the book was published. But thanks to prompts from a friend, I got seriously organized. That organization and structure were the secrets to my completing the book.

  1. The first thing I did was get index cards, and create a character card for each main character, a city/place card for every important location, a racial/ethnic card for each race (yes, it’s a fantasy book and I was enamored of Tolkien’s multi-racial world), a term card for each key “foreign language” word I invented (no way do I have the talent of Tolkien, so words only, no real languages).
  2. The second thing I did was draw a map – using a few colors – adding rivers, lakes, mountains, cities, islands, etc. I used lined graph paper (I know I’m dating myself, but this was just at the dawn of the digital age) to help with perspective and taped several pages together to help see my “world” in one piece. I knew where characters were going and how they had to get there.
  3. The third thing I did was create a time line on a very large accounting tablet. The time line began before the book’s starting point, so I created back story for the main characters in a way that I could see what happened to Character A at the same time a specific incident happened to Character B. That book contained a LOT of exposition. Knowing what I know now, I would have used that information source to hold back a lot of the exposition. I would have doled that history out fewer times and in much smaller bits – and held back a lot for the sequel. It was a fantasy/adventure book, of course I planned sequels.
  4. The last, and most important, thing I did was actually follow the plan to maintain consistency throughout the book. The combination of time line, which was really the plot line, map, and detailed cards WERE my book. Everything, everyone was there, just waiting for me to pull them together in print.

Don’t get me wrong, I ended up changing a couple things; I still struggled with character development and dialog; I still worried about what I should or should not keep in the story; and I still made mistakes. I couldn’t get an established publisher interested. I lost money on co-publishing. I had to pay to get my materials back and return the copyright to me. I have no idea how many people actually read the book or liked it.

But I did it. I finished a book that followed a multi-character,  structured  plot line.  And I was proud of it. Still am.

You can do the same – even using digital versions of my pencil and paper treatments!

eBooks and ISBNs

I’m checking into the available options for book ID numbers when publishing digitally. Publishers of eBooks are almost as different as there are numbers of said publishers available on the Web.

Both Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press assign proprietary (recognized as meaningful only to them) identification numbers to each book published through their services in order to track sales. This process may be appealing to authors just getting started who don’t have the knowledge or the time to investigate or who just want to see what appeal their book might have – no real money is lost.

If you have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), you can add it to the rest of your book’s information and it will be included with the proprietary number. If I understand correctly, oftentimes that ISBN number can only be identified with that electronic version of your book. If you choose to publish a print version of your book, or, republish through a different digital publisher, you must get a separate ISBN.

In contrast, a publisher like Smashwords provides the ISBN for you, free of charge. This publisher also distributes eBooks to several third party channels, such as Apple iBooks, kobo, blio, Barnes & Noble, and more – but not to Amazon. As the publisher, Smashwords still has some control over your book, as all other print or digital publisher do.

That ISBN has been sort of a status symbol, “Yes, I’ve been published. Here’s the ISBN number, look it up.” And many people do research books using the ISBN number – that’s what it’s for, especially if your book is published globally.

There is an excellent blog post at the Tools of Change for Publishing Web site on this subject, interviewing the product manager at Bowker, the official U.S. distributor of ISBNs. The post is a year old, but you should read it.

If you want a little more control over your eBook distribution, you can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker – even self-publish. It’s a little daunting, though, to realize that a single ISBN number costs $125.00. You can buy 10 numbers for $295.00 – the better deal at less than $30 a number, to be sure, but still quite a chunk of change for most of us. Do I use the free ISBN from Smashword or take more ownership of my book?

I don’t know yet, but the clock is ticking on that deadline.

You have to make your own informed choice.

 

Digitalizing Your Book for ePublishing

That’s my next project for a book that was published several years ago and is now out of print. The copyright has reverted back to me and I plan to take advantage (I hope) of the eBook industry. I no longer have a digital copy of this book – over 500 pages long – so I’ve decided to find someone to do that for me. Just doing a Google search pulls up so many options it’ll take you days to research all sites.

However, if you are working with a digital copy, the best option is probably the free publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press, which also offer print and lending library services, as well as access to a community of authors and experts. This is my plan for my recent and current projects. You can’t beat the price – and the opportunities,

Many other companies specialize in scanning printed book pages, either bound or unbound, using OCR (optical character recognition), and converting soft copies into eBook format compatible to most retailers, even creating audio books or actually publishing the eBook. In fact, there are so many options out there, I’m still doing my internet homework. I’m also checking out available resource materials and the option to speak to someone in person to ask direct questions.

Some companies also create proofs and then send those proofs back to you. You can do additional edits and send the book back for modification and then converting into the eBook format, even providing cover art – for additional costs. Many companies will distribute the final eBook to global retailers – for additional costs. Claims exist for anything from 85% to 100% sales compensation to authors.

Do your research and compare costs, compensation, copyright, and distribution channels, review contracts, if any, and make a list of what you can afford, as well as your preferences and priorities. Don’t commit to more than you can afford! Find the company that best fits your needs.

Then, take a chance (and keep your day job). We can only hope we sell more than a handful of books!

Need a Little Push Past Your Writer’s Block?

We all reach that point at least once, if not several times, during our writing project where we come up blank. Sometimes just standing up and walking around or stretching does the trick. Other times, a few hours away doing something completely different helps clear your mind. Occasionally, moving on to a different scene helps you go back to the stalled point with a new idea. Then there are the times when you just can’t move forward at all.

Next time you’re stuck, try one of the writing tricks that have worked for me in the past – that is, when I am most disciplined.

  • Flash Fiction Fun – (my favorite) Open a dictionary, newspaper, or other book to a random page, close your eyes and then place your finger anywhere on the page. Write down the word under (or nearest) your finger. Repeat this process three more times and then write a complete fiction piece in 2 – 6 sentences, no more than 100 words, and no holds barred. You may be surprised at the result and you should definitely find your path back to your project.
  • Writing Prompt – Go online and search for “writing prompts.” Search results will provide scores of sites with truly useful ideas to kick start your creative process. The two best sources, in my opinion, are Writers Digest and Poets & Writers. Complete the exercise, even two, then go back to your project.
  • Brainstorm Intervention – Call a few friends together and summarize your problem. If they’re not familiar with your current project, have someone read the page right before your progress stopped. Then for the next 5 minutes have them call out ideas for your next move – even outrageous suggestions. Take the idea that least fits your plotline and write a page on it before you take up the idea that most fits your plotline and then go back to your project.

Most important, have fun and don’t give up.

Point of View – How Do You Choose?

Understanding the point of view devices used in fiction writing – even movies and documentaries – is often a confusing process. Terms such as, first person, third person, objective, omniscient, or limited omniscient can give a writer the vapors. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks.

A writer has to make the point of view decision fit into a “trifecta” of good narrative – the plotline/action, the characters (well-developed, of course) in relation to each other, and the perspective from which the journey is revealed to the readers.

The first book I finished was in third person. I presented several characters’ points of view throughout the book. There were many individuals on the protagonist’s “side” so I felt they had a shared experience, although they didn’t all receive the same amount of attention to their part in the story.

I had to be careful to reveal just enough of each character’s thoughts to move the plot forward. I didn’t want me, as the author, to intrude upon the readers’ discovery and involvement in the journey. And that’s why the bad guys’ point of view was never revealed. The antagonist and all his followers were seen only from the good guys’ perspective.

I have just about wrapped up my second book, unrelated to the first. Because I really wanted to concentrate on the main character’s struggle to mature and take on a serious, and seriously dangerous, responsibility, first person was my choice for point of view.

I struggled in the first couple of chapters with the first person past tense and just could not get the rhythm of the story going. I switched to first person present tense, and I immediately felt a real kinship with my character. The hardest part of first person is to not start every other sentence with “I” – difficult sometimes, but not impossible.

The important lesson I learned with both experiences is that a writer must feel comfortable, must honestly see that the point of view contributes to the story’s success.

Here are some sites that discuss the literary point of view conundrum.

Annenberg Learner

The Writer’s Craft

Novel Writing Help

Sheila Larang on Prezi

To Sequel or Not to Sequel

The book is done. You’re ready to move on – but to what?

Perhaps you have two or three storylines plotted out at a high level and you can’t make up your mind which one to choose. You start to flesh out the strongest idea, thinking this will be the easiest path to pursue and quickest way to publish.

But your mind wanders down memory lane, revisiting the characters from the book you just finished. You might ask yourself, “what’re they doing now?” Your characters and world beg you not to shelve them. Yes, I have these conversations with my creations but, so far, only in my head and no one else has heard me yet.

My genre, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, almost requires a minimum of three books. That seems to be a legacy of one of the greatest fantasy adventure writers of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien. (By the way, another of Tolkien’s unpublished works is scheduled for release in May of this year – his translation, with commentary and a short story, of Beowulf.)

Sequels are great, as long as you do more than just rehash what happened in the previous book. Yes, you’re working with the same characters, even the same villain if you want that. But a sequel must stand on its own, have its own conflict, climax, and resolution. Your characters must grow and develop beyond where they ended in the previous book. The best approach is to plan sequels while you write the original book. Envision that arc of new facets of character development across time – decide what that timeline should be. Decide where supporting characters come in and where they leave. Decide if your original villain is the “arch-nemesis” or just the first in a line of challengers.

If readers are as enamored of your characters as you are (well, almost as) then they will look for new challenges and new discoveries.

Readers of sequels want MORE, not the same.

Don’t Write in a Vacuum – Seek Out Writing Resources

As much as we’d like to think that we, as authors, know what we like, know what we want to do, and know just how we want to do it, we’re wrong more often than we think.

I have a bad habit of going for months (and months) without reviewing any other books or authors in my genre. Mostly because I don’t want to risk writing something I think is my great idea but I really copied from so-and-so. Of course, that’s what most of us do anyway, unconsciously, because we mimic what we like. We just need to recognize that we do it, keep it to an innocent minimum, and do not, under any circumstances, PLAGIARIZE.

We also live dangerously when we don’t keep abreast of the trends, good and bad, in the publishing world. We may need to find a publisher, editor, agent, ISBN provider, even understand bits of copyright law, and so much more. Most of the time, our inner circle of writers and friends can be a kind of source, but they’re just not enough.

Accessing other available sources online or in print can prevent a major mistake. All the sources in the world cannot prevent disappointment at one time or another of course, but we know that – at least we should.

Here are some of the resources I try to visit regularly.

Writer Beware/SFWA.org

Writers Market

Writer’s Digest

Poets & Writers

Kindle Direct Publishing

U.S. Copyright Office

I know there are so many more sources, so take advantage of them and never rely on only one. A vacuum (a void, nothingness) is not our friend.