Oct 062015
 

beta readersPeople keep asking me, ‘How’s your book doing?’. They then often can’t believe that although I have been ‘writing’ for about a year-and-a-half, I haven’t got one word on paper yet.
But things are starting to look up. I know that in another couple of months, I will finally be ready to start writing.

I was browsing through some of my old blog posts yesterday and read the one that I wrote at the beginning of this year. I was full of hope that by December, I would have two books published and another ready to hit the shelves in January.
This, as it turns out, is not what is going to happen.
Why not? Because I realised that to become a successful author in this day and age, I had to write super awesome books. This is certainly not beyond my capacity, but it takes more time to plan.

For instance. Cosy mysteries are usually character based. This means that there is more emphasis on the relationships between the characters, than the more technical details of how the murderer killed and how the police solved the crime.
The question cosy mystery authors ask themselves is ‘why?’, not ‘how?’.
I knew all this in January, but not long after writing my post, I realised that I hadn’t figured out the ‘why?’. More specifically, the ‘why?’ for the series. I could have shrugged my shoulders and pushed ahead regardless, but I wanted to write a super awesome series, so that meant no shortcuts.

In the past nine months, I didn’t only plan ‘a book’, I planned a whole series. My sleuth’s whole story-arc for the series to be precise. And not only his. Also that of his sidekick, his best mate, the Chief Inspector and the uber-villain. Five storylines woven together into one super awesome nine book story-arc!
I had to plan all this ahead, or otherwise I would have totally lost the plot halfway through the series. I simply know that I would have, as I am a plotter and not a pantser.

Each of the books in the series will have a separate murder to solve for the sleuth. Each book will be stand-alone in that respect, but there will be an ongoing storyline slowly unfolding. I hope my readers will find my stories interesting to read. In any case, I had great fun plotting them!

I am now ready to start plotting Book 1 in more detail. A lot of that is already in place, I just need to get it in the right order.
I know that once that is finished, I can start writing! Finally get some words on to paper. And the writing will go much faster than the plotting. I promise!

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Sep 292015
 

EggsBasketI love Mark Coker.
He’s one of my self-publishing heroes, who has been very inspirational ever since he founded Smashwords.

Mark writes insightful blog posts about the self-publishing industry, which in general are upbeat and positive in tone.
Lately, however, in his posts, but also in a podcast for the Indie ReCon, he has expressed his concerns about KDP Select and the power Amazon exerts with it.

Like me, Mark has never been a fan of KDP Select, but now more than before, he seems to be predicting doomsday if Indie authors keep choosing for Select.
As I believe Mark is a true visionary, his predictions have me very worried indeed.

KDP Select
Indie authors can publish their ebooks on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing, a very handy platform, which gets their ebooks on all the different Amazon sites. No problem there.
Since December 2011, however, authors get the choice on KDP to enrol in Select, or not.
From the beginning many authors were wary of this, as enrolling in Select meant that their ebooks could only be available on Amazon and nowhere else.

As ‘reward’ for this exclusivity, authors were able to price their ebooks for free, five days in every 90 days.
Pricing the first in a series for 99c or free, has always been a good marketing strategy, so authors flocked to enrol in Select, pulling their ebooks off other platforms, like Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble etc. And this while selling ebooks on as many platforms as possible, is also a good marketing strategy!
For some reason Amazon was able to lure them in, most likely as authors were selling most of their ebooks on Amazon anyway and thought, ‘what the hell…’.

Kindle Unlimited
I am firmly in the ‘never put your eggs in one basket’ camp, so I never enrolled in Select. There are other ways to price your ebooks for free on Amazon, so Select only had drawbacks for me. Even though most of my sales were also on Amazon.
But in the last few years, Amazon has added other ‘benefits’ to enrolling in Select, that non-enrollies don’t get.

In addition to Select, Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service, which prices every ebook in Select automatically for free. Authors in Select are paid for every page that the subscriber reads. This might sound great, but it works out that they now get paid less for their ebooks than if they’d had a ‘normal’ sale and receiving 70% royalties.

On top of that it turns out that Amazon is changing their algorithms to make ebooks that are not in Select, less discoverable on the site, thereby ‘punishing’ authors that don’t enrol.
Then why not enrol in Select and be done with it?
Because Mark Coker is worried.

trainNot an easy problem, nor an easy solution
As Mark explains in his blog post and subsequent comments, what is happening at the moment with Select is a runaway train, that can only end in a huge wreck. For everyone – Select-Indies, non-Select-Indies and even authors who are traditionally published.
Yet their is not an easy solution to this problem. Some authors decided to enrol in Select even though they hate it. But as they are fulltime authors, they feel they don’t have another choice at the moment, but to enrol. Their families have to eat.
At the same time their are established authors who do fine without being in Select.

For a few years now, people have said that it is a great time to be an author. And I agree. But I feel the pressure of bringing out my books as fast as I can, as it seems that this ‘sweet spot’ is slipping away.
I believe in diversification, so I will keep going with Mark’s (and other’s) suggestion not to enrol in Select.
However, with writing my first ever fiction series, and under a penname, I simply am an unknown author, trying to find a market, in a self-publishing world where non-exclusivity is being punished. Will I ever be able to find readers for the series that I have put my heart and soul in for the last year-and-a-half?
Self-publishing was never an easy road to take, but it is getting harder and harder still and I am worried.

I hope that my fellow Indies will decide to go (or stay) non-exclusive as well. Unification among Indies is the only way to go!
Please take the time to read Mark Coker’s blog post and subsequent comments. Whether you’re pro or con Select.

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Jan 132015
 

writerHard to belief it’s already halfway January, but I think I’m still in time to post a quick update on my plans for 2015.

The most important thing I hope to accomplish this year is writing and publishing the first two books in my new cosy mystery series. The last six months I have been very busy creating a new world and characters. Now I am finally at the fun stage of plotting and writing the first book, which is where all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
If all goes according to plan Book 1 is published in October and Book 2 in November. And if I’m lucky and everything goes smoothly, Book 3 in January 2016.

At the same time I’m planning to set up a new blog, aimed at Dutch authors. Self-publishing is still a relatively unknown thing in the Netherlands, even though it is now much easier to self-publish (e)books in Dutch. I have a feeling a lot of Dutch authors prefer to go the traditionally published way (looking for a publisher), because they lack the knowledge about self-publishing. There are few Dutch websites that guide and help self-publishers, unlike in the English-speaking world. On top of that self-publishing is still seen as ‘vanity’ and of ‘lesser quality’, which perpetuates the idea that to be a ‘real’ author you need the approval of a ‘real’ publisher.

With my new (Dutch) blog, I hope to dispel some of the self-publishing myths and create some clarity for Dutch authors. Hopefully they can then make a more well-rounded choice to either start looking for a publisher, or go the self-publishing route.
The plan is to use my current mariastaal.nl website for this blog. Although now only a website with some general info about me and my books, it is not difficult to add a blog to it.

I have however made the promise to myself that I won’t start this new blog until I have finished writing Book 1 and plotted Book 2, which in all probability will not be before July-August.

With all this going on, I will be plenty busy this year, but I know I will have loads of fun along the way!

What are your plans for 2015?

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Nov 242014
 

SuperdadJacob Hicks is the hero of my new series, and as such he needs to be an interesting character, who is able to carry the story through to its end. Even though the readers don’t actually need to like him (although I hope they do), Jacob has to be interesting and worth rooting for. And this won’t work without giving him a life of his own, almost as if he actually has lived the full 52 years of his life.

The creation of this virtual life is called backstory and writers spent a lot of time creating it and making it as believable and real as possible. The ironic thing is that in a way, the readers never sets eyes on it.
I can hear you think, Why waste so much time creating something that never makes it into the book? The answer is that it’s not a waste of time, but a chance for the writer to create a well-rounded, interesting character.

Backstory is basically the part of the hero’s life before the books starts. This life has shaped who he is. His morals and believes, the way he reacts in certain situations, the way he interacts with other people. Just like we do every day of our lives.
But of course Jacob hasn’t really lived his life. He’s just a made-up character that sprouted from my imagination, so it’s up to me, the writer, to create that life by inventing his backstory.

SurrenderingOther than making Jacob interesting, there is another important reason for backstory.
To have a remotely readable and interesting story, the hero always needs to learn something during the story. Ideally the hero is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘repaired’. For instance, the hero can have certain phobias or insecurities that stop him facing and beating the bad guy. But as he is the hero in the story, he has no choice but to go through some personal growth, come to terms with his own weaknesses, in order for the book to have a happy end.
Phobias and insecurities might stem from things that happened to the hero in the past, which is why backstory is once more important.

I have written a lot of backstory in the past two months. At times it was easy, other times hard, but in general it has been fun. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I’m coming to the end of it, mostly as it means I get closer to actually writing my book!

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Related post: Last Weekend I Murdered My Victim!

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Nov 172014
 

Основные RGBLast week, I mentioned that for the past four months I have been busy creating a world and populating it with characters.

Fact is that a story in a book has to take place somewhere and although it’s often made up, this world still needs to feel real to the reader. Actually, it doesn’t just have to feel real, it also needs to be interesting, so that the reader is compelled to stay around until the end of the book.

Creating a real and interesting world is even more important when writing a series. In that case you want the reader to fall in love with the world and eager to return to it time and again. So it’s important to think it all through before the writing starts.
Of course getting a reader attached to a story doesn’t only depend on the world the story is set in. It also depend on the characters and the story it self, but let’s for the moment focus on the world.

My new cosy mystery series is set in Milbury, a fictional neighbourhood of York, which is a real city in northern England. It might have similarities with the neighbourhood in York where I lived myself for four years, but Milbury for the largest part, doesn’t exist.

The world in a mystery series, needs to be thoroughly worked out, as it needs to have enough different settings within that world, where the murders can take place.
In a cosy mystery these settings often traditionally revolve around craft fairs, cricket clubs and the like, and for my first book I have chosen the local allotment society as the setting for murder and intrigue. For subsequent books I have already vague ideas for settings. These include the shop owners association, a cat show, the annual Viking festival etc.

The world in a series also needs to have a regular new influx of people, otherwise, what with the murders and people who commit the crimes, the village or neighbourhood would be quickly drained of it’s inhabitants.

And of course the world needs to be a good setting for the hero to be able to dig deep into the personal relationships of his neighbours and catch the murderer.

It took some time setting up Milbury, but I have a good feeling about it. The neighbourhood is large enough to feel like a village where tensions are kept under the surface with fake smiles and pretend civilities, while at the same it’s big enough to have different settings to accommodate the murder plots.
Now the ‘only’ thing I need to do is write it all down.

Which world in a book or other story has become your favourite?

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Related posts: Last Weekend I Murdered My Victim!

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