Oct 122015
 

ADuelgainst better judgement, I decided on having two heroes in my new series.
Now you might be wondering why that is wrong. Two heroes, more heroics, right?

Well, in general having two heroes is seen as a bad choice.
For instance, if only one of the main characters has a clear journey throughout the story, the other might feel like an annoying hanger-on. Or, if the goals and roles of the two main characters are too similar, why just not have one hero?

Despite these concerns, I decided on having two main characters. Perhaps I am too stubborn to listen to sound advice from people who have been writing fiction for years. Or perhaps I am making the rookie mistake of counting on beginners luck.
In any case, Jacob and Paddy are here to stay.

Let me explain why.
My series actually takes place in two worlds. A human world and a rat world. The rats live in the human world, but they have their own concerns and storyline.
But wouldn’t it then be better to write two stories? Each in their separate worlds? Well, no, as the two worlds do collide and influence each other.

I am writing a cosy mystery series, which means there are murders to be solved. Jacob is my (human) amateur sleuth, who unwillingly gets dragged into this and after a while starts to enjoy playing detective.
Paddy the Rat doesn’t actually help him solve the crimes. I don’t want anthropomorphic, Sherlockian rats in my series. However, unwittingly, Paddy might be of help every now and then, unknown to Jacob, of course.

Although my two worlds are very different, there are similarities as well. This is because a story can have two heroes, as long as their storylines are running parallel and are connected at the same time.
Jacob and Paddy each have their own lives to live and problems to solve. And although one is a human and one a rat, their problems are similar.

I am aware that I have bitten of a whole lot and might not be able to chew it all. It has, however, been great fun creating these two worlds and finding ways to connect them and have them influence each other.
I don’t think having two heroes is going to be a problem.

The journey of both my heroes is now well thought out and planned. This is not going to be an average cosy mystery series. Instead they are Cosy Mysteries with a Twist, two heroes and all!

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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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