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On Writing: Bujo Story Keeper 1

I have a novella that I’m working on that’s due 2/18 and I need to put it together fast and well so I can write the book.  I’ve had some questions about how I’m using the bujo for writing – and as any good teacher will tell you, sometimes showing other people how to do something helps YOU figure out how to do it better.

So it’s the perfect time for me to capture some of what I’m doing since this is an entirely new world. This will be a series of posts as I have time. Hopefully it’ll be helpful for someone!

In the Beginning

My theme is something Irish or related to St. Patrick’s Day. The name of the boxed set/anthology we’re doing is “Shamrocked.” I already know I want to do a RH so I need at least 3 heroes. I need a story that I can introduce all the characters and the world quickly without a lot of set up – because I only have 30-40K to get the story told. And if I’m going to go to all the trouble of setting up a new world, then I want to be able to write MORE books in this world. So this story needs to be 1). satisfying in a shorter medium but also 2). extendable.

I did some brainstorming and got my premise. I don’t think I’ll go into a lot of that at this point – I’ll keep this generic and high level. As I’m doing my research and brainstorming, I put the pages into my existing bujo. This notebook has a bunch of other ideas, plus my revision notes for Queen Takes Queen.  I keep track of everything with an index at the beginning, just as you would for any other bujo.

The first few pages are just messy notes. Brainstorming. Interesting tidbits that may or may not have anything to do with the story. But eventually I get a better idea of what I want this story to be, and I make a list of what I know or my goals for the book.

Casting. Part of my process is to pretend I’m an uber-rich director and I can hire any actor or actress I want to play my characters.  I find a pic I like and print it out. Then I create a two-page “spread” in the bujo. Really all this entails is the pic (attached with tape or washi), and the information I know about the character. It may be very sparse. It may change. That’s okay. I just need something to start with. I usually have the left-hand page with the high-level stuff like name and age, and then I leave the right-hand page for notes and backstory as they come to me. Note: do a spread for your antagonist if you have one.

Places or World. I do the same thing for places, houses, anything unique that I’m using in the setting.

Leave plenty of white space to make notes or add research details.

Helpful hint:  If you have multiple stories in the notebook, use washi tape to make a little tab in a color that’s meaningful to your story. That way you can flip directly to those pages!

Next: plotting!

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Finishing the Damned Book

Silly me – I don’t think I’ve even shared the cover yet. Tada!

It was a race down to the wire, but thanks to a crazy weekend of sprints and an intrepid team of beta readers who are comma warriors, QUEEN TAKES QUEEN is done and dropped off to the formatter.  She’s usually very fast, so I may have ARCs going out as soon as this evening, and I’m set to meet my KDP pre-order deadline.

Now you may be wondering why I’d put myself under so much stress. I had to grind some huge numbers the last week or so to finish the book. I got about 4 hours of sleep two nights in a row. My hands are killing me.

But there’s nothing like the high of finishing the book and meeting that deadline.

And here’s the thing about my personality. I need deadlines. If I’m left to my own devices, I’ll putter around on five files at once and never finish anything. Then I’ll wallow in misery because I *know* I’m not making any real progress, and it’s pretty hard to write well when you’re wallowing in misery. (Note: see my lack of progress in 2016)

So yeah. Deadlines matter. I’ll continue to set hard dates for myself and keep the pedal pushed to the floor as often as I can, because it’s just me setting these dates now. I know what I’m capable of. I know I can write 70K in a month (The Billionaire Submissive) when I need to and the story is flowing.

I *am* letting up on the pedal a day or two to recuperate.  Though I have committed a novella for a St. Patrick’s Day anthology and I need to have it written and edited by 2/18.  So yeah, another crazy few weeks are just ahead!

I’ve also had some back and forth in my mind about which Queen book to write next. I was tempted to write a book in Mayte’s POV next, and then maybe even Leonie’s, rather than another book in Shara’s POV. I thought if I got into their backstories and really dug into them, that I’d be able to get the final showdown plot easier. Which is probably true – but doesn’t serve THE story well, which is Shara’s story.

However, I dithered long enough that I don’t have an excerpt ready to put into the end of QUEEN TAKES QUEEN like I’d hoped.  So if you’d like some sneak peeks, be sure to join my Facebook group, Joely’s Triune, to get the earliest tidbits of what’s coming next for Shara in QUEEN TAKES ROOK.

 

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Counting Down the Days

I’m hard at work on Queen Takes Queen. A bit behind… but I can make up that bit once my downhill momentum picks up. It will, I know. I just have to trust the process. Eventually those 1k, 2k, 3k days suddenly become 5k, 8k because I want to finish. I was a bit under the weather this weekend with a stomach thing the family had Christmas – New Years, but I luckily only had a minor touch of it.

Each chapter of Queen reveals more cool things about how the courts work and how complex every political situation is going to be. I’m pretty sure I figured out the title for Mayte’s book too. At first I was thinking Queen’s Jaguars, but I’d like to stay with the “Take” aspect, so I might use Queen Takes Jaguars instead. Yes plural. Of course!

I have a lot of cover action happening this week.  I should get Queen Takes Queen’s cover going and I’ve already booked her for the next three months to get the remaining books in the series created ahead of schedule (so I don’t have another unfortunate mishap of not getting the correct cover loaded in time). I also have an appointment on a secret pen name project for the next 2 covers. And… I bought a premade cover last night for an unfinished work I’ve talked about before:  Grotesquerie. I think I may have figured out how to fix it, and then I saw the cover and it was perfect. So I have no excuse now.

Other than time. Always time.

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Writing in 2018 – The Plan

The universal truth about me and plans….  If I write it down, it WILL change.

But I have to plan to the best of my ability, while remaining flexible. I know things will change. But I’d like to lay out a little bit about what you can expect from me this year.

First, let me start with a few things I’ve (finally) learned.

  1. I have to finish series as quickly as possible.  For many reasons, but the primary two: I get bored easily and it helps sales. Readers really really want complete series. Some won’t even buy it until it’s complete, because they don’t want to be stuck hanging around waiting for that last book for year(s).
    1. Corollary: I have more control over this if I’m indie. I won’t have to worry about publishers cancelling my series and killing my motivation to work on a “dead” book again.
  2. I have to have deadlines. I’m a “perceiving” personality type – which really means pressure. I like pressure. I like deadlines. Sometimes the only thing holding my attention on a single project is the deadline, and yeah, the tighter the better. I will have to be sensitive to burn out and pushing myself too much, but if I just work on whatever I want, whenever I want, I WILL NEVER FINISH. So, deadlines.
  3. I have to track. Words, sales, pages read, everything. I am becoming a spreadsheet master.

First Half of 2018:

So with that information laid out, my #1 priority in 2018 is to finish Their Vampire Queen. That means…

  • Queen Takes Queen will release 1/29/2018. I am currently behind schedule, but will keep pushing to get this turned around.
  • I’m going to stick to releases every 45-60 days as much as possible.
  • There are three more planned books.
    • Mayte’s book, untitled, end of March/first of April
    • Leonie’s book, untitled, end of May/first of June
    • Queens Take God, the final showdown, working title, end of July/first of August

I have a secret pen name series that I never finished that has a lot of potential. I’m getting the next two covers made in January to light a fire under my behind. Ideally I’ll release the next two books close together and have another complete series. I’m not sure of length or timing yet. I’d planned to write at least one in January – but it depends on how long Queen goes over. I may not be able to fit it in yet. I may cram the Queen books closer together to make room on my schedule for new things, rather than trying to switch back and forth. We’ll see.

I’ve verbally committed to writing a novella for a St. Patrick’s Day themed anthology, finished story due by 2/28. I’ve got a loose idea for it, but haven’t started it yet, and the idea could be “big.” e.g. it may not fit into a shorter piece and do it justice. I may back out of this one, pending timing, how everything goes in January, etc. We’ll see.

I am reworking the Shanhasson trilogy covers with the same cover artist in February. FOR PRINT! And I’ll plan to release a boxed set of the trilogy as well. Maybe some new content. We’ll see.

“We’ll see.” See what I mean? haha. Ultimately, my goal is to get to as close as possible to one new release a month. That may mean cramming the Queen books closer together. Or stretching them out slightly to let me fit a different release in between. I’m not sure which one will work best yet.

Second half of 2018:

New series planning. It’ll be reverse harem, and either SFR or dark contemporary. I have ideas for both, but haven’t spent time yet to see which one will hold my interest the most. But I will definitely be ready to kickstart a brand new idea!

I need to reissue Lady Wyre’s series and get at least the third book I’d planned finished, again, keeping with that “finish” theme!

I want to write Three Cuts Deader this year. Because this is a “want to” project, and I don’t have control over the first two books, this may fall lower on the list. I’m limited in promotions and marketing I can do when I don’t control the series. But a handful of you do occasionally ask about this series and I really would like to do one more.

Up for grabs.  AKA I have no idea.

I have FOUR premade covers I’ve purchased over the past few months just for fun. One is definitely fantasy, and I’d love to write a big, sweeping epic fantasy again. But I don’t have a specific idea or plan yet. Two are definitely contemporary. The other one makes me think royalty, but could go fantasy too. They were pretty and cheap and I couldn’t resist!

So, that’s as specific of a plan as I can get! I’ve got a lot of new ideas, which is great. I’m writing again, hard, which is the GREATEST. As long as the Muse continues to cooperate, my general goals are to

  1. finish what I start
  2. release nearly monthly
  3. get as close to one million new words as possible
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Queen Takes King’s Cover

The good news:  I have the cover for King!  The bad news:  I didn’t get it uploaded to Amazon in time for Monday’s release.  *weeps*

We had some difficulty getting the King just right and one thing led to another. I got the final files last night, but the preorder was already locked, so I couldn’t upload it. Nothing I can do about it now, but stay up until midnight Sunday night and see how quickly Amazon will unlock it so I can upload the finalized cover.

This guy looks more like Shemar Moore than Idris Elba to me but who’s complaining?!?  Not me!

 

 

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NaNoWriMo Update

I was so so close…. Just under 44,000 words.  I should have been able to get just 6,000 more, right?!?  And I planned to – but I had some stuff come up for the Evil Day Job that took priority.

I finished Queen Takes King, which was my primary goal.  And I started Queen Takes Queen. Although the 7,000 words I thought I was going to use to open Queen ended up getting pulled into King…  So I’m behind of where I want to be, but you’re getting way more with King than I planned!

So now the big thing to watch for is the cover for the King.  I can’t wait to see what Marissa comes up.  And of course I need another NaNo style month in December, because I intend to release Queen in Jan.

Annnnddd, I’m going to get a short piece put together for an anthology some other RH authors are working on. Due Feb.

So it’s going to be a crazy start to 2018!!

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NaNoWriMo 2017

Let the race for words begin! Yes, I’m participating this year (you can find me as joelysueburkhart).

I wasn’t sure which book I was going to write for NaNoWriMo this year. I’d intended to start The Mummy’s Captive Witch, but Queen Takes King was flowing too well and all the stars aligned for me to just continue writing in that world. I had 32,000 words at the end of October and decided to just keep on going.

So my plan is to finish the King (guessing 60-65K) and then go straight into Queen Takes Queen. Ideally… I’ll finish both this month!  Though Queen might go a bit into December.

I’m taking every Monday off in November, plus the week of Thanksgiving. We’re not hosting this year, so I won’t have to burn days of vacation cleaning house and shopping and cooking.  So I should have plenty of 3-5k+ days to get both books done this month.  That’s the plan at least!

I’m still working out my release schedule for the next few months and beyond. I did finally hear from Carina and it was a no. The only remaining publisher obligation I have is a contemporary proposal for Entangled, but it’s not working yet and I’ve got other things cooking right now.

I haven’t decided if Queen Takes Queen will come in Jan or Feb yet.  I should have the cover early Jan, so it’s possible I could release that month. We’ll see.  I’ll firm it up once I see how this month unfolds.

For 2018, I’m really going to shoot for the moon. My ideal releases will include

  • Queen Takes Queen (Jan-Feb)
  • secret pen name release, books 2 and 3.
  • Another Queen book or two in a different queen’s POV.
  • Queen’s Checkmate or Endgame (haven’t decided which title I like best)
  • Three Cuts Deader
  • The Mummy’s Captive Witch
  • The Prince’s Beast under a new pen name
  • A spinoff of the Billionaire series for Entangled

I’m also working on

  • A Connagher boxed set. Have the cover–but need to get the formatting done.
  • Getting the Shanhasson trilogy into print
  • Getting the Connagher books into print
  • Getting Lady Doctor Wyre and her men back up for sale (new covers).

These all cost $$$ so I need new releases out to pay for everything. Hence the big push for words.

Words, all the words. My focus in 2018 is MORE WORDS.

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On Writing: Process

The only thing that seems to stay the same – is that my process is constantly changing. For me, that’s a good thing, though it can be scary at times when something I’ve done in the past just isn’t working.

I envy people who can make up a week’s worth of meals and eat the same thing everyday. My horse would be kicking that stall down in a hurry. Writing is the same way for me. I have a hard time setting a flat, even number of words for every day. Even though I *want* to be able to say “write 1K a day to finish the book” – I know it’ll be more like 500, 200, 1000, 0, 2000, 1000, 0, 3000, 8000, etc. until the book is done.

I’m hoping that certain parts of my new process stay, though, because I really love it. You’ve seen me post all kinds of worksheets, spreadsheets, etc. over the years. Some books I plot. Some books I just know. Some days I get a couple of hundred words. Others I’m fighting to stop before my wrists give out at 5K. Sleep? Who needs sleep anyway? When the words are pouring…

I don’t want to stop.

Right now, I’m not using any of those old tools. At least not in the form I’ve ever used them before. If you haven’t been around me long, there’s a few things you should know about me.

  • I love the smell of leather. LOVE.
  • When I’m stuck, I like to write things by hand.
  • I think purple pens are magic.
  • I can’t draw a straight line (even with a ruler) to save my life.

So while I’ve done the bullet journal thing several times – I never got into the cool layouts that people draw, because I can’t. They look awful and I won’t use that notebook again because I’ll cringe every time I see the pages I ruined. I did buy a leather traveler’s notebook that smells DIVINE though, and I kept trying to use it. I bought some small colorful notebooks, but…

It took me awhile to figure out how and what to put in the notebook in a way that I could live with and find useful too.

I thought I needed one for each book, so that all that book’s info would be in one place. And yeah, that would certainly be easier. But my muse doesn’t work in a linear fashion like that. I might be plotting one book, and writing words on another, and running edits or formatting something else.  Or I might be writing book 1, and get an idea for book 3. So where do I put that, if I need to keep space for book 2 in between? What if I run out of space and have to put book 2 somewhere else?

Worse — what if I started a notebook for one book, but didn’t have it when I got a brilliant idea? I don’t want to forget it, so where do I write it down? I can’t physically carry every single idea notebook with me because DUDE. I have a TON of ideas. And one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that once words are working, and I can dip into the well and touch story at whim…

I don’t get words only for the story I’m doing. I drop that bucket down in the well and haul up all kinds of stuff – and I can’t hold it all in my head.

So what I’ve finally adjusted to doing is using one bullet journal style notebook for ALL stories.  I have an index at the beginning and I start with what I’m doing now. So my current notebook has a list of characters for Queen Takes Knights. Some pictures of the actors/actresses I cast for roles. Notes about characters. Then I got into the scenes I wanted to do, brainstorming etc.

But then I also started keeping a daily log of word counts. And it’s okay if the word counts break up pages of notes about plot or book 2. I don’t set any rules. I just use the next page, and if it’s something I want to be able to find later, I add it to my index.  If it’s really really important, I create a little washi flag so I can find it quickly.  I’m using a word count sticker I got from Bree and having a blast coloring in the little squares.

Combine this with my Kanban board, with the 20-25 min timer, and I can easily track how many words I get in each session (I use a different color).

And I don’t switch notebooks. I’ll use this one until it’s full. Right now, it has Queen Takes Knights info, including my edits and chapter outline. Future scenes I want to do in Queen Takes King. Future character sketches. And they’re not all in order. That’s okay. I’ve also got an outline started for the next zombie story, with the research and worldbuilding I’ve done. Smack dab in the middle of my daily word counts for Queen Takes King.

Once I finally let go of “everything has to be in order” – then the bujo process really took off for me.

Some pics below if you’re interested!

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Book Business Blather

If you don’t care about numbers and math and publishing talk, feel free to go pick up a free copy of Letters to An English Professor or The Horse Master of Shanhasson and skip the rest of this post!

I’ve always been pretty honest about sales and my numbers – which have never been fantastic, other than a really good year in 2010. That was my best year ever. I actually made more with books than That Man did at his full-time job that year.

But despite publishing many more books since then, my income has halved and halved and halved… again and again.  Of course the Samhain debacle last year put a huge crimp in my sales across those 10 books.  One Cut Deeper did really good (for me) at Carina, but follow-up sales of Two Cuts Darker were disappointing enough they declined to even consider Three Cuts Deader.  The Bloodgate series was already dead.

The Billionaires did pretty “okay” at Samhain in the beginning – but nowhere near my expectations.  I don’t know if it was the covers, their generally declining sales across the boards that forced them to close, MY generally declining sales…  All of the above, likely.

So I had a lot riding on the re-release of The Connaghers, and especially Mine to Break in July.  First and foremost, I needed to make back $1200 in covers alone.  I’ve been experimenting with Facebook ads and they are NOT cheap.  Even $5/a day (their min) to explore audiences ads up quickly.

I’ve invested $20/month in Instafreebie to build my list. Just under $40/month for my newsletter service.  Since I started last year, I’ve managed to increase my list from 100 to 2200.  Not bad.  My open rates are between 45-50%.  I’d like to keep growing there, and building connections with those subscribers, so I’m experimenting with some polls and small giveaways.

So where am I at right now with the business end of things?  The good news:  I’ve almost made back the cover expenses.  Now all of that isn’t in my needy little hands.  As money comes in, it goes right back out the door for newsletters, giveaways, and advertising, and royalties come in 60-90 days after the fact.  But it IS coming back and I feel like it was a good investment.

Comparing January sales to what I made in July:  I saw a 676% increase in sales.  That sounds great, right?  But 676% of not much is still… not much.  July was a release month, and already those numbers are decreasing.  August was a release month for the Billionaire books at Entangled, and they did pretty well at first with the $.99 prices, but sales have quickly dropped off again (according to Amazon rankings).

So I need more books out, in those series, to keep the numbers. And of course I don’t have anything. Yet.

The bad news:  I’ve decided to pull the Connagher books back to Kindle Unlimited at this time.  So far in September, I’ve only sold 10 books across all of Draft2Digital’s venues.  TEN. For five books.  Yeah.  It’s just not worth it right now – and while the KU payout is small, I need any advantage I can get for visibility right now.  If you primarily buy at B&N or Kobo or iTunes, I’m sorry and if you reach out to me (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com), I’ll make you a copy that you can read on your device.

Returning to KU will allow me to do more creative countdowns and free days. I’m doing some promotions with Love Kissed Book Bargains that have really been outstanding (nearly 1500 downloads of Letters to An English Professor when I listed it) and will continue to do some targeted free day and $.99 bargain deals.

I will probably pull the Shanhasson books to KU too at some point – but they need some formatting work.  (I originally uploaded them in 2011.)  I’d rather get some new material out there than do this kind of busy/admin work, so that’s not high on my priority list at this time.

My take away at this point is positive – but needs improvement.  I’m going the right direction. The best thing I can do for my numbers right now is keep growing, keep giving away books, and write another Connagher book, and write another Billionaire book or spinoff. AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.  That wasn’t in my wish list right now – I have so many interesting shiny ideas I really want to do, but from the numbers game, it makes the most sense to capitalize on where I am right now.

I am still working on the vampire series — but I plan to release three books close together in back-to-back months, so I’d really like to have them written, or close to written, before I release the first one.  The cover artist doesn’t even have slots for the other two covers until Dec/Jan, so it’s going to be a little while yet before I can share that new world.

I would love to work on Three Cuts Deader – but while Carina still holds the rights for the first two books, I’m limited in what I can do. I have covers purchased, so I do want to work on them – but I can’t run the same kind of growth plans as easily when I don’t control the pricing.  So I’m still working on a plan for that series.  The longer it takes me to come up with a decision and plan, though… the less it will benefit me sales-wise to write them.  Two Cuts Darker came out well over a year ago.  Few people are going to remember Charlie and Vincent at this point except for a few beloved friends and family and a few dedicated readers (hugs, I love each and every one of you).  The general Amazon reader isn’t going to care about a third book in a series that came out 2 years or more ago, by the time I actually get the book written.

And of course, Lady Wyre is (not so) patiently waiting for me to decide what to do with her and her men.  My Entangled (former Samhain) editor would love them, and that would give me the more immediate opportunity to write another book(s) in that series.  I just hesitate to put too many eggs in a publishing basket when my last basket rotted and fell apart on me.  I’ve priced polishing those covers (not starting over from scratch) and am looking at $600 plus $250 for the third Lady Wyre book.  It’s going to take some time for me to get that much built back up.  So Lady Wyre is in a holding pattern until I decide for sure what I want to do.

I do have one last proposal out to Carina under a new pen name and entirely new genre. That could be a game changer and anything I plan now could get thrown out the window. I should know in the next few weeks (it’s been under consideration for 2 months now).

The bad thing for me is that I hop around too much. I can’t make a decision and stick to it.  I think, Oh, I should work on this! It’s so cool and I have a great idea for a giveaway! Or I hear about a great boxed set opportunity, that would let me write another book in the Nightgazer world. Or the Zombie Category Romance world. Both worlds I love and want to work in.  But I can’t hop around back and forth. I’ve got to focus. But focus is NOT my strong suit in the writing game.  (Picture horse kicking down her stall and running out into the blizzard again.)

And things at home aren’t the best. I can’t get into details but it’s not easy, it’s never easy, and carving out MY time to write is a constant battle.  I type this while facing a THIRD trip to the high school this afternoon/evening to pick Littlest up from marching band. Both she and Middle are in Geometry this year and I help them with homework several nights a week. Of course they can’t begin said homework until Mom’s ready to go write…

Anyway, that’s my long-winded blather post about the state of the union.  Onward and upward!

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Mine to Break is out now!

He’s bringing war to the Mistress of Dallas’s bed.

Mal & Colby are finally out in the wild!  Retailer links are below.

This book got me writing again after the darkness of the past few months.  Mal and Colby gave me hope and reminded me about all the things I love. I got to visit with old friends, fix a few things that I left unfinished or didn’t get quite right, and hopefully lay a few threads down for the future. There’s also an Easter egg – a character makes a brief appearance from a different series.

And blackberry cobbler will never be the same!