The Challenges of Writing a Book Series

Up to now I have only written books as part of a series starting with The Riverhill Trilogy then The Manchester Trilogy and then The Working Girls series and, to be honest, I am well ready for a break from series writing. My next book to be published in August, Guilt, is a spin-off from The Working Girls series so it presented me with the same challenges as with a series. Thankfully, I now am working on a standalone novel, my first of three, and it makes life so much easier.

So, what are the challenges that are unique to a series? Here are a few to consider:

Thinking of Enough Ideas to Sustain a Series of Books

Before you start writing a series you need to make sure you have plenty of ideas. With my first trilogy I only originally intended to write one novel. The ideas for the other two books flowed from the first one as I wrote it so I didn’t have the problem of having to think of the ideas for all three novels in advance.

With The Manchester Trilogy, my intention was to have one long continuous story spanning three novels but with each book being a complete story within itself. At the time I felt confident that it would work as a trilogy and I was fortunate in that the ideas kept coming but I dread to think what might have happened if I had become stuck for ideas especially as the first book was marketed as book one in a trilogy.

With The Working Girls series, each book forms a separate story. It is the setting that links the books as well as the fact that some characters appear in more than one novel. In that respect it wasn’t as trying as The Manchester Trilogy but my main challenge with this series was in managing the timeline per below.

Keeping the Continuity Going

As with any book you have to be sure of things like plot and character development but this is even more challenging with a series as you have to keep it going throughout. There are some series where each book can work as a standalone such as my Working Girls series, but there still has to be something that links it in to the rest of the series e.g. you might have the same characters reappearing in each novel or the novels might have a particular setting in common. This can sometimes be restrictive and you might end up wishing you could break away from the series.

Managing the Timeline

Timelines are my biggest bugbear when writing a novel. I’ve tried various approaches from working it out roughly then completing it at the end to tracking the date and time as I go along. No matter which method I use, I always seem to come unstuck and have to rework the timeline at the end of the novel.

With the book I’m currently writing, I tracked the dates as I went along but unfortunately the novel had a lengthier timescale than I envisioned. This meant that when I reached the middle of the novel I was already in the current day. I therefore need to rework it so that it ends up in the recent past. I find that this task requires mathematical skills more than writing skills and it isn’t one I’m looking forward to.

With The Working Girls series the problems of managing the timeline were multiplied because I had overlaps between the novels. This meant that as well as working out the timeline for each novel, I also had to work out the series timeline. So, when I came to write Sapphire, I had to work out what age she was at different points in each previous novel and where she was in her life at that particular point. Without the series timeline I wouldn’t have been able to manage it as it may have led to contradictions per below.

Being Careful of Contradictions

One thing I always dread when writing a novel is contradicting something that occurs earlier on. There are ways that help to avoid this such as keeping a list of all the characters and their characteristics as well as a list of places and a sequence of events. The latter is where you keep a track of each scene by writing a few lines summarising the events in that scene. Despite all these techniques, there is still always a chance that by the time you get to the later stages of the novel, you will have forgotten the details from earlier. With a series this problem is even more evident.

My spin off novel, Guilt, follows on from Crystal, book 3 in The Manchester Trilogy. Therefore, before I started to write it, I did a full recap of Crystal by checking the sequence of events including the timeline and by reading through Crystal to refresh my memory.

And the advantages:

Reader Feed Through

This is probably the biggest advantage of writing a series, and the reason why publishers love them so much. If readers enjoy one of your books and they find out it is part of a series, then there is a good chance they will hunt for other books in that series. This doesn’t just happen with book one. Often readers will discover a book later in the series and then go back to the previous books.

Reader feed through is also more common with series than standalones because readers often become engrossed in the characters.

Pricing Strategy

Because of reader feed through with series, it is easier to tempt readers to try your latest novel by reducing the price of the previous ones. This also has the advantage that you can keep your new publication at full price and still attract new readers.

Those are the advantages and disadvantages that spring to mind for me but if you think of any others, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

If you would like to check out any of my books, my Amazon author page is: http://Author.to/HBurnside.

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Sapphire Launch Day

It’s digital launch day today for Sapphire, the fifth and final book in The Working Girls series, which you can obtain at: http://viewbook.at/Sapphire. It will be available in paperback from 14th April via Amazon and all good bookshops, and an audio version will also follow.

Sapphire

Here’s the book blurb:

Two sisters alone

Sophie and Kelsey have always had each other. When their mum is diagnosed with cancer and their dad fails to step up, they’re forced to move into the care system. But Sophie knows they’ll be okay as long as she’s there to protect her sister.

One final chance

But when Kelsey is found a foster family and Sophie can’t join her, Sophie’s left in an unsafe situation in the home, forced to do things against her will. Finding her own foster family feels like a relief, but it’s short lived when her trust in her new foster parents is betrayed.

No going back

With nowhere to turn, Sophie finds herself homeless. But when she finds her new street family, Sophie joins the working girls and her new identity as Sapphire is complete. It’s a hard life working the streets, especially when those around her look to take advantage, but can the dream of one day finding Kelsey keep her going?

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If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be pleased to note that there will be a spin-off book called Guilt which will be released in August this year.

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The Healing Power of Creativity

Polar BearThere’s no doubt that the past eighteen months haven’t been easy for any of us. Aside from the pandemic I’ve been dealing with a lot of other issues including bereavement and health concerns. The latter have thankfully improved and I’m now working my way back to fitness.

At the start of lockdown, I was determined to keep positive and decided that I would keep in touch with family and friends through video calls. Then a problem with dry eyes meant that that idea was scratched.

Usually, I find exercise a great way to relax but with lockdown I couldn’t go to the gym. So, with all usual avenuesBlack Horse closed off to me, I found it difficult to stay upbeat. Normally writing can provide a great means of escapism but when your mind is clouded with worry it’s not always easy to concentrate.

Thankfully, during lockdown I discovered a talent that I didn’t even know I had. Previously I had attended a handful of art classes about six or seven years ago. It was something I had always wanted to go back to but never got round to it. Then, during lockdown, I happened to notice some online classes on Facebook and managed to attend two of them before my dry eyes forced me to quit. But I’d got the bug by then, so I decided to pursue my love of art further.

Seagull

20210830_224009Some years ago, my son bought me a book on art so I started to read that. I also found short video clips on YouTube showing painting techniques. Because they were only short, I found them much easier to watch than the lengthy online art classes. I therefore decided to have a go myself, polishing up on techniques as I went along.

I’m still very much a learner but am pleased with what I have achieved so far. I’ve added my best paintings to this post so you can check them out. I can honestly say that painting has got me through lockdown. I know it might sound dramatic but it’s true. Painting is a wonderful way to pass time and it keeps you fully engaged so that your mind isn’t wandering onto all the negative things. It’s good to know that for me personally at least something good has come out of a very trying period.

Beccas Dog

Have you managed to draw any positives from the last eighteen months? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

99p Deal – Today Only

I’m delighted to announce that nine of my books are being featured in the Amazon Deal of the Day. That means you can download them to the Kindle for just 99p each for today only. The link to my Amazon Author page is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Heather-Burnside/e/B008MX8LD0.

Here is a list of the books featured:

The Working Girls Series

The Mark

Ruby

Crystal

The Manchester Trilogy

Born Bad

Blood Ties

Vendetta

The Riverhill Trilogy

Slur

A Gangster’s Grip

Danger by Association

The deal lasts for today only so hurry!

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Amber Blog Tour

To celebrate the launch of Amber my publishers have organised a blog tour over almost two weeks, which starts today. Here’s the fabulous poster giving details of all the book bloggers involved:

Amber Blog Tour Poster

Big thanks to all the book bloggers taking part and here is the link for Amber: http://viewbook.at/Amber.

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Amber Launch Day

It’s launch day for Amber and I’m really excited for this one. It’s been a whole eleven months since I last released an eBook and I think that Amber is probably my best to date. Here’s the Amazon link if you wish to purchase a copy: http://viewbook.at/Amber. The book will also be published in paperback on July 8th and you will be able to purchase a copy from Amazon using the same link.

Here’s the book blurb to give you a taster:

NOBODY TO CALL

With a mother unfit for purpose and a brother who despises her, working girl Amber can rely on no one but herself – until the meanest pimp in Manchester, Kev Pike, offers her his protection. Unfortunately, this attracts the fury of Cora, a prostitute no one wants to get on the wrong side of…

NOWHERE TO HIDE

When Cora is found strangled to death, the late-night city streets feel increasingly exposed with a killer on the loose. And as Amber grows closer to Kev, she realises his security comes at a price she might not be willing to pay…

NOTHING TO LOSE

Amber is frozen in fear, knowing one wrong move will risk her life. But then she discovers a horrifying secret that forces her to choose: stay or run?

I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

That Lightbulb Moment

It’s funny how every book an author writes is different in terms of the process. I’m currently working on book twelve, so you’d think I’d be used to it by now but still some books go more smoothly than others. One thing they all seem to have in common though is that there’s often a lightbulb moment when everything starts to slot into place.

At the start of the week, I was feeling very frustrated because I wasn’t satisfied with the way this new book was going. I knew it needed something more but couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I carried on writing in the hope that it would come to me, but the novel was beginning to look like a list of events with insufficient threads linking them together.

Then, two nights ago I woke up at five o’clock in the morning, which is the usual time when these things happen. I was fired up with ideas and couldn’t wait to get them down on paper, so I turned to my trusty notepad which I always have at the side of my bed.

I had mixed feelings. It was a real buzz to know I was  heading in the right direction, but there was also the frustration of knowing that I’d be wanting an afternoon nap by 3pm just at a time when I wanted to be at my most alert because I wanted to feed all these ideas into my text document.

At the moment I’m rising to the challenge of going through my Sequence of Events (a list of what has happened in each scene) together with ideas for coming scenes and those additional ideas that came to me in the night. I need to look at the structure of the novel as a whole and rejig it, swapping some chapters or scenes around and changing others. I think that you sometimes have to slow down, take a step back and look at how the overall structure is shaping up. It’s like a self-imposed mini structural edit.

This stage of the novel isn’t without its difficulties. Sometimes there is so much going on in your head that you feel as though it could burst. I know there’s a heck of a lot of work still to do with this novel but at least I’m heading in the right direction. I have the main twists figured out and I’m ready to ramp up the suspense.

It would be lovely to hear from other authors on this subject. Do you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ during the writing of a novel and how does it make you feel?

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Resources for Authors

When people find out I’m an author who originally published independently, they often ask me how they can get started. I therefore thought it would be useful to put a few suggestions together in a document. I’m reproducing them here on the blog in the hope that they might help other new authors.

KDP Select – This is the Amazon site for authors, which enables you to publish your book independently. The help pages https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200798990 have a wealth of information about the whole process and the way in which Amazon works. They can be explored from the menu on the left-hand side of the screen.

price-tagPrice Point – I used to price my books at £1.99 as an independent author and that seems like a popular price for books published independently although some are priced at £2.99. For Amazon promotions books are usually priced at either 99p or free for a day. There is a qualifying period for how long the book would have to have been at full price before the promotion so it is best to check this out via KDP Select where you will find all the other details of how their promotions work.

Proofreading and Editing – This is really important before you begin to get your book out to a wider audience. Some reviewers are really picky, and they will find any excuse to give a bad review. You don’t want negative reviews of an otherwise great book just because of proofreading or grammatical errors that can be easily corrected.

Editors are useful for giving you an objective view of your book and pointing out things that you might have missed. Publishers usually appoint a structural editor, a copy editor and a proof-reader so the book goes through a series of checks and improvementsresearch before it is published. If your budget is tight then I would say you need your book proofread as an absolute minimum.

NB You should also ensure that all text on your book’s Amazon page is proofread as this is the first thing the reader sees, and it could affect their purchasing decision.

David Gaughran – I can’t recommend this guy enough. He publishes books on Amazon (the Let’s Get Publishing series). These cover the entire journey from publication to promotion and advertising. He also has a blog at: https://davidgaughran.com/blog and publishes regular newsletters, which you can sign up to on the home page of his website.

Readers in the Know – When you run a promotion with Amazon you need to shout about it, and there are promotion websites specifically for this. Readers in the Know points you to numerous websites of this type but if you pay to join you can also promote your books on this site. The page with a list of promotion websites is at: https://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promotion-sites.

Sandra Beckwith – Similar website to David Gaughran but with a US bias

The Publicity Hound – Similar website to David Gaughran and Sandra Beckwith but with a US bias and not just for authors. NB These two are easy to find in Google search.

Amazon Exclusivity – In order to run promotions with Amazon you must publish exclusively with Amazon, but I think the advantages of doing this far outweigh the disadvantages as they have more than 80% of the digital market. Exclusivity is only for a limited period though and you can deselect this option once you reach the end of the qualifying period for your promotion – details are at KDP Select.

Going Wide – If you want to publish on more digital platforms e.g., Kobo, the easiest and quickest way to do it is with Draft 2 Digital (https://www.draft2digital.com/) which enables you to publish to several different platforms at once.

TrilogyPrint Books – It is also possible to publish print books via Amazon. Their print publishing arm used to be called CreateSpace, but I believe it is all now done via KDP Select. However, as their print books are print on demand, they are expensive to produce so you have to set a high sale price to make any profit. For example, my print on demand books are priced at around £12.99 on Amazon whereas my books that have had a mass market print run are priced at around £7.99 or less. You used to be able to calculate price, profit etc. on CreateSpace but I’m not sure how this is now done as it was 5 years ago when I published my own.

Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads – It is also possible to advertise your books on Facebook and Amazon. However, to advertise your books on Facebook you will need to set up an author page first. David Gaughran’s articles often give details of how to do these things.

Social Media – You can also shout about your books on social media. I have a Facebook author page and a Twitter page, but other authors have other social media platforms such as Instagram.

I hope you find these ideas useful but apologise if any of them are out of date. Now that I’m with a publisher, most of this gets taken care of for me and it’s a few years since I had to take care of everything myself. Good luck with your publishing journey.

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Changing the Way I Write

Recently I experienced a problem with extremely dry eyes. It took day and night drops as well as using a heated eye mask twice a day before the problem improved. They have tended to be dry for a long time now, but I think the problem was exacerbated by increased screen use during the pandemic. As well as using a PC all day, I was also attending Zoom events and chatting to family and friends by video call.

Consequently, I have had to change the way I work in order to reduce screen time. I have also stopped the Zoom events and video calls apart from the odd exception.

Obviously, as an author who spends most of the day typing on the computer, this has presented some challenges so here is how I got round them. 

  1. I basically type with my eyes shut. I’m a touch typist anyway, which is fortunate, but it still means I have to peek at the screen every now and again to make sure the text hasn’t misaligned.
  2. I no longer check my work as I go along. I used to recap each day by reading over the previous day’s work and editing it as I went along. As well as enabling me to correct my work, it also put me in the right frame of mind ready to write. Now, I just refresh my memory by having a quick scan over my sequence of events document where I list what has taken place in each scene.
  3. When I reach the end of the document, I review it by using the speech function on Word. This means I don’t have to look at the screen constantly. If I hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, I pause the speech and check the document, making any necessary changes. It still means I have to look at the screen but I’m not looking at it as often. It has its disadvantages because sometimes a word sounds in context even thought it might be spelt incorrectly, and the pronunciation on the speech function isn’t always spot on. However, I have the back-up of the spellchecker.
  4. With my latest novel I am putting it to one side for a few weeks, as I always do, ready to make a final check of it before sending it back to my publishers. Again, I won’t be reading it on screen. Instead, I will use Calibre software to transfer it to my Kindle and read it through while making notes with a pad and pen regarding any changes I want to make. My Kindle is one of the old types that doesn’t have a backlit screen and is therefore much kinder on the eyes. 

I was hoping to take a two week break over the Christmas period to give my eyes a total rest but, alas, I have just received the proofread version of my forthcoming novel. I’ll therefore be thinking of ways to tackle it without wrecking my eyesight in the process.

Of all the screens I use, I have found my phone to be the worst of all, even though I have changed the settings. It has made me realise the damage that modern technology has on our eyes. I’m hoping that my experience acts as a warning to others. If you’re suffering from dry, sore or itchy eyes, cut down on your screen time before the problem gets worse. 

 

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Amber Cover Reveal

I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover for my next novel, Amber, which is book four of The Working Girls series. It’s my favourite cover so far of the series. I love the amber colour of the title and the way it complements my protagonist’s hair colouring, and the girl on the cover is perfect for the character of Amber. My publishers have even included the archway in the background, which has a lot of significance in the novel. 

So, here is the cover in all its glory:

Amber

And if you want to check out the fantastic blurb too, here it is: 

NOBODY TO CALL

With a mother unfit for purpose and a brother who despises her, working girl Amber can rely on no one but herself – until the meanest pimp in Manchester, Kevin Pike, offers her his protection. Unfortunately, this attracts the fury of Cora, a prostitute no one wants to get on the wrong side of…

NOWHERE TO HIDE

When Cora is found strangled to death, the late-night city streets feel increasingly exposed with a killer on the loose. And as Amber grows closer to Kevin, she realises his security comes at a price she might not be willing to pay…

NOTHING TO LOSE

Amber is frozen in fear, knowing one wrong move will risk her life. But then she discovers a horrifying secret that forces her to choose: stay or run?

Amber will be out on 1st April 2021 but is currently available for pre-order at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08GV1CYX6 in the UK and https://www.amazon.com.dp/B08GV1CYX6 in the US.