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Writer-Talk Tuesday: Q&A About Writing

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

      Stacey Zink asked: “I would love to know your first step in writing a book. Once you have an idea in mind, do you immediately begin writing or do you immerse yourself in research before you being writing?”

It really depends on the story. There are some story ideas that come to me with an opening scene fully formed in my head. Of course, in the past few years, when I’ve worked on a story idea, what I wrote was the synopsis and proposal from which to sell the books/series.

The idea for Ransome’s Honor developed from my love of the actor Paul McGann as Lt. William Bush in the Hornblower movies on A&E. I took a few weeks to develop the character of William Ransome from that inspiration and, as he developed, figure out what kind of woman would be able to get a man known throughout the Royal Navy for claiming he would never marry to not just fall in love with her, but marry her. And as soon as I figured out who Julia Witherington was, I immediately had the opening scenes (his and hers) in my head. For this, though, I’d already done quite a bit of research on the era through my literary criticism thesis I wrote a year or two before—on Jane Austen (if you’re interested, you can read most of that paper here and here). I drew upon what “knowledge” I’d gained of ships and the Royal Navy from the Hornblower movies (and believe me, it wasn’t much) to be able to write that opening scene (which didn’t make it into the book but can be read here). Once that first chapter had been read/critiqued in a workshop in my grad school program and was roundly praised and I knew it had potential, then I started the in-depth research and figuring out where the story was going.

These days, I have to write the detailed synopsis of a book a year or more before I actually write the book—and it’s usually when I’m in the process of writing another book already under contract (for example, I wrote the synopses and proposal for The Great Exhibition Series while I was writing Ransome’s Quest). What makes that task slightly easier is that writing a synopsis is different than writing prose.

That said, I did do a ton of research while writing the synopses and proposal for the GE series. Because I only had a rudimentary knowledge of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition (again, mostly from movies—this time from A&E’s Victoria & Albert and the BBC’s North & South) as well as the early Industrial Revolution era (1851), there was a lot of history I needed to know in order to make sure my stories would work in that time period/setting. Now that I’m supposed to be writing the first book in that series, it’s been extremely helpful to me to already have a stockpile of website links saved as well as dozens of public domain books on my Google Books “shelf” ready for me to reference if a question comes up while writing.

Obviously, with the contemporary romances, it’s much easier to just launch straight into writing the book without having to do research first.

      Shelly asked: “What do you do when you hit a road block and can’t think of what to write next?”

When I’m in the middle of a book, I do this:

Scene cards from Ransome’s Crossing

I write scene cards (or scene Post-its, in my case) for each scene of each chapter I’ve already written, color coded by viewpoint character—which helps me review/remember what I’ve already done in the story and if I’ve made any changes to the original idea. Then I get out my detailed synopsis and write scene cards for the scenes that are mentioned in the synopsis—and any others that those make me think of or that I thought of while reviewing what’s already written. This almost always helps me.

When I’m between books, it’s knowing what my next deadline is that helps me figure out what to write next. 😉 Which is why I didn’t write anything for months after I finished Turnabout’s Fair Play in May—because I had three different proposals out with editors looking at them and nothing under contract. Since I had no idea which proposal would sell, I didn’t want to risk starting the first book of one series and get invested in it only to have that one rejected and another one sell. Now that I am under contract again, I’m finding it hard to get motivated to write because I allowed myself to stop writing completely for a few months, which is definitely not good at this point!

      Bethany asked: “As an author who makes her living from writing/selling books, what is your take on libraries/ people utilizing them to borrow books instead of buy?”

My take on it is this:

  • Libraries don’t (usually) get the books for free. Unless a patron donates them, the libraries have to purchase the books that go into circulation. (And some libraries have very strict rules about donations. I’ve heard of some that take donated books and turn around and sell them for pennies because they’re not allowed to take book donations.) So books that go into libraries are still books that are selling.
  • If someone checks a book out from the library and falls in love with it, and then another and another, if that reader can afford it, she’ll start buying that author’s books. And if she can’t afford it, she’s still going to be someone who helps sell the book(s)—by word-of-mouth marketing. If she reads it and enjoys it, she’ll recommend it to someone else. And then they’ll recommend it to someone else, and so on. That’s one of the reasons publishers give away so many copies of an author’s book when it first releases—to get that word-of-mouth buzz going.
  • Working in the newspaper industry for more than ten years, I learned two very important things about numbers. There’s circulation and then there’s readership. Circulation counts the actual number of units sold. Readership counts the actual number of people reading that volume/edition. So, say TFP sells 5,000 copies. We’ll say that 1,000 of those go to public or church libraries, and 4,000 of them go to the “end user” (the reader who purchases/downloads the book). If just 50% the 4,000 people who buy the book pass it on to someone else, I’ve now reached 6,000 people. Then, if each of those 1,000 library copies gets read by 6 people, I’ve reached another 6,000 people—bringing my total readership up to 12,000 people. Does that mean I’m making more money for having higher readership numbers? No, I only make money on the actual number of books sold. But the more readers I can reach, the more future book sales I will hopefully have.


Hopefully that answers those questions satisfactorily.

What other writing/publishing questions do you have?

  1. Kav permalink
    Tuesday, November 1, 2011 6:58 am

    Great insights, Kaye. Love your colourful post-it notes story board! And your take on libraries. I think libraries are a great place to discover new authors. Most readers will likely go on and purchase new releases by that author because they won’t want to wait several months for the book to get processed in the library system. Plus libraries end up buying multiple copies and replace used copies as well. Gotta love our libraries. 🙂


  2. Tuesday, November 1, 2011 10:48 am

    I’ve often started out reading an author’s books via the library, then either liked them so much I bought my own copy, or started buying copies of their new releases when the library didn’t have them, or were too slow in acquiring them. Had the only way to try those new to me authors been to buy a copy of their book and perhaps end up not liking them, I mightn’t have taken the chance because I can’t afford to buy every book I want to read.


    • Lady DragonKeeper permalink
      Wednesday, November 2, 2011 3:12 pm

      Exactly! I love libraries and used bookstores for that reason. I’m more likely to be introduced to a new-to-me author that way.


  3. Monday, January 16, 2012 3:47 pm

    Thanks for answering my question! It was great to hear how it all starts. I love you blog!



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