For this blog post, I’ll be using the plot/cover etc for my current work in progress ‘Following Orders’, which is book 1 in the Just 4U Series. You can read more about it here. This is an M/M romance, so all allusion to romance or relationships will be between two males.
Whether you’re writing a short story, a novel or a novella, you always have to start with an idea. My idea came in the simplest form of a random thought, while watching a TV program. What if there was this guy, working as a private personal security and one day he was asked to not only spy on his boss’ son, but date him, to keep him safe?
Titles, for me, are super important. I can’t start writing a story that doesn’t have a title. I usually take the title from the main idea, above. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will stay the title, forever. I may change my mind as the story progresses, or once it’s finished. It depends on where the characters take me.
For this story, the title of ‘Following Orders’ was obvious. That’s what my MC does. He follows orders, by agreeing to date the son, only to end up in hot water. The entire point of the book is that sometimes even the person you trust most in the world, the one you would lay your life down for, will ask too much from you. And if you don’t have the strength to say no, then every disaster that follows, from following those orders, is on your head. Or, rather, the MC’s.
I always like to make up a mock cover for my books. This is simply because I use Wattpad. This is my sounding board, for stories that are complete but unedited, or that will linger on my computer for months or years, until I can get them published.
I get most of my images from free stock photo sites, of which you can find a list here, or DeviantART. I only ever use pictures that have a ‘download’ button, and I use Ribbet.com to add in a notice of photo credit. For example, here’s the mock cover I made for this book:
Forming a Plot
This is the tricky part. This is where I sit in front of a blank screen, on my computer, deciding how this story is going to go. This is also the part where I tend to sit there, for hours, writing out a rough outline for the story, forgetting to eat or drink, as my mind works. This one came easily and I think I banged out about 35 pages of notes over two days.
To start with, I write the basic idea at the top of the page. A lot of books, websites etc will tell you this is where you start writing a character map, listing all the details you know about your character and their situation. That’s not what I do. I can’t work in boxes. I’m a free-flowing writer.
I sit down, look at the sentence and start writing out a basic, rough copy of the story, like this:
“The guy sits at his boss’ desk, waiting to find out why he’s been called in. The boss tells him that he’s going away on holiday and he has to keep watch over his son. He’s just nineteen, but he’s got a lot of money at his disposal and it puts him at risk.”
Sometimes, depending on the story and how tired I am, I’ll write it in more detail than that. But this is when I decide the major plot events and the important conversations that will happen in the story. Again, however, just because it’s written in the notes, doesn’t mean it will make it to the page. I let me characters lead the way, as I write, so when they don’t agree with my plans, I follow them.
Generally, this is the point where everything is flexible and I can see the parts that I love, I rewrite conversations or events that don’t make sense, in the simplest form of present tense notes.
All my characters, for all my stories, begin as number/letter combinations. So, when I write my notes, unless I have a specific name in mind, my MC will be B1 (boy 1) and every boy after that will be B2, B3, B4 etc. The same goes for any girls in the story, as they become G1, G2 etc.
This makes things easier for me, when it comes time to write the story. I do a whole document replace of the name with the number/letter combo. For this story, B1 becomes Christian, B2 (the boss) becomes Bobby and B3 (his love interest/the son) becomes Duncan.
Once I have a title, a cover and names for my characters, I can start looking more closely at the plot. I always start at the beginning and I start every story differently. It all depends on the mood I want to create, what the plot will allow and what kind of people my characters are.
When I started writing this story, I began with what, I thought at the time, was the beginning. Christian goes into Bobby’s office and finds out about his new assignment. Then, realising that Christian is an action man and the romance will quickly take over, I decided to input some new scenes, throughout the book, adding in more action for him. I added a prologue, with a shoot out, then made Chapter 1 so many weeks later.
This is also the part where I decide how I’m going to give the reader information about the MC. Christian is a character with a complex past and a simple present, so I drop fed information at relevant points. He recalls other shoot outs or other jobs, where he had to protect Bobby, in the prologue, but not to an excessive degree. When he’s asked to date Duncan, he thinks about how Duncan is portrayed in the media, as a socialite and a waster. Then, when he meets Duncan, there’s some more information about his past, which continues to trickle through, at appropriate times, as the story progresses.
The most important part about the beginning of a story, for me, is that you make your MC interesting. If the reader is going to take an immediate dislike to your MC, then make sure it’s on purpose and not because you’re misrepresented them. If you want your MC to be loved, but have a damaged soul, make sure you add in moodiness and hints of ‘more beneath the surface’ early on, or else the dark parts of him will be an unwelcome and unbelievable surprise for the reader.
The middle, for me, is where everything happens. You set up your character into their situation (the main idea) in the beginning of the book. The middle is where you have to follow through with the promise.
For this book, it’s having Christian form an attachment to Duncan, worry about having the truth discovered and what Duncan will do about it.
I decided, with this book, that the first few chapters, as Christian began his job, would be told in Christian’s POV. Then, I had the majority of their relationship told through Duncan’s eyes, so that we see the happiness, the change in Christian from the person we know, but Duncan doesn’t realise lurks beneath. That way, when things hit the fan, as they always must in my books, I return to Christian’s POV, to show how it affects it. This is because the reader should know, from the chapters of Duncan’s POV, how happy he is and how devastated he will be, when he discovers the truth. There’s no point spending a few chapters exploring that, when it’s obvious. Christian’s reaction, however, is conflicted and confused, so it will hold the reader’s attention.
The end is where everything has to come together. Either you give your characters a HEA (Happily Ever After), a HFN (Happily For Now) if it’s a series, or you go with the unusual and not often understood option, of a sad ending.
That part is up to you. Me, I like a HEA or a HFN, but I have been known to have an unexpected sad ending. I decide what each book will be, depending on the characters and where they’ve led me. They’ll tell me if I’m wrong and I’ll have to rewrite it, and I will, because I want them to tell their story, not for me to force my ideas onto them.
Whatever your ending, make sure it is believable. I’m not talking about realistic here, but believable. If you’re writing a paranormal m-preg romance, then a guy getting pregnant is believable. If you’re writing a crime thriller, then a cliffhanger ending (for a series book) is perfectly understandable. It’s all about the story you’re telling.
Following Orders is a stand alone, in a series that is linked only by theme, so it will have an HEA or a HFN ending. I’m still writing it, so I’m not sure which yet. What it will do, however, is answer all the questions, resolve all the confusions and mix-ups from throughout the story, and cover all plot gaps, that may have been left in the middle. Unless you’re continuing your story into another book, these are all VITAL to your ending. You must make sure there’s nothing left unanswered that your readers are going to notice and complain about. They want a full story, that leaves them feeling satisfied, not frustrated.
I hate blurbs. Mostly, because I tend to get carried away with myself, when I’m writing. There are tips out there, that can help you write a good blurb, but this is how I do it:
I look at my finished, overall story. I try to summarise the entire book, being mysterious and not giving anything away, in just three sentences. Run on sentences don’t count. Your blurb should only be around 6-8 lines. Remember, this is something you will have to share a lot, when your book comes out, so it’s best to be short and sweet, but not too short. The blurb is what will probably sell your book, next to the cover.
Here’s my blurb for Following Orders (so far. Since I’m not finished, this may change)
“Christian has been Bobby’s personal bodyguard for years. He’s good at his job; loyal, proficient, with street smarts that have saved lives countless times. Suddenly, Bobby asks too much of him.
Bobby’s only child, Duncan, is a typical playboy, flaunting his wealth and playing up to his bad boy image. Christian is put to the test. Bobby wants him to go undercover, to get close to Duncan, to protect him. That means playing up to Duncan’s flirtations and Christian playing gay, for more than just the night.
But, what happens when Christian gets far too comfortable with his undercover identity?”
A tagline, for me, is even worse than a blurb. A tagline is a one sentence, one line, hook for your story. Sounds difficult, right? Too right.
You’ve slogged this hard, to write a novel/novella/short story and you’ve climbed the blurb mountain. Now you have to find a tagline, too? Well, yes you do. These are really important, because you can slap them on a poster (more to come of that later) and they’re perfect for sharing on Twitter, along with your buy link.
I tend to steal a little something from the blurb, to create my tagline. That allows it to link in, but it also means that fans will know, from the tie-in, that they’re for the same book.
Here’s mine for Following Orders:
“Is there such a thing as an undercover identity? Not for Christian.”
This is the hard part, for many people. I’m lucky, because I have two publishers, who really appreciate my work. WriteMorePublications publish my YA novels and I keep my hot steaminess for HotInkPress.
Finding the right publisher for you and your book is really important. You’ll want to research the company, see how well their books are selling, where they sell and what type of royalties they give. Submitting is up to you and your presentation; make sure you only send them what they want. Read their submission guidelines closely and make sure you format your document to their preference. Also, only send one submission to one publisher at a time. If you send out your manuscript to six different places and they all get back to you with an offer, you’d put yourself in a pickle. Pick one, send your submission. If you’re rejected, move on to the next on your list.
DO NOT send unsolicited mail to a publisher who specifically tells you not to. That won’t do you any favours.
I was rejected for nearly 10 years, for two different manuscripts, by a bunch of UK publishers and agencies, until a friend recommended me to WMP. We hit it off and that was that. HIP was a stroke of luck, on my part. I found them by fluke, submitted my first M/M romance novel and they accepted it.
Always make sure you read your contract thoroughly. If you don’t read lawyer speak, then ask someone who does, or get it looked over by a lawyer. You don’t want to tie yourself into something, if it’s going to be bad for you. And NEVER let anyone tell you that you have to pay them money. It’s a scam. NEVER let them claim the rights to your book; they should always belong to you.
Edits are the bane of my life.
This is where you have to read over your finished story 10-12 times, to make sure you spot every spelling mistake, every plot gap, every ‘whole document replace’ that’s gone awry. After writing your story, no matter how awesome you think you are, there are going to be mistakes. Heck, there are going to be mistakes even in the version you sell and put into print.
Why? Because mistakes happen. Maybe your editor misinterprets something, and when you read it over, it’s close enough that it looks right. Maybe it’s your fault, and you renamed a character halfway through the book and there’s that one instance where it says the old name and not the new. It happens to us all.
I usually like to have my book edited over a year, or more. I write fast, apparently, and have a lot of completed stories that aren’t yet submitted or accepted with a publisher. That means that I can go over them as many times as I like, looking for mistakes/formatting issues etc.
My way, is that I use Calibre to convert my OpenOffice docs into mobi format. (This is where your mock cover comes in really handy) Then I transfer my book to the Kindle and read it as if I don’t know the story. I use the highlight/underline features, to note any mistakes or formatting issues. I can write notes, I can use 4 different highlight colours and it means that, when I come to write up my edits, I don’t have all these loose pieces of paper, or a notebook that won’t stay open. I simply put my Kindle beside my computer and start from the beginning.
Having a great group of beta readers is another important aspect of getting your book ready for publication. I’m lucky in that although my first team of beta readers didn’t pan out, except for one amazing lady, the second team like and appreciate my work so much that they’re willing to stick around for a few books. Since I write a lot of M/M romance, they’re happy to read most of the books I write in this genre.
Make sure your beta readers actually give you feedback. The first few times, you might find that people are desperate to read your book, for you and give you notes on it, but once you’ve sent them an ARc (Advanced Reader’s Copy), you never hear from them again.
I’ve had that. Don’t worry about it. Odds are, by the time your book comes out, it will be a vastly different version to the one they read. It sucks, it’s cruel and it hurts you, but you can’t let it get you down.
Make sure you put a copyright disclaimer in your document, whether as a background image or in the header/footer. Some people even add it into the story, discretely. It’s what you prefer. I’m not saying that you should do this because you can’t trust anyone, but there will be one or two people out there, hoping to get a free book and then pass it on to their friends, when they’re done. What they don’t always realise – and sadly, some do – is that this is illegal. So put in your copyright disclaimer to cover yourself and your work. The last thing you want is some random reader, however innocently, handing your book to the one person who will try to pass it off as their own work.
Believe me, it happens.
Cover images are notoriously hard for me. I’m such an indecisive person. And when you add in Google Images, where you can search for other instances of the same image, it makes me worse. I often find that the picture I’ve fallen in love with, has been used on another cover. Then I freak out, trying to find an alternative, but nothing ever really compares to the one I loved.
For this book, I’d love to go with this image. That might change, though, because I’m always finding new pictures that suit my books to a tee. That’s the problem with finishing it and then having months before it’s submitted/accepted. It’s too much time for me to think and second guess myself.
You might ask, why you should bother picking quotes out of your own book.
Well, because other people won’t. If you’ve written a good book and they get absorbed in the story, they’re not all going to stop and highlight their favourite quotes, then add them to Goodreads for you. Trust me, if you do this, while you’re editing, then you’ll not only have brilliant quotes for your Goodreads book page, that people can like, share and read again, but you’ll have good quotes for posters.
Posters are the single most important advertising tool you have. You might think an extract of your book is more likely to encourage a reader to buy your book, but copying and pasting that into a FB message or sharing it multiple times over your social media accounts gets tedious.
Pick a short and sweet quote, find an awesome background image, put the two together and you have an incredible poster to add to any FB/Twitter/Google post, with a click of a button. Then all you have to add is your tagline and the buy link, and you’re good to go.
Let’s face it, who wants to sit and read a page long excerpt on FB, compared to clicking this image and reading the extract here? Not many people. We’re all busy, checking in on FB between adverts, while waiting on the dinner to cook, at work, in a traffic jam. People have better things to do with their time, than to sit and read a massage message that is all text and not at all visually appealing. They can buy the book or download a sample from Amazon, if they want to read a longer excerpt. Most people want something pretty, short and sweet.
Here’s an example, for Following Orders:
(This merges two images, with added text. Super simple and took me 5 minutes.)
Your book trailer is probably one of your least important advertising tools. Here’s why – people don’t have all day to sit and watch a 2-3 minute trailer, especially when they’re on their phone, tablet, at work, at school etc.
Yes, go ahead and make a book trailer. Post it on your YouTube page, especially if you have a high following there. Post it on your website, your FB page etc and encourage people to watch it. But don’t expect masses of sales from it. Choose your pictures and music carefully, and make sure you’re not giving too much away with the text. Also, don’t make it much longer than 1 1/2 minutes. You want to make a statement, not start telling the whole story.
Release parties aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They take a lot of work and you usually have to make it at a time that suits international readers, even if that doesn’t necessarily suit you.
You can have games, share your posters, share your book trailer and encourage people to buy the book. Mostly, people show up because they want to have fun and win prizes. You can decide if it’s physical prizes, that relate to your story, or e-books. But make sure you’re not giving away dozens of books for free, because the whole point of the party is to SELL books. Also, politely ask your party goers to leave a review, if they read your book.
90% won’t. It’s a fact of life.
Some people don’t want to advertise they read a certain genre of book (especially true of BDSM, M/M etc), others just don’t like to have too many social network accounts or don’t know what to say. A lot just don’t have time or the inclination. Hopefully, those people will spread news about your book by word of mouth. Realistically, for every 10 books you give away, you’ll probably get 1 review. You have to remember that people get busy; books won, rather than purposely bought, tend to be put at the end of a person’s TBR list.
Finally, will all of this done, it’s time to hit publish, send off your final edits to your editor and sit back as you…
SHOW TO THE WORLD!