Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pitching Stories With Similar Characters or Settings?

So, here was the question...

If one wanted to submit several stories that have the same location or setting, or include several of the same characters, how does one go about describing what this group of stories is to an agent or publisher if they are not a series. Any advice will be appreciated!

This is a great question and the answer really isn't that complicated.

If you have a series of books that are linked, not so much thematically, but more with a similar character or a setting, then simply tell the editor or agent what you are doing. The key, however, is to somehow show why you are going to use the same setting or characters over and over again.

With stories that use the same characters, it is much easier. Maybe the stories are linked because we are going to see those characters in similar situations. For example, think of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, or even Ian Fleming's James Bond series. The books all have similar plot structures but what the readers get to see is how the characters are going to react and behave in different situations.

Now, if the books are linked because there is an ongoing plot line (Think Harry Potter here), then you pitch the stories with the over-arching theme or plot and then show how each of the books are still meeting specific smaller end goals. In the case of Mr. Potter, the over-arching theme is the battle between Harry and Voldemort and working toward that final battle in the Deathly Hollows books. But when we look at each of the books, Chamber of Secrets is focused on  both introducing the characters but really emphasizing the mystery of what this Chamber was holding and how it is disrupting the school and putting so many people at risk. The story has a clear ending with the solving of that mystery.

Another twist to this would be the multiple series of Andrew Greeley. In his stories, he not only had several series based around a single character (his Nuala Anne McGrail series, his Blackie Ryan series), but he would often cross some of those characters over into the different series. Blackie Ryan shows up in the Nualal Anne McGrail series and so forth.

When pitching something like this, it is important to do several things. First of all, make sure the first series is fully established and is independent. Secondly, to fully justify why you are bringing in the character from the other book. It is important to note, however, that if you have crossed those characters over into another series, that readers are not going to have to know the whole backstory of that character. In the case of the Greeley series, when those characters show up, they just happen to be a name and a body. The surprise only comes when someone has read the other books and starts to see the genius of the author and smoothly making that move work.

When we look at stories around a similar location, such as Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove series, the emphasis is not just about the individual stories and plots, but also how the town and setting also functions in much of the same ways as a character. Another great example of this would be Lake Wobegon and Garrison Keillor. We get to know the town and those same random characters that pop up from time to time.

In summary, there is nothing wrong with taking an approach such as this, but the key is to be able to justify why you are doing this as an author and what the "take away" is for the reader.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writing Through The Holidays

This is a busy time of the year. Not only are we wrestling with Thanksgiving and Christmas, we also have all of the decorating, the shopping, the families coming into town, the kids being out of school... ugh! Now add in the fact that the house is probably becoming a complete wreck and this happens right before those random family people stop in.

And somewhere though all of this, you have a writing career to keep up.

I will tell you, the writing cannot simply be tossed aside until the start of the new year. If you do this, not only will you fall behind on your deadlines, it will take you a lot longer to get back into that rhythm you had going before "Turkey Day."

So, how do you maintain your writing career? The answer is surprisingly simply. Carve out a block of time each day that is "your time." Make sure that your family is aware of this and they are to be in charge of answering the phone, walking the dogs or anything else that might interfere with your creative juices.

You don't need to have 10 hours each day. Just give yourself 1-3 hours.

I know what you might be thinking. "But Scott, the house will fall apart or the kids will start fighting if I am not there." I hate to break it to you, but those dirty dishes are not going anywhere. If they sat there overnight, then they can wait just a bit while you get your head into the right place and that story moving along a bit further.

And the nice added benefit is that this block of time is a chance to decompress from that chaos outside of your writing space. When you finish your writing for that day, you will be ready to take on that next load of laundry!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Writing A Series Is More Than Just Common Characters

I often get submissions from authors who tell me at the end of the query that "this story is part of a series." They go on to say that the other stories will talk about "the other brothers in the family" or something very similar to this. As an agent, it is always great to see that an author is thinking toward the future of their writing career. They are seeing a path to things beyond that single book they finished. Unfortunately, for too many of these authors, they are really missing the point of a series.

While there will be common characters or settings in a series, this is not what ties the stories together. Authors need to be thinking of an over-arching theme. That theme just happens to include common characters or settings.

When we are talking about themes, these need to go beyond simply "these are stories about life in a small town." Look, just because your stories are set in a small town does not mean this is the big take away for the readers. To understand this, let's examine some definitions.

I am working from information found on a great website on literary devices. Theme is defined as a main idea or an underlying meaning of a literary work that may be stated directly or indirectly."

This page goes on to also note a big difference between theme and subject, which is where far too many authors end up. "It is important not to confuse a theme of a literary work with its subject. Subject is a topic which acts as a foundation for a literary work while a theme is an opinion expressed on the subject. For example a writer may choose a subject of war for his story and the theme of a story may be [the] writer's personal opinion that war is a curse for humanity."

Should you decide to write a series, then take the time to really explore what that over-arching theme will be to tie the books together. Don't just fall into the trap of using the approach so many authors take "I just finished Stephen's story but his brother Dave really wanted to tell his story."

This concept is also a great way to understand the concept of series writing that you find at many publishers including Harlequin and Entangled. Each of the series these publishers have work around a common unifying theme. These are not simply common characters or plots, which far too many people seem to think. It is the message that ties it all together.

What you will also find is that keeping this theme in mind will also add a lot of depth to your stories. You now have a purpose and a message to build your story around, and not simply random characters. Your story now has meaning!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday - Buy Books!

As you get online Monday to buy that "perfect" gift for that friend of family member, consider this. That sweater you purchased may likely get returned. That phone you bought will only be upgraded in the next three months. That toy you bought will be out of style within 3 months. But there is a better solution.

Buy books! I don't care if you are buying hard copies, paperbacks, or digital books, just buy books and buy a lot! When we do this, we will have a lot of benefits that will far outlast that sweater you have had your eye on for some time.

  1. INCREASE LITERACY - I don't know if you have seen this lately, but our society is just not as literate as it used to be. People spend more time binge watching the full season of Gilmore Girls than reading. Our K-12 and college systems are seeing far more students struggling simply because they cannot keep up with the reading. In a 2005 study it was noted that common newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today only have a readability level of the 10th grade. That's right people! Adults who are reading are only doing so at the age equivalent of someone who is 15 years old. And what's worse is that many are just skimming these and not really reading the full article, or even, in some cases, comprehending it. Just a side note... The Times of India is at a grade equivalent of a junior at the university level. 
  2. INCREASE IN SALES HELPS BOOK SELLERS - Why is it that we lost so many bookstores? They simply could not make enough profit to keep the doors open. This is a business that relies on people buying books. If they are only buying subscriptions to Netflix then the book sales are going down. I don't know about you but if the money starts rolling in and people now see that there can be a profit with bookstores, they might just start coming back.
  3. INCREASE IN SALES HELPS PUBLISHERS - This is for you writers. If you are frustrated that it seems publishers are passing on projects more these days, it is simply because they too are not able to take risks on new authors. This is a gamble when they sign on a new author. They pay you an advance and hope the sales figures pay out. Buying more books gets more money to the publishers, and, in turn, they have more flexibility when looking at signing on more authors.
  4. INCREASE IN SALES HELPS THE AUTHORS - Authors are in this for a business. They want to be around for the long haul, but their publishers will only keep giving them more contracts if their sales are up. So, if you fell in love with a particular author, support them and buy their books. Every book in that count helps the author. You might think it is just one person buying a book, but that single book helps.
So, do me a favor people. Don't go and max out your credit card on random items. Fill up their stockings with books. Fill up all of those presents under the tree with books. You might be surprised by all of the benefits you get.