When I sat down to write the third Palladia book, I looked at a blank screen and a well-worn keyboard. The Word document had nothing on it. It was a white, fat letter-size rectangle that was bigger than the print-formatted files of already published books that I’d been looking at recently. Since 2016 I hadn’t actually drafted a new story, although I had published Bellevere House and done a lot of platform-building. All of my life, I had written stories. Every day—every other day—every month. I had never gone so long without writing a new story until the last five years. Last year I wrote 3 brief outlines--just broad sketches, without details, for books I planned for the future. But thinking about a story and writing it are absolutely dissimilar experiences. As I started letting the new characters of Palladia 3 take shape on that Word document, I felt so stiff. I had almost forgotten how to let words just flow out of me in a first draft for fiction. I wanted to edit every few paragraphs. Looking at that screen, I realized that though I had written and written for so much of my existence, I was actually RUSTY! Previously, I’d never been out of commission long enough to be rusty.
But once the story started, from the first page it developed a strong voice that quickly took charge of the narrative. For some of my other books, I drifted through the first drafts as I tried to find how they should be plotted. Palladia #3 burst out with a hefty dose of young adult angst and a protagonist with a pretty specific personality. Many details demanded a style of writing I wasn’t even used to doing—quite physical, visceral angst and fear, a lot of small details like shoes, raindrops on eyelashes, and italicized personal thoughts. The heroine starts out with her home being attacked and it grows into a personal journey for her from there. She's often panicking or angry or she makes poor decisions. Ordinarily, I want to emphasize dialogue and have the characters talk to each other as I hear their voices in my head. I’m an auditory learner. But this MC, Arielle, doesn’t listen to other’s voices very well. She notices physical details and physical things that happen to her. Which is probably fine, since Palladia is a YA series. This third one just took it in the angsty young adult voice direction right from the get-go.
I'd forgotten also how good characters and stories are when they act more like people with minds of their own than like cardboard dolls for an author to prop up, costume, and move around. In the transfer from my head to my keyboard, this book just got a lot more fun.
And there will be more updates.
This month Ryan and Essie is available for free as part of a giveaway of children’s and young adult books. You'll find lots of books about young people of all ages from preschool to high school. This is the first time in years that I’ve made Ryan and Essie free except for review copies—and it will be the last time for the foreseeable future. So now is your chance to get a rare free copy of this book. Follow this link to see it in addition to books by many other authors.
I have given away some books over the last few months because I have a specific goal in mind—to get readers who came because they were interested in these books that I made free. That sounds obvious, but it’s really important. I spoke once before about some of my books receiving disproportionate attention. You might think “well, weren’t those more popular, isn’t that good?” But actually, I felt the situation was a little trickier than that. I have only so much I plan to spend on marketing, so I need to know which books are likely to be smart investments. I didn't know for certain that the books receiving more attention were really the viable ones. Perhaps some of the smaller books had a quiet audience I wasn't hearing about. So while I of course wanted to sell my books, I also felt it was crucial to learn how big a draw each book would actually be if it was easily available (free, for instance) and presented to readers in a way that would draw attention (as free always does.)
I've gone through the majority of the books now using this method. There were no winners and losers, just truthfulness. I didn’t find a book to be inferior or less valid just because it drew smaller initial downloads, if it attracted more active subscribers and fewer freeloaders who never opened even one email. Some books with seemingly successful giveaway campaigns actually gave me a lot of unengaged readers who opened and then quickly stopped reading my messages, which left me with a guess as to how they were doing with the book they downloaded. Then there were promotions in the middle, with some of both. The numbers game wasn’t about aiming for lots of downloads. It was about trying to find a trajectory for both the more talked-about and the less-noticed books on my publication list. And I learned a lot of fantastic things.
Using various books as entry points helped my newsletter to become more balanced. I felt as if I had “voices” for most of my books now whereas that had been lacking before. And yes, some of the ones that had always received more attention continued to get it. But I certainly haven’t committed to free as a promotion strategy instead of sales. In fact, as I also ran paid promotions throughout last year, the books started to develop some interesting demographics based on both free and paid events that helped give me concepts like “people would download this for free, but not buy it,” “this has a small, but sincerely dedicated audience,” “this book is JUST small,” “this one is surprisingly popular,” and so on. I put Ryan and Essie through a sale last year, but haven’t cross-matched it with a free event, which is why I’m doing one now. It needs full representation on my list.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write stories about human emotions--about the journey of life. Every step of it can be meaningfully great or simply terrible and you can only reach the end after experiencing many kinds of things that make you grow. Emotional travels are the travels of life and the road of living is not one planned out in notebooks or organized in Scrivener. It is felt in love, hope, and fear and developed through an understanding of why humans go through these. And, on top of that, my stories are adventure stories. History, fantasy, and daily modern situations are all adventures as long as you don't know for sure what's going to happen when you wake up each day. Because that would be like repeating the same day over and over again and who wants to do that?
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Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.