Before I go into detail about my writing process, I thought I would share a question I get quite often. This one was asked in AMAfeed.com (amafeed.com/user/47451):
Question: How do you keep your plots unpredictable without sacrificing plausibility?
My answer: Some readers might disagree that my plots are plausible... I hope they are, but let's face it, this isn't the news and it's not a story based on facts. I really focus on the characters and try to be true to their nature in any given situation. The other thing is that I believe in coincidences and have no problem having them be part of my story.
So you can see that I have my work cut out for me. In Book #7 I have six other book's worth of plots and subplots that shouldn't be repeated. In addition, movies and detective-based TV dramas are a constant and I'm always afraid once I use a plotline, it will come out in other media by someone else. For example, I had the ending of my first novel copied by one of the Mission Impossible movies (okay, maybe they never saw my book, but it came out well before the movie did). I don't want to copy plots from other work either.
So, here's my process. First up, I try to think of a few possible book titles that could spark interest. This is a two-way street in that often the plot suggests a title, but just as often it's the other way around. I spend several days thinking about possibilities for both.
Next I set up the structure on Scrivenor, the writers' word processing software I use. I like Scrivenor because it is fairly simple to publish to a number of formats, including Kindle's mobi, and allows me to storybook on the fly. I set up the title page, even without a title, a publishing info page that lists copyright notices, previous books by me, etc. I also add placeholder pages for Acknowledgments, then add in a section for About the Author, social media an review links, and another with the excerpt from the Pat Ruger short story I always include in a new book. This changes to an excerpt of the next one as soon as Chapter 1 of that book is mostly finished.
Speaking of storyboarding, that is my next project. This can sometimes take as long as the writing itself, since I need to consider sub-plots, new characters, plausibility (see my AMAfeed Q&A), length and complexity. Sometimes I leave some of the storyline to develop as I write instead of during this step. Very often, the storyboard will change as I realize that this character wouldn't do this or that plotline doesn't make sense in black and white. Also, I don't want to hold up the writing to get 100% of the story planned. I might make a chapter that says, "Pat gets out of trouble" or "The FBI is annoyed," and then think it through while I'm writing the previous chapters.
One additional step here is the first chapter, which I think have been eyecatchers in my books so far. I usually spend a lot of time prepping and planning for this.
Finally, I begin actually writing Chapter 1 and I try to write 1,500 to 2,000 words in a sitting. Sometime this is a full chapter, sometimes not. With the completion of each chapter I review the storyboard and make sure that either I'm on-plot or need to change the storyline. I do this again before beginning the subsequent chapter. After every 10,000 words, I tackle my wife and ask her to read it for context, obvious errors and other problems. She has read over a thousand books, mostly murder or spy novels, and knows a thing or two about what readers like.
At some point I assume the title and plot will stand and send ideas for the cover to my very special cover artist, Elizabeth Mackey. She sends me questions or samples and we get a final graphic completed.
Assuming I haven't gone insane, I finish the book and complete all the remaining structural pages. I publish the manuscript to various formats and send them out to my proofreading team, of which I have a few standing editors and some that change from book to book. I get all the feedback, correct mistakes and make suggested changes that make sense to me. Then I send it back to a couple of my best proofreaders.
Once I'm satisfied that it's the best it can reasonably be, I publish the ebook to Amazon.com and create the PDF (from the Word version that I've formatted for size and pagination) to send to Createspace for the print-on-demand paperback version.
There may be other small steps I've left out or forgotten, but this is basically the process I've been following since Book 3 of the Pat Ruger series.
There's a fine line that a book series needs to walk. Each novel really should be standalone, which means that you have to bring a new reader up to speed with regard to characters and history, yet not bore your series fans. So writing a series has both advantages and disadvantages. Regardless, Book 7 has begun!
The first time I heard this phrase was in the Dennis Quaid movie, "D.O.A.," one of my favorite films. Quaid plays a college English professor who had two novels published, if I remember correctly. The first one was a blockbuster and got him noticed by the university, the second received lukewarm reviews and the third book just wasn't happening.
"Publish or perish" meant that you could lose your job as a teacher or scholar if you didn't continue to produce work for the establishment who employed you, at least until you reached tenure. Independent authors have the same dilemma, in a way. Stop publishing new books and you will quickly sink into obscurity.
Fellow YouTubers may have it worse than us authors. The video market is most definitely a "what-have-you-got-for-me-right-now"-type of industry. While the occasional cat or puppy video might make several rounds on the Internet, the vast majority have one shot, and a short one. Worse, it can take 8-15 hours of their time to make one 15-minute video, so channels like "The Motorhome Experiment" and "Less Junk, More Journey" are constantly looking for fresh new locations and scenery to film, even if it means driving to the Arctic Ocean, then spend significant time editing, narrating and adding music to their pieces before needing hours of uploading time to get them to YouTube from the middle of nowhere. If they stop for any appreciable amount of time, oblivion happens quickly. Many fans and subscribers who don't get their fix quickly enough simply move on to more developed channels and more content.
I finished my latest manuscript a couple of weeks ago and am working feverishly on polishing and publishing. I will need to spend considerable time on marketing, even with help from my social media team. However, I can't sit on my laurels (do people still wear laurels?) with regards to Book #7. That work has to begin before #6 is even on the market. Even with my relatively modest reader base I was under pressure to give them the new story for their favored characters as quickly as possible.
I became an indie novelist with my eyes wide open. I adequately perceived the market and decided to self-publish, since chances of getting a traditional publishing contract were remote and would take time away from writing. The truth about "publish or perish" weighs heavily on me, but I'm up to the task.