What I’ve Learned in 20 Books’ Time

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigGame Night

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I’m working on my 20th book.

A lot has changed since book one.  I shopped the first couple of books  to agents and traditional publishers since self-publishing wasn’t the great option it is now.   Digital publishing and digital reading hadn’t yet exploded on the scene.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned:


Outlining helps me write faster.

However, writing from an outline doesn’t give me as much job satisfaction as when I make it up as I go along.

Readers sometimes enjoy my subplots better than the main plot. Lesson: don’t neglect the subplot.

Self-edit to make my manuscript as error free as I can. Printing it out, converting it to a format I can read on my Kindle, or reading aloud is a good way to get distance from it. This saves me money on my self-published editing.

Editors still read my carefully self-edited manuscripts and find errors big and small.

When writing a mystery, it’s important to keep track of all the loose ends and make sure they’re carefully tied up at the end. Lists help.

Pomodoro is a great technique to help me write. Particularly if paired with an energetic activity during the break time. Housework, for example. I’m always happy to stop with the housework and pick up with the story again.

Experienced editors can have excellent developmental suggestions. One of mine saved the life of a minor character who ended up being one of the biggest draws of the series.

When writing, it’s helpful to have a document with character traits nearby.

The more books that I have in a series, the more meticulous I must be in noting detail in a series bible.

If I get in a rut, I need to immediately analyze what’s going on.  What’s the problem with the story? Why am I reluctant to write it?

Don’t write on a laptop while sitting on a sofa with my feet on the coffee table. Don’t do it. I must commit to memory the $500 I paid for physical therapy. Kitchen counter writing is much better for me.

Sometimes the best thing I can do to make faster progress on a story is to change things up: write in longhand, dictate my story, write at the library or at the coffeehouse, or try writing at a different time of day.

I have to be flexible. I have to be able to grab 5 minutes here and there. I have to be able to write anywhere (EXCEPT on the sofa. See above).

My reader reviews on Amazon provide me with feedback that helps me tweak my stories for better commercial success.

Promo and Business:

Free promos work faster and better than anything else I’ve tried. The cost is merely the cost of lost revenue. I use Smashwords or Draft2Digital to get Amazon to price match.

Newsletters are excellent sales tools. I wish I’d started earlier with them.

Finding a social media platforms that I can tolerate and keep up with is important.

Publishing, marketing, and writing advice isn’t one size fits all.  It’s good to know the advice, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have to test it. The standard advice for social media is to interact and to avoid scheduling posts.  I decided not to take that advice for my Twitter account and it’s worked out well for me.

Brand under my real name. Don’t invest too much time in a pen name.

Go wide. Make my work available on as many platforms as possible, as soon as possible.

Keep a separate bank account for writing-related earnings and expenses.

Keep a database of cover designers, formatters, etc, just in case someone on my team needs to take a break from work for any reason.

Get on the calendar of my designers, formatters, and editors months in advance.

Keep up with industry news to learn of new opportunities and ways to experiment.

It’s good to learn how to do everything I outsource. Just in case.

It’s good to learn how to outsource.  Being a control freak isn’t healthy.

What advice do you have to share?  What kinds of things have you learned?

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29 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned in 20 Books’ Time

  1. Thank you. You’ve given me some valuable insight just by mentioning the Pomodoro technique. I went out and looked it up and I plan to use that today while I have multiple uninterrupted hours to write. And, for what it’s worth, I can’t write on the couch either. It pains me too but, while I’m there, it’s far too comfortable! I find myself too easily distracted there or getting sleepy.

    The only thing I would add to what you’ve written is that I’ve learned, 8 books in now, you have to turn social media and email off to get much done. Those constant signals from Facebook and Twitter and yada, yada can turn into major time sucks.

    1. Anne–Oh good! Hope it works well for you. I use Pomodoro now for nearly every task, even non-writing related….gathering tax docs, doing the grunt work in the yard, major housecleaning. It gives me so much more focus.

      The sofa is SO comfortable! Until…it’s not. :) The physical therapist was horrified.

      Yes to the social media being off! Good tip there.

  2. Twenty books? Wow! I’m very impressed, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing those lessons, too. They’re all really useful. I especially like the one about listening to yourself when you’re in a rut. There is always a reason for it. I’ve found that when I’m stuck like that, there’s something in the story that’s holding me back.

  3. Unfortunately, I don’t think my publisher will ever put one of my books out there for free. And since I’m switching more to short stories and articles rather than books, I doubt it would be worth it to start a newsletter.
    However, we are launching one today for the IWSG!

  4. I know people like Hugh Howey claim that sticking just with Amazon is best, but I still think it’s better to give readers as many options as possible. I also wouldn’t want to put all of my eggs in one Amazon basket.

  5. I find it difficult to write on a computer at a desk, but the couch was difficult, too, till I got one of those lap desk thingies. It’s helped a lot. But again, I’m not spending as much time writing now as I did.

  6. Hi Elizabeth – you’ve learnt lots over the years, and kept us all informed .. that’s one good thing about blogging – you can keep track, and we can learn …

    They are talking about Wattpad here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/2016/01/welcome-to-our-new-iwsg-administrator.html and thought you might want to comment … I did link over to your Wattpad tag .. but I couldn’t find the ‘search’ key …

    I have to write at my desk … though I must use other tools and make better use of my time …

    You offer us all great advice … cheers Hilary

  7. Great article, Elizabeth. I really like the term “series bible”. Maybe having an official name will help me to keep one. Right now it’s a “series bunch-of-scattered-notes”. Do you have books you’ve only published for ebooks? Or are all your books in print also?

  8. Great thoughts. My lessons have been similar. I am publishing my sixteenth and have written many more than that. Still loving what I do!

    – Yes to Pomodoro when I have enough discipline to do it.
    – I am just finishing book five in one series, and have had to be really careful to get the timelines right to interweave it with the first few books.
    – I have been outlining for the last 13 or so that I have written, but then switched to pantsing for the one I am working on now (the first three in the series were pantsed, and I felt like I lost a bit of the ‘feel’ of the story when I switched to outlining.) It has been fun to ditch the outline for a while. It would probably be difficult if I was writing 5,000 words per day, but I’ve only been doing 2,000 per day on this one, a very relaxed pace.

    Keep up the writing!

    1. PD–That’s good! I love what I do most of the time. I’m learning to outsource what I don’t love. This is definitely the job I’m best suited for.

      Oh gosh, sounds like you have story arcs over the course of the series. That does make things complex. My stories in the Myrtle Clover series are all written as standalones. But the other series, Southern Quilting, has one continuing storyline that I have to be careful about. Myrtle is so much easier to write.

      2,000 words is a very disciplined pace! You’re doing a great job.

  9. Elizabeth, I’m the same way, becoming more meticulous and keeping notes as the series progresses. Never heard of Pomodoro and just watched the video. Thanks for sharing. Every little bit helps.

    1. Jemi–I try to shift locations…standing at counter, sitting on bar stool at kitchen counter, kitchen table, desk upstairs (less of a favorite spot for me). Sometimes I forget. :( Trying to do better in 2016 about being aware and stretching more.

  10. Thank you for sharing all your hard-earned advice. I am completely in sync with your need to outline for speed, yet desire to write without for enjoyment. Have you found a way to bridge that problem?

    1. Melanie–That’s not the only problem I have with outlining, although it’s likely the most serious. Outlining also makes me write really flat (I have to go in during the edits to put in the excitement and punch), and makes me write very short (sometimes even 20,000 words short). And some outlines have taken me as much as a week to write, which is time I hate to take away from a book.

      With practice, I’ve been able to deal with all of the problems. But with the job satisfaction part (again, probably the most insidious issue), I give myself permission to go *off* the outline. Although usually not too far, since I’ve got time constraints and the complex timeline of a mystery. But when I tell myself at the start of each writing day, “Okay. This is what I’m writing today…UNLESS! I have a better idea,” then many times I *do* get a better idea and the spark is back.

  11. Awesome advice, and way to go with book 20! I honestly have no idea how many I’ve written now. (And that’s a good place to be–enough written to forget.) I’m going to second that series cheat sheet. I’m wishing I had one of those right now. Stand alones are so much easier.

    1. Crystal–Thanks! And yes, when I’m writing the detail I’m thinking, “Oh, I’ll *definitely* remember this for future books.” The truth is that I usually don’t! The series bible is just a huge tool for me. :) Congrats on all your books and best wishes for a great 2016 of writing!

  12. I used to buy books for my Kindle app, but I’m moving back to Kobo since so many authors are now publishing there (and because of a few other reasons). If a book I want isn’t available on Kobo, well there are so many other books I want that I can get one of them instead. This is why I fully agree that you shouldn’t limit yourself to just making your book available on Kindle.

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