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by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Although I love what I do and can’t really imagine myself doing anything else, it’s not as if the writing life isn’t stressful.  It’s not all The Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

There are always things that need our attention that compete with writing–kids, our parents, household repairs, jobs, etc.  Then there’s managing daily life: meals, appointments, events.  On top of it all, we need to take care of ourselves (probably the last thing on most of our lists, but one of the most important): exercise, sleep, healthy eating.

Invariably in interviews I’m asked how I manage everything and keep a sense of balance. I know exactly how I manage everything…I’m the queen of organization. I organize things (even other people in my family) within an inch of their lives.  The balance? Well, some days are more balanced than others.

Here are some of my tips for keeping sane as a writer: 

Lists: I’ve talked a lot about my lists and am sure I’ll do it again soon.  It’s what keeps me from completely losing track of everything.  My tools: I use Evernote for recipes (including notes on who liked what and who thought something needed broccoli in it, etc.).  I use Google Keep to remind me of important things (you can set notifications) and to make a menu and shopping list for the week…that way I always have it with me.  I use OneNote  for keeping track of ISBNs, formatting notes, IngramSpark codes, etc.  I also use calendars to keep me organized–more about this, specifically, in a post coming up on Jan. 4.

Batching tasks:  This is just a productivity trick that works well for me.  Once I get my head into a task, it makes sense for me to keep doing it instead of switching to something else or multitasking. So if I write one blog post, it makes sense to write 2 or 3 more. If I am assigning ISBNs for a book, I may as well go ahead and assign them for the next book in another series.  And I always outline the next book in Series A after finishing a book in Series A and before switching over to a book in Series B.

Timers:   I live by my timers because they help get me over that initial I don’t want to do this.  That might be working on my outline for 20 minutes or it might be sitting down and making a list of what’s left to do to get ready for Christmas. My favorite one right now is a Pomodoro-style, free online timer: https://tomato-timer.com   You can change the times in settings.  I have one for 12 minutes, one for 10 minutes, and one for 5 minutes.

My approach to things that might be procrastinated:   I take the most important (or most dreaded) tasks of the day and get them out of the way the very first thing.  For me, it’s writing and exercise.  Some people call this ‘eating the frog first.’

Planning for the week ahead:  On Sundays, I take a look at my calendar for the week and get a sense of what’s ahead.  This is also when I plan my menus for the week and make a grocery list.

Paperwork:  Taxes aren’t fun.  I have a CPA to help me now because my taxes started getting confusing five years ago.  Through the year, whenever I have a writing-related expense (this could be postage to mail books…and the gas it took to drive to the post office, pro-level software for tools like Hootsuite and Feedly, cover design, website support, etc.), I add it to a special folder. It also helps that I have a bank account solely for my writing business and can see deposits and withdrawals there.

Saying no:  I used to rarely say no to opportunities, maybe fearing I wouldn’t get more offers.  But this past year I’ve been asked to do any number of things and turned them down in favor of writing (and working on all the other things I’m juggling).

These are just a few ways that I try to keep my life from getting too hectic…what are some of yours?

Tips for Organizing Your Writing Life:
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Photo credit: kennethkonica on Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

The post Tips for Making the Writing Life Less-Stressful appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Today I thought I’d cover my process for starting a new cozy series. This post isn’t intended to replace the more in-depth posts I created for developing a sleuth, sidekick, setting, et al. For tips on the nitty gritty part of developing those specific elements, see those particular posts and this series. 

My thought on creating a new series this time was to look at all the specific elements and put them on a Word document.  I brainstormed ideas for each element and wrote down pros and cons of every choice.

I started out with the sleuth.  Considerations were: age of the sleuth, gender of the sleuth (there are cozies with male sleuths…I’ve been asked about this regularly by male mystery writers), sleuth’s occupation (the theme/hook is incredibly important in a cozy mystery), and his or her personality type.

The theme or hook of the book came next.  As I mentioned in this post, the choice of theme is a big one for cozy mysteries.   I made the list, considering how comfortable I’d feel writing the theme long-term, how much research was entailed in the hook, and how saturated the market was with that particular theme.

The setting came next.  Considerations: fictional or real (there are advantages to both, although now I prefer a made-up town with real origins so that I can map the setting in my head)? Small town or city (the majority of cozies use small towns, but there are successful series set in cities)?  What is the main setting for the hook (for me, it’s been a barbeque restaurant and a quilt shop…the Myrtle series, however, doesn’t have one and it works fine)?

Then I considered the sidekick.  What was I looking for in a sidekick?  What age in relation to the sleuth? What gender?  Does the sidekick provide the humorous bits (humor also important in a cozy), or is the sidekick the straight man?  Is the sidekick a friend or a colleague?  I came up with a list of candidates and pros and cons of all the choices. (Would having a retired male sidekick be too similar to another of my series? Would having a really outgoing sidekick with my more-introverted sleuth lead to scene-stealing?)

I moved on to quirky recurring characters.  You guessed it: this is another vital component of cozies.  First off, how many should I have, considering that I’d need 5 suspects for each story and didn’t want to bog readers down?  Next, what was their relation to the sleuth? (In my other series, they’ve been everything from neighbors to book club members, to members in a quilt guild, to shop owners.)

Next, I considered whether to have a love interest for my sleuth.   There are a lot of single sleuths out there in cozy mysteries (widowed or unmarried) because avoiding a husband in a mystery series is similar to avoiding having parents in YA books–spouses tend to hold a sleuth back because of the danger involved in their chosen pastime.  Considerations: how good am I at pulling off romance (not my forte)?  How many recurring characters do I already have? What are readers drawn to…more or less romance (for this I read customer reviews for many series on Amazon.  I found that too much focus on the romance seems to irk a lot of cozy readers. It apparently needs to be very secondary to the mystery)?

Pets. Pets are important in cozies (there is an entire subcategory for animal cozies at retail sites).  Cat or dog? Animal’s personality?  How involved is the pet in the story and in the life of the sleuth? How can the pet help the story along?

After this, I set about on an outline for book one, feeling that I had enough in place to be able to  get started on the first story.

How much mapping-out of basics do you do before writing the first book in a series? If you’re a cozy writer, what’s your process like?

Developing a Cozy Mystery Series: Nuts and Bolts:
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The post Developing a New Cozy Series: Nuts and Bolts appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig by Elizabeth Spann Craig - 6d ago

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Twitterific writing links are fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 48,000 free articles on writing related topics. It’s the search engine for writers.

Have you visited the WKB lately?  Check out the new redesign where you can browse by category, and sign up for free writing articles, on topics you choose, delivered to your email inbox!  Sign up for the Hiveword newsletter here.

The Top Writing Links From Last Week Are On Twitterific:
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The post Twitterific Writing Links appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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Writing Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game

By Matt Ferraz, @Matt_Ferraz

The genesis of Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game was a challenge I made to myself: pick two public domain characters that apparently have nothing to do with each other, and somehow make them work together. I’ve been a Sherlockian all my life, and wanted to write a book with the detective for some time. But who could I match him with? Other writers already crossed Holmes Jack the Ripper, Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo and so many others. What could I bring to the table that was new and fresh?

I was at a bookshop in my home town when I saw brand new editions of Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up, by Eleanor H. Porter. Those were books I had never read, but knew the basic premise: a girl who always sees the bright side of everything no matter what. I had seen the 1920 movie with Mary Pickford, one of my favourite actresses, but remembered little of it. So I bought copies of those two books, and while reading them, a novel started to form in my mind.

No one had ever had the idea of putting Holmes and Pollyanna Whittier in the same story. After all, they’re so different! But my mind was made up: I was going to write a book where Pollyanna comes to London and assists Holmes and Watson in an investigation.

People didn’t believe I could pull it off. In fact, my fiancée thought it was a crazy idea to begin with, but decided to give me the benefit of doubt. I wrote the first draft of this book in a month – faster than I had ever worked before! For that whole month, I was completely immersed in the story, having re-watched several Holmes movies for inspiration and re-reading big sections of Porter’s books.

My idea wasn’t simply to have Pollyanna ringing at 221b Baker Street offering a case for the detective to solve. I wanted to fit her in the Holmes canon as organically as possible. My book starts with Pollyanna becoming a good friend of Dr. and Mrs. Watson while Holmes was considered to be dead after facing Professor Moriarty.

Pollyanna is in London to see a special doctor due to an injury she suffered in her childhood – which is shown in the first Porter book. She eventually returns to America, but shows up in London two years later, when Holmes is already back from the dead, with a brand new husband and a lot of trouble on her back.

The best part of writing this story were the comedic possibilities in the interaction between these characters. I tried to avoid making Pollyanna too annoying and naive – she’s actually pretty smart and kicks a few butts. It was also nice to create a more humane Holmes, different from the stubborn and arrogant versions we’ve seen in movie and TV in the past few years. It’s a little, quirky and funny book I’m very proud of.

Matt Ferraz is a Brazilian author with works published in English, Italian and Portuguese. He writes stories since he was five, when his mother gave him a typewriter, and hasn’t stopped since.

Photo credit: gregwake on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The post Writing a Mystery With Public Domain Characters appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig by Elizabeth Spann Craig - 1w ago

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Twitterific writing links are fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 48,000 free articles on writing related topics. It’s the search engine for writers.

Have you visited the WKB lately?  Check out the new redesign where you can browse by category, and sign up for free writing articles, on topics you choose, delivered to your email inbox!  Sign up for the Hiveword newsletter here.

Quick note–thanks, as always, for your comments and for reading the blog! I’m going to be offline until Wednesday so I’ll be slow to respond to comments on this particular post.  :) My next post will run on Friday.

The top writing links from last week are on Twitterific:
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The post Twitterific Writing Links appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig by Elizabeth Spann Craig - 2w ago

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Twitterific writing links are fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 48,000 free articles on writing related topics. It’s the search engine for writers.

Have you visited the WKB lately?  Check out the new redesign where you can browse by category, and sign up for free writing articles, on topics you choose, delivered to your email inbox!  Sign up for the Hiveword newsletter here.

New Stuff

Thanks to Dan Blank for our conversation on fitting in writing, writing as a parent, and my publication journey.

The top writing links from last week are on Twitterific:
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The post Twitterific Writing Links appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig by Elizabeth Spann Craig - 1M ago

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

As a mystery writer, I’m especially fond of small town settings.  I have written larger cities (notably the Memphis Barbeque series), but to make it work, I basically created a small setting within a larger one (life surrounding a family-owned restaurant).

I think small town settings have a lot to offer writers of other genres, too.  That’s because it offers ample opportunity for conflict…and we all know that conflict drives stories.

You may have a more idealistic view of small towns.  That dichotomy is what makes it so interesting.

Here are the elements that I usually draw on in painting life in a small town:

Residents are friendly…and not.  One interesting aspect of small town life is that the residents can be friendly. You might not feel like a stranger when you first arrive in town because people are curious and that curiosity can translate into chattiness (especially in the American South). But later, you may find that residents usually want to protect their way of life and are very resistant to change. They can be especially hostile when they feel their way of life is threatened or if a newcomer claims to know how to make things better (and more like the place they moved away from).  This can lend a very insular feeling to a location.

Going along with the friendliness motif, small towns can be cliquey.  This may be because families tend to stick together (and cousins may be located all over town). It can be a cliquey aspect surrounding the various churches that residents attend.  And of course, it’s also cliquey because residents share so much backstory that they can’t really help but fall into the same patterns with the same people.

There is a lot of backstory in small towns.  Expanding on backstory–it’s everything in a small town.  You might be considered a newcomer, even if you lived your entire life in the town, if your parents or grandparents moved to the town.  There are so many people with personal histories deeply entrenched in town history that it’s hard to distinguish the person from the town. Maybe the resident comes from a long line of teachers and principals in the town.  Maybe the resident’s great-grandfather helped found one of the local churches or started the town newspaper.

Your history is your identity. It can be hard to escape it.  As a kid growing up, everyone knows about your family background and first impressions may be based more on who your family is than who you appear to be.

Town info hubs.  There are places where folks meet up…and possibly gossip about each other, too. These can include salons and barber shops, favorite restaurants/diners, and churches.

Gossip. Privacy can be key because otherwise the whole town knows.  This leads to that most exciting element in a mystery…secrets.

Grudges (including generational grudges). When people have known each other for a long time, and when their families have known each other for a long time, pettiness and grudges can occur.

Support.  This is a pro of small-town living.  If you experience hardship or loss, the town pitches in. You’re not suffering on your own, the town is suffering it right along with you. And in good times, the same applies–you’re not celebrating on your own.  There are also many rituals involved in both weddings and funerals…expectations that the residents may have on how both are handled.

Do you write small-town settings?  Have you ever lived in a small town? What types of small town elements have you included in your writing?

Tips for Writing a Small Town Setting:
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Photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill Badzo on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The post Writing the Small Town Setting appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I’ve published a couple of posts about getting your character rights back from publishers.  This enables writers to continue publishing new books in a series.   In my case, I’d been allowed to continue my series, but I hadn’t been able to republish my backlist (the publishers still wanted to hold those rights).

My backlist is still being held by Penguin for one of my series (and another Penguin series doesn’t have a hope of released rights), but for another publisher I finally have the digital rights back to the first book in the Myrtle Clover series (as of July).  I’d received print rights back some time back to the book.

If this all sounds rather complicated…yes, it can be.   I regularly receive emails from traditionally published writers who either aren’t sure about how to go about asking for rights or who aren’t totally sure what to do after they get their rights back.

If you’re trying to get your rights back, see these posts of mine for a little direction:

Thoughts on Getting Rights Back

Self-Publishing a Series that Started in Trad. Pub

If you’re a writer who isn’t totally sure what to do once you’ve gotten yours back, here are some ideas (I’m working on most of these, myself).

Character Rights:

If you’ve gotten your character rights back (but not the rights to republish the first books in your series), there are a few things you can do.

First off, you can continue writing your series.  This is not (at least, it wasn’t for me) very time-consuming since we’ve already built the story world and have well-developed characters.

Usually you’ll need to figure out a delicate balance between continuing the branding from the beginning of the series and not using the same elements that your publisher’s cover designer used.  This may mean changing the font (but possibly using the same color scheme), etc.  It’s a little tricky, but it helps if you find a professional cover designer who can figure out how best to navigate it.

If your books function as standalones, it’s possible to create box sets/bundles with the books that you write.  I’ve done it and readers didn’t complain about not getting the first book in the series.

With the books you write yourself, you can really expand your audience.  When you expand your reach, I’ve found that readers go back and read the first books in your series, too.  Try moving into audio, the library market, foreign markets, and translated books.

Digital and Print Rights to Books the Publisher Previously Held: 

Here is where things really start opening up.

First off, you can set your book one as a loss leader (at a lower price than the rest of your books)  or a newsletter magnet (a giveaway for readers who sign up for your author newsletter to hear of new releases).

Now you can create box sets where all of the books in the series are included.

Maybe your books weren’t available in print.  Maybe they weren’t available in hardcover. Maybe they weren’t available digitally.  Or in large print.  Now you have an opportunity to correct that by making the book available in all formats.

If you’re trying to reach a younger audience, you can upload the first book in the series to a platform like Wattpad (I’ve developed a much younger readership this way).  It’s best to upload a chapter each week and put a note at the bottom of each chapter stating where to buy the rest of the series.

And the same advice as above applies: you can expand your reach because you hold all the rights.  Want to reach the library market?  Audio book lovers?  English language readers in other countries (UK, Australia, Canada)?  Readers in non-English-speaking markets through translation?

If all of this seems like a lot of work in addition to your writing (and reading this post over, it definitely does), then remember to tackle it in small increments.  Research a format or a distributor for 10 minutes each day for a week.  Then set up a profile at the retailer or distributor the following day.  Then upload a book or two.  Just take it one task at a time.

Have you had rights reverted to you?  How are you exploiting them?

What to Do After a Rights Reversion:
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The post So You’ve Gotten Your Rights Back appeared first on Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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