OPINION: Writing a series is lazy writing to cash in on gullible people!

Recently, a discussion on GoodReads was started by a reader who loved stand-alone books, but every book he was offered seemed to be part of a series. The thread quickly turned ‘anti-series’ with complaints about sequels being less good than the first novel, stories become repetitive, single volume books being enlarged to fill several volumes to make more money from gullible readers, writers becoming too lazy to invent new characters, and so on.

As I write a suspense fiction series, I want to address these issues in this blog article.

When I wrote Reprobate, I had some excellent ideas for additional plot lines that would explore other sides of the freelance assassin protagonist, so I decided to develop the Amsterdam Assassin Series as a series of stand-alone novels and short stories that have the same characters but enjoying one book does not rely on having read the other books/stories. No cliffhangers beyond readers want to know what will happen next in the lives of the protagonists.

As to the concerns addressed in the GoodReads thread:

“Can’t you put just everything in one book?”

No. The books are all over 100K and all have a different theme. The first book, Reprobate, deals with the protagonist breaking her own rules and the consequences. The second book, Peccadillo, has criminals trying a hostile takeover of her legitimate business, unaware that they’re dealing with an assassin. In the third book, Rogue, Katla comes to the attention of global intelligence communities when she kills the wrong target. I’m currently working on the fourth novel, Ghosting, which will show yet another side of the character.

“The first book is mostly good, but the rest is repetitive crap.”

Most reviewers agree that the second book is superior to the first book. I just published the third novel. Feedback from the beta-readers convince me that Rogue is both different from Peccadillo and Reprobate, but just as interesting and entertaining. Just because some people force themselves to turn a stand-alone book into a series doesn’t mean every series writer succumbs to this laziness.

“You write a series to cash in.”

If I wanted to cash in, I’d write short novels in a hot genre, not suspense fiction about a freelance assassin in Amsterdam. And as I sell somewhere around 30-60 books per month, I’m not ‘cashing in’. If I listened to ‘market experts’ I would abandon the series due to the meagre sales. However, I do have fans who want to know what happens to the protagonists and are eager for future books (check my reviews), so I just ignore the sales and keep on writing what I love to write.

“Series are just fluff/sugar coated candy/throwaway books.”

My series is pretty dark, which is quite normal for a suspense fiction series with a freelance assassin protagonist. I’ve been praised for the brief instances of wit that lighten the mood and ground the story in reality. In keeping with the need for verisimilitude, the events in the books have real moral/ethical/physical consequences and I received feedback from fans on how scenes made them reconsider the reader’s own attitudes.

“You’re just too lazy to invent new characters.”

Writing a series is actually more difficult than writing stand-alone novels, mostly because you need to satisfy both the new readers and the readers who read the other books, which requires a fine balance of putting in just enough back story to please both. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to writing about characters who might never ‘hit it big’ with fans. Writing stand-alones with new characters doesn’t require any referencing to published stories.

Also, the series does feature new characters. Granted, they may be antagonists, but if the antagonists don’t measure up, the protagonist will fall kind of flat. I go by the principle that any character I create should be able to hold their own as protagonist of their own stories, so they have to be fully developed, not just sounding boards for the main characters.

Still I understand how readers don’t want to read series and prefer stand-alone books. In that case, Reprobate would work as a great stand-alone novel because it has all the characters, but all the plot lines are resolved in the end and you don’t need to read the other books.

Except if you want to know what the future holds in store for Katla and Bram…


Writing During A Motorcycle Trip…

I went on a motorcycle trip from July 1st till July 20th. Just me, my trusty BMW R1100GS motorcycle, and my iPad with Adonit Writer keyboard in my tankbag. And camping gear, obviously. From Amsterdam I rode 700 kilometers motorway to Dijon, from where I rode secondary roads exclusively. First down to the Vercors, then Alpes Maritimes, Parc de la Mercantour and crossing from Sospel to Olivetta in Italy. The coast turned out to be even warmer than I expected, so I spent most of my time riding deserted mountain roads and visiting dusty villages that didn’t see many tourists as I rode a figure-eight through Tuscany. Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Parma.

Taking the example from the Italians themselves, I parked the motorcycle in a shady place around noon and spent a couple of hours writing until the heat dissipated enough to resume riding. My iPad has a longer battery life than most laptops, but I could always use an outlet. In many cases, the cafe/restaurant/hotel were so honored that I used their facilities to write on my novels, that I was treated with a pleasant hospitality, the staff leaving me alone and keeping other guests away from me so I could concentrate.

At home, I have many distractions, but in Italy I didn’t have many other things to do then ride, camp and write. Watching television was useless, since my Italian is ‘Amsterdam Restaurant Italian’, meaning that I knew how to greet and order food, but following an Italian conversation was impossible. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have enjoyable conversations in a mish-mash of Italian/French/English, but an Italian television drama went over my head.

I rarely spent more than one night in one place. I spent two nights in the Vercors to acclimatize myself to camping again, two nights in Firenze because I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the beautiful city, two nights in Parma, and two nights in Rocaforte because I didn’t want to travel in France on their Quatorze Juillet (July 14th, Independance Day). Instead, I spent most of July 14th in Caffe La Bottega Errante in Mondovi, a very pleasant cafe with excellent cappuccini, high ceilinged cool rooms and an English speaking staff. The atmosphere at La Bottega Errante proved inspirational – I think I wrote close to 8,000 words that day. Other places that were very conducive to writing:

– Chiar di Luna, an Albergo/Ristorante/Pizzeria in Careggine. A glass serre in shadow with a view of the fields and mountains, with a fragrant breeze coming in through the open windows, great pizza and excellent cappuccino.

– Ostello della Giuventu di Parma, the Youth Hostel in Parma, where the English speaking staff helped me with Italian phrases (thank you, Alessio). Along with the comfortable and stylish Auberge de Jeunesse in Liege, these youth hostels were the only places when I didn’t use my tent. In both cases because there were not many campings in the vicinity and the prices for a bed in a dorm were comparable to most Italian campsites.

– Lino’s Caffe in Parma. These coffee shops are part of a chain, but still, sitting in the shadow on a terrace with WiFi provided by the Municipality of Parma while being served strong and tasty cappuccino is difficult to beat. By way of thanks Katla kills someone in Parma’s La Cittadella…

– Caffe Bertaina in Mondovi, who graciously safeguarded my motorcycle gear so I could tramp around Mondovi in cargo pants and sandals, as well as enjoy the shady breeze of their terrace under the arches around Piazza Maggiore.

– The restaurant of Camping Michelangelo in Firenze, where I could write while looking out over this glorious city, with a friendly staff who clearly enjoyed their work.

All in all, when I returned to Amsterdam, I updated my Scrivener file and found that I’d written some 27,000 words while on the road, which comes to an average of 1,350 words a day. Most of the time, at home, I won’t get over 1,000 words a day, if that, so my French Italian motorcycle trip was enjoyable, refreshing and productive as well.

Rogue – A Katla Novel (Amsterdam Assassin Series 3) is now at 86,000 words, with a goal of 100,000+ words in September… Keep your fingers crossed.


On Writing Tools, Revisited.

Revisiting On Writing Tools:

As I wrote in my previous article On Writing Tools, I use an iPad2 with an Adonit Writer Plus keyboard for the main bulk of my writing.

I wrote:
“With the advent of the iPad3, the iPad2 was dumped on the market, so I got myself an iPad2 with an Adonit Writer keyboard/iPad case combo. Although the keyboard is quite a bit smaller than a regular keyboard, the portability is incredible – weighing next to nothing, the iPad/Adonit joins my Kindle in the laptop compartment of the backpack I take everywhere. With its battery-life of ten working hours, the iPad is much better at working wireless than most laptops. I installed Apple Pages for iPad and transferred all works in progress to the iCloud and I’m a happy person.”
However, I stopped using Pages and started using Scrivener for Mac, using a MacBook Pro at home, and exporting scenes I’m working on to SimpleNote, so I can work them on my iPad.
Of course, there are some minor issues – SimpeNote is a simple note program, so it has no bold, italics or underlined function, nor does it do well with ellipsis or em-dashes. However, I found that working on the iPad, has two major advantages:

  1. the iPad has a substantially longer battery life, and doesn’t take long to start up.
  2. the iPad SimpleNote app features no distractions, so you’re not tempted to fiddle with formatting or editing, because you will do that later on the MacBook when you have the power of Scrivener to accommodate your needs.

Although I hope that Scrivener will release a version for iOS soon, I’m quite pleased with the Scrivener/SimpleNote functionality.

 

Addendum:

I shifted from proofreading on my old Kindle to proofreading epubs on my iPad. The touch screen makes highlighting much easier, the full-sized bluetooth keyboard makes notes easier and the list of highlights and notes is easier to delete by swiping the note in the list to the left.

On my Kindle, I could delete highlights/notes by pressing ‘delete’ on the small keyboard. If you have a newer Kindle without the keyboard, that might not work. On the other hand, if you just leave the list and upload a new version, you can easily delete the old version and take the editing list with it.

 

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WRITING: On Writing Tools

While I like pens and writing longhand in diaries, I never even considered writing fiction in longhand. The most important reason would be the editing problem: whereas writing in a diary is for private thoughts, writing fiction is writing that is intended to be shared. And any writing that is to be share will have to be edited thoroughly before it’s released on the unsuspecting audience.

I started writing on a typewriter, because computers were not in my budget. I started writing during long boring night shifts as a security officer, spending six to seven hours of my eight hour shift alone in a security cabin in the middle of an industrial area. I had an idea for a story and started writing, first in Dutch, later in English. The computer at work had a printer and I could draw up a page-long note, so I would print that out, erase it and write the next page. I’d keep the printout in a folder and re-write the last unfinished page and continue to write the rest of the story. After a while I got transferred to an office building, where I borrowed a typewriter that I placed behind the reception desk to write my novel.

After two years working security, I used my vacationing money to buy an Apple PowerBook 150, which I carried everywhere. From that moment on, I took myself seriously as a writer. As I couldn’t follow classes on writing crime fiction in Amsterdam, I bought self-help books for writers and became an autodidact. The PowerBook 150 traveled with me all over for more than ten years, when the screen was destroyed in a motorcycle accident. To replace the PowerBook 150 I bought a secondhand PowerBook 135c with a color screen, but it had erratic failures and I dumped it. By that time, most offices had computerized the security files, so I had a computer for registering keys and keycards, and filling out reports. And, since all of them featured Word, I carried my work with me on a USB stick. Until I retired from security work I used three USB sticks, a 64mb I replaced with an 8GB, and later with a 16GB version I still use as a back-up.

At home we used a PC and a HP Pavillion laptop that recently began to slow down radically and had several ‘blue screens of death’ that are the bane in a writer’s life.Since I had stopped working in security and now took care of the children, while I worked on my novels and started up a business in conflict resolution and physical self-defense, I wanted to replace the HP laptop.

At first I looked into MacBooks, but they were incredibly expensive, plus they could do a lot more than what I needed, i.e. access to the internet and a simple wordprocessing program. Someone pointed out that I could do all that on an iPad. I didn’t want to type on a screen though. But, this person pointed out to me, there are bluetooth keyboards compatible with iPads…

With the advent of the iPad3, the iPad2 was dumped on the market, so I got myself an iPad2 with an Adonit Writer keyboard/iPad case combo. Although the keyboard is quite a bit smaller than a regular keyboard, the portability is incredible – weighing next to nothing, the iPad/Adonit joins my Kindle in the laptop compartment of the backpack I take everywhere. With its battery-life of ten working hours, the iPad is much better at working wireless than most laptops. I installed Apple Pages for iPad and transferred all works in progress to the iCloud and I’m a happy person.

While until now I was pretty much restricted to editing my MSS on the Kindle, highlighting and notating the text without the ability to actually edit the text, now, with the iPad, I can create stories on my lap while I’m at the pool for my son’s swimming lessons. I’ve written two blog posts already, and a short story due out soon to create an audience for my novel.

Life is good.

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