Reading you under the table since 2012

Planning a Series

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Susan Dennard

SusanDennardA few weeks ago, I got this question in my inbox:

How would you go about outlining [a trilogy]? Would you outline it as a whole or each book individually?

Awesome question! And obviously, everyone outlines/plans series differently, so I can only tell you how I plan a series. Hopefully that information is still helpful, though.

Step 1: Plan the first book.

If you want to see how I do that, you can read my series on it here. As your planning this book, decide if you can tell the whole story in a single book or if the story will need multiple books.

If you’re starting to realize that you’re definitely going to need multiple books, then it’s time for…

Step 2: How many books will you need?

To answer this question, we first need to figure out why  you even think you’ll need multiple books. What is it about the story that makes you think you can’t contain it in a single volume? Write these reasons down.

So for example, I knew as soon as my WIP Screechers morphed into an epic fantasy series that I would need >1 book to tell the story. These were my reasons why:

  • Lots of POVs (like 8 in the first book alone), each with their own goals/motivations/growth.
  • Lots of places to visit. 2 continents + tons of cities/landscapes in each.
  • At least 3 romances, and romance always takes time to develop (I like slow burns!).
  • Lots of plots/subplots. There’s a missing sister, the screechers threat + origin mystery, an occupying army, a rebellion, a corrupt church, an ancient evil villain, and more. It all intertwines and will clearly take a lot of page space to wrap up…

Clearly I was going to need a ton of pages to cover all that! Now I just needed to decide how many books it might all add up to. To estimate HOW MANY books you’ll need, write down any sort of big events you have in mind. Where do those events naturally feel like happening? Or, where do certain character arcs or romances naturally feel like wrapping up?

While you’re doing that, take a look at other series in your genre. Do they tend to be trilogies? Do they tend to be long, interconnected series (e.g. Game of Thrones) or maybe long, standalone series (e.g. Hercule Poirot)? You can use the comparison titles as a guide for your own story.

Another important reason for looking at comp titles is because you want to make sure your series has structure. Consider how a trilogy follows a 3-act structure on a series-scale (e.g. Star Wars) while longer series tend to have less strict structure (though each book would have a strict structure, of course!). The key, of course, is to follow the well-known rising action scale, but to do it over the course of the whole series as well as in each book.

I ended up estimating 5 books for Screechers, and even though I only have a VERY hazy idea of what happens in those last 2 books (erm, war?), I’ve also read enough fantasy series to naturally know that 5 books feels like the right number to cover the scale of the story.

Step 3: Start a special/file notebook for ideas.

I personally plan my series in the same way I plan an individual book: I write down ideas and snowball from there.

For a series, though, I tend to snowball WHILE I’m drafting the first book. Ideas will thunderbolt in the middle of a sentence, so I’ll scrolls down to my special Scrivener page and write down the idea while I have it. Those ideas might then grow into something more or just get cut as new ideas unfurl, but the point is that I take note of EVERYTHING.

So here’s an example of the ideas that I’ve been snowballing for book 2 in the Screecher series. This is a screencap of my Scrivener file:

Planning a series, 1

Question marks denote I’m not feeling SUPER good about an idea…

This is just the beginning of the ideas for book 2–this list continues on for 6 pages. :) I have a TON of pretty specific ideas and snippets of dialogue since book 2 is in the nearby future in terms of plot, and it’s often on my mind while drafting.

Book 3, on the other hand…

Planning a series, 2

Notice: shorter ideas that are also more vague.

My ideas for book 3 only continue for 2 pages, and they’re definitely skimpier than my book 2 ideas. BUT, they’re still more flushed-out than my books 4 & 5 ideas:

Planning a Series, 3

Notice these are SUPER vague and mostly questions.

As you can see, I don’t really know how everything will connect in book 4, but I DO have a general idea of some big plot points. As I write books 2 and 3, then my  list for books  4 and 5 will get meatier.

And, by the time I finish book 1, I’ll have a very detailed/solid idea of what needs to happen in book 2. In fact, I’ll likely have a full outline all ready to go that will allow me to dive write in to drafting.

So there you have it: that’s how I plan a series! It’s very much like how I plan a book, just on a much larger, more general scale. :)

You tell me: how do YOU plan series?

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers.

Susan Dennard is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of (now gluten-free) cookies. You can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, or pinterest. Her Something Strange and Deadly series is now available from HarperTeen, and the Truthwitch series will launch from Tor in fall 2015.


Posted in Beginner Resources, Writing Life | Tagged | 3 Comments

What’s your major?


Alex Bracken

Alexandra Bracken

During my brief stint as an editorial assistant, I received a ton of really random calls. My theory is that the company’s operators just went to the first editorial assistant listed alphabetically in the staff directory with general editorial queries. My absolute favorite call I ever received came from a girl, maybe twelve or thirteen at the most, who flat-out asked, “Do you need to know French to work at your job?”

“No. Why do you ask?” was the obvious response.

“My parents said that if I want to be an editor I have to learn French.” And then she asked me to repeat the answer, this time on speaker so her parents could hear me.

First of all, I love that she called an actual publishing house to prove her folks wrong. That is a girl after my own heart! It’s a nice way to launch into something that seems to be a lot of soon-to-be grads’s minds: What do you need to major in to work in publishing? 

I double majored in English and History in college, but the truth is… I could have majored in just about anything and still found a job in publishing. English is the most popular major/minor for publishing employees, but short survey of coworkers and friends turned up majors in marketing, communications, biology, psychology, history, education, and, yes, even French!

The one thing I can’t stress enough is that there’s no one route into publishing–no major is the key to finding a job. I’ve mentioned this here before, but the industry is what you’d call an apprenticeship industry. While having a degree in communications might help in trying to snag a publicity gig, the hiring manager is likely to be far more focused on what work experience you’re bringing with you–that is, what skill set you have to offer your potential team and the company as a whole. This can be anything from general office/administrative experience (let’s be honest, this comprises 75% of most assistant jobs in the industry) to working in your college’s public relations department to spending a summer interning at a major corporation. While it certainly helps to have some background knowledge of the industry, no one will expect that you, fresh out of school, will know what “point of sales” means or what GLB stands for–these things will, in time, be taught to you as part of your training.

More than anything, hiring managers want to see that you can read critically and write well (hence why you often have to submit a sample press release or editorial letter after interviewing), that you have some experience working in a corporate environment or as part of a team, and that you’re enthusiastic about publishing and the books the company publishes. And who knows? An “oddball” major like Folklore and Mythology, or even Neuroscience could make you stand out and provide fodder for an interesting interview conversation!

Alex lives in New York City, where she works in children’s publishing, writes like a fiend, and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website or Twitter.

Posted in Industry Life | 6 Comments

Behind The Scenes: How Copy Edits Work

Industry Life



Amie Kaufman

amie165c-twitterOne of the things we like to do here at Pub Crawl is give you a peek behind the curtain at parts of publishing you might not otherwise see. If you follow any authors on social media, the odds are very high you’ve seen them mention their copy edits more than once. So what exactly are they?

Copy edits come later in the editorial process—almost the last thing authors will do before it’s too late to change the text! (And believe us, most authors aren’t nearly ready to stop tweaking words, even when it’s time!)

The copy editor is many things. Grammar guru, continuity expert, repetition police, dictionary, the works. Here’s how some of it works:

Grammar guru: The copy editor will mark up all the spots the story’s grammar isn’t quite right, indicating what the correct usage would be. It’s then up to the author to either accept the chance, or write ‘stet’ (which is Latin for ‘let it stand’, we’re a quaint bunch in publishing) if they want to leave it the way it is. The author might want to leave something the way it is (technically incorrect) for any number of reasons. The character’s voice—a teenager mightn’t say ‘whom’, even if it’s correct. Their own personal style—they might really like using far too many em-dashes, like I do. Impact—they might want a sentence fragment or something all mixed up to create a sense of confusion, or chaos, or to shine a light on particular words. (Fun fact: ask any group of authors what they stet the most, and they’ll almost always tell you it’s the places the copy editor points out you should, technically speaking, have a semicolon.)

Continuity expert: The copy editor is the one who points out that when your character says ‘I can’t believe it’s only been three days’, they really shouldn’t believe it. Because it’s been five. (Whoops. Yes, that is a personal example.) They check all kinds of things, from eye color to that one mention of a character who got erased in an earlier draft, and technically shouldn’t exist at all. The copy editor is the one who points all this out after you’ve read the manuscript dozens of times, and would cheerfully swear it’s completely clean.

Repetition Police: After checking the manuscript completely, the author is usually completely sure there are no word repeated too close together. They usually find they’re wrong. (See what I did there?) The copy editor catches repeats and confusing language, anywhere it’s not quite clear what a sentence means.

Dictionary: During copy edits on These Broken Stars, Meg and I learned that you can rifle through a box hunting for something, but you riffle through papers. Two Fs. When you’ve got an Aussie on the team, the copy editor sometimes also points out things that might be correct in Australia or the UK, but are completely confusing if you’re an American.

Suffice it to say we love our copy editors, who make us look smart! For more entertaining tales of saves copy editors have made for other authors, check out this hilarious post by author, literary agent and Pub Crawl/LTWF alumnus Mandy Hubbard.

This post is adapted from an article that originally appeared in my monthly newsletter — if you liked it, you can sign up here.

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD, is coming in November 2014, and her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.

Posted in After the... Series, Industry Life | Tagged , | 6 Comments

FROZEN by Erin Bowman releases today!

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Erin Bowman and Frozen!

Frozen by Erin BowmanYAYYY!!! Today the sequel to Taken by our very own Erin Bowman releases! Alert: this book is called Frozen but is NOT the Disney Frozen. Although there are some definite similarities…

Snow, for one. High stakes. The importance of family, loyalty, and love. Deception. More snow. Actually, Erin did a really cool comparison of her Frozen vs. Disney’s. You should check it out. It will amuse fans of the movie AND the series.

Or, you can just read this summary and find similarities on your own:

The heists were only the beginning.

Gray Weathersby escaped from the primitive town of Claysoot expecting to find answers, but what he discovered shook him to the core: A ruthless dictator with absolute power. An army of young soldiers blinded by lies. And a growing rebellion determined to fight back.

Now Gray has joined a team of rebels on a harsh, icy journey in search of allies who can help them set things right. But in a world built on lies, Gray must constantly question whether any ally—or enemy—is truly what they seem. . . .

Doesn’t that make you want to read? It SHOULD.

I have to say: so vast is my love for both Frozens I might’ve mashed them together last night. Sing it! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!

(Sung to the tune of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”)

Do you wanna be a rebel?
Do you wanna work with Gray?
No more losing lives to forgeries.
It’s time to leave the east,
So we can save the day!
We used to all get Heisted,
And now we don’t
Because we climbed a wall so HIIIIGH!
Do you wanna be a rebel?
(You don’t have to be a rebel…)
Okay, bye…

So there you have it! That’s my Disney/Bowman mashup, and I’m pretty proud of it. ;) (I might’ve listened to the Frozen soundtrack on repeat all day yesterday in preparation for those lyrics. You never can listen to “Love is an Open Door” too many times.)

To celebrate the Frozen release, we’re doing a giveaway! It’s international, so ANYONE can sign up on the Rafflecopter form below.

And CONGRATS, ERIN!!! We’re all so excited for your latest book to be out in the world!! ♥

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Happy Hour | Tagged | 22 Comments

Art Speaks

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Kat Zhang

(I found an old post in my files and found it to still ring very much true. So I edited it a bit and posted. Hope it rings true for you guys, as well!)

Kat ZhangLet’s talk about art.

Anything? Anyone want to go first?
Okay, I’ll go first.
I love art. Really, really, love it. I’m the girl who almost cries at the opera and stares giddy at the ballet and can spend hours going on and on about how beautiful a shot is framed in a movie. I have to put down books sometimes because I’m so overwhelmed by someone’s writing — or just by the feel of the story. Once, while reading someone’s ARC, I scribbled the margins full of “OMG MY FEELINGS. MY FEELINGS.”
The thing I’ve come to realize about art is that the more I “get” it, the more I love it.
I’ll try to explain, since I know that doesn’t make a ton of sense.
I used to not be a huge film buff. I watched movies, of course, and television, but I preferred my books. Film, I thought, all high-and-mighty. They just…show you everything. And those weird indy films? So boring.
Then one day, I watched a director’s commentary for a film. I can’t even remember which film it was, but the director kept talking about how he’d chosen this one shot for this reason—emotional, thematic, etc, etc — and that shot for another, and how the costume designer had picked these clothes for this character because…and so on. I was utterly captivated.
Suddenly — just a tiny, tiny bit — I got film. I saw beyond the “product” to the “meaning” behind the product. I’m now super into film, and cinematography, and yes, if I think you’ll stand for it, I’ll pause a movie and rhapsodize about the framing of a shot.
There’s always danger in discussing what an artist is trying to say with a piece of work. For many people, art should stand on its own. For them, a book, a film, a painting “says” things all by itself, and what the creator meant doesn’t matter. In large part, I agree with this, which is why whenever I’m asked in an interview about messages I want people to take away from What’s Left of Me or Once We Were, I always say that messages are up to the reader to figure out for themselves, not for the author to broadcast. I think that’s part of the brilliance of art—different people come to a piece of work and leave with something completely unique.
Art speaks on its own. Sometimes, it says things to certain people that the author never meant to say. I’ve  stopped reading reviews, but back when I did, I discovered people who saw things in What’s Left of Me I never imagined anyone would ever see. Some of these things are in accordance with my world views—things I would proudly say in real life. Some are the very opposite of what I actually believe, and initially, I was horrified that anyone would think I ever meant to imply such a thing through my story.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Stories speak. Art speaks. On purpose. By accident. That’s why it can be so powerful. Personally, I believe that as writers/artists/whatever, we do have a responsibility to be careful about what we say—even accidentally. I do spend time thinking, “What sort of message am I sending by having this character do this? Or by having this happen?”
But on the other hand, I will never catch everything. And sometimes things just need to happen. Sometimes the yellow curtains are just yellow because I happened to sit on a yellow crayon while writing, not because of some deep psychological meaning I’m trying to get across.
Somebody (probably many somebodies) will always find some part of my story/characterization and construct it to mean something I never wanted it to mean. But you know what? That’s fine. That’s more than fine. That’s great. Because every time that happens, I learn a little more. I get to see the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I am more careful the next time.
Art speaks, and not only to the audience, but to the creator, as well.
Do you pay attention to your themes and possible messages when you write?

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, will come out September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.

Posted in Inspiration, Writing Life | Tagged | 7 Comments
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