Author Topic: How I write so many books: A system, some theories, and a few random thoughts.  (Read 84291 times)  

Offline ellecasey

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I've had several people ask me how I've written so many books (18) in such a short period of time (15 months), and I've answered the questions as they've come up; but I was thinking that maybe it would be worth posting a thread about it, so people could discuss their thoughts or ask more detailed questions of me (I'm happy to answer any questions).  I know many writers say they'd like to increase their output but don't know how, so I'm sharing my way of doing things, and if it helps anyone increase her or his output and makes that person happy about it, then it will have been worth doing.  I really should be writing a book right now. :)

Before I lay it out, some other thoughts.  First, I know this is not for most writers.  Most writers take a much longer time to craft a story and that's cool.  There is no one way to do things.  There are many paths to the meadow, and I think they're all worth taking at least once.  I know there are still people out there who believe that it's impossible to write a good story in such a short period of time (some may even come on this thread and say so).  My opinion on this is that it's the readers who decide what a good story is, and my readers have decided I am fully capable of putting out a good story in a month, over and over again.  So that myth is debunked in my world, but if other people want to stick to their beliefs, that's fine.  It doesn't affect me at all.  You decide if it affects you.

My theory on why I'm able to write so many books, other than the mechanics that I outline below, is this:  My introduction to writing came from reading an article about Amanda Hocking and then Darci Chan.  I'd always wanted to write a book but never tried, never bothered, because I wasn't interested in entering that Lotto (suffer-rejection-a-thousand-times-to-find-an-agent-and-then-again-to-find-a-publisher-which-you-probably-never-will-find).  But when I realized I could just self-publish to readers and let them decide, that's all it took for me to start.  The thing is, no one told me that it takes a year or more to write a book.  I've never taken a creative writing class or gone to a workshop or even known an author.  If someone had told me that, I probably wouldn't have even started.  Amanda spoke in her article of writing one of her books in two weeks.  So the idea that one could write a good book fast was a seed that was planted, and it just grew like a weed for me.  As I typed, the words flowed, and the story came out in just a matter of weeks.  I tweaked, I paid someone to edit, I paid someone to make a cover, and I tweaked some more.  But 6 weeks later, I was ready to publish.  Have I gone back and re-edited?  Yes.  It was my first book.  After gettting some reader feedback about POV issues my editor missed, I fixed them.  I get better with every book.

I think the key is to know "it's possible".  For years the publishing industry and other authors said, "This is how it has to be".  Now we know that they were wrong!  A world of change, opportunity, new ways of doing things has opened for all of us.  Maybe my little contribution will be to show other writers who want to write more books that they can increase their output with some strategies in place.  So ... on to the good stuff...

Here's how I write 1 quality, publishable, readable book a month:

1.  I type fast (about 2,500 good, usable words per hour)
2.  I don't use outlines, my characters take the stories and run with them while I just take dictation.  I never know what's going to happen in my books or what my characters are going to say until it happens.  I have a general sense of the storyline and the ending, but even then, I'm often wrong.  I've tried to use outlines, but they stifle me.  They stifle my character's voices.  I know they work for other people to help them work faster.  To each his own.
3.  I have a very active imagination.  I come up with new stories several times a day (in fact, I've considered posting a list of story ideas on my website just to make sure someone writes them).  I suggest letting your mind wander and asking "What if?" a lot if you need prompting.  My brain needs no prompting.
4.  I have a truly supportive husband who handles our life while I'm locked away (he is most def not the negative nelly), and my children are all 9 years old and older, so fairly independent
5.  I use word count goals each day I write and don't stop until I reach them.  My favorite days are the 5,000 words days (I am done by lunch, and I use the rest of the day to goof off or interact with my lovely readers). My least favorite are the 15k days.  The most I've written in a day is 23,500 (done twice) which included editing along the way.  If I just wrote and didn't edit anything, I could probably get to 30k or a little more, but then I'd be ready for the looney bin and my wrists would be unusable for a few days.
6.  I take a nap, every single day without fail.  I break my writing day up into morning and afternoon sessions.  And if I'm on a roll, I add an evening session (those are the days I write more than 10k words).  I can easily write 10k words a day, but I don't do that often.  Only if I've had many days of zero writing and a deadline looming.
7.  I have a great writing environment.  Comfortable, quiet (or I make it that way with headphones and white noise), and on my most productive days, without Internet.
8.  I set up word count goals at the beginning of each month so that I can publish a book on the last day of the month
9.  I edit as I go, re-editing previous chapters on average of 3 times before moving on to the next. My first draft is therefore very close to final draft quality.
10.  I have beta readers and proofreaders on call to finish my drafts with a one- or two-day turnaround
11.  And last but not least (probably would be #1 on this list if done in priority order), I have seriously kickass readers who motivate me to write, even when I don't feel like writing

I view my writing as a business and treat the process accordingly.  And the result is so good for me, it's all I need to keep me wanting to do more of it.  I think some writers (not all) are capable of great output - good quality great output - but they don't think it's possible or they don't have a system that works for that kind of thing, so they just don't.  Other people are missing one of my links above (for example, have kids at home or other work that gets in the way).  I do have a second job that takes up 2 days of my week, but I also write on weekends.  Now that I've put in notice at my job to quit, I will quit working weekends and just work Monday-Friday.  What I do is possible in 5 days a week of writing, including tons of social media contact and time off.

To answer a question I get frequently: No, I did not have ANY material when I started.  I just began writing and that was that.

I hope this was helpful to someone out there.  Happy weekend, everyone!

Offline sarahdalton

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Really interesting, Elle and it's amazing you can find inspiration everyday. On good days I can write about 6,000 words, but then I might have a few days where I struggle to write any. And my editing usually takes a few weeks to do.

I just wondered what your average word count is per book?

I never seem to get mine below 80k. I really want to start writing shorter books to suit the price I'm selling them for 60-70,000, but usually they end up over 80,000.

Plus I had to completely re-write my first two books because they were terrible and I didn't know what I was doing.  ;D

Keep doing what you're doing. Like you said, readers decide what a good book is. I say that a lot and it gets dismissed - enjoyment is subjective.

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Offline ellecasey

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Really interesting, Elle and it's amazing you can find inspiration everyday. On good days I can write about 6,000 words, but then I might have a few days where I struggle to write any. And my editing usually takes a few weeks to do.

I just wondered what your average word count is per book?

I never seem to get mine below 80k. I really want to start writing shorter books to suit the price I'm selling them for 60-70,000, but usually they end up over 80,000.

Plus I had to completely re-write my first two books because they were terrible and I didn't know what I was doing.  ;D

Keep doing what you're doing. Like you said, readers decide what a good book is. I say that a lot and it gets dismissed - enjoyment is subjective.

I set a goal of 85k per book, but they range from 87k-117k, depending on the story.  I do have one novella (40k words) and one erotic romance serial (10-12k per serial and 58k final book). 

Offline sarahdalton

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Wow! That's amazing.

You've definitely inspired me to get cracking this morning. :)

Free and bargain YA books. Sci-fi, horror, and fantasy.
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Offline Jac1106

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Thanks for giving us a peek inside your writing "system".

What does your first draft look like? For example, when you write a scene, is it all pure dialogue at first and then you flesh it out by adding actions, thoughts, setting etc later? Or do you include all of them in one go?

Are you a putter-inner or a taker-outer?

Online David J Normoyle

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Thanks for sharing.


I think the key is to know "it's possible". 

I don't think that's the key at all though.

1.  I type fast (about 2,500 good, usable words per hour)

This is the key. It's a rare talent that most couldn't hope to match.




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Offline ellecasey

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Thanks for giving us a peek inside your writing "system".

What does your first draft look like? For example, when you write a scene, is it all pure dialogue at first and then you flesh it out by adding actions, thoughts, setting etc later? Or do you include all of them in one go?

Are you a putter-inner or a taker-outer?

Great question.  My first draft is very close to final, even the first go around, but I do put in some stuff later.  Mostly emotions and some scenery or character description.  I'm not heavy on scene description (which my readers seem to appreciate, because it's mentioned in many reviews), but I like to make sure they can "see" what I see in my head. Never do I do it just to be poetic or whatever (seems like a lot of authors do, and I just skip those parts as a reader).  I work description into the character actions mostly, so there aren't any paragraphs of description just standing alone.

As I read through during a first edit, if I feel like the picture is too sparse, I'll add a sentence or phrase or word here and there to improve on the mental image of the character or scene.

Sometimes I realize I've done an entire scene of dialogue and thoughts and body actions, but I've left some introspection out.  This is more important in some genres than others, obviously.  I recently released a paranormal romance, so I had to go in and really add quite a bit more than I normally do in the area of introspection and emotion.  Maybe I went in and added 15% whereas I normally only add in 2% or 3% in an Urban Fantasy or less for Action/Adventure.  It's a rhythm and flow thing for me when I go back for a first-pass edit.

Offline kathrynoh

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Thanks for sharing.  You are amazing.  I can write about 1000 words an hour and not even consistently.

Have you found it easier as you write more - the stuff like plotting and holding all the parts of the book in your head?


I blog, usually about stuff unrelated to writing. I write short stories that don't sell and romance (under a pen name) that does.

Offline ellecasey

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Thanks for sharing.

I don't think that's the key at all though.

This is the key. It's a rare talent that most couldn't hope to match.

You're welcome!  I actually know from fellow authors who have sent me messages and emails that just knowing "it's possible" has helped them increase output.

Remember, every goal seems impossible until someone achieves it.


I remember when the 4-minute mile was a dream.  In 1999 a man from Morocco ran it in 3:43.
Lots of people said no publisher would ever do a paper-only deal.  Now we have Bella Andre (several times over), Hugh Howey, Coleen Hoover, and more to come.
Lots of people said no writer without an agent would ever have a best seller.  The list of un-agented best selling authors is too long now to keep track of.  Several KB members are on it.
Lots of people said they could never write a book in a month.  Then they participated in the Nanowrimo and did.

I'm not saying everyone can do what I do (or will want to).  Not everyone can run a 3:43 minute mile or get a paper only deal or write a best seller.  But some will, now because they see a goal as reachable.


Offline Sara Rosett

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Thanks for sharing your system, Elle. Very interesting and informative. I am getting faster the more books I write, but I'm not near a book a month. :)

Could you tell us more about your proofreaders? Where did you find someone who turns it around in a few days? Also, do you do your own formatting and covers or do you outsource? Thanks !


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Offline ellecasey

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Thanks for sharing.  You are amazing.  I can write about 1000 words an hour and not even consistently.

Have you found it easier as you write more - the stuff like plotting and holding all the parts of the book in your head?

Thank you!  I think writing is just like any other form of exercise; you get in better shape and better at it the more you do.  Every book I write is better than the last.  But some books are harder to write than others for me just because of the subject matter or genre.  For example, writing romances is much harder for me than writing action/adventure or fantasy.  I'm an action-oriented writer, and I find romance scenes very slow sometimes, which causes me to lose interest easily.  But I love to read romances, so I keep writing them and trying to improve my skills.

I recently did a co-authored project with Jason Brant and that was a total hoot.  I recommend trying new things, getting out of a comfortable zone to spread wings and such.  It helps spark creativeness in my world.

Online Zelah Meyer

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Elle.  I find it very inspiring.   :D

I can't help but admire your focus and your work ethic!

I think I'll probably have to wait until my little one starts school before I can be anything like that productive.  I have hopes that I'll get there one day though!


Offline ellecasey

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Thanks for sharing your system, Elle. Very interesting and informative. I am getting faster the more books I write, but I'm not near a book a month. :)

Could you tell us more about your proofreaders? Where did you find someone who turns it around in a few days? Also, do you do your own formatting and covers or do you outsource? Thanks !

My first proofreaders were my mom and husband and an editor I paid.  Then I dropped the paid editor and stuck with my mom, husband, and a couple beta readers who are grammar fiends.  Now my system is to proofread myself once by reading, then proofread again using NaturalReader software (text to speech), and then I send to my grammar-inclined beta readers (2), my mom and my husband.  They all catch different things.  My last release had 2 errors we didn't catch.  So far, so good.

I do all my own formatting using Scrivener.  It does epub, mobi, and paperback (and Word for editing).  Covers ... it depends.  Some of them are just photo stock with font on them (paid a guy $15 to do them, both ebook and paperback, bought the photos of istockphoto, shutterstock, or bigstockphoto or dreamstime).  Some are digitally enhanced/painted, done by Phatpuppyart.com (Claudia is the bombadier) or by another girl who I don't recommend anymore (she offered a sale on already done artwork and I bought it).  A few covers were made for me by fans (amazing, amazing, love my readers).  Two are artwork I found on deviantart and contacted the artist for permission to use them.  Now I've learned how to do my own font work, so the latest covers are just photos I bought, spiffed up in Adobe Elements, and added font to.

Offline AmsterdamAssassin

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Thanks for your information, Elle. My word count is quite a bit lower than yours and I'm juggling four writing projects at the same time, while taking care of a 2.5 and a 6-year old, so I don't feel bad about my output. It's a marathon to me, and I'm pleased with the books that I published so far.

Keep on sharing, please, it's always a joy to read your insightful posts.


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Offline ellecasey

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Where did you find someone who turns it around in a few days?

Forgot to answer this part ^^

I have had many readers offer to do this for me (proofreading and beta reading), and when I respond, I always say that they have to be able to do it on the fly.  The ones who agree to do that are the ones who get the manuscript, but I don't work with more than 2 at a time outside of my family circle.  I don't think having more opinions is better, since everyone has a different one about some part of the book.  If I listened to everyone it would never get written.  At this point I think most of them view it as a privilege to see the product a little rough and also before everyone else.  They also get to have some input in the final product, which is something to be proud of if you like the author's work.

Offline ellecasey

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Thanks for your information, Elle. My word count is quite a bit lower than yours and I'm juggling four writing projects at the same time, while taking care of a 2.5 and a 6-year old, so I don't feel bad about my output. It's a marathon to me, and I'm pleased with the books that I published so far.

Keep on sharing, please, it's always a joy to read your insightful posts.

The key is to be happy!  My way is not for everyone.  Not for most people, actually.  Anyone who can write anything with little ones around is a miracle-worker in my mind.  I could never do that.  I'm very lucky that my kids are older and my husband is home all day to take care of things.  Without that in place, I'd be lucky to get 3 books done a year.

Offline Joe_Nobody

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Elle,

First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to post this insight. Putting it out there took guts and I respect that.

While I'm not even close to matching your output (9 books in 18 months), I too have suffered from the stigma that quality and quantity are exclusive. I believe it's a simple matter of discipline and having a good team, both for support at home and in the procedures of publishing. The beta readers who can turn a book around in a few days are a Godsend. I'm still missing that part of the equation.

Being able to type at hyper-speed is also a seldom mentioned aspect. I thought I was fast (Momma Nobody was a typing instructor), but you clearly could eat my lunch. Being able to type thoughts as the go through your head has to help a bunch.

Thanks again and best of luck!

  

Offline AKMartin

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Great insight into your writing

thanks for sharing

Anthony
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Offline ottakar

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I really enjoyed reading about your process, very inspiring. But I have a question :)

You said that you don't outline before you write, but how about series? Do you treat them differently than standalone novels?

Offline ellecasey

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Elle,

First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to post this insight. Putting it out there took guts and I respect that.

While I'm not even close to matching your output (9 books in 18 months), I too have suffered from the stigma that quality and quantity are exclusive. I believe it's a simple matter of discipline and having a good team, both for support at home and in the procedures of publishing. The beta readers who can turn a book around in a few days are a Godsend. I'm still missing that part of the equation.

Being able to type at hyper-speed is also a seldom mentioned aspect. I thought I was fast (Momma Nobody was a typing instructor), but you clearly could eat my lunch. Being able to type thoughts as the go through your head has to help a bunch.

Thanks again and best of luck!

  

It is truly my pleasure to help my fellow writers if and when I can.

I took a mandatory typing class in 7th grade, using IBM electric typewriters.  At the end of the semester I could type 65 WPM.  I suspect I'm closer to 90 WPM now.  I can almost keep up with the voices in my head, and yes, that's critical to my output and ability to do what I do.  I tried using a dictation software and it didn't work at all for me.  I couldn't speak my work!  I can only think and type it.   I hope I never lose the use of my hands, or I'll surely drop to one book a year.

For those of you who are hunt-and-peck typers, I highly recommend buying a typing software program and learning how to type professionally.  It will really change how you manage your writing business.  Efficiency is the key in this business (when it comes to the mechanics of book writing/publishing) just like it is in others.  I'd consider it an investment of time to get more time later.

Offline ellecasey

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I really enjoyed reading about your process, very inspiring. But I have a question :)

You said that you don't outline before you write, but how about series? Do you treat them differently than standalone novels?

Nope, I treat all books the same.  The series just evolves with the story.  I have tried to write stand alone novels, but my readers ask for more and I accommodate them, so at this point I don't have any stand alone books anymore.  WRECKED was a stand alone, but about 11 months after, I wrote a sequel RECKLESS at reader request.

Online David J Normoyle

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On output:
I normally get about 400 words written in an hour. I forced myself to write at 1000 words an hour last year for a while. I thought I was making great progress. Then I went back to edit and found I had to rewrite most of the scenes from scratch.

I guess everyone has their own writing process. I'd love to write faster, but have to make do. For some people (like Elle, obviously), the story seems to come out as a torrent of words and ideas. For others, it's more of a dripping faucet.

On the other hand, I can certainly put in more hours, be more focused, spend less time surfing the web etc.


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Offline Scott Daniel

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Amazing, truly, amazing. I hope you don't mind me asking, but I was wondering what your sales are each month - ballpark. With that many novels out, I would think you'd have a pretty steady income stream.

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Offline ellecasey

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Amazing, truly, amazing. I hope you don't mind me asking, but I was wondering what your sales are each month - ballpark. With that many novels out, I would think you'd have a pretty steady income stream.

PM me and I'll give you that info (sales $ figures).  :)

Updated to add:  as far as # of books sold, I sell between 3,500 and 7,000 books a month.  That's just a drop in the bucket for some authors on KB!! Most of mine are priced at $4.99.

I posted on my 1-year anniversary thread (can't find it now) that my first year I sold just under 50,000 books (sold, not given) and made over 6 figures of income.  I will do better than that this year, partially due to the fact that I will have a lot more books to sell.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2013, 04:05:04 AM by ellecasey »

Offline Darren Wearmouth

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I think you have a rare talent madam, on which I could only dream about possessing.

I do enjoy writing and can type at a reasonable speed, unfortunately my brain can't keep up. Five thousand words a day is my limit.

Interesting post, thanks for sharing.