Advice to new authors

Recently I asked the book therapy team for blogging ideas. The newly contract Lisa Jordan asked:

“What about something for the debut author? Some of us are still a little foggy about what types of promotion work, how much of our advance to use for marketing, juggling different stages of book 1 while writing book 2, managing writing time while dealing with other life obligations–job, family, church, etc.”

Great question, Lisa!

In this ever changing world of publishing, e-books on the rise, the popularity of electronically self publishing, it seems the author has to be writer, promoter and marketer. When I was first published seven years ago, there were twitterings of an author spending half of their advance on promotion, but I thought those were just rumors. Heresay. What “one” author had to do.

But it’s true. Then and now. When you get your first contract, plan on setting aside a third or a half for promotion. Consider it seed money for your career. Get it out of your head now that you’re writing to earn income for the family. You’ll be disappointed if you do. You’re writing to tell great stories. You’re writing because it’s your heart and what you love. You’re writing to eventually make some money.

A novelist career is a slow build of readership and dollars. In fact, the two are tightly correlated.

What do you do with those marketing dollars you set aside? Giveaways. Subscribe to a newsletter service. Pay for a good web site design. Hire companies like LitFuse to host a blog tour for your book or run a contest for you. Give away a Nook or a Kindle. Buy business cards. Bookmarks.

You want to start touting your book about two months before the release date. Post on your Facebook and Twitter. FB and Twitter are free and a GREAT way to build relationships with readers. And I do mean relationships. Social media is a conversation not a super cyber market where you only talk about your and your books. Or try to get people to buy something from you.

If you write have a category book like Lisa that has a shelf life of one month, run a blog tour that month. If you’re book is a trade and has a longer shelf life, you might consider running a blog tour the month of your release and maybe a few months later. I always run my blog tours three months after the release date. Whatever promo or marketing publisher might have done would be fading by then as they moved on to their next quarter releases so I jump in and boost my books with a blog tour.

Spend about fifteen minutes a day on social media. Twitter a few times throughout the day. Look at others tweets and retweet them. Post on your Facebook. Answer comments others might have posted. Don’t stress over it, but try to stay engaged.

Managing your time is key to success. Whether writing a book or not. Your number one job as a writer, besides carrying for your family, is to write a great book. Before promo and social media, write a great book. Don’t get distracted with other things. If your writing suffers it’s hard to pull together again and get focused. Since we all work differently and have different responsibilities, it’s hard for me to say, “This is how YOU must mange your time.”

I have no children. I can write all day. I can goof around all day. I can do pretty much what I want. So if I were to say, “write every day from noon to five,” that might not work for you.

Here’s what I can tell you. Get a hold of your time. Schedule your days. Some people can schedule down to every 15 minutes! Yowza! Not me. I schedule in blocks. Morning. Afternoon. Evening. But I know what needs to be done and about how long it will take me to do it — more or less.

Talk to your husband and kids. Figure a way to involve the family in your success as a writer. Some authors have office days. Those are the days they work on the business, answer interview questions, email, do promo or marketing. I’m not that popular of an author to really need a day to get in touch with all the throngs who want to talk to me, soooo, I answer interview questions and email as they come in.

I have a program called Concentrate that shuts off my internet for whatever time I specify. When I’m on a deadline or need to get focused and finish a project, I launch Concentrate. I have it set for 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes, this computer lady comes on and says, “You are brilliant, keep working.” LOL. It’s great. When I get the twitch to goof off on the internet for a few seconds, I realize I can’t because of Concentrate, and I keep working. Yeah, I could turn it off but somehow that feels like cheating to me.

It’s important for writers to stay involved in life, in our families, in our churches and communities. Don’t say yes to everything that comes your way. No is a good word. But pray and ask the Lord to show you what He’s called you to do.

Cut off the noise like TV. Really. Amuse is the opposite of muse which is what we must do to write. I love movies and a good TV show. I learn from them. But in my house we only watch DVDs or Netflix instant. There is no nightly TV watching or channel surfing. When I had that option, it was a huge distraction. Five o’clock? Rerun of Gilmore Girls and I’ll be if I just didn’t quit working to watch.

Stop the excuses. If you’re a soft, giving personality, learn to toughen up and say no. If you have an addiction to TV, cut the cable for awhile. If you’re doing too much, let go of a few things. Don’t feel guilty or condemned. If God’s called you to be a writer, He’ll give you time to write. He’s not called you to do all and be all to everyone else so you don’t have time to write. Or so you have to sit in a corner of the house at midnight with your laptop on your knees writing while everyone else sleeps so you can get your word count. No, He’ll give you the time. Don’t fill it up with other things.

Writing is a job. Do it with excellence. Manage your time. Pray hard.

And whatever you do, don’t quit.



Continuing the Inner Journey…creating tension in the middle of your novel!

Yesterday we started our character’s spiritual journey by asking:  What lie do they believe?  (by the way, I often use this when chatting with children, or eve myself when confronted with behaviors that might not be healthy…it’s a good exercise!)

Armed with the lie, the first thing you want to do on the journey, probably in that first scene is PROVE IT to your hero.  (a note here – every POV character needs their own lie journey!)

Step 2 – Confirmation of the Lie – Proof
What can you do to convince the hero that his lie is true?  You want to do something at the beginning of the book that will cement him into this lie – of course, it needs to be something that only pushes him deeper in trouble.

In one of my favorite books, Nothing But Trouble, PJ Sugar, my heroine believes that she can do no right – and that God isn’t on her side.  In fact, that she’s a sort of misfit, and that He has no use for her, even though she is saved.  And, in the first part of the book, we really see this as true – her “pastor” boyfriend rejects her, her nephew whom she is supposed to take care of hates her, and when she tries to help a friend in trouble, it only backfires on her.  She is convinced that she is trouble.

Let’s take another movie – the Patriot. There’s a great line in the beginning of the movie – I have long feared that the sins of my past would come back to revisit me.   This a great line because it not only tells the lie – that he believes that because of his past, that he’s beyond redemption, but then and he “proves” it throughout the movie – up until even his oldest son is killed.   Set up the lie, and then prove it to the hero/heroine.

Since we’ve been studying Eagle Eye this year, let’s apply this Lie.  Our hero believes he will never be the hero that his brother was.  (a decorated soldier).  This lie is confirmed when he walks into the church of his brother’s funeral and says, “I’m not him.”  Then we see him walking up to the casket and the brutal comparison of who he is versus who his brother was.

Book Therapist Question: Do you have a PROOF moment in the beginning of your story?

So…Step Two of building the Lie Journey:  Proof
Step 3 –  The Voice of Truth

In every book, you should have someone who is outside the lie.  Someone who see the truth and can declare it – either directly, or in their actions, or in some sub-texted speech to the hero/heroine.  Going back to the Patriot, his father believes  — because of his past, that being “bloodthirsty” is the only way to win the war, and he and Gabriel, who represents the voice of truth – there can be honor in war – have a discussion about the kind of people they should be recruiting.  His son says, as Martin is melting down the chess pieces of his deceased son’s army men,

If you’re here only for revenge,
you’re doing a disservice to Thomas
as well as yourself.

He implants the idea that they are there for a higher purpose.  It’s not about being bloodthirsty, but being men of honor.  Martin struggles to see the difference…because he wasn’t a man of honor before…and isn’t sure he can be one now.

The Voice of Truth in Eagle Eye is both the brother (in memory) and the heroine.  She makes a comment about her deadbeat husband that someone has to pay the bills, someone has to be responsible.  It’s this tidbit of truth, and others (like his brother, in memory, believing in him when he learns to walk, or hits a baseball), conspire to convince him that he is there for a higher purpose….and lead him into Step 4. (Until, of course, he realizes he’s been duped into reactivating the deadly assassination program).

Book Therapist Question:  Do you have any voices of truth?  Look through your cast – who could deliver truth to your hero/heroine?

So…Step Three: Add in a Voice of Truth

Step 4 –   The realization of the Lie and the testing of the truth

At some point, your hero has to see that he’s been living in the lie, and that he CAN change.  He has to see there is another way – if only he can embrace the truth.  He might even try it –

For example, again, going back to the Patriot, there is moment where Martin’s band attacks a redcoat caravan.  There are a number of soldier who want to surrender, but Marin’s band kills them.  Gabriel, the Voice of Truth, is horrified, and seeing his horror, Martin decides to try it his way – he declares that they will give mercy to all the other captured soldiers in the future.  And then, he sort of “tests the water” by saving the two Great Danes.  Later on, those Great Danes come to love Martin and are loyal to him – a sort of metaphorical truth that when he does right, he will earn other’s esteem and be the man he wants to be.

Again, looking at Eagle Eye, Jerry Shaw begins to consider that his brother had a plan – especially when the heroine suggests it.  He takes on the mantle of  hero and helps the heroine survive all the way until the black moment, when he realizes that he has doomed the president and will be named as a traitor because of his action.

Book Therapist Question: Look at your plot – right around the beginning of Act 2, is when your hero realizes the lie.  Do you have this moment?

So – Step Four: give them a realization and an attempt to test the truth

Next week, we’re going to revisit the Black Moment and talk about how to weave the lie in for maximum Black Moment effect!

Susie May

The Inner Journey of your Suspense character

We’re discussing ACT 3 of a Suspense! Last week we broke apart the Black Moment.  This week and next, we’re going to talk about the second part of the Black Moment…the inner journey element.

The purpose of every story is the inner change of the POV characters.  The external events are simply a catalyst to drive home the changes the characters need to make.

At MBT, we call this the Lie Journey.

As an overview, the premise of the Lie Journey is that every character has a lie they believe, based on something that happened in their past.  This lie has determined their behavior and choices until the start of their journey. However, this journey is about breaking that lie and helping your character become a better person, or at least examining the person they are, the things they believe in.  They attempt to break free of this in Act 2, but in Act 3, the Black Moment convinces them that the Lie is true, and they will never break free.

Unless they have a…

Overhaul/Epiphany.  The journey your character is on is to teach him something, and to bring him to some sort of wholeness.  However, he can’t change unless he sees some sort of “truth.”  Every book has this – even ABA books.  Maybe the hero realizes it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  Maybe he realizes the world isn’t against him, or that some things are worth fighting for (this is often also called the Moral Premise).  Whatever it is…it’s after the Greatest Fear and Lie come true that he realizes he’s trapped…and it’s this truth that sets him free.  This is the point of his journey.  And when he accepts this truth, he is suddenly overhauled…a new person, the hero he was meant to be.  A hero ready for the final battle.

As a reader, I don’t want the internal or spiritual plot to be so thick that it strangles me – and as a writer, I don’t want to strangle my reader.  I want the story to intrigue, to draw my reader deeper, to allow them to look at the issues and wrestle with them without feeling as though they are told what to believe and think.  I want a journey for my character that feels unique, and yet personal – both to the character, and ultimately for the reader.

How do we do this?

Every story has a character on an inner journey – that’s actually the point of the journey – to teach your hero and heroine some truth that will change their lives.  Even for general market books, a character is on this journey – they just don’t point to the source of truth.

So, whether you are writing a Gen Market or a CBA book, you need to know how to develop that “spiritual “ element.

Let’s start, first, with some of the “truths” we’ve seen character’s learn –
What’s the truth in Return to Me?  That our hero CAN love again. (remember the line about how his wife’s heart fit perfectly into his new love’s chest – that piece that says…she was designed for him to love her).  For her, that she can be free to love this man, that she didn’t “steal” the heart, or him.

How about the Princess Bride:  True Love wins the day!

How about the Hunt for Red October (you know I had to bring this up!)  That peace is worth risking a war.  (or perhaps, winning is worth risking a war?)


So…You might start out with a truth you want to reveal.  Or, you might start out on the journey, not sure where you’re going to end up.  Either way, you need a game plan on how you are going to get there.  How are you going to move your hero along on his spiritual journey?

Let’s start with a roadmap:

Step 1 – Spiritual Darkness –    The Lie they believe
In plotting my stories, you know I often start with a story question – and the same thing goes for the spiritual thread.  Whether is it a story about a man fighting his father’s (and his own) low expectations (Eagle Eye), or a man uncovering his past (The Bourne Identity), your character will begin in a place of spiritual unrest.  Defining that for the reader, through metaphor, or dialogue or situation will give you a place to start from, spiritually.

I don’t want to drive you crazy by continually reiterating this concept, but knowing your hero’s dark past will help you understand their lie….

Maybe we should veer for one second and talk about the lie…

Does my hero HAVE to believe in a lie?

We get this question sometimes when we’re working with clients in a Book Therapy session.  Clients have done so much work creating the character, trying to figure out who he is, and it just seems like another mindless question.

It’s not.  In fact, I build my characters on just a few key questions, the most important ones that comprise our lives.   The Lie They Believe is one of the essential questions that threads throughout the entire book.  Without the lie, you don’t know what the truth is you’re aiming for.  Without the lie, you don’t know how he/she builds their lives, what their view on the world is, even their everyday choices.

In my current novel, My Foolish Heart, one of my heroes – Seb, lives life in the glory days of his past.  He believes he’s made too many mistakes and that if he can just return to his days of football, by being the coach of his old small town team, he will be able to overcome his mistakes.  His lie is that he is only as good as those glory days…that he’ll never be more.  This lie keeps him from being able to see the man he could be, without football (egads!)  Of course the truth is that he can be any man he wants to be.  Because it is an inspirational book, I add in the element that God has a plan for Seb, and that he needs to trust God for that plan and for the man he will be.
We now have a picture of our hero, and can determine his everyday choices, and maybe even his mannerisms and behavior.  For example a man like Seb, reveling in the glory days, will talk about his past exploits, and lean heavily on his choices and friendships of the past.  Knowing the lie helps your character to walk onto the page fully formed.

So, again, you start by going to that dark moment in their past and ask:  What lie do you believe from that dark moment?

Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to incorporate the lie in to your journey.

Happy Writing!

Susie May

Book Two Starring… Book One’s Secondary Character!

We all love the sequel don’t we? Rocky 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…

Oceans 11, 12 and 13.

Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum. Personal favorites of mine. Jason Bourne just rocks.

But I love Back to the Future 1 and 3. Two, not so much.

Yet all of these sequels star the same recurring characters.

What would happen if Rocky 7 became Son of Rocky and Sylvester Stallone played a secondary role, if any role at all, and some new guy, say Jesse Metcalf, played Rocky’s son.

For all practical purposes you have a brand new story and it must be treated as such. You can’t rely on the old Rocky standards of hit movie making. You can’t just promote Rocky’s son into his father’s place. He has to take on a broader, more dynamic characterization and take the movie series to a whole new place.

I talk to a lot of writers who series in mind while writing their first novel. Often questions I have about the current WIP (work-in-progress) is answered with, “… in book two we find out that…”

Personally, I think writing with a series in mind, especially for a new writer, is a mistake. Why? Because we typecast our own characters. We get stuck on something we like about them and can’t let go. After all, it was in the first book, why not the second? It’s hard to even consider that the character’s endearing flaw doesn’t work when they are the lead protagonist.

Having a series in mind also causes you to ride the clutch. You have fun little tidbits for your next book and you drag out the action or tension in the first book so you can drop bombs in the next.

Writers do this even in stand alone books. Rehash a story point for three to five chapters then, boom! drop a revealing plot point. Don’t drag it out. Drop the bombs. It’s even worse if the writer has a sequel in mind.

It hampers you.

Novels must stand alone. What if there is no book two or three? Then what? It’s fine to hint at on going issues or problems, but you must never leave a reader with questions because you want to save some plot reveal for book two.

Tell it all! You can still come up with something juicy for the rest of the series. Pack the story with action and problems, and bring them to a satisfying conclusion.


Did you know that….


Series don’t sell well. They just don’t. I know we see them all over the place, but book one sells well, but book two less than one and book three more than two but less than one. I know! It sounds like a math word problem. But it’s true.

Most publisher don’t put a lot of stock in a series. They just want good stories that can stand alone. If there’s a tie-in to other characters or to a setting, good. They love it. But banking on a series sell is not a big deal to most publishers.


So, free yourself up to write a good, solid first novel and if you have story left over that is strong enough to develop a book two from, then go for it.

Create strong secondary characters that can take the lead in another novel.

When I was writing Sweet Caroline, I had no real thoughts of a sequel. I’d planned on doing another lowcountry book, but Caroline was a completely stand alone story in my mind.

Then Elle walked onto the page and by the time I was done with Caroline’s story, Elle earned the right to have her name on the cover of a book.

I loved Elle. She was funny, savvy, smart, beautiful. Light on the page. An encourager, a Jesus girl, a friend’s friend.

When I decided to write her story, we almost divorced. The honeymoon was over. Oy! Everything changed. Elle became a complex, difficult character I had to discover.

Recently I worked with the fab Beth Voghts on her second Howard book. When I read the first chapter, the heroine didn’t appeal to me at all. She was shallow and inconsistent. When I sent my feedback to Beth, she was a bit flummoxed. (Yes, Beth, you were flummoxed! What a word!)

“I love this character,” she said. “Meghan was so fun in the first book.”

Ah-ha! Beth had run into the paralyzing problem of a secondary character becoming the star of her own story.

Same thing happened to me in Love Starts with Elle. Suddenly the vibrant, over-the-top girl seemed frivolous and petty, kind of self-focused.

Then as I developed her character and crafted her story, and gave her some depth by contrasted her greatest fear with her secret desire, then turned her world upside down, she became a dynamic, empathetic character. And very hard to write … just like all my other heroines!

What gives?

Secondary characters are often the light and huor of our stories. They speak truth when no one else will. They add depth and tension to the protagonist. While they also have their problems – Elle set up Operation Wedding Day in an effort to find a husband in Sweet Caroline– they are more light hearted. Less angst filled. The let downs aren’t so deep. They rebound quicker and easier.

But once he or she is the main character, you have to dig into the psychie and figure out the protagonist’s darkest moment, her lie, her fears, her wants and desires.

For Beth, the fun girl who loved shopping and Starbucks coffee had to have deeper issues that missing a sale at Target. So she rolled up her sleeve and went to work.


Here’s some tips on how to make the secondary character a sparkling protagonist.


  1. Based on the character’s appearance in the first novel, lay out all the great things about her and then ask why? Why does she love to shop? Why does she love Starbucks? Why does she love to wear skirts, bangle bracelets, and green eye shadow? Why did she launch Operation Wedding Day?
  2. Once you’ve done the basic intel on your character, get out your My Book Therapy Book Buddy and do your character work. What’s her greatest fear? Secret desire? What’s the lie she believes about herself, life and God? What dark moment from her past defines her? What does she want in this story?For Elle, I started with her story with a proposal from her dream man. Or was he really? She quickly realizes she’s not in love with him. When their relationship breaks up, where does she go from there? What does she really want? What is this story about?

    For me, it was difficult to write a much more troubled and flawed Elle. I kept thinking she was too dark and sad, but in truth she was finally beginning to shine.

  3. Give your protagonist heart and soul. What does she love? What does he want out of life? What are her dreams and fears? What would she do anything to achieve? What would she give up for someone she loves?
  4. Create secondary characters to bring out the hero and heroine’s great qualities. “Show” them through the eyes of others. For Elle, I used her troubled sister Julianne to highlight Elle’s compassion and wisdom. It also created a more emotional story over all.
  5. Pause. Slow down. Think about what your character is going through? Beth was struggling to let go of her original premise about her secondary character now heroine. She was writing Meghan exactly as she was in book one and it wasn’t working. She was too frivolous and casual.When we talked about the story, Beth often answered with surface traits or habits, Meghan’s avant-garde side and her wacky mannerisms – all things that made Meghan great in the first book. But Beth didn’t have a handle on what would make her great in her own story.

    Beth got to work and did some deeper digging to Meghan’s core. Her essence. And she transformed her character and her book.

  6. The former primary characteristics of the secondary must take a back seat and a deeper, more meaningful character must be developed. Be warned, they are harder to write. But in the end, you’ll have a much more dynamic and well rounded character and story.
  7. Remember, books aren’t written, they are rewritten.



Hope these tips help. Write on!