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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Juggling Plots, Characters, Publishers and Editors…Keeping it All Straight—by Elizabeth S. Craig

Today's guest blog is by Elizabeth Spann Craig. I first met Elizabeth through the Carolina Conspiracy several years ago. I have been very impressed with her meteoric rise in the publishing industry. Her latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released just last week on June 7th, will be another winner. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011. I know you'll enjoy her post today. Please leave comments and visit Elizabeth's blog, also! You can follow her on Twitter at @elizabethscraig

Juggling Plots, Characters, Publishers and Editors…Keeping it All Straight
—by Elizabeth S. Craig

Currently, I’m working on two different series for two different editors for two different imprints of Penguin—Berkley Prime Crime and NAL.

I’ve also worked in the past for two entirely different publishers (Midnight Ink and Penguin’s Berkley Prime Crime) simultaneously.

Is it hard to keep everything straight and work with different publishers? I’d like to say no, but actually, it’s not easy sometimes.

If you’re about to find yourself in this situation, here are some tips you might want to keep in mind:

Although it’s tempting to compare and contrast your publishers, resist the urge. Comparing publishers is really an apples and oranges thing, unless you’re comparing two of the largest publishers. Publishers are working with different budgets, which means distribution and publicity efforts will be different. If you do compare and contrast your publishers, try not to say anything damaging about them. Publishing is really a very small community and I’ve seen industry gossip backfire on writers…better just to keep any negative thoughts private.

Different editors have different expectations for their writers. Knowing this going in can help prevent any writer insecurity. I’ve heard from some writers who were worried that their lack of personal contact with their editor meant that the editor didn’t enjoy working with them. I can honestly say that, of the three editors I’ve worked with, some really enjoy a more personal relationship with their writers and some would rather communicate with you through your agent. Some editors will ask for outlines for future books, others are happy to have you create without you sharing your plans for the next story. Everyone works differently.

Keeping it all straight:

Series bible—This is the best way to keep your stories straight. My series bible helps me keep track of character ages, traits, habits, hobbies; setting details; and any details of recurring subplots. I know a couple of writers who keep track of these things on an Excel sheet, but I use Word. I type out each character’s name, how old they are, where they live in the town, what they look like, where they’re originally from, etc. Although it doesn’t seem like it would be confusing to write one book, then another, I’ve accidentally had cross-series appearances by supporting characters before I found and deleted them. :)

Be creative on one series while revising the other. I’ve had deadlines at nearly the same time for the different series, but I have to recommend that you try not to be creative for more than one book at a time. So far I’ve been able to finish writing a draft for one series while doing the edits for the other series. Once I did try to do creative work for two series at once…then I quickly stopped. But then, I can’t really read two books at once, as a reader, either. My editors have also been very much aware that I’m working on more than one series and have checked with me in advance when setting deadlines. But if you’re at two different publishers, this is less likely to be the case.

Make sure you review your books before you speak to a book club. Those folks are really sharp, have just finished reading your book, and are prone to asking detailed questions. It’s not fun to suddenly start talking about a character in another series or a plot twist that happened in a different book! I have a detailed cheat sheet for each book. This is, basically, a long synopsis. Sometimes I can’t remember the ins and outs of all the plots (and mysteries can get convoluted with clues, red herrings, and alibis.) These cheat sheets are lifesavers.

Have you got any tips for keeping characters and series straight? Are you writing more than one book at a time? And…thanks for hosting me today, Trish!

Remember to pick up a copy of Elizabeth's latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released on June 7th!She also blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabethscraig


Margot Kinberg said...

Elizabeth - Thanks so much for these ideas! I especially like your "series bible" idea. Even if one's only working on one series, it can be really hard to keep characters, backstories and so on straight. It's got to be even harder if one's got a few series going. And if one updates the "series bible" as one goes along, it doesn't have to be particularly time-consuming.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

It really can help. It's so easy to mix up the more inconsequential settings between 2 series or get small details wrong. And you're right...if you keep up with it as you go along, it's really not too time-consuming to do.

p.m.terrell said...

I really like the Series Bible idea, also. I remember a book by Patricia Cornwell where one of her characters aged 17 years in 3 years' time. It's so easy to forget some details about characters when you're working on multiple projects.

Laura Marcella said...

It's amazing how you can keep it all straight, Elizabeth! These are really great tips; I especially like the Series Bible idea.

Helen Ginger said...

Excellent advice from a pro. Thank you so much, Elizabeth!

Mason Canyon said...

Great tips. It's interesting to see how you can write several series at one time and keep everything straight.

Thoughts in Progress
Freelance Editing By Mason

Maryann Miller said...

Wonderful tips, as usual, Elizabeth. I'm glad I am not the only one who cannot write, or read, two stories at one time. I know some authors who work on one book in the morning and another in the afternoon. I used to be able to juggle writing fiction in the morning and non-fiction in the afternoon, and that still works for me when I make myself stick to that schedule and do my blogs, etc, in the afternoon.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No, I can only handle on project at a time! If I ever have the problem of two different publishers, I'll keep all of that mind.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

P.M. Terrell--Ack! No, that's not usually cool for readers. That's too much water under the bridge!

Laura--Hope it helps if you're looking to write a couple of projects at once. :)

Helen--Thanks for coming by!

Mason--Editing on one while brainstorming the other really can help.

Maryann--I just quickly end up confused. But that's easy to do!

Alex--It's kind of a fun challenge! Most of the time. :)

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, man--I hope I have this problem soon, but it intimidates me anyway. You do such an amazing job. Those summaries are a great idea, though i confess the idea of writing them gives me hives. I should probably give in and just do it, though. As for editing and creative... I can't do them at once, but I DO need to set books aside for a while, so alternating works well with that.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Hart--It's a pretty dry activity, I have to admit. Time consuming on the front end, but it's saved me some grief farther down the line, for sure. Fingers crossed that you'll be experiencing this problem soon!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I'm much too big a klutz to juggle, but I'd love to someday do THIS kind of juggling. Thanks for the tips.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Susan--I'm a klutz, too! This is the only thing I've learned to juggle. :) Hope you'll do the same some day soon.

p.m.terrell said...

My hat is off to you, Elizabeth, for all that you are able to juggle! I truly appreciate you blogging for us this week, and I deeply appreciate all who stopped by, read your post, and commented. I have a feeling it won't be long before we're seeing your name on the New York Times bestseller list, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I've really enjoyed it! Thanks so much for hosting me (and, as far as the NYT bestseller--if only!) :)