10 Things I wish I’d known before writing a trilogy

Three Covers

With the publication of Genesis Redux only a handful of days away, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the past four years of writing the Transcendence Trilogy. Here are my top ten:

1 It’s better if each book works as a stand alone story

There is nothing wrong in writing a trilogy which has to be read in order. Some of my favourite books were written that way. If you tried reading The Two Towers before The Fellowship of the Ring, you’d be totally lost. But as an indie author, you need to maximise the opportunity of each book launch.

The one thing I’d change if I started my trilogy over again is to make each book work as a stand alone novel. As the first book, Second Chance works on its own. I’ve been told Absent Souls works as a stand alone novel, although it wasn’t designed that way. However, you really need to have read the first two books in the series to make sense of Genesis Redux.

Why is this a problem? Because, while having this structure works for the story, it means I’ve restricted the audience for Genesis Redux significantly. Having three books that work as both stand alone and in a series allows readers the chance to join the story at any stage, rather than just at the beginning.

2 The longer the series, the harder it is to avoid back story dumping

Are you one of those people who hate the ‘previously’ montage at the beginning of a TV programme? Me too. I’m the same with books. There’s nothing worse than having to read a chapter-sized synopsis of earlier events before you start. Actually, there is. It’s multiple paragraphs of back story – often explained through ‘as you remember’ dialogue – slowing the whole book down.

Yet I can understand the temptation, because when completing a trilogy you often have to bring together elements that happened one or two books previously, which is fine if you’re binge reading the series but not if you read book the previous novels more than a year before.

For me, the best authors solve this problem by drip-feeding small memory joggers throughout the text, usually in earlier chapters, so the reader is informed without realising and but doesn’t have to wade through pages of exposition to get there.

3 Multiple storylines are and blessing and a curse

I love books that entwine multiple character journeys into one narrative whole. It’s why I wrote the Transcendence Trilogy as I have. It’s a great way of introducing different perspectives to a situation, moving the story forward in a non-linear way, and keeping the reader engaged. But the more storylines you add, the more difficult it is to retain focus on the overall story arc. At the same time, there is a danger that readers are more likely to become attached to one character more than others, especially if they aren’t your main protagonist.

The key here is always to look at what’s best for the story. I used to play in a band and our mantra was ‘it’s all about the song.’ It doesn’t matter if you are playing the most simple, repetitive baseline or beat, if it makes the song sound great, don’t over-complicate it. It’s the same with your novel, if a storyline or POV becomes a distraction from the main story, cut it out.

4 The cast list can become uncontrollable

Most trilogies start small and expand as the series goes on, both in location and cast size. Developing such a large cast is great fun to write as you get to play around with many different personalities and perspectives, but when it comes to the third book you need to bring everything back to a satisfactory closure. This isn’t easy when each character has their own ideas of what they should be doing. It’s easy to end up either trying to herd cats, or to end up with cast members being wheeled in for one chapter just to close their storyline, only to be wheeled off again.

While I have many supporting characters, I’ve always focussed on one main storyline shown through the lens of the core cast members. This has meant that I’ve been able to leave whole swathes of my extended cast list to carry on living their lives ‘off camera’ while focussing on the main storyline. Of course, on the odd occasion I’ve also gone all George R R Martin on them – warning, Game of Thrones spoilers.

5 Small points in earlier books can trip you up later

You’re at the climax of book three. Years of effort has got you to this point. You’re protagonist is tied up next to a bomb with the counter close to zero – because you have to have a countdown, right? If the bomb blows up, so does the boarding school, killing the President’s son and possibly starting world war three. But your hero has enough movement to get his teeth next to the handful of green and red wires controlling the device. He has to bite through each green wire with his steel teeth in the next ten seconds to save the day. If he bites through a red one, bye bye Pres junior.

It’s at this point you remember that way back at the beginning of book one you decided to make your character colour blind. It was a quirky choice, made to give this otherwise alpha male a weakness. You loved it at the time as it was far less clichéd than him being an orphan, but now this small detail has ruined months of work. If only you’d given him a club foot.

You’ll be amazed how many times a small, throwaway detail in an earlier book will cause you problems later on. Keeping track of these, especially three books down the line, is incredibly hard. Many authors keep detailed character profiles to help avoid these issues. However, there is another way to help solve these issues …

6 There are advantages to waiting until all books are written before publishing

By waiting until all three novels are written, you can go back and change or add detail in earlier books to help solve later plotting issues. You can also cut characters out or add prominence to others due to their importance – or lack of – in the final book. Then there is the fact that over the period of creating your three novels, your writing skills will have improved, allowing you the chance to go back an improve your earlier books. The other main advantage is that you will concentrate solely on your writing, rather than marketing and promotion.

There are also good commercial reasons for waiting. Many readers won’t buy a book series until all books are published, and launching each book rapidly, one after the other, gives you a great chance to make a noise and to continue to push your series without the message becoming tired.

7 There are advantages to publishing each once written

Despite everything I said above, there are also advantages to publishing each book as they are written. The longer your book is out there, the more chance you have of building an audience for your second and third books. And the shelf life of books is long. Even if you are only selling one or two books a month, the total numbers of readers you’ve built up by the time your third novel comes around will be significant.

The other advantage is that you can gain some great feedback on what works and what doesn’t from your audience, helping to shape and focus your writing. However, this isn’t always a good thing.

8 You can end up liking your characters too much

As a writer I want readers to relate to your characters but this only works if they do that despite a character’s flaws. I really loved the first couple of seasons of Dexter because I found myself rooting for Dexter only to be shocked each time he returned to his true character and murdered somebody. It was a great balancing act. However, as soon as he gained control of his impulses and he lost his edge, I lost interest.

When a writer falls too much in love with a character, especially an antagonist, and starts to change their personality to make them more likeable, they lose the essence of what made the character great in the first place. There is nothing wrong with flipping a story around to empathise with a character’s motivation, but avoid the temptation to smooth out your character’s rough edges, or even worse, change their personality completely to make them more likeable.

9 Tying everything up is incredibly hard

Writing endings can be incredibly difficult. One of my favourite writers, Stephen King, is notoriously bad at it. One of the reasons it has taken nearly 18 months to finish Genesis Redux is that I wanted to get the ending right, and with many characters and multiple threads, ensuring each storyline reached a satisfying conclusion was very difficult.

The key here, for me, is to know where you are heading. Before starting Absent Souls I had a very clear idea of where the main story was heading and why. What I didn’t know was the how, and that’s been the fund part over the past few years. I think this is the main reason I’ll always plot my books out, even if just in a rough outline form. By knowing where I was heading early enough, I was able to nudge things in the right direction without it looking as if the plot was driving the characters. At least, that’s what I hope!

10 In the end, it’s a relief to move on to something else

The great news about finishing the trilogy is that I can finally start work on the many other ideas I’ve had since I began writing the series back in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters and will miss them all, but it’s time to let them go and allow others a chance to shine. That said, I could always go back at a later date …

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

My recent promotion – the results

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If you’re a regular follower of this blog you’ll know I ran a promotion over the weekend for both Second Chance and Absent Souls and I wanted to share my results with you.

Background

Outside of blogging and the rare promotional tweet, up until June this year I’ve rarely run a book promotion. Second Chance was published in January 2014 and has stayed in the minor charts on amazon.co.uk ever since. Its sequel, Absent Souls, was published November 2014. There is a third book due out later this year (if I pull my finger out).

I’ve been lucky that I’ve had success with both books on Amazon.co.uk but my efforts of getting noticed in the US have been virtually zero. This is bad news for my sales (the US is by far the largest single ebook market) but good news for testing promotional effectiveness.

I’m not intending to heavily promote my books until book 3 of the trilogy is finished but I wanted to test the effectiveness of different forms of advertising beforehand to see where to focus. I ran my first paid ad in June this year through Booksends, offering Second Chance for free. At the same time I put Absent Souls on a 99c/99p countdown deal. Over the three days Second Chance was downloaded 1000 times and I should enough copies of Absent Souls to cover my costs. While my sales on amazon.com since then have been flat, my pages read (both my books are in Kindle Unlimited) resulted in a higher income than before but were starting to tail off after two months.

The Goal

As in any business, your book promotion should have a goal. My goal was to increase awareness of my two books on Amazon.com, gain new mailing list subscribers and to cover the cost of advertising. I would also hope to see an increase (read: any) in sales and/or pages read over the following weeks.

Promotion Plan

Use the same offer, Second Chance for free and Absent Souls for 99c/99p over three days.

Day 1 – Promote only on my blog, a promotional post by the wonderful author Tammy Salyer, and one or two promotional tweets.

Day 2 – Two adverts placed, one with Ereader News Today (ENT) and the other with Robin Reads. I’d originally planned to promote only with ENT but I’d heard Robin Reads had a good UK following, and as they had a space free I thought I’d try them as well. The cost of both came to the same amount as the cost of the one promotion with Booksends.

Day 3 – No promotion other than the odd tweet.

The Results

IMG_3394Day 1228 downloads of Second Chance.

This was a surprise as I’d expected maybe 50 with so little promotion, so thank you to everybody who took the time to support the promotion with tweets, reblogs or by telling their friends.

Day 21830 downloads of Second Chance.

Because both mailing lists are US based, the first (Robin Reads) didn’t go out until 3pm UK time. I immediately noticed an upsurge of downloads at this point, from around 30 to over 300 by the time the ENT mailing went out at 5:30pm UK time. This is when things went crazy. By the end of the day I’d reached no.2 in the free science fiction/cyberpunk charts, no.8 in the science fiction charts and had broken into the overall top 100 at no. 65. This was well beyond my wildest expectations and a little surreal.

The down side was that I made hardly a ripple on amazon.co.uk, so either the information about Robin Reads was incorrect, or the majority had already bought my book. 🙂

Day 3385 downloads of Second Chance

Over the same period Absent Souls hit no. 13,000 in the overall paid charts, with total sales more than covering the costs of the promotion.

Conclusion

It’s always a little dangerous drawing conclusions from such little data, however it’s clear promoting on two mailing lists was more effective than one. I know this may sound like common sense but remember I paid the same amount of money for the June promotion and the one last weekend.

I also believe you need momentum for a successful promotion. The promotion in June met my goals but it only got Second Chance into the top 50 of the Science Fiction charts. Breaking into the top 10 of science fiction, and the top 100 overall, meant Second Chance was visible to a much larger audience, giving it a second chance (no pun intended) to be seen and downloaded by readers other than those on the mailing list.

For the longer term goals it’s too early to say. I know from Kevin Brennan’s blog earlier this year, that high free downloads doesn’t automatically mean higher sales, but even if I don’t reach this goal as yet, I’ve learnt another lesson on the effectiveness of different promotional options and strategies.

What about you? If you’re a writer, which promotional routes do you find most effective? Or if you’re an avid reader, have you signed up to any bargain book mailing lists and if so, which ones? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Second Chance is #Free on #Kindle this weekend

Two Covers

I’m delighted to let you know that Second Chance, my near-future thriller is available as a FREE Ebook on Kindle from the 29th – 31st August. You can download it today by clicking on one of the links below.

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.com click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.co.uk click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.ca click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.com.au click here

 

And if that isn’t a good enough bargain, you can also buy the sequel, Absent Souls, for just 99p/99c from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

To buy Absent Souls for 99c from Amazon.com click here

To buy Absent Souls for 99p from Amazon.co.uk click here

Two great books for just 99p/99c. Happy Friday!

Praise for Second Chance

“Political intrigue, neuroscience, a missing-persons investigation – this well-written novel has it all.” – Carrie Rubin, author of The Seneca Scourge

“a highly entertaining and thought-provoking first novel” – Vaughan Stanger, author of Moondust Memories

“Overall I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers looking for an engaging science-fiction or political thriller.” – Dave Higgins, Davetopia Blog and author of Greenstar Season 1

“This is a slick, well written book with a strong storyline and plenty of narrative tension.” – Sarah J Higby – Brainfluff blog

Praise for Absent Souls

A pacy story with a cast of vividly drawn characters and plenty to keep the reader engaged.” – Julie Lawford, author of Singled Out

Thought-provoking, well-written and very enjoyable.” – Roughseasinthemed blog

“Absent Souls plunges the reader into the action from the first chapter, and the pace doesn’t let up. ” – Katrina Montfort, author of Future Perfect

KU pages read stats – a new obsession

reading-over-shoulder

image source: bookriot.com

When Amazon announced they were changing their Kindle Unlimited payment scheme from ‘flat rate per loan’ to a payment for each page read there was a lot of debate about its impact on publishing. One thing missed, however, was its impact on authors themselves, specifically being able to ‘see’ people read your work.

When Amazon KDP launched their new scheme they also launched a report allowing authors to see how many page reads were captured per day, and like KDP’s other reports, this one is updated on a regular (hourly?) basis. For many authors, especially those selling at reasonable volumes, the report will show the thousands or tens of thousands of pages read per day in a steady stream. For those of us with more modest sales, the experience is very different.

It took a couple of days before I received my first KU download under the new system. I’d seen the sales rank bump – because I monitor my sales more often than is healthy – and waited with excitement to see the pages read appear on the new report.

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. Perhaps the report has a few teething problems, I thought, or the reader is finishing another book before starting on mine. I tried not to let the lack of activity bother me, but the lack of activity needled me more than I wished to admit. Then, on the second day, the graph had changed. It registered 51 pages read from the day before. Somebody was reading my book!

The most logical thing to do at this point would have been to close the report and get on with my life, but no, I had to know more. So I tried to work out the exact point they had read up to. The Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) for Second Chance is 524 pages. The print book has 305 pages so at roughly 1.72 KENPC per print page I deduced that the reader had stopped at page 30 or the start of chapter 5. I was thrilled, it’s the point where the multiple threads of the opening chapters start to pull together. They were clearly enjoying the story.

At the same time, another emotion surfaced, one I hadn’t expected. Most authors will recognise the emotional rollercoaster when somebody you know reads your book. On the one hand you’re desperate to find out if they like it but you know it’s bad form to ask – there’s nothing worse than a needy author badgering you for your thoughts on the mine of their book to put you off a story. So whenever you meet your friend you deliberately don’t mention the book but at the same time you hope they bring it up in conversation to satisfy your need for validation.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, watching somebody read my book remotely elicited similar emotions, but this time I had both more and less information to go on. I believed I knew exactly where they’d read up to but had no visual signals, no reassuring smile to comfort me. All I had was the data, so being a story-teller I built my own narrative. In my head they’d loved the book so far and couldn’t wait to read on.

The next day I registered a KENPC of four, the day after that eleven and then a big fat zero. I was mortified. What had gone wrong? My imagination went into overdrive. When I’d first published Second Chance, a number of friends mentioned that it took four or five chapters to get into the story and then boom, everything started to fit together and they were hooked. Yet this reader had got that far and stopped. Did that mean they hated what I’d written? Had they given up and moved onto another book? Had they found it – god forbid – boring? It was torture. What had started as a wonderful new experience to remotely bond with my audience had turned into ego death by a thousand cuts.

Before the new payment process was introduced, all I had to worry about was whether I sold (or rented out) a book or not. Clearly I wanted the reader to enjoy what they’d bought as I had another book for sale and a third on the way, but once a sale was registered, it was a sale. It was a small piece of success, a balm for my ego.

Not any more.

Now I had the agony of watching somebody dump my novel for something more interesting. It took me back to my youth, bringing back feelings of dating the most beautiful girl in high school only to lose them to the football team captain the very next day.*

I woke the next morning and immediately checked my report. I had a KENPC of 485. Woo hoo! The football team captain was clearly a jerk and she loved me all along. I knew it. I’d always had faith in the wonderful, anonymous reader. Doubts? Pah!

Since then my KENPC graph has taken along the look of the Himalayas, with high peaks of many hundreds of pages read to low troughs of none. And it makes sense. For a start, many people don’t read every day, and even if they do they may not necessarily connect their Kindle to the internet until they’re ready to download their next book, only then passing on the data of where they’ve read up to. At the same time I’ve picked up more KU downloads, so it’s become almost  impossible to build a narrative as I’ve no idea whether I’m seeing one person reading 300 pages or one hundred people reading 3 pages (actually, I know it’s not one hundred people at a time – I wish – but you get the point). The point is, my short-term obsession has waned, settling down to monitoring my KENPC score as often as I do my sales (which is still far too frequent than is healthy).

Although it’s early days, I’m finding the new KU payment scheme is much better for me than the old one. I’m only halfway through the month, have had similar downloads than previous months but have made over three times as much money (if the $o.oo6 per KENPC figure widely publicised is correct). I’ve no doubt things will change as the scheme settles down but for the moment I’m happy.

The best part, though, was seeing my first reader, having enjoyed Second Chance so much they’d read it in three days, move on to Absent Souls and do the same thing. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve built in my head and it’s one delusion I’m happy to maintain.

So what about you? Are any of your books in Kindle Unlimited and have you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts about authors being able to remotely look over your shoulder and see what you and other readers have read? I’d love to hear from you.

*This never actually happened in real life, but I’ve seen enough movies to empathise.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Thank so much for your support

Two Covers

I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everybody who have been kind enough to support my promo weekend. I’ve been blown by the response. At the time of writing, Second Chance is the no.2 in the amazon.com free science fiction/cyberpunk charts (damn you Rationality Zero and your better sales!) and 318 overall. Also, Absent Souls has sold enough copies to virtually cover the cost of the promotion, which has been an unexpected bonus!

So thank you to everyone who has shared this blog, retweeted any of my promotional tweets, shared on Facebook, Instagram or any of the millions of other social networks out there. You are too many to mention individually but if we ever meet in real life, remind me I owe you a drink!

The promotion still has a couple of days to run, so don’t panic if you’ve yet to take part. You can buy/download the books on the following links.

Second Chance

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.com click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.co.uk click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.ca click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.com.au click here

 

Absent Souls

To buy Absent Souls for 99c from Amazon.com click here

To buy Absent Souls for 99p from Amazon.co.uk click here

Second Chance FREE! 12th-14th June

Two Covers

 

I’m thrilled to tell you that Second Chance is available as a FREE Ebook, direct from Amazon, from the 12th – 14th June. So what are you waiting for? You can download it today by clicking on one of the links below.

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.com click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.co.uk click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.ca click here

To get Second Chance FREE from Amazon.com.au click here

 

And if that isn’t a good enough bargain, you can also buy the sequel, Absent Souls, for just 99p/99c from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

To buy Absent Souls for 99c from Amazon.com click here

To buy Absent Souls for 99p from Amazon.co.uk click here

Two great books for just 99p/99c. Happy Friday!

Praise for Second Chance

“Political intrigue, neuroscience, a missing-persons investigation – this well-written novel has it all.” – Carrie Rubin, author of The Seneca Scourge

“a highly entertaining and thought-provoking first novel” – Vaughan Stanger, author of Moondust Memories

“Overall I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers looking for an engaging science-fiction or political thriller.” – Dave Higgins, Davetopia Blog and author of Greenstar Season 1

“This is a slick, well written book with a strong storyline and plenty of narrative tension.” – Sarah J Higby – Brainfluff blog

 

Praise for Absent Souls

A pacy story with a cast of vividly drawn characters and plenty to keep the reader engaged.” – Julie Lawford, author of Singled Out

Thought-provoking, well-written and very enjoyable.” – Roughseasinthemed blog

“Absent Souls plunges the reader into the action from the first chapter, and the pace doesn’t let up. ” – Katrina Montfort, author of Future Perfect

 

Promotion Warning

Two Covers

This is just a little heads up that I’ll be running a free ebook promotion on Second Chance and a 99p/99c offer on Absent Souls for a few days from Friday and may be posting and tweeting about it. For those of you who dislike author promotions, you may want to avoid my blog / twitter feed from Friday and through the weekend (although I promise not to overdo it. After that normal service will be resumed.

For the rest of you lovely readers, if you’d be willing to share or retweet my promotion when it starts I’d be eternally grateful, but if you’d prefer not to I won’t hold it against you.

Of course, for those of you who can’t wait that long, you could always sign up to my mailing list and get your choice of book absolutely free!

Love and hugs,

Dylan

Goodreads Giveaway: Second Chance and Absent Souls

dfw-dsh-1sc-cover-3d

To celebrate the publication of the new paperback edition of Second Chance, and the first paperback edition of Absent Souls, I’m running two Goodreads giveaways where you have the chance to win one of two signed copies of each book. The giveaway is open now midnight on StarWars day (May 4th). For more information, simply click on the links below. Best of luck!

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn

Second Chance

by Dylan S. Hearn

Giveaway ends May 04, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Absent Souls by Dylan S. Hearn

Absent Souls

by Dylan S. Hearn

Giveaway ends May 04, 2015. See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

The Amateur Reviewer

What a wonderful way to start the weekend! I’m truly touched by this thoughtful review. Thank you, Geoff 🙂

TanGental

I started my indie book reviewing career recently and here we are at book two already. This time we move from memoire to futurism and sci-fi – at least that is how I would categorise this excellent debut.

dylan cover 2

Second Chance by Dylan Hearn

This novel is set in the not so distant future after a major catastrophe has changed the world’s governance and the balances of power.

This is what the blurb tells us:

 Four lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old souls.

But it soon becomes clear this is no ordinary case, and in the pursuit of the truth, long-held secrets risk being revealed.

Set in the near future…

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Book review: Second Chance by Dylan Hearn

A few days ago Jane Dougherty named Second Chance as one of her Indie Gems of 2014. Now she’s written her review. Naturally, I’m thrilled with what she’s had to say.

If you would like to experience Second Chance for yourself, simply sign up to my mailing list by clicking on the icon at the top of the page and I’ll send you a copy absolutely free.

Jane Dougherty Writes

Second Chance (The Transcendence Trilogy Book 1) by Dylan Hearn

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-Chance-Transcendence-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00I0945TA/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1RXYBZMMPX0NV36MJGWN

Second Chance is thrilling and chilling. There is blood and gore, but it is the cold-blooded, or even bloodless aspect of British society that is really at the core of this story of a political system that controls everything even beyond the grave.
There are four distinct threads to the story as well as sub-stories, as murky as the crumbling cityscape. Each chapter adds a little more detail to one of the main threads, and as Dylan Hearn pulls in the threads, we begin to see through the murk to where they are all going. And it’s not a nice place, I can tell you.

The technical parts, the cloning and regeneration, the memories that are replaced in the new brain, or not, depending, seem perfectly feasible to a non-techy person like me. The idea of cheating death on…

View original post 228 more words