Going Back, Looking Forward, Making Plans

For much of our lives, we’re told to look forward and not look back. We all know the problem with that. If you don’t look back, you don’t study history. If we don’t study history, we will repeat the mistakes we should have learned from. The same can be said of writing. So let’s talk about going back to old projects, looking forward to new projects and to the result of plans already in place as well as making plans.

The Writer has an article where they pose the question of when writers should return to abandoned projects. We all have them. Those stories we started and for whatever reason couldn’t finish. They might be a partial outline or the opening of a story or even stories that are basically finished but the writer knows that they just aren’t where they need to be for publication and they can’t figure out what to do. 

Smart writers keep those stories. They might be stored in a file on their computer or in a box under the bed. From time to time, the writer might have revisited them to pull a scene or a character out for another project. But the stories themselves continue to languish.

So when do you go back to them? Do you go back to them? 

The article is actually pretty good and offers some excellent examples of well-known authors doing just that. Many of our readers here will recognize at least a couple of the names in the article. But it all basically comes down to these four factors in deciding whether you should revisit that abandoned work or not:

  1. You’re inspired enough to return to them,

  2. You can recapture the mood of the work,

  3. You can find a way to handle the subject,

  4. You can handle the demands of craft and technique, whatever they might be,

  5. And, finally, if you’ve got that writerly persistence all writers need.

I completely agree with the first factor. You have to feel the need and have the inspiration to return to the work. If you don’t, at best you will put out a story where the reader more than likely will be able to tell the work didn’t move you–and if it doesn’t move you, it probably won’t move them. At worst, you’ll continue to stare at the screen and the words won’t come. 

I tend to disagree at least a little with the second factor. It is too simplistic, especially since the story earlier goes into good detail describing what it means by mood. It might be the mood of the story or it might be your mood when writing it. So, I’d change the second to read “You can capture the mood to work on the book/story.” Related to that is you can now capture a mood in the story that drives it forward.

The rest of the factors are pretty much right on as well, at least in my experience. The last one is absolutely true. It is very easy to walk away from a project when it becomes difficult. Almost every project has that point. So very many folks who want to be writers turn away at that point and jump to another project. Because of that, they never finish anything. A writer is one who pushes through those points, stopping only when they hit that wall they can’t push through. Sometimes that wall comes because you’ve written yourself into a corner. Sometimes it’s because you have a great idea but no clue where to go from there. Sometimes, your craft just isn’t up to that particular job. 

Do you have a project you’ve abandoned for whatever reason and you keep looking back at, wondering if you should finally take a stab at finishing it? If so, ask yourself why you walked away in the first place. Then ask what is different now. Are you ready to go back and give it another go?

So that’s the bit about looking back. Looking forward comes next. On the writing front, it is looking at the business of writing and publishing. We’ve written extensively about the various factors that you have to account for when preparing to publish a book, so I’m not going to go back over that right now. Instead, keeping with the “looking at what we’ve already written” theme, let’s talk about looking at what you’ve already written and published. 

I started thinking about this again the other day when someone asked on a board I belong to if they should go back and take a look at their first in series before they go wide. They’ve a handful or so of books out on Amazon and are going to quit being exclusive. The advice ranged from “it would be a waste of time you could use to write something new” to “what do your reviews say and what is your sell through on the series?”. Both are valid responses, up to a point. Both are considerations I’ve taken into account when I started going wide or when I decided to re-issue books.

Here’s how I finally looked at it. Other than doing a new proofreading run through the book, what would I want to add or take away? Would that change be enough to garner new readers to the series? In some instances, I made the decision to take a hard look at a book and maybe add new material. In most, however, I decided it wasn’t worth the time it took away from new projects because what I wanted to add really wouldn’t have added anything to the story or character development. 

In other words, I realized what I was actually doing was trying to find a way to avoid working on the current WIP because I’d hit one of those difficult points and didn’t want to push through it.

That said, there are other ways to update your books that don’t take as much time as rewrites and can often wind up being more effective financially. Take a good, hard look at your cover. Now look at the best sellers in your genre and sub-genre. Are you cuing properly with your cover? Not just with your image but with the font. Too often, I see a good cover image that cues the genre but the font screams something else. That leaves me wondering exactly what the book is about and, honestly, it also screams newbie. Don’t be afraid to change your cover. That is what first catches your reader’s eye. If they don’t like the cover, they aren’t going to bother reading the blurb or the sample.

Something the readers don’t see but still impacts what books they see when they do a search is categories and key words. When is the last time you took a hard look at those when it comes to your books? How many of you have been satisfied with the mere two categories you’re allowed when you set up a book for publication that Amazon allows you? I’ve written about it before but it bears repeating: Amazon will let you have up to 10 categories without problem–if you contact them and give them the exact categories you want added AND if your categories actually fit your book. So take a few minutes to look at the best sellers in your genre, determine what categories they are in and see if they fit your book. Then go to your KDP dashboard and contact Amazon to update with the new categories.

Here’s another hint, if you use a platform like Draft2Digital when you go wide, you can add up to 5 or 7 categories and they will send those to the storefronts you are using them as distributor to.

Keywords. Same thing as with the categories. Review them. Update them. Remember, these are the search terms readers use when they are looking for a book but don’t have a particular title in mind. 

And guys, if you do this right, it will increase your sales because it increases your visibility.

Now, finally, what are your future plans? I don’t mean what’s the next book you plan to write but what are the next three books? What is your publishing schedule for the next year? How about for the year after that? 

Before you choke and pass out, this isn’t written in stone. But it really does help to let your readers know what is coming up. All the major platforms allow you to list pre-orders. Most allow you to set them up to a year (or more) in advance. Some require a text file and cover and some only require title information. The keys to doing this are to maintain the discipline to write, keeping your readers up-to-date about what’s going on and not being afraid to delay a release if necessary (something I just did by two weeks due to real life interfering).

I know doing a pre-order is scary, much less putting several up at a time. But it does several things, all of which help push up your sales. It shows your readers you are serious about what you’re doing. It lets them plan for what is coming up. It gives you active links to use in promotion and lets you get ads and other promotional activities going before the book comes out. In some ways, the most important thing it does is keep you, the writer, focused. Just like businesses have deadlines, so do we. 

Remember, writing is our business and we need to treat it as such.

Now for a quick report. I’m on my second full month going wide and now all but two or three of my books are widely released. Last month, I made more going wide than I did on Amazon. Even though I lost the page reads for the books wide because they were no longer part of Kindle Unlimited. Now, 17 days into this month, I am $8 shy of making what I did all last month. I’ve sold approximately $30 more on Amazon than I have elsewhere. I am on track to not only have a good month but I am not missing the KU page read payments. And this is all without any promotion other than blogging and the occasional social media post. 

Does that mean the move to go wide is a success? In the short term, yes. But I will keep an eye on it. I have a feeling the trend will continue. I hope it will. That said, I can’t just sit back. I have to take my own advice. I’ll redo covers when the need arises (as I have in the past). I’ll update keywords and categories (as I have recently). But, most of all, I have to keep writing.

And so do you.

And, with that, I need to get back to work. Until later!

Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

6 comments

  1. > Other than doing a new proofreading run through the book, what would I want to add or take away? Would that change be enough to garner new readers to the series?

    And how many existing customers would that drive away?

    Someone mentioned Dean Koontz yesterday; he’s a good example of why you might not want to meddle in an already-published work. He “updated” a couple of them, which annoyed me greatly, and rewrote at least two more, changing the titles too. After paying for the second book and then finding I’d been swindled *again*, that was the last time I picked up one of his books.

    For that matter, I’m still chapped about Stasheff’s “King Kobold” and “King Kobold Revived”, the second being a rewritten version of the first. And it sucked just as bad as the original did, to compound the annoyance.

    1. This is why you have to be upfront with your readers/potential readers. Let them know it is a previously published book that has been updated. With me, if I changed the title, I let the reader know in the description. I also note if there is new material, how much (in general) so they know it is more than a word or two. If all it is is a new cover and editing, I keep it under the same title and on the same sales page. That way, if you’ve already bought it, you won’t do so again.

    2. My God what a blast from the past.
      I vividly remember Stasheff rewriting King Kobold. I don’t have either paperback anymore (they vanished long ago).
      I’ll agree the second version made more sense, but the first one was still better.
      He should have just written another book instead of rewriting the first one and pissing off the fans.

  2. Talking about covers, I’ve been looking at used Erle Stanley Gardner books on eBay, and I’m amazed how often trad pub used to change the covers. OK, some of that might be between publishers (e.g. hardcover vs paperback), but even with the same format, the covers frequently change.

    The earlier covers are all drawings, but then change to photos – I am having to stop myself from buying the earlier books just for the cover (not enough space in my home, I can just save the photos). It’s also interesting to see how the covers change – even some of the later, photographic covers are well done in their own way.

    BTW, I prefer ESG’s shorter series (Cool & Lam, The DA) over Perry Mason.

  3. I remember reading Crystal Soldier/Crystal Dragon had originally been abandoned, because the authors just didn’t have the skills to write it when they started it. They ended up writing the rest of the series, before going back to it.

    Because they did, they had both developed considerably as writers, to the point they were able to do it justice, and it acted as a sort of culmination for all the odd stuff that popped up in the rest of the series.

    Honestly, they were my favorite, by far, of the series.

  4. I am currently with a novella on the backburner after a massive rewrite years after it went cold. Meanwhile I managed to finish the outline for a story again after years so that is the active work.

    Then it took me years to write A Diabolical Bargain while I mastered the form of a novel, and that included months on the backburner.

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