AT PLAY IN THE FIELD OF THE WRITTEN WORD Part 1

Thought I’d take you all on a little journey with me. Next week my proposal is due for my new book. So the idea is to let you see how it all goes.

This week I want to talk about the preparation, i.e. the proposal.

In the past, my proposals have consisted of the first twenty or thirty pages of the book and a page or two of an incredibly generic synopsis. That gave me a lot of room to work. I’ve said it before, I’m the kind of author who enjoys writing without a net (read outline.) I love how stories organically come together. I like being surprised and entertained.

But this time is different. In the past, the books I was proposing were further episodes of my Jonathan Quinn series. My next book, though, is a stand alone.

(Now before any of you who enjoy the series get worried that there won’t be any more Quinn books, fear not. The fourth in the series is actually already written and done. And, if I may say so, is my favorite Quinn book so far. But first we’re going to bring out a stand alone, so THE SILENCED – tentative title – will be out after that.)

So while I am still providing the first twenty to thirty pages as part of the proposal, I realized my outline/synopsis can’t just be a page or two. In fact, I’ve decided to make it more detailed than I ever have in the past. The hope is, based on what I’ve heard from others, that this will help me stay on track and write faster. I sure hope so. But I’ve got to say writing the synopsis is excruciating.

In the time I can usually write five to six pages of prose, I’m lucky to get a page or a page and a half of an outline. I also find myself getting up from my chair more often, watching episode of DEXTER season 3 or going for a walk or playing Mindsweeper on my iPhone. Anything to avoid the pain of actually thinking out the details of the story.

But all that said, I can see how this actually is going to help me focus more when I get down to writing the book. I’m excited about it (again, not about writing the synopsis – something I’m avoiding at this very second – but in how it will help me), and am anxious to put it to the test.

If this works, I may be a reluctant convert. I know Rob blogged about a similar thing several weeks ago. (I don’t know for sure, but from what I understand the outline for his next one is in the dozens and dozens of pages…mine is not. I’m not THAT crazy.)

I’m also doing something else with this proposal. Something neither my editor nor my agent is expecting. But that I’m going to have to save until next time, so I don’t blow the surprise in case one of them reads this. I’ll let you know in part 2, as by then they’ll have proposal in hand. Hopefully I’ll even be able to tell you how it was received.

Question time (and no, I’m not going to ask the Outline vs. No Outline question as we’ve argued that more than enough): I know some readers like series and some don’t…for those of you who do like series, does it bother you when the author writes a stand alone? Do you read it? For those of you who prefer stand alones, why do you think you avoid series?

Look forward to reading your answers!

 

24 thoughts on “AT PLAY IN THE FIELD OF THE WRITTEN WORD Part 1

  1. JD Rhoades

    I LOVE it when a series author writes a standalone. Laura Lippman, for example, writes a great series. I really enjoy the Tess Monaghan books. But her standalones never fail to knock me on my ass. Likewise, CJ Box writes the Joe Pickett series, which I enjoy. BLUE HEAVEN, though, was incredibly good. Good luck with yours!

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  2. Jessica Scott

    If the author is someone who’s work I adore, I’ll read whatever they write. I fell deeply in love with a series and then fell just as deeply out of love with the same series because the author wrote characters that I simply did not care about one way or another. I’m considering returning but we’ll see.
    I don’t mind when authors do stand alone or series, because truly, authors who hit me with good stories and strong characters, I tend to stay with.

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  3. Jake Nantz

    I tend to like series books, because I’m already comfortable with the protag(s), and I love how some authors will drop in little inside jokes. At the same time, a good standalone will ALWAYS be good, regardless if it’s from someone who only writes them, or someone taking a breather from a series. So I’m always for it, PROVIDED the series characters return (was very distraught when Lehane hung ’em up with Patrick and Angie, and thrilled to hear him say they’re talking to him again).

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  4. Mark Terry

    When I tried to work from an outline my book turned out to be 100 pages. I’m better off without it.

    Anyway, in terms of stand alones, it varies. I absolutely love Robert Crais Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels, and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about his stand alones, but I think Demolition Angel (in particular), and Hostage and 12 Minutes are fantastic. But there are other authors where I’ve wished they’d just go back to their series.

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  5. Catherine Shipton

    I’ve found that not all series books are created equal. I want to be able to read a series book with as much enjoyment as though it is a stand alone.

    I am equal opportunity regarding stand alones and series though…I’m just as exacting on both.

    Thankfully I can say amongst the Murderati authors I’ve not been disappointed.

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  6. Stacy McKitrick

    If I like the author, it doesn’t matter whether I’m reading a series or stand alone. But when I read a series, I like to start at the beginning of that series, even if the author tries to make them all stand alones. Lately it seems I’ve been reading lots of series, though.

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  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I am just a standalone kind of girl. I don’t think I’ve ever read every book in a series. Well, except Tess, I guess, come to think of it.

    I like to see how an author works their own personal themes out in different arenas, different characters. Some of the books aren’t as good as the others, but there are always surprises.

    It’s still all about the author, no matter what.

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  8. Cathy

    If I enjoy an author’s stories I’ll pick up pretty much anything they write.
    The stand alones are sometimes a chance to refresh, let the author explore something new and by doing so keeps the series from getting stale. Sometimes, though, it reads as if the author didn’t have a handle of the character yet – maybe too familiar with the series protag? – and the story comes across flat.

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  9. Alli

    It’s still all about the author, no matter what – Alexandra

    Totally agree! I love stand alone and series and as long as the author writes well for both then I will be a loyal reader. There is a series I am currently reading and it is paranormal thriller but the author writes a different genre in stand alone. I’m not so interested in the genre of the stand alones she writes for, but avidly read her series work. Basically, if the stand alone or series interests me, I’ll read it.

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  10. Rashda

    I’m a standalone kind of girl too.

    One of the main reasons is time — it’s easier for me to commit to one book rather than a whole bunch of them.

    Also, sometimes, the books in a series become somewhat predictable –you can start seeing author preferences for certain words or tropes and such.

    But in the end, it’s all about the story: how well it’s told.

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  11. karen from mentor

    Hey Brett,
    Great writing is great writing.
    I like the comfort of a series, knowing how a character will act/react in a situation, it’s like ordering meatloaf at your favorite diner, there are days, rainy, wet winter days where you just need the familiar.
    But I love exploring new characters, places and story lines.
    I like it when an author shakes things up.
    As long as the voice and the talent are still there, I have no issues with a stand alone.
    Karen :0)

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  12. Dana King

    I like series, though I do read a lot of standalones. I think it’s great when a series writer takes a break for a standalone. it lets the author stretch some different muscles and lets me see a different side of their writing. Dusty mentioned Laura Lippman; I may be in the minority, but I like her standalones much more than the Tess Monahan stories. Same goes for her short stories. I enjoy Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole Joe Pike novels more than his standlones. but that’s because I’m in the tank for Elvis and Joe; the other novels are still very good.

    Then there’s Dennis Lehane, who has taken an extended break from the Kenzie-Gennaro books to raise his writing to another, even higher level. He’s coming back to Patrick and Angie in his next book.

    Excellent writers have a knack of knowing what they do well, and don’t. I trust them until they show otherwise.

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  13. Louise Ure

    Buyers/readers of series may be in the majority, but as some of these comments show, there’s still a whole nation of us readers who adore stand alones. Count me among them.

    Reply
  14. Rob Gregory Browne

    I read both series and standalones and, if I’m into the author, I’ll pretty much read anything he writes. Do I miss the series characters? Yes. But chances are pretty good I’ll forget about them once I’m a couple chapters in.

    As for you, Brett, since I know what your standalone is likely to be about, I’m really looking forward to reading it.

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  15. tess gerritsen

    I think most authors crave the freedom to break away from their series every once in awhile and write a standalone. The big thing holding them back? Very often, it’s the publisher. When you’ve made your name with a series, everyone in the business wants you to do the tried and true and not take any risks. But those stand-alone books often end up being the author’s favorite books. So good for you!

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  16. Viva

    I prefer stand alones. I tire of most series, usually because of the repetitive trappings, or because the character arc begins to fall flat. Perhaps that’s why Jack Reacher works. The setting is always new, and as Lee Child will tell you, there is no character arc.

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  17. Alafair Burke

    First of all, congratulations on having a series book in the can and a standalone idea all ready to go.

    I like them all, of course. My guess, though, is that some people associate standalones with bigger plots, more at stake, more sprawling, etc. The tendency is to think of series books as smaller in scope, perhaps less "thrilling" but more focused on character. That’s all nonsense, in my view, because I want both series books and standalones to deliver it all – tension, pace, character, prose!

    I know you haven’t solicited my advice, but as much as I see the value of a detailed synopsis for a writer’s own purposes, I think less may be more when it comes to presenting a proposal to your publisher. A hundred thousand words of plot boiled down to five or even ten pages will just boggle someone’s mind and make the book sound less good than it will actually be. Do they need to know the twists, turns, middle, and end, or just the set up?

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  18. TerriMolina

    I love to read series books because I get so invested in the character I just have to know what’s going on with them. =) It doesn’t bother me when the author also does a stand alone book because I also fall in love with the author’s voice, so I’m game to read anything they write.

    Good luck with the proposal!

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  19. Brett Battles

    Wow! What awesome responses today. Thank you all for chiming in. You’re all basically saying the same things I would have said. I love both series and stand alones, and I find most authors who do both are good at both…not always, but most of the time.

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  20. PJ Parrish

    I’m in the same boat as you, Brett. About to strike out into stand-alone territory. This after ten books in the series. Frightening, liberating, invigorating, like going on vacation to a new place instead of returning to the favorite old haunts…can’t wait. Good luck.

    Reply
  21. acai

    Hi,
    This is very wonderful article.The written world is great to express your thoughts and feelings.One feel free when he write something.

    Reply

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