Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting closer!

The end of April is nearly upon us, and you know what that means...

THE SPIRIT WAR comes out in a little over a month! GASP!

After a year and a half, Eli's story finally continues, and boy, is he in for it this time! I won't post the blurb here since it's a little spoilery if you haven't read the first three books, but you can spoil yourself silly (and preorder ;) ) over on Amazon or the bookseller of your choice. And if you really can't wait, you can read the first three chapters on my site!

I'm going to be doing promotional stuff all month, including some big give aways, so keep your eyes peeled! I'll be announcing everything on Facebook and Twitter, so if you don't follow me there already, come say hi and get in the know to win some awesome stuff.

Are you excited? Because I am excessively pumped to finally get to share this book with you guys! Yay!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

5 Signs Your Idea Would Make A Good Novel

First up, a little house cleaning! Here's what's new in the world of Rachel since last week:

Ok, now that's out of the way, let's talk writing.

In my post on plotting, I gave a lot of time to the idea of making sure you're writing the right book. I thought this was a pretty obvious step, but a lot of people wrote to ask how you can tell if an idea is strong enough to carry a book. My usual answer to this question was the vague and hand-wavy "you just can!" but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this response is a) stupid and b) wrong. 

True, I can usually just feel when an idea is right, but this isn't some magical writer-fairy intuition, it's experience. I've been writing for about 8 years now. In that time, I've started a lot of books, way more than I've finished. By this point, I've tripped up enough that I can get a pretty good feel for whether or not an idea is book-worthy as soon as I start the planning process.

Now, there's no reason you should have to go through eight years of false starts to build your own sense of whether or not a book will fly. The whole point of my writing posts has always been to save other people from my mistake. So, with that in mind, I sat down and had a good long think about how I actually know if an idea can hold up all the way through a novel. As it turns out, there are a few signs all my ideas that made it to finished books had in common, and now, without further ado, here they are.

5 Signs Your Idea Would Make A Good Novel

1. You can not stop thinking about it
You know how sometimes you get an idea that your brain will simply not shut up about? You think about it all the time, talk people's ears off about it, and get bouncing up and down excited at the possibilities the story/world/character throws at you. These are the marks of a really good idea. You know when book blurbs say "a story to capture the imagination?" Yeah, that's what just happened to you. Your imagination was captured. This is gooooood. 

An idea that can capture you so fully is an idea worth exploring. Maybe it's not a full novel yet, maybe it's just a world or a magical system or even a character. Whatever it is, save it. You've got a winner. Think of it as a spark, a flavor you can build a cake on or use in combination with other winning ingredients. 

Don't make the mistake of thinking every one of these ideas has to be its own book. The Eli books are actually a combination of several could-not-stop-thinking-about-it ideas. What you have is a hook, don't be afraid to blend it together with other favorite ideas until you have a concoction of pure win. 

You'll know it's ready when it starts writing itself, which leads us to...

2. It writes itself
This is part and partner with the can't-stop-thinking-about-it idea. Often, I'll know a story is a keeper when I start writing scenes in my head without really trying. When you've got characters talking on their own or dramatic events unfolding right before your eyes, that's a good sign. 

If these characters or events don't have a home yet, sit down and start figuring out where they come from. Or, better yet, try putting them into one of those settings you couldn't stop thinking about. Remember, you're just playing around. Nothing is final yet. See what mad alchemy you can create. Often, a little bit of world building is all it takes to cement the scenes that write themselves into the corner stones of a great novel. 

3. World building is fun, not work
This is more of a warning flag than a sign. Say you have an idea you're really excited about, but as you start putting down the basics, you start getting bored. Danger, Will Robinson! You are the author, you are god, if a god is bored with her creation, then something is very, very wrong. 

This isn't necessarily the death of your idea, though. After all, you were excited about the idea at one point. If you find yourself getting bored while world building, stop and try to figure out why. Are you working on a part of the novel that doesn't actually matter, or is there a fundamental flaw in your idea? 

World building is pure creation, and while it's not always manic writing excitement, it should always be fun. If you're not having fun, that can be the sign this idea isn't all you thought it was. However, if you're having such a great time you catch yourself going off and writing up things just for the fun of it, that's a great sign and a good indicator that this idea is worthy of being a book.

4. You can see the finished product
Lots of times when I am super excited about a book, I can already see the finished product in my mind. I can see the sort of cover I want, where it would sit in the bookstore, even the reviews. Most of this is wishful thinking of course (Why, Mr. Gaiman, I'm so delighted you liked my book!), but hey, I'm a fantasy author. Wishful thinking is my biz! 

The important part of this step is the idea of completion. It's easy to get lost in exciting ideas and characters who write themselves, but the most important deciding factor for me of whether or not a book can actually stand is whether or not I can hold the whole of the final product in my mind. Can I see the sweep of the series? Do I know what the next book is going to be about? Is this a stand alone? 

For example, I knew almost from the beginning that Eli was going to be a 5 book series. I didn't know what the plot of each book was, but I knew there would be one for each character. I could see the arc of the story, see roughly where my meta plot would need to start really coming in. If you can look at your idea and see roughly what it will be when you finish, even if you turn out to be completely wrong, that is a good sign that you've got a fully fledged story.

5. You can easily list why other people would want to read your book
This one is the trickiest and most subjective, but it's also the most commercial of the signs. When you try to sell a book to a publisher, an agent, or directly to the public, you're asking someone to spend their money (because remember, time is money) on your idea. You're saying "my book is worth your reading," and if you're going to make that kind of bold statement, you have to believe it yourself, and more, you have to know exactly why your book is worth reading.

If you can look at your potential story and immediately see what is good, unique, compelling, exciting, and fresh about it, without lying to yourself (First Rule of Thievery, the only person you have to be honest with is yourself), then you can safely say you've got a real winner on your hands. Go write that book!

There, I hope that's a better answer to the question. Thanks as always for reading!
- Rachel 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spirit's End cover revealed!

The Lord of Storms, he is not happy! Eli, however, is giving him the "bitch, please" look. I'm not sure if this is the 100% final cover, but I totally dig the purple. Let's get the other 2 in here to compare!

Oh Eli, being on every cover is not going to help with those ego problems, is it? At least he's in good company. You can see all of Orbit's upcoming covers, including mine, over at their massive cover post!

Spirit's End's official release date has been set for November 20, 2012. This will be the fifth and final Eli novel that finishes out the story. The Spirit War, the fourth novel, will be out on June 5, 2012. I hope this answers everyone's release date questions!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Guest Post: Budgeting and the Writer

Sorry I've been AWOL, folks. I've been a bear in her writing cave, attacking all who come near (so, in short, having a pretty awesome time!). As promised in my last post, though, my husband, the amazing Travis Bach, has written a guest post for me about what it's like to actually support a family when 1/2 of the money comes from a writer (a topic that he has a lot of hands on experience with, seeing as he keeps all our books). So, without further ado, here's Travis!

Writing Financials, a Guest Post by Travis Bach

Since Rachel has recently posted about writer money, I wanted to take this opportunity to try and guest post it up. I'm not a professional writer, but I do have to be the one who looks at the money and figures out how to make it work. I'd like to share some of the planning and tactics we've been using to keep the lights on even though author money is less like a cash flow and more like a cash glacier that drops big cash ice blocks off at irregular intervals.

#1 - Know thy self...Financially
We've spent a lot of time analyzing our spending habits. This is typically done using tools like, but I used to have just a spreadsheet for it. is way nicer than a spreadsheet by the way and will save so many hours of work its not funny. There's some competitors to mint out there as well, like quicken online and such. I encourage you to explore, as these are powerful tools that should not be ignored.

This step is essential. You cannot plan if you do not know how much you  spend regularly. If you've never done this step, it might be an eye opener and a little painful. Sometimes we waste amazing amounts of money on things we've never thought of. Also, you'd be amazed at how many weird automated payments can slip through the cracks and hang around for years sucking up cash.

This item is #1 for a good reason. Keeping an eye on the money is vital and simply paying more attention will often reveal what courses of action are available to you. If you do nothing else, do this on a frequent basis.

By the way - if you are afraid to look at your bank statements... Count that feeling as a massive alarm bell. You need to get in there now. Face that fear!

#2 - Budgeting
For us, we have to dole out large sums of money (RA NOTE: all those big checks I talked about in the last post) carefully over long periods of time. By far the majority of my efforts on this simply are looking at what we're spending and how fast is the money going. Making a budget is key, but there's so much advice out there that there's no point in me covering the basics of that here.

However, estimating incidentals is the hardest part of planning. The expense events that are not part of the budget. Things like medical bills, car repairs, home maintenance, fines, fees, etc... Having done this for a few years I know to plan for about $1100/month (~$13,000/yr actually divided by 12) in incidentals.

How did I get that number? By looking at my historic spending summaries at and using Bank of America's online equivalent (since it had a lot more historical data for me). I look at total budget overruns (total spent - budgeted expenses) over several years and generally a 'safe' number emerges for me to use.

In addition to estimating incidentals, we maintain an emergency savings fund that can keep us afloat for 3 months with no money coming in at all. Any good financial planner or personal finance website will tell you how important this is. When talking about incidentals, its vital. The savings fund prevents us from having to use debt to cover short-term financial gaps or emergencies and, thus, not having to pay more for those incidents.

When the emergency fund gets low, we know its time to start cutting back and finding ways of getting money flowing into it for replenishment. Its a good, practical, and empirical measurement of the reality of that year's incidentals; rather than just my predictions.

#3 - Handling Large Blocks of Income
The chief challenge we have to deal with is the payment schedule. Rachel isn't getting a monthly paycheck for writing. She gets a few checks through her agent throughout the year. Knowing our budget requirements though, I can look at each check and see how many months of operations that check represents. When I look at our savings account, I know about how long we've got before something has to change (more on this later).

I also keep an eye on how many book payments are yet to be made and when those might be coming in. Forecasting like this is very important as its much easier to cut spending over the course of many months than over just a couple (or one). Cutting $200/month for 10 months is easy. Cutting $2000 from one month is hell.

Early detection of fiscal difficulties prevents us from getting blind sided. It also makes it so that I can more easily spot the ramifications of incidental expenses that pop up without warning (car breaking down, etc.). When that big, unexpected, whatever bill comes in, I know which way to jump and what it means for the future (i.e. next 12 months)

Also of note, we keep all the writing money in its own separate savings account so that it doesn't get eaten by accident. Having a lean checking account helps create the proper feelings of wealthy/poor as the monthly cycle repeats itself. I will say with certainty that putting lots of money into a pile that's connected to a debit card will result in that pile getting spent much faster than desired and on little, meaningless things.

We always strive to make the spending of the writing money a deliberate and planned act. Money, writing or otherwise, is earned through great effort, so its spending should always receive careful attention.

#3 - Using Milestones
I try to always have a plan for the next 12 to 18 months. Currently I have a rough idea of what's going down through 2013 (this planning might be its own post, it's a lot). There's a lot of assumptions going into that, planning on books yet unwritten and unsold. Fortunately, Rachel writes at a fairly reliable pace now, so its easier to guess what books will be written and when.

I have a spreadsheet on my desktop that I've used to calculate some numbers that are of vital interest to me and for Rachel's writing career, such as:

  • Amount of savings needed for 6 months of living on only my salary.
  • Amount of savings needed for 6 months of living without my salary.
  • Amount of savings needed for 6 months of living without any income.
  • Book sales to cash-in hand ratio. Ie.. if the publisher pays $X, how much comes home?* 
  • How much writing money is expected to come in over the next 6 months?
  • How much writing money is expected to come in over the next 12 months?
  • How much writing money is expected to come in over the next 18 months?
  • What's the threshold for me to quit my job?**
  • What's the threshold where Rachel has get work other than her own novels?

*This number is approximately 63% right now
**and become Rachel's full-time assistant/promoter/financial manager/product developer/GM/etc.... (RA NOTE: Slave, coffee boy, full time ego adjustment coach, etc...;D )

I tend to update this sheet once/twice a year. These milestones are important. They are indicators of future prosperity or trouble. All writing work takes months to pay out, so we have to look forward far enough to start damage control on time. I bet that Rachel could get contract writing work easily enough if needed. That said, getting a contract to write for hire, writing the book, editing the book, and getting paid for the book would take months and months and months. Much of that spent waiting on people.

It's these kinds of delays between need, effort, and payment that make planning so amazingly vital. If there's gonna be a problem in October, we need to be on the move in March.

The last thing I ever want to do is to use debt to cover a shortfall. Nothing like having money troubles and then having to pay 20%-50% extra to deal with them. Did you know the average small item put on a credit card winds up costing the owner triple what they would have paid? Yeah. Screw that.

So, in recap, my advice to folks would be to monitor, budget, and plan plan plan plan plan. Just like steering a big ship on a long voyage, its vital to constantly update your knowledge of your position and to make corrections early enough that the problems are small and fixable, rather than huge and crushing. Thank you for reading and I hope this helps shed more life on living as (or with) a working writer!

- Travis Bach (AKA, the real Slorn)