Agent Savant

The musings of literary agent Laurie McLean

Top 10 Ways to De-Stress in a Multi-Book Deal

Written By: laurie - Sep• 10•15

My fantasy author/client, J.M. Frey (@scifrey), has landed her second three-book publishing deal in less than a year. Ambitious. Terrifying. She must have a plan or face total annihilation!!! And she’s nice enough to share her top 10 tips for surviving the next two years with six books to write, edit, and promote.

SkylarksSongCast by JM Frey


by J.M. Frey

YAY! After ten years of writing, slogging, submitting, revising, shopping, and marketing, I have two fantastic series coming out in the next three years. What I am talking about, of course, are my two very awesome three-book deals with REUTS Publications – The Accidental Turn Series and The Skylark’s Saga.

But. Uh-oh. I have six books to write.

So, in order to combat the worrying, the fear, and the amount of writing to be done (I estimate I will have written about 446,000 words in novels/novellas alone between June 2015 and September 2016 if I meet my own deadlines, not counting the blog posts and screenplays), this is how I handle it:

  • Write
    • Carve out time every day. Mine is between 1pm and 4pm, and I try to write an average of 4k in that time. And starting with my next book, I’m hoping to do it on my recumbent exercise-bike desk so I can do my words and my physio at the same time!
  • Don’t Write
    • Don’t. Go do anything else. Hang out with friends at the pub or play board games. Watch TV or a go to the cinema, or the theatre. Go for a walk. Read a book. Play with a kitten. Go to the spa. Refill your creative well, and think through your plot-problems away from the pressure of the blank page and the blinking curser. As tempting as it might be to tell yourself that you are going to just sit there and write and write and write until it’s all done, you’ll burn yourself out. Headaches, eyestrain, and aching shoulders and wrists help no one.
  • Talk it out with other writers/your betas
    • The hardest part of this writing-a-series thing for me has been “And then what happens next, and how does that relate back to what’s already been written, and how will that support what I want to do after?” Finding the perfect balance of plot continuation, over-arching Big Bads, but enough minute interest in the details of the individual scenes and moments in the books has been a struggle. Luckily, the beta readers who all read book #1 have made themselves available to me to do books #2 and #3 as well, so I have people intimately familiar with the book who can help me when I’m stuck.
    • Other writers’ perspectives might help, too. I often tell large chunks of my plots to other writers, bouncing ideas off of them, or getting feedback. Often, when I hear, “Oh, that reminds me of so-and-so’s book” or “Oh, just like in That Important Book” from someone else, I pay attention to that. And generally I use it as a springboard into “Okay, if that’s the way that bit is usually told, what twist can I put on it? How can I make it fresh, different, or told from another perspective?”
  • Talk about literally anything else with people who are not writers
    • Again, take the time to breathe, to de-stress, to touch base with the rest of your life and friends.
  • Carry it with you
    • I have my manuscripts with me all the time when I’m in the editing stage. That way if I’m waiting for an appointment, or in transit, or waiting for a friend, I can do small bursts of red-pen editing.
    • I also have notebooks with me so I can write; alternately, I open a new email addressed to myself and tap out a scene or two.
    • It seems kind of silly, but in this way, you’ll see the grains in the hourglass of the tasks you have to perform trickling down. Even if it’s one at a time, at least they’re moving!
  • But don’t carry it to bed
    • Get enough rest, and make your sleep space your serene space. No work allowed between the sheets!
  • Use your support system
    • Your agent and editors are there for a reason. Bounce ideas off them, ask what they wish they could read in the next books, and don’t be afraid to outright ask, “Well, what would you write if you could write it?” I’ve found that asking always leads me down paths I hadn’t originally thought I’d go, and usually for the better.
    • Let them know what your planned writing schedule is, when they can expect drafts, what you’re working on now, etc. and generally keep them in the loop. That way you don’t feel like you’re writing into the void and they don’t feel kept in the dark. And be realistic about your deadlines. (Note to self: Editing always takes twice as long as I think it will.)
    • Ask for their preferred dates and schedules, too. Don’t be afraid of being honest about whether you think you can meet their deadlines.
  • Be organized
    • Have a file or a selection of note cards with each character’s physical attributes, their common phrases, and their preferences. It makes you look silly if a character hates coffee in book one and loves it in book two.
    • I keep separate notebooks for the two separate series so I can keep all the drabbles, good one liners, and plot ideas separate.
    • I also have a wall of note cards that have reminder notes, plot notes, due dates, etc. in big sharpie so it’s easy to read from my desk.
    • I also keep a folder of files for each separate book on my desktop. And another folder marked “Templates”. Each time I begin to work on a new project, I copy the templates into the novel’s folder and fill them out – pitch, one page-synopsis, three-page synopsis, potential series synopsis, press release, about the author, list of desired places to solicit reviews, appropriate reviewers, appropriate awards submissions, etc. That way I have lots of useful marketing documents when it comes time to do the marketing.
  • Offload what you can – the less you have on your plate, the less heavy it feels
    • Hire a publicity manager, if you can afford it.
    • Buy a book-blog tour from a company you like instead of trying to organize one yourself, if you can afford it.
    • Ask friends to take care of organizing the launch party.
    • Find an intern to help write/send out press releases or update your social media, if they’re willing.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – even if that’s housework help, or editing help, or organizing help. Literally the worst thing someone can say is “No, sorry.”
  • Compartmentalize
    • I choose specific days to work on specific projects, so I’m not trying to do everything at once. And from there I also break that down to “write the thing” and “market the thing” so I know what sort of hat I should be wearing as soon as I sit down.
    • Lists
    • All the lists.
    • All of them.
    • With small, cumulative goals that you can achieve easily.
    • Taped to the wall.
    • Checking things off feels so nice.

Anyway, so that’s how I’m handling it. Every time that little voice from the shadowed corner speaks up, I tell it to hush. I remember that I have nothing to fear, because my publisher, my agent, my editor – they wouldn’t have signed if they didn’t think I could do it. And then I get back at it. I do the thing. I check something off the list nearly every day, even if that’s just “Write 1k words” and that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, that I’m getting there, that I’m one step closer on this 446,000 step journey. So…yeah. I got this.

Skylarks Song Deal

Author JM Frey

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