As I write this, it’s the last week of 2020 (thank God!) and I’m about half-way done writing Mailboat IV (coming June 5, 2021), which marks the half-way point in the Mailboat Suspense Series. (There should be seven or eight books in the series all together.)
With all that in mind, this feels like an appropriate time to look back on the path I’ve walked to get here and reflect. Today, I’m curious to ask the question, “How have I developed as a writer?”
My Fans Changed Everything
I’m not sure my writing style has changed much over the course of four books. (Maybe my readers can tell me different!) And I don’t really think that my writing methods have changed much, either. Furthermore, even though I published the first book back in 2016, my plans for the overall series haven’t changed either. I’m still following the overall plot that I imagined years ago when the inspiration first struck.
But what has changed is the fact that I now have fans–something I barely had when The End of the Pier (Book I) released! I also have a very close connection with those fans. We love to talk! My readers love to tell me what they think of the series and what they want next. I, in turn, often shift course in response to what they say, even while staying true to my original vision.
Here are some examples:
The Tone of the Entire Series
The first thing I ever shifted in response to fan feedback happened before I published Book I. I was running a blog at the time, chronicling my adventures as I worked on The End of the Pier. A high school teacher from the Lake Geneva area ran across my project and expressed her enthusiasm. “I can’t wait to share this book with my students!” she said.
And that’s when I decided there would be no bedroom scenes, and I’d keep the language to a PG13 level.
As you can see, my tiny group of early fans had massive influence on the series. I was still feeling out who my audience was, and so the feedback from my earliest readers really shaped the direction I took with the tone of my books.
Aaaagh! It Can’t End There!
Now that I have thousands of fans, there are two comments I received very frequently. The first is, “Those cliffhangers! They’re killing me!”
As I’ve explained many times, I didn’t realize at first just how broad the scope of this story was. The Mailboat Suspense Series is one, overarching story that touches on the lives of dozens of people, and by and large they all get a turn to share their voice.
Thanks to that, there was just no way the story was going to fit into one book. And so I made the decision to split the story up into multiple volumes. And yes, that resulted in cliffhangers.
But after the first two books–which end very dramatically–and the third book–which has a little bit more of a landing place where the reader can breathe– I’ve changed my approach to those cliffhanger endings. My readers like to feel like they’ve arrived somewhere. They liked the ending of Book III better than Books I and II. And so I’m leaning more and more towards giving each book something that feels more like an ending, even while the overall story continues.
When’s Your Next Book Coming?
The other feedback I get literally all the time? “When is your next book coming out?!” A book that I spent one or two years crafting, my readers can finish in a day. As soon as it’s done, they want the next!
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not that great at time management, especially when it comes to big projects! That’s why I finally hired Jacque, my book coach. (She has an entire article over here.) With her keeping me on track, I think I’ll finally be better at fulfilling my release date promises to my readers. That’s a huge sigh of relief for both you and me!
Whodunnit and What Happens Next
But finally, I’ve shifted my books based on what my readers say about the plot and the characters. Whenever I release a book, I ask my readers lots of questions–most importantly, “Who do you think The Man Upstairs is?” Based on your guesses, I’ll shift the plot a little this way or a little that way. It’s my goal to keep you guessing as long as possible!
But I’ll even respond to ideas you suggest. One reader asked about a character who appeared for only one chapter in Mailboat I: The End of the Pier. I never meant for that character to appear again. But that one reader wanted to know more. And so… Mailboat IV sees that obscure character return. And boy, do things get turned upside down because of it!
So for me, the biggest change from Book I to Book IV has simply been writing while my fans watch and wait. It’s very different writing all by oneself, when there’s no one to please but me. Writing can become intimidating once you have a following! But it can also be reassuring. I can simply ask my readers what they want next and what they expect next. In that way, these books are almost literally tailor made.
That’s my look back on five years and almost four books. (Five, if you count The Girl on the Boat.) And like many people, I can’t wait for 2021! (It’s gotta be better than this year, right?)
Here are my questions for you, which you can answer in the comments below:
1.) How do you feel you’ve changed in 2020? How do you feel you’ve changed over the past four years?
2.) Do you think my books have changed from Mailboat I: The End of the Pier to Mailboat III: The Captain’s Tale? If so, how?
See you in 2021!
You can see for yourself whether my writing has changed! Here are the first three books: