How Many Novels Per Year?

How many novels should an author write per year to sustain a dedicated following?

If you consider a novel to be 250 to 400+ pages, my experience tells me it would be difficult to write, edit, publish and market more than two books per year. Even two is a challenge. Nonetheless, I’ve recently set two mysteries per year as a publishing goal for the Mountain Mystery Series.  

My writing team consists of me and my talented editor and wife, Claudia. With Claudia as my sounding board, I come up with the characters, settings, and plots, and then produce the first draft of each novel. Claudia directs the editing process, which takes as much time as writing. 

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Together we’ve self-published nine novels and two short story collections over the past ten years, culminating with the four books in the Mountain Mystery Series. This mystery series contains my most successful novels, and dedicated readers continue to grow.  

The fifth book, A TOWN IN FEAR, is well underway and targeted for release by year-end.  It is a sequel to A TOWN DIVIDED, just released on July 1st, but as with all novels in this series, it can be read on its own.  

So, I hope the answer to my original question is two books per year will grow a dedicated following.  I’ll continue to do my best to come up with compelling characters, fast-moving mysteries, and surprise endings.  Keep a lookout for A TOWN IN FEAR… and the next mystery, coming six months later.

Meet Kari and Luke from “A TOWN DIVIDED”

Supported by an eclectic cast, Kari Watkins and Luke Maxwell are the primary protagonists in A Town Divided, the latest novel in the Mountain Mystery Series, released July 2020.

KARI WATKINS is a feisty, green-eyed, 38-year-old brunette who prefers comfort over glamor. A competent and no-nonsense paralegal, she’s been employed by Perkins & Maxwell Law Group more than 15 years. Her strong opinions and short fuse lead to verbal and, on occasion, physical confrontations.

Kari has lived in the mountain community of Ridgeview, North Carolina her entire life. Childless and recently divorced, Kari resides in a single-story home at the edge of town. She’s comfortable with her current status, but there’s a subtle attraction between her and Luke Maxwell, a young partner at the firm. She attended high school with Luke, but ran in different circles, and they never got to know each other until years later.

Kari and Luke work side by side to find the killer of Glen Perkins, their longtime friend and partner at the law firm.

LUKE MAXWELL is all business.  With steel blue eyes, short sandy hair, and a convincing stare, the former high school linebacker has maintained his six-foot athletic frame and competitive demeanor.   

A Duke law degree and State Supreme Court clerkship contribute to an impressive résumé. He is well on his way to fulfilling his professional aspirations at a firm in Raleigh when his father suffers a fatal heart attack.  Glen Perkins, his father’s law partner, convinces Luke to return to his hometown of Ridgeview to take his father’s place at the two-attorney firm.  

Luke didn’t expect the small-town firm to engage in high-profile cases. But when his senior partner is gunned down in the office parking lot, Luke finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation with statewide focus.  Perkins had been representing Ridgeview County landowners in an eminent domain battle against the NC Department of Transportation.  The DOT is condemning land in preparation for a highway expansion.  Powerful men with a lot to gain are backing the project.

While investigating his partner’s murder with the help of Kari, Luke confronts those behind the highway project. The tenacious couple become entangled in controversy, and eventually, run face-to-face into an evil no one saw coming.  

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Talking Dialogue Tags

Much has been written about dialogue tags, those he said, she said descriptors placed before, after, or in the middle of dialogue.

 There are writers who profess the only two valid dialogue tags are said and asked, and if you want to go crazy, replied is acceptable to them.  They take this position for a good reason. Dialogue tags shouldn’t distract from the dialogue itself. Also, using overly descriptive tags can duplicate what is better described in dialogue.  

That said (pardon the pun), you will find very successful writers who ignore the said/asked rule, using a variety of well-placed dialogue tags. Having learned from these authors, my recommendations are as follows:

  1. Use just enough tags to make it clear who is speaking. With two people in dialogue, look for places to skip tags. When multiple people are engaged in a discussion, it may be necessary to use more dialogue tags, but mix it up by using names.
  2. Don’t overuse any specific tag.  A series of quotes ending in he said, she said is very distracting.  It’s equally irritating to a reader if you overuse he shouted every time a character raises his voice.
  3. Mix up the positioning of tags by placing them before, after, and in the middle of dialogue.  When a character makes a long speech, position the tag in the middle to break it up.
  4. If you add action or description with the tag, make sure it contributes to the dialogue. Example–“Get out of here!” she growled, extending her arm toward the door. 

During the final editing of all my books, my wife and I will read the entire manuscript aloud. Hearing the dialogue helps identify unnatural flow and where the above rules need to be better applied.

I continue to focus on improving dialogue in my novels. Overuse and misuse of dialogue tags can detract from the reality of a novel, while good dialogue brings a book to life.  

Seniors, Establish a Routine

I’m glad experts are working on a plan to gradually get Americans back to work.  There’s no perfect plan, and there are definitely no easy answers.

Even as America gradually opens for business, physical distancing and isolation will continue for me and other seniors. I’m over 65 with a compromised immune system.  I’m as healthy and active as a 40-year-old, but given my condition, I must avoid any and all infections.

My wife Claudia and I are fortunate. We live in the spacious Blue Ridge Mountains.  We’ve worked hard, planned well for retirement, and are prepared to get to the other side of this pandemic.  Most importantly, Claudia and I get along, even spending weeks together with little outside human contact.  Although, I must admit we both are talking to our dog, Milo, more lately.

We have a routine that provides variety, keeps us busy, and helps us fight isolation, boredom and depression.  This routine includes:

  • Reading (We’ve doubled our number of novels.)
  • Writing (I’m well ahead of schedule for my next book.)
  • Hiking mountain trails near our home (2+ miles/day)
  • Calling friends and family regularly
  • Listening to music (Mainly 60s and 70s)
  • Home projects (Organizing the garage, yard work, etc.)
  • Avoiding the drone of cable TV news (It repeats every 30 min.)
  • Watching Amazon Prime/Netflix movies
  • Daily internet searches for toilet paper and flour.  

There’s light ahead. From our daily hike with Milo.

We miss restaurants, movie theaters, sports, social events, shopping, and traveling to be with friends and family, but these are manageable sacrifices. Everyone is sacrificing.  Many are hurting.

Seniors, even as America gradually goes back to work, please stay safe, be vigilant, and find a routine that helps you welcome the next day. 

Social Distancing – Week 3

What does a weekly blog on social distancing have to do with writing?  The answer is not so much, but writing is what I do.  It keeps me busy and somewhat productive.  And that’s what most of us are trying to do these days.

Social distancing is our defense against COVID-19. It affects everyone—writers, teachers, students, accountants, pilots, taxi drivers, postal employees, carpenters, waitresses, doctors, and first responders.  Some of these jobs can be performed while social distancing or by working from home, some not so easily.

My thoughts are with medical professionals and to our first responders.  They are not able to stay home or stand six feet back.  They fight this virus head-on–protecting, bringing comfort, and hopefully enabling recovery to those who are infected.

The courage of first responders isn’t something my wife and I witness from afar.  Her son–my stepson–is a firefighter in a large city.  He’s young, strong, and well-trained, but is as susceptible to this virus as anyone. We are so proud of him, but we worry. We worry about all family members. I’m sure you do , too.

During tough times, most people rise to the occasion. Examples are everywhere. Businesses, big and small, are retooling to provide much needed medical supplies.  Everyday people are changing their routines and giving their time to care for seniors and others needing a hand.  But it’s the first responders and medical professionals who most deserve our thanks and gratitude. They provide hope, care, and inspiration to us all.    

Thank you.

For adult readers of mystery who are looking to briefly escape reality and fill their social distancing hours, please check out my Mountain Mystery Series.