Top things to think of when writing your own book/series

When writing your own book/series, keep these three things in mind:

  1. Write as yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

It’s all very well to read other author’s books and figure out what it is that makes you like to read a certain author. In fact, you should read at least as much as you write. But at the end of the day, it’s you who’s writing. If you’re not a person who normally uses big words or flowery phrases, don’t use them when you write. It will sound stilted and unnatural and put people off. It’s best to write the way you normally speak. I occasionally talk to book clubs and I like it when people say that when they read my books it’s like they’re listening to me talk.

  1. Write what you know.

All writers, regardless of genre, have to do some research to make sure they get the details right. So, it’s best to write about something you know well to cut down on research and make your story sound real. My mysteries are set in the world of a hospital-based pathologist because that’s what I am. When I put medical jargon into them, it sounds authentic and then of course I have Toni explain it to Hal or someone else so that the reader will understand it too. But I don’t try to write as a nurse, or a teacher, or a lawyer, because that’s not who I am, and it wouldn’t sound real, and I’d make a lot of mistakes, besides.

  1. Determine your genre, your point of view, and your audience before you start.

Yes, yes, I know, that’s actually three pieces of advice, but they’re all important. It’s a good idea to write the kind of stories you like to read. I write mysteries because that’s what I like to read, starting with Nancy Drew when I was a child. I don’t mind the occasional romance or chick-lit, but mysteries are my first love. That’s my genre.

There are lots and lots of genres. Romance, adventure, historical, fantasy, children’s, young adult, and so on. Some genres have sub-genres; for example, mysteries can be cozies, thrillers, horror, police procedurals, women sleuths, medical, legal, etcetera. It’s not a good idea to mix genres. My mysteries are cozies with a woman sleuth who is medical. That’s just fiction. There are a lot more genres for non-fiction.

Your point of view can be either first person or third person, and it’s important not to mix them up. My mysteries are first person. It’s Toni Day who’s telling the story and I have to be careful not to attribute thoughts or feelings to other characters, besides Toni because how does she know how another person is feeling or thinking? She knows because of the way they act, and that’s what I have to have her describe and deduce from that what she thinks they’re thinking or feeling. In the third person, where the writer tells a story about characters other than the writer, that’s not a problem.

Finally, what audience is your book directed at? Adults? Youth? Children? Professionals? Men? Women? It makes a difference what you put in it: for instance, you couldn’t put sex or profanity in a book meant for youth or children, but you can if it’s meant for adults. My mysteries don’t have a lot of sex, but they do have language, even the occasional F-bomb, so they’re meant for adults, and to appeal to medical professionals as well as mystery lovers.

Those are the top three, but there’s more.

  1. Keep the action moving.

Regardless of genre, it’s important not to let the story get bogged down. You want the reader to keep turning pages, not lose interest in the middle of the book. You also need to start a book with something that grabs the reader’s attention. You don’t want to start a book with a lot of backstory; you can insert little snippets of it in strategic places but keep them short.

  1. Join a local writer’s group. Or an online group.

Other writers in these writers’ groups are a great source for advice and ideas; they know people who can give you tips on how to get published in ways that are affordable to the average person. They know people who can get the book printed, people who do illustrations, and places to sell them. You can use things like Facebook and Instagram to market your book and establish a website and a blog. There are also websites like Goodreads who will do an online interview with you and post it for a small fee. There are also websites where you can pay for book reviews and post them on Amazon.

It’s extremely hard to get a book published by a traditional publisher, who pays you to write and markets your book for you; I really have no idea how they do it. I use an online independent publisher, but they charge for their services, and it can be very pricey. To purchase a publishing package can cost several thousand dollars. Add editing, proofreading, cover copy polish and cover design can be several thousand more. Then there’s marketing, and that is where we’re talking about real money. And that’s just for one book.

In other words, if I wasn’t a doctor, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. The upside is that it’s deductible as a business expense.

Also, if you plan to sell books yourself, you will need a state seller’s permit and pay state sales tax. That’s important too, unless you live in a state that doesn’t have sales tax. Idaho isn’t one of them.

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My inspiration for the Toni Day Mystery series

It all started with Murder She Wrote.

All doctors think about retirement, whether it’s making enough money to retire early, or whether they can afford to retire at all, or where they want to live when they retire, and all the fun they’ll have after they do retire.

My husband had a dream of selling the house and living in a motor home and traveling all over the country when I retired, never staying long in one place. I didn’t want that, so I decided to keep working until he got over it. That wasn’t our only point of dissension, and in 2004 we divorced, so I didn’t have to worry about that any more.

In my case, I thought about what I would do to pass the time after retirement, because I’ve known too many doctors who retired and then died. Of boredom? Who knows?

But when Murder She Wrote came on TV, I decided I wanted to be Jessica Fletcher when I grew up. My husband gifted me with a word processor for Christmas, and I sat right down and started writing what is now my first Toni Day mystery, Murder Under the Microscope.

In 1985, when I had less than ten years of pathology practice under my belt at a tiny rural hospital, a locum tenens, or temporary, physician was hired to help with weekend call. The first thing she did was pick a fight with me, verbally abuse my lab techs, and circulate derogatory information about how incompetent the lab and pathologist were.

Nothing happened, of course, and she was gone after three weeks, but in the meantime she did a real number on my self-esteem, and I got no visible support from my medical colleagues. That was when the first seed was planted, and I decided that someday I would kill her off in a book.

In 1982, a sleazy lawyer got our entire medical staff ensnared in a leasing company, which was intended to avoid taxes, and worked quite well until1987 and Black Monday. It all fell apart, the IRS swooped in, and the doctors ended up owing hundreds of thousands in back taxes, interest and penalties. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten involved in the first place, but the whole thing adversely affected the hospital’s bottom line, and I think it was ultimately responsible for us having to sell out to the county hospital in 2001.

I killed him off in Too Much Blood.

In 1995, we acquired a new hospital administrator, who, not to mince words, was a pathological liar and treated employees like shit. I killed him off in Grievous Bodily Harm.

My best friend Rhonda and I were at a party where a friend of ours introduced us to one of her daughters. When she told her daughter that I was a pathologist, the daughter exclaimed, “Eww, you do autopsies? On dead people?”

I explained to her that we are limited to dead people because those live ones complain too much, and Rhonda said that it would be death by autopsy. Ever since, Rhonda has been telling me that I had to write a book called Death by Autopsy, so I did.

In 2013, I was on a Caribbean cruise with a gentleman friend, and we were sitting up on the Lido deck one day when it began to rain, and they had to close the roof. As I watched those massive gears closing the roof with a cacophony of creaks and groans, it occurred to me what a dandy way that would be to murder somebody and have it look like an accident. The result was The Body on the Lido Deck.

Throughout all these stories, Toni’s mother, Fiona, had objected to Toni’s getting involved in matters best left to the police and putting herself in danger. I thought it was about time that Fiona actually had to ask Toni to get involved, and consequently Toni and Hal return to their hometown of Long Beach, California, in A Deadly Homecoming.

One of the editors of Murder Under the Microscope commented that it was too bad that “the awful Robbie” had been sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder, because she was hoping he would show up in future books. “I love a good villain,” was what she said. So I’m resurrecting him in my seventh Toni Day Mystery, with the working title The Twelve Murders of Christmas.

Incidentally, I still haven’t retired.