Skip to content

To plot or not to plot - why are we asking this question?

There's a rude and inaccurate phrase being spread in online writing groups, "Plotter or Pantser." It implies those who plot out a story in an outline first are professionals and those who don't are amateurishly flying by the seat of their pants. There are professionals who plot with outlines and professionals who don’t.

We who don’t are not flying by the seat of our pants. We start with characters and a situation. As we write, we place characters under pressure and see how they react. That reaction revels the characters true natures, moves the story forward and examines the themes presented, all of which we don’t know in the beginning because we’re discovering our own perspectives and the nature of the world as we uncover the story. The words plot and story are sometimes used interchangeably, yet are quite different. Plot consists of the incidents. Story consists of the incidents, world building and character development. People want to read stories, not plots.

James Patterson writes detailed, chapter by chapter outlines before he puts down a single word of prose. This obviously works for him because he’s a bestselling author and people love his well written books. He’s writing a particular type if book, a puzzle that he lays out, cuts up with a jigsaw and assembles in front of readers. He also works with collaborators He'll give the outline to another author who will write some chapters or the entire book. An outline makes this easier.

If plotting an outline works for you, that’s what you should do. Just don’t use rude terms like pantser for those who don’t. Stephen King, Salmon Rushdie and Margaret Atwood never create outlines or character sheets before putting down prose. None of them can be considered struggling armatures.

Making personal appearances that sell books

Making an appearance at a bookstore, reading or farmers’ market is a great experience.

All the bookstores I’ve appeared at were supportive and helpful. They supplied water and even snacks. Each of them advertise the events on their social media accounts. I also make announcements on my website and on social media.

Quite frankly, it’s not worth the money to pay for advertising. Tell friends, co-workers and family and ask them to spread the word.

I find the best way to do any appearance is to approach it as a service. Share your enthusiasm for a book people might enjoy and don’t think of it as trying to make a sale. Be sincere. People can spot artificiality.

What works for me is to say “Hello” to everyone. Some people say hello back and move on. Some people ignore me. Some people stop. When they do, I give a 15 second overview of my books (I have 5 titles). That’s all the time you have to attract interest. My 15 second overview is:

I’m the author of all the books you see on this table ranging from women’s historical fiction with rumors of Celtic mythology to an epic fantasy trilogy to a science fiction novelette that asks, ‘Artificial Intelligence - what could possibly go wrong?’

If this holds people’s interest, take another 20 to 35 seconds on a book they seem interested in by watching their eyes move across the titles and go into more detail.

For the historical novel I say:

This is the story of Margaret Talbot, an artist who fights her way into the male dominated world of publishing in the late nineteenth century, the way many historical women did, to become a magazine illustrator, but she has a life changing crisis, comes to a small fishing village and meets many people. One young woman named Sara skips and jumps and sings nonsense songs. Margaret fears Sara had a childhood trauma, but some in the village say she’s a selkie, a magical being from Celtic mythology who walks on the land as a human and swims in the sea as a seal. With the influence of the villagers, and her own self-determination, Margaret strives to discover who she is and what she truly wants.

Some may want to talk more about one of your books. Some may want to tell you about a book they’re working on and ask questions about writing. Some may tell you the most intimate and interesting stories about their lives. Take your time, be honest and make connections with everyone.

Present the spirit of the book more than the plot. Concentrate on the relationships between characters. That’s what people like to hear about. Don’t speak at anyone, engage people in two way conversations. Listen as much as you talk. Let the conversation wander away from your books. Some people will buy a copy and others won’t. Keep the attitude you’re there to meet folks and connect.

I sell between 12 and 25 copies this way over a 4 hour period.

The greatest joy is when someone who has read one of more of my books tells me how much they enjoyed it. This makes it worth all the work.