My Overly Complicated, Possibly Obtuse, but Wholly Essential (for me) Method to Outlining

Now there’s a title to chew on. Today I’m going to dive into my strategies for outlining my novels. Doubtless many of you have heard the gardener vs the architect quote by George R. R. Martin when it comes to outlining, which essentially suggests there are writers who discover the story as they go and those who know the fine bits and details ahead of time.

For a long time, I never outlined. It seems like madness to me now, but I’d simply sit down, place my fingers on the keyboard and pick up where I left off the day before. I wrote the An Assassin’s Blade trilogy, Curses, Crones & Unspeakable Things, and most of Sorcery and Sin in that manner.

Starting with Runeforged (Ascension trilogy), I began outlining… rather extensively. And I believe that’s fairly obvious. Ascension, in my opinion, flows more smoothly, has more effective foreshadowing, the pace is better—the writing all around is tighter, more economical, and ultimately more compelling than my earlier books.

My outlining has evolved since then, but mostly the nuts and bolts are the same. I begin with character sheets, rules for whatever magic might be in the book, and a brief history about the land. Most of the details within don’t make it into the actual book.

I then write a broad outline that extends no more than twelve chapters. Each chapter is given one or two brief paragraph of what happens. This lets me spot any gaping plot holes or inconsistencies and also aids me in my next task, which is writing detailed outlines for those chapters.

Everything that happens in a chapter is reflected in these detailed outlines. I equate them more to rough drafts than outlines, actually. A typical chapter outline is 50-75% of the finished chapter’s word count. As you might imagine, this takes some time—usually between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. But it greatly speeds up my actual writing of the chapter. With an outline in hand, I can knock out a 4,000-word chapter in less than two hours.

Because my outlines are so extensive, my first drafts are usually fairly clean. Huge rewrites are extraordinarily uncommon, because I catch whatever would have necessitated them in the outlining stage.

Outlines don’t seem to help with my problem of writing crooks and nannies and instead of nooks and crannies, however.

The fallout of burnout

In an update several months ago, I touched on the unwise decision I’d made this past summer to drastically increase my publishing output. The resulting fatigue from that ultimately slowed me down as summer approached its end, but I thought I’d recovered when writing Dragonsoul.

I was wrong. After Dragonsoul was published, I’d found writing had become a miserable slog. This wasn’t at all a familiar feeling for me. I’ve been writing professionally for ten years, and while there were times when the days were long and difficult, I never once dreaded working on whatever project I was tackling.

Pushing through was clearly not working, so I threw up my arms and decided to give in to the suggestion of taking a prolonged break. I didn’t write a single word for over a month. In the last few days of my hiatus, I felt the fire returning, and I’m happy to say that writing is once again enjoyable and I’m back to being productive.

The interruption has obviously altered my plan for when Dragonsoul book 2 is to come out. The original expectation was for a January release, but that’s not happening. I’m now aiming for a release in the last week of March or the first week of April. I apologize for the delay, but I believe it’ll be well worth it.

Late-Summer Update

Or is it sorta-mid-sorta-late summer? Anyhow, let's get down to it. 

Runeborn, the third and final book in my Ascension trilogy, will be available August 14th. I know I had said this would release in July, but I was bit late delivering the manuscript to my editor, and my proofreader was on vacation, and the dog ate my—well, everything just got pushed back a little. 

My next series involves dragons. DRAGONS! Expect the first book in October, with the second in late November or early December. 

With those two items squared away, let's talk about my Leviathan series. The first book came out in June. I'd planned on getting the second book out in August, but that won't be happening. Instead, the final TWO books in the series will be coming out at the same time and on the same day, in early 2019. I say late February, but it may well be in March. 

I realize that's quite a gap between releases. There's a reason for it, although I'm not sure it's a very good one. Simply, I had planned on the series stretching to five or six books. However, I ran into a lot of ugliness with the plot and I hit a wall. So I started writing the unnamed dragon series to bring me out of my funk. 

Shortly after, I decided I didn't like switching off between series every release. I wanted to go back to completing a series in its entirety before moving on to another series. Not wanting to stop in the middle of my current book, I made the choice to complete the dragon trilogy first, and then Leviathan. 


I talked a while back about writing a book a month. This worked out quite well for the first three months, and then fatigue slammed into me with the impetus of a tsunami. Perhaps I was too ambitious, or I simply didn't plan well enough, but I am—at the moment—retreating to a slower release schedule of one book every ~2 months. 




Publishing Outlook for 2018

Many of you have probably read George R.R. Martin's quote that there are two types of writers, architects and gardeners. Essentially, a writer who plans ahead and one who goes with the flow. 

I used to write on the fly. Perhaps I kept a small number of notes stowed away somewhere, likely under empty envelopes and expired lottery tickets, but the vision I had for my novels was mostly stored in my head. I didn't keep outlines. I didn't keep notes about characters. 

Those days are thankfully over. I realize they may work for some writers, but I am not among the esteemed few. I now start each book with a rough outline for the first ten chapters, along with character sheets, world building info, how the magic system works, etc. Before I sit down to actually write a chapter, I write a detailed outline of that chapter. It makes the process so much more enjoyable.

Because of this, my output has increased dramatically. I've gone from writing ~2,500 words a day to 6,000. Because of that, I'm adjusting my expected productivity for the rest of 2018. 

Ascension Book 2 (Runeforged 2) is finished and has been since March 18th. I have it back from my editor, but it still needs proofread and a cover. It's being released May 8. 

The first book in a new series—let's call it Labyrinth—is being released in mid-June. This is a fantasy novel with some sci-fi elements that I'm having a great time writing. 

Ascension Book 3 will be released In mid-to-late July. 

Labyrinth 2 will be released in late August.

A new series will be released in early October.

Labyrinth 3 will be released in early-to-mid November. 

New Series Book Number 2 will be released in mid-December. 

This is subject to change slightly, but it's unlikely I'll deviate from this schedule too much.


So, essentially, one book per month (not exactly one month, but close enough).

I understand that some of you may be concerned about a drop-off in quality by writing this fast. I've actually found the opposite is true. My writing is more cohesive and generally requires fewer revisions the more I write per day. 

I'm aiming for 90,000-100,000 words for future books, which is the same length as Runeforged, and I believe that flowed really nicely. The Dragon Thief, by comparison, was 125,000 words. It also featured 5 primary PoVs that gave me fits as the series progressed. I won't be tackling that large of a cast again for some time. 

TLDR: More books faster.

A Look Forward and a Peek Behind

With 2018 well underway, I want to give everyone an update on what projects I have planned for the year to come. But first, a look back at 2017. 

My Sorcery and Sin trilogy was wrapped up in November with the release of Wrath of the Wraith. That book marked only the third novel I released in 2017, a year that saw my daughter born and the subsequent arrival of a whirlwind of fatigue. 

Despite my lack of productivity, 2017 was a year of great success. An Assassin's Blade trilogy stayed at #1 in epic fantasy on Amazon UK for nearly 4 months straight, and held the #1 spot in all fantasy several times. Although that's no New York Times Bestseller list, it feels pretty damn good to see your book bumping elbows with the likes of J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman. 

Here's what I'm working on for 2018. 

Untitled Fantasy Series (let's call it Runes for now). 

Book 1 will be published in March. It's with my editor right now. 

Book 2 is currently being written. It'll be in the hands of my editor by the time Book 1 is released. 

Book 3 will have been written by the time Book 2 comes out. 

So we're looking at a release schedule of March, May, July

Untitled Fantasy Series 2

I don't have a placeholder name for this yet, because I don't have the slightest idea what it's about. What I do know is that it'll follow a similar release schedule, so you can expect books to come out in September, November, January

I'm confident the above dates won't change, because I'll have each subsequent book with my editor before the current one releases. If I fall off my roof and break my wrist, get mauled by a rabid animal or otherwise suffer severe injury, then all bets are off, but I like my chances.

I'd like to break ground on an epic fantasy that won't get itself out of my head, but I think this one will be truly epic in both scope and word count. I'm not keen on publishing zilch for several months, so I'm putting it on the back burner. 

I've been flirting with the idea of diving back into Astul's world as well. That won't happen this year, and it probably won't happen next year, but I'd love to revisit Mizridahl. 

I would also like to keep this site updated more frequently. I've said that in the past, so we'll see how it goes. I do update my Facebook page semi-frequently, so check there if these pages start collecting dust. 

And as always, feel free to email me at 



Good news, everyone

My weekend morning routine of watching Futurama seems to be influencing my post titles. But I do have good news. Book 2 of Sorcery and Sin should be released on August 1. I'll have a title and cover reveal in the next few days. 

At the time of this book's release, it will have been four months since The Dragon Thief (Book 1) was published. That's not something I consider acceptable, but since it happened, I'll try to explain why. 

I finished The Dragon Thief Feb. 20. I wrote most of the book while caring for my newborn daughter, which was exceptionally difficult. Basically, I carried her around on a sling while she slept and I wrote. I wanted to start Book 2 by March 1, but at that time she was 3-months old and not napping so frequently or for as long. 

My writing days were short, often interrupted, and I got very little done in the month of March. In April, we hired a nanny, so that problem was remedied. Unfortunately, a new problem presented itself: Book 2 came with a host of problems and kinks that took me far longer to figure out than any book has in the past. 

I didn't finish the final draft (pre-editor) until June 18th. 

Will Book 3 suffer the same fate? I don't think so. Firstly, it hasn't taken me a month and a half to start working on it. Secondly, I've outlined most of it, so there will be fewer surprises and roadblocks than in Book 2. I'm still on target to release in September, but it will be late September. 

Thanks for sticking with the series despite the longer-than-usual delay between books. I think you'll find it very much worth the wait. 

Book 2 Update

Those of you who have read The Dragon Thief know that I had planned to release book two of Sorcery and Sin in June. I wanted to give everyone an update that it will actually be released in July. Book three will be out in September.

The Dragon Thief

My soon-to-be-released novel has a name, although its gender is still TBD. The title is The Dragon Thief, and it's book 1 of a brand new series titled Sorcery and Sin.

I'm still seesawing between an April 4th and April 11th release date, but I'll have to make a final decision on that soon. Why not a date between those two? Because I've a very strange fascination with releasing books on Tuesdays. It's not very rational, truth be told. But it's always worked for me. 

As with all my new releases, it will be priced at $0.99 for one week only, so get it while it's hot!

In other news... 

An Assassin's Blade: The Complete Trilogy recently ended its four-month run as the number 1 best-selling epic fantasy (Kindle) on Amazon UK. It was also the number 1 best selling book in numerous other fantasy subcategories. The response to this trilogy, quite frankly, blew me away. 

I had high hopes for releasing all three books together, but I never could have imagined how many people I would have reached. A huge, huge thanks to all of you who have read the series — whether you enjoyed it or hated it, I sincerely thank you. 

Keep on the lookout for cover art for The Dragon Thief. It's coming soon. 



A new book and an old book

Back in October, I had planned to release another book in the Rim universe sometime in January. Let's all laugh at how badly I missed that mark. 

I do have a new book on the way, however. It's an epic fantasy, the first in a planned trilogy.

I'm sending it to my editor on Feb. 20th and anticipate a release date in mid-to-late April. There's a splash of adventure, a smattering of darkness and morbidity, a couple scoops of political intrigue, and a whole heaping of the fantastical, all brought together by myth and legends and things that threaten humanity. Tasty, I promise.

Neither the series nor the first book have a name. That will come soon. This is the most ambitious project I've taken on to date.

And with that glimpse into the future, let's leap back into the past. 

I have published four books in the last year (The Misbegotten, The Miscreant, The Misjudgment, and Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things). That's slightly below my ideal output of six per year, but not bad for my first full year as a full-time author. Also, had I not changed course in early November, I would have had another novel out in January. 

That shift happened because Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things didn't sell very well. The idea was to create a universe -- called Rim -- that would serve as the backdrop for many novels, each a standalone. Think Discworld or Xanth. The problem is that Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things -- and all future books in the series -- didn't fall into a specific market. 

It wasn't dark fantasy or epic. It wasn't urban fantasy or sword and sorcery. It was part comedic fantasy and part general high fantasy. Comedic fantasy is not a popular genre, exceptions notwithstanding. General fantasy is too massive to serve as a book's only genre.  Simply put, Curses simply failed to gain traction. 

As much as I like to view my career from an artistic standpoint, I must also consider the business implications. I'm not certain that the Rim universe can be successful at this time. Because of that I'm putting on hold future projects in that universe. Know that if Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things had been the first book in a series, I would have written its sequels -- I'll never let a series go unfinished. But it is a standalone in every sense of the word. 

For those of you who enjoyed the Rim universe, I hope to pick it back up at some point in the future. For now, I'll be focusing my efforts on this new trilogy. 

Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things

My absence on this blog during the past couple months comes because I've been hard at work on my newest book, and I didn't have much information to share. Until now! 

Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things will be released October 11th, 2016. It's the first book in a universe that will serve as the backdrop for the majority of my stories for the foreseeable future. Each book will be a standalone, and you can read them in any order you like. 

So what's Curses, Crones and Unspeakable Things about? Part urban fantasy, part humor, part grand conspiracies involving witches, a sixteen-eyed tyrant, and a voyager who draws pictures and jumps into them. 

I'll have more information to share as the release date draws near. Speaking of the release date -- would you like to read the book before October 11th? I'm offering advance review copies to anyone who would like one. The only request I have is, given it's a review copy, that you please leave an honest review on Amazon in return. If you'd like a copy, please email me at 

- Justin 

A New Series Has Been Born

On May 1st, I sent the final installment in the An Assassin's Blade trilogy, THE MISJUDGMENT, off to my editor. Afterward, I took seven days off in which I did mostly nothing except play Overwatch beta and The Witcher 3, and walk the dog. 

My little vacation came to an end a few days ago, and with its conclusion began a new fantasy series that I'm really excited about. I'm only 7,000 words in right now, so it's way too early say how it'll take shape, but it's looking to be a mashup of urban and epic fantasy.

It's quite the departure from An Assassin's Blade in tone, setting... pretty much everything. I love dark, gritty fantasy, but I was itching for some variety after writing 330,000 words in the genre, and I think this series will scratch that itch. 

I expect to have the first book out at the latest by October 6. I'm aiming for a bit earlier than that, though. We'll see. 

The Misjudgment is set to release June 21st. As with The Miscreant, I'm looking to move that up -- probably to June 15th, but I'll need to make sure there aren't any large revisions required before I do so. 

And one last piece of news. I'm hopeful to have The Misbegotten out in audio book sometime this fall. It's too far out to give you all a target date or even month, but I'll be sure to keep you in the loop. 

Until next time, 




Publishing speed, or when the !#%#$ can I expect more books?

Book 2 of the An Assassin's Blade Trilogy, THE MISCREANT, was officially moved up to April 13th last week. That puts us at 60 days between the publication of it and THE MISBEGOTTEN. Book 3, THE MISJUDGMENT, will be released no later than June 20th, no earlier than June 13th. At worst, that puts us at about 67 days between releases. 

Will timeline continue? Not quite so fast, no. Each book in this trilogy was over 100,000 words, which isn't far from the norm for fantasy — quite underwhelming if you compare to Rothfuss, Sanderson, and others who write door stoppers. I had the first draft of Book 2 finished prior to the publication of Book 1, so I had a decent head start. 

I anticipate most of my books hitting that 100-110K-word mark. I write ~2500 words a day, 5 days a week. So 40 working days until a first draft is complete. But let's say 50, as a buffer. That puts me at August 15th for the finished draft of a new trilogy I'm planning. By the time editing and all that fun stuff is done, we're looking at probably an ~October 5th release date. So, what, 3-and-a-half months? That's a little longer than it'll usually be, because we're moving into a house at the end of May and I'm migrating south for vacation in June, but ~3 months is a safe bet between releases for the foreseeable future. 

That works out to 4 books per year, which I'm happy with. I understand yinz, ya'll, whatever y-word to indicate a group of people you prefer using, would love even more frequent releases, but that probably simply won't happen with the size of the books I'm putting out. 

But I did want to give everyone a heads-up, so you know what to expect in the future. I've been writing professionally for many years, so I've learned to be pretty accurate in my estimations. I might be off by a week or two, but you won't see any 6-month, 10-month or year-long gulfs. I do this for a living, and it brings me far too much enjoyment to go that long without productive writing. 

Now, if I ever decide to embark on a 300,000 word epic, then yeah. There'll be a slow-down. That's not in the cards for the immediate future, though.



Book Three and Beyond

Book three of An Assassin's Blade trilogy has a name: THE MISJUDGMENT. 

I'm still aiming for an early-to-mid June release date. It will go on pre-order alongside the release of THE MISCREANT (Book 2). Speaking of which, THE MISCREANT is slated for an April 25 release date. I said in a previous post that date would likely get bumped up. So long as I don't run into major restructuring issues after receiving the manuscript back from my editor, I'll be changing the release date to April 13. 

Seeing as THE MISJUDGMENT will be the concluding book in the trilogy, I want to give a rough outline of my plans going forward. 

I'll be starting a new series in a new world with new characters. Still fantasy, but probably not rooted in medieval culture. This could change, as ideas are wont to do. I hope to have the first book published between mid-August and early September. 

I'll also be working on a couple novella-sized stories involving Astul's past. Think short, fun reads that give you further insight into the Black Rot, Astul's friendship with Vayle, etc. These stories will be 100%, totally, absolutely and entirely FREE if you subscribe to my newsletter. When each individual story is ready for publication, I'll send it to you in your preferred format (.mobi. .epub, PDF, etc.). 

So sign on up! I only send my newsletter out when I have a new release to announce or a free book to send. No spam, no annoying, pointless drivel. Just the good stuff. And you can unsubscribe at any time. 


Paperback update

For anyone interested in getting THE MISBEGOTTEN in paperback, that version should be up within the next 7-10 days. Time constraints and formatting problems forced me to delay its release. It'll go live as soon as I receive my proof copy and make sure there aren't any blank pages or other oddities.