Category: writing advice

An Overview of My Current Editing Process

Over the holiday, I took some vacation days (the first vacation days I’d taken since January, believe it or not. It’s been a crazy year). But one thing I couldn’t take a vacation from was the PERFECT PLACE TO DIE copy edits. For those of you who don’t know what copy edits are, allow me to explain.

The editing process for a book goes through many, many stages. There’s the first draft, when it’s just me and my computer, bravely hammering out something that hopefully mostly resembles the story I’d like to tell. These days, I typically start with an outline that’s two or three single spaced pages, painting a basic picture of what the main conflict is and how the protagonist goes about solving it (or succumbing to it). However, during that first draft, I still find out a ton about the book. Who the main character really is. What makes them tick. It’s like when you plan out a vacation and have an agenda of what you want to do, but then when you get to the city, you find it’s rarely just what you expected. You make changes to your plan based on how things go in real life.

These days, I take that first draft and throw it to my writing group. If I had more time, perhaps I’d do a second draft before I send it to them (that might be nicer to them, I suppose . . . ) but they’re hardy readers, and they can take a first draft just fine. I get feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Often, I get even more ideas about things I could do in the book. New directions to explore. Settings. Conflicts. I also reread it myself when I send it to them, and I inevitably see things I don’t like about it as well.

So then I take all that feedback and make a second draft. It’s usually very different from the first. I’ve found out through the process of writing that the story I thought I wanted to tell might not actually be the one I really want to tell. (The end goal is to tell the best story I can.) I get that second draft ready and then send it to my agent. We might have some back and forth drafts that happen then until we get it to the point where we feel like it’s ready to go on submission.

Assuming an editor likes it and buys it, then there’s always the next round of edits, where my editor opines on ways to improve the book even further. Once again, there’s usually some repeated rounds of drafting, with each pass getting easier and easier, as the final draft gets closer.

Once my editor and I agree we’ve got the book in top form, then it’s time for the copy edits. The copy editor looks through the book for grammar errors, factual errors, and inconsistencies. So in THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE, for example, I found out from the copy editor that the giant Ferris wheel at the Chicago World’s Fair held 60 people per car instead of the 40 that I had put in there. That’s a factual error that’s now correct. An example of an inconsistency would be a spot where Etta (my main character) is sitting down at one point in the book, and then a few short sentences late sits down again. (Kind of hard to sit down twice, you know?)

And then there’s finally the grammar errors. I don’t usually have too many of those, but I definitely have my share. This time through, I discovered that I had a tendency to include a lot of interrupters which, grammatically speaking, needed more commas than I was comfortable with. Specifically, I’d include interrupters right after a conjunction. Technically, they’re supposed to have a comma around the entire interrupter, but I felt like that was just too many commas, and so in the end I decided to stet almost all of those commas. This might make my text more grammatically inconsistent, but . . . I just didn’t have it in me to leave those commas. They read wrong to me for the voice of my character.

In any case, the manuscript at this point is back with my editor, and they’re working on incorporating those last changes. I’m glad to be done with them, because it means I can go back to the first draft of THE AXEMAN, and the circle of life of a manuscript can continue.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Revision Complete!

Yesterday I finished the sixth draft of THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE. There was much rejoicing. It wasn’t a huge revision in the grand scheme of things, but it came at a very difficult time. Between the kids’ school starting back up, the university getting in gear again, the puppy, and general anxiety, it’s a tough time to force yourself to get creative. But I did, and I’m happy with how it turned out. (Now here’s hoping my editor is also happy . . .)

Of course, I also realize that when I say “wasn’t a huge revision,” it might mean different things to me than it means to you. For me, a revision is something much more than checking for spelling errors and internal consistencies in the book. (Such as, “Does a character’s description remain constant?”) No, an actual revision is going through making real changes to the text itself.

For this revision, there were a number of things I set out to tackle. First, my editor had read through the whole manuscript and had some great suggestions about what needed to happen. The first third of the book dragged too much, so it needed to be slimmed down. (I cut it by almost a fifth.) The climax was over too abruptly. (I extended it by about 40%.) Some of the characters didn’t appear often enough. Some areas needed more tension. In all, I probably trimmed about 7,500 words (out of 75,000) and added back in around the same amount I cut. (The final length did drop by a few hundred words.)

Once I’d read her suggestions, I read through the book myself again, looking for ideas on how to execute her suggested edits, as well as checking for things that still didn’t sit right with me. It’s always super helpful to be reading with a purpose. I get to the point on a book that I can’t take it any farther on my own. I’ve made it as good as I can without feedback. Once I have feedback, I can almost always see what I was missing before.

(It reminds me in many ways of the days when I was still searching for an agent. I’d send off a manuscript, confident it was perfect. I’d get back feedback and suddenly see all its flaws. This isn’t to say that a book always has those flaws. Sometimes I’m trying to do something that appeals to some people and not to others. You can’t just give up on your vision because someone doesn’t think it’s great. Sometimes you need to stick to your guns. A lot of the trick is knowing when to do that.)

Anyway. Glad to have the revision done and be that much closer to sharing it with you all!

And in other good news, Ferris didn’t just keep his cage poop free last night, he went to bed at 10 and didn’t get up until we got him at 6am. That’s a huge win in my book. If we can keep that up, things are looking rosy!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Making It as an Author: Friends, Family, and Social Media Just Won’t Cut It

Like many aspiring authors, I used to think if I could only get a book published, then all my writing woes would be gone. And like every actual published author I’ve ever spoken to, I now know how naive that idea was.

The thing is, we like to think of ourselves as different. Special. We’re the hero in our own lives, and the heroes in the story always end up overcoming the odds. It’s been drilled into us by years of narrative. And so we come up with reasons for why it’ll be different for us. The one I hear most people say is that they have a tremendous support group. An active blog. Tons of friends who will spread the word of their new book far and wide.

I don’t doubt that people have many family and friends. I don’t doubt that they have an active social media presence. But where I do put on my skeptic glasses is when they claim that presence and those connections will translate into success.

To put it bluntly: your book just doesn’t mean nearly as much to everyone else in your life as it does to you.

Don’t get me wrong. There will definitely be people in your life who will go and spread the word about your writing. But they will be few and far between, and sometimes who does do it will surprise you just as much as who doesn’t.

I don’t mean this as a slam to my friends and family. I definitely feel like I’ve been supported in my efforts as an author. I just realize and acknowledge that there’s only so much that support can get you. As an aspiring author, you look at all your friends and family and see each one of them going to give you reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Those hordes of reviews will translate into people taking notice of your book, and BAM! You’re sailing into the sunset.

Folks, I’ve got 795 Facebook friends. MEMORY THIEF has 64 ratings and 30 reviews on Goodreads. VODNIK has 294 ratings and 86 reviews. CAVERN OF BABEL has 9 and 4, respectively. I think anyone can do the math pretty easily. Does this mean my friends don’t love me? Don’t care about the fact that I’ve written novels?

Not at all. It means they haven’t read them, or they don’t use Goodreads, or they didn’t like them, or they haven’t had time to write a review, or any number of things. And that’s okay.

You will naturally hear of exceptions. Hear of authors who made it big because they already had a big following before their book came out. But the fact that you’re hearing about those authors means something: it means that story is an outlier. Something different from the norm.

So what can you do as an author to make a difference? To move the needle?

You can write better books, and you can get better luck.

Yes, you can try to force feed your book to all your friends and family. You can blog like a madman. You can turn into a walking advertisement. And I suppose there’s a chance that might work for one or two people (though imagine all the people they’re alienating and annoying in the process). In the end, people share things with other people that they really loved. That they’re passionate about. And your friends and family love you for sure. But they’re not sharing you. They’re sharing your book.

You are not your book.

So if you want more people to love your writing, write better books. Write books that simply have to be shared. That demand other people go out and tell other people about them. Books that cause complete strangers to become your fans. It’s the one and only thing authors have any real control over: the quality of their writing.

What’s the last book you recommended to a friend or reviewed online? Why did you recommend or review it?

And then there’s luck. You can put yourself out there and hope that luck smiles on you, but all I know about luck is that it only comes to those who have their hat out, ready for it when it does. It’s no guarantee that it will, but you hope for the best.

All while writing the best books you can.

I don’t mean for this post to be depressing or discouraging. But I do think it’s important any aspiring artist has a realistic view of what success will take. You can dump a whole lot of time and effort into building a robust social network, but I think taking all that time and putting it into developing your craft would be a better use of it, unless you like social networks. (Which I do, so . . .)

There’s always the real chance that my personal experience is different than the majority’s, but I’m basing this post not just on my experience, but on the conversations I’ve had with other author friends. So they’re a bit more robust than just a single sample size.

In any case, to those of you about to write, I salute you. It’s a tough business, and not for the faint of heart. Keep at it!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

First Book, First Chapter, Sixth Draft

I blogged yesterday about the first draft of the first chapter of the first book I ever took a real stab at. Today, I want to share what the first chapter looked like after I’d worked on it for a few years. This is from the sixth draft. (The last one I did.)

Right off, you’ll notice the biggest change: it’s actually in-scene. Early on I struggled with narrating too much. Instead of actually showing the action unfold, I would have my narrator talk about it unfolding. It’s like the difference between watching an episode of your favorite TV show and watching a character from your favorite TV show summarize that episode.

Being in scene is, generally, much better.

Other differences abound. As I recall, I lopped off a ton from the beginning of the book, so this probably takes place whole chapters later in the first draft. Real revision is like that. Huge, big, text-altering changes. It’s not spell checking or running a grammar check. It’s fixing the story and making it as good as possible.

Anyway. Hopefully this is interesting to you. Have a great weekend!

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Chapter One

Into the Elevator

 

Dad shook me awake. “Get up, honey—it’s time to go.”

The sun was already out—I had overslept. “Already?” I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.

“What do you mean already? I’ve let you sleep in an hour longer than I said you could. What time did you go to bed last night?”

The memory of the key adventure came rushing back. “I can’t remember,” I lied. “Can’t I sleep a bit longer?” We wouldn’t be going anywhere, anyway.

“Are you kidding? Come on. Out of bed, or else I’ll have Jacob come wake you up.” He smiled as he left the room.

That was playing dirty—threatening to turn Jacob loose on me. He’d probably try dousing me with water. I grumbled as I sat up, resigned to the fact that I’d at least have to get going, even if I didn’t have to go off to Magnifica. I didn’t change out of my pajamas—that would have required admitting this might work, after all. I had packed my bags last night before I had taken matters into my own hands. Now that things were taken care of, I could afford to be more casual. I slipped on some flip flops, put my hair up with a clip and went downstairs until the key was found “missing.” At the back of my head, though, there was a little voice asking if the key had won, after all. I was tired enough to ignore it.

Dad was running around like a madman—taking out the trash, making sure the dishes were done. We had an okay house, but it was known to have cockroaches. I lay down on the couch and tried to sleep some more until Dad came and prodded me.

“Jacob. Jacob!” Dad yelled upstairs to my brother. If I knew Jacob, he was upstairs trying to cram in some last minute time on the computer. He practically lived on strategy games—he claimed he was pretty good at them. Like I cared. What was the point in proving you were better than some machine? It wasn’t like he was going to be directing any armies any time soon.

After a few minutes—just enough time to shut down a computer—I heard Jacob come bounding down the stairs.

“Come on—we’re ready.” My dad prodded me again, and I opened my eyes. He had a sport jacket and tie on. On another man, they might have looked flashy and hip. On my dad, they emphasized his growing belly and lack of hair. He had put on weight since Mom’s death, and his hair was definitely not as dark as it used to be. He looked at me. “Aren’t you going to wear something more appropriate?”

“Come on, Dad—you aren’t actually going through with this, are you? I mean—trying to travel somewhere by elevator? Who do you think you are—Willy Wonka?”

“Oh get over it, Suze,” Jacob said from his corner of the room. “You’re a girl—why don’t you act like it?”

“Listen, Jake—I don’t need the whole feminine lecture from you again, alright? You can—”

“Enough you two,” said Dad. “In the car—no more questions.”

The next thing I knew I was sitting in the back seat in my pajamas, having not gotten ready at all and on my way to the Holiday Inn. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. What had happened to the key?

“Uh, Dad?”

“Yeah?” He was right in front of me in the driver’s seat, and he looked at me in the rear view mirror.

“Do we have everything?”

“Sure do.”

“Everything everything?”

“Yes—I even made a list. We didn’t forget anything.”

“You have my suitcase?”

“Yes.”

“And my backpack?”

“Yes—and you should thank Jacob for hauling all that stuff out to the car for you.”

Jacob, up front in the passenger seat, turned around and stuck his tongue out.

I rolled my eyes. “Grade school, Jake—very. What would Tiffany say if your face stuck that way?” He was a year older than my fifteen, but he only acted it when he was around people he wanted to impress. I hadn’t been one of them since elementary school.

“What would you know, lazy? Next time I’ll throw your junk out with the trash.”

“Right.” I looked back at Dad. “You got the key?”

Dad paused for a moment and turned to Jacob. “Do you still have the key?”

Jacob sat there and looked clueless—he stuck to his strengths. “You didn’t give me the key.” He lay back in his seat and shoved his baseball hat down over his eyes. If he ever took the time to dress right, he might have had potential—as long as he didn’t speak. T shirts and jeans weren’t a great fashion statement, though.

We pulled up to a red light and Dad started patting his pockets. I relaxed and got ready to go back to sleep while he patted some more. The car was already back to speed when Dad said, “Of course. I put it on my key ring. You had me really worried there for a minute, Susie.”

My eyes shot open as I lunged forward to look around my dad’s chair at the ignition. There on Dad’s key ring, right next to the cheesy “I love reading” charm, was the golden key, shining gleefully despite its tarnish. And it was in one piece. Last time I had seen it, I had just finished sawing it apart.

“Whoa! Are you a little nervous?” Dad asked as I realized my face was practically right next to his.

Jacob elbowed me in the side. “Sit back, doofus—you’re waking me up.”

I leaned back, dejected. “Where—Where did you find it?”

“On the kitchen counter,” said Dad. “It took me a minute—I thought I’d put it in the bathroom. But there it was, right in the open. Isn’t that like me?”

I laughed weakly. “Go figure.” What was I supposed to do now? The Holiday Inn was about a half hour away, but with the key on the key ring, there was no way I was getting my hands on it. Even if I could, what would I do? Swallow it? It would reappear anyway.

Plan after plan went through my mind, each more outlandish than the one before. I could grab the keys from Dad’s hands and make a run for it before we entered the hotel. I could slam on the brakes now and throw the keys through a passing car window. Or I could get stuck in an elevator on my way to Magnifica. Which was the most likely possibility, assuming the key did its job. I could see the Holiday Inn sign peeking through the trees ahead.

The seconds rushed by, and I was still clueless. Worse yet, I was going to have to get out in public looking like some ogre in training. My hair was a mess, and I was in teddy bear pajamas. Pink teddy bears! Struggling with my dad in the parking lot over a key ring would make my crazy woman ensemble complete.

I felt like I was on a roller coaster, hearing the clinkety-clink as we got closer and closer to the top where all that waited was a big long drop to the bottom. And I wasn’t sure if there would be the invigorating swoosh back up once the bottom came. Dad opened the door and got out, Jacob right after him. I numbly got out myself, still conscious of how underdressed I was.  What in the world possessed me to buy let alone wear teddy bear pajamas? We unloaded our bags from the trunk, and I threw my backpack over my shoulder. I could run away and let Dad and Jacob deal with it, but the thought of my dad kicking back Prozac in the bathroom shattered that idea. He would need my support.

The automatic doors opened and closed behind us, and we made our way through the lobby, getting some weird stares from the front desk. They were used to people checking in first, I supposed. My dad pressed the up button, and I watched the digital numbers go down. 5 4 3 2 With a ding, the elevator doors opened to a green and tan, and we stepped inside. Now I could practically hear the sound. Clinkety clinkety. Dad got the key and looked for a hole. There it was, a janitor’s control below the button for the lobby. It was way too small for the skeleton key. This would never work—it was impossible. But so was a key reappearing and a package coming out of thin air. Dad reached over to put the key in.

“Wait!” I grabbed his hand, inches away from the keyhole.

“What is it?”

“We shouldn’t be doing this.” I was hysterical. “We don’t know—”

“Stop being silly—you’re imagining things. This probably won’t work anyway—that keyhole’s way too small. Here, look.” Dad shook free of my hand and touched the skeleton key to the hole. The metal around it seemed to melt and the key slid in as smooth as a knife into butter. Dad’s mouth dropped open and his hand jerked free from the key. It turned in the hole all by itself, and the button for floor 5 lit up. With a lurch the elevator started moving upwards. Clinkety clinkety—the top was getting near.

Even Jacob looked surprised by the recent turn of events—though he seemed more along the lines of the surprise you have when you open up a present and get an unexpected but long-hoped-for gift. Dad looked confused. Time seemed to slow down as we stared at the numbers—this time going up. 2. Clinkety clinkety clink. 3. I could stop this somehow. 4. I lunged for the key to take it from the lock, but it felt like my hand hit a brick wall inches before it could grasp the key. I cradled my arm to my body, surprised by the sudden pain. The elevator slowed down and halted with a jerk. 5. With a ding, the doors opened, and the noise in my head stopped.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Longfellow Writing Camp and a Reading Tonight

As I blogged a few months ago, I’m the fiction instructor at this week’s Longfellow Writing Camp. I finished my second day of instruction today, and it’s been a real blast so far. Class sizes are around 10 students, all of them high school aged. I’ve been impressed with how dedicated they are to improving and learning. They’ve been a talkative group.

I’ve had each group for three hours, and I’ll say that trying to get through an overview of fiction in three hours is . . . daunting. There’s a ton of material to cover, and I feel like I’m doing it with a fire hose. Part of me feels like it might be better just to focus on a couple of principles. Another part wants me to just blurt out all the stuff I can think of on the hope that different pieces of it will stick with different people, depending on what they need.

Either way, it seems like they’ve been having a good time so far. A ton of them really want to write fantasy, so I’ve had plenty to say about that. The trick has been keeping things broad enough for a larger audience. Next class period, we’ll be workshopping most of the time, so it should be a different approach then, that will be more tailored to each student. Should be fun.

And tonight, I’ll be doing a public reading as part of the camp. I’ve been thinking about what I want to read, and after talking to my students today, I think I’ll go with the first chapter of UTOPIA, most likely. They were all much more interested in hearing something they couldn’t hear anywhere else than they were with having me read something they could buy. Fair enough.

Though I do wonder how the writing will play out, narrated. The voice in that piece is so . . . unique. There’s a chance I chicken out and just do chapter one of MURDER CASTLE, instead.

We shall see.

In any case, if you’re in the area tonight at 7pm and want to come by the Emery Arts Center, please do!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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